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Cape Town, South Africa and the beautiful Silver Wind
As I write this, I am comfortably settled into my suite here onboard Silversea’s elegant and intimate Silver Wind, docked here in the port of Cape Town, South Africa. Out my window, the imposing hulk of Table Bay Mountain stands watch over the town, just as it has done for hundreds of years.
Before I talk about either of these stunning subjects, I should briefly touch on the day-long journey it took me to get here, which involved two flights and a four-hour layover at London’s Heathrow airport. From my home-base in Vancouver, Canada, it takes roughly 8.5 hours to touch down at Heathrow airport, where I would connect with an 11.5 hour flight from London to Cape Town.
I absolutely love flying, but even I thought I would have to dig deep on this one. I don’t sleep well on airplanes, and while I managed (somehow) to get three hours of shut-eye on the journey to London, I found myself sitting at the Starbucks at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5, nursing a coffee and watching the proliferation of jets take off every minute. At one point, I realized I had made a game of counting how many British Airways’ Boeing 747’s had taken off in a ten-minute timespan (eight!), and had remained amused by the initial snow falling down, which later turned to overcast skies splashed by a bit of sunlight.
Here’s the interesting bit: while I did manage to doze for five hours, no amount of caffeine on earth can equal the natural buzz of seeing the sun rise over the African continent just after five in the morning. Even from two seats away from the window and 38,000 feet in the air, it is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen. I thought I was going to have to “dig deep” to make this one work, and yet it turned out to be one of my more enjoyable flying experiences. One hundred years ago, what I just experienced today would have been a sort of travel panacea; now, it’s so commonplace that most people didn’t bother to tear themselves away from The Expendables 2. Personally, knowing that I was flying somewhere over Windhoek was an astonishing revelation.
Arriving in Cape Town just after 7:30 am local time, I was out of the airport with luggage in hand by 8:30 and on my way to the Table Bay Hotel, located at Cape Town’s famous Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, also known as the VA Waterfront. Getting there at 9am sharp, I enjoyed a light breakfast in their gorgeous lounge overlooking the inner harbour, had a coffee, and planned my next steps. This, of course, in between pinching myself that I was in South Africa about to embark on a “safari cruise” up the coast.
The staff at the hotel (which is offered as a pre-or-post-cruise stay with Silversea) couldn’t have been more helpful, storing my luggage and pointing me in the direction of some of the waterfront’s main attractions. They also passed along some valuable information: the hottest period of the day typically occurs between 3 and 6pm, and not the noon-to-three timeframe most commonly referred to.
With Silver Wind delayed in berthing (she arrived shortly after 11:30am; another ship had taken her berth and had to wait for the wind to die down before she could be moved), I took the chance to stroll the V&A Waterfront. Starting at the Table Bay hotel located along Quay 6, I made my way as far as the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island, where he was held prisoner.
I had read things that bordered on horror stories about crime in Cape Town, even from my reputable guide books, which – accurately – warned to be aware, but not paranoid. At no point today did I ever feel unsafe; police presence along the V&A Waterfront is palpable, and I enjoyed wandering among the shops, attractions and restaurants with the rest of the tourists and locals here. Like most major cities, I get the impression that if you go looking for trouble, you will find it. Still, I’ve felt more unsafe in large cities like Miami than I did here.
There are also some very cool features and attractions lining the V&A Waterfront, from a maritime museum to a gigantic Ferris wheel to a BMW Concept store. In fact, Cape Town itself reminds me of several different cities, including Honolulu, Hawaii for its natural beauty and laid-back vibe. There is also a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus that takes tourists to, among other places, the Table Mountain gondola. Stay tuned – I’m thinking of doing this on my return to Cape Town in ten days’ time!
I was eating my late breakfast when the tip of the Silver Wind’s bow came gliding into view, turning around in the harbour to dock right at Jetty #2 – literally ten feet from the Table Bay Hotel. The fantastic Silversea staff at the hotel took my baggage directly to the ship, and I simply walked over to the pier from the hotel. I walked ten times that distance in London Heathrow yesterday just trying to make a connecting flight!
Inside a small out-building, check-in formalities were quintessential Silversea: a small desk manned with two people, and no lineup whatsoever. They checked my passport and ticket, gave me my keycard, and off I went up the gangway to board the elegant Silver Wind for the very first time.
