Stephanie Holmes escapes the stress of the festive season by taking off on a luxury cruise ship
It's June, you don't want to think about Christmas, I understand. But cast your mind back to the Christmas just gone. Think about the stress leading up to it, the shopping and the clogged mall carparks, the menu preparation and the hours spent in the kitchen, the family member nobody really likes but everyone has to tolerate… Blood pressure starting to rise? Cold sweat starting to form on your brow? Well, there is a solution.
How about cocooning yourself in a world of luxury, where nothing is too much trouble and anything is possible if you just ask for it? Where you only have to unpack once, but you'll see multiple destinations. Where you won't have to lift a finger and the most important decision you'll have to make is which restaurant you'll eat dinner at each night.
It will be a Christmas you won't forget in a hurry.
T he Friday before Christmas and the weather was unseasonably cold and gloomy. The traffic crawled along Quay St as the roadworks and construction continued their ceaseless disruption of Auckland's CBD. But I didn't mind – I'd finished work for two weeks, and my ship was there at the port, waiting for me to board.
The luxury began the moment I stepped inside Shed 24 on Queens Wharf – Silversea staff greeting passengers and making the boarding process absolutely seamless.
Stepping across the air bridge on to Silver Muse the pre-Christmas chaos faded away as if someone had gently turned down the volume. Now, all around me, smiling crew with a warm welcome, and fellow guests already relaxing into their holiday.
I was sailing from Auckland to Lyttelton, a partial journey of a fuller 14-night voyage that was continuing on to Sydney. For me, ports of call included Tauranga and Picton, with a day or two of glorious relaxation at sea.
Every little detail, everywhere on the ship, was built for luxury, style and comfort. The bed better than the one you've got at home. Expensive sheets. A pillow menu with eight different types to choose from. Perfect orchids everywhere. Bathrooms of marble, with Bvlgari toiletries – although if they're not to your liking, you can ask your butler to swap them out for something else. The chilled bottle of champagne in your suite on arrival. Champagne everywhere in fact – as you check in, pre-dinner drinks, post-dinner drinks - whenever you need it.
It was an opportunity to see New Zealand through fresh eyes – the sea's viewpoint providing a new perspective on the beauty we inevitably take for granted.
In Picton, I ventured away from the Silver Muse sanctuary for an afternoon kayaking on the Queen Charlotte Sounds. Travelling alone, I buddied up in the two-person kayak with a man from Denver, Colorado. His wife and teenage daughter were spending the afternoon shopping, but he was relishing the chance to explore this pristine corner of South Island coastline. I enjoyed playing tour guide, pointing out the family baches tucked away under our Kiwi Christmas trees in full bloom and made sure he knew how to properly pronounce pohutukawa.
from many of the passengers I spoke to was the need to wind down after the pressures of the year – leaving behind busy jobs, traumatic events and family dramas. The thought of the chaos of shopping, meals and tense Christmas dinners were now a distant memory.
There was also a desire to be looked after. "I was sick of doing everything for everybody else," one solo traveller told me. "I just want to be pampered." She had come all the way from Aberdeen, Scotland, to be here – four flights and more than 36 hours of travel time, but you could already see relaxation oozing from her every pore.
Other solo passengers were facing their first Christmas alone – recent divorcees and widows, those with adult children spending their first festive season with the other in-laws – and the prospect had been daunting. To be surrounded by others, and the comfort of a luxury ship, was an easy entry into a new phase of life.
They needn't worry about being solo for long. The first night's mix and mingle gave the solo passengers the chance to meet up for drinks and canapes before dinner, and the option to dine together afterwards. Friendships were quickly forged, and the solo travellers became group travellers for the rest of the cruise.
fell into an easy rhythm. On the first, I slept so late I missed breakfast, aided by the comfort of the bed, the effectiveness of the black-out curtains, and the quiet of the ship. No matter, there was coffee and snacks at the all-day Arts Cafe, or my butler, Wendell, available should I go hungry. Which was nigh on impossible thanks to the quality and abundance of food at the eight restaurants on board.
In between meals, there were many things to keep guests occupied. Port days gave a range of shore excursions to choose from; sea days were the perfect chance for forced relaxation.
Entertainment was there should we need it – bingo, shuffleboard, table tennis, trivia quizzes during the day; live music and dancing at night. The Silver Note performers went down a treat – baby-faced crooners Wesley and Alfie proving a big hit as they belted out old standards to an adoring crowd.
the Christmas touches ramped up. I left my suite three days out from the big day to find each doorway now had a tiny red stocking hung from it. In the restaurants and public areas, Christmas songs played softly so as to be festive but not intrusive. Gingerbread houses were placed strategically around the ship, with self-serve cookies and candy canes.
Among the guests, holiday mode had fully kicked in. "What day is it? I've lost track," I overheard couples say to each other regularly. And if it wasn't for the decorations and the music, you'd have no idea Christmas was just days away. Nobody was stressed, there were no chores to do, no last-minute panics about presents still to buy or recipes to perfect. You could see us all wondering, "Why haven't I done this before?"
This year, Christmas would be perfect and we would all get the best present we could ever receive – the luxury of time to relax, while we celebrated another year around the sun.
Silversea offers a range of sailings around New Zealand, including a 10-day Auckland to Dunedin South Island voyage on Silver Explorer, and a 16 day Sydney to Auckland itinerary from December 20 on Silver Muse. silversea.com