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The Benefits of Cruising The Med – Silversea-Style
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
I’m convinced that Silversea must have sleep scientists on the payroll, because I always enjoy the most soothing, relaxing evenings of rest whenever I sail with the line. And with no tours scheduled for our port call today in Sanary-sur-Mer, France, I happily dozed through the announcement at eight this morning that Silver Spirit had anchored in the bay, and tender service had officially begun.
Sanary-sur-Mer – or Sanary for short – is considered to be one of the sunniest places in the South of France. Just 13 kilometres from Toulon and 49 kilometres from Marseille, it receives approximately 280 days of sunshine per year.
Today, sadly, isn’t one of them. Skies are overcast and brooding, and temperatures struggle to reach the published high of 17°C, or 63°F. Strong winds race out of nowhere and whip up whitecaps on the water, and Sanary-sur-Mer feels a bit like an off-season trip to Skagway, Alaska in these conditions.
High winds also made for some adventurous tendering operations, with swells that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. A few rogue swells completely washed over Silver Spirit’s tender platform, and one gave a few guests sitting in the first few rows of our tender a good soaking. But the crew of the Silver Spirit had control over the operations at all times, and gingerly erred on the side of caution for guests young and old alike.
Ironically, I ran into two familiar faces on my tender journey: two guests who I had the good pleasure to sail with last year aboard the Silver Wind. I’d joined their dinner table on a few occasions as we sailed from Oman to Greece through the Suez Canal, and they recognized me, over one year later, sitting on a tender bobbing wildly around.
It was a real pleasure to see them again – but this wasn’t the first time this had happened to me. In fact, I have run into past guests on several of my Silversea voyages, and every time it has been totally unexpected and entirely welcomed. It’s also a testament to the loyalty of Silversea’s past guests, who come back time and time again for the ship, the itinerary, but most of all, the friendships they’ve made on board on both the crew and guest sides of the equation.
This is Silver Spirit’s first-ever call on Sanary, and the maiden port call to Sanary by any Silversea ship. It speaks highly to Silversea’s itinerary planning department that, even after 20-plus years in business, it can still find new and out-of-the-way ports of call to stop at in the Mediterranean.
Silversea wants to make it easier than ever to explore the Med this summer. The line just announced that, for a limited time, it plans to offer $199 Business Class Air Upgrades on all of its inclusive Mediterranean cruise itineraries.
Available on new bookings made between yesterday (April 27) and June 10, 2016 on 18 select Mediterranean voyages, these upgrades are available from 50 air gateways in Canada and the United States. It’s pretty cool when you consider that Silversea’s all-inclusive fares, which the line calls its Most Inclusive All-Inclusive package, includes perks like roundtrip economy-class airfare; a two-night pre-cruise hotel stay and transfers; free Silver Shore Select excursions; and complimentary Wi-Fi fleetwide.
“When we introduced our Most Exclusive All-Inclusive program, the response was amazing,” said Mark Conroy, Silversea’s managing director for the Americas. “Now, we’re taking it to new heights with out $199 business class air upgrade option, making it easier than ever to discover the Mediterranean’s most coveted destinations.”
For me, the ship is as much of a destination as the ports of call are. If I’m being honest, I think the ship is the main attraction while the ports are the icing on the cake. And today, strolling around the cold, windy streets of Sanary, I kept thinking of the warm Silver Spirit sitting out there in the bay.
So, after about two hours of window-shopping and strolling its historic streets, I caught the 1:30 p.m. tender back to the Silver Spirit.
Sometimes, it’s hard for travellers to do this. They want to see every last inch of town – and why not? It’s their vacation after all. But this “fear of missing out” can quite often mean forgoing some of the joy of simply being onboard a cruise ship in the first place. In my day-to-day life, I rarely have time to sit down and read, for example, so I did just that this afternoon. I took my book (which, incidentally, is titled, Lost At Sea) and read for a few hours in the Observation Lounge up on Deck 11.
Although activities like Afternoon Tea in La Terrazza and Team Trivia in the Panorama Lounge threatened to sway me, I wanted to just enjoy the simple pleasure of being aboard a ship that, truth be told, I love very dearly. If I ran a cruise line, it would look a lot like Silversea.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea’s Silver Spirt continues tomorrow from Monte Carlo, Monaco! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.
Touring Sete & Carcassonne with Silversea
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
I realized this morning – as I ate breakfast in my suite aboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit that had been delivered on-time, as requested, by my butler at 7:00 a.m. sharp – that if Silversea has a single flaw, it is that its ships are so easygoing and relaxing that the thought of dealing with the outside world is just, well, unappealing.
