I recently got on the horn with Bob Lepisto, President of SeaDream Yacht Club, which is based in Miami, Florida. I’ve known Bob for many years and had the pleasure of going on a SeaDream voyage several years ago with eight other couples. We had a blast, and it is still one of the best travel experiences I’ve had in my life.
There may not be another industry that was as negatively impacted by Covid as the travel industry, especially the cruise industry. Bob will shudder a bit hearing the term “cruising” in the same sentence as SeaDream. Its moniker ‘It’s Yachting, Not Cruising,” is as important today as it’s ever been in its twenty-plus-year history as people seek smaller, more boutique travel experiences.
To put SeaDream into perspective, its founder and owner, Alte Brynestad, is from Norway. He has an incredible background in the small ship cruise experience. He founded Seabourn Cruise Line, which he sold to the Carnival Corporation, and then served as Chairman of Cunard Line, Ltd. After selling Seabourn, he purchased two sister ships from his former company, named Seabourn Goddess I and II, and launched SeaDream Yacht Club in 2001.
The yachting company is consistently rated as the top small ship cruise experience in the world by the likes of Conde Nast Traveler, Berlitz, and ForbesLife, to name a few of the travel press that has bestowed accolades on SeaDream Yacht Club. I wanted to catch up with Bob to find out how SeaDream survived the assault on his industry during Covid. Bob is a positive, likable guy, so I wasn’t surprised that he and the company made the best of a terrible situation. But it also is indicative of how the best businesses respond to adversity.
“Covid for SeaDream was interesting,” says Bob. He went on to say, “It was quite devastating for the travel industry as a whole, but we fared pretty well considering.” When Covid hit, SeaDream was operating its Caribbean voyage schedule. Everything shut down, but they kept their crew and sailed both yachts to Lisbon, Portugal, thinking at the time this Covid thing would be a brief interruption.
Owner, Atle Brynestad, went to Norwegian officials and got approval exclusively for Norwegians to book passage on SeaDream to sail the Fjords of Norway, an incredibly beautiful excursion. They brought one ship to Oslo, and it sold out within weeks. The sister yacht soon joined them in Oslo to operate voyages as well.
Bob points out that this enabled SeaDream to keep its crew employed, an important aspect of the company’s emphasis on consistency and guest service. They were the only “yachting” company operating in Norway during the pandemic while Norwegians were not allowed to leave the country.
SeaDream also took advantage of the limited voyage schedule to completely renovate both yachts in Lisbon. Dramatic renovations included all new staterooms and decking, hot tubs, and other improvements. They also revamped their internet service to Starlink, the low-level satellites that increased internet speeds ten times over what existed before. “The “At Sea” industry is notorious for slow internet service, and we were the first to address it with state-of-the-art technology,” says Bob.
Bob reads guest surveys and comments very, very carefully when they disembark from a voyage. “The interesting thing is the dramatic renovations to the yachts took place one at a time. There was about a 9-month period when one was done and the other was waiting to go into drydock. During this time, we told no one about the renovations. I didn’t want our guests to have different expectations depending on whether their voyage was on the newly renovated yacht or the yacht waiting for renovation.” Turns out the comments didn’t differ. “Our guests love the renovations, but it wasn’t a key factor in how they viewed their voyage experience.”
That’s what separates SeaDream; service, cuisine, and attention to detail, it’s luxury without the stuffiness. “ It’s far less about the hardware; however, guests are now loving the renovations,” says Bob. By June 2022, both yachts were fully renovated and back in service. When the Covid crisis eased, SeaDream still had over 90% of its crew and didn’t have to start over as a “new” company. That’s a big deal and a testament to their reputation for making guests feel like they are enjoying being on a mega yacht with friends.
Each vessel accommodates up to 112 guests in 56 staterooms with an accommodating crew of 95. SeaDream operates a Caribbean schedule during the winter and a Mediterranean / Northern Europe schedule during the summer months. They are adding some voyages in 2025 to the Baltics / Fjords from Oslo to Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway, famous for its fjords and the Northern Lights.
SeaDream is not at all like other cruise ships. They anchor instead of docking at small ports, so guests have the best seats to view harbors like Amalfi, Capri, and St. Barts. “We go where the big ships aren’t!” says Bob. They also offer unique land-based excursions for small groups, or guests can explore by taking advantage of the mountain bikes they have on board.
Most guests on SeaDream, and to this I can attest, enjoy staying onboard and enjoying the pool and all the water sports equipment available, like sailboats, kayaks, and especially the big new slide they have just added. The incredible spa and fitness center employs five massage therapists from Thailand that guests comment is “the absolute best massage they’ve ever had.”
Many Caribbean voyages include a gourmet beach BBQ along with their famous champagne and caviar splash on semi-private beaches in places like Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Nevis, and Mayreau in St. Vincent. These are incredible spots and so much fun!
There is sailing to Israel, and others to Istanbul and the Greek Isles. The Dalmatian Coast is a great trip that I hope to take one day, which includes Venice, Italy, and Croatia. In addition to several travels along the Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese coasts, SeaDream has added a trip from Bordeaux to London up the River Thames to the Tower Bridge, on its way to Oslo.
Most SeaDream voyages are 7 days, but frequent guests enjoy the 10 and 11-day voyages. There are still openings available for 2023. “Last week, we had the strongest booking week we’ve ever had on 2023, 2024, and 2025 voyages,” says Bob. Clearly, the pent-up demand to get away after two years of lockdown is happening.
The service and accommodations offered by SeaDream are second to none, but it’s the esprit de corps and energy that sets SeaDream apart. SeaDream’s success over the years has been based on word-of-mouth marketing. “Our departing guests are our best salespeople as they return home to tell their family and friends about their voyage with us,” he says.
The one thing you can count on is that SeaDream Yacht Club will exceed your expectations.
Let's get a group together and go!