Visiting the Mediterranean in style
By Arvin Steinberg
I recently visited several fabulous Mediterranean ports including Athens, Venice, and Taormina, Sicily, but what made my journey one I’ll never forget is that I traveled in absolute luxury as a passenger on the Silversea Silver Whisper cruise ship.
Before I describe the beauty, history, and adventure that I discovered in these wonderful ports, I would like to explain why the Silver Whisper is so special.
To begin with, I live in Fort Lauderdale, a city that plays host to most of the world’s finest cruise ships. I have sailed on mega-ships that hold more than 2,000 passengers with many amenities such as ice skating rinks and rock climbing walls to smaller ships that hold 700 guests, but I have never had a more luxurious experience than on the Silver Whisper.
And there are many reasons. First and foremost is the size of the ship. The ship holds a maximum of 382 guests. It is easy to find your way to the dining room, pool deck, exercise facilities, theater, etc. There have been many times on a cruise that it took me several days to find my way to the dining room and other facilities. I would go up and down the wrong elevators or up and down stairways and hallways that didn’t go through to the place I was going before I finally learned where all the facilities were. On the Silver Whisper, I was fully orientated my first day.
The size of the ship didn’t diminish the offerings at sea. I found just as much, if not more to do on the Silver Whisper. I enjoyed working out in the exercise room, trying my luck in the casino, taking treatments in the spa, watching the nightly stage shows, dancing to the music of a live band, reading books, magazines, and newspapers from a well-stocked library, swimming in the pool, jogging or just walking on the jogging track, brushing up on my golf game with on-board professional golf instructors. I also enjoyed culinary demonstrations and learning some professional secrets from renowned chefs, and, of course, loving the abundance of gourmet food and the many places to enjoy it.
The Silver Whisper provides a yacht-like atmosphere, with wonderful furnishings and appointments, excellent cuisine, fine wines and spirits, and excellent service.
And, my room was great! On the Silver Whisper, all accommodations are ocean-view suites, most with private verandas. I selected a veranda suite. The veranda had a beautiful teak floor, floor-to-ceiling glass doors, and patio furniture. My suite had a sitting area, television with satellite reception and VCR, refrigerator, cocktail cabinet, writing desk, personal safe, walk-in closet (my first ever on a cruise ship), marbled bathroom with double vanity, full-sized bathtub and separate shower. These are big luxuries for a cruise ship! For example, the usual cruise ship bathroom is crowded, cramped and usually has only a shower with a curtain, and if you turn around too fast, you could bump into the toilet or the sink. I’m not kidding!
I was pleased to learn that every suite on the Silver Whisper has Internet capabilities. I also enjoyed current financial news with the ship’s 24-hour in-suite Bloomberg Television and a daily printed market report.
Another criticism I have of most of the other cruise lines I have sailed on is what I call the first seating, second seating dinner dilemma. Early seating is usually around 6 p.m. and late seating is around 8 p.m. At times, you may be at a port until 6 p.m. and if you have early seating, you may miss dinner. Or maybe you selected early seating and you aren’t hungry at 6 p.m. On the Silver Whisper, I could eat whenever I wanted, even in my room, if I didn’t feel like going to the dining room. What a pleasure it was when I came in bushed from a day of sightseeing in Corfu, and a waiter brought my dinner to my room. I was served course-by-course in the order and with the timing requested. I felt like a king and that my ship had indeed arrived.
I also liked the open-seating arrangement on the ship. Unlike traditional ships, there are no assigned table partners. I ate with whomever I pleased. This may not sound like a big deal, but it certainly is if you happen to be at a table with guests who are annoying. That can’t happen on any Silversea ship because they don’t assign seats for guests, a very big plus in my book. There are also lots of tables for two if you so prefer.
I enjoyed dinner in “The Restaurant” and having lunch in The Terrace Café and breakfast in either The Terrace Café or in my suite. The Terrace Café is a second restaurant and is very different from the typical buffet or “Lido” area found on most cruise ships. The Terrace Café is a buffet-style restaurant with a maitre d’, fine linens and silverware, and waiters always in attendance so much so that you really don’t think of it as a typical buffet but more like being served in an upscale restaurant. I also enjoyed eating veggie burgers on the pool deck. The Poolside Grille was open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cruising on the Silver Whisper is as close to being totally all-inclusive as you could want. From the time I arrived at the airport, I didn’t have to reach for my wallet. For example, gratuities were absolutely not accepted, nor expected. Charges on the ship were limited to spa services, hair cuts or hair dressings, some shore excursions (although transportation between ports and downtown areas was complimentary), and special wines which very few passengers order because the complimentary wine list is extensive and includes some excellent vintages. Port charges were also included in the fare.
I started my trip in Athens where the hotel was included in the price, and not just any hotel, the plush Athenaeum Inter-Continental, with a view of the Acropolis and the famous Parthenon. It was my home for a day before the ship set sail.
Athens is the capital of Greece and has been a city for 3,500 years, but its greatest glory was during the “Classical period” of ancient Greece from which so many buildings and artifacts still survive. I toured the Acropolis, the greatest artistic and cultural center in ancient Greece, including the Parthenon, one of the world’s most famous buildings. I was immediately impressed with the historical importance of these ancient structures. And, I saw large crowds of tourists, and I could understand why Greece is one of the most visited European countries.
