High-water mark

In the world of luxury cruising, few do it with the class of Silversea. Leo Schofield soaks up five-star life on the ocean aboard the sublime Silver Shadow.

Everybody needs an Edmundo. Edmundo was my butler on a recent cruise aboard the Silver Shadow. Yes, that's right. My butler. There's one for every passenger onboard a Silversea vessel. But that's only one of the luxuries this particular cruise line's pampered passengers encounter. On a recent trip from Bangkok to Singapore, taking in the coastal highlights from Koh Samui to Kuching, I opened the door to suite 657 and entered one of the largest cabins on the high seas. To my left a bathroom - yes, a proper bathroom, the sort you'd like to have at home in addition to Edmundo. Marble walls, a sizeable shower space, toiletries by Bulgari (this is an Italian-owned line, after all) and - wait for it - a bathtub. Ah, but that's only the beginning. Further exploration revealed a neat sitting room complete with two-seater sofa, my own personal balcony and a small but perfectly formed dressing room. On one side was a safe and a semainier, on the other lots of hanging space, for, as any committed cruise addict will tell you, one of the joys of this form of travel is that you unpack only once (with Edmundo's help, of course - he unfolds and smooths with a professionalism rarely seen outside a couture house).

I'd arrived on Silver Shadow after being cosseted for 36 hours in Bangkok's beautiful orchid-filled Peninsula hotel. From these lavish lodgings we were taken by bus to the ship. Easy boarding. No pat-downs, no divesting one's person of belts and boots and keys and mobiles. No sooner did my shoes hit the deck than there was a glass of Champagne to hand, followed by a mandatory but super-efficient boat drill. Then the luxury of that suite. Edmundo materialised in tailcoat and wing collar and introduced himself. It seems that although Bulgari toiletries are standard issue, there are more options, so Edmundo presented a tray: Ferragamo or Neutrogena? And what would I like in my refrigerator?

The tariffs on all Silversea boats are all-inclusive. No tips, no chits, no signing for every nip of Scotch, every cleansing ale. There's no mini-bar either, just that small fridge in which you can keep a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and some tonic for a solitary sunset sip on your very own veranda. All meals are included too, the only extras being shore excursions, which you may or may not choose to take depending on your inclination. At Koh Samui we eschewed escorted excursions for independent activities that included shopping, a light lunch at a beach-side restaurant and a visit to Dr Fish, an establishment where your feet or entire body can be exfoliated by myriad small fish called Garra rufa - the effect of this piscatorial pedicure being somewhere between tickling and a mild electric shock.

Ho Chi Minh City was another port of call on our leisurely cruise from the Gulf of Thailand. The metamorphosis of the former capital of South Vietnam from a French colonial city to a modern Asian one is symbolised by soaring new skyscrapers, including the recently constructed Bitexco Financial Tower, which has a helipad jutting like a petulant lower lip from the 50th floor. Vestiges of French architectural influence linger in the wide boulevards and elegant planting, in the low, shuttered, colonnaded and whitewashed buildings with distinctive red-tiled roofs, and in impressive landmark public buildings such as the cathedral-like Central Post Office (designed by Gustave Eiffel of tower fame) and the former Opera House, a transposed Palais Garnier in miniature at the end of Le Loi Street. But modernisation is moving fast. The Old Market is still an amazing sight as well as a challenging shopping experience, but a different kind of store is springing up throughout the centre of the city as global luxury brands battle for a toehold. Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Marc Jacobs - they are all here, and if not, their imminent arrival is heralded on the hoardings around construction sites.

Back on the ship, another luxury is the onboard spa with a bevy of beauticians to complete the process of total relaxation. The diner, meanwhile, has a variety of options, from a meal under the stars on the pool deck to 24-hour room service. Most guests, however, prefer to tog up and take their meals in one of two large elegant dining rooms, or put the boat out, so to speak, in Le Champagne, a chic, intimate Relais & Châteaux-endorsed restaurant where a different dégustation menu with matched wines is presented each evening. Naturally this comes at an extra cost, but otherwise, as they say, there are no hidden charges.

So this was the routine on Silver Shadow as we made our way between ports, via Kuching and finally to glittering Singapore, where I indulged in one more luxurious bathtub soak at the Mandarin Oriental before heading for the airport and the reality of the metal detector and the customs check. Small wonder, I thought, as I jostled in line at Changi Airport, that an increasing number of people are choosing cruising as their mode of travel. No baggage restrictions, body searches, queues, crowded overhead lockers, delays and frustrations at every turn. Just a couple of conundrums: what to wear to dinner and whether your sharpener for the evening will be a Champagne or a Martini.


THE FINE PRINT

Silversea cruises
Silversea has seven Relais & Châteaux L'École des Chefs voyages departing in 2011. Hosted by David Bilsland of London's Le Cordon Bleu, these voyages offer cooking classes, market tours and cooking demonstrations. All Silversea fares include suite accommodation, butler service, meals, beverages (including alcohol) and gratuities. Silversea Relais & Châteaux L'École des Chefs voyages from $5853, (02) 9255 0600.

THE FINE PRINT

Silversea cruises
Silversea has seven Relais & Châteaux L'École des Chefs voyages departing in 2011. Hosted by David Bilsland of London's Le Cordon Bleu, these voyages offer cooking classes, market tours and cooking demonstrations. All Silversea fares include suite accommodation, butler service, meals, beverages (including alcohol) and gratuities. Silversea Relais & Châteaux L'École des Chefs voyages from $5853, (02) 9255 0600.

The Gourmet Traveller podcast

Each fortnight we round up the most interesting characters from the food world for your listening pleasure. We chat to chefs, cooks, authors, bar tenders and baristas - anyone who has something new and interesting to say about the way we like to eat and drink.

Listen
Recipe collections

Looking for fresh dinner ideas? Not sure how to make the most out of seasonal produce? Or do you need to plan the perfect party menu? Our recipe collections have you covered.

See more

You might also like...

Best of Italy

Rome, Florence, Naples, the Amalfi... the list of our favour...

Best New Hotels 2009 slideshow

We’ve got the keys to the most fabulous new hotels in the wo...

Burgundy, France: Top soil

“Water can rust iron. Imagine what it does to your insides. ...

Bali's new high

It’s no secret that recent times have been tough for Austral...

New South Wales South Coast

Unsung hero Flashier holiday spots may steal the limelight, ...

Gourmet Barcelona

From the city's best sandwich bar to its favourite charcuter...

Greece's Mani peninsula

Greece’s rugged and bloody Mani peninsula was once a no-go z...

Venice in pictures

Read our story on what to do if you only have 24 hours in Ve...

Great Brittany gallery

Take a walk on the wild side. Follow Brittany’s windswept co...

South African safari lodges gallery

Travelling from the Great Karoo to the Kruger, Emma Ventura ...

Iceland photo gallery

Erase the images of that volcano with the unpronounceable na...

Happy holidays

They’re following the sun and chasing the snow, staying clos...

Kyneton and Castlemaine

Kyneton and Castlemaine were born out of the gold-rush era, ...

Insider's guide to Manly

Breath of fresh air The classic Sydney beachside neighbourho...

The best of New Zealand

Choosing from the bounty of New Zealand's holiday destinati...