There is something particularly comforting in returning to a warm, well run ship. That thought ran quickly through my mind as I stared up at the elegant flank of the Silver Shadow as she lay alongside Copenhagen’s cruise terminal in late July.
Though the sky was ominous and studded with gathering clouds, the welcome on board was warm as ever.
The Baltic in summer can be unpredictable at best, and any cruise here is always a gamble, at least weather wise. But this one-off itinerary was compelling on a number of levels.
Firstly, it was bold in eschewing the almost time honoured convention of a St Petersburg stay; and secondly, it showcased a landfall on Visby, one of the most stunningly beautiful locations anywhere in the region. Last, but by no means least, we would spend our first night in Copenhagen itself, surrounded by all the creature comforts of the Silver Shadow.
The ship still oozes warmth, sophistication and highly styled pampering amid a soothing environment of casual, spectacular luxury. Cuisine was generally outstanding and often superlative, both in the main dining room – a visual feast in its own right – and in the upscale environment of the Verandah restaurant.
The pool area is a dreamy sweep of spotless teak, lined with immaculate sun loungers that flank a decent pool and a pair of bubbling hot tubs.
Yet where Silversea really excel is in the quality of their accommodations. We were ensconced in exactly the same veranda suite I enjoyed on my Far East cruise, and it was like rediscovering a charmed universe.
It seemed both strange and familiar to look out on Copenhagen’s cluster of spindly, green copper spires from the same balcony that I once observed the hazy sprawl of downtown Saigon from, three years earlier.
The beds are still dream destinations in their own right, the bathrooms a riot of marbled largesse that are bigger than some cabins I have seen in the past. The temptation to just chill out and spend a week living in my bathrobe seemed almost too good to pass up.
Happily we got past that, since the city of Hans Christian Andersen is not exactly bereft of charm herself. COPENHAGEN is a frivolous, warm hearted, free spirit of a city that loves to flirt with visitors, young and old alike.
Not far away, Andersen’s Little Mermaid maintains her lonely vigil, a diminutive waif gazing out to sea with sightless eyes, waiting for her prince to return.
Spending a full day in Copenhagen is one of the Baltic’s great treasures. Up near the boisterous neon gaiety of TIVOLI, there sits a statue of the great man himself, Hans Christian Andersen, perfectly juxtaposed near the shimmering, ethereal wonderland he was so fond of.
STROEGET is a winding, cobblestone pedestrian splay of restaurants and cutting edge shopping over a mile long. Starting at the waterfront, it meanders all the way up to the town hall, and the Lur Blowers statue.
This is a plinth surmounted by two petrified old men bearing trumpets and, according to Danish lore, they will come to life and sound a fanfare the moment that a virgin walks past the statue. Since 1914, the Lurs have maintained their vigil in dignified silence.
NYHAVN is the old sailor’s quarter, set alongside canals lined with umbrella-shaded restaurants and bars, and brimming with small boats moored along the edges of its quays.
There are few places more captivating on a warm summer night, but a torrential downpour sent us scuttling post haste back to the warmth and light of Silver Shadow.
Next evening, we raised champagne glasses on our balcony as this special city receded over the horizon, and our vessel stood purposefully out into the bracing Baltic evening.
A superb dinner was an elegant appetiser for a feast of soft music that coursed through public rooms suffused with warm pools of lighting and soft, comfortable furnishings.
Everywhere, the subtle, understated panache of Silversea service pervaded the ship. Imagine putting to sea in the Ritz, and you pretty much get the gist. The only difference is that here there are no bills to provide a sting in the tail, unless you decide to shop or gamble.
A torrential downpour drummed on the decks when we arrived in WARNEMUNDE the next day. Many people take excursions to Berlin from here, but we were content to wander round the old seaport, with its canals lined with gabled architecture and shops selling all kinds of maritime ephemera.
The beach here is a glorious swathe of dusky sand, but the wind whipped and howled to such effect that our umbrella simply capitulated and turned inside out. Thinking that someone upstairs might be trying to tell us something, we headed back to the ship.
The night could hardly have been a bigger contrast. A bewitching full moon hung in a sky so clear that the stars sparkled like diamonds, casting a glow on the wake as we lay outside the Panorama Bar on sun loungers, drinking champagne and marvelling at Mother Nature’s spectacular natural cabaret as it unfolded around us. We could just as easily have been in the Caribbean as the summertime Baltic.
VISBY is the main port for the Swedish island of Gotland, and a big summer gathering place for locals and tourists from all over Scandinavia.
Brilliant, blinding sunshine greeted our approach to what is, in effect, a gigantic 14th theme park; a marvellous, perfectly preserved collection of medieval walls, ramparts and fortifications which is almost completely intact, a World Heritage site worth a few hours of anyone’s time.
