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Silversea Cruises: Silver Whisper

Fodorite Reviews

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Jul 21, 2014

Baltic

This is a luxury cruise on an uncrowded, well-appointed ship. Comfortable cabin with veranda and state room, bed room with a huge closet, good bedding and a granite-lined bath with separate shower and tub. European style gourmet food, plenty of choice of venue for eating or relaxing and an attentive staff. Lighter on entertainment and activities, though there were activities throughout the day. Best for relaxing in luxurious style. The food

was for the most part excellent. A few pastas were either overcooked or undercooked. There was an abundant choice, including vegetarian foods. You could choose buffet service for breakfast, in-cabin service (by your personal butler) or restaurant table service. There was also a poolside grill. Our favorite was La Terrazza, because the view was exceptional. The high-end restaurant (for a $40 per person surcharge) was hardly worth it, as the bar was already so high, they did not have anywhere to go with it. The regular, no-reservation required restaurant was fine--it just didn't have the best view as it was on a lower deck. The wines were good--often they were what I recognized as $10 a bottle retail wines but carefull chosen. You could always opt for Piper Heidsieck champagne. Lunch could be restaurant or buffet--we chose buffet and there was an abundance of salad and fish, so it was possible to eat well and not consume vast calories. I gained not an ounce on this trip. But I enjoyed myself completely. Breakfast in the cabin was not so great. The bread was always stale and the coffee was frankly bad. If you opted for the buffet, it was a lot better. But if I'm on vacation, I want breakfast in bed. So stale bread it was. The wine and liquor is free-flowing, but on our cruise, the bar was pretty much empty. The humidor was fun--nice room for a cigar and a whiskey. Surcharge for some of the more exotic selections, but still reasonable. The lounges served coffee and pastries or snacks all day and evening. The hors d'oeuvres were pretty awful. I can forgive that because hors d'oeuvres are generally awful, no matter where you are. The stateroom was two parts--sitting room and veranda plus bedroom. A very comfy bed, and lovely linens. TV with various cable channels and a ship map of the voyage plus weather and speed, wind, etc. The bathroom was spotless with separate shower and tub. My tub was non-functional due to a missing gasket but this was repaired on request. Toiletries were not replaced, had to ask for everything I used up. Cleanliness was outstanding. A request for no feathers in stateroom was ignored from the onine registration but eventually sorted out. The shows were corny-- excellent operatic voices of the artists performing ABBA...but not everyone would prefer Mi Chiama Mimi rather than Mamma Mia. The theater is pleasant--club-auditorium format. There were lectures, card games, a casino open when at sea, a gym and a tiny outdoor track. Internet is about $0.50 per minute, and very slow. But it was sufficient to download email and send messages and check a few sites. You can buy time in blocks, but it gets used up quickly and you have to remember to log off or it disappears when you shut off your wifi. You could watch films on DVD in your stateroom, too. The excursions were expensive and they sell out. You can book private ones online yourself, with less of a herd experience if you do your own research. The ship kind of discouraged that, but as long as your visas are in order and you are on the pier at the appointed time before sailing, you can customize your trip. There is no opportunity to change local currency on board. This was like being in a five-star European hotel for 8 days, with personal service, friendly staff and excellent if not unusual cuisine. There were plenty of choices onboard ship for dining. Entertainment was more of the sedate variety; younger people would find it rather dull, I'm afraid. If you want a good rest, this is a great ship. Nice to be pampered.

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Jun 6, 2007

UNKNOWN

Silversea Cruises Silver Whisper Cruise Review Athens to Rome Just Returned From Silver Whisper-FABULOUS!! ________________________________________ My husband and I were on Silver Wind ten years ago and had the trip of our lifetime. I never thought it could be repeated again. But it was! Another trip of a lifetime on Silversea! We were on a 9 day cruise – June 6-15 to Greek Islands, Sicily and Italy. Of course the ports were wonderful,

but I am not going to review the ports since everyone chooses an itinerary based on their own preferences. My objective is to discuss our experience on Silversea. From the moment we boarded the ship - The service was incredible!! Every staff person always greeted us and had big smiles on their faces. Woke up very early every morning  - and ordered cappuccino delivered to our rooms. Ten minutes later it would arrive and placed on our balcony with fine linens and china. 24 hour room service - you can order anything to eat or drink. Ordered drinks at 2:00 a.m. and same efficient and quick service. Then we would go to La Terrazza for buffet breakfast when it opened. Huge wonderful assortment of breakfast items, juices, fresh omelet station, fresh fruit station with staff cutting the fruit. etc. – Glasses for juices were chilled. The attention to this kind of detail was evident in everything they did on the ship. Then you could have pancakes, waffles etc., prepared for you. I am not a breakfast eater- so ordered lamb chops, with wild mushrooms and ice tea every morning. (Asked for fresh pineapple slice in my ice tea). By the second day, the waiters knew me and would say – “Are you ready for your lamb chops and your Ice tea with fresh pineapple”. 10-15 minutes later the lamb chops arrived. The point I am trying to get across is whatever special request you may want- the answer is always “YES”! The waiters would carry your plates to your table from the buffet. All the waiters had wonderful attitudes and were there to please you in every way. You are made to feel very special! We had a veranda suite which included a balcony. We loved having the balcony and used it all the time. The room is lovely, with plenty of closet space and more drawers than you can fill up- and we had 4 pieces of luggage. Personalized stationary with your name on it. Fresh flowers in your cabin. The bathrooms were fantastic! - double sinks, shower and tub with Bulgari amenities- soap, shampoo, conditioner etc. Very comfortable bed with fine linens and duvet cover. The stewardess was fantastic. Always smiling and calling us by our names. Good morning Mr. and Mrs.…... The stewardess’s- work in teams with 2 people taking care of your suite. The cabins are cleaned twice a day and the cleaning was immaculate. They even lined up my makeup in a straight row! We kept saying to ourselves, this service is UNBELIEVABLE!!! We had to keep asking ourselves how anything can be so perfect like this. We ate dinner every night in the main dining room and also ate once in the Italian Restaurant. The food was excellent. Many choices and if you don’t see what you like on the menu - they will bring you what you request. One day I saw an appetizer from lunch that looked interesting and requested it for dinner. Nothing was ever a problem! The dining room wait staff was so professional, great attitudes and impeccable service. We were greeted by the waiter and wine steward the minute you sat down. Every night it was like eating in a fine restaurant. Presentation of the food on the plates was always beautifully done. The beef dishes were extraordinary - beef melted in our mouths! You will be pampered beyond belief!! Most nights we would stay in the dining room for 3 hours talking to our fellow guests we were dining with at our table. We enjoyed the formal nights as it made for a glamorous evening! Chef David was accessible to all the guests. Coming out to the dining room, greeting everyone and making sure you were happy. One day my husband told the chef- he may prefer something different instead of a filet of fish. The chef said call me and let me know- he said “do you want a whole fish - I can make it anyway you want”. Almost on every port before we were ready to sail- there would be a lovely small buffet set up by the pool area before dinner. Chef David was always walking around – getting to know all the guests. One night we had a “Barbeque Dinner” on the pool deck. It was FANTASTIC! Fourty desserts to choose from- I counted! The pool deck was set up with fabric covered chairs, linen tablecloths. Great entertainment and dancing to the wee hours. We were talking to a few couples and the Captain came by our table and talk to us for one hour! That is what made our cruise so special - all the staff treated you like family! Every cruise they do an open Kitchen Galley Buffet Lunch. What a magnificent presentation! So interesting to see how the kitchen functions. See pictures of Kitchen Galley Lunch, Barbeque Dinner Buffet on Pool Deck and Breakfast Buffet: http://pictures.aol.com/galleries/dafne478965 At the bars they use linen napkins - another attention to fine detail! All the bartenders made great drinks! I like Pina Coladas and had it prepared in Hawaii with vanilla ice cream. I told the bartender and with in a few minutes they went down to the kitchen galley and got the ice cream. No request is denied! When we disembarked at the ports they had cold bottled water to take ashore and on the way back waiting for the tenders to return to the ship –at the ports they had cold punch, water and chilled towels! What makes Silversea cruises so special are the fellow passengers you meet. We met wonderful, fascinating people from all over the world. Everyone was so friendly and wanted to socialize. We have made some lasting friendships that we will keep in touch with. If you want wonderful service, great food, and a smaller ship than there is only one Cruise Line - SILVERSEA! The advantage of the smaller ship is that it is easier to make friends since you run into the same people all the time and the staff members get to know you personally. Ron our cruise director was so friendly, and eloquent making announcements and always had a big smile when he greeted us. The entertainment was classy, A Broadway singer, a famous pianist etc. On the third day the Cruise Hotel Director delivered to all cabins a sheet asking if there is anything that he can do to make your cruise more pleasant please let him know. I wrote back on the sheet: “HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE PERFECTION” And I meant it. There is nothing that I would add or change. Spoke to many fellow passengers the last day of the cruise and everyone had the same opinion saying it was FABULOUS! Silversea is expensive, but worth every dollar you pay. We loved an all inclusive cruise - never have to sign for anything. Everything is included. We kept asking ourselves, how can a cruise line deliver such a perfect product down to every last detail? We travel all over the world for our business and have stayed in the finest hotels- and the Cruise we just went on with Silversea in all around service, food, attention to detail, and staff is top on our list. To be honest it was hard to go back to reality when the cruise ended as this cruise was a fantasy come true! How would we describe our cruise? MAGNIFICENT! AMAZING! PERFECT! FANTASTIC! INCREDIBLE! AND FABULOUS!!  

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Nov 2, 2005

UNKNOWN

As previously stated we boarded in Ft. Lauderdale sailing at 5:00 pm (one hour later than scheduled) on the “Islands in the Sun Cruise” There was also a change of staff in many quarters. Captain Ignazio Tatulli from Genoa took over as Master of the ‘Whisper’. Paolo Vitali proceeded on vacation replaced by Jean Paul, Maitre d’ and Executive Chef, Dirk Martin who hails from a little town called Vogtland in the South East of

Germany continued from the previous cruise. Dirk now lives in Malta. Sunset departure from Ft. Lauderdale on 2nd November On the 3rd and 4th November we remained at sea traveling South of the Bahamas Islands just skirting the Coast of Cuba and the Dominican Republic before our first stop on Saturday November 5 at 8:00 am in Roadtown Harbour, Tortola. Unlike our first cruise we were blessed with excellent weather, clear blue skies and calm seas. In fact these conditions prevailed until our disembarkation in Castries, St. Lucia on Wednesday November 9. There is really little to report on the first part of this cruise other than the usual sea day activities, the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party the Venetian Society Party on the 5th November after our departure from Tortola. The tone of this second cruise was much different from the first, there was a much younger clientele on board and areas of the ship which had hardly been used on the first voyage were now booked to capacity, particular the gym and spa. The gym is very small on this ship being just after the Observation Lounge on Deck 10 and we had to proceed either very early in the morning or during the lunch hour to be able to use any of the equipment. It was also impossible to book many of the treatments as it seemed everyone had been pre-booked from embarkation day! Despite the change of travelers (only 17 stayed on from the previous voyage) we met many very nice people including a couple from Paradise Island, Bahamas who in fact knew some of our relatives. Jean Paul the Maitre d’ in the main restaurant was a charming host and we were very well looked after, particularly when we had guests on board for dinner in St. Kitts on Sunday 6th November and as well as for lunch in St. Lucia on Wednesday 9th November. In St, Kitts we took the opportunity to hire a taxi for a few hours and proceeded to the North of the Island to visit the home of ‘Caribelle Batik’ an establishment know for its had made silk screened items, situated in an old Plantation Estate House and owned by a friend of ours, Maurice Widdowson. In fact, as far as we could ascertain, Caribelle Batik was the only establishment open that day being a Sunday holiday. The “Whisper” was deemed too small a ship for any of the shops in town to be opened. On Tuesday November 8 we anchored off the Iles des Saintes, a small group of islands off of the French Island of Guadeloupe. This little village was a charming, very friendly French outpost. We spent many hours walking around the island and were delighted with the friendliness of the local population. That evening the Musical Variety Act ‘String Fever’ was once more featured however, this time we realized that the Act was identical to the earlier presentation on the first voyage that we knew every word and joke in advance. This brings up one of the weaknesses of Silver Seas on back to back cruises, for not only are the menus almost identical but the material used by the Captain and Officers as well as the Variety Acts remained exactly the same. For Silver Seas to seriously attract persons cruising on back to back voyages, there needs to be some thought given to subtle changes in menu and entertainment. Having said this, another wonderful evening of entertainment was that put on by the Cruise Director, Michael Gregurich on Saturday 29th October on our First Voyage. Michael has a tenor voice and serenaded us with tunes from Broadway and the Opera including many of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s. Unfortunately Michael only did one performance on the First Cruise and another performance on the day we disembarked in St. Lucia. We hoped that we will get an opportunity to be on board with him again. By the time you read this he will be preparing to, or has already left ‘Whisper” for his two month vacation to spend time with his wife in South Africa. Anna Ascuda will be holding on for him during this time. DINING As stated at various times in this review, we were very pleased with the quality of the dining on board. We found that we mostly ate dinner in the main restaurant which in general had by far the best food of any of the other restaurants. We ate 4 or 5 times in the Terrace Café for Dinner on some of the specialty nights as well as for the Guest Chef Dinner as previously noted. We did find the Terrace Café’s food and ambience to be much improved, but the problem with this restaurant is that you have no choice and either you accept the set menu or arrange in advance for dishes to be brought up from the main restaurant. In our experience this was never too successful. We understand that the Terrace Café will soon be converted to an Italian à la Carte and we look forward to this change which we think will definitely enhance the experience as well as the choice. We have never enjoyed the Champagne Restaurant as we found the food to be generally over cooked and unfortunately our one dinner at this restaurant reinforced this opinion. Again changes are coming and it will be interesting to see how this restaurant evolves. For Lunch on our first cruise we ate from the Buffet at the Terrace Café, on the second cruise in warmer weather, we ate at the Pool Bar & Grill. Breakfast we generally had in our suite and on some Port days we ate in the Terrace Café to save time. The quality of food was always of a high standard in all the locations. Towards the end of our third week we basically ignored the menus and requested our own concoctions. For no matter what you call a special dish and how you dress it up, it begins to all taste the same. We had meant to complain to the Chef regarding the amount of salt being used in some of the dishes, particular the soups, but frankly we never got around to it and simply avoided those dishes. We did not have too many problems on this cruise as many areas of concern were corrected on or after our first voyage. We did however find that one of the weak areas is the Gym as previously stated, it is really far too small an area for today's health conscious travelers. We also found the Spa on both cruises to be very poorly managed also in both the mens and ladies locker rooms none of the Spa products were ever available, except of course for purchase at the Spa desk. These products were principally way over priced ‘Elemis’ products. We complained about the poor management of the Spa on our First Cruise by way of the comment sheets but regrettably there was no improvement to be seen in the second voyage - in fact quite the contrary!. This Spa is simply not up to the standard expected of Silver Seas. On the same subject we noticed that the Spa instructor Manja, a little North Country English girl was more interested in selling products or pushing products on to customers instead of instructing. Of course the Mandara Spa on Silver Seas is run by Steiner, those familiar with the Steiner name and reputation will understand our comments. If we had a preference between our two cruises, despite the problems of weather and missing Ports, the first Cruise was without a doubt far superior in tone and quality to the second. Somehow Caribbean Cruises attract a different clientele whose interests lie more in frequenting the bars, casinos etc. Which is fine for those who want that sort of thing, but really is not our ‘cup of tea’. After disembarking in St. Lucia on the 9th November the heavens opened and Tropical Storm # 27 deposited copious amounts of rain on the islands for the following week. For those who stayed on board through to Barbados it must have been a wet and rainy time in Grenada and on their disembarkation day in Barbados. All in all two more good cruises on Silver Seas so much so that we booked 3 more whilst on board.

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Oct 21, 2005

UNKNOWN

On Friday 21 October, we checked out of the Ritz Carlton and boarded the ‘Silver Whisper’ at the Old Port of Montreal. Actually we had paid for an early embarkation but when we arrived at the docks the authorities kept us waiting for at least another hour before we could board. Presumably there was a delay in clearing the vessel and/or its passengers since she had arrived early that morning. At about 12:30 we finally made it to our

Silver Suite, found some of our baggage waiting for us and settled down for what would be termed by Silver Seas “The Colonial Coast and Florida Cruise”. The Whisper docked at the Old Port of Montreal We recognized many of the staff from our previous cruises and in particular our good friend Maitre d’, Paolo Vitali, as well as Terrace Café Host, Stefano – we were very pleased to see them as they always ensured that we had a good table and the best of “wait” staff. Also on our ‘glad to see’ list was Cruise Director, Michael Gregurich, who we would have for both cruises together with his lovely wife, Madra, they made us feel very welcome. The Entertainment Hostess was new to us - her name was Melani Lamey originally from Germany and now living in England. At around 6’5” she was an imposing figure in her high heels, at various functions. Our Captain for this trip was, Gennaro Arma, who hailed from Sorrento in Italy and unfortunately, due to circumstances which we shall later describe, we really never had much opportunity to chat with him. We sailed from Montreal at 6:00 pm that evening, the weather had turned clear and cold and this was expected to stay with us for the next few days. That evening we had an excellent meal in the main restaurant at a table for two. Our waiter “Claudio” had been with us on board for 3 other cruises. The next morning Saturday October 22, we woke up in Quebec City to temperatures of 6? 38? crisp, cold and clear. We spent the better part of the day walking around Quebec City, a beautiful city perched above the River with a commanding view of the countryside. We could easily have spent a few days there and shall definitely return for another visit. We departed Quebec City at 6:00 pm destined for Sydney, Nova Scotia. The Whisper & view from the Fort at Quebec City Wonderful mural painted on buildings in Quebec City Sunday October 23rd we spent cruising the St. Lawrence River - again another beautiful day on the water. That evening was ‘formal night’ with a Gala Dinner followed by a Broadway Performance with the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company. Having fun in the Terrace Restaurant Early on the morning of Monday October 24, somewhere in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and off the Gaspe Peninsular we were awakened about 2:00 am by considerable movement of the ship, which necessitated securing everything in the Cabin, glass ware, flower bowls etc. as we were rolling about 30 degrees. The morning dawned wild and rough with estimated 30 foot seas off of our beam. Too rough in fact for us to dock in Sydney. On the P.A. system that morning the Captain advised us that we were being affected by a ‘Nor Easter’ and it was forecast that Hurricane Wilma which was then hitting Florida would very rapidly be heading our way and combined with the ‘Nor Easter’ would create the ‘perfect storm’, “it was” said the Captain “a party to which he did not want to be invited” and thus we would head directly to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Captain Arma felt that this would be a safe destination as we could hide away in the back end of Halifax Harbour. Later on Monday afternoon we arrived in Halifax and proceeded in howling winds and rain to moor the ship to a small, but secure dock at the back of Town. On Tuesday morning, despite rain and wind, we proceeded ashore for a quick walk through Halifax as well as to have a lobster lunch at one of the local seafood restaurants, I think the name of it was ‘The Little Fish’. By 2:00 pm it was becoming impossible to walk as the wind and rain were now horizontal. When we arrived back at the ship again the gangway had to be removed due to the weather conditions, it was later established that we had winds during the night approaching 100 mph. On Wednesday we were still in Halifax although the Captain felt the conditions had improved sufficiently to depart later that night and sure enough we did at about 11:00 pm. After two and a half days in Halifax we set sail for Philadelphia. Our schedule would regrettably have to be revised. A letter in our state room indicated: “The Silver Whisper will depart today, Oct 26th at 11pm from Halifax and proceed onto our newly revised itinerary. Silversea Marine Operations in Monaco has been working on the alternative and has secured our calls into Philadelphia, Baltimore and Port Canaveral. We regret that both Charleston and Amelia Island will be cancelled from this itinerary due to logistical and time constraint factors. We appreciate your understanding. Our new itinerary is as follows: 27th October – at Sea 28th October – Arrive Philadelphia at 8pm 29th October – Depart Philadelphia at 2pm 29th October – Arrive Baltimore at 10pm 30th October – Depart Baltimore at 1pm 31st October – At Sea 01 November – Arrive Port Canaveral at 12 Noon and depart at 9pm 02 November – Arrive Fort Lauderdale at 8am “ This task was further complicated by the fact that Hurricane Wilma had created havoc in South Florida and there was little or no communication with Silver Seas Head Office due to damage and the total loss of Electricity. We have a Townhouse in South Florida and we had no idea of the extent of the damages which we may have suffered and this was definitely putting a damper on our cruise. In addition one of the Ports which we had really wanted to see, Charleston, had to be eliminated. The evening of Wednesday October 26 was Formal Night. Additionally, the Venetian Society was having its first Party on board, at that time we also met the charming Cruise Consultant, Rosanna De Ria, who hailed from Verona, Italy. It was a somewhat apprehensive evening as the Captain had warned us that the seas would be rough on our departure as well as for our next day at sea on route to Philadelphia and rough it was, but certainly not as bad as Sunday night in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The Captain requested that most passengers remain in their cabins and avoid walking around the ship as much as possible and certainly at breakfast and lunch on Thursday 27th October not many people were to be seen. The Silver Whisper is a small ship and obviously more susceptible to the sea conditions however, with sea swells behind us the ship ran extremely well. This is a ship that both going into a head sea and running down from the sea exhibits very good manners – obviously a well balanced and well designed Hull. On a beam sea she appears to be ‘top heavy’ and rolls excessively. Perhaps a guide to us in booking destinations for future cruises. In all the confusion and concern about the Hurricane and sea conditions there were some good moments and good meals. This cruise was also built as a Wine and Culinary Cruise and there was a guest Chef on board, Robert Carter, from the ‘Peninsular Grill’ in Charleston. He gave several cooking demonstrations and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner cooked by him on the evening of Tuesday October 25, in the Terrace Café. This was a 5 course dinner reflecting “American Southern Cuisine” We arrived in Philadelphia at 11:00 pm on Friday 28th obviously too late to proceed ashore and we departed Philadelphia at 2:00 pm on Saturday 29th for Baltimore. The few hours that we spent in Philadelphia were disappointing. We found Philadelphia dirty and some what devoid of character. In addition to enter any of the Museums including the ‘Liberty Bell’ involved a tiresome series of security checks akin to that experienced at airports in the US today. On the other hand our visit to Baltimore where we arrived at 10:00 pm on Saturday 29th was a charming reminder of how well old Dock Lands can be converted and Baltimore’s inner Harbour was an area which we would like to have spent at least a day or two, again our early departure for Port Canaveral was necessitated by time constraints and we were forced to leave at 1:00 pm on Sunday. The weather in Baltimore was a cool 48f or 9c but was crisp and clear. Thus our continuing cruise through the Chesapeake Bay was a wonderful calm period of incredible sunset – see below. Sunset on Chesapeake Bay That evening after another superb dinner in the main restaurant we saw a Musical Variety Act called “String Fever”. It was put on by a Husband and Wife Team called ‘Jacqui & Brenton Edgecombe’ from Adelaide, Australia. She played the Chelo and he played the Violin accompanied by the Silver Whisper Trio. Monday October 31, which the evening ‘Chronicle’ dubbed “Happy Halloween” was another Formal Night, however, we decided to eat in and had a 4 course meal served to us in our suite. We choose the meals from the best of the main restaurant and the Terrace Café which was served to us, course by course, at 10 – 15 minute intervals. This meal was as good as any during our entire cruise and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quiet evening and away from the dressing up of another Formal evening. Dining in our Suite IN TRANSIT Tuesday November 1, we arrived in Port Canaveral at 8:00 am. We had decided to disembark the ship today and drive down to our Condo with two reasons in mind. One being to see the damage that had been inflicted on us by Hurricane Wilma and secondly to drop off our winter clothes and pick up our summer gear for the second stage of our Cruise 4539 departing from Ft Lauderdale on Wednesday November 2. We were very pleasantly surprised on arriving at the Condo to find it still completely intact although there was devastation all around us. On many streets and particularly on the A1A not a tree or shrub was left standing. Many of our neighbours had lost their roofs, high rise Condo Apartments had many blown out windows and doors, not a pleasant sight for us as it felt like ‘deja vu’. Last year two Hurricanes had also created substantial damage – Oh Well! – next year we shall once more have to replant and repair the garden. COMMENTS On the afternoon of Wednesday 2nd November we re-boarded the ship in Ft Lauderdale for the second part of our Cruise. We are often asked what problems did we encounter on this cruise and was the ship and Silver Seas living up to its billing as the ‘No. 1 Cruise Line’. Yes, these are wonderful ships, but like many things in life, they have problems although most of these were easily fixed. Our stewardess and her helper were not totally up to snuff and they were certainly not the most efficient that we have had on other Silver Seas Cruise, but they were friendly and helpful and when we pointed out to them areas of concern they were very prompt to correct it. We did have to buy a foam Pillow in Halifax as we found the pillows on board this time to be as hard as rocks. Being allergic to feathers obviously complicated this situation. In Philadelphia with only a few hours in the morning in which to head into town, 45 seater trolly cars were provided to move 300 plus passengers and around 100 crew into and out of town. These trollies should have been retired 50 years ago, they were hot and uncomfortable with minimum springs and certainly were not up to the task of moving so many people in so short a time. This was definitely a problem of the Tour Department. In Baltimore again with minimum time there were insufficient coaches to carry so many people and once more pandemonium and confusion was the name of the game. Of course the Tour Department blamed the Ground Handling had sent ahead via Silver Seas ‘air-ease’ programme, could not be found until after departure, it was claimed that somehow the baggage tags had become detached. Again on re-boarding the ship in Ft. Lauderdale we arrived at 2:30 pm on the docks and did not receive our bags until nearly 6:00 pm. We have never experienced this before on previous cruises on Silver Seas and obviously there is a problem here. In discussing these problems with Mark Rumbarger, he indicated that they were aware there was a problem and he promised that on our planned disembarkation in St. Lucia on the 9th November, he would see that this was corrected and true to his word our bags were collected and taken through the ship and carried to our waiting car in Point Seraphine in St. Lucia. It is very easy to complain and whine about problems, but our experience has been that by bringing it to people of authority most problems can quickly be corrected. Frankly, I would be hard pressed to find anything else to complain about other than the weather and the unfortunate cancellation of two Ports, perhaps Philadelphia could have been omitted entirely and more quality time spent in Baltimore. I did notice however that there were many containers being de-stuffed and the contents loaded onto the ship at our dock in Philadelphia so perhaps this was an important staging point for supplies.

