Wendell is late with our orchid. This is very un-Wendell-like. From the moment we meet, Wendell has been the most punctual, helpful, courteous, friendly, well-dressed butler I've had the pleasure to know. The fact he is also the first butler I've have known should not diminish our gratitude or affection. The orchid is just one of the things Wendell delivers to our suite every day. Nothing seems too much trouble for Wendell and he specialises in saying "no problem, sir" and "before I shine your shoes, would you like me to put your Monopole Heidsieck champagne on ice so it will be chilled when you get out of the bath I'm running for you?"
Wendell is our butler aboard this port-free run from Darwin to Cairns on Silver Muse (everyone gets a butler on this suite-only ship), and if you like your cruising with a molto serving of la dolce vita, this is the ship for you. From the hot, strong morning espresso to the amaretto at the end of another perfect evening, classy Italian and continental touches are the icing sugar on the panforte of this luxury cruise ship. One evening, we hear a stirring classical piano recital by Australian virtuoso Krzysztof Malek, and the next day we learn how to cook tournedos Rossini on pommes paillasson with truffle sauce Perigourdine and a dessert of jasmine creme brulee from executive chef Jerome Foussier. And every day Captain Marco Sangiacomo tells us about the weather and our geographic position in an accent that could melt gelato.
All this pampering just makes you want more. More coffee, more fine dining, more exquisite cocktails and liqueurs. More cruising, more music, more massages, more fabulous. More Wendell.
And right there on the walls throughout the ship, there is the more, for all to see. Video screens all over Silver Muse display the positions of all the Silversea Cruises ships, whetting appetites for future trips. Today, elsewhere on the planet, Silver Cloud is entering Antarctica, Silver Spirit is heading for Martinique, Silver Shadow is in the South China Sea and Silver Galapagos is looking for huge tortoises, swimming iguanas and blue-footed boobies.
The Lefebvre d'Ovidio family of Rome founded and built up the luxury cruise line and recently sold two-thirds of its stake to Royal Caribbean International. More importantly for cruisers, it also means Royal Caribbean will be able to refurbish the entire Silversea fleet, which it has promised to do without changing the identity. They plan to bring all Silversea ships up to the standard of the flagship Silver Muse, which came into service in April 2017.
Our balcony stateroom/suite is large and bright. A walk-in wardrobe thrills my wife and the double TVs, set within large mirrors, does the same for our 14-year-old son. The bathroom features a decent-sized bath, shower and Bulgari accoutrements.
Even though this is still a sizeable ship (40,000 tonnes and 11 decks), the passenger-to-staff ratio is about 1.5:1, with a maximum of 600 passengers and a staff of around 400, all of whom want to do nice things for you and bring you things, and many of whom seem to wear white gloves while doing it. This is a cruise ship with uncrowded walkways and decks, and no queueing or waiting around for coffee, lifts, drinks, meals or your butler. (Wendell averages about two minutes to produce a bucket of ice for the daily champagne, with a PB of 70 seconds.)
Tranquillity reigns throughout the ship. A sort of Pax Silversea they like to call "whispered luxury". Wherever you turn there are fresh flowers to enjoy, especially if you are still waiting for your suite orchid, as well as original, gallery-worthy artworks and sculptures. Everywhere is quiet and peaceful but especially hushed is Tor's Observation Library on deck 11, with its stately furniture and 270-degree views. The music around the Tiffany-blue pool is chilled, rather than the reggae or rock band you might find entertaining you on larger cruise ships. Drinks waiters appear as if on a video loop – and you don't just have a gin and tonic, you have a Tanqueray and tonic. There are a few children on board and they seem to be enjoying themselves but this is really a grown-ups' cruise.
And so, to dinner. The evening dress code aboard Silver Muse consists of formal, informal and casual. To give you some idea of what to pack, "informal" means jackets must be worn but ties are optional. A tiara or top hat would not be out of place on formal nights. The ship has eight restaurants, rather than a main dining room, as well as 24-hour in-suite dining, and there is enough variety to satisfy most gastronomes. Think Indochine for spicy Asian, Atlantide for grilled goodies, Spaccanapoli for pizza, La Terrazza for Italian, NYC-style jazz club Silver Note for tapas and The Grill beside the pool for a cook-it-yourself-at-your-table lava stone barbecue on flat rocks heated to 400 degrees, bibs provided. Kaiseki slices up elaborate Japanese cuisine, which is complimentary for lunch and $US60 a head for dinner.
The culinary highlight is the French restaurant La Dame by Relais & Chateaux (US$60 a head). Despite the paucity of francophones among the mostly Filipino staff, the widely appealing menu speaks for itself and this cloche-covered Gallic treat is magnifique from the caviar and foie gras with poached pear to the Grand Marnier souffle. Breakfast in La Terrazza is lavish – al fresco or inside – with a buffet as well as a la carte and made-to-order options. Badalucco Liguria extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar are the basic condiments. Daily specials include a chorizo burrito one day and spring rolls and mini pancakes the next. There are daily fruit smoothie specials, too. A waiter, casually attired this morning in a tie and waistcoat ensemble, insists I not have to carry my own plate from the buffet to my table. Freed from this onerous chore, I am free to consider the omelette options.
Cultural, destination, historic, literary and food and wine enrichment lectures and demonstrations are offered daily. Today, guest lecturer Laurel Corona tells the assembly about Captain Cook in a lecture named for a partial quote from the great navigator – "As far as I think it possible for man to go" – and music expert Amy Rubin takes us through traditional Indonesian gamelan.
If the stress gets too much (spoiler: it doesn't), you can always pamper yourself with a treatment at Zagara Spa, which also has full salon services and a fitness centre, or relax with the captains – and retired captains – of industry over a cognac and upmarket stogie in the Connoisseurs' Corner cigar lounge.
Silver Muse still offers a few cruising staples, such as trivia, bingo, dance classes, putting, shuffleboard and karaoke, but not many ships offer a complimentary diamond-cleaning service as well.
Mal Chenu travelled as a guest of Silversea Cruises.
Silversea Cruises' itineraries take in all seven continents and your chosen destination will, to an extent, determine your ship. Silver Muse will return to Australian waters in the summer of 2019-20.