Those sturdy walls embrace acres of rolling greenery, chocolate box houses and shops straight out of the pages of a Grimm brothers fairytale, and a series of still, placid lakes and soaring fountains.
There is a botanical garden that is almost embarrassingly rich in the sheer volume, beauty and diversity of roses on display. Along the seafront, a wide, sandy sweep of beach is fronted by waterfront cafes and restaurants. I suspect an overnight stay here would be a wonderful boon for any cruise line; the place has a sense of magic all its own.
The Shadow showed off with some mood magic of her own as we sailed. An ice cream social out on the sun-washed decks was complemented by some imaginative champagne cocktails that were simply too good to pass on.
From a small balcony above our heads, a solitary saxophone player filled the air with smooth, soulful tunes. Sitting in a hot tub, gazing out at the sparkling blue carpet of the Baltic and listening to The Girl from Ipanema while drinking champagne is just about as good as it gets in the last days of July.
Silversea also provided food for the inner man, with a series of outstanding guest lecturers on various subjects, including the region we were sailing through. Entertainment was subtle and understated and, like the ship herself, always carried through with very good taste.
Most of the entertainment comes from meeting a variety of well travelled and sociable fellow passengers, and this cruise was no exception. The crowd was largely American and European, with a smattering of Canadians and Brits.
As a whole, they were a fascinating bunch, with a raft of interesting stories and life experiences that made this cruise a positive learning curve itself for those prepared to listen. For my money, such encounters often represent the richest return on any ticket price.
While smart causal dress was more than acceptable for much of the voyage, Silversea passengers do like to dress up for some nights. The mix of casual and classic attire is just about right, and more about complementing the surroundings rather than pretension.
It was heartening to see that the dress codes throughout the ship were universally observed and, on one occasion that I witnessed, discreetly enforced as well. Smiles seemed to come easily to both passengers and staff alike, but with all the goodies on offer this was hardly a trial for the passengers at least.
RIGA is one of Europe’s best kept secrets, emerging slowly after years of being used as a punch bag by both the Nazis and the Communists. The brutality of German rule was followed by decades of soul-destroying Stalinist occupation, but the city today seems to be shrugging off that latent gloom like some damp, unwelcome overcoat.
It dazzles with streets of elegant art nouveau architecture bisected by patchwork quilts of vibrant, rolling greenery and the dark, meandering sprawl of the Dagueva River, with its elegant road bridge giving a lighter touch to the cobblestone streets leading to it.
The monument to the Unknown Soldier is particularly poignant, a simple column surmounted by a stone angel grasping a trio of brilliant golden stars. Nearby, there is a plethora of outdoor bars and cafes ideal for some languid people-watching, shaded by a parasol that kept the searing sun at bay.
Back aboard Silver Shadow, we slipped easily into the night-time routine of pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’ouevres before a superb dinner, and a little fine mood music with some wonderful new company.
All of these things come together like ingredients in some particularly exotic and potent cocktail that stays with you long after you actually leave the ship. This subtle, exalted sense of well being and contentment goes a long way towards explaining why this cruise line, with one of the highest per person prices in the industry, also boasts one of the highest repeat passenger rates.
Fold in the astonishing spatial largesse of the accommodations on board and a series of luxury touches like cold towels and exotic fruit skewers served to passengers by the pool, and the logic becomes inescapable. Silversea ships constitute some of the greatest hazards to activity ever to cut through salt water.
And finally, there came landfall in STOCKHOLM. Sunrise revealed a string of dark, silent islands as the Shadow weaved through the glorious archipelago that serves as an appetiser to Sweden’s capital.
Early morning mist on the river lifted like a theatre curtain to reveal a cluster of green copper spires, sharp and proud against a duck egg blue sky. Lines of serried, storied buildings fringed the waterfront of one of the most beautifully sited cities in the world. The approach alone is reason enough to take this cruise.
Leaving the ship was easy, at least on a physical sense. Barrelling towards Arlanda airport in a taxi driven by a professional lunatic, I had the sudden feeling of a man who had been taken off life support and deposited, post haste, back into this unpleasant place called reality.
After seven nights cradled in some mellow, finely crafted wonderland called the Silver Shadow, it all seemed a bit unfair.
SILVER SHADOW FACTFILE
- Built: 2000/01
- Tonnage: 28,258
- Length: 610ft
- Beam: 81ft
- Speed: 21 knots
- Passengers: 382
- Crew: 295
- Passenger Decks: 7
ITINERARIES: Summer, Alaska; autumn, Caribbean and Mexico; winter South Pacific, Caribbean; spring, S Pacific, Japan.
MORE INFO: In the UK, call 0870 333 7030; in the US, call 0800 722 9955; or visit www.silversea.com