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Nov 30, -0001

Mediterranean (Istanbul to Barcelona)

Background: Although I have cruised extensively, up to this point, all of my travels have been in the western hemisphere. As a member of NACTA, I was given the opportunity to cruise from Istanbul to Barcelona with 38 other travel professionals on the ultra- luxurious Silver Whisper. Having sailed on previous “seminars at sea” with NACTA, I was looking forward to the networking, and the potential for growth that these trips

provided. For me, this was a dream come true! I was ready to embark on a journey of discovery, and eagerly anticipated my first venture to Europe. Not only would I be traveling to exotic ports, but I would also be experiencing my first luxury class cruise. I am pleased to say, the trip surpassed my expectations. My review is a compilation of my thoughts and impressions, as well as opinions of some new friends I met onboard. Istanbul/Embarkation: My flight from Cleveland, OH to Istanbul, Turkey was long, but uneventful. I flew to Istanbul a day early, not only to allow my body to adjust to the time change, but to visit this vibrant city. Many of my family and friends were concerned about my traveling to this part of the world alone. As I had planned to meet others from our group in Istanbul, I was not concerned. Their apprehension and trepidation was unfounded, however. Istanbul is totally cool, extremely westernized, and I felt VERY safe. Had I not joined others, I would have felt quite comfortable traveling in and about Istanbul on my own. We stayed at the Marmara Hotel, which sits high atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, and provides a marvelous view of the entire city. Thanks to one of our group (Barb) for selecting these fine accommodations. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, the rooms were nicely appointed, the location was perfect, and hotel amenities were extensive. I would highly recommend this property to anyone traveling to Istanbul. Istanbul, built on 7 hills in 2 continents (Asia and Europe), is a metropolis that is a wonderful blend of the old and the new. On our day of arrival, we wasted no time exploring the Old City. A visit to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, and the Grand Bazaar are all “must sees” in this bustling city of diversity. After some serious shopping, and a break for some liquid libation at the Grand Bazaar, we headed on foot to the Spice Market. The walk was entertaining, and the sights and sounds along the way were mesmerizing. The cab ride back to the hotel was our only negative experience. The value of the Turkish lira can be very daunting and deceiving. A very talented and clever cab driver managed to confuse us so masterfully, that a ride that should have cost us about $6 million Turkish lira, cost us over $40 million. By the time we realized we had been “duped”, rather than be angry, three otherwise intelligent and relatively savvy travelers were left in awe of his machinations. If I might make a suggestion to anyone traveling to Istanbul: First, check with the hotel concierge to determine the approximate cost for a cab to your specific destination, then negotiate the price with the cab driver before getting in the cab. Awaking early on the second day in Istanbul, I took advantage of the well-equipped exercise room, as well as allowing myself the luxury of my first Turkish bath, before meeting the others for breakfast. The embarkation process was not to begin until 3:00 pm, which gave my two traveling companions, Barb and Janet, and myself another day to explore the city. So, we headed off in a cab (much wiser this time) to Topkapi Palace, which stands atop the ancient Roman Acropolis. The Ottoman residence for over 400 years, Topkapi has now been turned into a museum where many of the Sultan’s treasures are displayed. If you visit Istanbul and have time to visit only one thing, this is it! It is a glimpse into the past that must be experienced to appreciate. At about 4:00 pm, we negotiated for 2 cabs to take us, and our luggage, to the port. We were instantly met by a porter who escorted us, and our luggage, into the cruise terminal. Within moments we were checked-in, given a “white glove” Silversea welcome, greeted with a flute of Moet & Chandon champagne, and ushered to our suite. Looking around at the environs, as I was being personally escorted to my suite, the term “understated elegance” comes to mind. The Cabin: “Cabin” is an entirely inappropriate term for the luxurious accommodations I was to share with another NACTA member from San Francisco. From the moment I stepped into my verandah suite on deck 8, I reveled in the sumptuous surroundings. A wall-to- wall sliding glass door opens onto a large inviting teak verandah with two comfortable deck chairs and footrests. The suite is decorated in soft pastels that offer a soothing ambiance and the fine appointments provide an inviting atmosphere. A very comfortable sofa, and chair are complemented by end tables and a coffee table in the sitting area. A special tabletop can be placed on the coffee table to convert this space into an exceptionally pleasant in suite dining experience. A fully functional drape can be used to separate the sitting area from the beds. Along the wall opposite the sofa is a large mirrored entertainment/work unit. Personalized stationary is provided for your convenience. In addition to a large desk area with telephone (one of 3), there is a TV with VCR, a mini-bar, and refrigerator that are restocked daily with your choice of complimentary beverages, including alcohol. This is one of the “all-inclusive” perks that are provided by Silversea. There is one electrical outlet in this unit. However, along the same wall there is a separate lighted vanity that also has an outlet. This comes in very handy when more than one person is getting ready. A hair dryer is provided for your convenience. A note about the hair dryer: It fits into a special outlet in the vanity allowing the other outlet to remain free for a curling iron, etc. But, be advised that the hair dryer requires you to hold down the power button during use, which can be a bit awkward. Twin beds with double nightstands ensconce the opposite wall. At this point let me interject that I derived immeasurable pleasure from the posh Frette bed linens, down pillows, and the exceptionally comfortable beds that were provided. Sleeping was pure bliss! Speaking about sleep, there is one glaring flaw with the design of the cabins – paper-thin walls. For all the amenities and luxury that these suites provide, I was very surprised at the poor soundproofing that existed between rooms. I could actually hear my neighbors get in and out of their bed. So much for privacy! An extravagant walk-in closet is located next to the beds. In addition to an extraordinary amount of hanging space (complete with padded hangers), there is also a chest of drawers, open shelving, a shoe rack, and safe. The closet still has ample space to be used as a dressing area. Last, but not least, is the sumptuous, marble bathroom. With its full-size bathtub, separate enclosed shower, exceptionally large vanity with double sink, telephone, and Bvlgari toiletries, nothing has been overlooked in providing the ultimate in creature comforts. As I strolled around the suite taking in all the amenities, I was interrupted by the doorbell. (I have to admit that I had never been on a ship that had doorbells, so it took me a while to figure out what the noise was). My cabin stewardess was at the door to introduce herself, deliver my luggage (I had been in my suite less than 10 minutes at that point), and to provide me with any requested cabin amenities. Add to all this the plush bathrobes and slippers, as well as the complimentary bottle of chilled champagne awaiting my arrival in the suite, and it is easy to see why Silversea has received so many accolades. Public Rooms: The Silver Whisper has a unique design that places all the suites in the forward half of the ship. All the public rooms, with the exception of the Observatory Lounge, and Spa are located in the aft portion of the ship. This does afford additional quiet and privacy when utilizing your suite. The Observatory Lounge and Spa are both located on Deck 10 (the highest deck). With its dark blue carpet, white chairs, wood paneling, and floor to ceiling windows, I found the Observatory Lounge to exude a soothing, pleasant ambiance. A self-service bar provided early morning coffee, juice, and breakfast rolls. This was one of my favorite spots to enjoy some early morning tranquility and solitude. A small hall off the Observatory Lounge leads to the Spa, and exercise room. Although I did not use the spa facilities, in speaking with those that did, the services were quite pleasurable. I was extremely disappointed in the exercise room. It was very small, and what little equipment there was, made the space feel cramped and totally unappealing. I did use the treadmill a few times, but the facility was not very comfortable, or conducive for a serious workout. The only public facilities on Deck 9 were a jogging track, and the golf cage. There was a golf pro onboard providing workshops and private lessons. I do play golf, albeit poorly, and had planned to use his services, but just never found the time. Deck 9 also serves as the open deck surrounding the swimming pool, providing additional lounge space for the sun worshippers. The sheltered swimming pool is located on Deck 8 mid-ship. There are a fair amount of very comfortable padded teak lounge chairs surrounding the pool. The nice size pool is flanked by 2 jacuzzis. A small bar, and poolside grill round out this area. We had some beautiful weather on this sailing and the pool area got quite crowded during our days at sea, but was still large enough to provide ample space between passengers. As I love the sun (Someday I know I will regret it), I spent as much time here as possible. The bar and grill provided me all the sustenance I would need to wile away the afternoon hours. Also located on Deck 8 is the library and computer center. The library was filled with videos, both recent releases and old favorites, to use with the VCRs that were standard in all cabins. As for the computer center, you will receive a Silversea e-mail address with your documents. Using this e-mail address will cost you substantially more money than if you just log onto the internet and use the e-mail address you use at home or work. The $.75 a minute charge initially seems excessive, but you are charged only for the time information is actually being transferred. I was online for a great deal of time during this cruise and my entire tab was under $5.00. The Panorama Lounge completes the public rooms located on Deck 8. This is the largest of the bar/lounges located on the ship. Its neutral walls, white and green furniture and floor to ceiling windows give it a spacious and open feeling. The rather large parquet dance floor adds to the openness of this space. This lounge was frequently used as the piano bar, as well as the location of Jazz Night. A card room, conference center, cigar bar and champagne bar are all located on Deck 7. The champagne bar serves as the location of the pre-dinner presentation at 7:45 each evening when dining in the “by reservation only” Specialty Restaurant adjacent, the Terrace Cafe. The Terrace Cafe also serves as the location of the breakfast and luncheon buffets. In the evening the buffet area is closed off, and the space is transformed into an intimate dining alternative. The main showroom, the Viennese Lounge, is located on Decks 5 and 6. This is an exceptionally large showroom for a ship with so few passengers. It is reminiscent of “Moulin Rouge”, with its central color scheme of deep red and gold. Although site lines are very good, the seats on both sides of the upper level provide a limited view, and should be avoided if possible. Immediately forward of the Viennese Lounge, on Deck 5, is “The Bar”. This seemed to be the place our group elected as our pre and post-dinner spot. A mellow dance band, as well as an outstanding piano player, took turns performing here. It was an extremely comfortable lounge decorated with plush sofas and chairs arranged in many conversational nooks. Tasteful artwork adorned the walls, and from my point of view, was one of the most inviting public areas. An oval lobby is located on Deck 5, which is where to find the purser, hotel manager, and shore excursion desks. This space is enhanced by an open stair tower, and utilizes earth tones and wood paneling to provide an elegance befitting the size of the ship. Off the lobby is a small shopping area. The Silversea boutique and the Bvlgari store both offer a nice upscale selection. Directly across from the shops lies the casino. The casino is small, but offers sufficient gaming tables and slots to appease those that enjoy this “sport”. Actually, some of my new cruise friends spent quite a bit of time here and left the ship with their coffers full. Directly off the casino is the Grappa Bar, a very intimate space that accommodates 24. Although small, it was the only place to get a cocktail late at night. The group of revelers I had the pleasure of partying with closed this spot many a night. The formal dining room, aptly named “The Restaurant” was on Deck 4. Large windows, wooden floors, and once again those neutral colors, made this area appear much larger than it actually was. Open seating was enjoyed on this cruise, and the restaurant never seemed overcrowded. One special note to demonstrate how Silversea anticipates and provides for passengers every need: On one occasion I mentioned casually to a dining companion that I had forgotten my glasses and might need some help deciphering the menu. Within moments a waiter presented me with a handsome box that contained none other than numerous reading glasses of various magnitudes for my use. Now that is what I call service! Food/Dining: Needless to say, on a cruise of this caliber, one would expect gourmet food, of outstanding quality and service to match. In most instances this cruise lived up to those high expectations. Each evening “The Restaurant” provided a unique and varied menu. Having already mentioned that the Silver Whisper enjoys open seating, it was very pleasant to eat when, and with whom we pleased each night. I should mention open seating on mainstream cruises often means that you do not eat at your assigned table, but are seated in the order in which you enter the dining room, filling all the space at one table before moving to the next. Consequently, depending on the number in your party, often sitting with a group of strangers. This was not the case on the Silver Whisper as tables of 2 to 10 are provided to accommodate the dining requests of the passengers. Having made friends with passengers who had sailed on Silversea frequently, I was given an insiders scoop to specific requests. Silversea prides itself on fulfilling passenger requests if at all possible. One evening a group of us wanted escargot, which was not on the menu. The restaurant staff was quick to assure us, that although our request could not be honored that night, a special order had been placed, and we would have the delicacy the next evening. Service was never rushed, and dining was a culinary treat. An exquisite gourmet feast was presented in the Terrace Cafe each evening. Reservations were required, and seating was very limited. Dining was an event, which began with pre-dinner presentation of the pre-selected menu for the evening. The chef and sommelier made the course selections and the wines to accompany them. We had the pleasure of dining at this venue twice during the cruise. Although this was an interesting concept, I am not a gourmet aficionado, and would have preferred some choice in finding a delicacy to delight my palate. The Terrace Cafe was, however, my favorite place for breakfast. Although it was considered a casual dining venue, linen tablecloths, fine china, and white-gloved waiters at your service were part of the package. Eggs, and any other breakfast delicacy, were prepared to order, and delivered to your table. Many in our group also enjoyed the excellent luncheon buffet. My priority, however, was to enjoy the sun. So, when I chose to eat lunch while on board, I opted for the poolside grill. Even in this casual setting, service was of the highest quality. Food was brought to you upon request, and served with real silverware and plates! The burgers, fries, and hot dogs were excellent, as were the salad and sandwich offerings. Being pampered and catered to while lounging in the sun was truly a decadent delight. As pleasurable as the dining options were, I was a bit disappointed in the dessert menu. The choices were uninspiring, and seldom tempted me to indulge in unnecessary calorie consumption. I actually lost weight on this cruise, rather than gain, so perhaps I should actually thank the chefs! Entertainment: It is in this category that I think the “Silver Whisper” may have missed its mark. There is no question that there were some extremely talented performers on board to entertain us. Colin Salter had a wonderful voice, and entertained us nightly on the piano. In the intimate setting this ship provides, we were able to enjoy his company, as well as his talents. Our nightly sing-alongs became a highlight of the evening. The very talented and accomplished Broadway entertainer, John Paul Almon was the male lead of the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company. He had a magnificent voice and extraordinary stage presence. The multi-talented Gloria Parker was the female lead of the company and is a renowned opera singer. Unfortunately, their exceptional talents are limited by the constraints of the production material. Somehow an accomplished opera singer performing 70’s disco music is not a good match. It was evident when given the latitude to showcase their own unique talents, as they did on Jazz Night in the Panorama Lounge, the true depths of their abilities can be appreciated. I do not believe the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company and Silversea is a good mix. Don’t get me wrong, I consider the Jean Ann Ryan Company to be one of the better production companies. Their shows are always high energy and very entertaining. But, this is the same company that produces the shows aboard NCL. NCL and Silversea are two entirely different products, and the type of entertainment on board should reflect these differences. Jazz Night was wonderful, as was the special concert, “Baroque to Broadway” performed by Gloria Parker. Songs by Puccini and Verdi featuring special guests from Livorno, Corale Pietro Mascagni, was the kind of entertainment one would expect as part of the “Silversea Experience”. Entertainment like the cruise director’s puppet show, and the efforts of a very poor ventriloquist/comedian are other examples of what didn’t work. Ports of Call/Cruise Highlights: As delightful as I found the cruise experience, visiting this part of the world for the first time was awesome! As there was so much to see and do, I could write a book about each port. In an attempt not to bore you, I am going to share the highlights, and if you have specific questions about a port, contact me via e-mail and I will be happy to answer your query. Leaving Istanbul at ll:00 pm meant that Day 2 of the cruise found us cruising the Dardanelles. The tour manager, Neil Hird, provided a detailed commentary on the significance of the many landmarks we passed as we sailed through the straits. This informative presentation could be heard in the Observation Lounge and on the open decks. It was also a treat to cruise by Mt. Athos, the seat of Eastern Orthodox monasticism, in the afternoon. Neil, the tour manager, again shared fascinating details about this unique island of 20 monasteries, where women are still forbidden. Early in the morning on Day 3 we arrived in Mykonos, Greece. A shuttle bus was provided to deliver us from the port into town. Mykonos is a visual delight with its whitewashed buildings contrasted by vibrant blue shutters and doors. After walking through the labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, our group headed for one of the beaches that make this little resort community so popular. Not quite ready for the European beach experience, we chose not to go to one of the nude beaches. Instead we made our way to Platis Gialos, a quaint and picturesque beach, with a marvelous little restaurant that served excellent food as well as outstanding Greek hospitality! I would love to return to this island for a longer stay. Day 4 was another day at sea, and a NACTA “seminar at sea” occupied my morning. The presentation was informative and quite helpful in developing my computer/internet skills. The conference room is long and narrow, however, and if I were doing a presentation in that room, I think I would configure the chairs to face the windows. It would provide a more central location for the speaker to be heard. The remainder of my day was spent enjoying the sun and appreciating the perfect weather. Catania, Italy was our next port of call. Situated at the foot of Mt. Etna, it is one of the busiest cities in Sicily. Catania itself is not very picturesque, nor memorable, but grabbing a cab to Taormina made this port another fascinating stop. Taormina is built on a hillside, providing a breathtaking and dramatic view of the Mediterranean Sea. Here one can visit the ancient theatre, walk through old town pedestrian areas, or do some elegant shopping on “Corso Umberto”. Enraptured by the charming atmosphere and unspoiled beauty, it is here that my love affair with Italy began. On Day 6 we arrived in Salerno. Once again our group chose to explore on our own, rather than through a ship’s excursion. We hired a cab for the day, and headed off to Pompeii. As we had so many things we wanted to see, we allocated only a few hours to explore the ruins. Even sailing through at a record pace, we could not accomplish our goal. Allow yourself ample time to explore this fascinating look into the past, and purchasing the audio guide is well worth the money. Not realizing the enormity of Pompeii, we made the mistake of exiting from a different place than we had entered, falsely assuming we could walk around the periphery of the site, thus avoiding the crowds. Not so, we had to hire a taxi to take us to our taxi that was waiting for us on the other side! What a comedy of errors! We had planned to take a ferry over to Capri for lunch, but were running short of time. Not wishing to miss the ship, we opted for a trip to Sorrento instead to enjoy lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking the sea. Sorrento is another quaint and picturesque town that would have been wonderful to explore in greater detail. Civitavecchia (Rome) was our next port of call. Rome is actually over an hour away from the port and can be reached by train. That was our original plan, but as it was raining, and we had a long list of “must-sees” on our agenda, we opted for our tried and true plan of hiring a cab for the day. This truly was the cheapest and most efficient way to travel when in a small group. Arriving in Rome on a Wednesday provided us with the special treat of a papal mass at St. Peters. As it was raining, and the pope’s health is failing, mass was held indoors. Our whirlwind tour of Rome took us to Vatican City, the Coliseum, the Forum, and the Spanish Steps. We threw our coins in Tivoli Fountain, and made sure we had time to enjoy a marvelous lunch at another glorious restaurant! Good Italian food and wine were high priorities with our merry band of travelers, and needless to say, we were not disappointed! Day 8, and this would be our last port in Italy. We arrived in Livorno early in the morning, had a hearty breakfast, and located a van to take our group into Florence. We got tangled in a huge traffic jam as we entered Florence costing us valuable sightseeing time. Florence is a city best traveled by scooter. When it rains, which it was on this day, all the people who normally travel by scooter are forced to take their cars, thus the huge traffic jam. Once we arrived in Florence we took in the Duomo, saw Michelangelo’s “David”, shopped for leather goods in the upscale shops in the town, and once again located a perfect restaurant to taste local delicacies and enjoy some wine. Architecturally I would probably rate Florence as my favorite of the ports. It was an absolutely beautiful city! Each port enhanced my love of Italy, and my desire to return. Our last day on the ship was spent cruising the Mediterranean on our way to our final destination, Barcelona, Spain. Our NACTA group had a business card exchange, was taken on a tour of some of the larger suites (absolutely decadent), and enjoyed a wonderful Galley Buffet luncheon. Lounging at the pool, and in the jacuzzi was a perfect way for me to end the cruise. Overall Impression (Kudos and Complaints): My cruise on the “Silver Whisper” was overall an excellent experience. Passengers ranged in age from 30 to 80+, with the majority falling somewhere in between. For the most part they were experienced, discerning travelers, but genuinely friendly. The atmosphere on board was one of quiet, easygoing elegance. The non-invasiveness of the staff was particularly appreciated. There were no photographers on board, and no one ever tried to sell you something. They truly did respect your privacy, while still finding a way to cater to your every need. I also liked the “all-inclusive” feature. No tipping, and a tab at the end of the cruise that was under $10, was a rare treat for me! I have always preferred to cruise the new mega-ships, but there is something to be said for the small ship experience. I loved getting to really know and socialize with many of the other passengers and entertainers. It was a pleasure to have the staff recognize you by name. Embarkation and debarkation is much less stressful on small ships, as is the ease of getting off the ship in each port. With advance notice, the “Silver Whisper” even permitted passengers to bring guests on board while in port. This is unheard of on the larger mainstream cruise lines! The relaxed, quiet atmosphere on board, however, would not be to everyone’s liking. A party ship this was not! Very little activity could be found at night. Lounges closed early and late night entertainment scarce. One interesting note regarding this, however: One night there was a group of about 20 of us drinking, and enjoying the piano music, when the bar tender announced that the bar was closing (it wasn’t even midnight yet). One of the ship’s officers was with our group, and was not pleased! He let it be known that the lounges are for the passengers’ enjoyment, and it is the passengers, not the crew that decides when it is time to retire. The officer was true to his word, and from then on, lounges remained open for evening socializing. This speaks volumes to the commitment Silversea has for providing personalized service and acknowledging their guests as the number one priority. Although service was usually impeccable, friends I met that were frequent passengers onboard Silversea felt that the service on board the “Silver Whisper” was inconsistent They felt some of the bar and wait staff did not provide the gracious and personalized service that is a trademark of this cruise line. Also one note regarding wine and alcohol: On occasion the wine and brand of alcohol served were of poor quality (For some reason this seemed to occur most frequently in the Viennese Showroom). I am sure after this cruise I have been forever spoiled! Getting my first taste of European culture, and being pampered with six-star service has raised my level of expectation. I have tasted the best the world has to offer, and I am hungry for more!

