VOLANTE Silversea Cruises spotted a market for ultra-luxury cruising in the mid-1990s. Jack Yan and Amanda Satterthwaite become converts to the idea as they head on board the Silver Whisper
Photographed by the authors; top images courtesy Silversea
Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire. Amanda Satterthwaite is a writer and photographer for Lucire.
There’s a very noticeable boom in travelling on cruise ships, especially those heading to ports in New Zealand. Since our combined experience of travelling by sea was limited to the cross-strait ferry, and a return trip to Helsinki many moons ago, just what’s in store at the other end of the scale?
Silversea Cruises’ newly refurbished Silver Whisper, which docked in Wellington recently, gave us a glimpse of luxury cruising—so much so that by the end of our brief time aboard, our questions had changed from ‘Just what would you do while stuck on a cruise ship?’ to ‘Why do we have to leave?’ and ‘When can we do a cruise with Silversea?’
The Silver Whisper was travelling between San Francisco and Monte Carlo as part of a seven-leg voyage, with some guests spending over four months on board. They would arrive in May, meeting its sister ship, the Silver Muse. When we visited, the Silver Whisper was completely sold out, bar one suite, with many of its guests having travelled multiple times with them before. As we discovered later, each suite has the names of the guests on the door, as well as the years in which they had travelled with Silversea. Many had multiple years underneath their names, and one guest had every year from 2007 detailed below hers. Repeat custom was typical.
Our host for the evening, Scott Graham, was very enthusiastic about the company, a family-owned business founded by Italian jurist Antonio Lefebvre d’Ovidio, and now run by his son, Manfredi. Initially, the family began with two ships, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, purpose-built for the line, as it saw a gap in the market-place for ultra-luxury cruising. Silver Whisper, Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit were the next three ships in the main, or Classic, fleet. The Rolls-Royce-like names are not coincidental: Silversea wanted to signal that guests could expect top-class service. Classic fleet ships have a capacity of 296 to 596 guests, reaching 800-plus destinations; in 2018, this is forecast to increase to 1,000, all to prime locations, often picked for their exoticness. Antarctica is among them—Silversea can claim to reach all seven continents. The Expeditions fleet, meanwhile, sees another three vessels: Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos and Silver Discoverer, which carry fewer passengers, ranging from 100 to 260. The Silver Cloud will be converted to join the Expeditions fleet.
Silversea isn’t kidding about ultra-luxury: each suite has a butler, who takes care of guests’ needs. They are trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers, and offer the sort of service that you might expect: they will pack and unpack, get to know your routines, and if you’re heading off to an excursion, you may find your bath run to the right temperature on your return. While there are bars on board, a butler could fetch you the nightcap. They could coordinate an in-suite cocktail party (should you not fancy using the observation deck), or arrange a car at your next stop.
The passenger-to-crew ratio is an incredibly high 1 to 0·79, in line with other Silversea ships.
The Italian connection (although the Lefebvres are now based in Monaco) can be seen in the amenities on board: in the bathrooms we saw Bulgari toiletries. There is a sense of old world pride as you go through the vessel: the Silver Whisper has the only Relais & Châteaux wine restaurant on the sea, called le Champagne, where we saw even at a cursory glance vintages from Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Procès and the Louis Jadot Volnay Clos de la Barre Monopole. The six courses are designed to complement the fine wines.
The line partners with Relais & Châteaux for all its vessels: the Restaurant on each ship offers Relais & Châteaux’s la Collection du Monde signature dishes. In addition, certain cruises feature a cooking school at sea, l’École des Chefs by Relais & Châteaux, hosted by Silversea’s culinary trainer, Chef David Bilsland.
On board, there is the luxury spa, with facials, body wraps, massages and saunas, including products from la Thérapie, and a comprehensive gym that wasn’t frequented during our visit. Guests relaxed on the pool deck, having drinks and socializing, the two whirlpools at the ready for warmer days at sea. We were impressed with the view and relaxing atmosphere at the Observation Library, with books on travel and a panoramic view from the bow, while another library within housed an even greater collection of books and DVDs, which guests could borrow for in-room viewing. Guests are also provided with on-board newspapers, custom printed with the Silver Whisper’s name, available in different languages. There’s even a card room which doubles as a conference space, and a show lounge for entertainment, including films, live shows, and even lectures from luminaries such as author Bill Bryson. A gift shop had St Petersburg Collection’s Fabergé eggs and luxury watches. The Lefebvre family’s love of art is apparent throughout, with sculptures in display cabinets throughout the ship.
We visited one of the suites on the fifth level, and the 2016 refurbishment had brought things bang up to date, with interactive TV, in-cabin wifi, and on-demand movies. Everything was well appointed, from the décor in the room itself to the dark marble floor in the bathroom.
But one of the undeniable attractions is the food, with numerous dining and drink options—and that’s not even counting in-room dining. The Bar is particularly relaxed, and an American guest was very happy to chat to us. In addition to le Champagne, we saw la Terrazza, with indoor and outdoor seating; the Black Rock Grill with do-it-yourself cooking table-side, and the Restaurant itself, where we enjoyed a sumptuous six-course meal, tailored perfectly to our tastes. If you’ve certain intolerances to various ingredients, the Restaurant will take note of them and deliver accordingly, and we were very impressed with the service. Other diners were enjoying themselves in a very relaxed, jovial atmosphere—after weeks of travelling, they were still loving every night. Wines were well matched, with a sweet Kipfel Alsace Gentil 2014 and the Tenuta Sant’Antonio Valpolicella Ripasso Monti Garbi 2014 to go with our dinner. Advance reservations are definitely required for le Champagne; they are recommended for la Terrazza.
By the end of the evening, we felt that guests were so spoilt for choice with what the Silver Whisper had to offer. Should they decide to go on shore, Silversea offers late departures, so they can soak up their destinations properly. We felt ready to join the rest of the guests in that last remaining suite—it’s not hard to see why they return to Silversea year after year. •
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