Embarking from Venice on the Intimate, Elegant Silver Wind

By Megan McDonald July 1, 2011

All 296 passengers on the intimate, elegant Silver Wind seemed to be on the pool deck for our sail-away from Venice on  Tuesday.  Who would want to miss what has to be one of the most dramatic departure experiences at sea?

We slowly advanced down the Giudecca Canal,  surrounded by a flotilla of water taxis, excursion boats and private yachts.  In the water, the reflections of ornate palazzos, churches and guild halls glimmered in the bright afternoon sun. Finally, we passed the heart of Venice, the soaring Campanile of St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace. In the distance, gondolas criss-crossed  the Grand Canal. Their multi-colored mooring poles looked like bobbing peppermint sticks.

I am on a 10-day cruise on the Silver Wind that will travel to Croatia, Sicily, the Amalfi coast, Rome, Corsica and Elba before we disembark in Monte Carlo.  We spent the first night of the trip docked at Venice’s San Basilio terminal, which was a quick vaporetto ride or a leisurely walk from the major sights.

After we checked in and enjoyed a buffet lunch in the ship’s Italian restaurant, La Terraza, we headed to town for an hour-long motorboat trip along the Grand Canal. Our guide was Ziggy, a 70-ish American who had lived in Venice for 22 years. She had to speak in rapid-fire style to keep pace with the centuries of history we were passing.

She recommended a restaurant off the normal tourist route.   When we got there, though, we were waved away because too many people were waiting. But when I mentioned that Ziggy had sent us, the host’s face brightened. Ten minutes later, we were seated at a table with a prime canal view.

Late June may not the optimal time for a visit to Venice. Several mega-ships were in port, and St. Mark’s Square was mobbed with sweltering tourists. But just as in Florence, the scene was far more peaceful and pleasant if you wandered just a few streets away from the crowds.  And late  at night, as we stood on the tip of a peninsula  across from St. Mark’s Square, the city was nearly deserted and had a magical moonlit glow.

 The next morning, we took a “Hidden Venice” tour from the ship, led by a terrific guide with a quick wit and a Sophia Loren voice.  We got to see neighborhoods where the Venetians who can afford the soaring rents still live and shop and send their children to school. We also visited several important churches and guild halls, including San Rocco, famed for its epic paintings by Tintoretto.

Constructed in 1995 and refurbished in 2008, The Silver Wind is one of the older and smaller ships in the Silversea  company’s six-ship fleet.  But its size, 500 feet long with nine decks, suits me perfectly. It’s cozy enough so that you can feel at home quickly,  but the cabins are large and the public rooms are handsome and welcoming, so you don’t feel claustrophobic.

The service, by an international staff that includes Europeans, Filipinos and Indians, is impeccable. In fact my only complaint is that they might be too efficient. Today at lunch, five different servers asked me if I wanted more iced tea.

The small size also allows you to get to know your fellow passengers more quickly, though there are plenty of hideouts if you want to be a hermit. My favorite is the  warmly decorated Observation Lounge on the bow on the top deck,  which offers spectacular views in a subdued atmosphere.

I don’t think I’ve ever met more nice people so quickly on any cruise. That could be because nearly sixty of the 296 passengers are from Australia, and their trademark gregariousness comes through.  British, Canadian, Austrian, Swiss and South African passengers are on board, too.  The American contingent includes a 25-member family that takes a Silversea cruise every year.

I’m going to see if they’re willing to adopt me.

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