It all felt a bit like a slow-motion music video, with everything turning black-and-white and Roberta Flack singing, “The first time ever I saw your face,” when we turned the corner and saw Sliversea’s new flagship Silver Muse for the first time. It is easily distinguishable at a distance by her dual funnel uptakes, gleaming in white against the blue-grey skies in the port city of Genoa, the capital of northwest Italy’s Liguria region.
It’s been delivered to Genoa by Fincantieri shipyards that very morning after extensive successful sea trials, including speed, vibration, noise, endurance and propulsion tests. Now, the $USD125-million-dollar ship, with its spacious all-suite accommodation, just over 400 staff, along with the renown all-inclusive fares, is ready for its close-up and shakedown cruise.
Yes, I was the same. What is a shakedown cruise? It’s a nautical term denoting when a ship is tested before it enters service. In this case, everything was in place and never once did it feel like a test-run. We – travel agents, journalists and friends of the Silversea company from around the world – were part of the first, and very willing, guinea pigs to sample this new addition. Silversea has a well-established reputation in luxury cruising, with the Silver Muse the ninth ship in the Silversea fleet. Their wide range of itineraries and network of destinations leads the luxury end of the market. The company must have been quietly confident all would go to plan having the ship delivered the same day as we embark.
Walking on board, you can tell the crew feel proud to be there, with big smiles all around. And justifiably so. “As we celebrate Silver Muse joining the fleet, another milestone for Silversea, the attention to detail throughout the ship reflects our dedication to offer the ultimate luxury experience at sea,” says Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, chairman and owner of Silversea. Luxury cruise sales are up 17 per cent, with cruising continuing to be the travel industry’s sweet spot.
Barbara Muckerman, Silversea chief marketing officer, says they see the growth coming from baby boomers. “They are ready for enrichment and experiences, rather than just accumulating products,” she says. Baby boomers control 68 per cent of income in the US, says Muckerman, and will inherit 53 trillion dollars over time. “It’s about the art of nature, and the experience, but they still want creature comforts. That’s why Silversea is perfectly positioned.”
The ship accommodates 596 passengers and, with its fuel-efficiency and energy-saving technology, adheres to the group’s principles surrounding responsible environmental practices and sustainable activities. Preservation of the oceans is a crucial priority for this family-owned company.
Our Australian-Italian captain, Alessandro Zanello – the youngest officer ever to be appointed captain on the Silversea fleet – has worked aboard every Silversea ship. Over dinner, he explains that the Silver Muse is the second inaugural ship voyage he has worked on during his 18 years with Silversea, having been second-in-command for the launch of Silver Spirit in 2009. “I’m the son of an Italian father and Australian mother,” he says with a grin. “I spent many of my childhood holidays in Sydney playing on Manly beach.”
In public spaces, the interior colour palette is refined in soft greys, muted taupes and beige tones, even mentioning the word “beige” doesn’t quite describe the absolute restrained luxe interior spaces. In Italian-designer speak, they are more Armani than Versace. You won’t see any fluoro lighting strips or bright feature walls; rather there is a calmness and quality not often seen in cruise-ship design. I was chatting with an American journalist who remarked, “It just seems so European … where are the bright colours?” That’s the point: those beautiful restrained hues and subtly whisper-quality and certainly don’t scream mass-market sparkle and shine. It’s the way a beautiful grand Italian hotel should be on the high seas, refined and not some crazy resort jam-packed with plastic palm trees.
The artwork displayed around stairwells and the extra-wide hallways is much like a gallery – you can’t help to stop and glance, wanting to know more about each artist and work. There are moments you forget you are on a cruise ship, thanks to the clever design of Silver Muse – it may be the largest ship built for the company, but it has certainly not lost is intimate small-ship feel.
The Arts Café is a new edition and an extension of the Lefebvre family’s love of art, with some of Silversea’s vessels, such as Silver Shadow, displaying pieces from well-known artists including Picasso and Chagall. The Arts Café continues the family’s tradition of sharing art. Nestled in a sun-drenched corner on deck eight, it showcases paintings and sculptures from a range of artists, with a café-deli-bar. Come early evening, the venue transforms into a cocktail lounge where you can relax with a drink in hand, watching the world float by.
The other new bar is Dolce Vita, central on deck five, between the reception and shore excursion desks. It makes a handy meeting point for that pre-dinner drink with new friends. Another favourite spot is at the top of the ship; in Tor’s Observation Library you can snuggle into a window seat and watch the sun disappear.
Wine and Divine
The ship carries an unrivalled selection of dining options on board, and no longer has a main dining room, which is unique in cruise-ship design. The concept of, “Anything, anywhere, at any time” means the choice of eight onboard restaurants and the freedom to dine wherever and whenever, feels much more modern. Of course there is 24 hour room-service on call as well. Silversea culinary director, Rudi Scholdis, originally from The Dorchester in London, says much work has gone into the varioues offerings and ingredients, with menus changing daily.
