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Silver Dawn: What it's like sailing with your own butler around the Med

Travel News from Stuff - 20-06-2022

Let's face it. Room service the world over is often bland and forgettable. But it's something of a different story on Silver Dawn. Back on board this graceful new Silversea ship after exploring the old and steep cobbled streets of Porto, Portugal's second city, I'm keen for some R&R.

Tomorrow there's an even hillier port of call ahead of us in the form of Porto's rival Lisbon. But I'd still like to eat well. There are eight restaurants within five minutes' walk of my suite – including Italian, French and Japanese-flavoured temptations, and venues dedicated to food and drinks from the very port and region you're cruising in, part of Silversea's much-vaunted S.A.L.T. – Sea and Land Taste – enrichment programme (more on this later).

But then there's Alam, my forever tux-clad, white-gloved butler. Preferring instead to dine in my plush cotton bathrobes I simply give him a bell and, hey presto, dinner is served.

Silversea prides itself on its high-end, all-inclusive gourmet-focused cruises and on Silver Dawn, the 10th in its fleet, where all 596 passengers stay in butler-serviced ocean-view suites, it's really upped the ante in the indulgence stakes with its brand-new Otium wellness concept.

Taking inspiration from the lifestyle of the ancient Roman elite, and their lust for leisure and pleasure, Otium plays out mainly at the ship's aromatic spa – a near-800-square-metre haven where you can hit the gym, saunas and steam rooms, enjoy Champagne and chocolate and (for a fee) Mediterranean-inspired treatments – and in the suites, where butlers deliver a plethora of complimentary treats.

Between 6pm and 10.30pm, for instance, you can order delicacies from the Otium comfort food menu (think: foie gras burger, caviar-infused spaghetti pasta, and caviar and lobster brioche roll). You can also choose from the standard round-the-clock in-suite menu, perhaps prime Angus fillet de boeuf and truffle fries or sea bass and asparagus.

The butler will cover your marble-topped lounge table with a crisp white cloth and pour you a glass of, say, Sonoma Valley cabernet sauvignon or pinot gris from Burgundy.

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There's another Otium offering, "the bathing experience". This basically means asking your butler, having already sorted room service, to run you a bath. He'll add bubbles and limb-soothing Sicilian sea salts (orange blossom, fig and cedar or amber, vetiver and patchouli), illuminate the bathroom with a faux-candle, play ambient music (for me, it's classical, the kind you can imagine at a ball in Bridgerton).

He'll serve Champagne if you like (all arriving guests have a chilled bottle in their suite).

But if you'd rather freshen up without the faff you also have a vanity sink and separate shower with Bulgari products. Incidentally, most suites – including mine – are in the roomy 36-square-metre Deluxe Veranda and Superior Veranda categories, but for something larger, you might like the 98-square-metre Owner's Suites, which come with extras like king-sized beds, Illy espresso machines and Bose sound systems, and can adjoin with neighbouring suites to create additional space.

Almost everyone has a private verandah for embracing Otium's "balcony experience". Depending on the temperature, the butler will suggest cocktails and sunscreen or cashmere blankets and hot chocolate. Fancy truffle popcorn and a movie on-demand?

Watch the TV from your suite's fabric sofa or bespoke mattress, which is infused with essential oils of lemon, lavender and eucalyptus and cushioned with 400 thread-count Egyptian cotton linens crafted exclusively for Silversea by Rivolta Carmignani, a sixth-generation textile manufacturer based near Milan. I'm told I can "personalise my sleeping experience" with a pillow menu comprising down and feather blends.

After this pampering-fest, you may wish to stretch your legs on the sea breeze-tickled upper decks, hit the little casino or have a digestif at the clubby bar-lounges, where you can swap port stories and hear live music from singers, pianists or DJs in spaces that exude Silversea's "whispered luxury" aura.

Now part of the giant American-run Royal Caribbean Group, Silversea retains its Italian essence, led by president and chief executive Roberto Martinoli.

Like sister ships, Moon and Muse, Silver Dawn was built at Trieste's Fincantieri shipyard, and has an elegant interior design, more understated luxury – with a neat mix of fabrics, marbles, woods and glass – than the jaw-dropping, chandelier-strewn bling you'll see on certain upscale ships. A sober colour scheme (grey, green, white, brown and beige) is enlivened with bright contemporary paintings and objets d'art.

