HIGH SUMMER UNDER BALTIC SKIES- THE SILVER WHISPER

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Silver Whisper. Photo credit: Silversea Cruises

You always know that you’re on a classy ship when they bring some musical accompaniment outside to go with your evening meal. As if the sounds of steak, lobster and sea bass sizzling on our personal hot, volcanic rock plates was not symphony enough, we got some gentle, lilting piano melodies as a side order to go, too.

By this time, life aboard the Silver Whisper had morphed into a kind of sublime, smiley dream. Our days of lounging around the pool, sipping on Margaritas and picking at gourmet burgers slid easily into pre dinner cocktails on the open air aft terrace, and nights of sublime gourmet gluttony under those seemingly endless northern skies.

And this night too, was special; for this was Midsummer’s Eve. With the gently rolling Baltic crowned by the kind of slowly unfurling sunset that is almost heart stopping, we feasted as much on the surroundings as the steaks. That magical, mellow evening unfolded as slow and sublime as a flurry of muffled drum rolls.

There’s something quite moving and different about being in these waters in the summertime. A sense of being totally detached from such mundane things as reality. Our drinks glasses somehow refilled themselves without anyone noticing. Plates were removed and replaced; we talked and bonded in the blissful, boundless surroundings of an amazing, gold and grey sky, tainted burnt orange by the falling rays of the slowly setting sun.

Tomorrow would see our arrival in wonderful, whimsical Copenhagen, the Queen of Scandinavian cities. And, great as my pleasure would be at reconnecting with my favourite of all European cities, it also meant that I would be leaving the Silver Whisper- not to mention some wonderful, new found friends- behind me.

Though Captain Luigi had very kindly said that I could stay on board for the next cruise if I wanted (and a week to the beautiful fjords of Western Norway would not have been life’s greatest hardship) I knew full well that there were others who, quite rightly, would expect me to be elsewhere. Reality, that most unwelcome of all house guests, was definitely a ghost at the feast that night.

So yes, leaving Silversea remains, as ever, such sweet sorrow. I definitely felt as if I had been taken off life support next morning when, after one final languid breakfast, I shuffled down the gangway of the Silver Whisper, feeling very much like Cinderella the morning after the ball.

And that, for now, is where we leave things….

COOL BY THE POOL; SNAPSHOTS FROM THE SILVER WHISPER

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Silver Whisper pool deck. Photo credit: Silversea Cruises

So here we are, just poised on the other side of Midsummer’s Eve after what can only be described as a day of sheer indolence aboard the Silver Whisper. Last night’s dinner in Le Champagne was a flawless, glorious feast; six courses of sumptuous near gluttony that has definitely broadened my waistline to something like that of the ship’s waterline. The chefs on this ship take no prisoners; trust me on that one.

Last night, Mother Nature put on a show all of her own; a natural beauty pageant on a par with that memorable meal. We watched, utterly spellbound, as the midsummer sun sagged into the steel grey rollers of the North Sea like some slowly falling souffle, turning the entire horizon a brief lived shade of burnt orange. The only soundtrack to accompany this was the sound of the waves, rolling gently alongside the hull. It was a moment of sheer, spellbinding beauty in an enchanted part of the world. I hardly dared breathe, for fear of breaking the spell.

Yesterday afternoon was spent lying by the pool, savouring the warm summer sunshine and an ambient soundtrack that matched the on board vibe to perfection; some Eagles, a little Boz Scaggs and even a snippet or two of classic Burt Bacharach. The Margaritas from the Pool Bar didn’t exactly hurt, either, I don’t think ‘chilled out’ quite cut it, to be honest.

And that’s the very essence of a cruise with Silversea- there’s this whole ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ feeling of suddenly finding yourself somewhere that is at once strange, whimsical, and full of fabulous possibilities at every turn. You can build and shape your day to be as active or indolent as you want; the day is your own blank canvas, and the ship serves up the ingredients to let you create your own mini masterpiece. It’s casual, unstructured indulgence, raised to the level of an art form and, of course, it’s deliciously addictive.

Until the next time, that’s it from on board the Silver Whisper for now..

SILVER WHISPER- LIVE

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Silver Whisper. Photo credit: Silversea Cruises

So here we are, settled back in aboard the Silver Whisper, making our stately progress along the River Elbe, and out towards the open waters of the North Sea and the Baltic.

