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A Trip on Elegant Sea Cloud Gives New Meaning to Cruising

By Rita Cook ( )

So you think all cruises are created equal–that you're going to be treated to an endless buffet, Vegas-style entertainment and skeet shooting off the stern. Well think again. A cruise on the historic 360-foot yacht Sea Cloud couldn't be more different that the typical cruise.

Cruising on the Sea Cloud is like going back in time to the days when black-tie dinners were the norm and lounging on the deck was the perfect way to spend an afternoon full of absolutely nothing.

And the view from the deck is spectacular. The Sea Cloud, the largest private four-masted ship in the world, has a 178-foot tall main mast and 30 sails that rustle in the wind and watching the crew handle the sails is a favorite passenger pastime. As the crew set sail on my cruise last summer in the Eastern Mediterranean, it occurred to me how little I knew about sailing. Before a trip on the ship, it wouldn't be a bad idea to check out the International Sailing Federation Web site to learn more about this inspiring sport.

For a sailor, standing on the deck of the Sea Cloud under the full set of billowing sails is an incredible feeling.  For the novice, like me, it's a sailing experience not soon forgotten.

Spending time on the Sea Cloud is an intimate experience. The ship holds a maximum of 69 guests and 60 crew. Although quite elegant, Sea Cloud is the sort of ship where a person will have to enjoy visiting with other passengers and spending time relaxing. It's best for the person who is not in need of constant stimulation.

Part of the appeal of the Sea Cloud is its rich history. It was built in 1931 as a private yacht for the wife of E.F. Hutton, Marjorie Merriweather Post in a shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and was christened the Hussar.  Later, when Post and Hutton separated, Post took the ship and rechristened it Sea Cloud.  Post remarried and her third husband was the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and the Sea Cloud became a luxurious embassy moored in Leningrad's harbor.  During World War II the ship was leased for $1 to the U.S. Navy and after being demasted and getting a coat of navy gray paint.

The U.S. Coast Guard returned the ship to Post after the war and she promptly had it rerigged.  In the years that followed, Sea Cloud went by three different names, finally to be left unattended in Panama.  With its beauty and elegance it was not to be forgotten, and in 1978 she made the trek up the Elbe River and on to a Kiel shipyard for lengthy renovations.

Today Sea Cloud is owned by a group of businessmen and a sister ship Sea Cloud II will begin sailing this year. During the winter months Sea Cloud cruises the Caribbean and has the advantage of visiting smaller ports because of her size. In the Caribbean she will stop at ports such as Virgin Gorda, Joost Van Dyke, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and Anguilla.

Sea Cloud also offers a transatlantic trip every year and sails from Spain to Italy, Italy to Monte Carlo and France to Italy. In April it heads from Antigua to Spain and in November travels from Spain to Barbados.

With its new rigging, latest technical equipment and updated cabins, the ship reflects a modern charm steeped in rich tradition. Post's personal tastes are reflected everywhere, as if her spirit is still on the boat, but nowhere are her tastes more pronounced than in the first and second Owners' Cabins.  These cabins have fireplaces, marble bathrooms and exquisite furniture.

Additional cabins were added to the ship in 1979 and renovated in 1993, increasing the cabin's space and ambience.  There are 34 cabins in all and each one is roomy in accordance with any cruise ship standard.  The smallest cabin at 100 square feet is suggested for solo travelers. Cabins are all furnished with air conditioning, safe, telephone, hair dryer and bathrobes.

On days when Sea Cloud is out to sea, guests have the opportunity to lounge on the Lido Deck and sunbathe or visit with fellow passengers. Although there is no swimming pool aboard, bathing suits are worn during the day while lounging on the Lido Deck or the aft on the fantail's thick cushions.

Passengers can also relax anywhere from the bar to the restaurant, which also serves as a library. There's a selection of German and English books and games available.

The ship carries snorkeling, water skiing and wind surfing equipment, but use is subject to weather and local boat restrictions.

Dinner aboard Sea Cloud is open seating so guests are given the chance to meet one another.  Dining aboard the ship can be likened to a small dinner party among friends instead of a large affair, however formal is the word.  Passengers frequently rotate at the Captain's table and the ships' menu serves local specialties depending on the location of the cruise.  There's also a never-ending flow of European wine served with delicious hors d' oeuvres.

