Friday, July 24, 2015

SEA DREAM - OUR DREAM

Today we feature a SeaDream Yacht Club voyage by our guest bloggers and loyal Select travellers, the Rautalinko family. They review their vessel and its facilities, and describe the highlights...

Athens to Venice with SeaDream I



The family reports...

Once again the Rautalinko family (Cleo, Esa, Kalle (12) and Kasper (12)) have completed a fantastic holiday organized by Select Collection! We have grown to be quite some fans of the SeaDream Yacht Club, having previously cruised on the SeaDream II twice, and now was the time to test the SeaDream I on a cruise from Athens to Venice (July 11th-19th).

Athens

We arrived to Athens the previous day. A direct flight from Helsinki to Athens was available by Aegean Air with a reasonable price and we have to say that they did a good job, even providing a warm onboard lunch that begins to be a rarity these days… So well done Aegean! We stayed the night in the Hotel Grande Bretagne, just beside the Syntagma Square. A very nice upscale hotel, though some observations:

- the 7th floor restaurant is very nice and dining is practically al fresco. Table reservations are needed, at least during the tourist season. Good food, reasonable value for money.
- on the 8th floor is a pool and a bar but they are pretty modest. Does the job but not an experience to remember..
- the lobby bar is nice and worth recommending
- we had interconnecting rooms (145 and 147). Otherwise ok, but they are located next to the hotel´s cigar lounge and the cigar stench was disturbingly strong especially during the night time when the lounge was open. So when making reservations, those rooms are worth avoiding.

The vessel

We boarded SeaDream I on the 11th and as always, everything was effectively and nicely organized. The SeaDream II was boarding at the same time, but no hassle, everything went smoothly. It was nice to see some previously familiar crew members onboard, ones that had changed from SeaDream II to I. Also some familiar fellow passengers we had met on previous cruises were onboard. In fact the staff said that on our particular cruise the share of repeaters was 40% which is pretty respectable.

It is clear that both ships share exactly the same familiar ways of working, time tables and procedures. So not only are the ships identical but so is the experience. Somehow, however, we found the SeaDream II to have a bit more relaxed atmosphere than SD I. It is very hard to put ones finger on the reasons but that was also something a few other guests pointed out having an experience from both vessels.

The food was absolutely great as before and the menus kept changing daily, also taking into account local specialities and seasons. Also the beverage side was well taken care of as well as service-mindedness. One small example of the service attitude. As we were in Greece, I thought it would be nice to have a glass of Metaxa and it turned out to be that none was available. But their comment was “Sorry Sir, we don´t have any. But tomorrow we will.” And so they did for the rest of the cruise, in all bars.

Some comments on the places visited:

En route


The dramatic canal

Antiquity dreams on


Hydra, Greece:
- nice little town, not too much to see but to take a stroll. For many of the guests this seemed to be a “day off” as many had travelled from quite far away.

Itea, Greece:
- a pretty modern small town. The absolute must in Itea is to pay a visit to Delphi. It is roughly a 30 min bus drive from Itea to the amazing ruins of Delphi. If you are a history buff, you don´t want to miss this one!

Gaios, Paxoi, Greece:
- a sleepy little town, perfect for winding down, having a cup of coffee and an ouzo…

Kotor, Montenegro:
- an absolute gem! Fantastic scenery and a dramatic entrance to the port through a fjord-like route. An incredibly well preserved medieval town and possibilities to climb up the mountain to a monastery and/or to do quality shopping. Nice caf├ęs and restaurants, too.

Dubrovnik, Croatia:
- Dubrovnik is pretty well known by now, but still definitely worth a visit. Entering Dubrovnik from the sea certainly is an experience and the beauty of the town is heightened to another dimension!

Medieval alleyways

Korcula, Croatia:
- the birth place of Marco Polo, as they say. Might be true as during those days Korcula was part of the Venetian empire. Definitely worth a visit, nice shore-side restaurants and bars, a lot of medieval well-preserved buildings and some shopping possibilities as well. Beautiful scenes around the harbors!

Medival Korcula 


Hvar, Croatia:
- the St Tropez of Croatia...! Very lively upscale place, a lot of buzz during the evening and night times. A place to be in Croatia for young adults.

Buzzy lively Hvar in a quiet moment


Venice, Italy:
- we didn´t visit the city but took a ride directly to the airport instead. What a chaotic airport it is…   ;0)


The main highlights

Of all the ports visited, the top ones definitely were Itea (because of Delphi), Kotor and Korcula, suiting our lifestyle the best. But as always, all places visited were well planned by SeaDream and they all were enjoyable in their own way.

As a bonus we had the chance to meet the owner of SeaDream, Mr Atle Brynestad, who took the same cruise with his family. His commitment to SeaDream and its level of quality seems to be strong and it further enhanced our trust on SD. So we booked another cruise for next October from Barcelona to Lisbon which is already under preparation in the capable hands of Select Collection…

The Rautalinko family grade (4-10) to the vacation: 9,5

Cleo with Kalle & Kasper

Until the next time!


Esa, Cleo, Kalle & Kasper

Friday, July 10, 2015

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, Constance Resorts

Two barefoot resorts by Constance hotels in the Maldives. Both are charming but they are somewhat different. Arja Laukkarinen analyses which one suits which type of guest...

