FIRST THINGS FIRST

What bet­ter in­tro­duc­tion to lux­ury cruis­ing than on a brand new ship

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION CRUISING - JANA FRAWLEY

New-ship smell. It’s a thing. Think new-car smell only far more en­tic­ing. Al­low me to il­lus­trate: world­wide there will be more than 70 mil­lion new cars on the road this year com­pared to only 10 new cruise ships sched­uled to hit the wa­ter. Of those ships, there are a to­tal of 27,704 berths.

Add to that the fact there are about 7.5 bil­lion peo­ple in the world and you don’t have to be a ge­nius (I am not) to work out that breath­ing in the air on a brand spank­ing new ship – an ul­tra­lux­ury one at that – is sta­tis­ti­cally a rare op­por­tu­nity.

Which brings me to Sil­ver Muse.I board Sil­versea’s lat­est ad­di­tion in Girona, Italy, in early April.

It’s fresh from the docks of the Fin­cantieri ship­yard, built at an es­ti­mated cost of $280 mil­lion, and one of the first things I no­tice is the dis­tinct aroma of new­ness paired with the never-been-touched sparkle on ev­ery sur­face.

The four-night sail­ing I’m on is a dress re­hearsal – aka shake­down cruise, aka pre-maiden voy­age – be­fore pay­ing pas­sen­gers come on board. Along with travel agents and jour­nal­ists from the US, UK, Europe and Japan, my trav­el­ling companions in­clude Sil­versea’s owner and chair­man, Man­fredi Le­feb­vre d’Ovidio, and a slew of com­pany VIPs.

It’s their first new ship since 2009, and the ninth in their fleet, so it’s an un­der­state­ment to say they’re all ea­ger to show it off.

The guests are filled with a sim­i­lar sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion.

SHINY AND NEW

My per­sonal cruise ex­pe­ri­ence sits firmly at the large-ship end of the spec­trum so be­ing on a small, pre­mium ves­sel, let alone one at the be­gin­ning of its life, is a first for me.

Sil­ver Muse has the ca­pac­ity for 596 guests and 411 crew, a ra­tio ap­par­ent the minute I step on board to be greeted with a glass of cham­pagne and ush­ered to my deck-seven room.

Rom­mel, my cabin at­ten­dant, takes me through ev­ery pre­vi­ously un­touched fea­ture of the 36sq m deluxe veranda suite. The decor, like the rest of the ship, is con­tem­po­rary chic with a neu­tral colour pal­ette and re­strained fin­ishes.

It feels at once sump­tu­ous and homely; a very easy place to lay roots for a few days or weeks.

The next thing that takes my fancy is the hi-tech au­dio­vi­sual sys­tem, the screen of which ap­pears in the cen­tre of the floor-to-ceil­ing and over-desk mir­rors. It’s some­thing straight out of a Marvel comic.

The bath­room, with its stand-alone bath­tub, ca­pa­cious shower and prac­ti­cal light­ing and stor­age so­lu­tions, is next . It’s big, well lit and, in terms of its fin­ishes, com­pa­ra­ble to a five-star ho­tel. A nice touch is the toi­letries, prof­fered on a sil­ver plat­ter with a choice of pre­mium (Bul­gari! Fer­rag­amo!) and skin-sen­si­tive brands.

A walk-in wardrobe with masses of hang­ers, lounge area with cur­tain di­vider (ideal for cou­ples with dif­fer­ent sleep pat­terns), large bal­cony, am­ple power points and USB port, and desk, plus the laun­dry down the hall, make it one of the most well-equipped set­ups I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced at sea.

Which takes me back to Rom­mel. I’ve only once sailed with a pri­vate but­ler at my dis­posal. As it’s a given on so many high-lux­ury ocean and river cruises, I de­fer to my more ex­pe­ri­enced trav­el­ling companions for sug­ges­tions on mak­ing the most of this perk. Their ad­vice: the but­ler is there to keep your room spick and span, pam­per you and make the trip eas­ier. It could be as sim­ple as bring­ing tea or a full break­fast first thing in the morn­ing or a G&T at cock­tail hour but, if you ask, he’ll also un­pack and pack your suit­case, pol­ish your shoes, make your din­ner book­ings, solve your prob­lems ... thank you very much.

OUT AND ABOUT

The in­ti­macy that comes with small-scale lux­ury means that within a few hours I have my bear­ings, half a day later my pre­ferred nooks and van­tage points.

The Arts Cafe on deck eight be­comes the go-to spot for down time, not just for the dreamy cakes but for the won­der­land of cof­fee ta­ble and ref­er­ence books on the shelves. Cu­rated by Hey­wood Hill, a renowned Lon­don book­shop, it’s one of many ex­am­ples of Sil­versea part­ner­ing with ex­perts or pre­mium sup­pli­ers to el­e­vate their lux­ury of­fer­ing to the next level.

THE DELUXE VERANDA SUITE IS A VERY EASY PLACE TO LAY ROOTS FOR A FEW DAYS OR WEEKS

On deck, get­ting a dose of Mediterranean sun­shine is as easy as find­ing a ba­nana lounge by the pool and or­der­ing a mid­morn­ing espresso or lunchtime burger and beer.

It’s in these mo­ments that the joys of Sil­versea’s all-in­clu­sive fare hit home. There’s no men­tal bud­get or check­ing of the ac­count needed. Also, cruis­ing folk are usu­ally a con­vivial crowd, but the ease of strik­ing up a con­ver­sa­tion with a fel­low pas­sen­ger and “invit­ing” them to “share” a whisky later in the day at Con­nois­seur’s Cor­ner is has­tened when there’s not the prospect of awk­ward bill split­ting.

INTRODUCING THE CAPTAIN

There are two ways to de­cide where to dine on Sil­ver Muse.

The ob­vi­ous is to look at the menus for each of the eight res­tau­rants (there is not a main din­ing room) and pick one – In­do­chine or Kaiseki for Asian, La Dame for clas­sic fine din­ing, La Ter­razza, Spac­canapoli for Mediterranean, and the open-air deck Grill – that tempts your taste­buds.

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