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The Working Vacation & The Gentlemen Host Program


SOLID STERLING CRUISE PERFORMANCE


by Shirley Linde

Its name is Silver Whisper and so, like the lady that it is, the Whisper quietly shows its class and luxury without being loud or ostentatious. You notice the first-class operation right away when you step aboard. You are greeted by the cruise director in full British formal attire and the officers in their dress whites; the waiters offer you champagne, and a steward stands by to whisk you to your stateroom. Your bags have already arrived. From the first day to the last we found the ship luxurious, the service superb; there was an easy elegance, but without pretension.

Our suite was magnificent: 1,400 sq. ft. with a separate bedroom and living room, two bathrooms, a walk-in closet, sliding doors to a large verandah, and from the bedroom a glorious view through two huge windows facing forward so you could see the full view ahead.


Shirley Linde, Gentlemen Hosts® Ken Fassino
and Charlie Foster, and Nancy Reeser

There was a TV in each room, the main entertainment center in the living room having a flat screen with the latest DVD, VCR, stereo components. A Victorian curved lounge sat in front of it for curling up and watching. There was a dining table with four chairs and a huge arrangement of fresh flowers, a long desk where I could work, and a bar with refrigerator supplied every day with ice, fresh fruit, bottled water, soft drinks, champagne, juices whatever you wanted.

There were two sofas in the living room and one sofa made into a comfortable bed for an extra person or if your partner snores. And there was an entryway shared by a second cabin next door so that the two could be joined into one grand suite for a family or for a corporate reception suite, or if you were an important government personage the second room I guess could be for your security forces. We were told that on a previous cruise Nelson Mandela had our suite, and on another occasion, Hilary Clinton.

Thank you Silversea!

The Silver Whisper, built in 2001, carries 382 passengers. It is a sister ship to the Silver Shadow, built in 2000. Silver Cloud and Silver Wind are smaller with 296 passengers. The officers are Italian, the crews are international.

Between the ships they have cruises in the Mediterranean, the Baltic, Scandinavia, Greenland, Iceland, Africa, India, along the east coast of the U.S., in the Caribbean, Asia, Australia, South Pacific, up the Amazon and along both coasts of South America. The Maldives, Myanmar, and Bermuda have been returned as ports of call after several years absence.

Our cruise sailed from Ft. Lauderdale, a roundtrip 14-day cruise. Port stops were Basseterre (St. Kitts), Roseau (Dominica), St. George's (Grenada), Los Roques (a Venezuelan island), Oranjestad (Aruba), Cartagena (Columbia), Georgetown (Grand Cayman), and Key West.

There are 194 cabins on Silver Whisper. All are outside. Staterooms are either 287 sq. ft. or 345 sq. ft., and come with or without a verandah. All have twin-convertible-to-queen beds, walk-in closet, sitting area, bath with tub and separate shower, refrigerator, TV/VCR, direct dial telephone, safe, and individual climate control. Some will accommodate three guests; two are wheelchair accessible. And there are 21 large suites (they a separate bedroom), ranging from 521 sq. ft. to 1,435 sq. ft. with various configurations.

There is a pool, spa, fitness center, observation lounge, show lounge, wine and champagne bar, casino, library, hairdresser, self-service washing machines, dryers, and irons, a computer center with email access, credit-card-operated fax and telephones, and internet access from every guest suite. There are guest lecturers, language courses, bridge tournaments, dance band, shows, folkloric performances and films. There is a medical center and a doctor on board.

You can go on shore excursions in every port, ignore the shore excursions and enjoy the ship as its own destination since there is much to do on board, or you can even ignore all the entertainment and simply lounge by the pool and read in a deck chair. Whatever you choose, you find only a few announcements so you can do it in peace and quiet.

There is open seating. Meals were sumptuous. For breakfast and lunch you could eat in the dining room, or go through a many-choices buffet and eat in the indoor cafe or on the aft deck (usually too windy when underway but wonderful when in port). Or you could have a hamburger or snack at the poolside grill. There was high tea at 4 p.m., followed later by stone crabs, shrimp, caviar or other delicacy delivered to your suite and/or appetizers and cocktails in the bar/lounge.

Dinner began at 7:30. There is no smoking in the dining rooms. There were choices of several hot and cold appetizers, two soups, a salad, four or five main entrees plus a vegetarian dish, plus a choice of low cholesterol, low fat, low sodium dishes. Some of the out-of-the-ordinary dishes you don't usually find on a cruise ship: escargot, frog legs, octopus, ostrich, or grilled portabello mushrooms as appetizers; for soup, perhaps a provencale vegetable soup or a chilled Andalusian gazpacho; for a main course, roast quail stuffed with truffles, poached rainbow trout, wild boar, Chilean seabass, rabbit, or perhaps grilled izumi-dai fish filet or Malaysian fish curry for the wok of the day. If you don't want these or the other choices on the menu, you can always order steak, lamb chops, or chicken at any meal.