Yet the fact remains that Silversea has crafted some truly great itineraries in the Mediterranean. This itinerary is a great example of that: it has port calls in big-name places like Monte Carlo and Livorno (both staples of the Mediterranean cruise). But Silversea is also sending Silver Spirit to smaller, more off-the-beaten path ports.
While I finished off my grilled peaches with honey and sipped my black coffee, we sailed quietly into our first port of call of Sete, France. A gorgeous sunrise greeted us, illuminating Silver Spirit’s decks in an attractive amber hue.
You’ve probably never heard of Sete before. I hadn’t. And that’s entirely the point with Silversea’s Mediterranean itineraries, all of which are very diverse and unique. In fact, this is Silver Spirit’s first Mediterranean cruise of the 2016 season after completing her eastbound transatlantic crossing on Tuesday.
Silver Spirit’s Mediterranean season this year encompasses 20 different voyages departing between now and November 5. They range in length from this short six-day sampler (which, by the way, is a great introduction to luxury cruising) to the massive 16-day Westbound Transatlantic Crossing between Barcelona, Spain and Bridgetown, Barbados. Most cruises range in length between nine and 12 days; a great amount of time to be in Europe, and the perfect length to create a 14-day stay that features pre-and-post cruise options.
But those voyages are in the future. Today, Silversea is offering guests a choice of four excursion options here, in addition to complimentary shuttle service that runs between the somewhat-industrial pier and the town of Sete:
- MPL-A: Medieval Carcassonne. 8 Hours, $99*
- MPL-B: Sete & Chateau de l’Engarran. 4.5 Hours, $129.
- MPL-EA: S.S. Expedition: Kayaking the Canals of Sete. 4 Hours, $149 per person.
- MPL-F: Pezenas & Abbey of Valmagne. 45. Hours, $79*
The first and last excursions, marked with an *, are complimentary for guests who paid Silversea’s new all-inclusive cruise fares. Guests paying this fare could reserve these Silver Shore Select Excursions at no additional cost, which is pretty nice to not have to worry about. It’s just one more reason that luxury cruises are actually a great value: you’re paying up-front for everything so that when you’re on your cruise, there’s no nasty sticker-shock when it comes time to pay that onboard expense account that gets rung up so quickly on a mainstream cruise.
I chose to do the full-day tour of the medieval city of Carcassonne. Departing pierside at 8:15 a.m. sharp, it’s about a 90-minute drive from Sete to the medieval walled city.
As usual, going on tour with Silversea is easier than going on tour with most cruise lines. Your tickets are delivered to your suite. There’s no need to wait in a public lounge; typically, you just disembark and join your tour pierside. Complimentary bottled water is available at the gangway, along with a shaded seating area with some excellent reading material on-hand should you get bored.
Arriving at Carcassonne just after 10:30 a.m., we were first taken on an informative guided tour of the city located within France’s Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrenees region. The town has existed (in some form) since Neolithic times, and it was restored to its former glory in 1853 under the watchful eye of a theorist and architect named Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
With its narrow, cobblestoned streets and beautifully preserved medieval architecture, Carcassonne is apparently something of a touristic nightmare during the summer months. Swelteringly hot and unapologetically packed with tourists, it can be a real exercise in patience.
Today, in late April, crowds were thin, allowing us to stroll the city’s historic streets unmolested by the large crowds and searing heat that plague the summer months. It’s still chilly up in Carcassonne at this time of year, but a quick stop at a local restaurant for some hot French Onion Soup and a steaming bowl of cassoulet – a sort of casserole of beans with duck leg and sausage – was just what was needed to ward off the chill.
Our guide gave us two hours of free time to roam the city and its shops, which turned out to be more than enough. By the afternoon, shopped-and-walked-out, guests were on their way back to the Silver Spirit, which welcomed us once again with open arms. Or, at least, the shipboard equivalent of that.
All Around Dining
One of Silversea’s coolest new onboard features is one that the line rarely mentions in its marketing. I don’t know why – it’s a fantastic innovation that the company calls All Around Dining.
Here’s how this works: you’re sitting in The Bar. It’s ten in the morning. You fancy a hamburger. Guess what? You can get one, delivered straight to you, simply by picking up the nearest house phone and calling your butler or by dialing 80808. You can order any item off the “All Around Dining Menu” that’s in your stateroom. It’s basically the room service menu you know and love, with a few new additions rolled into the mix.
