Friday, April 29, 2016
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
If there’s such a thing as a homecoming, it probably happened today as Silversea’s Silver Spirit eased her way into her berth in Monte Carlo, Monaco. It’s the first time since the end of her European season last year that Silversea’s flagship has been in the city; a fact made more important due to the fact that Silversea’s corporate world headquarters are located here, just minutes from the pier.
Whether it’s preferential or just early reservations, we managed to snag the one and only berth in Monte Carlo. The just-christened Oceania Sirena was forced to drop anchor out in the harbour and tender her guests ashore. In some ways, this created some beautiful photo opportunities for guests aboard both ships, and no doubt for the billionaire’s yachts that call this ritzy city home.
Silversea makes a point of featuring Monte Carlo on many of its Mediterranean itineraries. Some voyages, like Silver Cloud’s September 16, 2016 departure (V.1629) embark here, while at least one itinerary always features an overnight call to allow guests to visit the famous Monaco Grand Prix that takes place every May. Silver Spirit herself will overnight here on her May 23 departure from Barcelona (V.5613) for the Grand Prix and in Cannes, France for the legendary Cannes Film Festival.
I have sort of a love-hate relationship with Monte Carlo. Fascinating and picturesque, it is also tremendously frustrating to get around – particularly at this time of year, when the set-up for the Monaco Grand Prix is in full swing. Sidewalks are blocked off with rows of metal bleachers, and roads dead-end in absurd locations. On a visit here in 2011, I very nearly went mad with frustration in trying to walk the city, eventually giving up and taking a taxi cab back to the Silver Spirit, where a cocktail was waiting to calm my nerves.
To eliminate any potential frustration, I chose to take one of Silversea’s Silver Shore excursions here today: the half-day tour of Nice and Eze.
Nestled between Monte Carlo and Villefranche, the medieval village of Eze is perched high atop a rocky outcrop of land. We were given a quick orientation tour and then set loose by our guide for 30 minutes of free time, which was just enough to buy a few souvenirs and loose ourselves amongst the narrow and winding streets.
Eze is one of the most visited sights outside of Monte Carlo, and it shows: by the time we left at five minutes past ten in the morning, the crowds had already started to descend. Coupled with the rapidly-climbing mercury (a stark contrast to the frigidness of yesterday’s port call in Sanary-sur-Mer), this is one destination you’ll definitely want to visit early in the morning.
The real star of this tour was the city of Nice. Located along the Cote d’Azur, Nice is one of those places that exudes a certain charm that you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s the brightly-coloured buildings painted in shades of red, orange and yellow. It could be the mixture of French and Italian influence. Or, it could simply be the five kilometres of beachfront promenade that speak to a lifestyle that most of us aspire to.
We strolled the historic Old Town (Vieux-Nice) with its winding streets, hidden squares and cafes. Our guide made a point of showing us the Flower Market (Marche aux Fleurs) that is impressive but loaded with tourists. You’re more likely to hear English spoken here than any other language, save for four German tourists who were being barked at by an unfriendly meat merchant.
From Marche aux Fleurs, the Quai des Etats-Unis is only a block away. This beachfront promenade stretches on for over five kilometres, wrapping around Nice in a sort of horseshoe shape. There were a few hearty bathers out early this morning, but take note: the beach isn’t the sandy kind you’d find in Barbados. Instead, it’s made up of smaller pebbles, so you’d be wise to bring some swim shoes with you.
Our guide gave us one hour of free time – not quite enough to hike up Colline du Chateau, or Castle Hill, which offers some of the best views of Nice and the Port of Nice. The second-largest Mediterranean French city after Marseille, Nice looks glorious from this vantage point, which used to be the site of a medieval castle and Cathedral until the buildings fell into disrepair and were destroyed around 1706.
It was wonderful to see Nice again, but I found myself wishing that we had the option to stay longer. Silver Spirit is in port in Monte Carlo tonight until midnight. I would love to see Silversea offer a “Nice On Your Own”-type excursion that drops guests off early in the morning, and returns them to the ship around the dinner hour.
Still, returning to the Silver Spirit is no hardship – particularly when the weather is this nice. Sunshine and warm temperatures call for a casual lunch at the Pool Grill up on Deck 9, where I sampled Silversea’s new gourmet burger selections and, sadly, had the same pool drink I’ve been having for four straight years!
This evening, I dined for the first time at Seishin, Silver Spirit’s onboard Japanese-fusion restaurant located on Deck 4.
Situated on the port side of the ship just outside the entrance to The Restaurant, Seishin is an intimate venue that seats just a few dozen guests. Tables surround a live cooking station in the center of the room. Lighting is soft and soothing, and serves to accent the elegantly Asian-style motifs that are spread throughout the room.
There are two basic styles of dining here: a short “teaser” menu that is available at a cost of $20 per person; or a massive, nine-course “degustation” sampler menu that can be had for $40 per person.
In the world of luxury cruising, there is much debate about specialty dining venues that carry an extra surcharge. Some feel that, in order to be considered “all-inclusive”, there must be no extra-charge items offered onboard.
Others, including myself, don’t see much of an issue with it. The surcharge at Seishin is less than the specialty restaurant fees on some mainstream cruise lines, and guests that are buying at this price point probably won’t balk at spending $80 per couple. The fee is more for crowd control than anything, and presumably helps to offset the costs of having so much fresh eeafood onboard.
For $40, I got more than my money’s worth. In fact, by the time dessert came – a delicious green tea ice cream garnished with a single slice of chocolate – I was pleasantly stuffed.
Now, obviously, you should like Japanese-style cuisine if you’re dining at Seishin. You’ll enjoy plenty of waygu beef, sashimi, sushi, and one of the best clear seafood soups I’ve ever tasted.
Currently, Silver Spirit is the only ship in the Silversea fleet to offer this intimate dining venue. Next year, Silver Muse will debut with a version of Seishin onboard, renamed Kabuki. It will occupy the same space onboard and, from what I hear, feature a very similar menu. My meal here was so good that I’d love to see Seishin – or Kabuki – retroactively added to the rest of the fleet, though this isn’t likely to happen due to the smaller size of Silversea’s other vessels.
After dinner, I took in my first production show in Silver Spirit’s show lounge. It was sparsely attended due to our late-night call on Monte Carlo, yet the Artists of Silversea still belted out some amazing hits that ranged from Italian opera to a haunting rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares To You, which was penned by the late Prince.
Tonight, I sat outside and enjoyed a French martini on the beautiful open deck behind the Panorama Lounge on Deck 9. I never went into Monte Carlo. I wasn’t even tempted. I just watched the sun go down over Monaco and the Silver Spirit, and enjoyed being back onboard.
That’s the thing with Silversea. It’s nice that the line develops great itineraries like this – but everything you could possibly want is right here onboard.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea’s Silver Spirt continues tomorrow from Livorno, Italy! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.