Sometimes twice is just not enough. This is the way I felt after my third cruise on the marvelous luxury ship the Silversea Cruises' Silver Spirit. I sailed from South America to Acapulco on the 540-guest cruise ship soon after her launch in 2009. The second cruise was to the Canary Islands, Morocco, and Madeira. This third voyage was between Athens and Venice, with ports of call in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Each Silver Spirit cruise had many memorable moments and ports of call, and the exceptional staff topped off the amazing overall cruise experience.
The rest of this article provides a day-by-day log of our voyage on the Silver Spirit, with details of the shore excursions on this port-intensive cruise, along with the ship's onboard activities and cuisine.
Silver Spirit Day 1 - Athens
Our Silversea Silver Spirit cruise embarked in Piraeus, which is the main cruise ship port for Athens. I took my own advice, and my friend Claire and I went a day early to allow for any possible delays or lost baggage. Fortunately, there weren't any. Don't you always love seeing your checked suitcase come around the baggage carousel? I do.
Silversea Cruises had its guests on pre-cruise extensions stay at the Athens Intercontinental Hotel, which is 2-3 miles from the downtown historic area. It's a lovely hotel, and they have a free shuttle to Syntagma Square. However, it's still a little inconvenient compared to other hotels nearer the central downtown area.
Our taxi was waiting at the airport, and we were in our room by early afternoon. After a short nap, we took the shuttle into town and walked to the National Archaeological Museum (not the same as the Acropolis Museum) and stayed almost three hours exploring the different rooms. It is a huge museum, and always something new to see or something old that you forget you have seen. I almost forgot to show Claire the lovely atrium, which was one of her favorite areas of the museum.
Leaving the museum about 6:30, we ate an outdoor dinner in one of the restaurants in the Psiri area near Monastiraki Square. We split a Greek salad and an order of souvlaki.
We decided to walk back to the hotel since the last shuttle was at 7:40 and we were later than that. The street was dark but packed with traffic, so we never felt threatened, but we were glad when we finally got to the hotel about 9:15 pm. The hotel's Concierge Lounge had amazing views of the Acropolis, so we enjoyed a glass of wine from the balcony before going to bed. Many of our fellow Silversea guests were staying at the Intercontinental, so we had fun at the lounge identifying them.
Boarding the Silver Spirit
Claire and I had breakfast in the lounge before heading to downtown on the 11 o'clock shuttle bus. We had a transfer to the cruise ship at 1 pm, so used the morning to take a little walk around the market and were back at the hotel and on the bus at the appointed time. Two buses took Silver Spirit guests to the cruise ship terminal in Piraeus.
Boarding was a piece of cake. Our luxurious cabin was #1102, a 742-square-foot Silver Suite on deck 11 right next to the forward Observation Lounge. We loved this location since it was like having a large sitting room with indoor and outdoor forward views just 25 steps away. The suite also had a huge private balcony with dining table/chairs/two chaise lounges, walk-in closet with three doors, separate dining/living room/bedroom, split bath with toilet and sink in one room, and tub with two sinks, and shower in the other. All the accommodations on the Silver Spirit have butler service and 24-hour room service.
After dropping off our carry-on bags in the suite, we had a nice outdoor lunch at the buffet. Drank a little dry rose wine and had a big salad. The October weather was spectacular and I think everyone on the ship was happy to have arrived and get settled in. After lunch, we walked around the ship and toured the lovely, relaxing spa. I'm sure that many guests took advantage of the rejuvenating thermal suite the first couple of days on the ship to work out the kinks from traveling.
The bags were in the room after lunch, so we unpacked and cleaned up for the mandatory life boat drill and dinner. Our butler (who we adored) stopped by to introduce himself, ask if we needed help unpacking, and took our requests for drinks to put in the refrigerator.
Our first night was a quiet one. Dinner in The Restaurant was as good as I remembered. I ate the beef tartar, prawn consomme soup, and lamb leg. Claire had the seafood ceviche, duck salad, and scallops.
In the early evening, the Silver Spirit sailed for our first port of call, Santorini.