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Nov 30, -0001

Byzantium to Cantalonia

This was my first NACTA cruise. I have cruised very similar itineraries before on the Seaborn Spirit in 1995 and the Radisson Navigator last Oct. 2001. I had never before seen a Silversea ship, so I was extremely pleased to be invited by NACTA to participate in this adventure. I was somewhat familiar with Silversea cruises, but extremely curious to experience the product for myself. I specialize in small ship cruise adventures and exotic itineraries,

so this a Golden Opportunity, seemingly too good to be true. I was thrilled, a dream come true. This review does not compare the different cruise lines, but I give my full attention to this cruise only and the excursions I participated in. This is only my opinion. April 28 Sunday - Depart Seattle via British Airway for London April 29 Monday - Arrive Istanbul from London BA 680 at 10:45pm The flights were uneventful and we arrived very tired. Our private transfer to The Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 29th was arranged by Lutfi Atay. It was so nice to see Lutfi there to meet us and not have to haggle with a taxi driver for a price and whatever else you’re supposed to do. Lutfi is an old friend and a guide to Istanbul. We had decided to splurge and stay at the Ritz Carlton. It was a good choice. We received a beautiful corner room with views of The Bosphorus and the Dolmabahce Palace. We were within walking distance of Taksim Square April 29 Monday 3 nights at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Askerocagi Caddesi, No. 15 • Elmadag / Sisli, 80200 • Istanbul, Turkey Telephone: 90-212-334-44-44 • Fax: 90-212-334-44-64 RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL ISTANBUL Since October 2001 Istanbul added one more beautiful five star hotel to its already impressive collection. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company opened a new property in the middle of Istanbul's business and shopping district. The hotel is situated in a modern building designed by Mr. Doruk Pamir, a famous Turkish architect. The interior decoration has been the responsibility of Mr. Sinan Kafadar. By using beautiful Turkish carpets, dark mahogany wood, and other luxurious fabrics Mr. Kafadar has successfully tried to bring a historical and intimate touch to this otherwise modern building. The hotel counts a total of 244 guest rooms, including 21 executive suites, 1 Ritz-Carlton Suite, and 3 floors of Ritz-Carlton Club level rooms and suites. The Ballroom can seat up to 800 people in theatre style, or 300 people for a sit down dinner. There are 10 more function rooms of various sizes, available for break out sessions, board meetings and the like. The hotel has 2 a la Carte restaurants, which serve casual in- and out door dining. For the Ritz-Carlton tradition of Afternoon Tea, however, the lobby lounge is the place. This hotel offers many nice features, but is probably most proud of its Spa & Fitness Center, which they claim to be The First Real Spa and Fitness Center in Istanbul. Whether correct or not, the Spa offers a wealth of therapies, treatments and simply enjoyment. Needless to say, a Turkish hamam is one of them…. From its strategic Dolmabahce location overlooking the waters of The Bosphorus, the famous straits that divide Europe and Asia, The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul with its dramatic contemporary design soars above the fabled city's landmark mosques and centuries-old Palaces. The hotel offers an atmosphere of privacy and refinement created through the luxurious fabrics and unique works of art in the lobby and restaurants that is carried through to the accommodations. The influences of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods of Turkey have been used to instill a distinctive ambience allowing guests to submerge themselves in the rich history of the land. With a balance of colors, a blending of beautiful woods, unique handmade Iznik tiles in the bathrooms, spectacular views over Istanbul, Bosphorus, and the ancient neighborhood of Sultanahmet, The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul accommodations offer guests the opportunity to experience the elegance of the Ottoman era within a beautifully handcrafted Turkish décor created by the country's leading interior decorator. April 30 Tuesday -orientation tour - Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays - Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are closed on Sundays - St. Sophia Museum is closed on Mondays - Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts is closed on Mondays Lutfi came for us at 10:00 am for our orientation walking tour of Istanbul. We started by walking up the hill from the Ritz Carlton to Taksim Square and continued down Istiklal Caddesi, the walking street of the “new” section of Istanbul called Beyoglu. Here we encountered a grand parade of shops, many churches and embassies that were turned into consulates when Ankara became the capital city of Turkey in 1923. We sidestepped through Cicek Pasaji, the former flower bazaar, turned into bars and small restaurants, and strolled through Balik Pazari, the fish market. We observed lots of activity here and many interesting wares for sale. Back on Istiklal Cad., we passed the Swedish Consulate. At Tunel Square, we took the cogwheel train to the bottom of the steep hill to Galata Bridge. Lutfi informed us that before the train was put in through the mountain, merchants had to push the wares up the steep hill from the Golden Horn to sell on the square above. We wandered past the New Mosque into the Egyptian Spice Market an L-shaped market where you can also find household goods, toys and clothes. The square between the 2 arms of the bazaar is full of stalls selling plants and pets. This market is mainly for the local people to shop for their daily necessities and prices are cheaper than at the Grand Bazaar, which mainly caters to tourists, according to Lutfi. He treated us to some delicious baklava at a small shop here. We were wondering about the blue thing for sale everywhere? Lutfi explained it this way: Protected? or just proud to be Turkish? Whether you are superstitious by nature or not, in Turkey there is no getting away from 'Nazar Boncuk', the famous blue bead that is believed to ward off evil power. Let's say you are traveling to Turkey for a holiday. It may be dangling from the rear view mirror of the cab, or from the driver's key ring. It may be at the restaurant where you are going to taste your first kebab, or behind the reception of your hotel. You may even recognize it in some of the jewelry the ladies wear. This blue/white piece of glass, also called Nazar Boncuk, is as much a tradition as a superstition. Many people believe that wearing a Nazar Boncuk will protect them from the forces of the evil eye. However, it may also indicate that the wearer is Turkish and proud of it! At the waterfront by the New Mosque is a tram stop where we got on and rode to the Blue Mosque, where we picked up the tickets for the Orient House dinner show that Lutfi had arranged for us. This is also the place to catch a ferry up The Bosphorus. After picking up the tickets, we went to the airport, driving along the ancient city walls and the outskirts of Istanbul to pick up Jan and Don Milligan, our friends from Bellevue, who would cruise with us. Back at the hotel, we took a very short nap and decided to walk down to Dolmabahce Palace, which was closed for the day. We walked along the busy street along The Bosphorus all the way to the Galata Bridge. We observed people getting together for tea at the many cafes along the way and also for a smoke of apple tobacco from very elaborate water pipes. We walked up the steep hill to the Galata Tower, a distinctive silhouette 200 feet high round tower with a conical roof built in 1348. We had dinner at one of the small restaurants at the old flower market, where Lutfi had taken us this morning. Now it was crowded with people having tea and snacks. The waiters showed us all the different dishes and we picked several small appetizers to share. Then we quickly walked back to the hotel. At this time the street was crowded with people and full of activity. We were really tired from jetlag. The Ritz Carlton offers heavenly, comfortable beds and sleep came quickly, but due to jetlag didn’t last long. What a drag! May 1 Wednesday is open for exploring - Dolmabahce Palace is closed. Lutfi says: "we have no holiday on May 1st and the day is like one of the usual days. All ferries and shops are open but be careful around Taksim Square, Grand Bazaar and Sultanahmet Square. It is safe but sometimes the extremist left side groups demonstrate on the main squares. There is no action aiming at tourists or local people. The only action is between the cops and the groups. Anyway, I suggest to be careful, perhaps some people will join the demonstration to protest against the Israeli government." We did not notice anything unusual or any demonstrations. At NO TIME did we feel insecure or threatened during our visit to Istanbul. We took a taxi to Topkapi Palace to save time. Topkapi was the residence of the Ottoman sultans and the women of the harem for 400 years. It sits on the Seraglio Point where the Marmara Sea meets the Bosphorus Straights and the Golden Horn. The fine art collections, opulent rooms, and leafy courtyards are among the highlights of a visit to Istanbul. They double the entry fees on May first every year. We paid 15 million lire to get in and 15 million more to see the Harem. Oh well, it was well worth it. You can hire a guide offering their services at every turn, but we had a good guidebook along and decided to go it alone. The Harem is always visited on a guided tour. We headed over there and got our tickets and time. The wait was short today. This is a must see. After spending many hours exploring the Topkapi Palace on a gloriously beautiful day, we stopped at Haghia Sophia church, an outstanding example of early Byzantine architecture and still one of the world’s most remarkable churches and more than 1400 years old. Then we proceeded to Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque located opposite Haghia Sophia on Sultanahmet Square. The Blue Mosque gets its name from the mainly blue iznik tile work decorating its interior. It’s a humble feeling entering this structure through the visitor’s door and carrying ones shoes in a plastic bag. The magnificence and total beauty is indescribable. We wandered past the Egyptian Obelisk of the ancient Hippodrome, which is all that is left of it to the Grand Bazaar. Nothing could have prepared me for the thousands of small shops and labyrinth of streets in this covered complex of cafes, restaurants, carpet, jewelry and leather shops, banks and even a mosque, which can be found inside the Grand Bazaar. I felt like I would never see daylight again! If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. Once, we found an exit gate we kept on going, walking downhill to the Spice Market and crossing the Galata Bridge, where people were fishing. We decided to climb to the top of the Galata Tower and were rewarded by a magnificent panoramic view from the balcony surrounding the roof, of all of Istanbul with it’s mosques and palaces and ships going up and down The Golden Horn, The Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea. Again we spotted the Silver Whisper. We decided to walk back to the hotel and take a nap before dinner and see if Jan and Don had recovered from their jetlag. The dinner place is called Orient House. They serve dinner and each of you will get 2 beers or small bottle of vine or some other local drink with dinner. They display some sample of Turkish folk dance show and different belly dancer perform belly dancing as well. They will pick you up at hotel at 19:45. You will get a ride on the way back to hotel. Orient restaurant is in Beyazit area. We enjoyed the dinner and the belly dancing was absolutely outstanding. It was a very fun evening. By the looks of this picture, we got carried away! May 2nd Thursday, -guiding and minibus for a visit to the Asia side: Lutfi will pick us all up at 11:00 am and drop us off at the ship between 3-5:00 pm. Jan and Don are also going today. After a leisurely morning, we checked out of the Ritz and Lutfi picked us with his driver for our visit to the Asian side of Istanbul. We crossed the Bosphorus Bridge, a.k.a. Ataturk Bridge, completed in 1973 for the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. It’s more than 5,000 feet long and 200 feet high. We drove towards the Black Sea past many elegant villas, called Yalis. These served as summer residences of the grand viziers and other distinguished citizens of the Ottoman Empire It was a glorious day and the sun was bright and warm. We returned to Uskudar and visited this busy city on foot, exploring the markets and the Iskele Mosque, after enjoying a cup of Turkish coffee at a café along the water looking across to Leander’s Tower on its own island and the Topkapi Palace on the other side. The tiny white Leander’s Tower is a well-known Bosphorus landmark, known in Turkish as the Maiden Tower. Lutfi told the legend of the princess said to have been confined here after a prophet said she would die of snakebite. Of course, the snake was hid in a basket of figs that were brought to the princess and was able to administer the fatal bite to her anyway. We returned to Europe on a ferryboat across The Bosphorus. The driver met us there and took us the ship. The check-in was painless, even before we had our first glass of Moet & Chandon champagne, which only took seconds after boarding. We have arrived on a once in a lifetime experience. Check-in is a breeze on the Silversea. You show up and that’s it. Your cruise starts right there. You really feel welcome. Life will never be the same again. Silversea offers the most comprehensive all-inclusive product in the industry. Silversea Cruises has set a new cruise industry standard in the ultra-luxury market by bridging the gap between ocean-liner and small-ship cruising. Its all-suite ships, all-inclusive pricing, imaginative global itineraries and genuine hospitality distinguish Silversea. The Veranda Suite includes a teak veranda with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and patio furniture. Our suite is beautifully appointed with a queen size bed, which can be closed off with drapery from the “living area” with a sofa, chair and table, a big hardwood desk with a bookcase and several lamps and end tables. Caviar and shrimp to hold us over 'til dinner. There is a walk-in closet with a private safe. The cocktail cabinet is continuously stocked with your preferences of drinks; all you have to do is ask. Monica, our diligent suite stewardess, fluffs our feather-down pillows each evening. At 345 square feet, every suite features a marble bathroom with double vanity sinks, full-size bathtub, separate shower and toilet. 2 shelves with mirrors are found in the hallway, but the side mirrors did not swing out, so I couldn’t figure out how to see myself from the back, since none of the mirrors were aligned properly. The closet door had a mirror, which didn’t help in this regard. This was a surprise, that nobody thought of that in designing the suites. A vanity mirror would have been helpful. The lighting was excellent everywhere and the hall mirrors had their own light. Luxury is found in every detail: cut crystal, crisp Frette linens, personalized stationary, Bvlgari soap, shampoo and lotion. And yes, the Silversea signature teak verandas, did I mention that? Kenneth Bach, Silversea Cruise Manager and April Yeandle, Cruise Consultant and Venetian Society Representative invited our group to a private cocktail party and dinner at the Terrace Cafe that first evening. The evening begins in the Le Champagne Bar with an introduction by the maitre d’ Rene Rasile, the Fine Dining Chef, of the menu in detail followed by the sommelier Leonardo de Vries and his description of the wines he has chosen to go with the meal. It's a set menu for dinner and every night is different. The service is impeccable. It’s just wonderful to be pampered. Late night music and dancing is offered in the Bar and the Panorama Lounge. What a sight, leaving Istanbul at nightfall, sailing out of The Bosphorus as the city lights up. I can’t describe it. If I died and went to heaven, I must have been really good all my life! I pinch myself. Ouch, I'm still alive. This is real. Life is good. May 3, Friday Cruising the Aegean Sea This morning we are cruising the Dardanelles, the narrow passage between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. It’s so beautiful today, not a cloud in the sky, just a wee bit hazy. At 8:00 am we’re entering the Dardanelles close to Galipoli. Captain Corsaro had intended to enter at 9:30 am, but because we were in front of a bigger than us, commercial ship that needed to get through quicker, we had to speed up or anchor. Captain Corsaro had a surprise in store for us this afternoon that he didn’t want to miss, so he had to speed up. A couple of dolphins are playing right in front of us for a short time, maybe 10 or so. This was the only time I saw any wildlife at sea. During the First World War there was a battle of Galipoli and many soldiers lost their lives here. First Lord of the Admiralty; Winston Churchill, searching for alternative theatres of operations and a more aggressive role for the British Navy, proposed a naval 'demonstration' using obsolescent battleships to force the straits of the Dardanelles and subdue Constantinople (present day Istanbul). The straits of the Dardanelles are a strategically vital waterway linking the Mediterranean, through the Bosphorus at Constantinople, to the Black Sea ports of the great rivers of heartland Russia and Eastern Europe. The Galipoli Peninsula forms a natural gateway protecting the straits and their access to Constantinople. Churchill's plan was based on the premise that Turkey would quickly surrender once British warships stood off Constantinople. Turkey's defeat would present many strategic rewards at little risk: it would assure the security of the Suez Canal; the capture of the Dardanelles would open a warm-water supply route to Russia; and a British victory would draw the unaligned Balkan nations into supporting an Allied advance against the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary; on a new southern front. Despite some reservations about the plan and the imprecise nature of the objectives, the naval assault began on 19 February. Within a month it had failed utterly. The fleet was unable to overcome the Turkish defensive minefields and concealed artillery batteries, which protected the straits. One third of the Allied warships were sunk or disabled on a single day, 18 March 1915. Many Australian and New Zealand troops called Anzacs died that day. This is a special place for them. It is difficult to understand that so much blood has been wasted in this small and beautiful area in one single day. Today it seems so peaceful. After sailing past Troy, we headed for Greece. It wasn’t very far. Some of the Greek islands are much closer to Turkey than to mainland Greece, which has been a source for controversy in the area. This brings me right to the next topic. Special guest lecturer was Dr. Dieter Galler from Louisiana State University, my original Alma Mater. I spent 1 year there, when I first arrived from Sweden, studying French history and languages. The topic today: “Greece & Turkey, Can they co-exists in peace?” Dr. Galler is funny, knowledgeable and interesting to listen to. I almost remember one of his jokes: “One way to make sure you’re flight is free of terrorists, is to hum the Iraqi national anthem as you board the plane and if anyone stands up and salutes, get off the plane immediately!” Something like that! We enjoyed his talks throughout the cruise. We skipped the wine tasting and went to the Ballroom Dance class, where Brendon and James, the Gentlemen Hosts were teaching the Rumba. We learned a new variation. Then it was time for lunch. The dining room is elegant and the service impeccable, but …. The weather was so splendid; we opted for the buffet in the Terrace Café and choose a table outside in the aft. I live for these moments: To sit at the very aft of a luxury ship, with a glass of champagne, on a sunny day when I’m not cold and with a light warm breeze, calm seas, looking at the wake we make, barely noticeable, just a ripple of our "tracks", straight back in the deep blue sea! Life is Good. There was always plenty of seafood and sushi to satisfy me. Wine is poured generously at each meal and it tends to make you a bit sleepy. We had no trouble finding a teak deck chair with a thick cushion and thick blue cotton towels by the pool to relax the afternoon away with a book and some shut-eye. Soon it was time to get ready for formal night, but first we are going to cruise by Athos Peninsula, one of three “fingers” hanging down from the northern mainland of Greece. This was our surprise from the Captain, not on the itinerary. He spoiled us this way a couple of more times during our cruise. This is a rugged, pristine, unspoiled, most beautiful area of the world I have seen. Mt. Athos is located in the entire third, eastern and most beautiful peninsula of the prefecture of Chalkidike, which belongs to Macedonia, which in turn is found in Northern Greece. It stretches as a long thin finger into the Aegean Sea to a length of approximately 57 kilometers, being between 7 and 10 kilometers wide and having an area of 389 square kilometers. Inaccessible mountain crests, thickly wooded slopes that plunge down into the deep sea, secluded coves, rocky headlands, broad bays fringed by sandy beaches and buildings of former centuries form one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It is the only place in Greece that is completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mount. Only bearded monks are allowed here. The natural beauty of the peninsula is extraordinary. Mount Athos is a huge cone of 2.033 meters in height. It’s a naked, treeless crest that seems to lance the sky and its slopes are fully covered by ancient evergreens. The area is cut off from the outside world. Monastery on the Athos Peninsula. The area has been divided into twenty self- governed territories. Each territory consists of a monastery with its cloisters, cells, cottages, seats, and hermitages. All the monasteries are communes, which means that there is common liturgy, prayer, housing, nourishing and work among the monks. The Superior of the monastery is elected by the monks for life and is responsible for the affairs of the monastery. To come face to face with God, in the special way that a monk is called upon, he needs solitude and quiet, with no external distractions. Monks that need this special solitude do not live in communes, but in solitary isolation as hermits. Mount Athos has the largest collection of Christian art in the world. Almost all buildings were constructed thanks to the ministrations of the Byzantine Emperors. The monasteries and their foundations were endowed with works of art which can only be described as masterpieces. We cruised the area for an hour and luckily it was on our side of the ship, so I was able to get ready at the same time. At 6:45 this evening, Captain Angelo Corsaro is hosting the Welcome Aboard Cocktail party in the Viennese Lounge. This is also the show lounge, beautifully and comfortably arranged with ample seating for everyone and lot’s of room. For dinner we’re having Sevruga Caviar and fresh Maine Lobster. Life is Good! The evening performance by the sensational Jean Ann Ryan Production Team is called “La Belle Epoque”. The main dancers, Wendy Ann Mason and David Gouldie are from South Africa. After that, we were too tired to go dancing, or was it the wine that made us sleepy. May 4, Saturday Mykonos, Greece 8:00 am – 6:00 pm The arid, rocky island of Mykonos is the most easterly of the northern Cyclades. At one time it was one of the most important trading centers in the western Aegean. Its many captivating attributes make it appear as if it came straight off a tourism poster; it is one of the most celebrated Greek holiday islands (along with Santorini that we visited last time). Its main village of the same name as the island is a colorful maze of narrow, paved streets lined with white-washed houses with bright blue, red or yellow doors and shutters. During the 1960s, the bohemian jet set discovered Mykonos; many old houses along the waterfront are now restaurants, bars and discos. Its harbor is a preferred anchorage for international yachtsmen. The tiny town of cube-shaped houses extends in a semi-circle around the bay. As an attractive backdrop, the famous windmills are lined up like toy soldiers on the hillside, vestiges of a time when wind power was used to grind the island's grain. Mykonos has some 365 churches and chapels scattered about the island; quite a number of them are located right in town. Radiant flowers spill over white-washed walls and shady courtyards. In addition to swimming, sunning, water-skiing and surfing, visitors find endless shopping opportunities. Artists have relied on Mykonos’ beautiful setting to inspire them. This enchanting place no doubt is one of my favorites on any cruise holiday. Our Shore Excursion: The island of Delos is visited for its archaeological site; exploration is entirely on foot. The walking tour is about two hours; some of it is on uneven ground. We recommend wearing flat, sturdy shoes. There is little shade; you may want to bring a sun hat and sunscreen. It’s a gloriously sunny day, but it’s always windy in the Greek Islands and today is no exception. Our guide met us as we stepped off the ship and took us for a short bus ride to the ferry, which took us to the Sacred Island of Delos, at one time the political and religious center of the Aegean. Ferry from Mykonos to Delos. I was very impressed and pleased to see everything I had studied in my Latin classes 35 years ago. Lots to see here. Delos was the most important Panhellenic sanctuary, and, according to mythology, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The declaration of Delos as an "international" harbor by the Romans led to an influx of foreigners who became a significant element of the island's population. The absence of taxes resulted to the concentration of trade activity on the island and subsequently, to its economic prosperity. Delos was a sacred place with splendid buildings and sanctuaries and as such, it was never forgotten. The wildflowers were incredible in fields of purple, red and yellow. Excavations on Delos started in 1873 by the French School of Archaeology at Athens. They still have their ugly square houses sitting around. Intensive excavations were conducted in the years 1958-1975. In 1990 Delos was included in the World's Cultural Heritage, protected by the UNESCO. The most important monuments of the site are: The Agora of the Competaliasts, The Temple of the Delians, The Minoan Fountain, Terrace of the Lions, The Establishment of the Poseidoniasts from Beirut, The Stoivadeion, The Theatre, Temple of Isis, The Temple of Hera, The "House of Dionysos", The "House of Dolphins", The "House of Trident", and The "House of Masks". Delos has an interesting archeological museum with lots to see, among them some very erotic statues. Six rooms contain the statues and reliefs found in Delos, one of the best collections in the world. We stayed behind when our tour was returning to Mykonos and climbed to the top of Mt. Kythnos. From here we could see many of the Cyclades islands: Mykonos, Tinos, Syros, Paros , Naxos and of course Big Delos, Riuea. It was on Big Delos that the women and children lived, where the hospitals were located, etc. after the purifications that took place on Delos to keep it “holy”. There was a land bridge across to Big Delos, the remains of which is still visible at both ends. On our way back to the harbor, we visited the Dolphin House, which got it’s name from the beautifully preserved dolphins on the floor mosaic. We also stopped at the House of Masks, the Greek Theatre, and at Cleopatra’s House. The return on the ferry to Mykonos was very windy. Mykonos is famous world-wide for its chalk-white beauty and its vibrant night life. We walked up and down the narrow streets, admiring the white square houses with blue balconies and flower baskets. We decided to walk the 2 miles back to the ship, since the weather was so gorgeous. The wind was a bit too strong, blowing sand actually hurt a bit. We sailed at 6:00 pm past Tinos and Syros. I love the Greek Islands and would love to spend more time exploring here. This evening we are eating in the Terrace Café, which starts with drinks and introductions in the Champagne Bar at 7:30 pm. Chef Norbert Ruhrdorpher will introduce the “Mediterranean Dinner”, theme of tonight’s creation. Bertie Pierce, a comedian, magician and ventriloquist, tonight presents the entertainment in the Viennese Lounge. Then off to some after dinner and show dancing in the Bar and the Panorama Lounge. We requested that the Silver Whisper Quintet play a Viennese waltz and polka for us. This became a nightly event to our delight. They never did figure out how to play a shottis or a hambo, however. May 5, Sunday Cruising the Ionian Sea, Another wonderful day at sea! Life is Good! I love these days at sea. I always think “ How Wonderful! Nothing to do!” It never works out that way, believe me. There is always too much to do. This is such a great ship for days at sea, I like to do an ocean crossing with her one day. Again, we’re so lucky to have beautiful weather and calm seas. First of all, Tom Ogg requires my presence at 9:00 am at the NACTA seminar, which is why I’m on this cruise. I’m looking forward to hear his ideas and suggestions for a successful business plan. I’m also eager to network with the other agents onboard. My business has been very slow since September 11, also due to the Internet and the airline commission cuts, I’m sure. Tom Ogg presents a very informative seminar and I learn a lot of new ideas to try. Silversea is treating us very well and made their small conference room available to us. Ken, April and Captain Corsaro also addressed us. After the seminar, we had lunch outside at the Terrace Café, at my favorite table in the aft, overlooking the Ionian Sea, where the Silver Whisper made a small and straight trail in the water. Today is the Seafood Buffet, my favorite. As always: Life is Good! Lunch is also offered in the dining room and the Pool Grill, but we never had lunch there. The Terrace Café was my favorite and we also had lunch on shore when on excursion. Unfortunately, we missed the ballroom dance class today. It’s offered only on sea days. This was my opportunity to really get to know this ship in every detail before the visit to the Bridge. I always take pleasure in being invited by the captain to visit his domain and see what he does and how it’s done. Captain Corsaro is very friendly and always available to us as is his entire staff. The Silver Whisper is very well run ship. We enjoyed the Bridge tour. There are 3 bars on the Silver Whisper, including the Grappa bar. It’s a small intimate place that stays open after the main bar closes at night. There is a casino, but I never went there. It’s fairly small and seemed to be popular at night. I heard it paid out generously. The Humidor is located adjacent to the Champagne bar. Here you can pour yourself your favorite brandy from the cart and enjoy a Davidoff cigar. There is a Library and Internet Café, a favorite place that always seemed to be busy. Everybody gets his or her own personal email address while onboard. Receiving and sending email is very reasonable. I paid $1.50-2.00 for most