Few travel industries have been as hard hit by COVID-19 and its aftermath as the cruise industry. And no sector has worked harder to ensure the safety of both its crew and passengers, while science has evolved to ensure a safe return of the cruise.
Like a first kiss with a handsome heartthrob, I fell in love with Silversea about 10 years ago. It was a lasting love that, like a good marriage, weathered a pandemic itself.
Like many who live and love to travel, I sat impatiently on my hands, waiting for both international travel and the return of the cruises. Of course, safety and health have always been and will be the top priority. As a pioneer in the global cruising resumption, Silversea requires all crew members and passengers to be fully vaccinated prior to sailing. In addition, Silversea mandates COVID tests immediately prior to embarkation, during travel, and upon disembarkation. On board and indoors, passengers must mask themselves unless they are eating or drinking.
With all of these precautions taken, it seemed safer to cruise than shop at my local supermarket. When I learned that Silversea’s newest ship, the Silver Moon, was going to have its maiden season on several Greek islands and Cyprus while it unveiled its new Sea and Land Taste (SALT) program, which will allow guests to deeply explore through food and wine To immerse myself in the local culture, I packed so quickly for the trip at the end of July, it could have qualified as an Olympic sport. Silversea.com
Embarkation in Piraeus was quick – COVID test, results and registration took 15 minutes – and that evening Silver Moon was officially baptized, with the usual champagne bottle breaking on the ship’s bow. A festive dinner and fireworks followed before Silver Moon left Athens.
The 698-foot moon has eight passenger decks, carries a maximum of 596 passengers, and an almost one-to-one crew-to-passenger ratio. Impeccably trained staff and dedicated butler service for every suite mean the service is truly second to none.
Spacious suites start at 330 square feet, are elegantly decorated in soothing tones, and the beds have luxurious plush linens with multiple pillow options. The suites have bar facilities, bespoke refrigerator contents and, to stay connected, an HD flat screen TV and ship-wide WiFi. Marble bathrooms have separate large soaking tubs, spacious enclosed showers, and Bulgari toiletries.
With 24-hour room service serving excellent meals within 30 minutes, nine restaurants including French La Dame and Japanese Kaiseki specialty restaurants, nine bars and lounges with live entertainment, there was no food and drink boredom.
The highlight of the Silver Moon was the debut of its Sea and Land Taste (SALT) program, which allows guests to truly immerse themselves in the local culture, food and wines of the planned destinations. Three different environments on board: SALT Kitchen with a changing menu with local specialties, SALT Lab for hands-on cooking courses that you can participate in and SALT Bar, which celebrates creative mixology. Specially curated shore excursions with local food and wine experts offered a cultural nexus and a sense of place and history, where food and wine ruled sovereign and connected the past with the present.
A large, state-of-the-art fitness center and treatment menu at the Zagara Spa ensured that massive weight gain could be avoided and well-being increased, while enriching lectures and other activities allowed guests to get involved at will.
The Cycladic islands of Syros and Paros
The lesser-known Syros – the Queen of the Cyclades – is a little over 48 square kilometers, but has a medieval impact, especially in the Ano Syros hill. Steep, narrow stone paths with colorful doors, fuchsia-colored bougainvillea for climbing and deep cobalt blue backdrops lead to St. George’s Cathedral. The church has been rebuilt five times in the last few centuries; The devotion to his patron saint St. George has remained constant. Donkeys are ubiquitous and are jokingly referred to by the locals as Syrosian cows.
That evening, SALT Kitchen prepared several delicious Syrosian dishes with locally sourced ingredients, including Loukanika sausage with braised fennel and Halvadopita – almond nougat in wafer-thin waffles.
On Paros, the largest and greenest island in the Cyclades, the shore excursion from SALT took us to Thalassamou, a secluded beach restaurant with a heavenly turquoise view. Here the owners Anna Kouda and Marios Salmatanis showed tangible culinary passion as they demonstrated the preparation of their delicious Greek-Mediterranean creations. We shared warm hearted spanakopita, fresh calamari, assorted fish and salads with reckless abandon while we were mesmerized by the azure waters.
Dodecanese Patmos and Rhodes
Tiny Patmos, where John wrote the Book of Revelations in AD 95, is home to the monastery of its namesake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the best medieval complexes in the world, the surrounding turquoise sea distracted me from apocalyptic ideas. Toes in the sand later in a beach tavern with chilled rosé and lightly chipped calamari, the thoughts became downright heavenly.
Rhodes is located 19 km off the Turkish coast in the Aegean Sea and is the largest of the 12 Dodecanese islands in Greece. The size of its spectacular walled old town – another UNESCO site – was breathtaking. Spherical towers, arched gates and intricate mosaic floors adorn the grand master’s huge palace from the 14th century. Located near Socrates Market Square, the 14th-century Kahal Shalom Synagogue offers
Cruise towards Cyprus, then Crete
While politics has divided Cyprus and its capital Nicosia remains the last divided city in Europe, it is conceivable that the food that unites Greek and Turkish Cypriots will hopefully one day help unite it.
The Silver Moon’s SALT Lab mezze cooking experience was enjoyable and delicious, and whetted my appetite for the SALT shore excursion to the fourth century village of Omodos and the hilltop Vassiliades vineyards. Although Vassiliades is known for the Commandaria dessert wine, Vassiliades also produces fine dry white and rosé wines and an excellent dry red Geroklima 2018 from purely female grapes. A traditional dinner at a tavern included moussaka, stuffed dolmas, and finely chopped pork sausages matured in mavro, a native grape variety that uses an ancient Cypriot meat preservation method.
Swimming to Crete may have been more caloric, but another SALT Lab with Cretan specialties beckons. After walking through the historical center of Heraklion with its former mosque, today’s Greek Orthodox Church of St. Titus, I was so inspired that I bought various spices, oils and other items in the hope of finding some Cretan items for my long to recreate a suffering husband in culinary terms. If I were to succeed, SALT Chef Cyril Mougin would undoubtedly be the recipient of eternal gratitude.
In Athens, the last day was spent in Mykonos to admire whitewashed, seemingly impossibly built hill houses, to enjoy the beaches and the signature sunsets for which Mykonos is known.
One thing became clear after sailing on Silversea’s glorious Silver Moon, my near-incurable ailment was cured – that long-lasting sullen mood caused when I was out of the cruise for 17 months. Be warned, cruising the Silver Moon will result in lingering feelings of happiness and joy that will linger long after disembarkation.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, and author of the award-winning memoir, “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight”. She can be reached at [email protected] This cruise line hosted the writer; however, the content has not been checked by him prior to publication and only reflects the opinion of the author.