Story and Photography by Michael Rayner
I need to make a small confession. Actually, quite a big confession. With the exception of travelling to the UK in my younger years, on an ageing returning north migrant boat in the early ’70s, I’ve never been on a cruise ship before. In fact, the thought of cruising was an indulgence that held no appeal for me. Being marooned amongst 3000 other odd souls entrapped on a mega-ship more akin to a shopping mall was not my idea of fun. So, as I walked the gangway to board the Silver Muse in Singapore, Bali bound, it was with some trepidation.Silversea Cruises flew me out from Melbourne to Singapore to rendezvous with the ship, providing overnight accommodation at the salubrious Shangri-La Hotel. A promising start indeed.
The Silver Muse is the latest and biggest of the fleet of nine from the stable of Silversea Cruises, based out of Monaco but with an Italian heritage. Initially, that word “biggest’ had the potential to increase my heart rate disconcertedly. But when I discovered that its capacity was 596 passengers, I need not have worried. By modern cruise ship standards that’s quite a small compliment, and on our cruise along the Java coastline the guest count was a mere 426. Phew!Upon boarding and checking into the Silver Muse all previous fears were immediately extinguished. I was struck by a sense of calmness and refinement. Shown to my suite where my entire luggage had magically appeared, (there are no cabins on the Silver Muse and all suites have a balcony), I was greeted at the door of by my very own personal butler, Alan. For the first time in my life, the services of a butler were at my employ!
My room was a deluxe verandah suite, spacious with elegant fittings and soft warm neutral tones, with its own walk-in robe, separate shower and deep bath, Bvlgari toiletries, luxuriant bathrobe, most comfortable of all king size bed and even a pillow menu with eight different pillows to choose from. Helping to acclimatize myself to my new environs was a bottle of champagne on ice, French of course, in a silver service bucket. Moving further towards the opening sliding door unto the verandah is a leather lounge suite surrounded by thoughtfully chosen works of art and the most innovative feature this tech Luddite has ever laid eyes on, a high-tech multimedia smart screen embedded into the double mirrors. Brilliant!
‘Boutique’ is the buzzword associated with Silversea Cruises and the Silver Muse doesn’t let the company down with her ‘biggest’ size. The Muse interior is designed for art lovers, by art lovers showcasing the collective and creative talents of world-renowned Italian artists such as Gianpaolo Berto, Valentina Maragnani, Antonio Milana and Donato Pompa. Sophisticated yet low key, the works are exhibited not only in the exquisite and delightful Arts Café, but throughout the ship’s passageways, suites and public rooms including the magnificent lighting installations in the stairwells, objet d’art scattered throughout, splendiferous floral arrangements and spiralling motifs embodied into the carpet designs.
‘Indulgence’, ‘Intimate’ and ‘Boutique’ are words that came up often when researching Silversea Cruises before embarking on the eight-day cruise. Those three words are synonymous with another description that kept reappearing; Ultra Luxury.
Silversea cruises are all classified as ultra-luxury, six stars. How does a cruise attain such a rating you ask? With an ultra-luxury cruise, there’s no need to take your wallet or purse out with you whenever you leave your suite. Everything is inclusive including food, drinks and gratuities with your initial fare. It’s a very carefree way to travel, leave and forget about the world you left behind and enjoy your hard-earned pleasures. It also means larger and more spacious suites and a staff to passenger ratio, that on this cruise was one to one.So, with food being all-inclusive and the ship styled with an Italian influence the gastronomy did not disappoint. Unlike most other cruise lines with one central dining area, Muse shares eight different ‘boutique’ restaurants on board. On a warm tropical evening, dining can’t be finer than indulging in a traditional wood-fired authentic Italian pizza by the poolside from the Spaccanapoli pizzeria, named after the emblematic pizza street in Naples. For added outdoor dining fun and perhaps for the enjoyment of the inner blokes on-board, you can indulge your native Australian BBQ passion by cooking your own food on extremely hot volcanic rocks at the Hot Rocks Grill.
Two restaurants, Kaiseki and La Dame apply an evening cover charge of US$60. However, the cover charge doesn’t apply for lunch where you can still sample exquisite sushi and sashimi and other tempting and mysterious morsels at Kaiseki. The main dining areas for breakfast, lunch and dinner are the Italian inspired La Terrazza and Atlantide, which is a must if you fancy seafood. I indulged in a little Cod dish flown in from the depths off Greenland which had a delicate, flaky texture and was lightly pan-fried. Del-ish! The wine list is matched to the cuisine on offer. Indochine with delightful light Asian-fusion cuisine was also a favourite, especially with its stunning modern setting and subdued lighting.
One evening after a particularly long hot and tiring day in the sun during a shore excursion Alan, my butler was more than happy to take my order, set my outdoor dining setting on the veranda, pour the drinks and bid me bon aperitif. Bliss!
Driving this tour de force is Captain Marco Sangiacomo, a happy smiling native of Genoa, famous for other great seafaring navigators like Christopher Columbus. Having enrolled at the Camogli Nautical School since the age of 14, Captain Sangiacomo worked his way up through the ranks and has been on board Silversea since 2000. Surprisingly given his Italian heritage Marco’s favourite restaurant on the Muse is Indochine although he also enjoys the more classic style of Atlantide.
Our voyage was his and the company’s first venture into the Southern Hemisphere – a journey that will continue until 2021. Marco spends at least three months of the year with his wife of Greek background in their Port Melbourne apartment. And when in Melbourne which AFL team does he support?
“Carlton of course, it’s the Italian club” he states with a certain pride on his face. However his wife barracks for arch-rival Collingwood – sure to cause a ruckus come footy season!
Without doubt the highlight of the cruise was anchoring off the idyllic and iconic tropical island of Menyawakan in the Karimunjawa archipelago off the coast of Central Java. This is the epitome of what a small ‘castaway’ tropical island is all about. Turquoise waters, white sands, fresh air and lazy on the eye views, far away from the throngs of tourist and madding crowds.
Not only were passengers ferried from ship to shore by the ship’s tenders, but also an array of kayaks, jumbo-sized eskies for bar service, massive food platters, as well as transporting The Zagara Spa Staff who were providing massages on request under tropical coconut groves by the water’s edge.
It finally struck me that being on this tiny, out of the way atoll in the Java Sea, is what Ultra-luxury is all about. It had me thinking when I return home if friends should ask my thoughts about cruising, would this old cynic recommend it? Absolutely! But only if my dear friends can afford an Ultra-luxury cruise and in particular a Silver Muse cruise.
No other ship will do. It might well be more expensive but worth every cent.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and all too soon Alan is professionally wrapping and folding my clothes neatly into my suitcase ready for departure.
If only I could wrap Alan up and transport him back to my chaotic abode in Australia to have neatly folded clothes, shoes polished and at my beck and call 24/7.
Now that’s Ultra-luxury!
We negotiate the best price so you don’t have to
A Luxury Escape is lot more than just a bed in a room
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