You can be anywhere on the ship and take advantage of this new option, from the pool deck to the Observation Lounge to the Connoisseur’s Club. I’ve never been hungry long enough to feel the need to order a club sandwich in The Bar, but knowing the option is there is kind of nice.
Tonight, we’re docked in Sete until 11:00 p.m., but there is still a full complement of activities going on here onboard the Silver Spirit, including:
- 6:00 – Pianist Amedeo plays music for your listening and dancing pleasure. Panorama Lounge (9).
- 6:15 – The Silver Spirit Trio plays music and Ron hosts dancing. The Bar (5).
- 7:00 – Captain’s Welcome Reception. The Bar (5).
- 7:00 – Pool Deck Duo “Rizza and Reneo’ Plays music during dinner poolside. Pool Deck (9)
- 7:30 – Solo Traveller’s Get-together. Panorama Lounge (9)
- 8:15 – The Silver Spirit Trio plays music for your listening and dancing pleasure. The Bar (5)
- 9:00 – Enrico plays piano music for your enjoyment. The Bar (5)
- 9:30 – Pianist Amedeo plays music for your listening pleasure. Panorama Lounge (9)
- 10:00 – Showtime! Silversea Proudly Presents: “MIND THE GAP”. Show Lounge (5)
- 10:00 – Enrico delights you with unforgettable melodies. The Bar (5)
- 10:30 – All Aboard! Silver Spirit prepares to sail.
- 10:45 – Dance Party with DJ Giancarlo. Panorama Lounge (9).
- 11:00 – Silver Spirit sets sail for Sanary-sur-Mer, France.
- 11:00 – Late Night Music with Enrico. The Bar (5).
The list may not look extensive when you compare it to the all-out, Vegas-style entertainment list that crops up on a big-ship mainstream cruise. You’re not likely to find hairy chest contests, or robotic bartenders, or ice skating rinks here. The luxury cruise experience is all about enjoying the moment, not being distracted by it. The simplest pleasures take on an entirely new meaning on Silversea. Relaxing with a cocktail and listening to live music while talking to new friends takes on paramount importance.
This is cruising without distractions. Your days are blissfully full, as Silversea likes to say in its marketing. Except this time, it’s not PR-speak. It’s just the way things are here onboard the Silver Spirit. Blissfully full, and pleasantly relaxing.
Silversea’s Silver Spirit Still Sparkles
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Luxury cruises are as much about what is included as what is excluded. That’s the realization I came to as I boarded Silversea’s beautiful Silver Spirit in the Port of Barcelona this afternoon; the start of my fourth voyage on a ship and a line that have become something of a home-away-from-home for me.
Silversea, of course, is famous for its inclusions. Gratuities aren’t expected. Drinks of all kinds – from simple tonic water to hand-crafted cocktails – are included in the price of the voyage. So are most dining venues onboard. The line has even rolled out inclusive shore excursions and internet access on select voyages.
There are some things you don’t get on Silversea – things that no cruiser will miss. For example, you won’t find lines when you check in. Unlike big-ship cruise lines, Silversea’s entire check-in process for the Silver Spirit took me a whopping five minutes – and I arrived on a coach with twenty other guests.
You also won’t find photographers harassing you to have your picture taken with a guy dressed as a whale, or a bear, or a Roman guard. No one will shake you down to buy the Drink of the Day in a commemorative glass so expensive that you’ll practically need a credit check. There’s no pushing, no shoving – no hassle. Just civility from start to finish.
You simply arrive at the pier, collect your keycards, go through security, step onto the ship, swipe your keycard, register your credit card at reception and drop off your passports. That’s it: done.
To compare, one of my mainstream cruises had a wait of nearly two hours to embark.
I always like to tell people who have never sailed with Silversea before that the line is great on your first cruise, but it becomes amazing on your second Silversea voyage. That’s because the crew gets to know you, and you get to know the crew. So far, I’ve run into a dozen familiar faces that I recognize from past trips aboard the Silver Spirit, Silver Shadow, and Silver Wind – not to mention the line’s three dedicated luxury expedition vessels, Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer, and Silver Galapagos.
You’re welcomed onboard with a glass of Champagne. At every turn, smiling faces are there to greet you as one might greet an old friend. One of the couples behind us remarked they were on their first cruise. Champagne in hand, they’d been onboard for all of 40 seconds when the husband remarked, “I think we’re going to have to do a lot more of these!”