CONSTANCE MOOFUSHI RESORT

This is a very pleasant resort that delivers good value and personal service, with a warm and caring staff. Some special features include the house reef, the spa with its windows into the lagoon and the excellent all-inclusive package.

Villas

The resort has 110 villas. All with air-conditioning, veranda, satellite TV, DVD/CD player, telephone, high-speed Internet access (complimentary), mini-bar*, tea/coffee maker, safe and  hairdryer. Beach Villas are secluded and accept  up to 3 adults or 2 adults and 1 child. The Beach Villas are not huge so they are most suitable for 2 persons only. The bathroom area is open,  just behind the bed and not very private. Separate shower cabin and toilet.

Water Villas, with double bed, sleep up to 3 adults or 2 adults and 1 child, have large private decks and steps directly into the water. Senior Water Villas as per Water Villas, with king-size bed, sleeping max 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children but are slightly larger with a large outdoor bath tub.



Food & Beverage

The All-Inclusive Cristal package was really impressive, both the quality of the food and the selection of spirits and drinks on offer. 

Apart from meals in the main restaurant, the package includes one a la carte dinner once per stay of 7 nights at Alizee Beach Grill. If the guests would like to dine at Alizee more often, there is a surcharge for that. The rates are reasonable and the drinks are included as per Cristal package.

The main restaurant, Manta, serves buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The hotel´s Manta bar has a DJ booth for later in the evening and provides music for 
those not ready for bed.


Facilities & activities

The spa with overwater treatment rooms is special. Watch the fish and water life as you enjoy the massage. Complimentary yoga sessions.

The house reef is just outside the water villas so there is no need for boat transfers if you want to go snorkeling.


Moofushi in a nutshell

I would rate this as a good 4 star property. The atmosphere is very cosy and relaxed.
Lovely and caring staff. Food is excellent and when everything is included there is no stress
about huge charges upon check out.

Who to stay

Couples and adults. 


How to get to Constance Moofushi Resort


By seaplane it usually takes 30 minutes. Constance Hotels provide a lounge for arriving passengers at Male airport. It is possible to use it with a fee also on departure. The waiting time upon arrival is usually max an hour.  The seaplane transfer is a great experience and the only way to see a bird eye view of the amazing atolls.



CONSTANCE HALAVELI

A good choice for people looking for luxury villas and beautiful white sandy beaches, though the feel was less personal than Moofushi. The island is slightly larger. You can still walk around it in 20 minutes.


Villas

This property offers more room types than Moofushi. All villas are spacious. The beach villas have a large outside bathroom area. The private pool is located either in front or back of the villa.

Some beach villas have a separate small bedroom for children with bunk beds so they are
very good for families as well. Also the property has Family Beach villas which are on two
floors. Downstairs is  a master bedroom and upstairs another bedroom with twin beds +
a second bathroom. This villa type is suitable also for two couples or a group of friends.

A Presidential Beach villa has three bedrooms, huge living are, gym and a large outside area.

The water villas are very spacious. Large bathroom with two wardrobes and a bathtub.
Separate shower cabin and toilet. Private pool on a terrace. Direct access to the sea.
I prefer the water villas facing the island. On the other side of the jetty the villas have
an open sea view.

Water villa at Halaveli


F&B, facilities


The main restaurant, Jahaz, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in buffet style. Jing restaurant is stilted over the lagoon. The restaurant features fusion of Asian and European kitchens. Kids Club. Spa on stilts.

Activities

The house reef is further outside the island so a boat transfer is necessary. Snorkelling trips are arranged on daily basis.

In a nutshell

The villas are sumptuous.  The staff are nice and polite but I didn´t get the same amazing feeling of personal service that you get at Moofushi. It is still a good choice for clients looking for luxury villas and beautiful white sandy beaches.

Who to stay

This property suits families and couples. 

How to get to Constance Halaveli

The speedboat ride from Moofushi is only 25 minutes.

Flights / Turkish Airlines


Helsinki-Istanbul/ Male-Istanbul in business class, Istanbul-Male in economy class.

Compared to most carriers the food and beverage choices are excellent and complimentary.
In economy class two choices for main course are offered and in business class three. 
Flying Chef´s are available on  long haul flights. While meals are cooked off site, they provide a value added food service that includes bringing choices one-by-one so you are not sitting with a full tray.

The service was very good. Polite, attentive  and smiling staff. Very good value for money. Hardly any extra costs – meals, drinks, seat bookings and luggage included.

From Finland flight times are very good, departing in the evening arriving into Male in the morning.
The same inbound.

In business class Hel-Ist vv it is operating with two configurations. You either have three seats and one in the middle is not in use or you have two wide seats with plenty of leg room. Male-Istanbul was a brand new aircraft with fully flat seats.

Istanbul-Male flight departed at 1 am and  it took almost two hours until the dinner service started. On night flights it would be better to serve the meals as soon as possible; after a  two hour flight most passengers were too tired to dine.

Business lounge in Istanbul is huge and divided on two floors. The lounge includes  a reading room with a full size billiards table, work areas with iMac computers, movie room, kid’s play room and several  food and drink stations.

ARJA LAUKKARINEN is a senior travel consultant at Select Collection Helsinki office

For more about Constance Resorts click HERE.