Monday, March 14, 2011

Sunsets and serious conversations in Bali

Good evening from just off Bali, on board the Silver Spirit, which is the newest ship of the luxury cruise liner Silversea, my favorite cruise line for a long time now. We slowly sailed out of Bali this evening, and are now onwards to Sabah and then to Manila over a period of six leisurely days.


My day started out in Singapore, with a rather early morning call to make it to Changi International Airport to catch the 920 AM flight from Singapore to Bali. On the way, I was enjoying the sights of Sing and answering some emails in my WiFi-ed car when my Blackberry pinged. It was J, now back in Manila. He was on his way to work and now it was I who was traveling around catching planes, checking into hotels and voyaging to the middle of nowhere. “You were swiping at me again in your latest blog..” he began. I texted back: “Why do you always think I’m swiping you in my blog? Which part exactly was the swipe?”

He shot back: “You know what I’m talking about.

It was interesting how in a matter of hours, our roles were now reversed. I was the one on a voyage and he was the one at home, presumably working. But we were doing exactly what we had been doing for the past weeks – but we were on opposite sides. We were on BBM for a while, but I was the one in the car to the airport, checking in, waiting in the lounge, and boarding a plane. We only cut off when it was time for me to fly to Bali. I especially enjoyed our exchange this morning; and just before I got on my plane, he actually texted me something pretty witty. I was impressed. “You win today,” I messaged him back.


And when I reached Bali, we resumed BBM although our messaging kind of took a more serious turn -- and not by his choice, I’m sure he would stress. But he was nice enough to humor me with answers to my BBM-ed questions as I sat in a car that navigated Bali traffic on the way to my ship docked at Port Benoa. I’m sure he would have preferred to go back to work at that point; but, nope, he stayed the course till the end. Coincidentally, that particular BBM exchange ended exactly as my car pulled up to the driveway of the port building for Silversea. At least our BBMs have good timing.


Finally I reached my beautiful ship. I’m a great fan of Silversea and the guys at Silversea Asia Pacific know that I take their cruises all the time on private holidays. But I’d never been on the Silver Spirit, which is their newest and grandest ship, until today. This was the Silver Spirit's first voyage to Asia.

In a way, the Silver Spirit is just like its older sister ships. I know the older ships pretty well so I had no trouble navigating this one quickly. Even the general layout of the rooms are the same. But it’s also much bigger – almost 80% more capacity – and so it has also more restaurants and entertainment areas. I like the decor of the Silver Spirit much better as well, even if all the Silversea ships are very tastefully done. Clean lines, nice artwork, a more sophisticated atmosphere.


Perhaps the best thing about the Silver Spirit is that it has more choices of restaurants (six vs three in the older ships) and also more outdoor seating. One of my favorite places on any Silversea ship is the observation deck where people gather to take in the views as the ship sails out of port. Some of my most memorable viewing deck moments have included sailing out of the port of Odessa in the Ukraine; Venice, Croatia, Istanbul and St. Petersburg. On the Silver Spirit, there’s a large outdoor sitting area for doing this, filled with comfy Dedon furniture.

After I’d unpacked, I set about fixing my routine for the next six days. Ironically, on cruises (which are supposed to be all about free schedules and relaxation), I have a pretty firm routine that I follow everyday. Meanwhile, my days in Manila (where a routine is probably recommended) are mostly hit-and-miss affairs – long days and nights bombarded with meetings, events and appointments that often sling in at the last-minute, and so my schedule is always set but at the same time pretty fluid. Over here, where it’s just me and sea, I’m more able to have a civilized schedule.


My dedicated Silversea butler came over to introduce himself and discuss my preferences. They’re fantastic with service at Silversea, by the way, so little details like these are SOP. I asked him to clear my fridge of all the sodas and juices they normally put in, and just to stock it with San Pellegrino. Then I asked him to bring a pitcher of apple-carrot-celery juice at 830 AM and at 3 PM everyday whether I’m there or not. If I'm not in the room, it just means I'm walking about but I'll be returning soon -- I told him. Breakfast would always be a plate of fruits, honey and tea delivered to my suite at 9 AM. He took notes of everything, including my toiletries preferences. I could choose between Bulgari, Ferragamo or Neutrogena products -- or I could have all three if I wanted.


Just as I wrapped up, I noticed there was a performance of Balinese dances about to begin in the theater. I decided to go and have a look, especially as this time I’d been in Bali for all of six hours only and had seen nothing but the airport and the main city streets. I hadn't even seen much of the streets as I was busy BBM-ing with J for the most part. The Balinese dance performance was excellent – by a dance troupe that didn’t usually do the tourist track -- and it was wonderful to watch this in the ship's intimate theater.

And then it was straight up to the observation deck to watch our ship sail out of Bali with a most beautiful sunset behind it. It was a picture too beautiful and romantic to describe. We all sort of just stood behind the railings just taking in this scene. No one spoke. It was a truly perfect moment. And I have four more sunsets to look forward to before docking in Manila this weekend.

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