Silver Spirit Day 2 - Santorini
We were up before 8 am to see the island as the Silver Spirit sailed into Santorini, one of the world's most spectacular islands. We dallied over breakfast and let all the tour groups go ahead of us, not going into town until about 10:30 am. The ship had four shore excursion, and all of them sounded good, but we decided to just go on our own since we had both visited the island before.
Claire and I took the water shuttle to the port, waited about 15 minutes and rode the cable car up to the top of the cliff. We were delighted to see only 3 other ships in port--all bigger than ours.
We walked around Santorini's capital Fira a bit before taking the local public bus (1.80 euros) to Oia, the tiny town at the far northern end of the island. Oia wasn't nearly as hot as when we visited in August of last year. (Still hot, but tolerable). We thought about walking down to the beach in Oia, but it was way too far--good decision. Instead, we walked around the town, browsed in many of the shops, and rode the bus back to Fira (another 1.80 euros).
The line was way too long for the cable car, so Claire and I decided to walk back down since neither of us had done that before. I think once might be enough for me--too much donkey poo, donkeys, and steps for me. It was scenic, and I was surprised to see so many people walking on the trail. We all had to dodge each other and the donkeys. Those visitors going uphill looked exhausted, and many of those riding on the donkeys looked terrified. The donkey ride and the cable car are both 5 euros, so I'd recommend the cable car unless the line is ridiculously long. I've heard the donkey ride down is even more terrifying that the one up the side of the cliff since the donkeys tend to go faster.
We didn't get back to the ship until after 3:30, missing the lunch options, so we ordered room service and ate out on our balcony. This was a wonderful idea. We sat in the shade, split some spring rolls and a hamburger, and gazed at the island of Santorini. Since we had a late lunch, we skipped the afternoon tea, which is always a favorite of my sweet tooth.
The Silver Spirit sailed for our second port of call, the Greek island of Rhodes, at 6 pm. We didn't get to sit at one of Santorini's top places to watch the sunset, but it was a good one from the cruise ship, too.
We went to the welcome aboard party (it was formal night) at 7 pm at The Bar, where we sat with a nice Australian couple we had met the first night in the Observation Bar near our suite. This was their first cruise, so it was especially interesting to hear their opinions.
Had dinner in The Restaurant--this time at a big table for 8. Two women friends from New Jersey, two more from Ohio (mother and daughter), and a married couple from Texas, who recently moved to Nevada. It was a fun evening, the food delicious, and the portion sizes just perfect. Claire and I both had the green apple/blue swimmer crab appetizer (very good), for the next course I had the mushroom soup and Claire had a grilled veggie salad, and I had grilled Maine lobster and Claire had the "fish of the day" (sea bream) for our main courses.
After dinner, we all went to the premiere of a new production group (three male, three female singers/dancers) who had gotten on the ship with us in Piraeus. The show was dedicated to the British musicians of the 1960's--definitely targeted to the ship's biggest demographic. Everyone sang along to every song (as we were told to).
We were asleep before midnight since we had a tour the next day in Rhodes.
Silver Spirit Day 3 - Rhodes
Our first Silver Spirit organized shore excursion was on Rhodes, another great Greek island. This was a short driving/walking tour of Rhodes town, followed by a cooking school. It didn't start until 10 am, so we ate breakfast outdoors at the buffet before heading out. The cruise ship's port staff had four other excursions on Rhodes, all which included time in the highlight of the island, the old walled town near where we were docked. Two also visited the charming town of Lindos, which has a fascinating acropolis.
Met the eight other people on the cooking tour on the pier--all were couples, and I think a couple of the men had never done anything in the kitchen. It was more fun to watch them than to make our own dishes. Our menu was a Greek salad, moussaka, and beef meatballs. Good, but way too much food. They had prepped everything, so we just mixed it up. Wished they had provided the recipes and that we had cooked smaller proportions, but a nice meal. Before arriving at the restaurant where the cooking took place, we did a driving tour around the old town and walked to the restaurant, arriving a little after 11:30.