Our departure from Hamburg this morning was subtle, splendid stuff. The morning sun had just heaved itself above the city’s web of ancient. slender spires as we cast off. There was no fanfare or ceremony; the sight of 28,000 tons of gleaming white cruise ship, pirouetting gracefully mid stream into the River Elbe, was ceremony enough in it’s own right.

We are moving through a slowly unwinding hinterland that unfurls like a series of drum rolls along both banks of this ancient waterway. Ferries and tugs sprint across our path like so many maddened water beetles. Container ships surge past us, painted in shades of drab red, green and blue. Along the serpentine banks of the Elbe itself, a host of rolling greenery is studded with small villas, hotels and caravan parks. Wind turbines spin lazily in a warm breeze that drifts across the decks of the ship as we surge forward on the steel grey river. It’s like being awake in some particularly vivid dream.

Broad, dusky sand beaches spill out to kiss the water’s edge. Early morning walkers with their dogs gaze up at the awe inspiring bulk of the Silver Whisper as she ghosts past them on what looks like a perfect summer’s day. From over the rim of my coffee cup, it all looks like something from a series of still life paintings.

And we are sailing in the wake of history as well. The Bismarck came this same way back in 1940. Built in Hamburg, and still regarded by the locals as a ‘Hamburg ship’, that tiger shark of a battleship was manned by a crew of mainly local men, all of whom would have known the waters we are sailing through very well indeed. It’s hard to shake the image of that squat, solid grey ghost, with her phalanx of guns looking like so many drawn swords. But here and now, on the Silver Whisper, we are confronted with nothing more aggressive than some particularly feisty- and very welcome- early morning coffee.

There’s a strange dichotomy involved in sailing such inland waterways. Everything looks close enough to touch, from washing flapping idly in the breeze to the trees, rustling ashore in a kind of indolent rhythm that’s all their own. And yet, we are detached from it all by a million miles, cocooned in what I can only describe as a kind of pampered stupor aboard this beautiful ship.

Of course, it’s a panorama s old as time itself; ship, sky and sea creating a stunning, multi colour audio visual playback that unfolds like a series of slowly waving flags. But it’s no less bewitching for all that. Timeless as it is, this stuff never gets old.

It all adds to the mood of surreal calm that permeates this ship. There are no screaming loudspeaker announcements selling everything from T-shirts to costume jewels, no lines for food or drinks. No feeling of pressure of any kind, in fact.

So what is there, then? That’s easy- a sense of contentment and familiarity, and a shared kinship of sailing these waters with the kind of people that appreciate a ship like the Silver Whisper. A sense that nothing is too much trouble, and that everything is within easy reach.

Speaking of which, it’s time for my lunchtime Margarita. More dispatches from the front to come soon…..

COMING NEXT; SILVER WHISPER

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Silver Whisper. Photo credit: Silversea cruises

Next week brings an all too brief reunion with an old, fondly remembered friend when I rejoin the gorgeous Silver Whisper for a short jaunt around the top of Denmark from Hamburg to Copenhagen.

Last time I was aboard the ship was on a Baltic cruise some four years ago; it was  a mellow, memorable experience that left me stirred rather than shaken, and definitely keen for more. But, since then, Silversea the company has moved on.

With the development and gestation of a four ship fleet of truly wonderful, individual expedition ships, and then the introduction this year of the stunning, first of class new Silver Muse, the Monaco based company served firm notice of intent that it was not simply prepared to merely sit on its considerably gilded laurels. Silversea is more about innovation than institution; times change, and so do the expectations and anticipation of future guests.

But I have to confess to a kind of vague unease; would this obvious concentration on new ideas and ships mean an inevitable dilution of the ‘old guard’ luxury aboard the rest of the fleet? And, with Silver Cloud going to the expedition fleet in November also, another watershed in the line’s history is reached as it’s pioneering ship crosses a bar of sorts.

But it seems that Silversea have anticipated this; along with the new ships came a series of sympathetic enhancements and upgrades for Silver Wind, Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper; part of a $150 million plan to update all three ships to keep them smart, crisp, contemporary and alluring. And, from initial reports, the results are very pleasing indeed. I’m looking forward to seeing for myself.

Plans are also apparently afoot for some major rebuilding of the one-off Silver Spirit, though details are as yet thin on the ground. In the case of all four refurbishments, the core aim seems to have been to introduce some of the styling nuances that have made the new Silver Muse such an appealing choice.

So yes, I’m looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with what i think will be an artfully renewed ship. Silversea remember your details- they have even given me exactly the same suite that I had last time I was on board the Silver Whisper. None too shabby, as I recall.

