I’m sipping a Vesper martini by the pool bar somewhere near the Gulf of Finland. It’s our first day at sea, my wife is in the spa luxuriating in a seaweed body-wrap treatment and our teenage children have rushed off to make tie-dye t-shirts as part of the Youth Programme. The vast horizon is hypnotic and a curious sense of unexpected calm envelops me. There are 302 crew on board Silversea’s Silver Whisper looking after 382 guests. Complimentary Wi-Fi and laundry service for guests staying in silver suites is a big hit. Our butler soon becomes the fifth member of the family, gently organising us and packing small treats for the kids in ease of emergency on excursions.
In Helsinki the quayside market is full of souvenirs we can’t resist: local artisan jewellery and knick-knacks adorned with moose.
It’s a city easily explored on foot and the main Senate Square, with its imposing cathedral, is a 10-minute stroll from the ship (the benefit of a small vessel is that it can often dock closer to the heart of a city). We reach Tallinn, the oldest capital in northern Europe, where I quench my thirst with a local dark honey beer before tackling the ankle-wrenching cobblestones to admire the view from Toompea (the upper old town) across the city rooftops.
But it’s St Petersburg, with its gold domes of orthodox churches and neoclassical architecture, that’s my real reason for choosing this cruise. There is no need for a Russian visa if you’re going ashore on an organised tour. Trips to the Summer Palace in Peterhof and the Winter Palace are well planned. And it is especially satisfying to gain access to the Hermitage museum before it opens to the general public (the chance to see Leonardo’s lgth-century painting Madonna Litta is thrilling).
In the evening, as I dine on steak fillet with bearnaise sauce in the grill restaurant on deck (it’s so good it’s difficult not to order the same thing every night), I can see the strict geometric lines of this magnificent city, softened by twinkling lights. I discover that many of my fellow passengers are here as much for the ship as for where it is sailing.
Silversea has a loyal following: one couple on board have racked up over 1,400 days at sea with the company. Our teenage children find this fact ‘cool’ and announce they really want to cruise with Silversea again. The Youth Programme (for ages six to 16) has been liberating, with mocktail parties for them and grown-up time for us, and for once, our holiday has made us all feel a little bit less dysfunctional.