After the lunch, Claire and I decided to walk off the meal since we were both stuffed. The October day was unseasonably warm, but not as hot as Santorini had been. We strolled along the harbor to where two large deer (stag and doe) stand on pillars at either side of a narrow opening to the harbor. They mark the spot where the famous Colossus of Rhodes statue once stood centuries ago. It was the 100+-foot statue of a giant man who straddled the harbor entrance and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The copper statue fell into the harbor during a giant earthquake and its remains were removed by pirates, so none of the original statue remains.
The two deer now on the pedestals are honored on Rhodes. According to our guide, Rhodes was once overrun with snakes. Deer were brought to the island to kill the snakes with their hooves, which they did. Ever since then, they have been a symbol of the island of Rhodes. (Neither Claire nor I believe that deer would kill snakes, but the story sounded good.)
We got a good walk in before returning to the ship about 3:00. Claire put on her swimsuit and napped by the pool for an hour or so; I got the photos from the cameras and put on to the computer. She brought a gin and tonic (for me) and a vodka tonic (for her) back to the cabin around 4:30, and we sat outside on our wonderful balcony and enjoyed the drinks.
At 6:30, we met new cruise friends for drinks and then dinner at 7:30 in The Grill, where they have the "hot rocks" dinners. We all got the 6 oz fillet and one giant prawn to grill, along with salad, baked potato, etc. It was a fun time and we were the last to leave the restaurant, missing the show.
The Silver Spirit sailed for Aghios Nikolaos on the Greek island of Crete at 6 pm.
Silver Spirit Day 5 - Aghios Nikolaos on the Greek Island of Crete
It was another beautiful day on the Silver Spirit as we docked at Crete's third largest city, Aghios Nikolaos, early in the morning. Since we had an early morning tour, we had our butler, deliver a nice room service breakfast in our suite, complete with table cloth, cloth napkins, etc. I loved getting spoiled by him, but I sure don't get the same service from my butler (husband) back home.
Most cruise ships visiting Crete stopover at the island's largest city Heraklion, which is just a few miles from Crete's most famous archaeological site, Knossos. Aghios Nikolaos (also spelled Agios Nikolaos) is about an hour's drive east from Heraklion. All of Crete's main cities are on the north shore of Greece's largest island. I've been to Knossos several times from ships docked in Heraklion, so Claire agreed to go with me to the island of Spinalonga near Aghios Nikolaos, which is famous for its huge Venetian fortress and for its use as a Greek leper colony from 1904 to 1957. Many British residents and some television fans will remember the award-winning book, "The Island" written by British author Victoria Hislop. The book was made into a 26-episode Greek TV series called "To Nisi", which translates as "The Island". The 2010 TV series is available on YouTube.
Silversea also had two other tours -- one to Knossos and the other to the Lassithi Plateau on Crete.
Everyone in our group enjoyed the tour very much. We left the Silver Spirit at 8:30 for the short drive to the tiny beach town of Elounda, where we took a small boat to Spinalonga. It was only a 20-minute ride and was quite pleasant in the morning. Our group of about 20 people was the first group to arrive for the day. We had a good guide and loved having the island all to ourselves. She explained Spinalonga's history, which goes back hundreds of years.
After the island lost some of its military importance in the late 19th century, Greece decided to make it a home for lepers. Like some parts of the world, Greece had an abnormally high rate of this disease, and many speculate that it flourishes in warm weather. Greece is warm, but also had many visitors from the Middle and the Far East who may have brought the disease. During the 50+ years the island was open, about 1000 lepers called Spinalonga home. The island had homes, a medical facility, shops, and a cemetery. It was a nice community for these people who were often outcasts in the "normal" world. Their families were only allowed to visit infrequently, and they could have no physical contact with their stricken loved ones. When family visitors both arrived and left the island, they were disinfected. Many of the structures on Spinalonga still remain, but the city has the feel of a ghost town. The cemetery when many of those stricken with leprosy are buried adds to the eerie ambiance.
During World War II, Germany took over all of Greece except for Spinalonga. They did keep a watchful eye on the island but did not base any soldiers there. By 1953, treatments were available for leprosy (Hansen's disease), and Greece moved the few remaining lepers at Spinalonga to a hospital near Athens.
