Gold service on the Silver Muse, Grant Bradley gets used to the high life on the high seas.
There's much more to being on a cruise ship at Christmas time than getting out of making dinner and doing the dishes.
Much, much more, although being freed from domestic chores shouldn't be underestimated. Instead of toiling away in the kitchen, dealing with the relatives and worrying about the weather, you can sit back and let Christmas come to you in the form of a luxury holiday at sea.
My wife Estelle and I spent Christmas 2018 aboard the new, ultra-luxury Silversea ship, the Silver Muse, cruising from Bali to Cairns. Our 12 Days of Christmas played out in unforgettable style:
On the first day ... we nearly didn't make it. A passport glitch meant we were held up at Bali airport by Indonesian immigration authorities for two hours, sweating about whether we'd be sent straight back home. Fortunately, with the help of a rep from the Emirates airline we flew in on, we were allowed entry and, once safely in the hands of Silversea, were whisked to the InterContinental Resort at Jimbaran, Bali. A welcome cocktail never tasted so good.
On the second day
... we met the butler. We boarded the Silver Muse in the afternoon and were introduced to our butler, Vikram. Being in one of the veranda suites we shared his services with several other guests, which was just as well because being Kiwis and unfamiliar with a servant culture, we wouldn't have had enough for him to do. Instead, Vikram offered to do things for us, from unpacking our suitcases (unneccessary) to booking restaurant dinners (helpful) or setting up a pre-dinner table of caviar and champagne (really rather pleasant). A professional butler who had studied and worked in England, by the end of the cruise we knew we'd miss him.
At our first meeting Vikram gave us a tour of the ship and took us to our cabin – a classic veranda suite which although entry level for this ship, is still luxurious. At 36sqm with a 6sqm balcony, it felt spacious with a sitting area, dressing room and full bathroom. Use of the mini-bar is included in the fare and refreshed daily, including the bottle of champagne. Bvlgari toiletries are renewed as you use them, and the Queen bed and its Pratesi linen was divine.
On the third day ... A beautiful ship met the beast. A shore excursion to Komodo Island to visit the Komodo Dragons is a once in a lifetime experience. A one-hour "hunt for the hunters" is enough time for the tour guide to tell us how deadly these 3m long reptiles can be – we kept a wary eye on the undergrowth where a dragon might lie in wait for passing prey, ready to lunge and bite a limb, infecting the beast (or human) with poisonous venom and then devour them. When we rounded a bend to where a collection had gathererd under the watchful eyes of rangers, it was awe-inspiring to observe and photograph the prehistoric creatures from a safe distance.
On the fourth day
... we relaxed. Fellow travellers told us that their favourite days were not visiting ports, but cruising at sea, and we soon learned why. Once you shift down a gear, it's a pleasure to drift between the pool deck (where the moment you stretch out on a lounger you'll be offered a drink), the Arts Cafe, the library in Tor's Obersvation Lounge, choose from the eight restaurants for lunch, head back to the pool deck, maybe join in the daily quiz competition to meet other passengers, find the secret spa pool at the stern, toast the sunset from your private balcony, then dress for dinner.
On the fifth day
... we ate around the world. Or at least explored the menus of the eight restaurants on board. Silversea is an Italian company and reflects its heritage at Spaccanapoli – a pizzeria overlooking the pool deck, and at La Terrazza, a buffet by day and a la carte restaurant by night. The Grill on the pool deck offers casual eating for lunch and becomes Hot Rocks at night, where you can sizzle your own steak or seafood on a hot volcanic rock at your table. Kaiseki produces delectable sushi and sashimi for lunch, and at night its chefs cook teppanyaki. La Dame offers fine dining French cuisine for which you have to pay extra, Indochine brings flavours from Asia, and Atlantide specialises in seafood.
Our favourite was Silver Note, a classy jazz bar where a singer and pianist played while you ate. The food was an elegant take on bistro favourites such as fish, steak and the ever-available lobster. There was a tonne (yes - a tonne) of it on board for the Christmas cruise and anyone who looked as if they had a hearty appetitie was offered ''one tail or two.'' Dressing for dinner isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's expected on Silver Muse and we enjoyed the sense of occasion it created. Each day is nominated "Casual", "Informal" or "Formal" with a dress code to match, and even on casual days you're expected to look like you appreciate the setting. Embrace the chance to wear a collection of your best outfits in a single holiday. On deck during the day it was fairly casual.
