Few travel sectors have been as impacted as much during 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 as science developed to ensure cruising’s safe return.
Like a first kiss with a handsome heartthrob, I became deeply enamored with Silversea about 10 years ago. It’s been an enduring love that like a good marriage, weathered even a pandemic.
Like many who live for and love to travel, I sat on my hands impatiently waiting for both international travel and cruising’s return. Of course, staying safe and healthy remained paramount. Spearheading the global recommencement to cruising, Silversea requires all crew and passengers be fully vaccinated prior to sailing. Additionally, Silversea mandates COVID testing immediately prior to embarkation, mid-voyage and at disembarkation. While onboard and indoors, passengers must mask unless dining or drinking.
With all these precautions in place, it seemed safer to cruise than to shop at my local supermarket. Learning that Silversea’s newest ship, the Silver Moon, would have its maiden season to several Greek Islands and Cyprus while debuting its new Sea and Land Taste (S.A.L.T.) Program, permitting guests to dive deep into local culture though its food and wine, I packed so fast for the late July voyage, it could have qualified as an Olympic sport. Silversea.com
Embarking in Piraeus was swift – COVID test, results and registration took 15 minutes – and that evening Silver Moon was officially named with the customary Champagne bottle breaking on the ship’s bow. A celebratory dinner and fireworks followed before Silver Moon departed Athens.
The 698-foot Moon has eight passenger decks, carries a maximum of 596 passengers and almost a one-to-one crew-to-passenger ratio. Impeccably trained staff and dedicated butler service for each suite means service is truly unmatched.
Spacious suites start at 330 square feet, are elegantly appointed in calming hues and bedding boasts luxurious high-count sheets with several pillow options. Suites have bar set ups, tailored refrigerator contents, and to stay connected, flat screen HD television and ship-wide WiFi. Marble bathrooms have separate large soaking tubs, spacious enclosed showers and Bulgari amenities.
With 24-hour room service serving outstanding meals within 30 minutes, nine restaurants including specialty restaurants French La Dame and Japanese Kaiseki, nine bars and lounges with live entertainment, food and drink boredom was impossible.
The Silver Moon’s pièce de résistance was its debut of its Sea and Land Taste (S.A.L.T.) program designed to allow guests to truly immerse themselves in local culture, food and wines of the scheduled destinations. Three distinct onboard settings: S.A.L.T. Kitchen with a changing menu highlighting local specialties, S.A.L.T. Lab for hands-on participatory cooking classes and S.A.L.T. Bar celebrating creative mixology. Specially curated shore excursions featuring local food and wine experts provided a cultural nexus and sense of place and history where food and wine reigned supreme connecting past to present.
A large, state-of-the-art fitness center and Zagara Spa’s treatment menu ensured massive weight gain could be avoided and well-being enhanced while enrichment lectures and other activities allowed guests to be as engaged as desired.
The Cycladic islands of Syros and Paros
Lesser-known Syros – the queen of the Cyclades – is just over 30 square miles but packs a medieval punch especially in hilltop Ano Syros. Steep, narrow stone pathways with brightly colored doorways, climbing fuchsia bougainvillea and deep cobalt blue backdrops lead to St. George’s Cathedral. The church has been rebuilt five times during the past several centuries; dedication to its patron St. George has been constant. Donkeys are ubiquitous and jokingly referred to by locals as Syrosian cows.
S.A.L.T. Kitchen that evening prepared several delectable Syrosian dishes utilizing locally sourced ingredients including Loukanika ¬ sausage with braised fennel and Halvadopita – almond nougat within paper thin wafers.
On Paros, the largest and greenest Cycladic island, S.A.L.T.’s shore excursion brought us to Thalassamou, a secluded beachfront restaurant with ethereal turquoise vistas. Here owners Anna Kouda and Marios Salmatanis displayed palpable culinary passion as they demonstrated preparation of their mouthwatering Greek Mediterranean creations. We shared warm-from-the-oven spanakopita, fresh calamari, various fish and salads with reckless abandon while mesmerized by azure waters.
Dodecanese’s Patmos and Rhodes
Tiny Patmos, where in 95 A.D. St. John wrote the Book of Revelations, is home to his namesake’s monastery, a UNESCO site. One of the world’s best medieval complexes, the surrounding turquoise sea took my mind away from apocalyptic ideation. Toes in the sand later at a beachfront taverna with chilled rosé and lightly battered calamari, thoughts turned downright heavenly.
Located 12 miles off Turkey’s coast in the Aegean Sea, Rhodes is the largest of Greece’s 12 Dodecanese islands. The magnitude of its spectacular walled old city – another UNESCO site – was breath taking. Spherical towers, arched gates and intricate mosaic floors grace the enormous 14th century Palace of the Grand Master. Near Socrates Marketplace, the 14th century Kahal Shalom Synagogue has a well-documented history of Jewish life on Rhodes while adjacent Martyrs Square honors the 1,604 Rhodian Jews sent to their death at Auschwitz forever altering Rhodes demography.
Cruising towards Cyprus then Crete
While politics has separated Cyprus, and its capital Nicosia remains Europe’s last divided city, it’s conceivable that the food which unites Greek and Turkish Cypriots may hopefully one day aid in uniting it.
The Silver Moon’s S.A.L.T. Lab’s mezze cooking experience was enjoyable and delicious, and it whet my appetite for the S.A.L.T shore excursion to the fourth century village of Omodos and hilltop Vassiliades Vineyards. Although known for Commandaria dessert wine, Vassiliades also produces fine dry whites and rosés and an outstanding 2018 dry red Geroklima using female only grapes. A traditional taverna dinner included moussaka, stuffed dolmas and finely minced pork sausages matured in mavro, an indigenous grape variety utilizing an old Cypriot meat preservation method.
Swimming to Crete may have been more calorically correct, but another S.A.L.T. Lab on Cretan specialties beckoned. Becoming so inspired, after strolling Heraklion’s historic center with its former mosque now St. Titus Greek Orthodox Church, I purchased various spices, oils and other items with the hope of recreating some Cretan items for, culinarily speaking, my long-suffering husband. If I’m successful, S.A.L.T. chef de cuisine Cyril Mougin would no doubt be the recipient of everlasting gratitude.
Athens bound, the final day was spent on Mykonos admiring whitewashed, seemingly impossibly constructed hilltop homes, enjoying its beaches and the signature sunsets for which Mykonos is well-known.
One thing became clear, after sailing on Silversea’s glorious Silver Moon, cured was my near terminal travitude – that long lingering grumpy mood caused from not cruising for 17 months. Be forewarned, cruising on the Silver Moon will result in prolonged feelings of happiness and joy lasting 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 Julie@VagabondLawyer.com. This cruise line hosted the writer; however content was not reviewed by it prior to publication and is solely the writer’s opinion.