Table of Contents
New to Silversea - Is it for Me?
If you read my previous post – Cruising with Silversea – Value for Money – or Just Over Priced? – you will know that I have convinced myself that – so long as the luxury level is as top notch as the marketing material suggests – Silversea DOES have the potential to provide good value for money. So now, it is time to check it out for myself. I am New to Silversea and about to find out – Is it for Me?
For better, for worse, I am booked on a 21 day voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon on board the Silver Wind. This is the first ultra luxury cruise I have ever taken. It is also the longest cruise I have ever been on. We will stop at 14 ports over the 21 days and cross the Equator in the process. We will share the voyage with 279 guests (solo travellers will actually reduce this number considerably) and 234 crew. Read on for an honest account of how it really was for me.
Rio to Lisbon - Why this Trip?
It was a bit of a “make or break” decision:
- I have never been to South America and am not sure whether I want to visit it independently or not.
- I have never been to Cape Verde either – it may be a good destination for a holiday in the depths of the British Winter?
- I have never been on a sea voyage as long as this – the length of it was part of the appeal. It would be a real journey, covering a total of 4,842 nautical miles.
- We would be crossing the Equator – another bucket list item ticked off the list.
- The voyage goes from Brazil to Portugal – so the opposite way around from the original route of the Portuguese colonialists. The history of South America will be interesting to discover en route
- The journey finishes in Lisbon – just. short flight away from home in the UK, which means I don’t have the cost and inconvenience of a long haul flight at the end of the trip.
You only ever get one chance to make a good first impression and this trip was Silversea’s chance to convince me that they can deliver. I can tell you that the expectations were pretty high – so no pressure Silversea?!
The embarkation process was silky smooth and our luggage was waiting for us in our suite. Big Tick!
We had Suite No. 738. We had deliberately booked the cheapest grade of Suite – a Vista Suite with no balcony – on the basis that we might as well start at the bottom. If we liked that, why pay more? Suite 738 is unusual as it is a little larger than the other vista suites on board. Lucky bonus ball!
First impressions of the suite did not disappoint. All the little things that can irritate you when you are travelling had been thought about in advance and sorted out. Plug points were just where you needed them to be. Pillows were just right. TV screens (we had 2) were angled perfectly. There was plenty of space – a walk in wardrobe and plenty of storage space – enough to really spread out in. The shower was spacious too and the temperature – well it was perfect. You’re getting my drift?
The welcome from the crew was very warm too. It was clear right from the start that everyone on board just wanted you to have a really great experience.
BRAZIL – Rio de Janeiro, Abrolhos Archipelago, Porto Seguro, Ilheus, Natal
CAPE VERDE – Praia, Porto Novo
MOROCCO – Ad Dakhla (Western Sahara), Agadir, Safi
SPAIN – Seville
PORTUGAL – Portimāo, Lisbon
BRAZIL - Abrolhos Archipelago
70 km east of Bahia are the 5 islands forming the Abrolhos Archipelago. Two parts of the reef system there – including the archipelago – have been declared a marine park. Of the 5 islands, only Siriba can be visited. Silversea had sole access to Siriba and their nippy zodiacs were able to land on the island, right next to the nesting brown and masked boobies.
Being able to get this close to these unusual birds was a very good start to the trip.
BRAZIL - Puerto Seguro- "Brazil's Birthplace"
Porto Seguro – (safe bay) – is a city located in the far south of Bahia. The port was the first place that Alavares Cabral and his crew set foot on while on their way to India in 1500.
Our excursion here was to the Pataxō (pa-ta-shaw) Indigenous Reserve. Founded in 1998 by an enterprising group of 3 Pataxó sisters, the 827 hectare Jaqueira Reserve is a community-based cultural identity and ecotourism project which employs indigenous families.
The ability to experience a very different culture in an up close and personal way was another big tick on excursion choices.
BRAZIL - Ilheus
Florestaviva Project - Jardin Botânico de Serro Grande
The Atlantic forest is one of the richest areas of biodiversity in Brazil and has the greatest arboreal biodiversity on the planet. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The living Florestaviva Project nursery produces upwards of 100,000 seedlings per year, including endangered species of the Atlantic Forest.
If you have read my previous posts, you will know that rare flora and fauna always do it for me. So far, it is looking as though the answer to the “New to Silversea – Is it for Me?” question is looking like a “yes”.
