This year marks the 15th anniversary of SeaDream Yacht Club, and I was granted the opportunity to exclusively interview Bob Lepisto, the cruise line’s president, who has been with the company since it started, about what makes yachting special and sets the experience apart.
First, Lepisto says,”right from the start of our company, we said we are going to produce a uniquely different yachting experience. We were not going to be a luxury cruise line.” Its slogan reads “it’s yachting, not cruising,” but what does that vision mean exactly? He says, “we want every guest to feel like they’re on their own private yacht with some other very interesting people.”
With only 56 couples to 95 crew, an exceptional ratio, that can be easily accommodated, but Lepisto emphasizes that “it’s not about the ratio; it’s not about the numbers. It’s really about the feeling that the guest has regarding the service and the experience they have,” an experience that is fully thought out and implemented by SeaDream, unlike on your own on a private yacht.
Back to the point of not being a luxury line, service and cuisine are still held to the highest standards but without any stuffy pretense nor the need to dress formally. Lepisto calls it a “casually elegant atmosphere” where personal choice reigns supreme. “Yachting is about choice. We don’t want to dictate to anyone what they have to do and when they want to do it. We want them to feel like they’ve got the ultimate in choice.”
Such freedom, of course, applies to open-seating al fresco dining with the means to facilitate special requests and dietary requirements and also unique port experiences. The yacht pair’s small size allows access to destinations prohibited to larger cruise ships and anchoring closer and tendering in to the heart of Caribbean and Mediterranean regions. Anchoring also affords guests the opportunity to partake in several included water sports activities.
Crew-led excursions such as bike rides and joining the chef on market runs are also included. Only third party-operated tours are extra. Lepisto is particularly proud of the line’s wine voyages which combine exquisite culinary experience with exclusive opportunities ashore, all hosted by a winemaker. Also welcome are overnight stays in places such as Monte Carlo, St. Barts, Amalfi, Sorrento and Kotor to enjoy the local nightlife.
With ships built in the 1980s, one might question their modernization, but each ship goes into about a 16-day dry-dock refurbishment every two years maintaining them in “absolutely impeccable condition,” according to Lepisto.
At the core of what SeaDream does is service. Lepisto tells me that crew members greet guests by name, and returning passengers feel like they are coming home to family as a result. He says the line is a word-of-mouth company with a guest complement of about 60 percent repeaters and that “my best sales person is the guest leaving the yacht because they’re calling their travel agents, they’re calling their friends, they’re telling their relatives about what an incredible experience they had with SeaDream.”
Loyal crew, loyal guests and loyal agents are everything to SeaDream. As happy guests rebook onboard, their travel agents are happy to get the full credit, and incentive group and agent charters are also popular – particularly when an agent can make $80-100,000 in commission from a full ship for special milestone events like birthdays, anniversaries and reunions.