We thought about whether to be disappointed about this change to our long-anticipated SeaDream cruise - and decided against it! Lovely as it is to explore independently on the little islands of the southern Caribbean, we knew that SeaDream would create a great experience for us, and indeed they did. Private beaches, intimate tours with tastings, watersports from the back of the ship and snorkelling trips by boat all combined to create a very special escape, especially for this jaded couple rather worn out by 20 months of worry.
We embarked in Barbados, and in our neat little cabin was a message from Atle Brynstad, the owner of SeaDream, saying 'Welcome back to your yacht', and that was indeed exactly how it felt… We raced to find the Maitre d' to sort out dinner outdoors (traditionally on the first night it takes place in the restaurant) and to the front desk to book our bed under the stars later in the week. Then to the Top of the Yacht Bar to check everything was as we remembered. We had a little sit on the high stool at the back corner, complete with binocular drawer, and greeted friends old and new on the service team. It is flattering to be repeatedly remembered and greeted by name by the crew, even if you know they have been checking out your photo in advance.
Immediately, we were back into our SeaDream routine: drinks at the Top of the Yacht, friendly banter with the crew and an entertaining bout of people watching. The small scale of SeaDream means you can drift into conversations easily, bypassing all the 'what do you do and where do you come from' stuff. A laidback mix of UK, American and Finnish (!) guests formed the core of onboard nationalities on this particular itinerary, with many others dotted in from around the world. Repeat levels were exceptionally high, and the newbies were quickly embraced and initiated into the SeaDream way: informal, unpretentious and easygoing.
My favourite thing about SeaDream is being outdoors, and for me that is the magic of cruising in the Caribbean. How lovely to order up a glass of Champagne as you watch the sun set, then drift off to your cabin to shower off the day's sand and salt in preparation for the balmy delights of pre-dinner drinks under the stars. Although every day follows the same pattern, also every day there is something new: a mouth-watering dessert buffet, cocktails and dancing on deck, a movie night under the stars, a raucous quiz in the piano bar.
The marina at the back is used when possible - and you will find it is in action far more in the Caribbean than in the Mediterranean. On our 'bubbled' cruise, it really came into its own, and we were able to swim or sail from the back of the ship most days.
Lingering over lunch at the Top of the Yacht on a slightly rainy afternoon, we watched the poor crew race to lower the tarpaulin at every downpour, and raise it again as the sun came out just minutes later, full of jokes and banter, before racing to get you another coffee, or appearing out of nowhere to top up your glass of rosé.
SeaDream truly is a dream world, one where, for a single magical week, it's all about you.