Without Pier: Luxury Sailing in the Mediterranean

Full disclosure: cruises scare me. It’s not being out at sea or the fear of motion sickness (I’ve got pretty decent sea legs); it’s – and I know I’m not alone here – the size of these massive floating cities that terrifies me. So when the invitation came to go on a sea voyage in the Mediterranean, I thought the time had finally come for me to face my fears (#getoverit).

But I needn’t have worried, as this was to be “yachting, not cruising,” courtesy of SeaDream. The Norwegian line has just two “yachts” (even though there’s not a sail in sight), and they’re tiny compared to regular cruise ships. Things were looking good. Our home was to be SeaDream I, with a maximum of just 112 passengers. Oh, and 95 crew. Yup, the crew-to-guest ratio is almost 1:1. Things were looking very good.

Take a quick look online and you’ll see rave reviews about SeaDream (Forbes recently called it: “The best small luxury cruise ship of 2015”). But you can have the best vessel on the seven seas, and if it doesn’t go anywhere interesting then it’s essentially just a floating hotel. No such worry here: our itinerary resembled the ultimate Mediterranean bucket list.

Setting sail from Rome Civitavecchia, we headed down the west coast of Italy to Sorrento, enjoying cocktails on the top deck before disappearing to explore our staterooms (note to future SeaDreamers: request a room on the port side for the best views on this particular trip). A quick recce of the rest of the yacht revealed a pool, hot tub, spa, gym, golf simulator, library and what must be the smallest casino in the world. There’s also a piano bar that was to host some epic karaoke sessions during the week. SeaDream I may be just 105 metres long, but it fits an awful lot in, and without ever feeling cramped. It’s also renowned for its food, with evening meals (five courses!) served with plenty of fanfare and glasses that never empty – alcohol, except for a very few tipples, is included in the cost.

SeaDream’s Top of the Yacht bar; photo: SeaDream

Surprisingly, given the 24/7 free bar situation and the call of the Top of the Yacht bar (without doubt the fun fulcrum of the ship), we were up super-early the next morning. First stop: the top deck, to watch the approach to Sorrento and breakfast in the Bay of Naples, in the shadows of mega-volcano, Mount Vesuvius. Sigh. Sorrento was to be our only late night in port, so after a fascinating day exploring Pompeii, we popped in for posh cocktails at the Excelsior Vittoria (a glam cliffside hotel where Sophia Loren used to hang out), before taking things down a notch for dinner. Run by a cooperative of six fishermen right at the water’s edge, Cooperative di Pesca O’Puledrone proved to be cheap, cheerful and utterly delicious. The very last tender of the night took us back to the yacht, and then it was anchors aweigh for the short sail down the Amalfi Coast to Positano.

Positano, a riot of pastels; photo: Ginny Cumming
Positano, a riot of pastels; photo: Ginny Cumming

This has to be one of the most beautiful towns in the world, tumbling down steep hillsides in a riot of pastels, its labyrinthine streets offering limoncello, gelato and kitsch souvenirs at every turn. It’s a fantastic place to be in, but being out of Positano and looking at it from the water rates even more highly in my book. When anchored in calm seas, SeaDream offers all sorts of water toys, including kayaks, waterskis, a banana boat and jet skis. Tearing across the waters on a WaveRunner, only stopping to gaze in wonder at Positano, ranks right up there on my “Life’s Favourite Moments” list.

Leaving the Amalfi Coast we cruised past Stromboli, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and eventually reached the pointy toe of the boot that is Italy. Across the narrow Strait of Messina was the island of Sicily, where yet another volcano, Mount Etna, loomed large. Docking in Giardini Naxos, it was just a short bus ride to Taormina, on the slopes on Monte Tauro. Below us were sweeping bays, while high, high above was the tiny medieval village of Castelmola. After taking in gorgeous 360° views and warm Sicilian hospitality we headed back on board where, in honour of our location, the SeaDream staff invited us to watch the perfect after-dinner film: The Godfather. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

Balinese beds on top of the SeaDream; photo: SeaDream
Balinese beds on top of the SeaDream; photo: SeaDream

Making our way up the east coast of Italy, the next stop was Monopoli in Puglia. While probably the least-known destination on our itinerary, it was utterly charming, with a harbour filled with fishing boats, a tiny beach close to all the action, and the bonkers Purgatory Church, where stone skulls decorate the front doors and real skulls decorate the Baroque interior. Locals recommended Trattoria da Pierino L’Inglese for lunch and they were bang-on – it offered up a seafood feast that was unpretentious and totally delicious.

