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The arrival of a registered letter containing a leather pouch, tickets and full information some weeks before the off is the quality beginning of a holiday trip to remember. Since its first introduction just 10 years ago Silversea, an Italian cruise company run by Americans, has been setting the standard (and winning all the awards) for small ship deep sea luxury cruising. Not that Silver Whisper is all that small. At 28,000 tons it offers all the amenities of the larger cruise liners yet with only a maximum of 382 passengers has the air of individually and personal service required by a demanding clientele. The ship can berth at smaller ports or lay at anchor at places the bigger vessels can only dream of.
Silversea is a totally inclusive air package from your arrival at the airport of embarkation until you board your ”plane for the flight home (although you can book cruise only and subject to availability port to port ” Silversea describe it as ”personalised voyages”). Once on board you don”t have to put your hand in your pocket at all, there is a no tipping policy giving the effect of living in a five star luxury hotel without having to pay for it, the financial side being taken care of well before you set off. Silversea call it ”six star”, with complimentary drinks and services. On Silversea even the very well selected dinner wine comes ”on the house” as do the cocktails and brandy afterwards. A bottle of Champagne awaits in your suite on arrival. All very congenial. A novelty introduced this year is the ability to board the ship early (from 1030) very useful if you are coming direct from the airport, or you can stay on late at your port of disembarkation. The cost is $100 but what is also on offer is the ability to invite guests on board at any port. The $50 charge includes lunch and drinks. You can show them around the ship or ask one of the crew to do so. In fact it is a terrific sales promotion for Silversea as the visitors may well come back as clients.
Silver Whisper and its sister ship Silver Shadow are both now four years old joining the smaller Silver Cloud and Silver Wind introduced in 1994/1995, only 16,800 tons, two decks less and just 298 passengers. Whisper sits in front of Shadow in our photo above.
One great advantage of ships of this size is that they are far less tiring than some of the monster liners, where it can take 10 minutes to walk from cabin to dining room, perhaps pushing past the art show and photo display. Silversea is very relaxed. No ship”s photographer, very, very few public announcements and certainly no art auctions. Also a lack of special shopping deals, the luxury shops on board offering a small selection of high quality clothes and indulgence luxury items. What the ships do have is some of the finest standard cabins (they call them suites) afloat, significantly wider than those found on most cruise liners, with a divider giving a proper living/dining area (which can be seen in our photo of a typical verandah suite), walk-in wardrobe and a marble (it”s Italian don”t forget) bathroom with separate shower and twin wash hand basins. Most suites have balconies but those without are the same size and come with a large picture window. The passengers are mostly American, middle aged with a sprinkling of children, who do not have special facilities and are not really encouraged (but welcomed just the same). Surprisingly Silversea seems to be finding much favour with honeymooners and younger couples without kids.
From a design point of view the Silversea ships are very interesting with all the accommodation at the front of the ship and the inside public areas from the middle towards the stern, each approached by a lovely wide foyer, which doubles as a meeting area. The layout means that the cabins are very quiet and once you are up and about everything that is needed is within easy walking distance. With a smaller ship those dedicated types who try not to use the lifts (elevators) to reduce waist levels will find that only six active decks makes for an easy life. Silver Whisper has much the same size salt-water swimming pool as the bigger cruise liners, the usual whirlpools and plenty of deck space for laying out. Naturally there is a poolside bar, free of course, and from late morning until teatime the poolside grill offering a good selection of lighter fare. With this design the ships” tenders (lifeboats) are very neatly tucked away and never seen, boarding when moored offshore at certain ports a particularly easy exercise even for the less able. A nice touch (complimentary of course) is bottles of water at the disembarkation point, valuable when on land at a hot port of call plus orange juice on the quayside. Like most modern cruise ships Silver Whisper has pod thrusters at the bow and stern, impressively used to come in smoothly sideways at tight docksides without the use of (the now redundant) tugs.