It was just that simple.
Once onboard, I turned in my passport at the front desk (they hold onto it for the duration of the voyage), and I ambled up to the Pool Grill for a delicious hot dog lunch. I know that may not sound very “Silversea”, but that’s what I love about them – there’s something here for everyone. And it doesn’t hurt that the hot dog is grilled fresh to order and accompanied by fresh onion rings, French fries, and all the fixin’s.
I also had one of my favorite Silversea poolside drinks: the very refreshing Fruit of the Glen. I hate to admit it, but when waiter Jerry came around again and asked, “Would you like another?,” I said yes. With all beverages included in the price of the fare – and a day’s worth of flying behind me – I figured I could be a little indulgent!
Speaking of “indulgent”…how shall I put this? I’m trying to find a decent segue to describe my accommodations for the next ten days which are, by any measure, absolutely jaw-dropping. When I first walked into my Grand Suite, I stood there with my mouth agape, looking very much like a stone carving gone terribly wrong.
The thing that amazes me about these Grand Suites is that there’s a little bit of something for everyone. There’s a forward-facing balcony that overlooks the bow just off of the living and dining room. I love the views from here that replicate the view from the navigation bridge just one deck above, but some people might not be thrilled with the tall steel bulkhead walls. Not to worry: there’s a more traditional balcony located just off the bedroom. That’s right: two balconies!
For workaholics like me, the separate desk area is reason alone to book one of these 1,019 square foot luxury retreats. It has its own picture window, letting me look out on Table Mountain as I write this. It’s also wonderful because I don’t have to bring my laptop down to The Bar or the Panorama Lounge and be a bit of a kill-joy by working.
But what I really love about these suites are their curved, sweeping walls that follow the ship’s superstructure and their unique, drop-down ceilings. It feels very nautical in tone to me, similar to something that would have existed on one of the great ocean liners of days gone by. An odd thing to admire, I admit, but the ceilings were a great idea!
One interesting observation that might benefit future cruisers, though: I’ve been through the whole suite, and nearly every power outlet is of the European 220v style. For me, this isn’t an issue – I always bring a converter. But I nearly didn’t on this trip because I knew that I’d be bound for a cruise ship. What’s more, it came along for the ride largely because I forgot to take it out! So bring your converters and adapters.
After I managed to extricate myself from my suite (it’s hard -believe me!), it was up to Deck 6 for the obligatory lifeboat drill. As I wrote in my last Silversea Live Voyage Report, I love how the company handles their lifeboat drills, by mustering first inside, then outside at the actual boats. It takes longer, but I think that in the event of an emergency, people are a lot better prepared if they know exactly what to do.
When the sun started setting around 7:30pm, I raced off of the ship and outside of the secure area at the end of the pier to snap a few photos of the sleek and sexy Silver Wind bathed in the light of the setting African sun. On a larger ship, that same task would be nearly impossible, but with only 296 guests onboard at full capacity, crowding isn’t an issue. I was off, on the pier, and back onboard in 15 minutes.
Tonight, I intended to dine in my suite, partly because I was tired but also because there was a full-sized dining room table just there waiting to be used. But it was such a beautiful evening out that I had to do it: I dined at The Grill on Deck 8, amidst the glow of the setting sun and the twinkling stars.
With Cape Town as a backdrop, this interactive cooking experience is about as good as it gets. You start by choosing one of three different types of salads, followed by a wide selection of raw meats or seafood. These then come served atop a piping hot slab of black volcanic rock, allowing you to cook your meal to your liking. This comes paired with red or white wines, along with a baked potato and a skewer chocked full of peppers and vegetables.
The result is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had onboard a ship, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity tonight to dine at The Grill.
With Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront brightly lit outside my window, this entire voyage seems like some sort of brilliant dream – and we haven’t even left the pier yet. I had friends that questioned why I would subject myself of 24 hours of air travel to visit someplace new. Had I known how much I would fall in love with Cape Town, or the Silver Wind, I would have given twice that. A journey like this isn’t meant to be a vacation; it’s supposed to be an investment.
An investment in you.
Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Wind continues tomorrow as we spend a day sailing the Indian Ocean, and touring this elegant ship – in pictures!
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