MY recent week on the Budapest set of ITV1 2012 drama Titanic brought back memories of a much happier voyage.
As did a trip last week to see Jamie Cullum in concert at Kew Gardens.
The below feature was published in June 2005 but appears to have vanished from the MEN website.
So I thought I’d post it back somewhere on the web, for those who might be interested in reading it.
Of course a few things have changed since then, and the Silversea fleet has expanded.
But it remains my ambition to, somehow, someday return to the ship that captured my heart.
SINGER Jamie Cullum found the right words on my iPod as the waves sailed by. “I’m all at sea, where no-one can bother me.”
Seems like a dream now. But it wasn’t. And once all at sea aboard Silver Shadow, you may never want to come home.
Cruises were for other people, or so I thought. The very word sparked images of round windows and round people on endless gold staircases, spiralling towards a 24-hour buffet.
So before embarking on Silver Shadow, I read reviews on the web, gazed at photos of the ship and checked out online forums. They revealed another world entirely, promising a truly exceptional experience.
More Britons go on cruises than go skiing. Over one million such holidays were booked last year. But I was heading for something very special.
By the time our plane landed in Rome, my expectations were high. All were exceeded. This wasn’t just a cruise. It was the start of what, for many, becomes a lifelong addiction.
Silver Shadow is part of an elite fleet, one of four luxury ships owned by an Italian family and run under the Silversea name. The Shadow and Silver Whisper can accommodate 382 guests, with 296 on the smaller Silver Cloud and Silver Wind.
Voted the world’s best small ship cruise line and marketed as “intimate Italian cruising”, once on board, just about everything is complimentary – aside from spa treatments and organised shore tours. The free stuff includes all drinks, from champagne to bottled water, and food to match the surroundings. You can order caviar at 4am if you fancy a snack and no-one will think it unusual.
Also fully inclusive is a sense of relaxation. Service is first class but reserved and low key. One veteran passenger accurately described the staff as “big hearted”. Nothing was too much trouble. There’s a strictly no tipping policy, which removes yet another worry.
The ship feels more like a tasteful private yacht with a wide mix of nationalities on board – both passengers and crew. Many guests are affluent and successful. On occasion, some may be Hollywood stars or NASA astronauts. But Silversea’s discount policy means this experience need not be out of reach for that holiday of a lifetime. And you never know who you might meet.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin stayed on sister ship Whisper in May 2003 as it hosted celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of St Petersburg, with a state dinner on board for 46 presidents and prime ministers, including Tony Blair.
Later this summer a billionaire is hiring one of the ships for his wedding, complete with 250 very lucky guests. This in a world where some make Silver Shadow their second home, judging it to be far cheaper than maintaining a property, plus staff, in Florida.
Silversea claim to set the standards by which all other cruise lines are rated. It’s difficult to argue with them. That’s not to say you should be frightened off. Everyone on board is friendly, whatever their background or credit card limit. With so much, or so little, to do both on and off ship, you can make your own cruise experience whatever you want it to be.
We called at destinations such as Taormina, Sicily, Valletta, Malta and Sorrento in Italy. All delightful to visit. But after just a few hours of warm hospitality in elegant public and private areas, you begin to realise why one previous guest chose to stay on board, explaining: “The views from the ship were nicer than being on the islands themselves.”
All Silversea suites – and they are all suites – have a view of the sea, with 80 per cent boasting a furnished teak veranda. Should you win the Lottery, the choice of upgrades will not disappoint. They’ll even throw in a butler if you’ve forgotten to pack your own.
Italian Captain Mino Pontillo has the look of a man who knows it doesn’t get much better. “I do nothing,” he winks when you compliment him on arrivals in port, so smooth they don’t even wake guests from their slumbers.
We arrived strangers on the shore, but left knowing that somehow, someday, we’d be back amid the white-gloved waiters and waitresses, who appear to know what you want even before you think of it.
As an exiled Geordie, my first words on seeing the stylish Silver Shadow in port were: “Well, you won’t get Newcastle Brown Ale on that.” But I’d yet to experience Silversea’s attention to detail. They’d bought some in especially. All at sea, the only real shadow to be found was in my smile.
And this is my all time favourite version of All At Sea, from Jamie Cullum’s Royal Albert Hall Prom in August 2010. I have this live track on my iPhone (having retired the 2005 iPod) and it goes with me everywhere I go. The audio on this video is slightly out of synch but…