It’s hard to pinpoint the exact year I decided that I should try cruising the oceans blue. I had issues: claustrophobia, mal de mer, eating with strangers with whom I might not have anything in common and the feeling of being held captive.
But then in a more positive light, there were so many undeniable pluses. Instead of rushing to airports and different hotels, here I only had to unpack once while still visiting my chosen destinations and I didn’t have to deal with the airport’s long queues. But most importantly, it was never having to ask if I could drink the water. So now that I’m a aficionado with several sea journeys logged, like many other peripatetic folks, I have come to realize this as the most convenient means for travelling and using vacation time.
Recently, I decided it would be a great idea to spend time with my friend cum sister-in- law, Hadi, who lives in half way around the world. We try to see each other once a year but that is often complicated with little time for our own private conversations. A cruise allowed us the freedom to do what we liked when we wanted.
Silversea Cruises, have won enough awards so the decision about what ship was effortless. Because of the favourable itinerary, from Lisbon to Monte Carlo, we chose their Silver Shadow, 186 metre ship with 382 suites.
”Wow”, was all we could say when Hadi and I saw our suite since we expected the usual cramped quarters, every extra inch used for storage. Suddenly, we were in an immense verandah Vista suite #655, a 27 square metre room. The sitting area, roomy twin bed space, large walk in closet which we certainly needed for the ship’s dressy evenings, and a bathroom with a tub at one end, a shower at the other and a double sink counter between made this seem more like a 5 star hotel room. There are larger suites – Medallion, Royal, Grand and Owner’s but ours was perfectly perfect.
“Will we ever leave the room?” asked my sister in law. My weak response was “Well, for day trips”.
With our early arrival, and after checking in, we still had part of the first day. Not wanting to miss any sightseeing opportunity in Lisbon, Portugal, forgetting our jet lag, we visited some of the bright spots which, had been mentioned to us before leaving home. If ever I return to this compact city on the banks of the Tagus River, I’d book into the chicest of the chic 107 room 19th century palace turned hotel, Pestana Palace It’s classified as a National Monument and still adorned with original stain glass windows, moldings, swirling granite staircases and perfectly manicured gardens. Oh, how the old aristocracy lived!!
Also a ‘must’, was Kais Restaurant which in its original persona was a, a cable warehouse now considered the trendiest and probably the largest eatery in Lisbon. Both great sights but we were longing to get back to our ship, the suite and mandatory fire drill. Besides, the next day, we planned to see Lisbon’s Carriage Museum and Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.
Back on board, I was fortunate to get an appointment for an Indian scalp massage at Mandara Beauty Salon and Spa, hoping to get rid of my jet lag head ache. On the tenth floor past the large gym, exercise room with stretching and Pilates classes by Maria and the glassed- in Observatory Lounge, was the airy concession spa. The treatment proved to be not only beneficial but a eye opener to see such talented technicians. Mandy, a Manitoba born hair stylist, like all the other staff members of this spa, was trained at Steiner Company in England whose potions and lotions, Elemis and LaTherapie products are used. A few days later, I went for a facial in the delicious darkness of this well designed spa room.
Spa on Ship Elemes
Meanwhile, Hadi, was happily reading poolside and feeling very much like visiting royalty when she recounted the buffet and service.
Among the 280 guests on this cruise was a high percentage of returning patrons. A Mexican couple with whom we became friendly, have been cruising with Silversea ships for years as have an English couple. (I should emphasize that almost everyone was a couple. I learned since my first cruise that going alone isn’t always comfortable for a single woman. However this was a friendly group of seafarers.). Young Joey, from Missouri, was given the choice of going anywhere in the world, a tradition set by his grandparents when their offspring’s offspring’s turned 16. The delightful young man had such great enthusiasm, that he was up first in the mornings and probably last at one at night. He could always be found at the computer center/library when he wasn’t testing the kitchen fare.
