Moved by the Spirit

Ital­ian hos­pi­tal­ity and flair rule on the new­est Sil­versea liner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

WITHINa few min­utes of set­tling into the Main Bar on deck 5, I have cho­sen my new favourite cruis­ing com­pan­ions. Their names are Basil Gim­let and Sil­ver Rita. The con­vivial-sound­ing pair ap­pear on a cock­tail list that in­cludes Mad Men mar­ti­nis (dash of bit­ters, two olives) and won­der­ments such as pome­gran­ate mo­ji­tos and com­pli­cated mixes of el­der­flower cor­dial and cal­va­dos. I would like to make the ac­quain­tance of Basil and Rita as soon as pos­si­ble.

I soon dis­cover ev­ery bev­er­age poured is a triple; all drinks, with the ex­cep­tion of pre­mium wine and cham­pagne, are in­cluded in the tar­iff on board the 540-pas­sen­ger Sil­ver Spirit. Not once in seven days do I see any­one who looks tipsy but, good­ness, the drinks wait­ers are kept busy.

When the ‘‘Friends of Bill W’’ meet each day for their Al­co­holics Anony­mous catch-up in the Ob­ser­va­tion Lounge, I won­der what they say to each other. I imag­ine the sheep­ish dis­clo­sures: ‘‘It’s been five min­utes sincemy last drink.’’

But this is no place for the non­im­biber and the diet-dis­tracted. This is the high life on the high seas, Ital­ian style. The Sil­versea line runs five ships— Sil­ver Cloud, Sil­ver Wind, Sil­ver Whis­per, Sil­ver Shadow and (the new­est) Sil­ver Spirit — plus an ex­pe­di­tionary ves­sel, Prince Al­bert II, which has just been re­named Sil­ver Ex­plorer.

Cruis­ing can be as ac­tive or as idle as you like — presto or ada­gio, since we are in an Ital­ian frame of mind. Those who love the idea of a con­va­les­cence at sea do lit­tle, soak­ing up the sun (there’s am­ple seat­ing, in­clud­ing day beds; for­get deckchair rage on such a pe­tite ship), vis­it­ing the li­brary (classy crime nov­els, des­ti­na­tion guides and new fic­tion) and en­gag­ing in the more seden­tary pur­suits listed in the daily Chron­i­cles news­let­ter. There are origami lessons, ice­cream so­cials, sewing cir­cles, bridge, trivia quizzes, lec­tures in the plush-seated theatre and lan­guage classes for be­gin­ners.

The presto peo­ple are on the run­ning track with per­sonal trainer Kieren or join­ing him at Path­way to Yoga. They are in the gym, at dance classes with Jodie and Greg, do­ing Zumba work-outs with Juliet, golf-putting and play­ing ta­ble ten­nis with the Pro­duc­tion Crew. They are to be en­coun­tered ca­vort­ing with Basil Gim­let and Sil­ver Rita at all known hours.

Atreat­ment at the Spaat Sil­versea? Be­yond the frangi­pani body nour­ish wraps and lime and gin­ger glows, how about teeth whiten­ing, cheek lifts, cel­lulite re­duc­tion and colon ther­apy?

My cruise is a com­bi­na­tion of slow and, well, not-so-slow, the day’s sched­ule dis­cussed each morn­ing with but­ler Ku­mar from Ker­ala, who brings early cof­fee dressed as for­mally as if he is about to at­tend a royal wed­ding. He works with suite at­ten­dant Jo, whose sunny smile could light up her home city of Manila. They are as mis­chievous as they are efficient, as I find out on my birth­day— but not even my real (and I had thought unan­nounced) birth­day, by which time I will have reen­tered Earth’s at­mos­phere and landed home.

Ar­riv­ing back at Suite 629 af­ter din­ner with friends Janet and Ju­dith, I en­ter a cav­ern of pa­per stream­ers, bal­loons, tea lights on a river of white silk ( bat­tery­op­er­ated, I note with re­lief) and tow­els shaped as swans. The bath has been drawn and foamed to the ceil­ing. Be­hind the cur­tain that sep­a­rates the sleep­ing areaandthe lounge al­cove, we hear a noise.

I ex­pect Ku­mar to pop out in a party hat but it’s the sound of ice shift­ing in the cham­pagne bucket. There’s a huge cake with can­dles ready to be lit and enough scat­tered rose petals to bowl over a ma­ha­rani. We are dou­bled with laugh­ter andnext morn­ingKu­mar and Jo ask for a full run­down of what hap­pened, whatwe said, how myfriends liked the cake, whether the bath was still warm, and whether the foam was the foami­est foam we ever did see.

It’s all so madly won­der­ful, this com­bi­na­tion of sanc­tioned cel­e­bra­tion, the gen­uine kind­ness of an In­dian man who misses his fam­ily, and the play­ful­ness of a pe­tite Filip­ina who, as we are do­ing our party de­brief, is gather­ing the scat­tered rose petals and press­ing them into neat piles, per­haps hopeful of an­other im­mi­nent birth­day on deck 6.

This fun isn’t at all what I ex­pected on such a lux­u­ri­ous liner.

What I did an­tic­i­pate was deep com­fort. The suites are in dam­son pink and bur­nished gold, kit­ted with dress­ing rooms and am­ple stor­age, and al­most all with gen­er­ous-sized ve­ran­das. The decor feel is Four Sea­sons meets Ritz-Carl­ton and large bath­rooms have full-sized tubs, sep­a­rate show­ers and a choice of toi­letries. Ku­mar­does the soapcer­e­monyon day one: Bul­gari, Neu­tro­gena or Ac­qua di Parma?