I’m looking forward to long, lazy breakfasts out on the Terrace, with fresh, piping hot coffee on tap and the sight of our wake stretching lazily behind us. I’m anticipating fine food and finely styled, flawless service.

There’s the delicious prospect of long, lazy summer afternoons in the hot tub, and chocolate martinis on deck at sunset, with a side order of cool jazz. And there’s also the beautiful, bewitching way that the light plays on the water in those long, almost permanently light latitudes.

There’s rollicking, gregarious Hamburg and wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen as stellar start and finish points, of course. But the real deal will be the sheer, indolent sense of joy and ease that you only really get on a ship like the Silver Whisper.

Full report to follow, of course. As ever, stay tuned.

COLUMBUS LAUNCH; SOME IMPRESSIONS

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Columbus. Photo impression courtesy of Cruise and Maritime Voyages

I was lucky enough to be a guest at the launch party for CMV’s newest addition last week. Columbus ups the ante for the British accented cruise line on a number of fronts for sure, but nowhere more so in terms of style and space.

Consider that the last addition to the fleet- the 45,000 ton Magellan- can accommodate around 1400 guests, and then understand that the near 64,000 ton Columbus can accommodate the same number of passengers. The spatial difference becomes obvious.

That translates into three principal, critical areas; larger cabins, a larger and more diverse string of public rooms, spread across more of the ship, and a larger, far more expansive amount of open deck space. And, while Columbus has been sympathetically updated and lovingly- nay, lavishly- refurbished across most public areas- it is the cabins that really come to the fore here.

For the first time, a CMV ship has quite a substantial number of balcony cabins, suites and mini suites. While these are not vital for the regular CMV acolytes, it is a big step forward for those who might not have considered sailing with the line before. In addition, the presence of some one hundred and fifty cabins dedicated and sold as singles will not hurt the company’s bottom line, either.

Food and service on board during our overnight stay was top notch. There were many familiar faces on board, recruited from both Marco Polo and Magellan, with the obvious, sensible intention to get the newest member of the fleet up and running in fine style.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the company’s original selling point of creating a unique, intimately styled cruise experience has been forsaken. Columbus feels more extensive than expansive, open rather than overpowering. Fittings and fixtures throughout are fine quality, and nowhere more so than in the oval shaped, three story atrium lobby. Suffused with the sounds of live, late night jazz, it was sheer bliss to just chill out in one of the supremely comfortable armchairs here. I can see this becoming very much the focal point of the ship during the evenings.

What else? Well, there’s a large, upper level open lido area, with two pools- one of which includes a dedicated, in pool sit up bar, plus a new speciality coffee venue located forward. The circular, upper deck dome offers 360 degree views over the ship, and doubles as the late night disco.

My favourite public room has to be the upper deck, mid ship sited Connexions Lounge. Flooded with light from the floor to ceiling windows that flank each side, it is full of raffish wicker furniture that helps to give it a really light, airy feel. Because of it’s location, it acts as one part winter garden, one part public thoroughfare for the ship. On the overnight stay we enjoyed on board, it was hugely popular.

Unlike the other ships in the fleet which sail from a series of ports around the coast of the United Kingdom, the Columbus will remain a year round, Tilbury based ship. This in itself is quite a coup for the Essex port, and the London International Terminal in particular. Transfers across from the capital to Tilbury are brisk, easy and relatively hassle free.

So, fair seas and sunny skies to Columbus; with a range of cruises lasting from three night continental samplers to a mind boggling, full three month circumnavigation of the globe next January, she offers a wealth of travel opportunities for all types of people with different tastes. The ship should be particularly popular in the Canary Islands, where some of her cruises will be sold as family friendly- another step forward from the lines’ previous, adult only sailings.

PULLMANTUR CONFIRMS DEPLOYMENT OF SOVEREIGN TO SOUTH AMERICA FOR WINTER 2017-18

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The Sovereign. Photo credit: Daniel Capella

Though actual itineraries have yet to be finalised, Spanish cruise operator Pullmantur has confirmed that the 74,000 ton Sovereign will be deployed on a series of mainly four night cruises along the coast of South America over the winter of 2017-18.

The 1988 built ship– formerly Royal Caribbean’s highly acclaimed Sovereign of the Seas– is currently operating a series of seven night Mediterranean cruises, embarking in both Barcelona and Rome. She is scheduled for an annual dry docking, most likely in Cadiz, at the end of the season in early November.

