Cruising has often been synonymous with dining and drinking. However great food and mixology has been one of the hallmarks of ultra-luxury cruising. Nowhere is this truer than on Silversea. While COVID and its aftermath impacted the cruise industry like no other, Silversea has led the way to the return of safe global cruising including requiring that all crew and all passengers be fully vaccinated prior to sailing. Additionally, Silversea mandates COVID testing immediately prior to embarkation, mid-voyage and at disembarkation. Onboard and indoors, passengers must mask unless dining or drinking.
Silversea also recently took possession of its newest star, the stunning Silver Moon. The 698-foot Silver Moon has eight passenger decks, carries a maximum of 596-passengers and almost a one-to-one crew-to-passenger ratio. Staff is impeccably trained and the suite-only Silver Moon, like Silversea’s sister ships, has dedicated butler service for each suite so no desire goes unattended. Embarking in Athens two weeks ago during Silver Moon’s inaugural season for a 10-day cruise of the Greek Isles and Cyprus, two things became crystal clear: first, the Silver Moon far exceeded my expectations – and they were lofty indeed – and two, food on the high seas and during curated shore excursions were worthy of even the most die-hard foodie.
Silver Moon has 24-hour room service serving outstanding meals within 30 minutes, nine restaurants including specialty restaurants French La Dame and Japanese Kaiseki, and nine bars and lounges with live entertainment. That certainly would have been enough to stave off any potential food and drink monotony even if on a lengthy world cruise.
With Silver Moon’s inaugural season also came its marvelous debut of Silversea’s Sea and Land Taste (S.A.L.T.) Program designed to allow guests to immerse themselves in local culture, food and wines of the scheduled destinations. There are three distinct onboard settings: S.A.L.T Kitchen with a changing nightly menu highlighting local specialties, S.A.L.T. Lab for hands-on participatory cooking classes in a stellar atmosphere and S.A.L.T. Bar celebrating creative mixology in an Uber chic environment.
Additionally, there are specially curated shore excursions featuring local food and wine experts that provided a cultural nexus and sense of place and history where food and wine connect past to present. Anyone who knows me even marginally knows I’m no fan of cooking, but also knows I’m an extremely talented eater and a very curious traveler. The S.A.L.T. program checked off every box: inspired eating, traveling, tasting new wines – and added one I didn’t think possible – it made me love the act of creating something delectable by connecting the dots between food, culture, and travel by learning how to make local specialties of the ports visited.
One day we anchored at Syros, a tiny, hilly Cycladic Island containing just over 30-square miles with a hilltop medieval town and eye candy forever views. That afternoon wine tasting with the Silver Moon’s Godmother, fifth generation Italian winemaker Gaia Gaja, proved once again that a good Barolo or Barbaresco goes great with any cuisine easily crossing any cultural boundaries. When asked about what she learned during the pandemic, Gaja noted, “Wine is more important than I thought.” No arguments there. In the evening S.A.L.T. Kitchen prepared several delectable Syrosian dishes utilizing locally sourced ingredients including Loukanika – sausage with braised fennel and Halvadopita – almond nougat within paper thin wafers ending a perfect day of culture, cuisine and crafted experiences.
On the largest and greenest Cycladic Island of Paros, S.A.L.T.’s shore excursion brought us first to Kamarantho Organic Farm where cicadas chirped loudly from their soaring Cypress tree condominiums as we tasted fresh figs, physalis – a gooseberry and grape hybrid – and the farm’s homemade olive oils and aromatic herbs. Taste buds tingling, we drove on to Thalassamou, a secluded beachfront restaurant with idyllic turquoise vistas. Owners Anna Kouda and Marios Salmatanis passionately demonstrated preparation of mouthwatering warm-from-the-oven Spanakopita, a variety of salads and calamari and fish so fresh they were certainly swimming hours earlier. Naturally our small group devoured everything.
The Silver Moon’s S.A.L.T. Lab’s “How to Mezze” cooking experience in its state-of-the-art circular dedicated kitchen space where all participants have a workstation and bird’s eye view of the expert du jour, as well as a large, flat screen for overhead perspective, was at once enjoyable and delicious. What makes the S.A.L.T. Lab unique is that it’s not a traditional culinary school, but more of a place to learn about food and its cultural and social influences of a particular locale. In turn, this adds an intricate layer to the overall travel experience.
The mezze class certainly whet my appetite for the S.A.L.T shore excursion to the 4th century Cypriot village of Omodos and hilltop Vassiliades Vineyards. Known for Commandaria dessert wine, Vassiliades also produces fine dry whites and rosés and an outstanding 2018 dry red Geroklima using only female grapes. A traditional taverna dinner included moussaka, stuffed dolmas and finely minced pork sausages matured in Mavro, an indigenous grape varietal utilizing an old Cypriot meat preservation method.
Since neither murder, mayhem nor arson resulted from my first S.A.L.T Lab experience, I went to another one, this one on Cretan specialties. Learning how to make Dakos – a tomato, feta, ricotta, caper, and olive salad atop Grecian barley husks – and Gamopilafo – a Cretan wedding chicken and rice dish – was so inspiring that later while strolling Heraklion’s historic center, I purchased various spices, oils, and other items with the hope of recreating those dishes once home. If my own house doesn’t end up in flames in any such attempts, S.A.L.T. chef de cuisine Cyril Mougin may be nominated for a Nobel peace prize.
One of the best parts of the S.A.L.T. experience is that there are no hard and fast rules as to participation. If cooking doesn’t float your boat, S.A.L.T. Bar may provide cultural inspiration or curiosity about the next destination as bartenders stir old favorites in new ways sparked by the region.
Spacious suites on the Silver Moon start at 330-square feet, are elegantly appointed in calming hues and bedding boasts luxurious high-count sheets with several pillow options. Suites have roomy walk-in closets, bar set ups, tailored refrigerator contents, and to stay connected, ship-wide Wi-Fi and flat screen HD televisions. Marble bathrooms have separate large soaking tubs, generous enclosed showers, and Bulgari amenities.
What really sets the Silver Moon – and other Silversea ships – apart from other luxury cruise lines are its Butlers. They are attentive and dedicated without being intrusive. They also seem to possess well-honed mind-reading abilities to intuit guests’ needs. On this cruise – and I spoke to several passengers – it was apparent that despite cruising’s pandemic hiatus, the butlers’ training, commitment, and kindness never missed a single beat.
The Silver Moon also boasts a large, state-of-the-art fitness center with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing guests to become entranced by the sea. This aided immeasurably in permitting my own exercise amnesia. The Moon’s Zagara Spa’s comprehensive treatment menu was designed to foster and enhance well-being. Also available onboard are several cosmetic treatments to ward off Father Time. Enrichment lectures on food, spirits, and other topics and as well as activities allowed guests to be as engaged as much or as little as desired.
Given the safety precautions pre-boarding, onboard and on disembarkation, I felt safer on Silversea’s Silver Moon than I had felt anywhere in a very, very long time. Adding to that, Silversea’s new S.A.L.T. Program made the luxury cruise experience even better. So much so that Silversea’s Silver Moon will be in my sweet dreams for many moons to come.