transactions. There are Internet connections and a small fee is charged for surfing the net. It’s very inexpensive. On deck 10, at the very top of the ship is the observation lounge with a small library and self serve coffee bar. This lounge is practically connected to the exercise room, a small dark room that I didn’t feel like using. Duh! I’m on a cruise. Then there is the Mandara Spa from Bali. I wanted to try the hot stone massage therapy, but couldn’t get a time. The spa is very popular, so make reservations early. There is also a very nice beauty salon up here. There are 2 shops onboard, the Boutique selling upscale jewelry and logo wear and a Bvlgary signature shop. Tom bought me a nice hat here. There are self serve laundry facilities on several decks, but I forgot to peak in there. I sent Tom’s white sweater to the dry cleaning service after an unfortunate encounter with some red wine. Looked like the sweater had the measles! The cost was only $4.00 and all the stains were gone. Tom Ogg cruises often, and he brings his tux from the previous cruise and has it cleaned for the current cruise as soon as he gets onboard. Then it’s always clean and fresh. What a great tip, thanks Tom. I have a concern about smoking: it is allowed in the Humidor, and at certain areas in the bar, the Panorama Lounge and the Viennese Lounge. The restaurants are smoke free. When we opened the veranda door in our cabin, we often had stale air with heavy smoke drawn into our cabin, which disappeared when we closed the glass doors. This was not good, as I love to have the veranda door open and enjoy the sound and smell of the sea and the fresh air. I mentioned it to Monica, but all she could do was offer to bring a fresh air spray. I heard that other people had the same problem in their cabins. We had dinner in the dining room with Jan and Don Carole and Tony who we met on the ship and enjoyed spending time with every day. If you want caviar and it’s not on the menu, order it anyway and it appears for you. Rex, our waiter, whose table we usually asked for because we liked him so well, always found a wine to our liking. And we always liked different wines from each other. He often had 6 bottles going for us and kept track of who liked what. He was great. This evening, our cruise Director Ray Solaire, puppet master extraordinaire, puts on a very interesting show with his puppets. He dresses like the background and becomes invisible, so the puppets look very much alive. Clever! After dancing, we slept very well again that night. Life is good. May 6, Monday Catania (Sicily), Italy 8:00 am – 6:00 pm Sicily’s second largest town after Palermo lies at the foot of Europe’s most famous active volcano. The prominent cone of Mount Etna reaches almost 11,000 feet, its slopes covered by hardened lava and scores of cones and craters - tangible evidence of its ever-threatening presence. At first sight, Catania does not seem overly impressive, but a closer look reveals one of Sicily’s most intriguing and vibrant cities. Settled by Greek colonists as early as 729 B.C., Catania became so influential that their laws were eventually adopted by all the Ionian colonies of ancient Greece. During the Roman occupation Catania grew into one of the largest towns in Sicily. Some of its importance diminished in the early medieval period, but prosperity flourished anew under Aragonese rule in the 14th century. Destroyed several times by the eruptions of Mount Etna, many of Catania's attractive buildings date from the reconstruction that followed a devastating earthquake in 1693. It was the design of architect Giovanni Vaccarini that gave the city its lofty, noble look. One of Catania's most handsome squares is the Piazza del Duomo. In its center stands a fountain bearing the city’s symbol, an elephant carved from lava and bearing a granite obelisk. The square is surrounded by fine baroque structures and dominated by the 18th-century cathedral. Granite columns from Catania's Roman amphitheater are incorporated in the church's structure. Inside lies the tomb of the city's famous native son, composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835). Closer to the seaside stands the Castello Ursino, which was built for Frederick II about 1240. In the 14th century the castle became the residence of the kings of Aragon. Thereafter, it served as a prison and since 1934 has housed the Civic Museum. The city's main street, Via Etna, runs north for two miles, interrupted by a series of spacious squares and Mount Etna as an imposing backdrop. Shore Excursions: Syracuse. Exploring the archaeological site requires extensive walking, some on steep, uneven ground. We recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes and wearing a sun hat. The price of the tour is based on keeping the group small for the walking part: Neapolis, Syracuse - Ortygia. 8.5 hours The most rewarding excursions from Catania, may be to the storybook village of Taormina, or Syracuse or up the slopes of Mount Etna. We did the Taormina & Castelmola excursion when we came last October, so we choose to travel thirty-seven miles south to Syracuse, site of one of Sicily's most important archaeological remains of its splendid past. I’m so glad we did. Again, I got to re-live what I had studied in college back in Sweden in my Latin classes. Our excellent guide was Nunzio. He was so enthusiastic and just LOVED telling us about Syracuse. He talked all the way in the bus and I just ate it all up. He noticed and it made him even more enthusiastic. He was wonderful. Silversea gets the best guides. First we stopped at the old lime stone quarry with its caves. Founded by the Corinthians in 733 BC, Syracuse was the richest Greek city in Sicily primarily because of its shipping position. The Island of Ortygia was the heart of the colony. Beyond Ortygia in the Archeological Park of Neapolis, are the limestone quarries, and what is known today as Paradiso with the Ear of Dionysius, a cave carved from limestone. Dionysius Ear. It has incredible acoustics, and we had fun listening to our echoes, magnified 16 times. There were singers in there and children on school outings, yelling and laughing. Remains of both Greek (472 BC) and Roman theaters survive. The caves of the Greek theater and half of the Roman amphitheater were carved from the bedrock. This is the 3rd largest Grecian theatre on earth after Ephesus and Megalopolis. A fascinating summer season of ancient plays is still presented here each year. They were getting ready for the annual play and were building the stage and seats, very carefully as to protect the limestone. This year it’s going to be about how Prometheus stole the fire from Zeus. Prometheus was punished for his theft of fire by being bound and having his liver pecked out by an eagle. Five tombs of the ancient Sicles have been uncovered in the area of the Greek theater. The artifacts from these tombs are on display in the Regional Paolo Orsi Archeological Museum. This excellent museum chronologically traces the history of Sicily from prehistoric times to the Magna Graecia. We did not have time to visit this excellent museum. At the Roman amphitheater is an altar, where 450 cattle would be sacrificed at one time. We drove to Old Syracuse on the island of Ortygia. In the course of the 5th century B.C. the wealth, cultural development, and political power of Syracuse rivaled Athens itself. Syracuse continued to better the Carthaginians in battle and in the 3rd century B.C. became allied with Rome. Later the city attempted to reject the alliance and at ca. 212 B.C., after a two-year siege, the Romans conquered Syracuse. The Roman plunder and looting of art from Syracuse is said to have created the first appreciation of Classical Greek art in Rome. Syracuse declined under Roman rule and was finally destroyed by the Saracens in A.D. 878. We walked through the archway and visited Archimedes Square. He was born in 287 BC in Syracuse, Sicily, and died: 212 BC in Syracuse, Sicily. Archimedes, the greatest mathematician of antiquity, made his greatest contributions in geometry. His methods anticipated the integral calculus 2,000 years before Newton and Leibniz. Stories from Plutarch, Livy, and others describe machines invented by Archimedes for the defense of Syracuse. These include the catapult, the compound pulley and a burning-mirror. The achievements of Archimedes are quite outstanding. He is considered by most historians of mathematics as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Archimedes was killed during the capture of Syracuse by the Romans in the Second Punic War. Plutarch recounts this story of his killing: As fate would have it, Archimedes was intent on working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed both his mind and eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he did not notice the entry of the Romans nor that the city was taken. A soldier unexpectedly came up to him and commanded that he accompany him. When he declined to do this before he had finished his problem, the enraged soldier drew his sword and ran it through him as Archimedes shouted “Don’t disturb my angles”. He rarely if ever spoke to anyone. We then proceeded to the cathedral, built on the ruins of an ancient temple of Minerva (Athena) with thirty-six columns of which only twenty-two remain. What a great surprise for me: This is where Santa Lucia was born, I had totally forgot about that. And this was the week, except on December 13, that they bring her out of the locked cabinet to celebrate her. She was standing there on the altar of the cathedral, a beautifully ornate silver statue. The Italian Santa Lucia (d. 304, Syracuse, Sicily; feast day December 13) was a virgin and martyr who was one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, having a widespread following before the 5th century. She is the patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Sicily. Because of various traditions associating her name with light, she came to be thought of as the patron of sight and was depicted by medieval artists carrying a dish containing her eyes. A thousand years ago in Sweden, King Canute declared that Christmas would last a month, from December 13, the feast of St. Lucia until January 13, or Tjugondag Knut (St. Canute's Day). No one is quite sure why Lucia, a 4th century Sicilian saint, came to be so revered in Sweden. Some say she once visited the country, and others believe missionaries brought stories of her life, which entranced the Swedish people. Or it could just be because it’s so dark in Sweden in December, and the patron of light is celebrated with candles in her hair. That’s my theory. Also associated with this period is perhaps Siracusa's most unique attraction, the Fountain of Arethusa. A sunken pond adorned with a bright green shock of papyrus and inhabited by myriad white ducks, it offers one of several opportunities here to actually see Greek mythology incarnate. This particular legend was that the river god Alpheus mercilessly courted a nymph named Arethusa, who lived in the Peloponnesian Mountains. To escape his ardor she jumped into the sea, but Artemis saved her and transformed her into the source of a stream, which flowed to Ortygia and gathered in this spot before emptying into the bay. Surrounded by sea walls and a host of pleasant outdoor cafes, the pond is now a favorite hangout of the local youth. There is so much history here. We had a wonderful lunch on the roof top restaurant at the Grand Bretagne Hotel. The views of the perfectly round harbor were breath taking. On the way back to the bus we observed the local canoe water polo team practice in the harbor. We also visited the Sanctuary of the Weeping Madonna of Syracuse on the way back. The church dedicated to her is in the shape of a teardrop. On November 6, 1994, Pope John Paul II visited this sanctuary and gave a sermon on the meaning of the Blessed Mother's tears. We made it back to the ship in time for our sailing at 6:00 pm for Salerno and the Amalphi Coast. Captain Corsaro is from Catania and had not been home for 3 years. He was able to visit his sick mother for a few hours and he sailed past her house and blew the horn 3 times. It must have awakened the entire village. The Captain ordered a sail away party on pool deck for the occasion. We were all out there on deck, enjoying the Jacuzzi, munching on hors d’oevres and drinking champagne, again. This time, we did not see eruptions from Mt. Etna as we pulled away. It was still light out, but she was puffing smoke, a sign that all is well. This evening, we were dining with Tom Ogg. We had such a great time and lively discussion that we missed a great show in the Viennese Lounge by the Jean Ann Ryan Production Team, called Sussurro. As we left the dining room it was time for the Stromboli show. Stromboli is one of the Aeolian Islands of Italy. The island is about 3 miles (2 km) in diameter and 2,900 feet (900 m) above sea level. It rises 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Stromboli is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. This time, she did not disappoint. The volcano kept spewing rocks and lava high up in the air every 5-10 minutes for as long as we hang around. It was fun to see, especially since the time we went by her last October was the only day in 5,000 years that she did not erupt. Violent eruptions are rare at Stromboli. Most eruptions at Stromboli consist of small gas explosions that hurl incandescent blobs of lava above the crater rim. several explosions occur each hour. Larger eruptions and lava flows are less frequent. When this type of eruption is observed at other volcanoes it is often referred to as a Strombolian eruption. This was a great ending to a very busy day full of activities. Sleep came quickly. Tomorrow is another busy day exploring. May 7, Tuesday Salerno, Italy 8:00 am – 6:00 pm Salerno is situated at the northern end of the Gulf of Salerno. The old town, rising up the slopes of the hill on the site of the ancient Salernum, still bears evidence of its great days during the medieval period. It had the oldest medical school in Europe, which flourished from the 11th century until it was closed down by Napoleon's brother-in-law, Murat, in 1812. Today, Salerno's main attraction is an imposing Romanesque cathedral, built in 1085 and remodeled in the late 18th century. A flight of steps leads up to an atrium with 28 columns from Paestum and fourteen ancient sarcophagi. The magnificent bronze doors were made in Constantinople in 1099. Inside you will find the ornate tomb of Margaret of Anjou and the tomb of Pope Gregory VII, who died in Salerno in 1085. In the richly decorated crypt under the alter lies the remains of the Evangelist Matthew, brought here from Paestum. A 45-minute walk from the cathedral leads to a hilltop crowned by the old Lombard Castello, from where extensive views are available. Along the seafront, to the east of the harbor, extends a fine promenade lined with impressive modern buildings. The Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi is the town's principal traffic artery. Travelers coming to Salerno mainly use the port as a starting point for visits to the Greek temples of Paestum. Other favorite excursions from here are to Pompeii and to visit the popular resort towns of Amalfi and Ravello. We visited Pompeii last October when our cruise ship anchored off of Sorrento. At that time we also took the ferry over to Capri, but did not have enough time to make the drive along the famous Amalfi Coast. Shore Excursions: Ravello & Amalfi. Sightseeing at Ravello and Amalfi requires a good amount of walking. Price is based on keeping groups small for the walking part of the tour. 6 hours. This is a beautiful drive that we always wanted to experience, but not driving it ourselves. It’s best done on a small tour bus. Our guide was young and inexperienced and spoke poor English. This was a disappointment. However, the views were magnificent, so how could we complain. She tried very hard. Some people were unhappy, however and complained to Silversea. Driving north, the village of Vietri Sul Mar lies right next to Salerno. This is where the famous Amalfi Coast ceramic factories are located. Every church tower in the area has a beautifully decorated ceramic roof. Driving along the winding roads of the Amalfi Coast sounds like a fairy tale as we passed little villages with names like Torre de la Marina di Albori, Punta e Lanterna Fuente, Cetara, Erchie, and around the bend at Capo d’Orso lies the Belvere from where we could see the island of Capri. Driving along, we pass Maiori and Minori, both villages hanging onto the cliff side. The Amalfi Coast is truly breathtakingly beautiful. For centuries poets have sung its praises while artists, inspired by its stunning coastal scenery, have captured its golden light, dark blue waters and timeless mountain villages. At Atrani, we turn up the 5 km. narrow winding road that leads to Ravello. I ’m sure glad that I wasn’t driving! Cars had to back up around very steep hairpin curves to let us pass. I have to say NO THANKS to driving here. We visited the church with its copper door made in Constantinople in 1066. The six lions holding up the ceramic pulpit and the ceramic confession stand are unique. We then visited the Villa Rudolfo dating back to the 13-14th century. This villa inspired D.D Lawrence when he wrote his masterpeiece "Lady Chatterley's Lover", and provided Richard Wagner with the setting for "Parsifal". Verdi and Grieg also stayed here for inspiration. In the summer, the Ravello Music Festival takes place here on the terrace overlooking the Amalfi Coast. High atop a promontory above the sea, Ravello is the most romantic spot along the Costiera, frequented by intellectuals and artists from Gore Vidal (ask anyone to point out his villa "La Rondinaia") to Tennessee Williams. The town's secret lies in the subtle intertwining of nature and culture, best witnessed by the many splendid gardens and historical villas. We drove back down the 5 km to Atrani and continued to Amalfi. Amalfi has always been the capital of the Divine Coast, its origin is part of the legend, perhaps Roman or Greek, or chosen by Hercules himself for his beloved nymph Amalfi, as her last home because the color of her eyes and the sea were exactly alike. The marvelous Cathedral and its Duomo tower are devoted to St. Andrea. Returning from Amalfi to Salerno was just as exciting. It looks different going the other way. The views are so marvelous I cannot ever get enough. Every curve is exciting. The driver took us on a sightseeing tour of Salerno before dropping us off at the ship. We departed at 6:00 pm and cruised up the Amalfi Coast all the way past Positano, almost to Sorrento. It was difficult to get ready for tonight’s dinner. Fortunately, we had the coast on our side, so that helped. I could sit on the veranda and dry my hair, etc. Then we headed over to Capri. Vesuvius was looming in the background and the Bay of Naples was very blue. It’s a magnificent part of Italy and the whole world. We reached Capri at sunset. My oh my! Life is so good. Faraglione rocks, Capri May 8, Wednesday Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy 8:00 am – 11:00 pm Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one of the great centers of the ancient world. Although its beginning is shrouded in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle, Rome has always been and remains the Eternal City. Rome enjoyed its greatest splendor during the 1st and 2nd centuries when art flourished, monumental works of architecture were erected, and the mighty Roman legions swept outward, conquering all of Italy. These victorious armies then swept across the Mediterranean and beyond to conquer most of the known world. With Rome’s establishment as capital of the western world, a new ascent to glory began. Today’s Rome, with its splendid churches, ancient monuments and palaces, spacious parks, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, outdoor cafés and elegant shops, is one of the world’s most attractive and exciting cities. Among the most famous monuments is the Coliseum. As you walk its cool, dark passageways, imagine the voices that once filled the arena as 50,000 spectators watched combats between muscled gladiators and ferocious animals. Stop to see the remains of the Forum, once the city’s political and commercial center. In later times, Rome’s squares were enhanced with such imposing structures as the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and grandiose fountains like the Fontana di Trevi. Join the millions who stand in awe of Christendom’s most magnificent church and admire the timeless masterpieces of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Rome jars the senses and captures the soul. Grasp all you can during the short, precious time you have available in the Eternal City when on a day tour. With so much to see and do, a day or two will only allow you a sampling of the city's marvelous treasures. Big Caution: As in many big cities and tourist destinations purse snatching and pick pocketing is common. Shore Excursions Rome - the Eternal city. Guests should be aware that Rome suffers from horrendous traffic and renovations all the time. When it rains, like today, everyone drives a car not a scooter, which makes traffic even worse than usual. This causes frequent traffic jams and obstacles throughout the city. The order of sights may therefore differ from the one in the tour description. The visit to St. Peter’s Basilica requires ladies to have their shoulders and knees covered. Most sites will be seen from the coach, others involve some walking: Piazza Venezia, The Forum and Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Borghese Park, St. Peter's Square, St. Peter's Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo, 10 hours. Silversea had arranged for a private visit for a small group to the Vatican Museum in the afternoon. It was a tempting thought, but we choose another great tour. Nero's Golden House This was added in the last minute to our choices of tours and I grabbed it up right away. It’s very difficult to get tickets, as they only allow small groups at a time. I read about Nero and his Golden Palace in my Latin classes, so I was excited to get to see this. The Palace is just a shadow of its former golden self today. The Domus Aurea was the ultimate in luxury when this crazy house was built, practically bankrupting the state of Rome. This unique archeological site of Emperor Nero's Golden Palace reopened in summer 1999 after nearly 20 years of restoration work and it quickly became one of Rome's most talked about historical sites. You have to enter with a guide and the tour takes about an hour. The 'Golden House' was built after the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 A.D., as the emperor's ultimate status symbol on the Apian Hill. Its size was an estimated 25 times larger than the Coliseum, whose ruins occupy the space that was Nero's artificial lake. Inside the palace, Nero is said to have hosted lavish parties in rooms adorned with gold and ivory under ceilings, which dispensed perfume and flowers. One room even rotated. Look for the octagonal room, which is unique. Little of that remains today. After Nero's death, subsequent emperors wasted little time in dismantling the spoils of his excess. In the underground ruins, imprints of the building's decadence remain in rich but crumbling frescoes and mosaics that were long forgotten until Raphael and other Renaissance painters went in and borrowed the style for their work in St. Peter's Basilica and elsewhere. The Trajans Baths were later built on top of Nero’s House. Before seeing this impressive site, we toured around Rome by minibus. We drove by St Paul’s Basilica, Via Ostense, the Pyramid de Cato Cestia, the Aurelian Walls, the Baths of Caracalla, Circus Maximus, Palatine Hill where Rome was born, the Palaces of the Ceasars, Theatre of Marcello, and Victor Emmanuel Monument. We drove Corso Vittorio Manuele to the Vatican and St. Peters, the Castello D’Angelo, where Emperor Hadrian is buried, Piazza Argentina with the ruins of its unknown temples is across from where Ceasar was stabbed, Via del Fori Imperiale to the Forum shops, Colliseum and the Arch of Constantine. Nero’s Golden House and Gardens is located in this area. After the tour we drove around some more to Santa Maria Maggiore church, Terme de Diocleziano, Piazza de la Republica. We were dropped off close to the Spanish Steps and Via Veneto for 2 ½ hours on our own. Even though it was raining and cool today we enjoyed walking around. We found a little pizzeria to have a snack lunch. I also found my favorite glove store, so I needed a few more pairs. As we were walking along I felt a tug on my purse, which was snug in my shoulder bag. Then I felt it again and turned around to see what it was. I figured out it was these 2 nice looking French-speaking young girls with the baby carriage causing a commotion. One of them was pushing the baby and pretended to be interested in something in a store window. She blocked the pedestrians with the baby carriage. This way everyone had to slow down to go around. That’s when the accomplice had a chance to lift wallets or purses. We followed them around for awhile, which made them very uncomfortable. They would disappear up the side streets, but we found them and followed them again. I think I saw one of them showing a wallet to the other and also unload it later at a storefront. Hold onto your stuff around the Spanish Steps. The police will not help you. We drove through Borghese Park, Piazza Popolo, Ponte Mattetotti, and left Rome via Viale della Milizie. Everyone napped on the way back to the port at Civitavecchia. We had another wonderful dinner of seared ostrich appetizer, avocado and tomato gazpacho terrine with asparagus, zucchini creamed soup with saffron, and a choice of grilled whole Dover sole with artichoke, or crisp Long Island duckling in orange sauce, or roasted pork tenderloin in creamed Morel sauce, or braised Kobe beef and a side dish of soba noodles with caviar and chives for the main dish. We made new friends tonight in the dining room. Tonight was Jazz night in the Panorama Lounge, but we didn’t stay too long. The day’s activities and dinner wines made us very sleepy. We sailed for Livorno and Florence at 11:00 pm. May 9, Thursday Livorno, Italy 8:00 am – 8:00 am Friday May 10 It’s still overcast and raining this morning, which is a big change from the gorgeous weather we were having before getting to Rome, the Italian mainland. Oh well, being from the Pacific Northwest, we can handle it. The weather doesn’t stop us from doing anything. Livorno is Italy’s second-largest port after Genoa; it also serves as a convenient gateway to the Tuscany region. Venturing into downtown Livorno, be sure to explore the local market and a variety of fine shops. There are plenty of excellent restaurants in this busy commercial city. Tuscany is known for its classic landscapes of gently rounded hills with clumps of slender cypresses and lush vineyards, famous for the dry, dark-red Chianti wines. Visitors come to see the great art centers of Florence, Lucca and Pisa, to name but a few. From this part of Italy the national language evolved with Dante and other great Tuscan writers of his period. Even more important is the impact this area had on the culture of the rest of Italy and all of Europe; the flourishing of the Renaissance added a vast wealth to the architectural and artistic heritage. The Italian Renaissance, with its most active center in Florence, lasted from the 1400s to the 1700s. Its greatest support came from the all-powerful Medici, the multitudes of religious bodies and the guilds, whose merchants laid the foundation to the city’s prosperity. They commissioned Italy’s most talented painters, sculptors and architects to create some of the most important works of art. Names such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Giotto, Vasari, Boticelli, da Vinci, Donatello and Dante come to mind, all of whom worked and lived in Florence at some time in their life. We had a great tour of Florence on a previous visit, so we decided not to opt for this tour. Pisa is known for its brilliant ensemble of monuments, which include the 11th-century Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Bell Tower with its pillared galleries. The tower achieved additional fame because of its tilt, having been built on unstable, alluvial land. Galileo, who was born in Pisa, made use of the tower’s inclination in his experiments on the law of gravity. Over the years, successions of architects have attempted to correct the tilt, which by now measures over 15 feet. We decided on the tour to Lucca and were hoping to get to see Pisa on the way. We did see it, but only from the highway. Because of the very heavy traffic on these narrow country roads and regulations for tour busses, it would take too much time to make a stop here. At least we know it’s there. Our shore excursion is Lucca & Lucchese Villas. Sightseeing in Lucca is entirely on foot. We recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes. Price is based on keeping groups small for the guided walk: Lucca, Piazza di San Michele, Casa di Puccini, Basilica of San Frediano, Piazza Anfiteatro, Villa Visit, 8.5 hours. Lunch included. Lavinia is our excellent guide to Lucca today. She knows everything about Tuscany. Our first stop after one hour’s drive is the Villa Torrigiani in Camigliano, Lucca. It’s one of 13 villas owned by the same family, made wealthy by the silk trade. Villa Torrigiani is situated on the lovely hills surrounding the town of Lucca. In its garden there are many ponds and many beautiful trees. The villa and the park date back the beginning of the 16th century. The owners then were the powerful Buonvisi family. It was the meeting place between Marquise Lucrezia, the wife of Lelio Buonvisi, and her lover (Arnolfini) who seems to have been captured right in front of the gates of Camigliano, having been accused of the assassination of Marquis Lelio, which had taken place in the city. During the first half of the 17th Century Villa di Camigliano was purchased by Marquis Nicolao Santini, the ambassador of the Republic of Lucca to the court of Louis 14th (the sun King), who wanted to transform it into a sumptuous dwelling, with a garden of flowering parterres and grand basins, into which the facade would reflect. The garden was to be built according to the plans done by Le Notre for the royal home of Versailles. The villa now has a baroque facade. The stairs in the garden are called "di Flora". The Grotto of the Winds has 17th century statutes. The water works exist according to the 17th-century, original system. There is a one-km long Valley of Cypresses. These trees are over one hundred years old. It was raining hard at this point and the trail was a bit muddy. We entered the villa from the back of the garden. As we enter into the villa there are decorations of frescoes by Pietro Scorzini on the walls. They have been perfectly conserved and show the seasons in the bedrooms, mythological scenes in the sitting rooms and Emperor Aureliano in the main drawing room all of which creates a frame for the original furniture which is still there. It’s raining pretty hard and we were glad to get back on the bus for the drive to Lucca, the provincial capital of Tuscany, is one of the most handsome Romanesque cities in Europe. Lucca is one of the most ancient towns of Etruria with its rich cultural and mercantile heritage and boasts a unique town center. It is especially known for its medieval ramparts, which date back to the 15th century, allowing one to walk, jog or bike around the whole circuit. Just as interesting is its historic center featuring several fine old churches and lovely squares. Lucca is also known as the home of composer

