Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
I realized this morning – as I ate breakfast in my suite aboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit that had been delivered on-time, as requested, by my butler at 7:00 a.m. sharp – that if Silversea has a single flaw, it is that its ships are so easygoing and relaxing that the thought of dealing with the outside world is just, well, unappealing.
Yet the fact remains that Silversea has crafted some truly great itineraries in the Mediterranean. This itinerary is a great example of that: it has port calls in big-name places like Monte Carlo and Livorno (both staples of the Mediterranean cruise). But Silversea is also sending Silver Spirit to smaller, more off-the-beaten path ports.
While I finished off my grilled peaches with honey and sipped my black coffee, we sailed quietly into our first port of call of Sete, France. A gorgeous sunrise greeted us, illuminating Silver Spirit’s decks in an attractive amber hue.
You’ve probably never heard of Sete before. I hadn’t. And that’s entirely the point with Silversea’s Mediterranean itineraries, all of which are very diverse and unique. In fact, this is Silver Spirit’s first Mediterranean cruise of the 2016 season after completing her eastbound transatlantic crossing on Tuesday.
Silver Spirit’s Mediterranean season this year encompasses 20 different voyages departing between now and November 5. They range in length from this short six-day sampler (which, by the way, is a great introduction to luxury cruising) to the massive 16-day Westbound Transatlantic Crossing between Barcelona, Spain and Bridgetown, Barbados. Most cruises range in length between nine and 12 days; a great amount of time to be in Europe, and the perfect length to create a 14-day stay that features pre-and-post cruise options.
But those voyages are in the future. Today, Silversea is offering guests a choice of four excursion options here, in addition to complimentary shuttle service that runs between the somewhat-industrial pier and the town of Sete:
- MPL-A: Medieval Carcassonne. 8 Hours, $99*
- MPL-B: Sete & Chateau de l’Engarran. 4.5 Hours, $129.
- MPL-EA: S.S. Expedition: Kayaking the Canals of Sete. 4 Hours, $149 per person.
- MPL-F: Pezenas & Abbey of Valmagne. 45. Hours, $79*
The first and last excursions, marked with an *, are complimentary for guests who paid Silversea’s new all-inclusive cruise fares. Guests paying this fare could reserve these Silver Shore Select Excursions at no additional cost, which is pretty nice to not have to worry about. It’s just one more reason that luxury cruises are actually a great value: you’re paying up-front for everything so that when you’re on your cruise, there’s no nasty sticker-shock when it comes time to pay that onboard expense account that gets rung up so quickly on a mainstream cruise.
I chose to do the full-day tour of the medieval city of Carcassonne. Departing pierside at 8:15 a.m. sharp, it’s about a 90-minute drive from Sete to the medieval walled city.
As usual, going on tour with Silversea is easier than going on tour with most cruise lines. Your tickets are delivered to your suite. There’s no need to wait in a public lounge; typically, you just disembark and join your tour pierside. Complimentary bottled water is available at the gangway, along with a shaded seating area with some excellent reading material on-hand should you get bored.
Arriving at Carcassonne just after 10:30 a.m., we were first taken on an informative guided tour of the city located within France’s Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrenees region. The town has existed (in some form) since Neolithic times, and it was restored to its former glory in 1853 under the watchful eye of a theorist and architect named Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
With its narrow, cobblestoned streets and beautifully preserved medieval architecture, Carcassonne is apparently something of a touristic nightmare during the summer months. Swelteringly hot and unapologetically packed with tourists, it can be a real exercise in patience.
Today, in late April, crowds were thin, allowing us to stroll the city’s historic streets unmolested by the large crowds and searing heat that plague the summer months. It’s still chilly up in Carcassonne at this time of year, but a quick stop at a local restaurant for some hot French Onion Soup and a steaming bowl of cassoulet – a sort of casserole of beans with duck leg and sausage – was just what was needed to ward off the chill.
Our guide gave us two hours of free time to roam the city and its shops, which turned out to be more than enough. By the afternoon, shopped-and-walked-out, guests were on their way back to the Silver Spirit, which welcomed us once again with open arms. Or, at least, the shipboard equivalent of that.
One of Silversea’s coolest new onboard features is one that the line rarely mentions in its marketing. I don’t know why – it’s a fantastic innovation that the company calls All Around Dining.
Here’s how this works: you’re sitting in The Bar. It’s ten in the morning. You fancy a hamburger. Guess what? You can get one, delivered straight to you, simply by picking up the nearest house phone and calling your butler or by dialing 80808. You can order any item off the “All Around Dining Menu” that’s in your stateroom. It’s basically the room service menu you know and love, with a few new additions rolled into the mix.
You can be anywhere on the ship and take advantage of this new option, from the pool deck to the Observation Lounge to the Connoisseur’s Club. I’ve never been hungry long enough to feel the need to order a club sandwich in The Bar, but knowing the option is there is kind of nice.
Tonight, we’re docked in Sete until 11:00 p.m., but there is still a full complement of activities going on here onboard the Silver Spirit, including:
- 6:00 – Pianist Amedeo plays music for your listening and dancing pleasure. Panorama Lounge (9).
- 6:15 – The Silver Spirit Trio plays music and Ron hosts dancing. The Bar (5).
- 7:00 – Captain’s Welcome Reception. The Bar (5).
- 7:00 – Pool Deck Duo “Rizza and Reneo’ Plays music during dinner poolside. Pool Deck (9)
- 7:30 – Solo Traveller’s Get-together. Panorama Lounge (9)
- 8:15 – The Silver Spirit Trio plays music for your listening and dancing pleasure. The Bar (5)
- 9:00 – Enrico plays piano music for your enjoyment. The Bar (5)
- 9:30 – Pianist Amedeo plays music for your listening pleasure. Panorama Lounge (9)
- 10:00 – Showtime! Silversea Proudly Presents: “MIND THE GAP”. Show Lounge (5)
- 10:00 – Enrico delights you with unforgettable melodies. The Bar (5)
- 10:30 – All Aboard! Silver Spirit prepares to sail.
- 10:45 – Dance Party with DJ Giancarlo. Panorama Lounge (9).
- 11:00 – Silver Spirit sets sail for Sanary-sur-Mer, France.
- 11:00 – Late Night Music with Enrico. The Bar (5).
The list may not look extensive when you compare it to the all-out, Vegas-style entertainment list that crops up on a big-ship mainstream cruise. You’re not likely to find hairy chest contests, or robotic bartenders, or ice skating rinks here. The luxury cruise experience is all about enjoying the moment, not being distracted by it. The simplest pleasures take on an entirely new meaning on Silversea. Relaxing with a cocktail and listening to live music while talking to new friends takes on paramount importance.
This is cruising without distractions. Your days are blissfully full, as Silversea likes to say in its marketing. Except this time, it’s not PR-speak. It’s just the way things are here onboard the Silver Spirit. Blissfully full, and pleasantly relaxing.