I also toured the National Archaeological Museum. This museum opened in 1891 and brought together a collection that had previously been stored all over the city. It offers many unique exhibits and is considered one of the world’s finest museums.
Modern Athens is a lovely city with beautiful beaches and palm trees. There are beautiful churches, lots of museums, including a Jewish museum, and many theaters. I enjoyed shopping at the open-air street markets as well as at the traditional arts and crafts shops while listening to the lively Greek music that I heard in the shops and on the radios in taxis.
Silversea Cruise Lines goes to great lengths to select outstanding ports of call for its cruises. In addition to the famous and most popular ports, Silversea also includes some uncommon, rather offbeat ports that added a spirit of adventure to my journey. After sailing from Athens, the Silver Whisper visited three ports on the mainland of Greece, Monemvasia, Katakolon, and Itea. Although these ports may not be well known to the average traveler, each was unique with lots of history, beauty and adventure.
Monemvasia is an amazing city. It is called “The Gibralter of Greece”. As you approach the city by sea, it appears to be a huge rock rising 1,150 feet above the water. The city is built on two levels. The Lower Town is encircled by a wall and has been very well restored to preserve a heritage that dates to the eighth century. It has lovely restaurants with glorious views of the sea, lots of shops and some beautiful churches. I enjoyed walking to the Upper Town via a zigzagging paved lane. Although it is largely in ruins, and is protected by the Greece Archaeological Service, I could see how this city which was repeatedly attacked through the centuries was able to defend itself and was never taken by force, but fell only by a protracted siege.
Our second port of call, Katakolon, although admired for its beautiful beaches, is most famous as the gateway to Olympia. Olympia, about a 20-minute drive from Katakolon, is the site of the ancient Olympic Games that were celebrated every four years by the Greeks. Olympia is not a city, but rather is a sanctuary, and it consists of a lot more than the stadium where the games took place. I was able to walk among the ruins that are still being meticulously restored. I toured the Palaestra, or wrestling school, and the gymnasium where the competitors trained. I saw the ancient guest houses for visitors and the temples, including the Temple of Zeus, where the athletes worshipped the Gods.
The Olympic Torch that is used to begin the current Olympic Games is still lit in Olympia every four years. The torch will be lit there in 2004 when the summer Olympics will then be held in Athens. I also found the large Olympia Archaeological Museum located opposite the Olympia site to be very interesting with its display of many sculptures and artifacts.
The Silver Whisper next took us to the port of Itea. It is the port from which tourists may visit Delphi. Ancient Delphi was renowned to be the dwelling place of the God Apollo. From the end of the eighth century BC, until it was abolished in 393 AD, individuals from all over the world visited Delphi to consult the God on what course of action to take both in public and private life. The Delphic Oracle was the means through which worshippers could hear the words of the God Apollo, spoken through a priestess, or Pythia. Besides the historical importance of the ruins of Delphi, I was able to see many exceptionally well preserved ancient sites including the very beautiful monument, the circular tholos.
Our next port of call was Venice, Italy. The evening before we arrived in Venice, cruise passengers were alerted to the spectacular view we would encounter upon entering Venice by sea. Most on board the ship arose early with cameras in hand to view Venice with its picturesque canals and churches as we entered the port. We were not disappointed.
Venice is a city situated on 118 islands separated by more than 150 canals that are spanned by some 400 bridges. One of the best sightseeing routes is along the Grand Canal where many splendid palaces line the famous waterway. One of the principal stations, San Marco, offers access to some of Venice’s most famed attractions – St. Marks Square, The Basilica, and Doge’s Palace.
The only means of transportation in Venice are by foot or by boat. During our two-day stay in Venice, I explored the many shops, restaurants and churches mainly by walking, although I did take a delightful gondola tour. One evening in Venice at the Al Musicanti Concert Hall, I enjoyed listening to some wonderful arias, duets, classical music and famous Italian melodies sung by a cast of five very talented performers. Also, I had an outstanding lunch at the elegant Hotel Cipriani. The hotel is a ten-minute ride by boat from St. Mark’s Square.
After leaving Venice I enjoyed a relaxing day at sea while the Silver Whisper took us to Dubrovnik, Croatia. UNESCO has classed this city as a world heritage treasure. Stone walls up to 81 feet high and more than 1˝ miles long enclose the city. It was fun walking down Dubrovnik’s ancient streets lined with stone palaces, Venetian style buildings, and bell towers. I visited the third oldest pharmacy in Europe established in 1317 that is still open for business, and one of the oldest Sephardic synagogues in Europe that dates back to1300 and it too is still in use. The highlight of my stay in Dubrovnik was strolling atop the massive walls for a great view of the city and the sea.
Each port of call the Silver Whisper visited offered us important history, incredible beauty and real adventure. It was never ending. When we visited Taormina, a historic resort town high in the mountains off the eastern coast of Sicily, we had an incomparable view of the sea and of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. When we visited the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu, a popular vacation destination, we saw an island that featured calm blue waters, rugged mountains, hidden coves, and miles of sandy beaches. And, if you really wanted to explore this scenic island and its rugged mountains in depth, that was no problem. Jeeps were lined up at the dock for those interested in a self-drive, but organized tour.
Check with your travel agent for special discount fares or log on to www.Silversea.com, or call 1-800-722-9955
Photos by Arvin Steinberg