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The historic Sea Cloud windjammer, 7-night Venice to Venice

Before booking this journey, I found very few reviews on CruiseCritic.com and just a couple of brief comments elsewhere, so I'm posting this to help others who might consider taking a journey on the SeaCloud. To be fair, overall it was a nice experience, and we do not regret taking the trip. But there were some disappointments, too.

We booked directly with the Sea Cloud, making our inquiry on-line, which means one deals with the office in Hamburg, Germany.

First the positives:
1) It's the Sea Cloud, the delightful beautiful, historical windjammer that was built as a wedding gift to Merriweather Post (of the Post Cereal fame by her then-husband E. F. Hutton). The woodwork is incredibly beautiful, the brass accents polished and pretty, four masts and the beautiful sails are set by a very capable, talented crew.
2) Cabin steward was personable and quickly took care of any request...extra wash cloths, extra pillow (the SeaCloud's pillows are rather thin, so multiples are needed), our fresh fruit and bottled water preferences. Cabin was clean and serviced at least twice daily.
3) Breakfasts and lunches were great, offering a wide range of healthy choices. The hot chocolate on board was excellent.
Wine and beer are offered at lunch/dinner.
4) Fellow passengers were extremely well traveled....most had traveled much, much more than we have (and we've traveled much more than most of our friends).
5) The ports at which we stopped were interesting
6) An engine room tour was offered (after it was requested) at two back-to-back times, and 20+ passengers signed up for the experience. My husband was tickled pink to have this opportunity, and we found the engine room to be very spacious (tall ceilings), and beautiful (yes, nicely painted and rather attractive in a mechanical kind of way). We learned how the water is desalinated on board, how extra parts are stored, and how the engines work and are maintained over our 30-minute visit.
7) The bridge is open most of the time (other than at night) and passengers are welcome to pop in when its open. Seeing the beautiful bridge equipment (much of it brass/wood) was delightful, and the officers freely answer questions.
8) A true highlight was when the captain stopped the boat when the seas were calm while the sails were up, so passengers could have the opportunity to go out in zodiacs to take photos of the lovely ship with the sails up, and the crew member driving the zodiac circled the ship and made sure each side of the zodiac had a chance to take photos from all angles. That was fun, and really our only opportunity to get photos of the ship with the sails up (as they are, of course, taken down before heading into a port).

Disappointments:
1) Of the 59 passengers on board, only 12 were classified as English speaking (8 from the US, 2 from Canada, and two from Australia, other than 2-4 from Finland (exact number is unclear), the rest were German (with widely varying abilities to speak English). While we truly love meeting people from other countries, the high percentage of fellow passengers who did not speak conversational English made some meals awkward. Situations ranged from polite attempts to converse, to being totally ignored at a table, to finding one of the table mates who acted as a translator (but we assume that was as exhausting for that dear person as it was for us). One-on-one as we met fellow passengers, we had some very long and delightful conversations with German passengers. It was just at mealtimes that table talk seemed to be predominantly German if we didn't "luck up" by being able to sit at a table that had a few other English speaking guests.

When I asked and got the #s from the cruise director, she commented how lucky we were to have "so many" English speaking passengers. So, I got the impression some SeaCloud cruises might not have as many as we did!!

(I will make an additional post to add more)...................

