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Luxury Cruising: Custom Travel

Luxury cruises allow for a customized experience built around ports, 14830001_2_1 cuisine, room style, or entertainment. Not interested in a floating city, we opted for Silversea cruise's all-suite small ship experience, regularly voted "the world's best small ship cruise line." Onboard the Silver Whisper, a luxury floating hotel, we learned that Silversea's advertising slogan, "Nothing Excluded," is not hype. With 350 passengers and 270 crew, our wishes were literally their command.

Silversea's all-inclusive experience spared us the inelegance of costly add-ons (except the shore tours, which we avoided anyway). Silversea's "all-inclusive promise" means that all beverages are complimentary throughout the ship, including in-suite beverage cabinets and mini-frigs that are replenished with our preferences daily (some premium wines and spirits are available at an additional charge), as well as all on-board gratuities, in-suite movies and videos, twice daily suite service, personalized stationery, personal email address, and 24-hour room service. While some cruise lines have started the tacky daily automatic gratuity and nonrefundable service charges, Silversea has not, thankfully. Of course, the proper and genteel luxury cruise traveler still tips generously at the end of the experience.

14840004 Our suites were 701 square feet -- twice the size of all but the seven largest suites (and more than half the size of my condo). Most of the suites have private verandas (of teak), and Silversea staterooms have marble bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs, walk-in closets, separate bedrooms, and two televisions. The public areas are sleek and modern with beautiful woods, tasteful textiles, and Venetian decor representative of an Italian-built, Italian-based cruise line. Such refined elegance results in a noticeable investment in glassware and mirrors, crystal and silverware, paintings and sculpture. The overall effect is that of a luxury chartered yacht.

Mornings and late afternoons on private verandas, individual 14820006 tables at all meals, no grouped dinner "seatings," quiet well-stocked libraries, a computer center, genteel parlors, staff who call you by name. I took my morning coffee in the observation deck in the stern. One late afternoon on the private veranda with a glass of wine, I saw what appeared to be a whale diving into the sea. Later storms in the distance led up to a brilliant and edgy sunset.

You will be spoiled, so savor the magic. It arrives unexpectedly.

We were invited to the Captain Angelo Corsaro's table of 8 at his formal dinner the second evening. I sat at his left. He was a charming and highly educated man who began in the 14840014_r1 business at age 15 and has during his tenure hosted world leaders aboard his ships. Corsaro explained that the customized, all-inclusive, no-tipping Silversea philosophy has created a distinctive brand of casual and un-selfconscious elegance for Silversea Cruises, a 10-year-old company with four ships competing among 200 others in the world. To be elite in the cruise ship market requires attention to the comments of passengers, and evaluation forms, for example, led to the addition of two sinks and a private toilet room in the suites' bathrooms.

You ask, they deliver. The personal butler or his/her equivalent is always nearby. Popcorn for the late TV movie? It arrives in minutes. Caviar for cocktails? But of course! A glass of wine? Nothing less than a fine Bourgogne Reserve pinot noir. A glass of champagne? The Philipponnat Royal Reserve lies chilling in the mini-frig. Laundry for tomorrow? My pleasure (and at no charge). A special treat for a special occasion? The gift basket of sweets is pure delight. Or you don't ask, and it's delivered anyway, like the special in-suite hors d'oeuvres each evening.

How is this all possible? Because luxury means business. For 10 years, every meal sent to the dining 14840011 room has been accounted for in the ship's database for cruise planning -- and has resulted, for example, in 15 kinds of chocolate in the ship's storage and just 6 bottles of $6000 wine. The same suppliers are used around the world so the frequent traveler won't notice the difference. We call ahead and request low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol meals. Separate "Cruiselite" menu offerings are presented to us daily at our table.

Is there anything they can't offer? I asked Austrian-trained Executive Chef Gerhard Egger during a galley tour. He replied emphatically. "Basically, no."