How a SeaDream survived September 11
NORWEGIAN entrepreneur and cruise industry heavyweight Atle Brynestad was certain he was on a winner when he bought two small luxury cruise ships that Carnival Corporation no longer needed.
He announced that he was going to refurbish and launch them as super-luxury in a "Yachting, Not Cruising" concept.
The critics had a field day. This was the 21st century and shipping lines were looking to mega-liners that counted their passengers by the thousands, not trifling little things that carried a mere 110 with an expensive almost one crew member for every guest.
And which was why, they pointed out, the little Sea Goddess 1 and Sea Goddess 2 had been sold by Carnival - a company which had forgotten more about the cruise passenger business than most other companies combined had ever learned.
And when Mr Brynestad launched his company, it was brought almost to its knees after just one week sailing the Mediterranean. Not because he'd gone smaller rather than larger, but because he'd chosen as his launch date September 1 2001 - just 10 days before the catastrophies of September 11.
The travel industry world-wide came crashing to a halt overnight. Holidaymakers cancelled flights and cruises by their hundreds of thousands; hotels and resorts took on the look of ghost towns.
But Atle Brynestad had both faith in his concept, and past experience to back him up. Because it was he who had founded the highly successful Seabourn Cruise Line which in fact had once owned the Sea Goddesses 1 and 2 and which had been merged into the Cunard company (later acquired by Carnival Corp) in the 1990s.
This had left Atle itching for new cruise opportunities. So when he learned Carnival were selling the 55-stateroom, 95-crew Sea Goddesses he snapped them up, re-naming the mega motor-cruisers SeaDream I and SeaDream II.
Millions of dollars were spent on refurbishments, adding an outdoor "Topside Restaurant" under shade cloths for al fresco breakfasts and lunches, a new Top of the Yacht open-air bar, a new spa and fitness area, a 30-course golf simulator, and "Balinese Dream Beds" on which guests could relax by day - or have made up into beds to sleep on under the stars at night.
Stateroom bathrooms were re-built in marble with shower massage units, new artworks installed throughout the yachts, furnishings replaced.
But after just one sailing came the horrors of September 11.
Undaunted, Brynestad continued to sail their advertised itineraries, no matter how few guests were aboard.
Remarkably within a year guests were clamouring for repeat sailings, and travel agents found well-heeled clients wanting to be pampered aboard a SeaDream yacht as a means of escaping the continuing political and economic turmoils at home.
He continued to push his mantra of only-the-best: with 95 crew (for a now maximum 112-guests after a new over-sized Admiral Suite was added,) 5-star dining, wines with meals, no-charge bars to which to sidle up for anything from Champagne to Coke at virtually any hour, nightly cocktail gatherings, a host of power and sail watersports facilities, movies on deck on select nights - it all added up to super-sea-dreaming.
And hand-picked crew pampered without being fawning, remembered every guest's name within a day of sailing - and to this day still offer guest's a spray of mineral water on the back and arms when delivering drinks around the pool, and to clean your sun-glasses at the same time.
The company picked up the highest industry awards hand over fist.
Today Atle Brynestad still runs SeaDream Yacht Club, together with another ex-Cunard man, Bob Lepisto whom he appointed as Senior Vice-President at the company's inception in 2001 and who is now President.
And remarkably one of its great success stories is the Australian market. Since opening representation here in 2003 Australian guest numbers have risen from under one-percent, to almost ten percent of onboard guests in 2011.
For information about sailing SeaDream I and SeaDream II in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Turkey's Turquoise Coast from April to October, and on the Amazon and in the Caribbean during the remainder of the year, see travel agents or visit www.seadream.com.
David Ellis is an advisor to SeaDream Yacht Club in Australia. Malcolm Andrews has sailed as a guest on both yachts.