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French Polynesian Idyll with Silversea Cruises
By Jim Mazza

Visions of crystal clear water and white powder sand danced through my mind as my wife and I arrived in Papeete, Tahiti. We were there to board Silverseas' SILVER SHADOW for a much-anticipated voyage of discovery through French Polynesia in the far-away Pacific. Far from the rustic huts with colorful paintings that made the place famous, Tahiti had morphed into a profoundly friendly, if sometimes rustic symbol of Pacific Island life. Even Faa'a International Airports design clearly resembles the Polynesian Resort in Disney World. Or is it the other way ‘round?

We had too little time in Tahiti, perhaps because we arrived at 5 a.m. in the morning (with music and drinks served at the airport I might add). Much as we wanted to relax around the InterContinental Resort Tahiti's sprawling pool and "Lagoonarium" with its signature "tiki huts" and free-form pool, a nap won out. Outside our room lay the island of Moorea, perhaps the region's best known and most popular island aside from Bora Bora. The French Polynesian Islands actually are composed of several island groups including the best known Marquesa and Society Islands, which includes Tahiti.

Service, Service, Service

That evening we boarded Silver Shadow and it could not have been easier. We simply showed our identification at the ship and we were aboard, our luggage having found itself separately to the ship. It was such a pleasure compared with the other cruise lines we have sailed; void of vast lines and security requirements that can take hours. I was floored to discover that once onboard every single crew member we came into contact with seemed to know our name. Later I discovered that they were given our photos in advance so when they greeted us it seemed to be like old friends.

This simple feat was one of many ways Silversea finds to make your stay as comfortable as possible. As this was a "smaller" ship with about 200 guests (maximum capacity is 296 guests) onboard it was also profoundly different than most ships we had sailed where often regimented, high octane daily scheduling dominated. Here peace and quiet reigned. The spirit of steamship travel of another era where conversation is treated as a source of entertainment seemed to be the rule. In fact the crew themselves were often as interesting as the passengers. By the end of the voyage practically all of the crew and a good majority of the passengers were known to us.

We checked into the Veranda Suite, which had modern décor in warm tones and with enough room to stretch out. The suite includes a balcony, floor-to-ceiling glass doors, a comfortable living room, full walk-in closets to accommodate the longer itineraries and an extremely large bathroom with a full bath and double sinks, an absolute rarity on any cruise ship sailing today. Our stewardess asked about our preferred beverages, then filled our refrigerator with sodas, a nice selection of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines as well as a bottle of designer gin. We were also given a choice of high-end toiletries. Many frequent Silversea guests have a standing order so all this is done prior to their arrival.

Cuisine of the Highest Order

To put Silver Shadow's cuisine in focus, it is important to note that Silversea has partnered with the Relais & Chateaux hotel chain to create "Relais Gourmands." Since the expectation of fine dining is often where many cruise lines fail to live up to their brochure copy, it was most exciting to see the reverse. There are three restaurants onboard. All one had to do was approach the maître d and request a table with no pre-assigned seating or reservations required. Depending upon your mood, you might sit at a table of two or four or elect to join a group of eight. The main dining room, The Restaurant, was particularly outstanding as was LaTerrazza, which serves fine Italian cuisine. If something on the menu doesn't catch your fancy, the chef will offer you other options. I craved a grilled veal chop (which was not on the menu) but they gladly obliged. The third restaurant, Le Champagne, is the only wine restaurant at sea by Relais & Chateaux. It serves 6-course meals paired with wines from a specific region. We had a choice of Bordeaux, Italy, Spain or California as well as others. There was an additional charge but we found it well worth the modest increment. With just seven tables, the service is above reproach and the selected wines perfectly enhanced the menu offerings.

Afterward, we headed for the Humidor Lounge, which served the finest imported cognacs and cordials and a wide selection of Dominican and Havana cigars. For breakfast we opted to dine in our suite where we could leisurely plan our day, watch television and enjoy our coffee. In the afternoon we enjoyed the pool and lunched at the Pool Grille, which offered waiter service. With 24-hour room service as well, dining could be at our convenience. I should also note that if you wanted to take dinner in your room, the waiters would bring it course by course and remove the dishes between courses, which is not available on any other cruise line to my knowledge. During the day there were regionally specific lectures by a noted geographer and cooking lessons from a chef fresh from the Viking Cooking School.

Out and About

Another excursion took us to the very remote island of Nuku Hiva in the Marqueses, where one season of Survivor was filmed. The only hint of civilization was a bank and a small flea market for tourists where I picked up an authentic hand-carved tikiman. It was an original indigenous tribe that managed the market. I was fascinated by their tattooed faces. We headed north and stopped at Hilo, the big volcanic island of Hawaii and after that Honolulu on the island of Oahu. We were fortunate enough to have a beachfront roomat the Westin Moana Surfrider. This hotel is on the renowned rescent shaped Waikiki Beach with a great view of Diamond Head. Once again we lazed on another white sand beach and later paraded by the designer stores on Main Street in front of the hotel.

Ferragamo, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Armani and other famous names contrasted sharply with the remote reaches of the Pacific islands we had just visited. We finished our journey with a stay at the renovated Ritz-Carlton Kapalua for a couple of nights. This elegant resort was the perfect way to cap off a sumptuous and rewarding experience. As we looked out on the Pacific night we were busy planning our next Silversea adventure.


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