We took the boat back to Elounda and had about 45 minutes of free time to shop, wander around, or have a drink. Back in Aghios Nikolaos, we walked around with the guide for a bit and found it to be a very charming town, clean and with many shops and restaurants. Our guide took us to the Greek cathedral located on the main square before she turned us loose to wander back to the ship for lunch.
Claire and I ate outside at the buffet, which we loved. It was usually cool (if you can find a table in the shade) and breezy. The salads were excellent, and Claire fell in love with the egg tarts at the buffet--she tried the asparagus, ratatouille, and ham/cheese one. They were a very light egg custard, but not sweet. Look like a quiche, but much lighter. I thought they were okay, but Claire had one at every lunch. I've been eating different things, but usually get ice cream or sorbet for dessert. (The sangria sorbet was particularly nice.)
The Silver Spirit departed from Crete at 3 pm and sailed northeast for Katakolon. That afternoon, I worked on photos and the journal while Claire sunned by the pool. After we sailed, she moved up to our balcony and had a great snooze on the chaise lounge.
We had dinner in The Restaurant with a couple we had met a few days earlier. Claire and I both had the avocado ceviche as an appetizer and loved it. The ceviche was avocado, grated lime and lime juice, shallots, capers, garlic, salsa, and olive oil. Kind of like very chunky guacamole. I also had a salad and the grilled fillet of sole, which was tasty.
After dinner, we went to the second show with the Silver Spirit production show. It was set in the Paradise Lounge, a fictitious bar in NYC. Their musical arrangements of some well-known songs were very good.
We were at sea the next morning and arrived at Katakolon, the port nearest to Olympia, at noon.
Silver Spirit Day 6 - Ancient Olympia
The Silver Spirit guests had a delightful morning at sea, arriving in Katakolon at about noon. Claire and I slept in, skipped breakfast, and went to a cooking demonstration (a crab appetizer and a chicken dish) by a guest chef who has several restaurants in the Chicago area. At the same time as the cooking demonstration, a guest lecturer spoke on "The Making and Unmaking of Yugoslavia". Luckily this lecture was also shown on our in-suite television later since we couldn't be two places at once. After the demo, we ate an early lunch since we had a 12:30 excursion.
Anyone who loves the Olympics should visit Katakolon, which is the closest port of call to the ancient archaeological site of Olympia, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Claire and I booked a tour to see the Olympic site and go to a nearby winery. Most of the guests on the Silver Spirit seemed to also be on a tour to see the ancient Olympic venue, but ours was a delightfully small group of less than 20.
Claire and I (and our group) got very lucky and had another excellent guide. Silversea does a good job of screening their tourist services and local guides, because they were all terrific. This woman was relatively young, well-spoken, and funny without being slapstick.
The Olympics were first held at this site in 776 BC and continued until 393 AD. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the Olympia site was covered by several feet of mud due to a flood, and the site was abandoned. German archaeologists began excavating at Olympia in the 19th century, and used ancient maps and details of the site to determine what they were uncovering. The site is basically divided into three parts--the training and administrative area (Olympic Village), religious area, and competition area, which is mostly the stadium, since they didn't have as many events as we do now. We wandered around the site and our guide pointed out some of the "highlights" like the training area (and old bathroom) of the wrestlers, the temples of Zeus and Hera, the carved remains of a statue of one of the winners, and the area around the stadium. Since 1936, they've used a small area next to Hera's temple to light the Olympic flame with a piece of glass and the sun's rays and send it to the host country to parade throughout their country and promote the games.
Claire and I walked (but didn't run) the length of the field at the Olympic stadium. It's 600 of Hercules' steps, measured step-to-step with his 12.5 size shoe. That translates to about 630 feet, which was adopted as a standard measurement by the Greeks, i.e. 1 stadium equals 600 steps. Near the stadium, we also saw the pedestals for many missing statues--each winner got a statue and anyone caught cheating (e.g. throwing a race or bribing another contestant) also got a statue on the walk of shame that named him and his family and they all had to live with the shame forever. We also learned that all of the athletes were men and they competed naked. Any woman trying to attend the games was thrown from a cliff to die. It makes me giggle just to picture 45,000 men in the stands watching hundred of nude men run, jump, and throw things. This ancient Olympic stadium was used by Greece for the 2004 Olympics for the woman shot putters. Nice to know that women finally were able to compete on this sacred ground.
