Rebecca Barnes joins Silver Whisper in Sydney to discover the real meaning of ultra-luxury cruising
The last time I set eyes on the Sydney Opera House was on television, as the New Year’s Eve celebrations were beamed around the globe. Just over a month later and I have a real-life view of it across the water.
I’m jet-lagged, the soles of my feet are burning and I’m yet to acclimatise to the humidity, but this being my first time in Sydney – and indeed Australia – I’m not done yet.
I start my 11km walk at Circular Quay via Darling Harbour, Barangaroo Reserve and back to The Rocks, nailing a prime al fresco spot for lunch. I finish by snapping a photograph of Sydney’s landmark building, which is looking every bit as spectacular as it was on screen.
I’m on a two-week cruise with Silversea, visiting the Australian cities of Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin, before crossing into Indonesia. It’s a segment of the 133-day Tale of Tales world cruise, so many passengers are already settled in when I board.
With Australia being the expansive country it is, a cruise is actually a great way to experience the key cities without having to flight-hop.
I speak to a British new-to-cruise couple at the Sydney sailaway (which is every bit as epic as I’d heard it would be) who were also sold on the fact that you could cover a lot of ground while only unpacking once.
Our ship Silver Whisper has not long been out of dry dock, where it underwent a major renovation to “Musify” the interior in line with the strategy to enhance the entire fleet to the standard of the newer Silver Muse. In fact, initial refurbishment plans were revised following the launch of Project Invictus, the cruise line’s long-term plan to enlarge its fleet.
There’s new furniture, sun loungers and carpets throughout, while suites are now decorated in tones of taupe, soft green and white, complemented by polished beech wood furnishings. I actually sailed on Silver Whisper a couple of years ago and can testify that
the outdoor space is much improved and very popular, too.
My veranda suite is spacious and very homely. Being in ultra-luxury territory, you also get a walk-in wardrobe, Bulgari toiletries, Italian bathrobes and nine pillow options. I rarely become attached to ship accommodation, but this one is a real pleasure to be in.
Silversea is clearly loved, as 95 per cent of passengers on this sailing are members of Venetian Society, the line’s loyalty programme. There’s also an unusually high number of single passengers. My shipmates are a cosmopolitan bunch, mainly Americans, followed by Brits, Australians and other Europeans.
Those sailing solo are well looked after, thanks to four gentlemen hosts who hold dance lessons (which the ladies love), arrange pre-dinner drinks and act as dining companions – although it’s also fine if you want to eat alone or in your suite with All Around Dining.
I lost count of how many people said to me that being back on the ship is like coming home. The staff/passenger relationship is unique and the service is one of the reasons people return.
Charismatic cruise director Fernando has formed personal relationships with many of the regulars over the years, while staff seem genuinely pleased to see and serve you. It is one big happy family.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the food is consistently impressive. The guests seem to think so too; many of them say it’s gone up a level, and I hear murmurs of appreciation on a daily basis.
And you will never be thirsty: on arrival, your butler will stock your minibar with your personal favourites. Around the ship, most drinks (except premium brands) including branded champagne are complimentary.
In the up-and-coming city of Brisbane, I enjoy a leisurely cruise along the Brisbane River – arranged via cruisingexcursions.com. In my opinion it’s the best way to get to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world’s first and largest sanctuary
for the cuddly marsupials.
Walk up the steps from the riverbank and you will meet species including wombats, dingos and kangaroos, as well as koalas. I wander the grounds, hold a eucalyptus-munching koala and pet a kangaroo – who knew they were so tame?
Sea days – and there are eight on this segment – are lazy and low-key. Enrichment is a key focus on the world cruise, with nine celebrated speakers joining the trip over the course of the voyage. We are joined by world authority on costume studies, Harold Koda, who gives a lecture on the perception of fashion and beauty across different cultures.
If you don’t manage to see a lecture in the flesh, you can tune into the in-room entertainment system and watch it at your leisure.
In cosmopolitan Cairns, a ten-minute bus ride takes me to the Botanic Gardens. This sprawling park features lakes, a rainforest and exquisite gardens teeming with tropical flowers and plants.
It’s so big it would take the best part of a day to get around, so I head back to the city to cool off at the Lagoon Esplanade, a man-made pool with fountains, sand and shade, situated a scenic ten-minute walk from the cruise terminal.
An unexpected bonus for an ocean cruise is how close we are to land at times. Following the coastline en route to Darwin, we pass Iron Range National Park, and spot a couple of sandbars in the distance.
On the approach to the Indonesian island of Komodo for the Komodo National Park – a Unesco World Heritage Site – stretches of white sand catch the eye, and as I walk along the jetty from the ship’s tender, the water below reveals fish I have only ever seen on Blue Planet.
Searching for the island’s prehistoric-looking residents, the Komodo dragons, in their natural habitat we are accompanied by park guides with two pronged sticks. Due to the dragons’ aggressive nature, tourists are not allowed to roam independently, but when we spot six males at a watering hole, they thankfully seem more interested in napping than snacking.
That afternoon, ensconced in my favourite reading chair at the stern of the ship, I look out to sea and relish the tranquility, as Silver Whisper heads towards Bali, my final stop.
It’s a definite moment and one that I will not forget in a hurry. And, as I turn the last page of my book, I reluctantly prepare
to close the chapter on this bucket-list experience.
An 18-day cruise from Australia to Singapore costs from £5,670pp based on two people sharing a Vista suite, departing March 31, 2020. silversea.com. Rebecca’s Brisbane excursion was arranged by cruisingexcursions.com; price from £99pp.