Gentlemen Hosts® Charles Foster and Ken Fassino

By reservation there was another restaurant that served Italian, French, or Asian cuisine on various nights. Or if you wanted to eat in your cabin, just call in your order and it will be delivered.

THE DAY-BY-DAY SCHEDULE

Sunday -- The ship left Ft. Lauderdale at 5 in the afternoon, with a sailaway party on deck at poolside. We met dance hosts Ken Fassino and Charles Foster and enjoyed the scenery while heading out to sea while being plied with caviar and champagne by a bevy of waiters. Then dinner, and dancing after that. A good beginning.

Monday -- A day at sea. The fitness program started at 7:20 and went all day, offering everything from yoga circuit training to cardio kick boxing. Their computer system worked well. I was able after a leisurely breakfast on deck (smell that fresh air!) to access my emails and be in touch with people at Small Ship Cruises. A big relief. There are many activities for passengers: golf lessons (followed later by golf excursions to courses in Cartagena, Grand Cayman and Key West), computer lessons, a briefing on coming ports of call, a lecture on the islands, Italian language lessons, shuffleboard competition, bridge, art history lecture and art auction, dance lessons by the dance hosts, chess, water volleyball, needlepoint, a movie, an AA meeting. Or you could indulge yourself at the spa with a seaweed treatment or massage or even have two therapists working on you simultaneously. And of course there was always blackjack, roulette and slots in the casino. How can people who have never cruised think that there is nothing to do on a ship? Tonight is Captain Angelo Corsaro's welcome aboard reception, a formal night. After dinner is a Broadway-type show in the show lounge, followed by late night dancing.

Tuesday -- We are cruising our way St. Kitts, the weather delightful, the verandah a joy to sit on. The day program is basically the same as yesterday, with an added table tennis tournament. Tonight is informal; there is a string quartet concert before dinner, and we have dancing again before and after dinner. Thank you Silversea for having dance hosts!

Wednesday -- We arrive in St. Kitts at their newly built pier, near the main shopping area in the main town of Basseterre. The new scenic railway was not yet open for a circle of the island, so most passengers either went on a sail/snorkel catamaran excursion or took a bus excursion to see the island highlights. Several of us got a taxi and went to the Golden Lemon Hotel, where Arthur Leamon, an editor with House and Garden, bought a dilapidated waterfront estate built in 1600 and converted it into a restaurant, inn, and villas. His friends said he was buying a lemon, so he painted everything yellow, decorated with bowls of lemons, and stayed in business 40 years. We get back to find stone crab appetizers in our suite to stave off starvation before dinner.

Thursday -- We arrive in the morning in Roseau, Dominica, another typical mountainous island, the highest peak being some 4,700 ft. high, often covered in mist. Most passengers went into the interior of the island to experience the rain forests, either with a hike to a waterfall or on a tour to explore the island history of the Carib Indians. Others go on a jeep safari to explore hot springs and a fresh water mineral lake in the rainforest.

Friday -- Our usual great breakfast on the aft deck, this time looking out on St. George's, Grenada, the Spice Island. And indeed most of us bought nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cocoa from vendors on the island. One tour involved a spice estate and a hike to a waterfall; another was a snorkeling and beach outing. This was about the time I caught my cold and found one more example of Silversea extraordinary service. My son, an expert in herbs, emailed me that I would likely be helped by a tea of fresh ginger and the white part of scallions. I mentioned it as I went to dinner and when I went back to the suite there was the fresh ginger, scallions, a tureen of hot water and a little honey to sweeten it. Thank you Silversea. (By the way, ginger is also great to take if you tend to be seasick.)

Saturday -- This was a beach day. We anchored out and took the tender to a beautiful white sand beach at Los Roques National Park, Venezuela, one of 50 islands in the park. It was great for walking and swimming. There was a 12-mile barrier reef for snorkelers and divers, and many little lizards scurrying around for the rest of us. No dancing this evening for me; I had another pot of tea and went to bed.

Sunday -- We docked in Oranjestad, Aruba in the morning. Some took an island bus tour that included a butterfly farm, and others went for an underwater excursion in an Atlantis submarine to see some fish the lazy way. Vision was not good through the portholes, and the p.a. system was distorted. I do not recommend this excursion. That night a barbecue dinner on deck was scheduled, but it rained, so we had a buffet line going through the kitchen and ate in the dining room.