After a couple of hours at the Olympics site, we moved onto the nearby family-owned Olympia Land Estate winery, which was opened in 2009. It started as a raisin farm three generations ago, but has transformed to a grape-growing winery. The grapes had already been picked for this year and the company has white, red, rose, and sweet wines. They were okay, but not worth bringing home. We did enjoy some snacks with the wine, and Claire enjoyed the giant olives. The young woman guide was enthusiastic and charming. Claire and I were a little disappointed when they served the men in our group grappa and the women a sweet dessert wine.
Back on the bus, we returned to the Silver Spirit in time for a relaxing time on our balcony before getting ready to go for cocktails and dinner. We had dinner in Seishin, the Silver Spirit's Asian restaurant. They have 2 tasting menus of 4 courses ($20 per person) and a degustation menu of nine courses ($40 per person). We couldn't begin to eat all on the big menu, so both opted for tasting menu #1, which was excellent. A British couple sitting next to us who had arrived before us had the degustation menu, and I couldn't believe the amount of food they were served. They were constantly brought more and more food. Even with right-sized portions, it would be too much for most of us.
The tasting menu dinner began with an amuse of a citrus sorbet topped with caviar. The first course was about 10 pieces of assorted sushi and sashimi, which was marvelous. The second course was a "waterpaper roll of spider crab", which was a mayonnaise-laden crab salad wrapped in a coral-colored rice paper. The third course was prawn and vegetable tempura, which featured 2 giant prawns, a stick of asparagus, a piece of cauliflower, some potatoes, and a "tree" of brown noodles fried in the tempura batter. Dessert was a green tea sorbet, which we both agreed was an ice cream. Much better than it sounds, and it came with a thin sliver of dark chocolate about 8 inches long. Very good.
The evening show was the first of two operatic performances by four young singers from the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala, a two-year school that prepares and nourishes young singers. They performed a selection of operatic selections dealing with love, jealousy, and revenge--all common opera themes.
Our next port of call was Argostoli, Kefalonia (also spelled Cephalonia).
Silver Spirit Day 7 - Kefalonia
Our great October weather (65-80 degrees and sunny) continued as the Silver Spirit stopped over at our first port of call in the Ionian Sea. Kefalonia (also spelled Cephalonia) is the largest of the seven major Greek islands in the Ionian Sea that divides Italy from Greece. Like the area around Katakolon, olive trees and large green trees (some evergreen) and bushy shrubs dot most of the Kefalonia landscape. It's definitely greener and has more rain than Mykonos, Crete, and Santorini. The island is covered with tall mountains (the tallest is 5900+ feet), with many limestone cliffs dropping into the sea. Riding a bus along the northwest coast was as spectacular as the Amalfi coast of Italy, except there are only a few tiny towns. We were particularly amazed to see small evergreen trees (about 8 feet tall) growing into the steep cliffs of Kefalonia dropping almost straight into the sea. I've never seen anything other than bushes growing on 90 degree cliffs!
Argostoli, which is Kefalonia's largest town, looks much different than the towns in the Greek islands of the Aegean. The homes are not white with blue trim, but are painted in pastel colors of pink, pale blue, yellow, and salmon. Tile roofs are used since the area gets more rain. These islands were not occupied by the Ottomans for hundreds of years like the islands of the Aegean, but were occupied by the Italians. Many Kefalonian towns have buildings that look like those in Italy, but not Argostoli. A major earthquake destroyed all of Argostoli in 1953 and about 75 percent of the residents never rebuilt but left the island for other places in Greece and the rest of the world. Those who stayed rebuilt in a more modern style, but kept the pastel tones.
After our room service breakfast, Claire and I had a half day tour at 8:45 entitled "Natural Wonders of Kefalonia". It included a driving tour from Argostoli east across the very mountainous island to visit the Drogarati Cave, followed by 45 minutes in the small east coast town of Sami (where the 2001 Nicolas Cage/Penelope Cruz movie, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" was filmed, and then going into the Melissani Cave Lake by boat. Our tour would end by taking a longer scenic route back along the western coast.
