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The Ultimate Cruise Line: Which one is it?

September 2, 2011


from: The Telegraph:…

In the calm, indigo-blue waters of the Mediterranean, two lines, Seabourn and Silversea, are locked in a battle for supremacy.

Both have relatively small ships, butler service and spas – but which is better? Adriaane Pielou joins two comparable cruises to find out. A Mediterranean cruise is the last great treat of summer, an experience to relish before the weather starts to cool.

Afloat, you can enjoy the kinds of luxuries associated with a five-star hotel. Ashore, you can explore Pompeii or Ephesus, Rome or Istanbul, knowing you will go back to a comfortable cabin where you can open the door to your verandah and fall asleep to the sound of waves, then wake to breakfast on deck in the sunshine. Get it right, and a cruise can be a winning formula.

Prices have come down in recent years, and once on board there are few extras to pay for – so unexpected expense isn’t an issue.

Knowing when to go is straightforward, too. The next six weeks are ideal, because by the end of October ships will be starting to leave for winter cruising areas in the Caribbean, Asia and South America. Otherwise, next April or May will be a good time to go. The summer is too hot for sightseeing.

Deciding where to go is simply a matter of identifying the key place you want to see – Venice, say. Itineraries tend to wrap several dull destinations around one or two stars. The big issue, then, is how to do it.

Get on the wrong ship, and you face an experience as grisly as being trapped in a downmarket resort without a hire car; by day two, you will want to hurl yourself overboard. Board the right one, and by the second day you will be hugging yourself and blathering on about the amazing value and convenience.

The trick is simply to choose a small ship. Smaller, anyway. Look for the kind of vessel that takes about 500 passengers and can moor directly alongside the quayside. The two best lines with smaller ships in the Mediterranean are Seabourn and Silversea, locked in an ongoing battle for small-ship supremacy.

So which should it be? To find out, I joined Seabourn Odysssey for one of its regular one-week cruises from Istanbul to Athens. Then, for comparison, I stepped aboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit for the Palermo-Rome segment of a round-the-world cruise.

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