By Paul Motter,Nov. 13, 2006
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In our recent series on luxury cruise lines, CruiseMates set some definitions for what constitutes luxury -- and to my mind, you can't find a better example than Silversea Cruises. We recently completed a 10-day Silversea cruise to Egypt with a stop in Jordan, and it was the experience of a lifetime.
Our ship was Silver Whisper, one of the line's relatively new (launched 2001) and relatively large (though just 28,258 registered tons) ships. In the luxury category, Silversea's ships are larger than Seabourn and SeaDream Yacht Club (both describe their vessels as yachts as opposed to ships), but smaller than Regent Seven Seas and Crystal.
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The Luxury Edge
By our definition, a luxury line should offer some degree of all-inclusive pricing that covers all kinds of beverages (from wine with dinner to all beverages, alcohol or otherwise) and service charges (tips) for all the staff. Silversea's rates include all beverages in the cruise price, from sparkling water to beer, wine and cognac after dinner. The exception: bottles of the finest vintages, held in the ship's world-class wine collection. Those are available for a price per bottle (and during special wine tastings, they will sell it by the glass).
Like most luxury lines, Silversea includes all tips in the cruise fare. No other tipping is required or expected. Another aspect of luxury ships -- an uncrowded environment and high crew-to-passenger ratio -- are also evident on Silver Whisper. With a capacity of 295 crew and 382 passengers, the ratio is .77 to 1 -- about as good as it gets in the cruise industry. Another luxury characteristic is recognition of passengers by name: By our second night, all the staff members assigned to work with us directly were greeting us by name.
The aspect that defines luxury cruising most of all is attention to detail, and in the areas most important to me, Silversea was on top of the game. There were a few things that could be improved, but these were easy to fix.
Some people cruise for the pampering, some for the leisure. I would identify myself as a traveler who prefers cruise ships as my form of conveyance. I have traveled to faraway places by trains, planes and automobiles. And for me, traveling by cruise ship beats them all for the sheer convenience of having to unpack only once and never having to worry about finding a taxi, hotel or restaurant. The fact that Silversea Cruises understands me (and other types of cruisers) is a testament to its professionalism and experience.
The Only Way to Go
For Silversea, the ship's itinerary is an opportunity to give passengers the travel experience of a lifetime. The more that I read and thought about the tours offered on our itinerary, the more excited I got, because of Silversea's reputation for attention to detail. I knew I would have first-class transportation and accommodations every step of the way (two of them were overnight tours including hotel stays). And I was never disappointed -- we had the best guides available, and every detail, big or small, was handled with nothing left to chance.
The Silversea Experience
Our cruise highlighted the Middle East, specifically Egypt, with a stop in Jordan to see the ancient city of Petra, continuing on to Middle Egypt to see Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, and continuing around the Arabian Peninsula to Oman and finally Dubai. My wife and I both work, and could not stay the full cruise, so we took advantage of a Silversea's "premiere vacations" option, which lets passenger embark and disembark in any cities on the itinerary as long they stay onboard at least five days.
The Silversea experience began before we boarded the ship. The line considers pre-cruise hotel stays to be a part of every cruise. We flew to Cairo to spend two nights at the Cairo Four Seasons Hotel on the Nile, and to take a full day of tours there. And it wasn't one of those all-too-typical pre-cruise experiences where you arrive at a hotel to find out no one knows who you are, why you are there or how to contact the cruise line.
We check in to the Four Seasons, Cairo, on the Nile
And prepare to wash the travel away
When we arrived at the airport we knew we were in good hands. A young man holding a placard with my name met us there. He was holding our visas for Egypt, which Silversea acquired for us, and intercepted us before we entered the customs line. He collected our luggage, put it in a cart, and led us to the small van reserved just for us, with the Silversea sign in the window. Our ride to the Four Seasons in downtown Cairo was exhilarating even after 24 hours of air travel. We arrived during Ramadan, so people were out enjoying the warm Egyptian autumn night when they are allowed to eat, drink and smoke before they resume daily fasting at sunrise the next day.
At the Four Seasons we were escorted through the steel security barricade outside the hotel. Though like a fortress on the outside, on the inside it is a slice of heaven. We were checked in and in our room within minutes, setting our wake-up calls.