After dinner, guests gather on the Lido Deck for piano entertainment and a last whiff of sea air before a good night's sleep. The Lounge is located on the Promenade Deck and is open 24 hours.  Complimentary coffee and tea are available all day in the lounge area.

A laundry service is also provided on the ship and major credit cards are accepted.

News is updated daily via a Sea Cloud newspaper. Tipping for services are generally $10 to $12US per day per person for crew and $8 to $10US per passenger for bar personnel.

English and German are the languages spoken on board. Attire aboard the ship is sporty, leisurely during the day and dressy in the evening.  The clientele on Sea Cloud consists mainly of passengers wearing polo shirts and khaki shorts for day wear.

Rates for minimum and midsize cabins are on a per person basis and depend on the accommodations.  Prices range from $3,400 to $8,340, and include seven nights aboard Sea Cloud, all meals on board, all wines, beer and soft drinks with meals, afternoon tea, midnight snack, two special cocktail parties, services of the Sea Cloud cruise director, airport transfers, all excursions, sightseeing and port taxes.

The cost of the Post suite is generally $10,000 per person ($20,000 for a couple) but that can go higher if the particular cruise has been packaged by an operator and offers a theme or special interest element. The highest known rate went for $11,400 per person (in the Mediterranean) for a cruise that included extensive and expensive land tours.

People can book Sea Cloud individually about 70% of the time. The ship is often booked by wholesalers (Elegant Cruises; Cruising In Paradise; AnneMarie Victory; Dailey-Thorpe, etc.), which ``specialize" their cruises with themes (which means prices vary), or outright charters by groups and organizations.

On my trip last summer we left from Athens, Greece, and ended our trip in Venice, Italy. 

To find out more about visiting Greece and Italy check out the Consular Information sheets, which include detailed information on entry requirements, safety, insurance, regulations and customs so your trip into Athens will be pleasant as well as your trip out of Italy.

I flew into Athens and enjoyed a few days there before boarding the Sea Cloud. Considered the cradle of Western civilization, I found Athens breathtaking, but a little overwhelming because of its sheer size.  Must sees include the Acropolis and Parthenon.

The Eastern Mediterranean cruise makes stops at such popular islands as Santorini, the most known and active volcanic island of the Hellenic Arc in the South Aegean Sea.  The last large eruption was around 1640 BC.

Arriving in Santorini we had three choices of getting from the sea to the town at the top of the large hill.  You could walk the winding path, ride a donkey or take the lift. I took the lift and what a spectacular view.  You're suspended in mid-air looking below at the blue waters and above at the picturesque town.

Our next stop was in Corfu, Greece.   The town is old and the narrow, brick streets and alleys are definitely lost in time.  It was the little things that struck me the most about Corfu, like the old Greek ladies wearing their black dresses from years ago and the dead chickens displayed on the street vendors cart.  In the middle of Corfu there's a church with the mummified remains of an ancient patron saint.  The island of Corfu was not too touristy, yet there was plenty for the tourist to do. Visit this site to check out all the Greek Islands.

When we arrived in Ravenna, Italy, our first view was of a large industrial plant, all the better because we knew this wasn't a big stop along the tourist trek and we'd get the opportunity to see the real city.  There were churches and shops and history that seemed to have been forgotten.  The beauty of Ravenna was the old with the new and the feeling of again, stepping back in time.  During the 5thcentury Ravenna was the last capital of the Western Empire, its greatest art treasures to this day are from the Byzantine influences and it's a city full of mosaics.

Finally, after a week of pampering we arrived in Venice.  We arrived in the early morning and cruised into the main canal. I felt like I was on a movie set, it was all you would imagine, but too perfect to be real.

For booking information contact:

Sea Cloud Cruises, Inc.

32-40 North Dean Street

Englewood, N.J. 07631

 Rita Cook is a freelance travel and entertainment writer, as well as the freelance editorial director of ``Insider" magazine.  She lives in Los Angeles and her most recent project, besides traveling, was producing a feature-length mockumentary called ``Marty & Virginia."



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