Posted by
2127 posts

disappointments...continued

2) I found the cruise director (a young pretty blonde German lady) a bit rude and seemingly uncaring at times. Another guest commented to me that she noticed a very different attitude toward the English-speaking guests. For example: We had arranged a car transfer to the airport at the end of the cruise, which was booked thru SeaCloud. When I politely asked how we would meet the car, she told me we would go into the terminal building...when I asked what to do next, she said in a very condescending tone (as though I was a complete idiot) that we would exit the building and look for a sign with our name on it......then she went off about how people are always asking her questions when so much info is in the newsletter (huh? Where did that mini-rant come from? Maybe she had job burnout. No info was in the newsletter re: meeting cars at the end, and I had not asked her any previous questions about items that were in the newsletter. . And, what's so funny, the procedure she described for finding the car was not accurate. There was no sign with our name. There was one central person that was directing people from list of names on a clipboard to shuttles, buses, cars, taxis, and there was also a Silversea ship emptying with passengers going thru the same process.
3) One of the more expensive shore excursions (which was sold both as English-speaking guides or German-speaking guides) ended up with 6 English speaking guests signed up. While groups were divided by language and toured separately on the other excursions, this time were told we were to sit in the very back of the bus and our guide would talk to us in English while the German-speaking guide spoke to the other guests via microphone on the bus. That just did not work...we could not hear our guide over the German blaring from the speakers above our heads....so it was determined by our guide that she would not try to proceed, so we listened to German for 40 minutes, wondering what information we were missing, etc. At the first stop, after the program was presented by the olive oil farm owner and translated into both languages, I quietly and privately approached the cruise director and told her what had happened, suggesting that next time they might want to consider the whisper technology (which had been used on other excursions up to this point) or put the smaller group in a small van............she made a tense face and said they did not have that equipment and that we could learn more on our walking tour at the last stop. I kindly said that we had missed the 40 minutes of information and she said our guide could give us that on the walking tour....no apology. I asked her to consider how she would feel if she had gone on vacation and paid for a German speaking tour only to have 40 minutes of Chinese blaring overhead with her guide unable to communicate to them in German. When we all reboarded the bus, a change had taken place and the English-speaking guide (it was explained) would present some general information (which was speed read in 12 minutes). Better than nothing. But, it was the uncaring attitude of the cruise director that shocked me.
3) Dinners were overall good, but choices each night were limited and meals started at 7:30 pm and ran later than we would have preferred (9:30 - 10:00, especially when leaving for an early excursion the next morning. Add to that the inability to speak German, and it seemed sometimes to be an even longer evening on some nights. No room service was available, which is understandable on such a small ship.

(continued on next posting.........)

Posted by
2127 posts

3) Booking directly with the office in Hamburg was challenging sometimes, as it was not possible to pick up the phone and call (unless one has a international phone plan). The toll-free number on the web site had a recording that the number was no longer in service when I tried to phone several times the week before departure, so I relied on email to request extra pillows and double check to make sure wash cloths were standard (they were, but it took a couple of emails to explain what a wash cloth is).

The office in Hamburg told me I needed to bring euros cash for gratuities, stating that if I put those on my shipboard account, there would be fees (which we determined would mean it would be processed as a cash advance with conversion upcharges, too). But, the purser on board later clarified that I was given inaccurate information (I do have all those emails in writing, but I am not going to give any additional feedback to the Hamburg office, as re: the purser said he would correct the staff there). Mathis, the pursuer, was a delightful and very customer-oriented individual. I arranged for cash euros before leaving the US. The recommended gratuity is E14 per passenger per day, and then the gratuities are split among the entire crew. Fair enough.

4) Smoking:
Smoking was limited to certain areas, but we would have preferred NO Smoking whatsoever, as the wind carried the smoke to certain non-smoking areas. In Italy, we noticed a lot of smoking on the streets...ugh.

5) For chilly days, there is very limited public space on the ship. If one is looking for a warm corner in which to read a book while at sea, that is limited pretty much to one's cabin. The dining areas are sometimes open, but typically they are being turned for the next meal seating, as that space (which is the original dining and living room) is where all meals are enjoyed and also where financial matters (the two times the ship's boutique was open for a few hours) and for checkout.

(more on next posting)

Posted by
2127 posts

What I would recommend (or what I would have done differently knowing what I know now):
Since the ship is German owned and obviously typically attracts a high percentage of German passengers when trips are booked directly with Sea Cloud, unless you speak German, I would recommend booking thru National Geographic/Lindblad (which charters the trip for their sailings) or (we are also told) Academic Arrangement Abroad (which whom I have no personal experience) does charter sailings, too, often for museum or alumni travel programs. A crew member told me that when National Geographic groups travel on the ship, there is more activity, more in-depth educational shore excursions, and of course, they provide their own expedition leader. We have personal experience with National Geographic in Antarctica, and they were first class in every way with incredible staff. They do not offer the Venice to Venice itinerary (and my husband really wanted to see Venice) so we booked directly with SeaCloud for this trip. I would not do that again.

Attire:
Men were often in sports jackets for dinner the first night or two, but became more casual for the most part, except for the two dinners that were identified as a bit dressier. My husband was absolutely fine with just adding a tie to his flannel-lined chinos and navy sports coat travel uniform. During the day and on excursions, attire was always casual and typical of what one would see on a RS group tour. Weather was chilly, especially some days on the ocean, and I was glad I had three light-weight jackets (which I layered with a LandsEnd turtleneck those days I was also glad I brought light-fleece gloves, too, which I wore about four times. My typical dressy night uniform is an ankle-length J Jill black knit pencil skirt, a long-sleeve black t-shirt or turtleneck with a nice shawl and a pearl choker. It was windy on board, so hair pulled into a bun or under a ballcap seemed to work best.