On the sixth day
... it was Christmas. The ship was decorated throughout from the time we boarded, creating a festive atmosphere leading up to the big day. That morning Santa Claus appeared in the Panorama Lounge with gifts for all the children on board. Carollists turned up at locations around the ship througout the day, and each restaurant that night offered a traditional Christmas dinner (albeit with a choice of truffle consomme and lobster ragout for an entree, and grilled lobster tail as a main). The evening variety show in the Venetian Lounge theatre was a highlight – A Very Merry Cruise-mas saw members of the crew join in with the ship's professional performers - led by cruise director Vicki Van Tassel - to present a humorous take on cruising, including how they viewed some types of passenger.
On the seventh day ... we exercised. Exercise and cruises aren't usually promoted hand in hand, but on the Silver Muse burning a few calories becomes part of the pleasure. Early risers can enjoy a 7am walk around the top deck jogging track with Ukranian personal trainer Mariya, who you might see later helping passengers with equipment in the well-fitted gym as you jog to the view of the ship's wake disappearing into the wide blue distance. The inexhaustable Mariya also runs Zumba and yoga classes – sign up as soon as the next day's sheets go up at 5pm to seal your spot. Post workout, enjoy the sea view from separate men's and women's saunas.
On the eighth day
... we were pampered. The first question you'll be asked is "How are you?" Your response will steer your therapist toward nurturing one of four states of mind – relax, restore, revitalise or rebalance – using aromatics, music and light. Choose from a full suite of treatments, including a Superfood Pro-Radiance facial, a Warming Bamboo Muscle Melt massage, or a Thousand Flower Detox wrap. For something completely different, there's the Amethyst Crystal Sound Bath Healing Treatment which incorporates a mat using infrared light and crystals to heat the body, with sounds emanating from Crystal Sound Bowls. It claims to reduce stress, promote relaxation, improve sleep, provide pain relief and eliminate toxins from the body. After all that, you could have your hair styled, nails painted and teeth whitened. Charges are additional to your fare and range from $150-$500, but one of the joys of days at sea on a cruise ship is that you have the time to treat yourself in ways you've dreamt about all year.
On the ninth day
… Beauty met another Beast. Silversea prides itself on offering adventure along with luxury, and on this voyage presented not one but two opportunities to get up close with creatures whose ancestors date from prehistoric times. The Jumping Crocodile Cruise out of Darwin didn't disappoint. The king of the river, Stumpy, is close to 100 years old but could still haul himself upward to grab a piece of meat begin dangled from a fishing rod. By comparison, sweet albino girl Pearl, at 20, was much more nimble.
On the tenth day
... we learned. Silver Muse offers tours of the bridge and galley, offering a unique insight into the workings of the ship. This is a high tech 41,000 grosse tonne vessel capable of a speed of 21 knots. It's a fully digital bridge - paperless with back-up system after back up system in case of a power cut. In the galley executive chef Jerome Foussier provided a deep insight into the seeming logistical miracle of getting the food just right to the right place at just the right time. You also see how wait staff seem to know you - there's a picture of passengers near the doors of each restaurant. Throughout our cruise academics and experts had talks in the main theatre, the Venetian Lounge, where we learned about everything from the spirited women settlers of Australia to how to naviagate the treacherous Great Barrier Reef. Learning new things at Christmas - imagine that.
On the elventh day
... we danced. Silver Note and the Panorama Lounge have dancefloors and live music during the evening. There are even gentleman dancers waiting for the single ladies who might be travelling alone. At 11pm each night the Panorama Lounge turns into a nightclub with a DJ. Take your own sounds as there's a grunty bluetooth speaker in your room for a boogey too. Or if you just want peace and quiet, Tor's Observation Lounge on the top level is a blissfully quiet place that offers a library in a lounge setting and a bird's eye view of the ocean. Look for the side door leading to a flight of steps to an even higher deck, where you can feel like the only people on the ship.
On the twelfth day .... we celebrated. It was our 25th (silver) wedding anniversary, and where better to celebrate it than aboard the Silver Muse. Vikram was delighted to hear this, and when a card appeared under our door requesting our absence from our room on a certain day we knew something was up. Sure enough, we returned to find a scented bath, candles and a decorated table, complete with a cake wishing us happy anniversary. It was the perfect end to our 12 day Christmas cruise.
This Christmas there's a 14-day cruise aboard the
departing from Auckland on December 20. You'll travel around the New Zealand coast and on to Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney. Prices start from $9397pp based on double occupancy in a Vista Suite and including a 10 per cent early booking bonus when booking by June 28. Guests booking by May 31 will also receive included round trip Business Class flights and transfers between airport and ship.