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Silversea Cruises Silver Whisper Cruise Review Southern Caribbean SILVERSEA’S luxurious SILVER WHISPER: A long review of a short Caribbean cruise, with reflections on small ship cruising and suggestions for independent enjoyment of ports of call (St. Bart’s, Antigua, and Tortola) Let’s be honest. One of the pleasures of cruising is the “fantasy factor”. You know what I mean -- for a few days each year one is made to feel

rich and famous, from spacious suites with attentive service to haute cuisine with fine wine. Mainstream cruise lines offer a degree of luxury with their upper echelon suites and surcharged restaurants, but the kind of pervasive luxury and personal attention that I am talking about here is the raison d’etre of such cruise lines as Silversea, Regent (formerly Radisson) Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Crystal. These ships range from about 200 passengers on the older Seabourn “yachts” to about 1,000 passengers on the newest Crystal ship. Perhaps because the smaller luxury ships carry fewer passengers on less common itineraries, or perhaps because wealthy passengers are not as interested in cruise review web sites as the rest of us, there are relatively few recent reviews of ships like the Silver Whisper. BACKGROUND: What follows is a review of our experience on a four night March, 2006, Caribbean cruise on Silversea’s all-suite ship Silver Whisper. I am semi-retired, in my late 50’s, and not in the travel business. My wife and I have taken 17 cruises on a variety of cruise lines. When on vacation I prefer not dealing with lines or crowds, and tend to travel independently rather than with tour groups. I shall begin this review with a discussion of LUXURY CRUISING IN GENERAL; follow with a discussion of our SILVER WHISPER cruise in particular; then give suggestions for INDEPENDENT SIGHTSEEING at our ports of call (St. Barts, Antigua, and Tortola) with a gentle warning about an Antiguan “incident”; and conclude with a discussion of WHETHER LUXURY CRUISING IS WORTH THE PRICE. I shall HIGHLIGHT some topics in all capital letters, so that the reader can scroll down to any topic of particular interest. Before I begin, please understand the facts that: First, I have a value-oriented approach to travel. Those of you who have read my previous reviews (e.g. Star Princess in the Baltic, Constellation in the Southern Caribbean, Galaxy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Zuiderdam in the Eastern Caribbean, Tahitian Princess in Polynesia) are used to my personal viewpoint. Second, I am not an experienced luxury cruiser. Most of my previous 17 cruises have been on the cruise lines listed above. This may make me a less biased observer, or it may make me blind to some of the perks of luxury cruising. Third, this was a relatively short, heavily discounted itinerary from a U.S. port (San Juan), and as such may not be representative of the usual Silversea cruises, which average about ten days in duration and $5,000 per person for the least expensive cabins. Finally, cruise ships change with time, and what I say here may not apply when you read this. Also, I apologize for any errors and omissions I have made, and suggest you supplement this review with other information from other reviewers. That being said, let’s begin the review with the bottom line. THE BOTTOM LINE: This was an enjoyable cruise on a highly regarded small cruise ship calling at three of the less crowded Caribbean ports. PRO’S: The spacious cabins with double bathrooms (all cabins are outsides, most with balconies); the understated elegance of the extensive public areas; the absence of noise and crowds; the absence of sales pitches (no art auctions, no photographers, no bingo games); the talented musicians and entertainers (who were presented at reasonable decibel levels); the well traveled, well educated, and articulate passengers; and the inclusive pricing (drinks and gratuities). CON’S: Minor lapses in service; minor lapses in food preparation; inadequate exercise facilities; excessive off-line and internet computer fees; and a tendency of the ship to roll in good weather during mild to moderate seas. SILVERSEA BACKGROUND: Silversea is a privately owned Italian cruise line with four luxury ships. The officers are predominantly Italian, and the staff is international. The Silver CLOUD and Silver WIND were built in 1994/5 for 295 passengers each. The Silver SHADOW and Silver WHISPER were built in 2000/1 for 382 passengers each. All cabins are outsides, and most have balconies. Silversea prefers to call them suites rather than cabins, although most are a single room with a dividing curtain between the sitting and sleeping areas. Silver SHADOW’S and Silver WHISPER’S cabin size (345/287 square feet with/without balcony), space ratio (74 tons per passenger), and staff-to-passenger ratio (1.3 to 1) are almost twice those of mainstream cruise ships, and are significantly better than most other cruise ships in the luxury category. SILVERSEA CRUISE PRICES: How much does a luxury cruise cost? As an exercise to determine how much Silver Whisper cruises cost, I searched the internet for the lowest net per diem for various itineraries in 2006, after any available discounts but before taxes and port fees. With a few exceptions the prices ranged from about $400 to $700 per person per day (pppd) for the least expensive (outside but no balcony) cabins. The lower amount was for itineraries such as Asia, and the higher amount was for itineraries such as northern Europe. A balcony adds significantly to these prices, the price depending on whether the balcony cabin is located forward or mid-ship. The largest (named) suites are much more expensive than this. Repositioning cruises are less expensive, beginning around $300 pppd. SILVERSEA ITINERARIES: Like most luxury cruise lines, Silversea offers itineraries that span the globe, sometimes calling at ports not readily accessible to larger cruise ships. Most itineraries range from 7 to 14 days, but Silversea adds the option of designing your own cruise itinerary, allowing you to embark and disembark at any of the ship’s ports of call around the world, as long as space is available on the segments you want. The longer itineraries mean that the high per diems will have an even greater impact on your cruise cost. This is offset to some extent by the fact that all drinks and gratuities are included in the price, although one may wish to select surcharged premium wines and liquors or additionally tip staff as a matter of personal preference. SOME SILVERSEA OPTIONS: Adding to the price of the cruise are optional pre- and post-cruise hotel programs, some of which include sightseeing. Many of these are three days long and average about $300 pppd for hotel and transfers. Some, such as their English manor stays, may range up to $1,500 pppd. In addition, combined hotel and air programs, which include economy airfare and one night deluxe hotel stay prior to the cruise, are available through Silversea. Business class upgrades, home airport transfers, luggage pre-shipment, and cancellation insurance are among additional options. SPECIAL VALUES: “Bargain prices” are sometimes available in cases when a cruise is poorly subscribed, as one passenger reported on a war-time Middle Eastern itinerary and another on a last minute Alaskan itinerary, although neither listed the price or per diem in his review. Because of a heavily discounted price and a desire to sample the Silversea experience before committing several thousand dollars to a longer cruise, we selected one of four short (four night, three day) back-to-back cruises round trip out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Although the discounted per diem (actually per nocem on a short cruise such as this) started out higher, I found a price of $250 pppd on these itineraries, and our cruise agent (Pavlus Travel) kindly included taxes and port fees in that price. We jumped at this opportunity, even though the cruise included only three ports for our $1,000 pp cruise fare, and the least expensive (independent) airfare from our regional airport added another $700. JUSTIFYING THE COST OF A LUXURY CRUISE: This leads to rationalization #1. If a luxury cruise is priced per diem at double what one would pay on a mainstream cruise, it is a good value, since the per passenger space and staffing ratios are nearly double those of mainstream cruise ships. Unfortunately, the usual per diem for luxury cruises is closer to three or four times what most of us are used to paying for a mainstream cruise. Then there is rationalization #2, which is the result of new pricing policies that some mainstream cruise lines have adopted in the last few years. Some mainstream cruise lines have curtailed discounting on cruise fares (you probably already know which cruise lines, one of which used to be our favorite). This leads to the frustrating message “call our 800 number for the cruise price” when one tries to plan a cruise vacation on the internet. Because of this opaque pricing and anti-discount policy, we find ourselves cruising less often, and as a result have that much more money to spend on a non-mainstream cruise experience. Finally there is rationalization #3. If you need to justify a luxury cruise, then you probably can’t afford it. If luxury cruise prices are a significant concern to your conscience, if not your wallet, you probably aren’t going to enjoy spending that much money on self-indulgence. HIDDEN BENEFITS OF A LUXURY CRUISE: In talking with our fellow WHISPER passengers about why they selected a luxury cruise, each one mentioned the lack of crowds on the ship and in port. When a small ship is docked, one can generally walk off and back on without waiting in line. Unfortunately, this benefit is nullified when tenders are used, since these can add significantly to disembarkation times at popular cruise ports. The decision to tender passengers may be based on security or dock availability issues, but may also be based on financial issues as docking fees get more expensive. Personally, I think all cruise lines should include information whether the ship plans to be docked or tendered at each port of call in their itineraries, just as they disclose their port fees and taxes. This would help one choose among otherwise similar itineraries, and also would help the disabled make informed cruise choices. A significant theoretical benefit of small cruise ships involves HEALTH and SAFETY ISSUES. In an age of pandemics, why would one choose a ship with thousands of passengers when much smaller ships are available? Pandemics begin with an index case and spread rapidly in areas of high population density. It seems logical that an index case is more likely to appear, and the spread to be more rapid, on a mega-ship with thousands of passengers. Very few cruise ships, large or small, put enough emphasis on passenger hygiene, including passenger hand-wash options and gel dispensers near all dining and beverage areas, especially self-service buffets. You might want to take along your own disinfectant towelettes for use on the ship and on shore. In addition, if there is a fire or other disaster requiring passenger evacuation or re-routing, it seems logical that this is much more easily done on a small ship. Do not get me wrong, the mega-ships are just as concerned about passenger safety as the small ships are, but beyond a certain point the huge number of passengers and crew on some ships makes the logistics of responding to disasters exponentially more difficult. MEGA-MEGA-SHIPS: This brings me to the latest development in the cruise industry. Why in the world are we seeing plans for ships carrying 5,000 plus passengers and 3,000 plus crew members when such ships will swamp many cruise port facilities and will carry all of the increased risks mentioned above? Such enormous ships are not nimble enough to alter itineraries easily, and if one of them is out of commission due to fire, health hazard, or other cause, the financial loss to the cruise line and the ill-will generated among the passengers will be staggering. My impression is that these mega-mega-ships are being built to satisfy a perceived public desire for increased choices in shipboard activities and dining options, which is now being taken to bizarre extremes. Cruise ships are being bloated into floating theme parks. Why do I mention these issues in a luxury cruise ship review? It is with the hope that mainstream cruise lines will learn from the automobile and other industries that smaller and better quality products will ultimately prevail over behemoths. I hope that mainstream cruise lines will re-think their options and will start building small cruise ships with reasonable cruise prices, so that the public has additional choices in the small ship arena. Time to get off the soapbox and get on with the REVIEW of our SILVER WHISPER cruise. Silversea PRE-CRUISE documents are similar to those of other cruise lines, with options including pillow preference, bed configuration, and special dietary needs. Although alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are included in the cruise fare, there was no option for us to indicate personal preferences for our mini-bar. One can enter one’s cruise preferences in Silversea’s web site, but the site was not working properly when I tried it. Their webmaster told me that they were upgrading the site, and presumably it is functional now. We simply faxed our pre-cruise information forms. Those interested in the alternate dining at La Terrazza or Le Champagne restaurants (see dining options below) should inquire about the possibility of pre-cruise reservations (all of the La Terraza nights were full and waitlisted by the time we boarded). Information about shore excursions and spa treatments is on the web site, and one might want to pre-reserve those also, although I heard no problems about booking them onboard. Silversea cruise documents arrive in a silver colored box, and include two black leatherette document cases and two black leather luggage tags with a metal Silversea logo (a stylized “S” that looks a bit like a seahorse). We used neither, but they make nice souvenirs. The most useful tags we ever received from a cruise line had our names, membership numbers, and an 800- number to call if the baggage was found. That luggage locator tag has remained on our bags ever since. Other cruise lines should consider a similar service. EMBARKATION: We generally find it less expensive and more flexible to make our own air and transfer arrangements. Our flight touched down at San Juan’s airport (SJU) at 4:30pm on embarkation day. Since we travel without checked bags, just a regulation carry-on each (see my previous reviews for the secret to traveling light), we were at the cruise dock ready to board the ship at 5:00pm. No cruise transfers are necessary in San Juan since it has an excellent and safe taxi system for tourists. The airport and the cruise docks have taxi dispatchers who will write down your destination and the appropriate taxi fare, giving a copy to you and to your driver. That way there is no problem with overcharges or unwanted “city tours”. Look for the dispatchers’ booths curbside at both locations. The cab fare for two between the airport and Old San Juan, where most cruise ships dock, is $19 (plus $1 for our two bags). Many of the cabs are mini-vans, which can hold several people and extensive luggage. GREETERS: One of the negatives of cruising on a small ship is that there may be no greeter at the airport to answer questions and confirm the ship’s location. The WHISPER was docked at a different pier than stated in our pre-cruise documents, and Silversea did not send us an e-mail or (apparently) notify our agent of the change. Fortunately the two piers were nearby, and our taxi driver found the correct one. It would be nice if all cruise lines used an e-mail alert system similar to that of airlines. Silversea recommends embarking between 3 and 5pm. Early boarding (including lunch onboard) is available for a $100 per person surcharge if pre-reserved, but it is gratis to Venetian Society members (repeat Silversea cruisers) who have completed more than 250 Silversea cruise days. Similar late disembarkation is available in some ports, but not U.S. ports, which require disembarkation of all passengers once a ship clears immigration. LINES: The WHISPER was docked alongside a much larger mainstream cruise ship that was making a port call at San Juan. Unfortunately there was a long line of returning passengers from that ship stretched along the sidewalk, waiting to clear security. There was no Silversea representative curbside to allow us direct entry to our own ship, so we waited in line along with the other ship’s passengers. The curbside delay was only 15 minutes. As we waited in line I realized that some of the advantages of small ship cruising disappear as megaships proliferate and make cruise ports more crowded. In any case, we met some enjoyable fellow travelers as we waited. We felt a little smug, not because we were boarding the WHISPER instead of the neighboring megaship, but because our entire cruise luggage was smaller than some of the shopping bags waiting in line with us. (More about compulsive shopping when we land in St. Bart’s.) WELCOME ABOARD: As I look back on our welcome aboard the WHISPER, what I remember most is that there was no special welcome aboard. We cleared security and were directed to the reception desk, where we turned in our cruise tickets, were photographed, received our key cards, and that was it. One must imprint one’s credit card (or arrange other payment for one’s shipboard account), but for some reason the reception desk did not do this at embarkation. We received a notice later in the cruise to do this, but think it would have been more efficient to handle it at the outset as other cruise lines do. We had imagined that a ship’s officer or hotel manager would greet us and a waiter would offer us a glass of champagne at embarkation, but there were none. There was a tray of partially filled champagne flutes on the registration desk, but since the levels in the glasses varied, we assumed that these had been sipped and were waiting to be cleared. There were several chambermaids in line near the registration desk, and one of them assisted us with our hand carries and led us to our cabin, where a bottle of Pommery brut champagne on ice was waiting for us. The champagne was a great anodyne after our three long flights that day. FIRST IMPRESSIONS are important, and Silversea certainly missed an opportunity to impress from the outset. Embarkation on our other cruises has ranged from elegant to disorganized. This seems to vary more by individual ship than by cruise line (each line has had its hits and misses). To be fair to the WHISPER, we were 15 minutes later than the recommended boarding time due to the curbside line, and the boat drill began 15 minutes after our embarkation, so their staff was busy. ROOM SERVICE: Since our flights had no food service, we were hungry for a snack with the champagne. One of the negatives about a small cruise ship is that there are gaps in food service. After our boat drill there was no food venue open until dinnertime and the mini-bar had no snacks, so we called room service. Unfortunately the room service button on our phone responded that “this service is not currently available”. Another room service number we found in our cabin directory responded with a person’s name and a “please leave a message” answer machine. We never needed room service after that and do not know how efficient it is. We had packed Girl Scout cookies for just such an occasion, and had a great time celebrating the start of our cruise by drinking the champagne and raising toasts to the little scout who had sold us the cookies the day before. The secret to a happy vacation is to be happy. THE DECK PLAN of the WHISPER is quite logical, with cabins located forward and public areas located aft on all decks except deck 10, where the observation lounge and spa are forward. This deck plan makes it easy to find almost any venue quickly, without that lost-in-a-maze feeling one sometimes has during the first few days on larger ships. The one downside of the deck plan is that there is only one small elevator forward in the cabin areas, but there are four elevators aft in the public areas. Since there is no service elevator for room service or other crew members, the one forward elevator is often used by the crew. It makes for some snug but friendly trips among enormous breakfast and dinner trays. We really appreciated how hard the crew works, and we told them so when we rode with them on the elevator. THE CREW: That brings up the issue of how some passengers treat crew members. Every cruise we have been on has had a few toxic passengers who make things difficult for the crew. Being demanding is especially tempting on a luxury cruise ship that advertises its premiere service. We have found that crew members on all cruise ships tend to be interesting, intelligent, and often highly educated people who by chance were born in a third world or war-torn country, and therefore do not have the job opportunities that we as Americans were born to. We do not impose a false camaraderie on them as is done on some cruise lines, but we do try to let them know that we appreciate that they are individuals and not just service employees. I think that most cruise passengers do the same, and the thought is appreciated. CABIN LOCATION: Our cabin was one of the “Vista” Suites, which have a window rather than balcony. These are the least expensive accommodations and account for approximately 20% of the cabins (all cabins are outsides, and 80% have balconies). Vista Suites are clustered on deck 4 forward, and abut the dining room bulkhead. That means that Vista passengers must go up one or more decks to reach any of the public areas, including an up and then down trip to the main restaurant entrance on deck 4 aft. Being on deck 4 can be an advantage in rough weather (it is nearest the ship’s center of gravity), especially since the ship tended to roll in good weather with mild to moderate seas. This certainly is not a problem on the usual Caribbean cruise, but may be a concern when crossing the North Atlantic or other rough seas. Several passengers we met were wearing accu-pressure wristbands for motion sickness, and these passengers were all repeat (Venetian Society) cruisers. Deck 4 is also nearest the sewage treatment area, and we noticed a faint odor of sewage several times as we approached our hallway. This odor was never a problem. It was not apparent in the public areas, just in the deck 4 stairwell and hallway, and it did not seep into our cabin at any time. CABIN AMENITIES: The WHISPER’S cabins are almost double the size of the average cabins on mainstream cruise ships. The cabin configuration is standard, with the bathroom and closet along the entry hall, then the sleeping area, and then the sitting/dining area adjacent to the window or balcony. One does not notice the extra floor space so much in the sleeping and sitting areas, but it is very apparent in the bathroom, which allows two to bathe and dress for dinner at the same time. The tub and shower are separate, and there are two sinks (and double bath amenities) at the granite counter. We did appreciate the quality of the cabin’s accoutrements. The duvet was sparkling white and light as air, the towels were textured and double thick, and the robes were heavyweight terry. A table converter (for room service dinners) was stowed in the closet but we never needed it. The TV had a DVD player, but I cannot imagine why anyone would use it when there are interesting ports of call, although it may help pass time when there are back-to-back days at sea. Our minibar was stocked with beer, mixers, and fruit juice. In addition to the champagne bottle waiting on our arrival, we were given a bottle of red wine during the cruise. We never opened it and left it for the next passengers. We did not request extra alcohol for the minibar, but I am certain many passengers do. We would have preferred having some colas and champagne splits, but we never asked for them (or were asked our preferences). We simply went to the nearest bar each evening for our pre-dinner drink. No problem. ALCOHOL: This brings us to the issue of “free” (included and essentially unlimited) alcoholic beverages. I have mixed feelings about this. Although we did not see any noisy drunken behavior, we did see a few quiet drunks, just as on any other cruise. Human nature leads people to over-indulge when drinks are all-inclusive. Those who drink reasonably end up subsidizing those who drink excessively -- restraint always pays for excess, whether it is health insurance, car insurance, or any other form of subsidy. Some cruise lines and all-inclusive resorts limit included (it’s never “free”) alcohol to wine or beer with meals, and this seems a reasonable compromise. I am told, however, that this is unpopular and that other semi-inclusive cruise ships are going fully inclusive soon. At some point this