Photos by Bob Hoeslcher
We knew almost immediately upon arrival in the Peruvian town of Iquitos that we were in for something unusual when the driver of the moto-cab, an open-air, motorcycle-powered rickshaw we took from the airport to the ship, had no idea where our vessel might be located. Even the man on duty at the local tourist bureau, where we stopped for directions, felt that no cruise ship could possibly come to Iquitos because of the river’s shallow waters in the area.
In early March, I was a guest of SeaDream Yacht Club aboard SeaDream II for a one-week cruise of the Upper Amazon River through remote areas of Peru and Colombia. Also on the trip was Graydon “Gig” Gwin, respected travel agent, fellow media specialist and my good friend of some 40 years, who is one of but a handful of individuals who have visited every country on earth. By driving along the river highway, we eventually were able to find SeaDream II, even though it could not be seen from the road, in one of the more ramshackle port areas I have yet encountered.
Happily, the condition of the port and the luxury of our excellent vessel had nothing whatsoever in common, although Capt. Terje Willassen was required to do some fancy maneuvering and apply full engine power to escape the clutches of mud underlying the shallow and narrow Iquitos channel. Captain Willassen, a veteran of 11 years on the Hurtigruten coastal ferries in Norway and the past eight years with Sea Dream, accurately summed up this trip as being “truly a hybrid product — half SeaDream luxury, half adventure — but the beauty of the cruise is truly the river itself, which I love.”
A River Wonder
The area of the Amazon we cruised was roughly halfway between the river’s source and the Atlantic Ocean. At more than 4,000 miles in length, the Amazon is among the four longest rivers in the world, the others being the Nile, the Mississippi and the Yangtze. However, the amount of water that the Amazon discharges into the ocean — some 6,600 cubic kilometers per year, or 46,000 gallons per second — exceeds that of the world’s next longest eight rivers combined and is equal to the flow of 12 Mississippi Rivers.
SeaDream II itself, which is never more formal than “resort casual,” is a veritable model of outstanding service and fine gourmet dining. Advertised as “mega-yachts,” the vessel and its almost identical sister are just small cruise ships, albeit ones that are spacious, well maintained and furnished in understated elegance. Even though each vessel accommodates a maximum of 112 passengers, with a crew of 95, the guests on our sailing totaled only 59.
Given these numbers, it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine how exceptional the service was. SeaDream cruises are hardly inexpensive, as could be expected, but gratuities, wines — other than premium vintages — and open bar throughout are included. Also included is the use of a golf simulator, water sports equipment and bicycles wherever appropriate. The ship also offers a pool, a whirlpool and the Thai-certified SeaDream Spa, which Gig visited for a massage.
For me, one of the added attractions of cruising aboard upscale ships like SeaDream II is the array of interesting, well-traveled people generally found aboard with whom to swap stories about experiences during previous trips. In this case, it was a delight to meet, travel and dine regularly with Carl and Judy Eben, a retired couple from Orinda, California, near San Francisco. Carl also appreciated the “good mixture of nationalities aboard: not just Americans, but Brits, Norwegians, Belgians, Australians, South Africans, Brazilians and others.” Judy added that “service onboard has been amazing. After many previous cruises — several dozen with different lines — this is the only line where staff members offer to clean guests’ glasses.”