On deck four, you'll find the heart of the S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste) project. First introduced on Silver Moon, it promises a "deep dive" into the cuisines and cultures of wherever the ship sails, immersing guests with local ingredients, stories, anecdotes, characters and recipes. S.A.L.T. is directed by Adam Sachs, a globe-trotting New York food writer, and involves chefs, sommeliers, mixologists, producers, wine-makers and Silversea's own food anthropologist (Italian Ilaria Edoardi).

At the S.A.L.T. Kitchen restaurant, you can choose from a menu specific to the port of the day, or one from the wider region.

Silver Dawn will mostly sail in the Mediterranean from April-November before wintering in the Caribbean and Latin America, but for our shakedown voyage we're in Portuguese waters with Lisbon's rolling, technicolour skyline disappearing into the distance.

I tuck into specialities from the Portuguese capital – fried goat cheese fritters and grilled octopus – with zesty tipples from the Douro wine region. Dessert is the delightfully-named tecula mecula (a chocolate-coated almond tart from the Spanish-Portuguese border).

At S.A.L.T. Bar, you're invited to try more local wines, beers, spirits and cocktails (the Aurora is a refreshing jolt with ruby port, Aperol, orange, tonic and saffron).

At the sleek neighbouring S.A.L.T. Lab, themed small-group cooking classes are offered first-come, first-served (so book early). We learn about Portugal's obsession with codfish with chef Carolina Gomes, who shows us how to make bacalhau a bras (shredded salted cod with scrambled eggs and crispy potatoes) and meia-desfeita (a herby, garlicky blend of cod and chickpeas).

Throughout our voyage, more chefs and food critics will embark for talks and Q&As. We're charmed by the ship's godmother, the Iranian-born US food journalist and TV personality Nilou Motamed, and we discover how Portuguese gastronomy spread its tentacles across the globe with Miguel Andrade, co-author of Portugal: The Cookbook.

While all guests have a choice of complimentary shore excursions in each port, you can fork out extra for S.A.L.T. excursions. Ours sees us making (and scoffing) pasteis de nata, Portugal's iconic flaky custard tarts, under the tutelage of chef Miguel Mesquita at Lisbon's historic, revamped Mercado da Ribeira (also now known as the Time Out Market).

On other S.A.L.T. outings, you may find yourself on an organic farm in the Greek islands, lunching with a Sicilian vineyard owner near Mount Etna, or getting tips from a master pizzaiolo (pizza-maker) in Naples and Sorrento. Yet however you spend your day ashore, rest assured that once back on board, a relaxing, indulgent evening is in store. And your trusted butler will, as always, be awaiting your call.

Enjoy caffeine boosts, cookies and coffee-table books, including one charting Silver Dawn's construction with snaps by Steve McCurry, the photographer behind the famous "Afghan Girl" portrait.

This refined all-day restaurant lures guests with everything from English breakfasts and superfood salads to caviar, foie gras, prime meats and seafood.

Lunch here on sushi, sashimi and ramen. Evening – where the likes of wagyu kushiyaki and miso-glazed black cod are served – incurs a US$40 cover charge.

Dine al fresco on Neapolitan-style pizza as fellow guests pound the jogging track on deck 11, or experience lava stone cooking in the heated booths of The Grill on the pool deck below.

Share tapas-esque treats such as buttered lobster tail and moulard duck in this moodily-lit restaurant with a live jazz and blues band.

A seven-night Mediterranean cruise on Silver Dawn is priced from US$2950 (NZ$4680) a person, including dining, beverages, wi-fi, gratuities and more. There's a Barcelona to Lisbon cruise departing on November 2, 2022. You can upgrade to a door-to-door service that includes international flights and transfers. There's usually one formal night per voyage so pack evening gowns and black-tie wear. Silversea has another ship out in mid-2023: Silver Nova, carrying up to 728 guests, also boasting the S.A.L.T. and Otium programmes. See

Guidelines are subject to change, but for now all guests and crew must be fully-vaccinated (including your booster dose when eligible). You'll need a negative Covid test to embark the ship (they're free with Silversea at the cruise terminal). All crew wear masks on board and guests should do so when moving through the ship's public areas.

Check prior to travelling to stay updated on the latest travel advisories.

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