BRAZIL - Natal
In Natal, we discovered another enterprising group of women who were highly skilled at Bilro’s technique for lacemaking. The intricate bobbin lace requires extreme skill, concentration and manual dexterity.
This group of talented ladies came together to promote the lacemaking craft and ensure that their community benefits from the financial profits that interested tourists can bring to them. As well as occupying young women and children in the afternoons (schools only run for half the day here), they run a well stocked craft shop which does a good trade selling unique hand crafted souvenirs.
Learning to make lace as I sang along with the women and – for a few precious moments – shared a passion for crafting and a real connection with them was something I will never forget. Although we spoke different languages, the enthusiastic thumbs up from one of the local women as I completed my friendship bracelet said it all and was a was a trip highlight for me.
If you are interested in learning new crafts, take a look at my other website – HeartUpcycling.
CAPE VERDE - Santiago - Praia
After the honourable rite of passage of Crossing the Equator – always celebrated in style aboard Silversea – the ship reached the Cape Verde islands. This was my first time visiting the Cape Verde islands. I’m wondering: What is it like there? Would it be a good Winter sun destination from the UK?
- Of the 10 islands, only 3 are inhabited: Santiago (capital Praia), Santo Antão (see below) and Boa Vista (the most beachy/touristy).
- The islands have a troubled past – their convenient location meant they were a useful staging post in the Atlantic slave trade.
- The average age is only 20, because so many of the older population emigrated during the 1950s after repeated droughts and famines.
- 75% of the food is imported.
- Independence from colonial Portugal was achieved in 1975.
Today, Praia is still very troubled by drought. The markets – though colourful – are not overflowing with home produced food as they would probably like to be.
Many of the houses are only half built – because there just isn’t enough money to complete them.
I learned so much about Cape Verde – far more than the short snippet above – from the fascinating lectures on board. Silversea delivered a very engaging lecture series.
Learning the Lingo
Sodade– The feeling of homesickness for your homeland, melancholy about going back and the longing for your family that live elsewhere and that you do not often see.
Morna: The national music of Cape Verde. The morna is the African anthem of the soul – it speaks of loss, farewell and return to the fatherland.
Life can clearly be tough here and I don’t think Praia would be my ideal Winter sun vacation choice.
CAPE VERDE - Santo Antåo - Porto Novo
Santo Antāo is a completely different island from Santiago, though it shares its troubled past. The panoramic Paul Valley is lush and green all year round – a paradise for hikers. The friendly local people live a simple rural way of life.
Learning the Lingo
Tu dret? – Everything OK?
Grogue – The local tipple made from the ubiquitous sugar cane plantations.
MOROCCO - Western Sahara - Ad Dakhla
The Sahraoui Village in Ad Dakhla is a replica of an encampment of the Saharawi people – a nomadic indigenous Berber ethnic group with a life centered around dromedaries. During your visit here, you can have fun learning about Moroccan tea, listen to traditional music, enjoy local food and learn how to wear a hijab/turban here.
But this is a troubled area. Formerly a Spanish colony, the territory of Western Sahara was invaded and occupied by Morocco in 1975. The Western Sahara War raged between 1975 to 1991, The military presence both at the port and at the Sahraoui Village was formidable. Our passports were subject to rigorous checks and I was very glad to eventually get mine back.
The Foreign Office currently (April 2023) advises against all travel to: areas of Western Sahara within 30km north/west of the Berm and areas of Western Sahara south/east of the Berm. I would not have chosen to visit without the back up of an expert expedition team.
Kitesurfing is now very popular in Ad Dakhla. Is this a good example of Morocco’s best efforts to develop tourism in this troubled region? Or is it a way of Morocco enforcing it’s grip on a land which the Saharawi people believe to be rightfully theirs?
MOROCCO - Agadir - Taroudant
In the arid mountains of southern Morocco, around the cities of Agadir, Essaouira and Taroudant, argan trees thrive. Argan oil – long used in cooking – has now become highly prized by the global beauty industry. The result is that argan oil can now be sold for up to 8 times the price it could fetch locally.
The hard shell of the green olive like argan tree fruit has to be removed by hand by pounding it with a stone. This is hard work – it takes up to three days of grinding for every woman to get one litre of Argan oil. The extracted kernel is then pressed by machine to extract the valuable oil.
The enterprising local women here form themselves into cooperatives to get the work done, earning themselves a salary, free childcare, health insurance and literacy courses in the process.
