Moved by the Spirit
Italian hospitality and flair rule on the newest Silversea liner
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
Cuisine is a serious affair for executive chef Ricardo Dotti