will become a safety issue, as one reads more and more about cruise passengers acting foolishly and even disappearing overboard. When careless or drunken behavior becomes a threat to passenger safety, the cruise lines will be forced to reconsider their alcohol policies. We will see how this develops with time and media exposure. STEWARDS: Our cabin was maintained by two chambermaids, one from Iceland and one from India. Although from opposite ends of the earth, one a fair beauty and the other a dark beauty, they made a great team and did a fine job keeping our cabin ship-shape. We rarely saw them, but when we wanted something (like additional personalized stationery) we simply left a note and they responded efficiently. THE PUBLIC AREAS ARE SUBTLY DECORATED in neutral colors, mainly off-white with pale blue, gray, or beige accents. There is no glitzy atrium or hey-look-at-me type décor. Everything is elegant in an understated way. The art collection is not extensive, but features pleasant antiquarian prints and occasional ethnic art works from various ports around the world. The one must-see art collection is the Florentine style mosaics in the bar on deck 5. These interpret in stone various famous prints by Gustav Klimt – the images are familiar and the craftsmanship is impressive. A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS: Rather than my describing each of the public areas around the ship, I suggest you log on to one of the many web sites featuring Silversea photos taken by previous cruisers. Just google “Silversea Silver Whisper reviews” and follow the trail. The photos are beautiful, far better than any of my own. The ship is very handsome inside and out. SPACE RATIO: The excellent space ratio is apparent throughout the ship. No public area ever seemed crowded, although the alternative dining rooms and the show lounge were sometimes full. The exception was the tiny gym, which seemed cramped even when no one else was there. The ship was so quiet compared to our previous cruises that we sometimes wondered where everybody was. There were no more than a handful of cruisers in the library, the lounges, or the shops when we were there. The privacy and sense of calm were very impressive. THE ENTERTAINMENT was surprisingly enjoyable, especially for such a small ship. Although there were no enrichment lectures or formal concerts on this itinerary, the musicians, vocalists, and dancers were all very talented. A VOCALIST played piano and sang every evening in the deck 5 bar. He has a fine voice and great sense of style. Ingeniously, he used his laptop screen instead of sheet music. A PIANO TRIO provided dance music every evening in the deck 8 Panorama lounge. They knew all the standards, took requests, and even did vocals on some of their numbers. My wife and I thought that the dance floor would be too crowded to use on a cruise like this, but we found only a handful of passengers in the lounge with us, and they listened at the bar but did not dance. The JANE RYAN COMPANY of six dancers and two vocalists provided entertainment in the show lounge every evening after dinner. Their productions ranged from an evening of Broadway show tunes to a Cirque du Soleil style performance that combined avant-garde music with acrobatic dancing. The production values matched any that we have seen while cruising, and the bonus is that this is the first and only cruise production company we have encountered that does not over-amplify its music and vocals. I usually have to leave the cruise ship theater after a few minutes of ear-blasting pain, but on this cruise I was able to enjoy each production from start to finish. Kudos to the man in the sound booth (and to the absence of loud music around the swimming pool)! FELLOW PASSENGERS on this cruise were not what we expected. The average age was around 60, but ranged from the 30’s to 80’s. The average BMI was around thirty, but ranged a good deal higher (thin and rich do not always go together). We expected the dress to range from Armani to Zegna, and were worried that our three outfits (formal, informal, and casual) would not be sufficient, even on a short cruise. Mirabile dictu, the average dress during the day was shorts and T-shirts. Dress during the evening was surprisingly informal. In fact, although everyone was presentable, people made less effort to dress well on this cruise than we were used to seeing on previous Holland, Celebrity, or Princess cruises. Perhaps it was just this particular short cruise. Sartorial habits aside, everyone we were seated with when dining on this cruise proved to be well traveled, highly articulate, and very entertaining. On some cruises my wife and I prefer to dine at a table for two, but on this cruise we always opted to join a group because of the enjoyable company. Perhaps the maitre d’ has ESP -- he always seemed to look into one’s eyes, think for a moment, and then say “Hmmm, yes, I think I have the perfect table for you.” He was right every time. DINING can be a touchy subject because it is so subjective. As I mentioned earlier, we were never able to sample the regional Italian cuisine in LA TERRAZA restaurant because this was fully booked before we ever boarded the ship. We also opted not to try the multi-course dinners and wine tastings in LE CHAMPAGNE dining room. These had a “nominal” fee of $150 pp to cover the cost of the premium wines. Although I enjoy a good wine, I cannot detect the subtleties of a great wine, so it would have been a wasted evening for me. That leaves the deck 7 buffet and the deck 4 main restaurant. The BUFFET is very enjoyable at breakfast. Since we did not have a balcony, we preferred to eat breakfast on the veranda outside the buffet rather than have room service. The buffet selections are varied, well prepared, and nicely presented. The breakfast buffet is very comparable to those found on mainstream cruise ships, but without the lines and crowds. That in itself makes the experience pleasurable. The lunch buffet parallels the menu in the main restaurant. As a matter of portion control and made-to-order freshness, we preferred the main restaurant for lunch. THE MAIN RESTAURANT: The food is good to excellent, similar in quality to the good food found in the main dining rooms of Celebrity, Holland, or Princess ships to the excellent food found in the surcharged restaurants on those same ships. We experienced a few minor lapses in service on the WHISPER. One appetizer and two drink orders were forgotten; often my water glass was not refilled when empty (the wine service was more reliable but the water was more important after a long day in the sun); and sometimes there were unusually long intervals between courses. A few dining quirks are native to Silversea. On our first night we ordered leg of lamb. The meat came without vegetables or potatoes, which were listed on the menu but have to be separately ordered to appear with the main course. A sorbet is always listed between the salad and the main courses, but this too must be ordered since it is not served automatically. The drinking water is served in beautiful grand cru stemware which magnifies the chemical odor of water just as it does the aroma of good wine. Requesting bottled water with the meal should be a simple task, but it almost always elicited a sour expression from the waiter, and the request was never carried out through the entire meal. Such minor lapses made me appreciate the service at traditional dining venues found on mainstream cruise ships. When the waiter and his assistant see you every evening, they get to know your preferences and their service improves accordingly. Similar service is probably available to Venetian Society members on longer cruises. The dining room was never crowded on our cruise. In fact the quietness of the main dining room was a pleasure, and contrasted sharply with the noisy, multi-tiered dining rooms on larger ships. THE CUISINE: The WHISPER’S main restaurant provides a cuisine that matches, and sometimes exceeds, the fine dining we have experienced on other ships. Cruise lines know that dinner is the highlight of the day for most passengers, and they allocate their resources accordingly. Even mainstream cruise lines are now extremely successful at providing memorable dining, and the margin between cuisine on the WHISPER and that on other ships is very narrow. The menu has somewhat greater choice than on some other ships, perhaps because most of its cruises are longer than one week, and most of its passengers are repeat cruisers. The WHISPER adds the extra option of ordering specialty items not listed on the menu (if ingredients are available). On a short cruise such as ours this was not necessary, but for a long round-the-world cruise this would be a lifesaver. Some passengers on our cruise apparently tried to order exotic dishes but were unsuccessful, which in my opinion was just as well, since there was adequate choice to be happy for four evenings. We did encounter a few minor lapses in food preparation and a few menu choices that seemed a bit odd. The fish courses were generally cooked to perfection, although my lobster and salmon were each somewhat overcooked on one occasion. This is a matter of chance. The lobster I was served was rubbery and adherent to the shell. I simply left it uneaten and instead treated myself to an extra dessert at the end of the meal. Another person at our table that evening found his lobster so excellent that he ordered a second portion, which turned out as tough as mine, so he left his second portion uneaten. One feels bad about ordering and then not eating food, but everyone was discreet about it. The fish courses are served with the traditional fish knives and forks. Ironically, the fish courses sometimes were matched with al dente vegetables that were so crisp that one could not cut them with the fish knife or spear them with the fish fork -- a great excuse if you prefer not to eat your vegetables. Our lamb chops were ordered rare and came seared on the outside but translucent red on the inside. The unique taste of lamb was undetectable. Medium rare should get you the pink to red doneness that you want. One appetizer was made with taco shells straight off the grocery shelf – unfortunately they were stale and tough. The filling was excellent though. Salads were sometimes overdressed and low fat dressings were not featured – the easy solution is to request the dressing on the side. One dessert was a creamy chocolate mousse that had clear gelatin cubes inside – a strange combination. Another dessert was a banana concoction constructed on a translucent gelatinous base – flavorful but strange in appearance and texture. These issues are minor, and only serve to reinforce the old saying de gustibus non disputandem est – there is no arguing matters of taste. You will have a very enjoyable time in the WHISPER’S main restaurant, and if you plan far enough ahead, you may be able to sample their alternative dining. Before we leave the ship for a discussion of the ports of call, let me warn you about the EXCESSIVE COMPUTER AND INTERNET FEES. Formerly there was a charge only for uploading or downloading data from the internet, and the resulting fee was reasonable. Now there is a US $.75 per minute fee from the first keystroke, whether working off-line or on the net. When I tried to use their system, I generated a charge of US $4.50 before even logging onto the net to access my e-mail. The on screen “meter” which tracks these charges is not that clear, nor is the log-off window. Fortunately a shipboard IT assistant alerted me to the charge and I logged off with her help. When I politely expressed my dismay to the reception desk, they just as politely removed the charge from my account. I never did use the net on the entire cruise. Some passengers brought their laptops and used the ship’s wireless capability for e-mails and internet phone calls. I am uncertain whether there is a charge attached to this service. Some passengers complained that the net connection is slow, so the charges can be daunting. PORTS OF CALL ON YOUR OWN: That brings us to the other reason (after the food) that we enjoy cruising – the ports of call. Our cruise left from San Juan and was scheduled to call at Virgin Gorda, then Antigua, then Tortola, then return to San Juan. ST. BART’S: Because of the ocean surge at Virgin Gorda, the tenders were considered unsafe and our first port of call was cancelled. After some communication with the Silversea head office, our master decided to spend the first day motoring to St. Bart’s instead, where the anchorage is more protected. Essentially we had an unscheduled day at sea, anchoring at St. Bart’s in the late afternoon, with shore tenders available from 4-11pm. Having never previously called at St. Bart’s, which is reputed to be one of the most wealthy and stylish islands in the Caribbean, we were interested in seeing as much as we could in the two hours of daylight we had left. Fortunately we reported to the tender gangway early, because our late arrival in port meant that everyone was eager to disembark and the wait was a bit longer than usual. Meeting the tenders onshore in Gustavia were taxi (mini-van) drivers willing to provide a one hour island tour for US$12 per person (for a minimum of six people or $72). There were about 60 passengers on our tender, and not a single one was interested in seeing the island. They all headed directly to the main shopping street, which is lined with enough designer boutiques to satisfy any affluent Parisian. It was like watching a zombie movie, but the zombies were lusting after designer fashions instead of human flesh. It seemed an apt commentary on our consumer society, where even those who have everything seem to spend their vacations searching for more. In any case, since daylight was limited we did not wait for the next tender to provide more possible tour participants. Instead we walked along the waterfront clockwise past the small Anglican church and then over a small rise to nearby Shell Beach (Plage de Grands Galets). The route is marked or one can ask a local person. It is a pleasant ten minute walk from the tender port. What added to the pleasure of the walk was a line of the largest and most elegant sailboats we have ever encountered. Apparently a regatta was scheduled to start in a few days, and luxury sailboats ranging from about 40 to 60 meters in length were lined up at the dock. One could smell the affluence, even though the crew members we spoke with (perhaps an occasional owner hidden among them) were quite personable. Each boat had a minimum crew of ten, and what we saw of the rigging and the interiors was breathtaking. Shell Beach is quite pleasant, with rough rather than fine sand (as the name implies). The near end has a beach bar and restaurant that is convenient for those spending several hours at the beach, but we preferred to wade around the rocks to the far end of the beach for more privacy. We had a wonderful sunset swim and saw no one else from the SILVER WHISPER on the beach. There were a few yacht owners swimming laps parallel to the shore, with their crew following them back and forth in zodiacs for safety. As we were passing the Anglican church on our way back to the tender port we heard singing and stepped inside. The church choir was practicing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah for their upcoming Easter service. We sat for a while and enjoyed their amateur but joyous rendition. It was dark by the time we made it back to the tender port, feeling refreshed and happy that we had a chance to enjoy our brief stay on St. Bart’s. ANTIGUA: The SILVER WHISPER docked at the cruise pier in St. John’s and was dwarfed by an adjacent RCL cruise ship. Exiting the cruise pier leads one through a gauntlet of tourist shops, tour operators, and taxi drivers. The natural tendency of cruise passengers is to walk briskly through this gauntlet, ignoring the various people offering goods and services. Instead of ignoring them, at least acknowledge our shared humanity by looking at them directly and thanking them politely when declining their offers. Remember that these people own the island and we are their guests. In our 17 cruises we have never opted for a tour organized by the ship. We prefer to explore on our own, using xeroxed sections of guidebooks we purchased or obtained from our local library. On Antigua we enjoy the inexpensive public transportation. Official minibuses leave frequently from the west side and east side bus stations, covering almost any destination (or beach) on the west or east side of the island respectively. From the cruise pier, the west side bus station is three blocks inland to Market St., then several blocks south to the market (which is located behind the large white statue and is worth a quick visit in itself). The east side bus station should be (we have not used it for a few years) one block north to High St., then several blocks inland to the park. Any local can direct you. >From the west side bus station we usually take the bus south to Jolly Beach (US $1.50 pp). It is the end of the line (about 15-20 minutes by bus) and has frequent service because many locals work in the shops and resorts there. A dispatcher at the bus station will guide you to the correct bus. When using the local minibus, it is customary to greet other passengers as one boards, and to move as needed for passengers to enter or leave. We have found our fellow passengers to be very helpful in answering questions or pointing out destinations. At the end of the Jolly Beach bus line, follow the signs to the gravel road public access west and south around the gate-guarded resorts to the south end of the beach. Walk north along the beach past the various resorts (they get a little more upscale as one walks north) until you find the perfect patch of sunshine (or shade) for your beach towel. Jolly Beach is travel poster perfect, and typical water activity rentals are available. On this visit, for the first time during any of our many visits to the Caribbean, we came across a little “attitude”. We had put our beach towels on the sand in a patch of shade under a thatch roof on the beach (all of which is public land). An hour later a hotel security guard chased us off – apparently a guest felt that the shady spot was his because he had placed a beach chair there several hours earlier. Cruise ship “pool pigs” leave a book or T-shirt on the chaises longues early to reserve them for use later in the day, a practice we dislike and think should be eliminated. This little beach incident was similar but took us by surprise. Generally the public access to, and public use of, beaches is respected. If you prefer, minibuses to Dickenson Beach head north from the west side bus station, but we have not gone there. From the east side bus station buses head southeast across the island to English Harbour (Nelson’s Dockyard historic district). Shirley Heights is not far away from there, and one might consider exploring that too. If I recall correctly, there is a nice, very private beach over a small hill just a short walk away from Nelson’s Dockyard. Any local can direct you (ask at the nearby store). Last time we were there, an enormous yacht was anchored nearby, and a Duchess of Windsor type surrounded by several of her stalwart sailing crew motored ashore and shared the beach with us. Riding local minibuses can be as exciting as watching an Imax movie. On this trip our driver made change for passengers, smoked a cigarette, spoke on his cell phone, shifted gears, and turned the steering wheel, all while driving on the left and dodging pedestrians (which is the reason we do not rent cars in the Caribbean). As in an Imax film, if you get frightened during the drive, just close your eyes. In the afternoon, as the day cools, consider a walk though the town of St. John’s. It is a somewhat gritty town, but the people are polite and very friendly. There is a large old Anglican church on the hill several blocks east and north of the cruise pier. When we were there this time, the funeral of a prominent citizen was taking place. The parishioners were beautifully dressed, and the sound of their 500 voices singing traditional hymns in harmony echoed off the beamed ceiling and penetrated to the heart. It was a most moving experience. TORTOLA: The SILVER WHISPER was scheduled to tender into Road Town, but since we were the only ship in port, we docked instead. Tortola is very much like St. Thomas but more affluent and less crowded. One of the nicest local beaches is Cane Garden Bay, which resembles Magen’s Bay on St. Thomas but has no fee and is less private. Just east of Cane Garden Bay is Brewers Bay, which is said to provide good snorkeling. Taxis wait at the pier and will take you north over the spine of the island to the beaches, with fantastic views in all directions along the way, for about US $6 pp each way. Alternately, an open taxi (jitney style with sun protection) waits at the pier and offers a 3 hour round island tour, again with fantastic views of neighboring islands and photo stops along the way, plus an hour swim at Cane Garden Bay, all for US $20 pp. The driver’s name on this visit was Larry, and I think he meets each cruise ship. If not, the local tourist board representative or taxi dispatcher who are at the pier should be able to arrange it for you. As Caribbean islands become more crowded, especially when more than one ship is in port, my wife and I prefer to escape to some of the nearby islands for a beach day in solitude. In this case, one can take the private ferry to nearby Peter Island (still owned by the Amway Corp. I believe) for US $15 round trip. This is a very quiet, very upscale island resort that allows day visitors but requests that they use the far east end of Deadman’s Beach. The near end is reserved for resort guests. The far east end of the beach is shared with the yachters whose boats are anchored offshore. A restaurant is available in the middle of the beach, and we were told it takes credit cards. A taxi will take you from the cruise pier to the Peter Island ferry pier (caution, there are several ferry piers) for US $4 pp each way. Notify the ferry captain on your return that you need a taxi, and he should be able to radio ahead. As I write this, outbound ferries leave Road Town at 0830, 1000, 1200, 1400, 1530. Return ferries leave Peter Island at 0900, 1130, 1330, 1430, 1630, 1800 and 1930. Verify the schedules with the tourist office representative (or on the net) to make certain you do not miss your boat! Other ferry services run to neighboring islands, but these are farther away and less practical for a day escape. END OF CRUISE DISEMBARKATION: This follows the usual drill and is handled efficiently. Color coded baggage tags are distributed the day before disembarkation. The color code determines the disembarkation priority, and is based on a questionnaire distributed during the cruise. Baggage is left in the hallways the last night of the cruise, and is reclaimed and cleared through customs dockside by the passengers as they disembark the next morning. Passports are held by the cruise ship for the duration of the cruise and are returned to the passengers (in order by luggage tag color code) between 0700 and 0800 on the day of disembarkation. U.S. immigration inspection generally goes quickly, but every passenger must be cleared by immigration before any passenger is allowed off the ship. Disembarkation begins around 0900 and is complete by 1000. As Silversea recommends, do not book a return flight much before noon, since one must taxi to the airport, check in, and go through security inspections there too. As we disembarked, the gangway was relatively steep. Without being asked, a WHISPER crew member graciously took my wife’s roll-aboard down the gangway to the dock for her. As we left the ship we felt truly pampered. It is time to bring our cruise and this review to a conclusion. In the end, WHAT DOES ONE GET FOR THE EXTRA COST OF A LUXURY CRUISE? Judging from our experience described above, one can expect more space, fewer crowds, and better itineraries. Don’t expect better food or better service than on some mainstream cruise lines – over the last few years their food and service have improved to match what we experienced on the Silver Whisper. IS A LUXURY CRUISE WORTH THE EXTRA COST? Yes and no. The choice in cruise ships is very much like the choice in new automobiles – there is one for every taste and budget. Some people insist that a Lexus or a Cadillac is the only way to travel. Others insist that a Ford or Toyota is the logical choice. The bottom line is that there is no single automobile (or cruise line) that will make everyone happy, but there is at least one automobile (or cruise line) that will make each one of us happy. TO END ON A PERSONAL NOTE, last year for the first time I bought identical Honda Accords for myself and my wife, together less than the cost of one Mercedes. The Hondas are safe, reliable, economical cars that are a delight to drive. They have given us as much pleasure as our Mercedes ever did. I guess that says it all. Happy cruising! efschlenk at hotmail dot com.  

