Living the high life on the high seas
'Meesus Goggeeen, Meesus Goggeeen you're not drinking your vodka. What can I get you instead?' Nobody has ever ever admonished me before for not drinking. It's normally the opposite.
So the words of Catalino my adorable Filipino butler after three days on board the Silver Spirit cruise ship were certainly a first. He was referring to my preferred drink of choice when I joined the ship in Rome. Within minutes, ice, diet coke and a bottle of vodka was in my room. I explained to him that there had been far too much to do to be sitting in my beautiful suite sipping my favourite tipple but I would manage to get through it. After all, I had nearly a whole week of hedonism ahead. And I still had an unfinished Prosecco in my room to polish off.
We started our trip in Rome with the sun splitting the stones and sailed to Trapani in Sicily. Many excursions were available, but we chose to soak up the atmosphere of Trapani, and after a wander around the beautiful old town, lunch in the sunshine and a cold glass of wine was the order of the day.
And then it was on to Malta and the capital, Valletta. We stopped off at the Upper Barrakka Gardens and gazed in wonder from the balcony at the panorama below and were there just in time to see the firing of cannons which takes place at noon everyday. Valletta is a beautiful city with honey-coloured buildings and narrow cobbled streets. Museums and churches abound. As you wander, you can see the sea down every street whether you look left or right. We visited Mdina, a 40-minute drive away, that night for a walking tour around the ancient walled city of 300 inhabitants. Once you enter its stunning Baroque gate it's a place of haunting beauty. Many palaces are still occupied by wealthy Maltese families including one guy living there on his own, not married and in his fifties. I'll be back to check him out. Our guide showed us the beautiful balconied home of Jane, who is now in her eighties and used to be the lace-maker for Buckingham Palace. She now runs a souvenir shop.
The wonderful part about cruising is the flexibility. You can mix culture, sightseeing, activities or just pure lazing around and that's exactly what we did the next day - a chill-out by the pool and the incredible service from the Silversea staff. They were there to meet our every need. Food and drinks by the pool, and woe betide if you try to move your own sun lounger to a more advantageous location. They were watching and moved quickly to help, all the time smiling and gracious.
We met many interesting people. Jeff and Sue, the airhostess and pilot who had brought her Mum away for her special birthday. Dick and his wife, whom we named Mrs Dick because we couldn't remember her name, who hailed from Oz and had been on board for quite a while. There were the two 'girls' from Belfast who were celebrating a birthday as well. It's such a good way to bring generations together to celebrate a significant event. And that is a direct hint to my kids.
I met a carer from Florida who had accompanied her employer, who was in her eighties and in a wheelchair. She deemed the facilities on board for someone with disabilities second to none. There were 150 people on board of varying ages and nationalities enjoying a corporate reward. My cabin was a suite with a sitting room, bathroom comprising a shower and a bath, a walk-in wardrobe and of course the all-important balcony. To sit on your balcony, gaze out to sea and wait for your breakfast to be delivered by your very own butler is pure decadence.
And that brings me to the food. It was absolutely amazing. I had a misconceived notion that you had to sit with the same people every night on a cruise, and my fear would be that I would absolutely hate them. There's nothing like that on Silversea. It's like going to a different high-end restaurant every night, being shown to your own table, with silver service, fine wines and haute cuisine. There are six restaurants on board the Silver Spirit, each one as impressive as the other. We ate on three occasions in 'The Restaurant' and loved it each time - Gratinated Wild Mushroom Tartlet, Thinly Sliced Fresh Sea Bass with Cherry Tomatoes and Capers, Thinly Sliced Beef Tenderloin served with Cipriani Sauce to name but a few of the Antipasti, followed by a pasta course again with a diverse selection such as Home-made Tagliatelle Pasta with Shrimp and Pistachio Sauce and then a wide variety of mains such as the most divine Pork Medallions with Marsala Wine and Almond. All followed by a cheese course and desserts.
No self-service here. Everything was brought to the table and served with aplomb. There's another restaurant with a tasting menu of regional delicacies -course after course of divine trios of tastes. And then there's the hot stone restaurant which allows you to don your bib and cook your steak and fish on hot stones at the table; I have never eaten such consistently good food anywhere.
The 'Chronicles' are delivered to your room every day with an insight into your next venue and the following day's activities on board. There's no end of things to do: team trivia, quizzes, table tennis, pilates, the casino, social bridge and a golf-putting competition.
I'm happy to report that I came third and beat one or two males who actually play golf regularly. Besides cultural and sight-seeing excursions there were also activity-based trips such as snorkelling and golf.
After Malta, it was back to Messina in Sicily and a stroll around the town, again by chance arriving for the bell tower performance at noon. From there, we took a taxi ride to Taormina with the most gentle older man, who struggled with English and very kindly phoned his fluent English-speaking nephew at regular intervals to help with our conversations. Taormina is a buzzing resort, again with narrow streets and cafes and shops galore. We stopped at the luxurious Grand Hotel with its terrace high on the cliff and enjoyed an aperitif. From there we sailed to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast and a must-do excursion to Pompeii. Sorrento is a chic resort cut into the cliff and a haven for people-watching.
The drive from Sorrento to Pompeii is breathtaking. We passed by Mount Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri with lemon trees and olive trees to your right and left. Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and covered Pompeii in ash. It wasn't rediscovered until the 16th Century and excavation started in 1748. Some paintings and sculptures have survived and it's a fascinating place to visit. Streets, shops and bakeries are evident among the ancient ruins and 80 carbonised loaves of bread were discovered in the oven of one bakery.
To leave the Amalfi Coast without having taken a trip to the Isle of Capri would be a travesty. I found myself singing 'Twas on the Isle of Capri that I found her' - the song immortalised by Gracie Fields and Frank Sinatra - the whole way over in the boat from Sorrento. The fact that I only knew one line was a bit head-wrecking for my fellow travellers.
A funicular takes you from the port up to the town of Capri, and to sit in one of the many outdoor restaurants and watch the chic Italians walking their little dogs is well worth the journey. After all, Capri pants originated here, and Grace Kelly is said to have worn them first when she visited - hence the name.
I can safely say I would never have seen Sicily, Malta and the Amalfi Coast in one week only for my trip with Silversea.
It's a great way to take in many destinations and not have to uproot from one hotel to another. Just hang up your clothes, or have your butler hang them up and get used to a life of sheer luxury for a week.
I will be back because in that golf putting competition I won a credit towards my next booking! And of course the kids will bring me for my next significant birthday. I can always live in hope.
Eleanor Goggin was a guest of Silversea who will be running the same itinerary on board the Silver Spirit next year on a seven-day round trip cruise from Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy, calling at Trapani, Valletta, Gozo,Messina and Sorrento. Prices for the Vista Suite start from £2,250 per person based on double occupancy.. Visit www.silversea.com or call (0044) 844 251 0837 for further details.