Mir­rors in the sleep­ing and lounge ar­eas turn into tele­vi­sion screens at a click of the re­mote con­troller; there are satel­lite sta­tions and a menu of hun­dreds of new and clas­sic films on call.

The food? It’s on of­fer 24 hours a day if you in­clude the room­ser­vice menu with its transAt­lantic dou­ble dogs and baked cheese­cakes.

Ex­ec­u­tive chef Ri­cardo Dotti, of Ital­ian and Mex­i­can parent­age, is a big blimp of a chap who pre­sides over a sur­gi­cally clean kitchen and a brigade of mul­ti­ple na­tion­al­i­ties —‘‘and two women’’. The cui­sine is a most se­ri­ous af­fair and menus change ac­cord­ing to ‘‘weather and clien­tele’’. He goes ashore at ev­ery port, meets the

sup­pli­ers, checks what’s new. Viet­nam, he re­veals, is his favourite coun­try for pro­vi­sion­ing the ship, but ‘‘al­ways loaded’’ are his sta­ples from the mother coun­try: truf­fles, dried porcini, wheels of parme­san, bal­samic from Mo­dena, best ex­tra vir­gin olive oil and saf­fron.

He’s a big man, with the typ­i­cal open-armed hos­pi­tal­ity of the Ital­ians. One day he does a cook­ing demon­stra­tion on the pool deck; it’s a seafood risotto be­ing stirred in a paella pan the size of a garbage-bin lid. It is rain­ing, the burner isn’t strong enough to heat through the rice, there’s shout­ing, wav­ing of arms, laugh­ter, calls for some­one to turn down the wind, more laugh­ter and, fi­nally, the risotto. ‘ ‘ Eat, eat and eat some more!’’ he cries. It’s an op­eretta and we all clap and cheer and tuck in with gusto.

Where is this ship go­ing? Thank you for ask­ing. We board at Cairns and dis­em­bark at Benoa, Bali. The weather is wet dur­ing our stops at Thurs­day Is­land and Dar­win, and many pas­sen­gers stay on board; this seg­ment of Sil­ver Spirit’s maiden world cruise is seem­ingly all about days at sea. And those seem­ingly in­fi­nite hours bring con­stant sur­prises, such as the pod of 12 dol­phins that ap­pears as we head for Sumba Is­land in the In­done­sian ar­chi­pel­ago. Ev­ery­one on deck sud­denly rushes to star­board and I imag­ine Sil­ver Spirit lean­ing deeply to the right, like a car­toon ship at a tilt.

You soon get used to the cy­cle of ship­board life, this un­moored re­al­ity in which few de­ci­sions are re­quired, no de­mands made, and it seems en­tirely sen­si­ble to be on a date with Basil Gim­let as a pi­anist named Amedeo plays your favourite tunes.

You could also spend not a dime on board if you es­chew the al­ter­na­tive din­ing rooms (Asian de­gus­ta­tion at Seishin; Re­lais & Chateaux fine din­ing at Le Cham­pagne), drink only the matched wines, do your own laun­dry and shun in­ter­net and satel­lite phone use, bou­tiques, spa treat­ments and shore ex­cur­sions. But with Sil­versea’s Ship­board Cred­its pro­gram (see Checklist), even some of those ex­tras can be cov­ered.

Al­though Amer­i­cans are the world’s great cruis­ers ( hail all those ter­ri­fy­ingly tanned ma­trons with their trea­suries of gold), Aus­tralia is the fastest-grow­ing mar­ket for Sil­versea and I can see why. The ships are small and ex­clu­sive; you are a name, not a num­ber. There are no set meal seat­ings or queues for af­ter­noon tea, no barstool ban­dits claim­ing their ter­ri­tory. Charm­ing wait­ers carry your trays and pull out your chairs at La Ter­razza’s break­fast and lunch buf­fets, and it’s pos­si­ble to ar­range bridge or gal­ley tours; but the at­mos­phere is any­thing but snooty.

If Sil­ver Spirit cruise di­rec­tor Fer­nando were not a quiz­mas­ter and ral­lier of troops, he’d be a stand-up co­me­dian.

The Ital­ian wait­ers at La Ter­razza, for all their fe­line el­e­gance, are quite crazy, pre­fer­ring to catch their re­flec­tions, ad­just­ing their hair, oc­ca­sion­ally for­get­ting to bring the food. I in­tend this not as a clin­i­cal crit­i­cism but an ob­ser­va­tion about how very con­ti­nen­tal and care­free it all feels.

Other wait­ers — mainly from east­ern Europe, In­done­sia and The Philip­pines — are far more efficient. And that is the thing about Sil­ver Spirit: it all works won­der­fully and col­lab­o­ra­tively. This could well be the best time you could ever have afloat.

Su­san Kurosawa was a guest of Sil­versea and is the win­ner of the 2010 In­ter­na­tional Cruise Coun­cil Aus­trala­sia’s Me­dia Award.

Sil­ver Spirit sails past the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge; whether you want an ac­tiv­ity-filled voy­age or would rather laze on deck, the lux­ury liner caters to ev­ery taste and tops it all with a sense of fun

SU­SAN KUROSAWA

Cui­sine is a se­ri­ous af­fair for ex­ec­u­tive chef Ri­cardo Dotti

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