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Nov 30, -0001

12 days Rome to Athens

We thought the cruise overall was wonderful. We took a SilverSea cruise 6 years ago, so we knew what to expect from the service, staff, and amenities. This review is divided into sections to make reading easier. I believe the strength of SilverSea is in the attitude of the staff, and the personal attention of all crew to see to your comfort. The downside would be aspects of the entertainment, and the tours offered. This is a 6-star

luxury cruise line. Expensive, but in this case you get what you paid for. The ratio of staff to passengers seems like more than 1 to 1. Everything is included – there is no tipping, and there is all the liquor and wines you can drink – either in your suite, or in any of the public areas. We aren’t big drinkers, so they didn’t lose much money on us. But others – well, the bars were full before dinner, of people taking advantage of the premium liquors and champagne! Overall ambiance and type of passengers As you might expect from this high-end cruise, the passengers are affluent , and typically over 50 up though 70s. On this cruise, I was informed the passengers were about 40% English, 40% Americans, and 20% other European. The atmosphere was cordial and friendly – no stuffiness, even with the dress formality on the 3 formal nights. Ship, Public Rooms, and Accommodations This ship, the Silver Whisper, is the newest of the four ships of SilverSea. It has only been at sea for a year. It is a beautiful ship, with gorgeous accommodations and public areas. The ship holds just under 400 passengers. Though this cruise itinerary was full, you never felt crowded. You did not have to wait long for an elevator or for a dinner table. Most suites have a veranda – a beautiful teak deck with table and two chairs, and about 345 square ft. Even if you don’t sit outside all the time, it is wonderful to have the sliding door open at night and hear the waves shushing outside! Carries you to dreamland in a queen size bed. There is an ample walk in closet, and a large marble bath and shower. Plenty of shelf space for cosmetics and medications, too. They provide Bvlgari brand toiletries – always replenished. Maid service twice a day. There is a small pool, and lots of deck chairs around the pool. Two jacuzzis. They have an observation lounge, library, and computer center. I really loved the computer center. For a nominal fee you could send and receive email from your own ship address. I kept in touch with family that way, and it was very convenient. Also, never crowded. Meals and Dining You can eat when you want, where you want, including a served meal in your room. We had room service most mornings – great to relax in bed and listen to the ocean! There is a main dining room and a small alternative dining room with a set menu featuring cuisine of a particular country. Both were wonderful. The alternative room served in a leisurely manner, and portions were European sized (small). But, wonderful wines and a nice explanation every night about the cuisine and the featured wines. There was also a grill available poolside for hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. The poolside grill and pool area was popular – especially with the Brits! (they do like the sun!) I felt the quality of the food was excellent. The lunch and breakfast buffets were varied and tasty and – again – not crowded. The waiters would help you in every way, carrying your plates for you to your table. Dress Codes There were 3 formal nights, 3 casual (no coats) and 6 informal (sport coats). If anything, passengers overdressed. Europeans are more formal than Americans and many men wore suits on most occasions. I must say, even though dark suits are permissible on formal nights, I saw only a few. My husband wore a suit, and felt conspicuous without a tux or white dinner jacket. Next time he will take a tux. Housekeeping Wonderful, immaculate, cannot say enough about the attitude and willingness to please. Toiletries replaced immediately. Also, the cost of laundry was quite reasonable. They do have a self-serve laundry on each deck, but the cost of ship laundering was so reasonable I did not bother. Entertainment There was a show of some kind in the showroom every night. The shows were mostly entertaining, and the dancers and singers were especially good. I think, however, magicians and puppeteers are dated, and should go the way of the dodo. The Cruise Director was a Brit, and the English love that sort of music-hall entertainment. There was one opera-quality mezzo soprano who was outstanding – she must have been in between opera contracts! The ship band though – ugh. They were Eastern European – apparently, they are always Eastern European. A quintet with a saxophone. They could play, but not swing. Very stiff. Also, their playbook was dated and quite trite. I mean, Hello Dolly, Lady of Spain, puleeeeze. Have they never heard of George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, the great old standard songwriters?! Dreary. The piano player in the lounge was good – Australian. At least, you got a bit more updated songs from him. A bit of the Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel - fine. Ports of Call and Tours This was an exciting itinerary for us as we have never been up the Adriatic, or to Greece. Croatia was wonderful – our visit to Dubrovnik was terrific – great old medieval city. We spent 2 days in Venice, which was a treat as well. I do believe the tours offered could have been more creative. We didn’t take that many, to be fair, but the offerings were the usual sight seeing and I just believe that there could have been more unusual opportunities for cultural experiences. The Tour Director gave lectures before each port of call describing them and the tours available. They were televised and rerun, so you could see them from your suite. He was dull and boring – doing nothing to stimulate your desire to see these sights. At least, he could have used slides and maps to illustrate his lectures instead of mumbling along in a monotone. So – that was a downer. Casino My husband enjoyed the casino – it was small, with poker slots, 2 roulette, and 2 blackjack tables. The blackjack tables were $10 a hand, and I thought that was a bit steep. They had a crap table, which my husband played frequently – with both positive and negative results! They are taking it out, however – guess it is not used enough, or else they are losing more money on that particular game. Spa You have to book early in the spa for your treatments, which I didn’t do. I did get in one massage. Overpriced and not very good. I expected to pay about twice what I would have at home, and I did, but I also expected a wonderful massage, which I didn’t get. Again, you have to reserve all your times and dates up front for what you want or be out of luck. Summary Overall, I would definitely cruise with SilverSea again. I have not taken Seabourn, (which is comparable I understand), but I have taken a Radisson cruise in Tahiti. I really enjoyed the Radisson, which seems equally committed to passenger satisfaction, from my experience.

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Nov 30, -0001

Istanbul to Barcelona

Group: We were a group of 38 Travel Professionals The Setup I was the group leader and seminar facilitator for 38 travel professionals on the Silver Whisper’s “Byzantium to Catalonia” cruise that sailed from Istanbul, Turkey to Barcelona, Spain with ports of call in Greece, Sicily and Italy along the way. I love the Eastern Med and think it is one of the most unique cruise itineraries in the world and would encourage everyone

