Justin Cohen savours the ultimate ‘simcha’ at sea…
With dancing late into the night, food and drink flowing like water and a cosy family atmosphere, disembarking from The Silver Wind felt like the end of a lavish simcha that lasted nine days. Minus the cheek pinching from the aunt you haven’t seen for decades, the control freak in-laws and the family broiguses that turn perfecting a seating plan into a military operation.
In fact, by the time the ship docked at our last port of call in Venice, it became clear that luxury cruiseline Silversea could teach the most accomplished simcha host a thing when it comes to perfecting that long goodbye associated with Jewish functions.
That farewell started on day six back in the port of Dubrovnik, with an evening feast under the stars on the pool deck and continued with the captain’s reception the following day. To the tune of Simply The Best, Silver Wind’s 225 staff filed in to take their bow in front of a near-capacity 280 guests – on whom it began to dawn that it would soon be time to return to life without a butler.
Embarking 1,200 nautical miles earlier in Monte Carlo, the playground of the rich and famous, seemed fitting preparation for the millionaire lifestyle that awaited.
Silversea stands out from many of its rival lines in offering butler service in every suite. We were welcomed on board by Ashwith, who showed us to our spacious suite complete with teak veranda and personalised stationary before making clear he would be just a phone call away day or night should we need help restocking the mini bar, arranging in-suite dinner parties or other essentials needed to navigate a maiden voyage. He even offered to unpack our suitcases, but we were still several days from forgetting how to do things for ourselves – an inevitable casualty of such a trip apparently – so politely declined.
A guided tour of the plush hotel on water followed. It may buck the trend for ever bigger and brassier vessels but Silver Wind is plenty big enough. Fewer guests mean the liner can marry attention to detail with the space for guests to enjoy the facilities; you’ll rarely be battling for space around the ninth deck pool or have to wait days for a treatment at the spa which boldly promises to “enrich the lives of guests”. A nightly flick through the Silversea Chronicles provides a glimpse into options for the following day; work up a sweat with a pilates session, try your luck in the casino after dinner, enjoy a cookery demonstration in the Panorama Lounge or test whether your eyes are bigger than their wallet by browsing the H Stern store.
And talking of your eyes being too big…there is the all-inclusive food and drink. The ship’s 25-strong catering team pride themselves on bringing a flavour of the region where the ship is sailing to the table; for the summer months that means a taste of the Med with no shortage of seabass, buffalo mozzarella and the freshest vegetables purchased en route.
Silver Wind boasts no less than five places to tuck in including Le Terrazza, my personal favourite thanks to outdoor seating where you can enjoy a glass of the finer stuff while watching the sun set and Relais and Chateaux’s Le Champagne, where guests pay an additional sum for a menu approved each year by a two-star Michelin chef washed down by a choice of fine wines from a connoisseurs menu stretching to 10 pages.
The menu changes every day at The Restaurant, the largest eaterie, where guests barely reach the door before being welcomed by the toothy smile of maitre de Antonio and a burst of his catchphrase ‘life is beautiful’. Here, ladies can look forward to being personally escorted arm-in-arm to their table. I had been warned to expect to put on a few pounds but so plentiful was the food that on more than one occasion I was forced to commit the ultimate English misdemeanour…saying ‘no’ to a cream tea.
The fine porcelain in the restaurants is matched by the service that gave you a taste of what it must be to live like a celebrity; the fact staff seem to master the names of every passenger within hours, for example.
Several months on, I still recall appreciatively how waiter Rodal, after learning the first day that we couldn’t mix milk and meat, sought reassurance that the petit fours laid out temptingly before us were acceptable at all and on another occasion how Ashwith asked if I was certain I wanted a crepe for breakfast after recalling how I had failed to polish one off two days earlier.
When he apologised for the slightly choppy waters one night I started to wonder if there was nothing he couldn’t do to enhance the experience!
At the age of 21, Silversea – voted best small ship cruise line 11 times by readers of Conde Naste – is maturing nicely.
Silver Muse, its ninth vessel, is due to set sail in 2017 while the line is also setting itself apart by offering free wi-fi to every guest for at least an hour daily and totally free in some suites. But it’s the cosy family approach that remains the standout feature: “We look upon our staff and returning guests as a part of our extended family,” the luxury cruise line’s chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio proudly declares in its voyages brochure.
Like with any family, birthdays are celebrated – staff and passengers alike – including with a surprise birthday cake, balloons and Ashwith’s finest rendition of ‘happy birthday’ for my mum’s big day.
If life on Silver Wind is like a family, its father figure is undoubtedly Colin, the charismatic cruise director who seems to own more pairs of colourful glasses than most people (Silver Wind passengers aside) have had hot dinners. “The children are still awake,” he says, as if to prove a point, when he spots members of the Artists of Silversea – a group of young performers whose nightly shows include hits from the musicals and Abba. When not using his experience as a concert pianist to entertain guests, this seemingly omnipresent figure was helping a guest whose daughter’s luggage had gone missing on the other side of the world, setting out the challahs for Shabbat or using his extensive knowledge – “if there’s a coastline I’ve pretty visited them all” – to advise passengers on the best places to visit ashore.
Our cruise stopped at Rome, Sorrento, Messina, Corfu, Dubrovnik. Hvar and Venice. It’s well worth treating yourself to one of the four to eight organised guided excursions offered each day, with most trips setting you back $99-$199 per person.
A highlight was a visit to Capri, a 20-minutes ferry ride from Sorrento. Head straight for the chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro for breathtaking views over the Amalfi coast to which even the reams of photos you take won’t do justice. Minutes from the spectacular Grand Hotel, you could do worse than follow the likes of Nicholas Cage by eating at Villa Verdi, whose wooden oven-baked pizzas are something to write home about.
A whistle-stop tour of Corfu – one of seven Ionian islands nestled between Greece and Italy – took in the Achillean Palace and the old town, a world heritage site, is an architecture guru’s paradise with examples from the Venetian period and no less than 37 churches within a 15-minute walk. The historic centre offers no shortage of reminders of British rule, including a cricket pitch used by teams from around the world and the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, once home to high commissioners but now to the Museum of Asian Art.
Thirteen hours docked in Dubrovnik, with its fortress towers originally built in 9th century, left me wanting more. The cable car to Mount Srd, over the city’s famous terracotta rooves (those with the brighter shade have been replaced after shelling in the early 90s) promise spectacular views to the Adriatic. The Panorama restaurant at the top will feed both your stomach and your hunger for more of that landscape.
Tucked away off the city’s main thoroughfare is the oldest functioning Sephardi synagogue in Europe. The same baroque building houses the Jewish museum whose treasures include a Torah brought from Spain after the expulsion.
Visiting an array of Europe’s top destinations in the space of a little over a week didn’t stop my debut on the high seas being the most relaxing break I’ve had; it’s that fact that makes a cruise stand out. If you’re looking for a Club 18-30-type holiday, this isn’t for you. But I for one could happily get used to waking up in a different place each day – opening the curtains with the toughest decision being whether to enjoy breakfast on the veranda or with new-found friends in one of the restaurants.
With extra crepes every time, of course.
Silver Wind facts: Silversea’s Silver Wind departs on a 10 day voyage from Civitavecchia to Venice on 30 September 2016.
The voyage calls at Sorrento, Amalfi, Lipari, Sicily, Dubrovnik, Hvar and Koper. Fares start from £3,250 per person based on double occupancy of the Vista Suite.
For more information or to book please visit www.silversea.com / 0844 251 0833.