After trying the Italian-themed Terrace Café with a great menu which included Penne pasta with fresh tomato sauce, grilled fresh tuna, with suggested wines- Pinot Grigio and Chianti Castigliani, we learned that Le Champagne, a small 7 table restaurant, was always pre-booked. Since we wanted to try all, Karl, the concierge, a real sweetie, procured a table for a few nights later. And it was worth the wait. The starter, Foie Gras followed by tender steak and delectable cheeses and sweets, could not have been better. Our great discovery that evening was we could order black caviar as an appetizer in all the restaurants (not on the menu) and even have dishes of it sent to our suites at cocktail hour. We did that often, enjoying every small black roe.
Breakfasts were buffet style with a huge assortment of gratefully, non-mushy food. Although, there were other venues, Hadi and I opted for the airy, bright Restaurant.. Admittedly, twice, we did have in-suite breakfast room service, presented grandly on the tabletop whisked from the closet, placed securely on the coffee table, giving us a larger surface for the meal. For the coffee culture crowd Java was available from stem to stern, deck to lounges.
Since there was only one sea day, there was no fear of getting too sea sick . (For those who do have a tendency to mal de mer, Gravol Ginger Soft Chews Lozenges are efficacious as are any ginger candies). This day gave us an opportunity to listen to a lecture by historian psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Blinder, about Napoleon and also a traditional English tea in the Panorama Lounge.
It didn’t take us long to set up an evening routine. After dinner in one of the three restaurants, Brenda from Texas, Victor from Belgium, Hadi and I were always the first at the slot machines. Friendships were as easy to make as putting those coins into slots. The small casino was only opened out of the ports and the two gaming tables were always surrounded with fun-loving, carefree people who loved to talk about their winnings the next day. After ‘leaving’ our money and slots behind, we would make certain to get a centre seat in the theatre for one of their incredible evening shows. Nouveau Cirque, sticks in my mind as the talent spun from ceiling ropes, professional ballroom dancers added the glamour and great sequined acrobats, the glitz…and all on a ship!!
And for those with less passion for gambling and anyone in need of retail therapy, the boutique facing the casino had an array of sweaters, shirts, ensembles plus London jewellery.
Mandara Spa Silver Shadow
The few hours during the time we weren’t touring, on board activities included golf lessons and clinics, board games and social games of bridge. But most times were filled with shore excursions, some organized, all with complimentary shuttle service. First there was Cadiz, Spain, a port city with a magnificent baroque cathedral and mansions built with gold brought back from the New World. Malaga, Spain, artist Picasso’s birthplace, is filled with Gothic architecture the remains of the Moorish castle. This was a full day tour and many chose to visit The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel complex with its palaces and fortifications on a healthy hillside overlooking Granada.. Unfortunately, it was the only rainy day of the trip, making even the brave at heart miss the marvellous gardens and rush to the waiting bus. Palma de Mallorca, a cosmopolitan city also with Moorish and Gothic architecture, has a most beautiful cathedral La Seo Cathedral with huge flying buttresses. Nearby is a white modernistic café where Hadi and I had crispy salads and unbeatable cappuccino. Sophisticated, beautiful and bustling Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya Spain and the second largest city after Madrid. Artists, Picasso and Miro lived and worked here. But it’s a city committed to architecture as seen in the unique, ingenious buildings of Gaudi, especially the landmark La Sagrada Familia, all a tourist draw to this sensuous city. Next day, for a few hours, we docked at the small port of Toulon, France, to see its lively, large early morning open- market while next morning we were in the jet setters legendary seaside splendor, luxury yacht filled marina and rows of waterside cafes of St. Tropez.
Our final stop was to be Monte Carlo. But due to a very wavy sea, Capt. Chiesa laid anchor at Villefranche, and from the ship, this is the postcard picture of one of the prettiest Cote d’Azure cities.
Saying adieu, ciao and tata,to the many nationalities of our new friends, was difficult but knowing that this would not be my last Silversea Cruise helped with separation anxiety.
I flew from Toronto to London and then to Lisbon with British Airways. Returning, I departed from Nice airport to London and then on to Toronto
FOR THOSE WITH KOSHER DIETARY NEEDS. Silversea does accommodate requests for kosher foods. The ships generally have kosher meats available but Silversea should be advised of all special diet requests in advance of sailing…ideally at least 75 days prior to departure. With advanced notification, they can offer a selection of pre-packaged frozen kosher foods to the guests…