And so begins another alluring Silversea voyage – a journey of relaxation, education and rejuvenation, not to mention the joy of being at sea.
This week, we’re headed for Sete, France; Sanary, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Livorno, Italy and Olbia, Italy before our arrival into Civitavecchia (Rome) on May 2. If you’re doing the math, that’s a six-day voyage – one that has attracted an eclectic mix of both European and North American guests.
The Suite Life
Easing into the Silversea way of life is deceptively simple. After a lunch on the Pool Deck (accompanied by my favorite drink, Fruit of the Glen), I made my way to my suite, which was ready by 2:00 p.m. and which already had my luggage waiting at the ready outside my door.
My home for this short voyage through the Med is a Category 5 Veranda Suite. Identical to Category 1 through Category 6, my suite is located on Deck 9 forward, and is one of the most common kinds of suites found aboard the Silver Spirit.
Measuring 376 square feet, Veranda Suites include practically everything you could wish for, including a private balcony that measures 65 square feet. There’s also a marble-clad bathroom complete with a full-sized bathtub and a separate shower; a choice of Bulgari, Ferragamo or hypoallergenic toiletries; nine different types of pillows to adorn the king-sized bed draped in Pratesi linens; a walk-in closet; and a sitting area that can be separated from the bedroom by way of a pull-out curtain.
These rooms also feature two flat-panel television sets inset into the mirrors that line the main wall; a nifty (and space-saving) touch. You can get a selection of television channels, the usual bridge-cam and map channels, and complimentary movies-on-demand on either television.
My butler, Anu, introduced himself in the usual way. He explained the suite’s amenities, and asked if I had any additional requests. As usual, I asked for a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and, this time, a bottle of Port wine. I was pleased to receive a bottle of Sandeman Ruby Porto along with my Johnny Walker Black. Oh – and these are no small Hilton-style liquor bottles. In the next six days, I apparently have to plow through a 1 Litre bottle of each. Bottom’s up!
If you’ve never been on Silversea before, the idea of a butler can seem intimidating. However, these kind professionals are really just there to help you enjoy your vacation to the fullest. Service is personable, not stuffy. There’s a genuineness to their service that escapes much of the tourism industry these days, and it’s something I appreciate more and more with each voyage I take with Silversea.
The Spirit of Change
My last voyage aboard the Silver Spirit was in April of 2012; a transatlantic crossing between Bridgetown, Barbados and Lisbon, Portugal. While I’ve sailed Silversea since then, the Silver Spirit and I haven’t crossed paths in four years. It’s a long time, and I was curious as to what – if anything – had changed.
As it turns out, there have been some noteworthy changes to the ship that fall outside the usual carpeting replacement and soft furnishing items that you’d expect.
Loungers – once bright orange – are now a dark brown colour.
The Shops on Deck 8 have been given a complete overhaul, in keeping with Silversea’s new fleet-wide branding. While I’m not a fan of the plain-grey carpeting, lighting here has been dramatically improved, and the space now sparkles with elegant light sources that cast a flattering glow on this area that borders the Casino and the Connoisseur’s Club.
The private Spa Pool on Deck 7 aft that comes complimentary when you purchase a Thermal Suite Pass from the Spa at Silversea now has a new fibreglass divider between it and the fitness area next to it. I can recall sitting in the Spa hot tub on my transatlantic crossing and having my peace and quiet interrupted by about a dozen yoga participants, so I think the divider is a good thing. It helps ensure your privacy while allowing fitness participants to do their thing.
Elsewhere through the ship, there are new menus and dining options in the main Restaurant, as well as in the Pool Grill on Deck 9. Expect a refreshing mix of new items and old favorites. For those who love Silversea’s cocktail menu, fear not: the drinks menu hasn’t been touched.
As a whole, however, the Silver Spirit sparkles, looking even better than she did when I disembarked her exactly four years ago today, April 26, in Lisbon.
A Silver Sailaway
At the stroke of six (or 1800 hours for my European friends), Silver Spirit quietly pushed away from Barcelona’s World Trade Center cruise terminal and passed the breakwater. I’d forgotten what a silent ship this was; not even the slightest hum or rattle could be heard as Captain Mino Pontillo increased her speed to an easy 12 knots. Evening turned into night, and guests aboard the Silver Spirit retreated to an enjoyable evening of dining, dancing and nightcaps.
It’s everything I remember about the Silver Spirit, with all the best bits left wonderfully unchanged.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea’s Silver Spirt continues tomorrow from Sete, France! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.Sil
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