SeaDream is back and is sailing in Norway from June 20
Hurtigruten resumed sailing in Norway on Tuesday (June 16) with Finnmarken between Bergen and Kirkenes. Richard With, Trollfjord and Midnatsol follow on June 19, 21 and 24 respectively.
These are the first three brands to take to the waters since coronavirus turned the world upside down.
Owner Atle Brynestad and son Andreas were keen to offer Norwegians a Norwegian itinerary, hence complying with local travel restrictions. Originally it was hoped that Svalbard might be included in the itineraries but this proved too complex, according to Emilio Freeman,
vp itinerary & destinations, SeaDream Yacht Club.
Putting together a programme of itineraries normally takes months to prepare, but in this case it has been just weeks since the decision to go ahead was given in mid-May. Freeman comments: “I am very proud to be part of a team which has been thinking outside the box to get the programme done so quickly.” Acknowledging that the speed of organisation means there are likely to be “some hiccoughs along the way.”
In order to satisfy cabotage and international voyage rules, the ships will visit Skagen in Denmark on each voyage.
Due to demand, both ships will now be sailing the Norwegian coast. SeaDream 1 arrived about a month ago. “It was better to position her there with crew than leave her in Lisbon. The senior officers have been doing some training in Alesund to get prepped,” explains Freeman. She begins sailing a seven-day voyage from Bergen to Oslo on June 20 followed by a 12-day voyage out of Oslo this Saturday, June 27, which includes Tromso and the Lofoten Islands.
SeaDream 2 will sail a seven-day itinerary between Oslo and Bergen. The passengers, being mainly Norwegian with some Danes, means that social distancing will not be necessary on board as the country has had a low rate of infection. Freeman says: “All guests will have temperature checks before embarking. We will comply with health protocol measures in Norway”.
In terms of the passengers, Freeman comments that whilst SeaDream does carry a handful of Norwegians on its international itineraries, this is a very different model for the brand. “Our rates for these [trips] are well below normal rates so there are a number of newbies coming with us, which is great as they are potential new customers.”
This also makes for a very different set of circumstances when it comes to shore excursions. “We don’t sail to Norway typically. Any repeat guests will be in their own back yard but with people [on shore] all speaking Norwegian. We have had to create a series of programmes that, if it was SeaDream in normal times with international guests, we would broaden the offerings”.
However as Freeman explains, whilst the Flam train is a big winner for an international audience, the average Norwegian has probably already done this trip so it is not included in the shore excursion menu. “The tours that we did create I have shared with our Norwegian counterparts in the Oslo office to see if they work. We have had to collaborate a bit more in design of this programmes.”
There have been some challenges in terms of shore excursions because some of the venues may not have reopened or might open for SeaDream but with certain COVID-19 protocols. For example, in the Lofotens which are pretty remote, it may not be possible to open up a restaurant just for SeaDream, so it may have to find another venue.
In normal times, all the shore excursions would have been uploaded and already sold but, with this very short timeframe, these will only be sold onboard. Because the crew may not be allowed onshore, SeaDream is having to rely on tour operators to accompany passengers ashore instead of its usual scenario of having a dedicated crew member on each tour. Freeman comments: “If there are any issues on a tour, these will have to be worked through without a rep from the company there on the spot.”
SeaDream has been working on the programme with DMC Norway and DMC Denmark who, he says, have been very helpful. There will be 19 voyages in all, with the season ending in September.
Apart from the ports already mentioned, those included on the itineraries are Alesund, Flam, Geiranger, Lillesand, Olden, Roervik, Rosendal, Skjolden and a mixture in the Lofotens (which have yet to be decided). Turnarounds will take place in Bergen (13), Oslo (11) and Tromso (three). A tent will be used in both Tromso and Oslo in order to be able to dock right in the centre of the cities.
Cruise Europe has been instrumental in helping to coordinate the itineraries. Freeman comments: “Jens [Skrede, managing director CE] has been super-great in getting this going. I was struggling in getting all the information from the ports and figured he could give me contacts, but he contacted them all directly. He opened those doors and has been very, very helpful. He has also been instrumental in making contact with Denmark.”
Only a couple of ports have been slow in filling in the form at the request of SeaDream, which wanted to have a uniform response rather than be directed to a link on a website. One thing that Freeman is still hoping to achieve is the ability to use the marina when at anchor.
Although SeaDream does not usually travel north of Lisbon, Freeman comments: “If this takes off as indicated maybe we will be back in a couple of years.”
On September 7, SeaDream 1 will sail to Lisbon from Oslo and go into the western Mediterranean for about a month and thence onto the Caribbean. SeaDream 2 will depart Oslo on September 21 on a similar voyage before going into drydock in Lisbon. She will then reposition to the Caribbean where both will end the year as published.
***Update: ACL's return has now been postponed due to last-minute changes in Oregon's restrictions related to COVID-19 which exclude all overnight cruises regardless of the size of ship.