With an estimated 35,000 genes in our DNA, you’d think we’re well-equipped. But, after having sailed recently on a Silversea cruise (on the intimate vessel, Silver Wind), it became apparent that everyone employed on board—from deck crew to captain—assuredly had 35,001 genes. That additional gene, knit into the helix of the staff’s collective DNA, is the “hospitality” gene: that je ne sais quoi that separates gracefully delivered four-star service from that elusive fifth star.
From the moment I landed dockside in Stockholm, early in the a.m., after a transatlantic flight this summer,I sensed I was in for a cosseting voyage. I watched passengers from the previous cruise disconsolately disembark the vessel, making their way to the caravan of shuttle buses, taxis, and limos waiting to whisk them away from their week in Paradise. Now it was my turn to ascend the gangway up to heaven. While I was idling, already sipping the Champagne proffered me by the doting staff, two different couples eyed me enviously and asked somewhat longingly, “Just starting, are you? Well, you are in for the treat of a lifetime.” And so I was.
As I settled into my lovely Veranda Suite (translation: my cabin had a tidy teak balcony with two chairs and a table—but what “veranda” really means is that you get delicious, fresh sea air, panoramic views, and outdoor privacy), I took stock of the welcoming touches: blossoming tropical flowers, a fruit platter, a box of luscious chocolates, and Pommery Champagne. The handsome stateroom (with seating and sleeping areas) was outfitted with all the expected amenities—sumptuous robes, slippers, Bulgari toiletries, and a few unexpected ones, like the high-powered binoculars, should I want to scan the coastline for a lost Loch Ness Monster. We’d be crisscrossing the Baltic during my 12-day itinerary, which would include port cities in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, as well as a few interesting islands (Sweden’s Visby, among them), ultimately returning to Stockholm.
You may have cruised before, but if you’ve not sailed on a small, luxury vessel like this (296 passengers on the 515-foot ship when she is fully booked, and that happens nearly all the time, whether she’s lollygagging around the South Pacific or hopscotching across the Indian Ocean), then you’ve not really cruised. On a cozy vessel like Silver Wind (and her twin sister, Silver Cloud), the compelling draw is that intimacy, the freedom to do/dine when, where, and what your caprices dictate. One morning, feeling particularly sea shore-ish, I knew I just had to have lobster tails for dinner. A call to the galley and a tentative query…et voilà! That night, a genie arranged for those tasty crustaceans to grace my dinner plate, a crowning festival of scarlet against the frosty-white Frette tablecloth, appropriately flanked by the Schott crystal stemware and the Christofle flatware.
But then, again, after interviewing Austrian chef Laurent Austrui and pastry chef Merson Nucup, (whose workday starts in the middle of the night when he begins baking that day’s bread), I knew that lobster had to be on board, somewhere. Austrui told me that for a one-week cruise, his galley blitzkriegs through 550 dozen eggs; 1,100 pounds of flour; 1,200 pounds of poultry; 8,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables; and a “mere” 8 pounds of caviar, among the innumerable foodstuffs he and his computer are constantly monitoring.
Caviar is a mere “trifle” compared to all the lavish treatment on board: The spa offers a coconut rub and milk massage, a frangipani body-nourishing wrap, and a lime-and-ginger salt glow massage, among the many exotic body treatments. There are facials for men and women, including one called Visible Brilliance. The gym is on the top deck, with a swath of glass facing the bow, so working out seems like a scenic visit to the seaside. And then there’s the nightly roster of entertainment—from classical pianists to magicians to comedians, to more serious lectures on the history, culture, or politics of the area you’re visiting—along with a casino for the more adventurous. There are also a few glamorous, formal-dress evenings, when you get to pretend you’ve leapt from the pages of The Great Gatsby.
Cruise lines pride themselves on the staff-to-passenger ratio, and Silver Wind’s is 1:1.4. Really. (The two larger vessels in the fleet, the Silver Shadow and the Silver Whisper, each with 382 passengers, clock in at 1:1.3, so size doesn’t diminish Silversea’s delivery.) It is no wonder that Condé Nast Traveler has named Silversea the world’s best small-ship cruise line for eight years, as has Travel + Leisure, for six years. And, the NYC-based Luxury Brand Status Index survey, which asks high net-worth individuals to rate 20 cruise lines, considers Silversea “by far the best in cuisine, service and luxury.” What is the tariff for this service-with-a-smile? Expect to pay about $1,000 per person, per day; tipping is not allowed, and there are virtually no extras to pay for on board, save things like spa treatments. (Shore excursions are not included and there is an extensive menu of choices for every port, priced anywhere from $50 or so to $1,000 or more, for a private car and driver.)
But Silversea’s accolades are not just statistics. It’s the hands-on service you get: My two cruise stewardesses, Naia Ilucindo and Melinda Gregorio, never failed to place my towels and toiletries just where I liked them and they knew precisely what I wanted stocked daily in my mini-fridge. Silversea passengers are loyal because they are pampered, for sure, and after one cruise, passengers are automatically members of the Venetian Society, which accords certain privileges and financial incentives. I was not shocked to find that many of my fellow guests had sailed with Silversea previously; one couple had been on board for months having gone around the world (A fifth ship, the Silver Spirit, will come on line in late 2009, with capacity for 540 guests; and the Prince Albert II, which was just christened a few months ago, offers expedition/adventure cruising.)
After so magical a voyage, all I can say is get me to the next gangway.
For more information, www.silversea.com.