Overall:
Interesting, fun experience that will provide life-long memories. Many more good aspects than negative, but I share my disappointments, as I wish I had known all this information when I was considering our journey. And, one really should not experience disappointment with such a special (and costly) journey. Other than a few reviews on www.cruisecritic.com and a short write-ups on other sites, I could not find a lot of individual reviews on SeaCloud journeys before booking our trip, so I therefore offer my perspective to you. I also realize that you could book the exact same trip next year and have an entirely different experience or perspective.

Posted by
16897 posts

Thank you so much for your review. We saw the Sea Cloud II docked in Venice when we were there for a month in 2014, and my husband said if he ever did a cruise, it would be on a ship like that. We actually googled up the ship and her sister Sea Cloud I and their history. I believe they are both owned by a German company so not surprising that would be the bulk of their clientele. Fortunately I speak passable German so maybe we would be OK.

What ports did you see?

Posted by
2127 posts

P.S. Another big highlight was the 30-minute open house where all the passengers had a chance to tour the very high-end original cabins. Guests in those cabins are given the opportunity to decline, but all were good sports and opened their cabins while champagne and nibbles were served. Check out the cabins on line, as they truly are grand and even prettier in person.

A fellow passenger look a photo of us in the Merriweather Post suite, so we can remember our 5 minutes of enjoying that cabin :) :) Oh how grand it would be to take the sailing in that cabin!!! If you have unlimited funds, go for it :)

Oh and one final detail: Cabins do not lock from the outside, so the only time one can lock their cabin is they are inside, such as at night when asleep. The ship is described as a family environment and as a group we were told there have never been any issues, but not being able to lock cabins was a concern of several guests. One guest in an original high-end cabin told me they were not able to lock their cabins at night.

And, just to be a good sport, I offered a reverse tour to our fellow English-speaking guests (the majority of whom were in the lovely historic cabins) to see our much more modest cabin so they could really appreciate the grand style in which they were sailing. They all attended and seemed to appreciate the chance to take a look. Our cabin (# 24) all noted had much nicer windows (as the historic cabins have only portholes). But we had to be careful when we left our curtains open, as individuals could easily walk by and see inside our windows and our cabin was next to a door from which some crew entered the outside deck when porting or prepping sails, etc. I also had a chance to see one of the most modest cabins (bunkbeds), and it was actually rather charming (and had a bigger shower than ours), but I could not imagine getting the top bunk.
For those who are not able to climb historic ship stairs, there is no elevator. So this is a good ship for those who are physically fit. There was one couple from the US in their late 80s and they avoided shore excursions where there were lots of stairs and they were not seen on the more challenging parts of the ship, but they seemed to be having a great time, and they were in the original E. F. Hutton suite (a lovely cabin).

Posted by
2127 posts

In Venice (we flew in a day early), and took a shared water taxi to our hotel. My husband LOVED the water taxi experience. E30 each and we did not book ahead...about a 30 minute wait until the desk collected enough passengers for two water taxis (divided by location), then we walked over to the pier (yes, those who posted that it is a LONG walk are right).

We stayed at the Hotel Le Isole in a nice room that had two views over the small canal (one a balcony, the other a window). Room was quiet and nice for a one-night stay. The bathroom was very small and would have driven me nuts for a longer stay (every time I used the blow dryer on the wall, the cord knocked the toilet tissue off its holder). It was hard (we had to really work) to shut the folding shower door, and one wall of the shower was very narrow (my husband took a photo with a shoe against the wall so show how small it was).

But, would we stay there again: Absolutely!!! The kind, friendly staff, the fabulous location, the wonderful view, the quiet courtyard where a full breakfast (including choice of eggs/meat and healthy options) and afternoon tea was served would win out over a small bathroom any day!! We found the hotel via Trip Advisor and what a find it was. My husband kept complimenting my find. Less than a 5 minute walk to St. Marks Square, yet one felt much further away due to the quiet location. Close to vaparetto stops and good dining choices.

First day we went to mass at St. Mark's (beautiful to see the basilica with the lights on), then visited the museum and roof upstairs, then wandered streets in Venice and then took the vaparetto loop (I think it was # 2) of the Grand Canal, following the RS guidebook advice to wait until one that offered seating in front of the wheelhouse was available...we only had to forego one vaparetto and the next one offered the seating we wanted. That was a great experience and really quickly showed us so much beauty for such a small cost. Then an early bite to eat and to bed early (jet lag was hitting).