There are three new restaurants to the Silversea fleet. Atlantide is a seafood and grill concept. The infused red snapper with a sea-salt crust is delicious. In the Asian-inspired Indochine, cuisines from India, Thailand and Vietnam are smashed together with best versions of dishes in flavour and taste. Here you can have a starter of spring rolls with a laksa for the main. With most foodie cities around the world enjoying this mixed Asia themed dining trend, it’s good to see Silver Muse offering this contemporary dining option. The third addition is the Italian-themed poolside restaurant Spaccanapoli, which serves homemade Italian pizzas throughout the day, and is named after the straight and narrow historic street in Napoli famous for its cuisine. This is an ideal spot after a day trip to flop down with a beer and pizza and decide if you will go for a swim or just people-watch. With red-and-white checked tablecloths, it really is a little slice of Naples and the pizzas taste just as good as anything from that famous street.
If it’s a more formal night of dining you want, you can’t go past the La Dame Relais & Chateaux experience. This wood-panelled room offers a refined French menu. Though unlike the other restaurants that are part of the all-inclusive cruise fare, here and at the Japanese restaurant Kaiseki you will be charged a fee.
We had the most fun over dinner at the Silver Note, with live jazz and blues and tapas-style dishes. The restaurant is an intimate size and well worth reserving with new friends you’ve made on board for a fun night of dining and dancing.
It’s perhaps the suites that offer the most significant point of difference in terms of luxury. With different suites at various price points (Silver, Royal, Grand and Owner’s), Silver Muse has the most suites at sea that interconnect, a crowd-pleaser for intergenerational family cruising. Add to this the butler service, which manages to be both attentive and unobtrusive; fast internet and wifi; and a mirrored wall at the foot of the bed that transforms into a television screen with interactive digital menu – here you can scroll through all the detail of restaurant menus, choose movies on demand, or plan your next shore day activity from your remote. There’s a second television in the lounge.
Wall-to-wall marble bathrooms come with separate standalone showers with rain shower option, and decent-sized baths with jets. With Bulgari toiletries and the Sebamed product range for sensitive skin, everything feels like it’s been thought through with the customer top-of-mind.
There’s a walk-in wardrobe where suitcases can be stored and beds are large and super-comfortable in Pratesi linen – with nine pillow options. And with the deep balconies – what a spot to relax and revive – it’s an effort to leave these spacious suites.
If working out is your thing – I was not born with that particular gene – then the Fitness Centre offers aerobics and yoga classes, and the Zàgara Beauty Spa should also be visited with its selection of treatments, massages and facials. The Mood Room, with personalised lighting and music, will make you drift off to sleep as your massage takes place. There’s just that slightly awkward moment when you wake and have dribbled with the paper towel sticking to your face. All part of the magical experience of having a massage while battling jet lag.
We have two stops along our shakedown cruise route. Marseille is fun, a little bit ragged around the edges, a bit wild in certain parts of town. It’s France’s second-largest city and has attracted immigrants for centuries. You cannot help but have a great day – we spent most of the morning in the art district, Le Panier, with its colourful building facades, narrow alleys, lots of steps and courtyards, buying ceramics, stopping for gorgeous French pastries and getting lost. With lunch at a Moroccan-inspired restaurant, it was a day to remember. Next, we travelled around the coast on a Petit Tourist Train up to the Notre-Dame de la Garde and back to the Old Port. A beautiful coastline with lots of museums and great shopping that I want to return to one day.
Taragonna, in Catalonia, Spain, is our final day-trip before we disembark in Barcelona. The Roman Amphitheatre that you can’t help but notice as you arrive in the city is fascinating, as is the Museum of Archaeology and the Necropolis. Strolling around the streets and Roman forts on a beautiful sunny Spanish day, stopping for lunch and coffees along the way, and discovering the central food market stacked with Spanish delicacies make the visit a joy. Good company, great food … doesn’t get much better than that.
It was at breakfast in the La Terrazza restaurant on our last morning I noticed Silversea Chairman and owner Manfredi Lefebvre do a little jig, while talking to a couple after being asked about the ship, with hands in the air and feet tapping. I immediately wanted to jump to my feet and congratulate him and start to boogie, perhaps a conga line? Gimme a high five brother! But somehow it didn’t seem appropriate this early in the day. Instead over a breakfast of Italian cold cuts, cheese and freshly baked bread we planned our exit. I do kind of like the idea of an early morning shakedown and boogie though, seems like a very Italian thing to do, and Silver Muse is worth celebrating.
For a cruise on Silver Muse, prices for an all-inclusive voyage start from $5080 per person/twin share. For more information contact your local travel professional or Silversea Cruises on 1300 306 872 (AU) or visit silversea.com