Dining is a very important element of any cruise and Silversea patrons will not be disappointed. There are three restaurants open every evening or you can dine in your cabin. For those with a larger suite dinner parties can be organised with a menu of choice of course nothing extra to pay. The main restaurant is particularly spacious and serves innovative and interesting meals with dinner dancing some evenings. Low cholesterol is also on offer. There are formal, informal and casual nights with the flexibility to dine from 1930 to 2200. You can have a fixed table (two to eight), dine as a couple, or leave it to the maitre to sort out companions for your meal as you arrive. It all works very well. The Terrace Caf” doubles as a lunchtime self-service buffet (self-service not being quite the right term ” waiters buzz around ready take your plate and there is also a separate pasta servery) and you can eat either within its confines or out sitting high over the stern. The bar steward will prove attentive. The Terrace Caf” doubles up as a high quality al fresco diner, with a different theme every night and once again Italian design and flare shown, the buffet area tucked away neatly behind closed doors. This is the place to dine if you don”t want to dress formally on those evenings and there is of course a full 24-hour room service. ”Le Champagne” is for gourmet dining and here you will pay extra for some very special wines. The room holds up to 12 for private dining and is ideal for a small party of guests particularly if it is a night-stop port.
You can have a full breakfast in your cabin, in the restaurant, or Terrace Caf”, where you can order an egg with whatever type of filling required, and brought to your table.
One highlight of the whole trip is the Sunday Brunch, served in the main restaurant and accompanied by a musical group. It”s self-service, the food itself, with the exception of the dessert, laid out in the ship”s kitchen. The whole exercise serves two purposes. Firstly a sumptuous Sunday lunch, and secondly an opportunity to see where the gastronomic delights are actually prepared. The theatre is, unusually, at the back of the ship and is most luxurious and comfortable. The offerings are less ambitious than the bigger ships but Silversea is able to attract top quality artists whose financial requirements are perhaps less demanding than for a booking in the west end. After all they probably do only two shows on a 10 day cruise and can share the superb facilities and cuisine. The splendid auditorium serves as a lecture theatre and cinema although how an American audience were able to understand the Yorkshire accents and nuances of Calendar Girls is beyond this writer.
Silversea is very laid back. Even the casino is discreetly off the beaten track. It”s certainly not a floating Las Vegas. With some ships you can”t even reach the show lounge without passing the gambling tables. Naturally there is a golf cage on board but the ship is too small (not wide enough) for a deck tennis court. The Mandara spa has on offer a full range of beauty treatments and the gym has the latest equipment including individual TV screens and earphone. Silversea has tackled the email problem with either computers available in the library or by using the cabin TV and keyboard and a system called Sea-Lynx. Sending an email back home is a lot easier than writing a postcard and you can add a digital photograph. There is a nominal charge.
Is there such a thing as a typical cruise? The answer is emphatically no, even with Silversea. First of all you have to decide how long you want to stay on the ship, for some seven days is ideal, but for others not long enough. How many sea days do you want is another big question. For many people the ability to effortlessly visit new and exciting places day after day is the perfect holiday, whilst for others the ability to rest and rejuvenate is the answer. In any event you can laze on the ship whilst the majority go on shore. All the restaurants and bars are open as is the pool. A typical European 10 day cruise might start at Barcelona, visit Marseilles, spend a day at sea before arriving at Valletta and then onward overnight to Scilly. The Greek Islands might be the next area for visitation, finishing at Piraeus (Athens) or another alternative could be into the Adriatic with another wonderful city, Venice, as the finale. Of course you can extend the holiday at either end, Silversea ready and willing to organise it for you, in real style.
Until the middle of September Silver Whisper cruises gracefully in the Mediterranean before finishing the season in London and crossing the Atlantic to New York via Reykjavik (which also serves as a finish or embarkation port) and on to Fort Lauderdale for the winter. Prices for a seven-day trip, stopping at some delightful ports, from Rome to Venice start at ”2,017, terrific value, or Athens (where it is on special charter during the Olympics) to Lisbon from ”1,498 cruise only. Don”t forget that in hotel parlance this is for very full board and the only extra is your airfare. Nobody will know you flew by budget carrier.