Cruise virgin Paul Jeeves gets a taste of five star living on board Silver Spirit and is pleasantly surprised.
IT HAS always been enough to send a shiver down my spine.
Whenever mulling over the next holiday, the mention of the word “cruise” sets my mind racing and is about as far removed from an enjoyable two-week break as I can imagine.
I have never been able to escape the thought it would be simply a fortnight of self-imposed exile where luxury and extravagance paper over the fact that you are cooped up alongside hundreds of strangers more intent on displaying their garish wardrobes than actually seeing each of the destinations en route.
A vacation surrounded by ageing matriarchs in gold sandals and their henpecked husbands dutifully returning to sun loungers from the bar with yet another cocktail? No, thank you.
But there is the age-old adage of never knocking something until you have tried it. And there are not many better ways to sample what life is like when you are all at sea than with the company that lays claim to being at the forefront of the luxury market. Silversea celebrates its 20th anniversary next year after its maiden voyage back in 1994, at a time when many questioned the arrival of a firm attempting to carve out a niche in the cruise industry.
But it appears that people are willing to pay for the experience, with the price for a couple to relax in a cabin – or suite as Silversea prefers to call it – for a nine-day holiday leaving just £50 change from £5,000.
An eye-watering amount of money in the age of austerity as more and more people look to hunt out a holiday bargain, but one I was assured is worth every penny by the glossy PR blurb that arrived ahead of my trip.
A little research before I went also seemed to confirm my underlying fears that I could be heading to the VIP section of heaven’s waiting room on water.
While the company has its main offices in Rome, its second base is in Fort Lauderdale in Florida – the haunt of the golf-playing pensioner who has too much money to know what to do with.
I arrived at Malaga for the start of my whistle-stop tour of the Mediterranean, a Spanish destination more associated with sunburn and Sangria than Martinis and Moët.
And after a short taxi ride from the airport to the harbour, I was greeted by the sight of my home for the next five days.
Silver Spirit is supposedly a small cruise ship. But with its sleek hull towering above us as we boarded, I was still taken aback by its sheer scale.
It’s 642ft long and 82ft wide, with eight passenger decks, seven restaurants, a casino, a theatre and weighs 36,000 tonnes. That seems pretty big to me.
Passengers arriving on board are whisked through a seamless check-in with a glass of champagne to welcome you as your passport is simply handed over to remain at reception. And that’s it. You are there. In the lap of luxury, as simply as that.
One of the first things that any cruise virgin has to get their heads around is that the principle of the holiday is simply to relax, immersing yourself in the experience while onboard the floating equivalent of The Savoy.
The crew seem to almost out-number the guests, but never in an intrusive way. There are 376 crew members for a total of just 540 passengers and the service is impeccable.
Butler service and the fridge in your suite loaded up with your drink of choice? Check. Italian cotton sheets which provide one of the most relaxing night’s sleep? Of course. Not one, but two flat-screen televisions fitted into the mirrored walls of your suite? You wouldn’t expect anything less.
And a balcony to take in the sea view from pretty much every suite? Yep. Being on board a Silversea cruise ship really is a little bit special.
No-one would bat an eyelid if you ordered lobster and caviar at 1am from room service. And of course, it’s all included in the price.
A day at sea is the perfect opportunity to sample the Silversea experience in full effect. The activities are relatively low-key, whether it be golf-putting lessons or quizzes, but that in itself adds to the relaxed atmosphere onboard. Reclining on a sun lounger by the pool with a good book and a waiter serving up a steady stream of drinks is the perfect way to wile away the hours.
However, any cruise is nonetheless about the stop-offs. We took in the historic streets lined with white-washed buildings of Ibiza Old Town for an afternoon, the glorious modern architecture coupled with the historic heart of Valencia and a day-long stop in Barcelona. But here’s the thing, for me it was all too brief. It soon became apparent that while on a cruise you have to be good at time-keeping. Any late arrivals could end up marooned at whichever destination they find themselves, although I was informed that passports would helpfully be left with port officials.
The problem is just working out how to get hold of the rest of your luggage.
This would have to be one of my biggest gripes. I have always been a huge fan of a road trip – never knowing quite where you are going to end up on a vacation, the surprise package of an unexpected stop-off meaning you may find a gem of a town or city, prolonging your stay for an extra day or two before moving on.
The very nature of a cruise means this is not possible. You may love where you find yourself, but miss the ship’s departure time and you will be making your way home on your own.
As I left Silver Spirit, I wondered whether I would ever be back onboard. I may need a substantial win on the Lottery to even think about a return trip, but it was an experience which will be hard to forget.
A Silversea voyage departs on October 16 for a nine-day trip from Nice in France to Barcelona in Spain. Prices start from £2,450 per person based on the cruise only. More details are available at www.silversea.com or by calling 0844 251 0837.
Monarch operates year-round flights to Barcelona and Nice from various airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £35.99 one way. More information is available at www.monarch.co.uk.