On conclusion of this, the ship is due to sail on a twelve night transatlantic crossing in late November from Cadiz to Recife, Brazil. The ship will sail via Lisbon (where embarkation is also available), Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, to the port of Recife on Brazil’s east coast, where she is scheduled to arrive on December 9th.

From here, the Sovereign will sail on  a series of winter long, four night cruises that allow passengers to embark both in Santos, the port for Sao Paolo, and Rio De Janeiro. Typically, these round trip cruises have also called at the beach resort of Ilhabella in the past.

In addition, the ship will also sail a trio of special, seven night cruises that will cover Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the famous Rio Carnival respectively. The ship is then due to recross the Atlantic to Europe, commencing her 2018 European season with a first sailing from Barcelona on March 26th.

In the UK, Fred. Holidays typically operates as sales agents for Pullmantur. The Spanish accented cruise operator offers an all inclusive on board product and, though Spanish is the primary language used on board, English is also widely spoken. The company can package these cruises with flights, hotels and transfers to create a completely all inclusive package, or you can of course make your own arrangements separately.

Stay tuned for further details as and when they become available.

ALL CHANGE FOR CELESTYAL; MAJESTY IN THE AEGEAN FOR THE SUMMER OF 2018

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Majesty at San Sebastian, La Gomera. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

After her return from Thomson Cruises this coming November of 2017, it had been intended to send the 40,000 ton, 1400 passenger Celestyal Majesty (currently still sailing as the Thomson Majesty) to Cuba after a short refit. That plan has now been sunk.

Instead, it seems that the ship will lay up for the first two months of the year, before entering service on the three and four day run out of Athens to the Greek Islands and Turkey in late March.

Three day cruises will sail from Piraeus each Friday, offering a call in Mykonos that same evening. Next morning, passengers can choose between an early morning visit to Samos, or a shorter call into Kusadasi, before an early evening visit to Patmos.

Next day finds the ship at Heraklion in the morning, with an early evening visit to Santorini, before arriving back into Piraeus on the following Monday.

The four day, Monday sailings follow an identical route, except for an added, full day call into Rhodes after the Patmos call. In this guise, the Celestyal Majesty is offering the pretty much tried and tested ‘short run’ options that have proved so popular for several years now.

But it’s the following, seven day Idyllic Aegean itineraries that are really making waves. Beginning on April 30th, the Celestyal Majesty will offer a seven night cruise running through to October that offers no less than three overnight stays in two of Greece’s most compelling high spots.

 

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Mykonos at dusk. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

Sailing in late afternoon, the Celestyal Majesty arrives at Mykonos just before midnight that same day, there to begin a two day and night stay in the platinum chip people watching capital of the Dodecanese. Passengers can come and go from the ship as and when they wish during this extended stay- the only one of its kind-at the Aegean’s most hedonistic hot spot.

The ship then sails on to further calls at Ios and Milos, before a third full overnight stay in Santorini. There is an afternoon call into Crete’s capital of Heraklion, before a final day that again offers the options of either an early start to Samos, or a longer day in Kusadasi, before the ship returns to Piraeus the next day.

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Aegean Islands sunset. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

These new cruises- similar to the ones being offered aboard the smaller Celestyal Nefeli this year- have really upped the ante in the Greek local market. While still very port intensive, the included possibility of three full nights ashore (though it’s not likely that the ship would run all night tender service into Santorini) on a larger ship, really marks a significant notch up in the local product offering.

Shore excursions in the ports, as well as an all inclusive drinks package, are offered to UK passengers as part of the overall cruise price. And, while Celestyal does not offer a fly cruise programme, flights and transfers to Athens are easily arranged independently.

From London, Manchester and Edinburgh, Easyjet has direct flights to Athens. Ryanair flies to Athens from Stansted. Air France and KLM serve Athens from twenty one UK airports via their respective hubs at Paris and Amsterdam.

Celestyal Majesty herself is the perfect size for cruising to the smaller, more secluded ports of the Greek Islands, as well as the ‘Greatest Hits’ ports such as Mykonos. While she does not have numerous balcony cabins or multiple restaurants, she is a pretty ship, both inside and out, that will offer her passengers an authentically intimate, local Greek style experience, with food and entertainment crafted to fit the environment through which the ship will be sailing.

Standard inside and outside cabins are of roughly the same size; not huge, but big and comfortable enough for a week where passengers will be spending much of their time ashore. And, while wardrobe space might be tight, you won’t need a huge amount of formal wear for what is a very footloose, free and easy kind of cruise experience.

Highly recommended for sure.