Back on board (with a respectable break between meals), dinner was served al fresco in the open-air Topside Restaurant, followed by a “Dessert Extravaganza” by the pool. Later that night, another treat was in store for us: the chance to sleep under the stars. There are 10 queen-size Balinese “Dream Beds” aft, as well as one huge bed at the front of the yacht, but book early, as it’s oh-so romantic and very popular.

Under a blanket of stars we scooted across the Adriatic Sea to Montenegro, waking up to witness what must be one of the most scenic spots in the world, the Bay of Kotor. It’s all spectacular waterways, soaring mountains and ancient villages and is, according to our captain, very similar to the Norwegian fjords. And he should know: he’s Norwegian.

In Kotor (pronounced “KO-tor”), we headed off on a day trip to explore this breathtaking Balkan country, taking in traditional villages, local produce and the Old Town within the crazy-popular resort town of Budvar. Back in Kotor there was just time to indulge in some volcano cake (more volcanoes!) at Hotel Astoria in the delightful Old Town, before setting sail for the final time. We awoke the next morning in Dubrovnik.

Our journey on SeaDream I might have come to an end, but there was still time to explore this most famous of Croatian cities. In recent years it’s become even more famous thanks to Game of Thrones, doubling as King’s Landing since season two. Brilliant walking tours take fans to filming locations such as the Red Keep, the site of Joffrey’s murder and Cersei’s “Walk of Shame”. Back in the real world, you can walk on the 15th-century walls of the Old Town before heading down to explore the pedestrianised limestone-paved streets, lined with painstakingly restored medieval architecture, ornate fountains, statues and endless shops and restaurants. Yes it’s packed with tourists, but there’s a good reason: this World Heritage Site is gorgeous.

From Dubrovnik some guests took off to explore the islands of Croatia, others headed home, while a lucky few stayed on board for a second week. The ultimate destination was Athens, taking in places like Delphi, Ephesus, the Corinth Canal and Santorini along the way. Whatever the SeaDream voyage, the destinations are spectacular and the journey is a luxurious, once-in-a-lifetime experience. #unforgettable

Couple on boat europe
Hayden and Michelle; photo: Ginny Cumming

The love boat

Two of the people you want to get to know on SeaDream I (apart from the bartenders, of course) are Hayden McFarlane, from Waitara in New Zealand, and Michelle Carelis, from Boston, Massachusetts. Hayden is the club director and Michelle is the activities manager, so they’re pretty much the experts on all the fun things, like cocktail parties, day trips and water sports. And did we mention they’re getting married?

The couple met five years ago when working on another cruise line, but these days are lucky enough to call SeaDream I home as they plan their upcoming nuptials. So what does a loved-up couple recommend to other loved-up couples sailing the Mediterranean with SeaDream? 

“I love Restaurant Nevjesta Jadrana in Kotor,” says Michelle. “We often send couples there to celebrate special occasions – the views are seriously stunning. But I think Positano is probably the most romantic port.”

For Hayden, a day trip from Monopoli to Alberobello to see the World Heritage-listed cone-roofed trulli houses ticks all the boxes; “It’s a fairytale village and very romantic.” 

On board, it’s all about being outdoors; “Sleeping under the stars and dining al fresco are so romantic. We also do weddings at sea – ceremonies on the pool deck at sunset are perfect,” says bride-to-be, Michelle. “If I didn’t work on SeaDream, I’d get married here.”

“Ultimately,” says Hayden, “our advice for all passengers is to go out of your comfort zone, be adventurous and make the most of every moment.”

Leaving Monopoli; photo: Ginny Cumming
Leaving Monopoli; photo: Ginny Cumming

Need to know


SeaDream I and its sister yacht, SeaDream II make their way to ports in Europe from May to November, and in the Caribbean from November to April. There are 54 comfortable staterooms on SeaDream I. All feature a 20-inch flat-screen TV, DVD player, mini fridge stocked with constantly replenished free drinks and Bvlgari bathroom products. There’s also the spacious Owner’s Suite and slightly smaller Admiral’s Suite. More details: seadream.com

Where to go

  • Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria: Piazza Tasso, 34, Sorrento, Italy
  • Cooperative di Pesca O’Puledrone: Via Marina Grande 150, Sorrento Italy, tel: +39 333 358 6943
  • Trattoria da Pierino L’Inglese: Via Amalfitana 14,Monopoli, Italy, tel: +39 080 930 6842
  • Hotel Astoria: Old Town 322, Kotor, Montenegro
  • Restaurant Nevjesta Jadrana: Zanjev Do, Njegusi, Montenegro, tel: +382 67 227 503
  • Game of Thrones walking tour: Dubrovnik Old Town

Related articles: Sailing in Dalmatia

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