Monday -- Another day at sea, with the many choices from Italian language lessons to bridge games, golf lessons, dance lessons, or a culinary demonstration on food and wine by the executive chef, pastry chef, and head sommelier. This was our second formal night. The ginger and scallions worked, my cold is gone, the band played in the dining room so we were able to enjoy dancing before, during, and after dinner.

Tuesday -- Cartegena! I love this town. We docked in the morning and took a tour of the city, including the famous fort Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, once the most important military structure in Latin America, and walked through the old city, the buildings having great massive doors and New-Orleans-like flower-filled balconies. Shopping was excellent with many native-made crafts. I bought coffee and vanilla for my gourmet-cook sons. The only drawback to the tours were the persistent beggars, mostly chased away by the tour guide, but still unpleasant encounters.

Wednesday -- A day at sea as we started cruising back northward again. We have gotten used to the breakfasts on deck and the cruise director's "It's a glorrrious morning!" Today there is a wine-tasting class, and more water volleyball, and another dance class (the group can handle rhumba and merengue pretty well now). Passengers were invited to the bridge to visit, and many also went to the spa for a massage or other treatment.

Thursday -- It's Thanksgiving! And what better way to spend it than visiting another Caribbean island. This day was Grand Cayman. We anchored off and tendered into Georgetown. Some people took a tour of the island and saw the turtle farm and sting ray city where you could swim with sting rays; others enjoyed the beach or went shopping or had a Caribbean lunch on shore. That night at dinner there was wonderful mushroom soup with sun-dried tomatoes followed by a traditional Thanksgiving turkey with old-fashioned bread stuffing, but others could not resist the rack of lamb or the salmon.

Friday -- Our last day at sea, and the third and last formal night for Captain Corsaro's farewell reception. The usual groups got together whether for volleyball, golf or yoga, and we have our last dance class. Chanukah service was held before dinner. I noticed for the first time the elegant box on the table at the entrance of the dining room, opened it and found two dozen pairs of glasses in case you needed them to read the menu. Talk about the extra touch!

Saturday -- We arrived in Key West, docking at Mallory Square, the place where crowds gather each evening at sunset. People take the trolley car for a tour around the town, stroll around to see Mel Fisher's museum of salvaged treasure and the homes and hangouts of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Thornton Wilder, Harry Truman, or shop, or take one of the excursions available at the harbor such as the hour ride in a World War II PT Boat. After dinner we have our farewell dances and say goodbye to the crew and passengers that we have met. (Most passengers were from the United States, many from Great Britain, plus small numbers from other places in the world.)

One of the amazing things we had learned was that 60 percent of passengers are repeaters, and there is only a 20% turnover in crew. The result, according to hotel director Giuseppe Bagnato, is that passengers recognize crew members and passengers feel like family. One woman had been on Silversea cruises for a total of 490 days.

IF YOU GO

While we were on board, Silversea Cruises had just been named again the World's Best Small Ship Cruise Line by Conde Nast Traveler (the seventh consecutive year and the company just started operating in 1994). Silversea has also been selected four times as the best small ship line by Travel & Leisure. (The Small Ship category in the cruise industry is considered vessels carrying fewer than 500 passengers.)

Most scheduled cruises on Silversea are 7 or 14 day cruises, with some as long as 34 days. But you can also book on their unique Personalized Voyage program. This program was first announced for 2003 voyages aboard Silver Cloud, now is available aboard all Silversea vessels. With this program you can start and finish your cruise wherever you wish among a selection of about 200 ports.

Typical fares for Silversea cruises: Seven-day cruise-only fares start at $2,571; 14-day fares start at $6,740 per person double occupancy. Fares include port charges, all beverages in your mini-bar and throughout the ship and all gratuities. Spa services, phone and Internet, and shore excursions are extra. There is a 5 - 25 percent discount for booking and paying in advance. Past guests save 5 to 10 percent on certain sailings. And occasionally there are special offers of 25 to 50 percent off.

© Small Ship Cruises



Shirley Linde is editor and cofounder of Small Ship Cruises, the biggest website in the world on small ships. Small Ship Cruises' writers have traveled on ships all over the world so that the information on their website comes from personal in-depth research and hands-on experience. Linde's article, "SOLID STERLING CRUISE PERFORMANCE", was originally published on WWW.SMALLSHIPCRUISES.COM in February 2003. It has been reprinted here with their permission.



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