The bus driver deserved a medal for driving our big coach slowly across the mountains on a road filled with switchbacks. We saw many olive trees growing in a fertile valley with fruit trees. Although it was only about a 15-mile drive, it took us over 45 minutes to reach the Drogarati Cave. It was kind of weird that they were not even open. Since we are outside the high season, we've seen some shops closed, but never a tourist site! Guess the ticket-taker slept in on a Saturday morning, so the guides for the two tour buses there called him. Guess this was a good example of the laid-back attitude of the tourist-dependent Greek isles.
The cave was fairly interesting, although we had to negotiate about 200 steps down and around and back up out of the cave, and they were sometimes slippery since water that was forming the stalactites also dripped on the walkway/stairs.
The quaint town of Sami was also quiet when we arrived about 10:30 or so, but the guide gave us about 45 minutes free time to walk around and explore the shops and cafes that were open. We watched a large car ferry load up and head to the mainland and some local fisherman working on their nets (with cats watching them intently).
Soon it was time to drive the 10 minutes to the Melissani Lake, which is a cave whose roof fell in during an earthquake thousands of years ago. The open roof and cave walls allows the crystal blue water to really shimmer. With the brilliant sunshine, we could easily see the bottom, which was about 120 feet deep. Small boats with one boatman paddled us around the lake and up under one ledge, which was very dark. Years ago a scientist put some type of dye in a spring near Argostoli, which was about 12 miles away (as the crow flies). The spring water flowed underground across the island, taking about 13 days to reach Melissani Lake.
We left Melissani Lake about noon and drove for a photo stop at a tall cliff overlooking Myrtos Beach, one of Kefalonia's most beautiful. As noted earlier, the drive back to the ship along the western coastline was unforgettable.
Back at the ship about 1:30, we ate a leisurely buffet lunch outdoors on the aft deck and then Claire went to sit outside by the pool while I did my usual photos and journaling. She was back indoors by 4:30, so we cracked open a bottle of Tiki Sauvignon Blanc wine from New Zealand and sat outside watching the lovely island scenery.
We had reservations at The Grill and loved it as much as the first time. We saw some people there we knew, but didn't dine with them. At 10 pm, we saw the third production show, which was very entertaining.
Back to the room by 11 pm, Claire played one of the 365 free movies available on our in-suite television. I thought I'd go to sleep, but got absorbed in it. By the time it was over, it was 1 am, and we had our alarm set for 6:30 am. We were glad we had scheduled room service breakfast with our butler at 7 am. We'd be arriving at Corfu, our second Greek Ionian island, early the next morning.
Silver Spirit Day 8 - Corfu
We saw our first rain of the cruise the next afternoon on the island of Corfu. Fortunately, Claire and I had booked an early morning tour to see the Achilleon Palace, drive to a lovely viewpoint called Kanoni, and then have a short walking tour and free time in old Corfu town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We got back to the Silver Spirit only about five minutes before the rain set in.
After we ate the room service breakfast the butler delivered and set up, our bus left at 8:30 and we drove through the town, noting it had more Italian influence in its colors and architecture, much like Kefalonia. We saw lots of pastel homes with tile roofs.
None of us could believe how narrow the winding road was leading up into the hills overlooking the sea where Sisi's Achilleion Palace was located. Our guide told us she was guiding a bus one day when the driver slowed down and put his arm out the window like he was making a left turn signal. Suddenly she saw an arm come out of a building's window holding a cup--turned out it was his house and his wife was giving him coffee. Those are narrow streets! We saw numerous buildings that had been scraped by buses. She also said that the hilly area with great views of the sea was once Corfu's "high rent" district. However, nowadays the rich want to live on the beachfront and no one wants to live with all the bus traffic of tourists going to see the palace.