Next morning enjoyed breakfast in the courtyard at our hotel, checked out and stored our luggage with the hotel and went to tour Doge's Palace (very short wait ...we did not book tickets in advance). Then a quick bite to eat, walked thru some of the shops on the perimeter of St. Marks', enjoyed gelato, and it was time to collect our luggage and head to catch the vaparetto to San Basilio to meet our ship for late afternoon boarding (which was specified during a 30-minute window).

If we could have been gone for more days, we would have added 2-3 days for Venice. Our time there was oh so short, but better a short visit than no visit at all.

Posted by
2127 posts

Lola,
Below was our 7-night itinerary:
1) Depart Venice 6PM (board 4:00-4:30) beautiful as we slowly sailed out along the grand canal
2)Day at Sea
3) Sibenik/Croatia (we took the shore excursion to Krka Waterfalls)
4) Split/Croatia (we took the shore excursion to Diocletian's Palace and a short Klapa concert)
5) Rab/Croatia (we took the shore excursion that was a walking tour of the city)
6) Ravenna/Italy (we took the mosaics walking tour)
7) Rovinj/Croatia (we took the shore excursion into the countryside with the olive oil tasting, meats/cheeses)
8) Arrive Venice/Italy 8a.m./left ship a few minutes before 9a.m.
(Sailing into Venice, it was dark as the sun had not yet risen, but it was still pretty as I looked out from the dining room window. My husband was outside, but it was too chilly and windy for me to be out for more than a minute at a time to make a few photos.)

Shore excursions ranged from E29 to E79 per person. Whisper sets were used in some ports. Guides were generally good, but we would have loved more time in some cities just to wander on our own, especially in Rab, which was oh so adorable and charming. That shore excursion included explanation (in their office with all the flags, costumes, drums, cross bows, etc. ) by a member of the crossbow group, re: the history, traditions and festivals, which we found very interesting.

Posted by
2127 posts

Lola,
I should have noted that only ONE shore excursion was available at each port. Or, one could have chosen to wander on their own (and some guests chose that option at all or some ports). When transportation was needed into one of the towns from the port (via bus) due to distance, it was available for E30 each for those who did not buy the shore excursion at that particular port.

Posted by
11294 posts

Thanks for taking the time to post this great report!

Posted by
487 posts

Margaret, thank you for the review of the Sea Cloud cruise and I am sorry that your cruise was somewhat disappointing. My husband and I did a similar cruise on the Star Clippers line and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our cruise was also a 7 day Venice to Venice with stops in Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro and on a sailing ship. We were on the Royal Clipper which is a little bit larger at a max of 227 passengers. But still small compared to most cruise ships! We experienced many of the same positives as you did as far as beautiful ship, good food, very attentive staff. However we had some different experiences on your negatives. Our ship had 205 passengers on our trip and almost all of them spoke English and many were American. We did meet people from Ireland, Germany, France and I am sure other countries but were never isolated in communication. Announcements were given in English, French and German I believe. As you mentioned the guests were all very well traveled and as we were in our mid-thirties we were among the youngest non-crew on board.

There is only one dining room so meals are somewhat limited but there was a red meat, chicken, seafood and vegetable option each night. We were not assigned seats but were seated with others that arrived around the same time but there were also tables for 2 if you preferred a private meal. We could leave whenever we were finished or stay and enjoy the others company.

We had multiple options of excursions at each port and at least some were offered in other languages but all were in English.

Our rooms locked at all times.

Our crew and cruise director were awesome and we could not have asked for more. I realize this can be hit or miss sometimes but really we had great experiences with them.

For anyone looking for a cruise on a sailing ship we would both highly recommend Star Clippers and we plan to travel with them in the future.

Posted by
2127 posts

Jen,
Thank you very much for sharing your positive experience with the StarClipper. We've not sailed with them, so it's always good to learn positive things about other brands.

Were you, by chance, on a small ship cruise through Eastern Canada in October last fall? If so, we may have met you and your spouse. I remember a couple on the ship who had traveled with StarClipper and really loved it, and they were from Texas. Seemed they had cruised a lot. If so, what a small world!!

You all might love the SeaCloud for the Caribbean, booked thru National Geographic. NGeo also offers a Greek Isles sailing. It's a beautiful ship.