to visit this region. I was surprised to hear many people were concerned over visiting Turkey, as Istanbul is very pro American, sophisticated and westernized. I have always felt safer in Istanbul than I do in my hometown of San Diego…. this trip was no different. Silversea has won the best small ship award almost annually from just about everyone that presents such awards. Its six-star rating makes it one of the most luxurious cruise experiences available at any price and it is widely recognized as the leader in small ship luxury cruising. I was eagerly anticipating cruising on the Silver Whisper, as I had not sailed with Silversea before. I was not disappointed. This review accounts for the fact that the service, food, management and entertainment is of a level of the cruise line’s reputation and therefore I treat it just like I would any other ship and cruise and try to point out ways to enhance your cruise experience and also make suggestions where I think things could improve (however there were very few on this cruise as one might expect) If you are considering a luxury cruise experience this ship offers everything you might imagine that you would want. The staff is non-invasive, the food gourmet, the service impeccable and the overall experience is just wonderful. Silversea lives up to its awards and its “Ultra Luxury” reputation. Getting to the Ship I was able to find an excellent airfare and schedule on Delta Airlines from San Diego to Istanbul, Turkey and returning from Barcelona, Spain. While I had to make a 6:30 am flight from San Diego the arrival in Istanbul was at a perfect 10:20 am the following day. Upon arrival a number of the members from our group found each other and negotiated a transfer from the Istanbul International airport to the hotel we were all staying at, the Marmara Hotel. I would strongly urge anyone taking this cruise to fly into Istanbul at least one day early just to recuperate from the time zone change (10 hours ahead of San Diego) Actually, Istanbul is a wonderfully unique destination worth several days of exploration and the surrounding areas are even more fascinating so I would suggest going in a number of days early and arranging for a sightseeing tour of an appropriate duration to maximize your cruise experience. We arrived at the hotel after about a 45 minute ride in intense traffic, checked in to our rooms, freshened up a bit and met in the Marmara Café for a quick lunch before making our way to the Old City for a walk around visiting its main sights. After lunch we negotiated two taxis to take us from the hotel to the Blue Mosque to begin our exploration. We visited the Blue Most, the Aya Sophia, the Hippodrome and surrounding areas before making our way through the city to the entrance to the Grand Bazaar’s jewelry section. Many in our group were looking for gold charms, gold bracelets and such so I thought this would be the best place to begin. We shopped for quite a while and then took a break for a cool drink before continuing the shopping. After quite a while (and many purchases) we decided to make our way through the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Market. Off we went enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul. Close to the Spice Market on an out of the way street not on the beaten pathway the five o’clock prayer began over the loud speakers. We stopped took in the moment realizing that we were indeed in a foreign country and thoroughly enjoyed the uniqueness of our experience. I am not sure but I think that was the most poignant moment for everyone on this trip. We continued trough Istanbul’s bustling streets until we came upon the square leading to the Spice Market. Many in our group were bushed from the long walk and we decided to go back to the hotel and rest up for dinner. Deciding to dine in the restaurant on top of the Hotel Marmara (the hotel resides on top of the highest hill in Istanbul and the restaurant is on the top floor offering a fabulous view of all Istanbul) we met in the restaurant’s bar for cocktails at 7:30 pm. After a short cocktail period of great conversation and laughing about the day’s events we made our way into the restaurant for what turned out to be a wonderful dinner. We enjoyed excellent food, wine and conversation with a backdrop of a duo playing the piano and violin, expert waiters serving us wonderful cuisine and a to die for view of the Old City across the Bosphorus. It was truly a wonderful meal. After dinner we went back into the bar for a nightcap and to enjoy the live music that was being offered. I went to sleep very contented. The following morning we met at 10 am for breakfast and I then separated from the group to catch up on the Internet at the hotel’s business center and then back to pack and made my way down to the ship to get on early. The boarding process was quick and the graciousness of Silversea started the second I walked into the cruise terminal. After checking in I was whisked to my cabin to start the cruise. Silver Whisper The Ship The Silver Whisper is the newest Silversea vessel and is an amazing ship. She was built in 2001 by Mariotti Yard in Genoa, Italy and features the finest of everything. At 28,258 gross tons she is a small ship and with a space ratio of an astounding 72.8 she feels more like a private yacht. All of the public areas (with the exception of the Observation Lounge) are located in the rear of the ship leaving the forward portion for the suites. This works well as there are no suites that adjoin public areas guaranteeing privacy and a peaceful environment. Her small size allows her to access many ports not readily available to larger ships and this also works in her favor as she offers unique itineraries to out-of-the-way ports not usually visited on most mass-market line itineraries. The Cabin Our group occupied veranda suites on decks 7, 8 and 9. At 345 square feet, the Silver Whisper’s veranda suites are more like a small apartment than a cruise ship cabin. My first impression when entering my cabin was one of complete satisfaction. It was large, beautiful and comfortable all at once. The cabin really consisted of 5 separate areas. The veranda is generous in size and offers two reclining chairs each with its own footrest. The teak decking gave the veranda a feeling of true luxury and it is very functional as well. The doorway leading to the veranda requires a little strength to operate but offers the comforting feature of locking both when all the way closed and also in the wide-open position. The sitting area is located between the veranda door and the bedroom and may be closed off by simply closing the drapes covering the veranda doorway and the room divider that offers a full drapery to separate the sitting area from the bedroom area as well. The area offers a nice sofa with end tables with lamps (great for simply relaxing and reading) a coffee table and separate plush chair. It is a great place to chat and enjoy the complimentary wine and champagne that Silversea offers. Upon first entering the cabin there is a complimentary bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne in a silver ice bucket and a small vase with fresh orchids. On the other side of the sitting area is a complete work/entertainment center. I was able to set up my computer and printer with no problem and had tons of room for everything else. However, be sure to bring a short extension cord with multiple outlets on it, as there is only one 110v outlet on the desktop. Behind the door on the lower right side there is a small refrigerator locked with bottled water, soft drinks and beer (all complimentary.) On the left side are some shelves and a drawer. The desktop is huge and adorned with fresh fruit and other amenities. The upper cabinet on the right offers glasses and other paraphernalia for beverages while the television and VCR are located on the left. Silversea offers a video library of movies that can be checked out and viewed in your cabin. An extensive list of first run movies and other television venues are offered as well. The bedroom area offers quite a bit of space so that walking around the bed is easy. There is ample room for getting into and out of bed for two people. The nightstands offer two drawers each for even more additional storage and the bedding is the finest available. I thoroughly enjoyed sleeping on the Silver Whisper and would have liked to have the bedding in my home. Against the wall is a wonderful area for women to apply their cosmetics and other activities where a vanity mirror and lights would be desirable. There is another 110v outlet here as well. These suites also offer a full walk-in closet. There is ample space for dresses, suits and all of your clothing to hang in complete spaciousness. A full shoe rack will hold a dozen pairs of shoes and there is a stack of drawers that will satisfy everyone’s needs for storage. All in all, the closet is like one you would find on a world cruiser that will accommodate a complete wardrobe with ease. The bathroom is to die for. There is both a full bathtub and an enclosed shower. The hot/cold controls are excellent. There is also a double sink so that it is possible for two people to bathe and get ready at the same time. The generous use of marble tiles, porcelain and glass give one the feeling of luxury. Silversea provides Bvlgari hair products and Neutrogena soap products complimentary. Hardwood cabinets and moldings accentuate the cabin’s subtle design. The crown moldings give the cabin a feeling a quality and the use of wood and mirrors make it look even larger than it actually is (and it is quite large and comfortable) The Restaurants Fine dining is part of the Silversea experience and the restaurants on the Silver Whisper certainly keep that promise. Here are the restaurants you will enjoy. The Restaurant This is the main restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Breakfast and lunch were never crowded as folks seemed to opt for the Terrace Café’s excellent food and service. I ate breakfast in the Restaurant one morning and enjoyed the menu and the service. You can basically order anything either on the menu or not. One gentleman prided himself for creating a caviar and swiss cheese omelet that he dined on every morning. Lunch was pretty much the same experience with excellent cuisine and service being offered daily. No reservations were necessary for any meal in the Restaurant so it was a favorite. Dinner in the Restaurant was always a culinary treat. A preview dinner menu was always included in every day’s Silversea Chronicle so one could ponder the evening’s event with anticipation. Dinner in the Restaurant does not require reservations and there is seating for 2 people up to 10. We never had trouble getting an excellent table no matter how many of us there were. The service is excellent (with the exception of a waitress named Elke who was a bit surly) and the food impeccable. Along with the menu one could order many of the standard offerings such as caviar, escargot and other treats. Both red and white wines were always selected and offered with dinner. Silversea offers about 20 labels and there is another 25 or so that may be purchased with dinner as well. The Terrace Café This was my favorite. Breakfast found an excellent buffet of everything imaginable one could ask for. While the term buffet is used, fine china and silverware are the norm and white-gloved waiters will carry your plate for you to your linen covered table. There is also full table service for those not wanting buffet items. I found the selection of fruits very much to my liking and I always apply the “seed test” to every ship….Silversea gets the first 10 I have ever awarded for the preparation of fruit for consumption (not one seed in any fruit for the entire cruise) Lunch found the Terrace Café with another buffet with wonderful cuisine. Each day featured a different theme and the seafood buffet was to die for. Unfortunately, I missed a good number of luncheons on the ship as I was in port exploring but understood that each one was wonderful. Again, both red and white wines were offered with lunch and poured freely. I liked the Terrace Café so much that I never got around to eating in the Restaurant for lunch (I suspect that was true for most folks on this cruise.) Dinner in the Terrace Café was an event to behold. Reservations are mandatory and it was sold out early each day so be sure to plan your evenings in the Terrace Café early (especially on formal nights) While the restaurant can seat a good number of people, the Terrace Café only accommodates about 40 or so lucky people for dinner. The event starts at 7:45 promptly with cocktails in the Champagne and Humidor Rooms. Everyone enjoys a 30 minute social period before the Maitre Di’ arrives to announce the arrival of the dinner period. The Chef explains the menu and then the Sommelier explains the wine choices for the menu. Once the introductions are done, everyone makes their way to be seated in the restaurant. The evening unfolds with course after course of fantastic dining. Without question I enjoyed dinner in the Terrace Café the very most. While reservations are required for this restaurant no additional gratuity is. The Pool Grill Located forward by the pool, the pool grill offers those lounging in the sun by the pool a dining option that does not require them to change out of their bathing suits to dine. The Pool Grill offers all of the standard pool side cuisine as well as more sophisticated choices as well. This dining venue was open from 11:30 in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon. The Panorama Lounge and the Observation Lounge Both of these lounges offered coffee, juice and rolls in the morning and snacks throughout the day. I enjoyed fresh orange juice in the early morning in the Panorama Lounge before going to the Internet Café to check my e-mail. The Bars The Bar This is the main bar on the Silver Whisper and features full bar service in a plush setting. The Silversea Quintet plays dance music here in the evening and offers a wonderful place to relax after the show for the evening. The music is mellow dance music. The Panorama Lounge This is another larger lounge that offers full bar service and a piano bar atmosphere that everyone enjoys. On this cruise there was a very talented gentleman named Colin that was a wonderful performer. On some evenings the Panorama Lounges Is used as an entertainment venue as was in the case of a jazz night and a mixed entertainment evening. All in all, I liked the Panorama Lounge equally as well as the Bar. The Grappa The Grappa is a small and intimate bar adjoining the casino. It offers full service and is open the latest of all the bars on the ship and generally is the place everyone ends up if they close the other bars. The Champagne This is the champagne and wine bar that adjoins the Terrace Restaurant. It opens after dinner in the Terrace and offers an excellent venue for relaxing with a glass of champagne or wine. The Humidor Adjoining the Champagne, the Humidor is the place to relax with one of the cigars offered there and some brandy. While I didn’t visit the Humidor in the evening, those that did loved its rich environment and subtle décor. The brandies are on a self-service cart that one may enjoy and it is much like enjoying a private cigar club atmosphere. The Entertainment Venues The Viennese Lounge This is the main showroom on the Silver Whisper and offers the evening’s production shows and other entertainment on the cruise. It is a smaller theater as ships go but offers a very intimate experience with the entertainers. By sitting in the front rows you feel almost a part of the act and the interaction is wonderful. The best seats go quickly and bar service is suspended during the show so be sure to get there early if you enjoy being entertained and want the maximum experience. There are no bad seats in the house. Following is a breakdown of the entertainment that is offered. The Jean Ann Ryan Company provides the group of 5 entertainers for the production shows of which, all were great! The costumes were excellent as was the energy level of the productions. Don’t miss them as they are the highlight of the entertainment. Several acts were also featured and some were excellent however some were not so good. One ventriloquist while trying hard lost many in theater. Overall the entertainment was a nice conclusion to an excellent evening. I would like to make a special mention for Colin Salter who played the piano in the Panorama Lounge and did an excellent job of it and also John Paul Almon one of the leaders of the Jean Ann Ryan group who would spend his evenings in the Panorama Lounge singing for those in attendance just because he loves to entertain. This type of close interaction with the passengers of the Silver Whisper certainly makes the entertainment experience wonderful. Other Public Areas The Pool Area The Silver Whisper’s pool area is just the right size for the ship and offers a very comfortable pool and two Jacuzzis. The lounge chairs are all teak with thick and comfortable cushions for total relaxation. There is ample space for everyone that wants to lie out and enjoy the sun and the lounge chairs are far enough apart making it easy to get in and out of the chairs. There is also a pool bar offering full bar service and of course the Pool Grill for those that do not want to dress for lunch in the restaurants. The area is well protected from the wind and takes full advantage of the available sunshine. The Library and Internet Café The Silver Whisper offers an elaborate library that also houses the Internet Café. First, there are a good number of books to choose from that may be taken out at will and there is also an extensive library of video tapes for those that want to watch them in their cabin (all cabins have a VCR) One simply selects the book or tape they would like to enjoy and takes it on the honor system. The Internet Café offers 7 quick terminals that are connected to the Internet and also has basic Microsoft Office applications on them. All of the terminals are connected to a printer and one may create flyers, letters and so on and then print them out. This really saved me as my portable notebook printer finally gave up the ghost on this cruise. The charges for using the Internet access are somewhat confusing. I was told that there was a $.75 per minute charge for accessing the Internet from the Café. While this is true, the charge only occurs while you are either downloading or uploading content to/from the Internet. I am a heavy user and my average session only cost between $2.00 and $3.00 (I was usually on for an hour or more) Most cruise lines charge you from the time you log on until the time you log off and this is nothing like that. Don’t be put off by the price per minute as it is not expensive to use the service. There is no one to help you in the Internet Café and the terminals clearly state that the computers are for experienced users only so be sure you understand how to access your e-mail before you get on the ship. Also, Silversea will issue you an e-mail address with your final documents that folks can use to send and receive e-mail to/from you. You will be charged for each e-mail if you decide to use the Silversea address. I prefer to access my own e-mail account and use a company called www.webbox.com to do it. It allows me to freely access all of my accounts at once and to send and receive mail from my own e-mail address without problem. If you are a heavy e-mail user you might want to check it out. The Observation Lounge This is a great room that is overlooked by many. It offers a panoramic vista from comfortable sofas and chairs and is a great place to simply relax and watch the scenery go by. There is no bar in the lounge but there is always coffee, juice, tea or some other treat available to enjoy. There is also a small library area of nautical interest with books, maps and charts to enjoy. The Workout Room I was disappointed in the equipment that was offered in the small workout area but don’t see how they could have equipped it any better with the space they allocated. There is a small Universal Machine, several treadmills, a couple of step machines and some dumbbells. Not really enough to get a reasonable work out and I don’t particularly care for Universal Machines as they tend to get out of service quickly. I passed on working out for the entire cruise to give my body time to regenerate and returned to my routine when I got back home. There is also a small aerobics area adjoining the workout area and while I never visited it I understand that it was used frequently for morning exercises and such. I am not sure how I would change the setup to make a better gym but I suspect that many on the Silver Whisper are not interested in working out during the cruise making it a moot point. The Beauty Salon and Spa Mandara Spa, the Balinese style spa that is considered the best on any cruise line, manages the Spa. They offer full spa services and everyone that used the spa loved it. The Beauty Salon was also heavily used by the women and gained high marks for the quality of their services. The Casino The Silver Whisper offers a very compact casino with limited slot machines and gaming tables. However, it was heavily used and people seemed to be winning. The Shops There are two shops on the Silver Whisper and they both offer wonderful items. The Boutique offers Silversea signature items (shirts, hats and so on) as well as other collectibles. Bvlgari, which adjoins the Boutique, offers quality jewelry and other fine collectibles. The Registration and Tour Desks The Registration desk is open 24 hours a day and I experienced nothing but quality service from them. They offer currency exchange and other helpful services throughout the cruise. The tour desk is always a busy place to be, especially in the morning after arrival into a new port. Everyone found the tour staff to be helpful and knowledgeable about the shore excursions Silversea offered and also about the ports. Launderettes and laundry Service There are launderettes located on decks 4, 6 and 8 with complimentary detergent and so on. These came in very handy for ironing and keeping small items fresh and clean. The laundry and dry cleaning service on the Whisper was reasonably priced and efficient. On several occasions I received laundry back the same day that I sent it in and the pricing was just about the same as I would pay at my cleaners at home. (HINT: I always bring my tux and suits on a cruise from my last cruise and get them dry cleaned when I get on the ship. This way they are fresh and not wrinkled like when you have them cleaned at home and them jam them into a suitcase for the trip. This works quite well on most lines and is certainly the way to do it on Silversea.) Card Room and Conference Room These rooms adjoin one another and make an excellent place to meet for small meetings and such. We did our seminar in the Conference Room and had approximately 35 in attendance. The conference room had everything one would need for a formal meeting however I would suggest bringing a wireless microphone and amp if you are going to present to more than 20 people. There was some engine noise that I had to talk over and after three hours my voice was pretty well gone. The card room is also another great place to meet as it is rarely used by anyone. I took my notebook computer there and set it up to meet some of the folks from our group to build some web sites. The Gentlemen Hosts The Silver Whisper offers single ladies two gentlemen hosts for dancing and companionship. We put one of them through his paces and I have to say that of all the gentlemen hosts I have seen on various cruise lines the two gentlemen on this ship were the best of the best. Congratulations to Silversea for finding and motivating the finest gentlemen hosts on the seas. Ladies, if you are looking for a cruise line that offers professional gentlemen hosts that are engaging and interesting yet ethical and upstanding, don’t go any further than the Silver Whisper. The Officers and Crew of the Silver Shadow From Captain Angelo Corsaro on down the pecking order Silver Whisper’s officers and staff are first-rate professionals. They are gracious and always available and are on top of everything that is going on. Silver Whisper is one of the best-managed ships I have been on. The Cruise Day one, May 2nd, 2002, Istanbul, Turkey I was in my cabin, unpacked and ready to go by 3:30 pm (boarding started at 3 pm) and set out to explore the ship and to confirm some of our group’s arrangements. I was immediately impressed with Silver Whisper’s elegant, yet functional décor. Since I had skipped lunch I decided to attend afternoon tea and had a cup of tea and some sandwiches to hold me over until dinner. Silversea had invited our group to a welcome aboard cocktail party and private dinner in the Terrace Café. We met first in the adjoining champagne room for cocktails and to get to know one another and then after an introduction of the evening’s menu and wines by the Maitre Di’, Head Chef and Sommelier, entered the Terraces Restaurant where we enjoyed a fabulous French dinner just for our group. Here is what the menu consisted of. MENU Amuse bouche Snail “Vol au Vent” with Pesto Hollandoise Terre de foie gras en gelee de saulernes Marinated Foie Gras Terrine with Sauternes Wine Jelly Filet de sole “bonne Femme” Glazed Dover Sole Filet with Mushroom Sauce and Langoustine Tail Sorbet au citron et champagne Refreshing Lemon Sherbet with Champagne Filet de Boeuf en Brioche Oven Baked Beef Tenderloin in Brioche Dough Vegetable Bouqueliene and Pommes “Anna” Tarte fine aux pommmes chaudes Warm Crispy Apple Tart “Flambee” with Calvados Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream Petits Fours and Chocolate Truffles Select White and Red Wine Needless to say, the quality of preparation and level of service for the meal was impeccable. After dinner many of us continued on to the bar for cocktails and dancing. Day two, May 3rd, 2002, cruising at sea I awoke early to a beautiful sunny morning and decided to take an early breakfast at the buffet in the Terrace Café. I was the first one at the restaurant and enjoyed a fabulous breakfast of fruit, yogurt, juice and a croissant. OK, not to belabor the point but here is the fruit that was offered every morning. Fresh peeled and sliced Kiwi fruit, papaya, mango, pineapple, sliced oranges and grapefruit, cantaloupe, casaba melon, watermelon and a good assortment of canned and dried fruits as well. I was in heaven! After a lingering breakfast on the aft deck I visited the Internet Café for a session and then made my way back to my cabin intending to work for a while. Since the cabin stewardess was busy preparing the cabin I went to the Observation Lounge to take in the sights of the morning. As luck would have it, the Silver Whisper had increased her speed during the night to accommodate a super tanker that was to clear the Dardanelle Straights after the Silver Whisper and we were right on top of the narrowest point in the straights. I was treated to an early passage through the straights and all its glory. The Silver Whisper continued through the straights making its way toward the open ocean and Greece. Finding my way back to my cabin I decided to enjoy the Jacuzzis and the sunshine for a few hours and made my way to find a deck chair. As you would expect the deck chairs were all teak covered with plush cushions that made laying in the sun a very comfortable affair. For lunch some of us had decided to enjoy the seafood buffet and made our way to the Terrace Café after changing. What a great lunch, a group of us formed again on the aft deck and enjoyed what turned out to be a two-hour lunch with wine and laughter. Since the evening’s events promised the Captain’s welcome reception and a fabulous lobster dinner, I went in early to prepare for the formal night. Upon entering my cabin I noticed that the Silver Whisper was directly adjacent to Mt. Athos, a very famous area known for its ancient monasteries. I spent an hour or so on my veranda as Mt. Athos unfolded into view. I met some of the members from our group and proceeded to the Captain’s welcome reception where the formalities of staff introductions and celebration took place. Then it was on to dinner in the main restaurant and a wonderful lobster dinner. The level of service and the quality of food is so evident when compared to other cruise lines it is small wonder that Silversea has won the best small ship award virtually every year. After a lingering dinner we moved on to the main showroom to enjoy the first stage production put on by the Jean Anne Ryan Company. Entitled “La Belle Epoque” the show consisted of music, singing and dancing by a very talented production team. The costumes were wonderful and the energy exciting. The small size of the showroom gave everyone a special intimate feeling with the performers. After the production the Silver Whisper Band moved into the main bar and continued playing dance music. A good number of folks continued the celebration into the evening. I enjoyed part of our group for a while and then decided to turn in for the night. Day three, May 4th, 2002, Mykonos, Greece I was up early and spent time in the Internet Café catching up on e-mail and then took an early breakfast in the Terrace Café and dined on the aft outside table as we approached and then docked at Mykonos. Mykonos is truly the Greek island of everyone’s dreams with its whitewashed Greek façade, numerous boutiques and shops, quaint restaurants, great beaches and international blend of residents and visitors. We decided that a group of us would walk through Mykonos’ labyrinth of quaint pedestrian streets (laid out to confuse pirates in past centuries) and shop for charms and other trinkets. My wife, Joanie has shown interest in continuing a charm bracelet started by her mother decades ago and I have been acquiring charms from countries not represented on th e already large collection as Joanie has. The streets of Mykonos are quaint and full of excellent specialty items with an emphasis on gold jewelry and the prices are excellent for specially designed gold jewelry items. One of the quaintest scenes was the gentleman selling flowers and vegetables from the baskets mounted on his donkey as he made his way through the narrow streets. After spending a couple of hours shopping in Mykonos we decided to make our way to one of the beaches for a little sunshine and some lunch. After some time we were able to obtain a taxi to take us to one of the main beaches across the island (Platis Gialos) where we were treated to a spectacular beach with white sand and crystal clear waters. There were several restaurants along the coast and we chose one that looked excellent. The Gallop Restaurant and Bar was indeed a treat for fine food and hospitality. I had a shrimp lunch that was to die for and the other people all enjoyed their dishes as well. We enjoyed the sun and the beach for a couple of hours and then decided to see if one of the boats located at the beach could run us back to the ship. We agreed upon a price with a Greek fellow who did not speak much English and then set out around the island. It was truly a wonderful experience cruising right off the cliffs and beaches of Mykonos as the houses and topography were wonderful. After a good amount of time we neared a wide white sandy beach where the launch entered the shoreline and we were to depart. Of course we were nowhere near our ship and the crew of the launch had misunderstood our destination. While we were all laughing, it was getting close to the time for the ship to depart and the beach that we were deposited on seemed almost vacant. One of the group found an open bar and then arranged for the bar tender to call two taxis that would take us back to the ship. All in all, it was a fun experience but it could have turned sour had we not been able to call for taxis on short notice. Once back on board I dressed for dinner and met our group in the Bar for a pre dinner cocktail and then continued on to the Restaurant for a very enjoyable meal followed by a session back in the bar for some delightful listening music. I turned in early to prepare for the seminar in the morning and slept like a baby. Day four, May 5th, 2002, Cruising the Mediterranean I awoke early after a good night’s sleep, made my way to the Internet Café to handle my e-mail and then on to the Terrace Café for a quick breakfast of fruit, yogurt, lox and a croissant. The seminar started a 9 am so I made my way to the conference room that was set up to accommodate the 30 + agents that were in attendance. The seminar went quite well and when we finally broke for lunch a group of us dined in the Terrace Café and enjoyed the excellent buffet. I decided to work for a while in my cabin and then took a break to attend a special bridge tour that Silversea had arranged for our group. I was especially impressed by the presence of the Captain and his friendly open manner in which he addressed our group. He is certainly an asset of Silversea Cruises. I took time for a Jacuzzi and found that the pool area was somewhat crowded yet there were still plenty of deck chairs to enjoy before turning in to get ready for the cruise’s second formal night. We had reservations in the Terrace Cafe and after a wonderful cocktail period made our way up for the 7:45 reservation. Dinner in the Terrace Café is limited to 40 people (or so) and they all meet in the Humidor and Champagne rooms for a cocktail period before dinner is announced. The Maitre D’ announces dinner followed by a detailed description of the evening’s menu by the head chef. The evenings wine selections are then announced by the Sommelier. All in all, it is a wonderful way to begin dinner. Once the announcements are concluded everyone makes their way into the adjoining restaurant to be seated. Dinner on this evening was exceptional with lively conversation and an ample amount of laughing. After dinner our group made our way to the Venetian Lounge to enjoy the evening’s show. I must admit to being bushed and turned in shortly after the show but many stayed up for additional cocktails and the various bars on the Silver Shadow. Day five, May 6th, 2002, Catania, Sicily, Italy I had not been to Catania before so was looking forward to exploring the city and surrounds. A group of us boarded the shuttle provided by Silversea to the drop off point in the center of Catania. Catania is a coastal city of about 400,000 people and offers very little for a visitor. There are some ruins in a square directly located in the center of the city but that was about it. Worse, there was a dearth of taxis and it took almost an hour to finally negotiate for a taxi to take the five of us to an area outside of Catania known as Taormina, a medieval town located some 45 miles north of Catania. After a long taxi ride we finally climbed into the town of Taormina and its wonderful pedestrian shopping streets. The area is reconstructed and features hundreds of shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants in a quaint medieval setting. While wonderful for shopping, Taormina has lost any connection to its once ancient heritage. Attached to Taormina on its upper slope is a large ancient theatre built by the Greeks long ago with an outstanding view of the ocean several hundred feet below. The view alone is well worth the journey. Be aware that the shops close down for the afternoon so be sure to visit Taormina in the morning time if you intend to do some shopping. After a visit to the area we made our way back to the ship through Cantania’s horrendous traffic jam and boarded in time for a quick Jacuzzi before getting ready for dinner. I met a group of folks that had invited me for dinner in the Bar and after a cocktail we made our way into the Restaurant to enjoy a lengthy dinner closing the restaurant being the last ones to leave. We had missed the show but somehow emerged from the restaurant right at the correct time to see Mt. Etna erupt Lava must have shot up several hundred feet to create the glowing fountain that we witnessed down at sea level and from the distance we were from the top of Mt. Etna. After witnessing the eruption we decided to have a nightcap in the Bar and settled in for more conversation before turning in for the night. One of the things I liked most about the Silver Shadow was the non-invasiveness of the music in the lounges. It was great to listen to but not so loud that you could no carry on a conversation. Then it was off to bed. Day six, May 7th, 2002, Salerno, Italy The day was overcast and I had been to this region and seen its sights so I decided to take the day to get caught up on my e-mail and to work on this review. I had the ship virtually to myself and took advantage of it to take some photographs for this review. I enjoyed a great breakfast with part of our group that was heading to Pompeii, Sorrento and across to Capri for a late lunch, bid them farewell and made my way to my cabin to begin working. I broke for lunch and ran into some other members of our group and spent a few hours talking business with them. More work, Jacuzzi, more work and then I went to catch up on my e-mail. The day seemed to go by in an hour and before I knew it I was getting ready to meet some of the folks from our group for dinner in the Restaurant. By now I had settled into a comfortable routine of enjoying the ship and the people in our group. Dinner was another wonderful experience and was followed by more entertainment in the theatre, a nightcap and then off to bed. I noted that one of the most wonderful things about the Silver Shadow was the non-invasiveness of the staff and daily events. Not once had I been approached for a picture or any other intrusion. The staff in the restaurants is there to give you impeccable service but never enter into personal conversations with the guests or feel it necessary to entertain guests. Only once on the entire cruise did a waiter or other individuals ever interrupt our table. It is truly a wonderful experience. Day seven, May 8th, 2002, Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy The morning brought rain and wind as it unfolded and since I had “been there, done that” I had decided to stay on board for the day. I ran into a group of the agents that had decided to go into Rome despite the weather conditions and I joined them. We negotiated a taxi that could accommodate the 5 of us and off we went. We made the hour long drive into Rome’s congestion passing the Vatican Museum and a line of visitors that went on for blocks. We decided to go directly to St. Peter’s and visited the fabulous church. As it was Wednesday the Pope was giving his public talk and while he wasn’t outside in plain view, he was televised on the two large screens in the square. We entered St. Peters and enjoyed the beauty and immensity of the structure. After a good while enjoying the church we departed for our taxi so that we could continue our exploration of Rome. Our next stop was Tivoli Fountain and then on to Spanish Steps where we spent some time shopping and then enjoying an excellent lunch. The shops and restaurants around the Spanish Steps area are outstanding and should be the focus of your lunchtime activities. Following lunch we continued throughout Rome’s fabulous sights and stopped at the Coliseum and wandered throughout its structure enjoying being so close to so much history. From the upper level of the Coliseum one can see all of the Roman Empire’s vast history. After leaving Rome’s historical areas we climb to the top of one of the surrounding hills for an overview of all Rome. The view was spectacular as was the enormity of Rome itself. We finally departed Rome and started our journey back to Civitavecchia through Rome’s suburbs that broke into lush countryside with small farms growing fruit, row crops and other farm products. Upon returning to the ship I prepared for dinner and met some in our group at the prearranged time for cocktails in the Bar. After wonderful conversation comparing our day’s activities we made our way to the Restaurant for another fabulous dinner with wine and conversation. By now everyone was comfortable with the night’s routine. First cocktails followed by a fabulous dining experience, then on to an excellent show and finally on to the Panorama Lounge or the Bar for more entertainment and dancing. It was just wonderful. This evening’s entertainment was a Jazz Night in the Panorama Lounge with the Silversea Quintet and of course, Colin and many of the other entertainers. All in all, it was another excellent evening. I was bushed and turned in before the close of the Jazz Night. Day eight, May 9th, 2002, Livorno, Italy Livorno is the gateway to Florence and Pisa and while I had been there before I had never seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa or David in Florence. A group of five of us decided to negotiate for a taxi to take us for the day and was fortunate to obtain a van large enough for all five of us and then some. We left Livorno making our way through the countryside into the city of Florence. I have taken the train before and the highway follows pretty much the same route. One is surprised by the topography on the way to Florence and the countryside is simply beautiful. We arrived at the outskirts of town to horrendous traffic. Our driver explained that during times of rain everyone forgoes their scooters (the preferred method of transportation) and commutes in their cars to stay dry. It was absolute gridlock. After an hour or so we finally made it to the older section of Florence and decided to stop at the Duomo and walk from there. We visited the Duomo and began shopping in the surrounding area after making a reservation to see Michelangelo’s’ David at 3:15 pm. After visiting several stores we got a recommendation for an excellent restaurant to enjoy lunch at. After walking several blocks we entered a local eatery and enjoyed a wonderful lunch of scampi and myriad dishes. It was truly a wonderful lunch with wine and everything one could imagine. We were almost late for our appointment to see David so we hurried past the Duomo to the entrance of the museum. The wait to gain entrance can take two hours or more but by making a reservation (costs $8 Euros) you may simply show up at your appointed time and enter the museum. It is certainly worth the wait and the artwork in the museum

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