Sail the Red Sea in the lap of luxury

(AP)   



My first clue this would not be your common or garden ‘fly and flop’ package holiday came a few days prior to setting sail when the people at Silverseas Cruises inquired as to what kind of feathers I would like in my pillows. My choices were firm goose down, synthetic hypoallergenic, therapeutic foam or soft goose down. Once I realised they weren’t joking, I chose soft goose feathers.


Welcome to the world of Silversea Cruises, an Italian company with a fleet of five all-suite cruise ships that specialises in intimate luxury.

Forget your mass market floating cities, this cruise is a far more elegant affair. If you’ve got the cash, you can even have your own butler. Ah yes, it’s all about la dolce vita! According to the website, the fleet was “purpose-built for the ultra-luxury market elite vessels specifically designed for fewer guests, more space and the highest levels of personalised service”.


It’s all in stark contrast to my last major overseas holiday, which involved dossing in a series of Irish backpacker hostels in dormitories over-flowing with fellow budget-minded travellers and more than a few unwelcome bedbugs. Roughing it is all very well and character building but frankly, there’s a lot to be said for shameless luxury.


Founded by the Lefebvre family of Rome, former owners of Sitmar Cruises, Silversea launched its first ship, Silver Cloud, in 1994. Four more ships have since followed including the recently purchased World Discoverer, an expedition ship that will open up adventure destinations such as Antartica.


Next year, Silversea will host about 140 cruises to destinations that reach every corner of the globe, including the cruise I joined, called Red Sea Havens, a 15-day journey from Port Said in Egypt to Mombasa, Kenya, that transits the Suez Canal then stops at Sharm-El-Sheikh and Safaga in Egypt, Aqaba in Jordan, Djibouti, and Lama in Kenya.


On my cruise, the passengers numbered 199 while the total number of staff was 219. What does this mean for your travelling pleasure? Almost individual attention. Your every whim indulged, your every need met before you realise you need it and plenty of what my mum would call ‘being spoilt’.


Let me give you a taster. When I arrived at my suite, which was like a five-star hotel room, I was greeted by Godiva chocolates, bubbly on ice, caviar and blinis. If I’d polished that lot off and fancied more, no problem, I could’ve called room service because Silversea cruises are all-inclusive so food and beverages are included in the ticket price, ranging from $5,737 (Dh21,061) to $23,271 (Dh85,432) on Red Sea Havens. Whether you are having drinks by the pool or in one of the Jacuzzis, pre-dinner canapés in the cocktail lounge or dinner in one of the ship’s fine-dining restaurants, you can relax because there’ll be no unpleasant beverage tabs or restaurant bills to face at the end of your holiday. About the only thing you won’t get on a Silverseas cruise is hungry. So it’s just as well the ship has a gym and regular fitness classes.


Then of course, there are the shore excursions. The way it works at Silversea is that over a 15-day cruise, about half the days will see the ship docked at some interesting destination, such as the rose-red ancient carved city of Petra (above) in Jordan, where you can sight-see alone or join the ship’s organised tour. The tour manager for Silver Cloud is South African Caro-lien Gerber who’s been with Silversea for four years.


She’s the one who makes sure everything runs smoothly and carefully plans the most exciting events such as snorkelling in Sharm-el-Sheikh or taking a white-water jet boat ride in New Zealand.


“People generally want to connect with the local culture, not just sight-see,” Gerber explains. “And now I find people want more adventurous tours. With Silversea you get sophisticated travellers who’ve already seen many sights so now the trend is for excursions with a twist, such as special viewings or openings.”


At the times when the ship is on the move, all passengers spend the day on board. Forget about getting bored though. Every evening, the ship’s newspaper, Silversea Chronicles, is delivered to your room and in its pages is a list of the following day’s onboard activities.

These kick off at about 7am and don’t stop until the early hours of the next day. Everything from yoga, to bridge lessons, golf putting tournaments, local history lectures and musical entertainment. Then again, you could just sunbathe on deck, recline with a book in the library, get a massage or haircut in the spa or watch a DVD in your room.


One of the biggest stereotypes about sea cruising is that it’s only done by the rich and elderly. From what I saw, this stereotype is largely accurate although the average age of cruisers is now mid-fifties, which is lower than 10 to 20 years ago. Still, it remains the preserve of people who have the leisure time available to take off a few weeks at a time and who have the money to do it.


And that’s just the way the regular Silversea cruisers like it. According to the fellow cruisers I spoke to (of whom one was an 85-year-old woman who was on her 35th cruise), they wanted to make new friends of people their own age, and more importantly, they didn’t want to be surrounded by young couples with children. So the youngest passenger on my cruise was in their thirties.


Happily, this meant there were no screaming babies in the candle-lit five-star Italian restaurant distracting the attention of the meticulous, white-gloved waiting staff and there were no gangs of shrieking youngsters hogging the swimming pool with their childish games and bright pink inflatables in the shape of animals.


In a world obsessed with youth culture, it can be a welcome relief to find a place where older citizens take precedence and everything isn’t family friendly. Old-world sophistication and impeccable service is the priority and the staff take that seriously.


Most nights, I dined with fellow passengers in The Restaurant, a very chic affair with sommeliers and waist-coated waiting-staff who simply couldn’t do enough for you. One such waiter was Jean-Baptiste from Marseilles, a genteel young man with a thick, sexy French accent whose mum had clearly brought him up right when it came to manners.

One night Jean-Baptiste served our table into the small hours. The next morning, he was our breakfast waiter. I said, “Jean-Baptiste, don’t they let you sleep? Why are you back on shift again so soon?” He replied, even giving me a little bow: “It is absolutely my pleashzuure and honour Madam.”


Once I’d finished swooning, I realised yet again that there’s a lot to be said for soft goose down and being spoilt.


SILVERSEA 

From March 2008, Silversea is adding a Dubai to Dubai cruise option.

Over eight days, passengers travel from Dubai to Qatar, Bahrain, Fujairah, Iran, Abu Dhabi and back to Dubai. Prices range from $4,895 (Dh17,974) to $15,995 (Dh58,733), depending on the suite. For more information on Silversea cruises, go to www.silversea.com.

RED SEA HAVENS 

The cost of a Red Sea Havens cruise is between $5,737 (Dh21,061) and $23,271 (Dh85,432). There are seven categories of suite ranging from Vista to Veranda, midship Veranda, Silver, Grand, Royal and Owner's. All these fares are all-inclusive, cruise only, per person based on double occupancy and include all port charges and taxes.

Emirates Airlines Fly to Egypt from Dubai with Emirates Airlines from Dh2,600



Travel tips


  - The ancient city of Petra is a must see. Carved from pink-hued
    sandstone it stops you in your tracks

  - The best time to go on the cruise is between October and March
    when the weather is perfect for sightseeing

  - Don’t leave home without a huge appetite and a thick romp of a
    novel

  - Try the low-calorie bitter chocolate mousse, it’s delicious and you
    don’t have to spend hours in the gym

  - Don’t forget to pack black-tie outfits for formal nights. You will need
    high heels and lots of bling

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