Sisi is the nickname of Elisabeth who was the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. She married her first cousin Franz Joseph when she was barely 16. (She lived from 1838 to 1898.) Franz Joseph's mother wanted him to marry Elizabeth's older sister, but he spurned her and chose Elisabeth. Can you imagine being married at 16 to your first cousin and getting a mother-in-law who was also your aunt? Elizabeth quickly had three children, but grew tired of Vienna, so she began traveling. On a trip to Corfu, she fell in love with the island and decided to spend part of each year there. Her health greatly improved when she left Vienna (and her husband) behind. Apparently she was also anorexic and always wore an iron corset to keep her waist no more than 55 cm (21 inches). Sisi spent little or no time in Vienna after her first few years of marriage. She did have a fourth child, and many suspect it might not have been the Emperor's.
This palace is in the Greek style and is named Achilleion in honor of the Greek God Achilles, whom Sisi greatly admired. It was built in only two years (1889-1891), but Sisi had admired the piece of land for many years before she convinced the owners to sell. While waiting for the owners to sell her the 60 hectares, Sisi planned the palace she wanted to build and began buying furniture, art, and draperies, etc. All this pre-planning allowed the fast construction.
The palace was much less ornate and much smaller than many I have visited, but the grounds were lovely, and Sisi's story is such a good one. (They always talk about her in Vienna also. She didn't allow any photos or paintings after she turned 30--quite a vain woman.) The Palace definitely looks like something out of ancient Greece, with many statues and Greek art.
We were the first tour group of the day, so we didn't have to wait. The small palace sometimes (when a lot of ships are in port) has 7000 visitors in one day! Since Sisi was assassinated in Geneva by an Italian anarchist in 1898 and the palace was sold, none of the furnishings currently in the house were hers. Apparently, during the late 1800's she was as popular as Jackie Kennedy or Princess Diana, and her husband the emperor complained that Sisi got more attention and adoration than he did. She was a fashion and design trend setter and along with her tiny waist, she had very long, thick hair that weighed almost 10 pounds.
Sisi's iron corset contributed to her death. The crazy anarchist stabbed her in the side between the stays of her corset. She barely bled on the outside since the corset served as a tourniquet for her waist. She was probably in pain much of the time when the corset was on, so she didn't complain of feeling pain. However, she was bleeding internally and died. Claire and I swore off ever wearing a corset.
Sisi's youngest daughter inherited the palace, but she sold it in 1907 to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. The Palace was used as a hospital in World War I. After Germany lost World War I, Greece got the palace as part of the Treaty of Versailles since they were on the winning side. During World War II, the Italian and German forces used it as military headquarters, but it was returned to the Greeks after the war. The palace sat empty until 1962 when a private company leased it and transformed it into Greece's first casino. (It was seen in one of the James Bond movies that featured a casino) In 1983, Greek Tourism took over the management and it has been a museum most of the time since then.
Leaving the Achilleion Palace, we drove to a lookout point called Kanoni. This promontory overlooks a small island in the Ionian called Mouse Island. It also overlooks the Corfu airport, which has a VERY short runway. People go and sit at cafes on the point to watch the airplanes go in and out.
We finally made it to old town Corfu about 11:30 or so. Our guide did a short walking tour with us and then we had about an hour's free time before the bus took us back to the ship. It was about a 45 minute to an hour walk back to the pier, and Claire and I debated about walking, but the weather looked very dark and threatening, so we took the bus.
Back to the ship about 1:30, and it was pouring rain by 1:35. We were in the suite dropping off our stuff to go eat by the pool when the storm hit. Luckily we moved the pads on the balcony furniture inside, or they would have been drenched. The dining area near the pool is covered, so we were still able to eat outside and we were protected from most of the wind. We both had sliders for lunch.
We had a lazy afternoon, and went for drinks at about 6:15, followed by dinner in the Italian specialty restaurant La Terrazza, at 7:00. Both of us loved our dinners--beef carpaccio, pasta (I had pesto and Claire had a creamy sauce), veal (for me) and fish (for Claire). All was washed down with delicious white and red wine. We couldn't get motivated to go to the second performance of the opera singers, so went back to the cabin and watched a movie before going to sleep.
Our last port of call was Dubrovnik.
Silver Spirit Day 9 - Dubrovnik
The next morning, the Silver Spirit anchored off the marvelous medieval walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. I've been several times, but it was Claire's first visit. For me, it's a city that is always fun to explore. As with this entire trip, the October weather was wonderful--sunny and in the mid-70s.