It’s not all hard work though – these women have a lot of fun singing and chatting together as they work.
Yet another example of enterprising women coming together and working hard to support their communities. It was becoming a familiar theme which I really enjoyed being able to see first hand. So far, Silversea’s choice of excursion was hitting the spot very well indeed.
MOROCCO - Safi - Essaouira
Morocco is rather like a tree whose roots are in Africa but whose leaves breathe European air?
Essaouira is a seaside town making the most of its location to generate valuable tourist revenue. Camels take the place of donkeys for beach rides here. It is an interesting place to visit because it supports religious diversity and has a significant Jewish community.
My observation as I drove through the roads around Taroudant was that on the whole, women wear traditional dress, with a hijab – but not covering their mouth. Lipstick and fancy shoes – a way of expressing their femininity and sense of fun – are common. Men, on the other hand, wear a mixture of traditional and Western dress.
I didn’t see any women sitting relaxing outside cafés as I drove along the roads from Safi to Essaouira though?
After Morocco’s independence from France, Moroccan women were allowed to attend schools that taught subjects other than religion. With the institution of the legal code known as Mudawana in 2004, Moroccan women obtained the rights to divorce their husbands, to child custody, to child support, and to own and inherit property. Thankfully, women now play an increasingly significant role in Morocco.
My time in Essaouira was an opportunity to reflect on my visit to Morocco as a whole and on the changing nature of cultures and religions in the modern world. The opportunity to have free time and choose to spend taking a camel ride on the beach was also pretty good fun. Another good excursion option.
Learning the Lingo
Shalom – A Hebrew greeting that can mean Hallo as well as Goodbye. It conveys peace and health and stems from a root that means complete or perfect.
SPAIN - Seville
What sums a country up? Is it the food, the music, the climate …? For me, what best sums Seville up is the April Fair (Feria).
The Seville Feria traditionally starts two clear weeks after Easter Holy Week in a huge fairground (recinto ferial ) in the south-west of the city, next to the river.
This is a week of serious dancing, drinking, eating and socialising late into the night. Seville society parades the streets in carriages drawn by beautifully dressed horses. Exuberant flamenco dresses (how much does one cost I wonder?) are worn with pride and the atmosphere is nothing short of electric.
Over 1,000 casetas – striped tents belonging to local families, groups of friends, businesses, clubs, trade associations and political parties line the fairground. The casetas are mostly private and open only to members and their guests. Invitations to enter are much coveted.
It was a joy to be part of something as spectacular as this. I watched with admiration as mothers and grandmothers taught the young girls in their families their traditional flamenco dances, passing on the skills and fun that really sum up the Spanish culture.
Learning the Lingo - The Language of the Fan
- Can you keep a secret? Cover your left ear with the open fan.
- I am single. Slowly fan yourself on your chest.
- I Love You. Place the fan near your heart.
- Yes. Rest the fan on your right cheek.
- No. Rest the fan on your left cheek.
- Do you love me? Pass him a closed fan.
- I’m Sorry. Pass the fan over your eyes.
- Kiss me. Keep the fan half open on your lips.
- Goodbye. Keep the fan behind your head and extend your finger.
Being a part of the Seville Feria was the outstanding highlight of the trip – but it was not organised by Silversea. The Silversea excursion would have been a private evening visit to the Alcazar Palace which on any other night would have been great. To visit Seville at the height of the annual feria and not to be a part of it was not an option for me though, so – we made our own luck and got chatting with locals who issued an invitation into their private casita. Definitely a “could do better” day for Silversea then?
On the other hand, the ship’s small size meant that it was able to dock right in the port of Seville, just a short walk away from the centre of all the action, so the score here was – in the end – top marks.
Add to that the Head Chef’s purchase of an Iberian ham in the local market – proudly served at the buffet lunch whilst in Seville – and the score goes even higher!
The voyage drew to a close in Portugal, visiting Portimão and finally Lisbon.
Spending a day hiking the golden Algarve coast straight from the ship made a relaxing end to the cruise. Free time in Lisbon was easy to fill.
New to Silversea - Is it for Me?
Yes – I think I am hooked. I have my Venetian Society Membership Number and a growing list of future voyages I would like to make…
You may also like:
The decision to give Silversea a try was not taken lightly. Read more about the pros and cons of a Silversea cruise – and the discount available – on this link.
Silversea is one of the few cruise lines to have a butler service. Follow this link to discover the inside story …