I was needed in Singapore for work and my husband Casey was dying to visit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The two places were hardly next door to each other, and coordinating such a trip was more planning than I wanted to undertake on short notice. Silversea cruises came to the rescue with a sailing on its newest ship, the Silver Muse.
Commencing in Singapore, over 18 days, the Muse made two stops in Indonesia and five in Australia, including two glorious days in Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and ending in Sydney.
The cruise terminal was only 15 minutes from central Singapore, and after stepping out of the car, we were onboard, and immediately handed a glass of champagne – this could only end well.
The 698-foot Muse has eight passenger decks with 411 crew members, and carries a maximum of 596 passengers. The personalized crew-to-passenger ratio and superb training combines for excellent service. Plus, all Silversea cruises come with a dedicated butler who makes certain guests want for nothing. I soon realized that our kind butler Dhanraj, who hailed from Mauritius, was a soothsaying mindreader capable of knowing wants or needs before we did.
Suites are spacious, starting at 330-square-feet and beautifully appointed with eight pillow options, and the suites also have bar setups and refrigerators filled with items tailored to guests. For those wishing to stay connected, there are large, mirror embedded flat-screen HD televisions and unlimited ship-wide WiFi. Marble bathrooms have separate, large soaking tubs, spacious enclosed showers and Bulgari amenities.
There is 24-hour room service, nine restaurants, including speciality restaurants French La Dame and Japanese Kaiseki, and nine bars/lounges. A well-equipped fitness center meant gaining mega pounds was not destiny, and Zagara Spa’s treatments included a dermatologist that could help tame Father Time. Also onboard, large swimming pool, jacuzzis, humidor, casino, expert enrichment lectures, wine tastings and other curated activities.
Central Java’s Borobudur and Bali
Our first stop was in Central Java, Indonesia’s cultural heart. In the 8th and 9th century, this region cultivated some of the country’s great Indian kingdoms. This included the Buddhist Sailendras who built the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur.
Abandoned by locals allegedly harboring superstitious beliefs surrounding its hill location, it was “discovered” by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1814. Later restored, it became a UNESCO site in 1991. The five levels up to the giant stupa — dome-shaped structure — contain 1,500 carvings portraying Siddhartha’s earthly life. Above these, 432 stone Buddhas, and above these, 72 stupas reflecting Buddha’s path to enlightenment culminating at the main stupa and highest enlightenment attainment.
Indonesia’s 17,000 islands with over 270 million people is the world’s most populated Muslim country. This makes Bali, our next stop, intriguing as Balinese people remain Hindu. While Bali has changed since the hedonistic 1970s, and indeed even since I spent several months there in 2011, it remains alluring and charming, commercialism and traffic notwithstanding.
We headed to Ubud made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book “Eat, Pray Love.” Ubud has changed with notoriety, but still retains grace. At Goa Gajah – elephant cave – this thousand-year-old Hindu sacred site has intricate carvings in a lush rain forest setting with a large lily pond and waterfall.
About 12 miles away, the Hindu Tirta Empul — holy spring water — is used for communal purification in an idyllic setting. At Tegalalang, ethereal jade-green terraced rice paddies are an agricultural icon in a stunning rural setting, though zip-lines and swings now also provide an aerial perspective.
A traditional Balinese massage buttressed me for stealth textile shopping while Chilean sea bass and delectable lemon merengue pie at Silver Muse’s Atlantide refueled us.
Darwin — The capital of Australia’s Northern Territory
Following three calm sea days we arrived to Australia’s Darwin, called Top End and known mainly for crocodiles. With 140,000 saltwater and 150,000 freshwater crocs, they are part of the cultural conscience. At Crocodile Cove, we fed young crocs cow hearts while heartier souls went into plexiglass cages and swam amid full grown ones.
Darwin was tattered two months after Pearl Harbor when 64 Japanese air raids released 683 bombs, killing 235 people and wounding several hundred more. There are several memorials in town, military museums, and vast underground oil storage tunnels used during World War II. In 1974, Cyclone Tracy brought devastation to Darwin again bringing it to its knees. However outback Aussies are incredibly resilient and the town has rebuilt.
Cairns — Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef
Pronounced Caans, this charming town with wide pedestrian walkways, cafés, bars and aboriginal art galleries is the portal to the world’s largest and longest coral reef stretching over 1,400 miles along Queensland’s eastern coast. A UNESCO site since 1981, it has over 1,500 fish species, 4,500 vertebrae species and six turtle species.
Embarking a 90-foot catamaran, we sailed 30 miles to Flynn Reef. Ninety minutes later we were snorkeling in 82-degree water amid fish aplenty, including giant trevally and brassy drummers. Stealing the show was a massive humphead Maori wrasse with its yellow tinged, odd-shaped forehead. After four hours in the water we wanted more, so the next day jumped on a 60-foot cat to Upolu Reef in the morning and Upolu Cay for the afternoon.
Yard-length clamshells, dinner plate-diameter neon-blue starfish and gargantuan 5-foot humphead parrotfish competed with a pair of clownfish who live in symbiosis with deadly sea anemones. Wrinkled after six blissful hours, we returned to the Muse and devoured a marvelous meal of grilled lobster, Wagyu beef teriyaki and miso black cod at Kaiseki restaurant.
Established in 1864, Townsville’s Flinders Street possesses some wonderfully restored colonial architecture originally built between 1899 and the 1920s.
A 20-minute ferry ride brought us to Magnetic Island where its 2,500 local residents are far outnumbered by massive 275- million-year-old granite boulders dotting the island amid two dozen pristine bays. Here local koalas make up Northern Australia’s largest wild colony.
At Bungalow Bay Koala Village, we were able to get up close and personal with Koalas. While adorably cute, hugging marsupials — misnomers reflect the bear moniker — most carry sexually-transmitted Chlamydia that thankfully doesn’t jump between species. Young koalas called joeys eat maternal dung to obtain requisite bacteria enabling digestion of the highly toxic eucalyptus leaves comprising their main staple. After learning this I doubted I would ever view these 20-hour-a-day dozers in quite the same way.
Shiny skyscrapers, 200 jacaranda-filled parks and oodles of charm belie Brisbane’s genesis as a former penal colony founded in 1824.
Beautifully restored colonial architecture lines portions of Queen Street pedestrian mall. Near Victoria Bridge, the massive Treasury Building, once public offices — now a grand hotel and casino — is imposingly impressive. Walking over the bridge to South Bank, a free public pool and manmade beach worthy of a five-star hotel with ibis’ milling about rendered it hard to believe downtown was a short stroll away. Nearby, a Nepalese pagoda remains from the 1988 Expo and the Queensland Art Gallery houses a fine permanent collection of Aboriginal art including several by Albert Namatjira, a celebrated pioneer of contemporary indigenous art. Another dining extravaganza, this time at Muse’s La Dame, ended another perfect day.
Sydney’s iconic opera house came into full view as we sailed toward the harbor. While the idea of disembarking the floating paradise that is the Silver Muse and leaving Dhanraj behind left me nearly bereft, I consoled myself with another great brunch on board and thought of Nicholas Monsarrat’s wise words, “Sailors, with their built-in sense of order, service and discipline, should really be running the world.” Indeed.
If you go
Silversea has four to 90-day cruises in various parts of the world depending on season. As itineraries sometimes start in one location and end in another, it may be cost effective to let Silversea book air. Call (877) 382-6228 or visit www.silversea.com.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, legal columnist and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com. Some vendors hosted the writer however content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the writer’s opinion.