The Silver Spirit had several shore excursions in Dubrovnik including a tour of the old city, an opportunity to explore the Croatian countryside, ie kayaking around the old city.
Since Claire and I weren't doing a tour, we ate a late breakfast outdoors at the buffet and waited until about 10 am to go ashore (giving those on tour first chance at taking the tenders). The Silver Spirit was anchored in the harbor and we rode the tender ashore. Many cruise ships dock at the pier outside the town, but it's too far for guests to walk to the old town, so they use a bus shuttle. The tender holds more people, but it's about the same amount of time.
Our first order of business was to do what every able-bodied visitor does on his/her first visit to Dubrovnik--we walked the wall encircling the entire old section of the city. It costs 120 Croatian kuna (about $10), but is well worth it. The entire walk is over a mile (3500 steps on my fitbit), but a lot of it is up and down--27 flights of stairs. However, the views of the city from the wall are amazing, with light colored stucco buildings and red-tiled roofs. It is especially interesting since much of the old city was destroyed during the Serbia-Croatia war of the late 1980's and early 1990's. Opposing forces took the mountain overlooking the city and lobbed bombs down on the old city. Most of it has been rebuilt, with new red tiles supplied by a factory in France and paid for mostly by UNESCO (Dubrovnik is a World Heritage Site).
The top of the wall has two entrances--one near the main gate and the other near the harbor gate on the opposite side of town. Most visitors enter through the main gate so they go up on the wall there. Sometimes in the summer, the line can be quite long. We entered the wall near the harbor gate and there was no line at all. Walkers are told to walk counter clockwise to cut down on crowding. Most people do the entire wall, but you can exit at either end if you only want to do half-a-lap.
After our walk and making a few hundred photos, we walked down and spent some time exploring the city, buying and mailing post cards, and having a Croatian beer. Instead of eating in town, we went back to the ship and ate by the swimming pool. Still outdoors and a lot cheaper. The ship sailed for Venice at 6 pm.
Our new friends from Melbourne, Australia, had invited us to dinner at La Terrazza, so we returned there for the second night in a row. Of course, before dinner, we met them in The Bar for a drink--Claire with her dirty vodka martini and me with my Silver Spirit martini. It was a fun dinner, and we were the last to leave the dining room.
Sadly, our voyage was coming to an end. The Silver Spirit would sail into Venice the next afternoon.
Silver Spirit Day 10 - Venice
The next morning, the Silver Spirit was at sea, and guests had time to go to exercise classes, attend educational lectures on the "Rise and Fall of Venice" and the "Fall Season's Jewish Holy Days", or just relax and enjoy our last full day on the cruise ship.
At about 2:30, the ship approached Venice, and we had a live commentary from an expert on the city. Sailing into Venice on a cruise ship is something everyone should experience. You can see the city from a small vaparetto, but a ship provides a different look at this unique city. Plus, guests get to see the entire lagoon and islands other than Venice.
We docked in Venice about 4 pm, and my friend Claire and I walked into the city, mostly following the crowds and the infrequent directional signs to St. Mark's Square. We managed to browse in a few shops, people watch, and just be amazed by this city as much as ever. I always forget its uniqueness, but it quickly comes back as soon as I wonder down the first narrow walkway along a canal.
Silversea had a free shuttle between the cruise ship pier and St. Mark's, so we rode back to the ship, even though we had walked into the city. We enjoyed one last dinner at The Grill and lingered although we knew that cruise was almost over. We returned to the suite, packed our suitcases, and readied for the flight back home the next day. As always, my expectations for a Silversea cruise ship were very high, and always those expectations (and more) were delivered.
Final Thoughts on the Silver Spirit
As amazing as the ports of call on this Silversea Silver Spirit cruise were, many of the things I'll remember most relate to this wonderful ship and her crew. What great service, food, drink, and fellowship with new friends we enjoyed on this voyage. However, as seen in the photo above, one of my best memories is sitting on our balcony most nights at sunset and enjoying a glass of wine with my long-time friend of over 50 years.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.