Call me a professional traveleror stubborn I don't like itineraries. I like doing my own exploring, researching, map reading. I like foreign supermarkets, neighborhoods I'm warned against and the hieroglyphics of local bus schedules; I don't like guided tours. So perhaps it sounds odd that I love a good cruise. Arranging everything in advance is precisely what cruises do. If you ignore their itineraries, they're liable to leave you stranded in port (this happened to me once in Puerto Rico, but that's another story). They're the ultimate controlled environment, a resort-plus-package-tour combo. And that suits me fineat least, it does when it's done right; when the ship is a floating grand hotel with great food and service, and I only have to unpack once.
Silversea seemed to fit the bill. I had heard such good reportsabout the food, the service, the understated decor (no bronzed mirrors or chandeliers the size of yachts), the general sophistication. What's more, Silver-sea's four ships are small (under 400 passengers) and young (2 to 8 years old), and they seek out off-the-beaten-track ports that aren't overrun with rival liners and have more going on than international duty-free malls. Also unusual is that everything on board is included, not just food, but drinks, house wines50 of themand tips; plus dinner is served in no-reservation restaurant style instead of the (I think) infantilizing 6:30 or 8:30 same-table-every-night seatings. Also, deliciously, the line is in partnership with Relais & Châteaux, which regularly donates one of its star Relais Gourmands chefs to the onboard cause. This made my itinerary selection easy. The first-ever cruise ship appearance of Alain Passard, vegetable visionary of L'Arpège in Paris, led me straight to the "Bon Vivant Collection," a sailing of the newest ship, the Silver Whisper, which went to Italy, Malta, France and SpainRome, Catania, Valletta, Palermo, Portofino, Calvi, Marseille, Barcelonaand sounded like it should star Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. A bit of romance is so important.
After all, romance is what cruise lines sell. When it works, it feels like you are Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. It takes countless small miracles of organization to maintain this illusion, as well as some cunning on your part. It's daunting. How to milk the all-too-limited time? Did you miss something? Well, I peered behind the scenes and sampled classes, shows and tours, and I believe it would be hard to mess up a cruise with these people. Silversea is working it.