On World Cruises, Exclusive Silversea Events Inspire You to Travel Deeper

Imagine touring a wine cellar hosted by the vintners in New Zealand before settling down to a bespoke dinner paired with the very best regional vintages, while being entertained by local musical stars. Or tucking into a gourmet dinner in the Old Arab Fort, the oldest building in Zanzibar dating from 1699, followed by an homage to the flamboyant music of Zanzibar’s most famous son, Freddy Mercury, and his rock band, Queen. Or enjoy an evening performance at the majestic Manaus Opera House deep in the Brazilian Amazon following a champagne and canape sendoff.

Such unique gala events await Silversea guests on the line’s Grand Voyages and World Cruises. They’re all the brainchild of Jannie Cloete, the Director of Experiences and Events. During his seven years so far with the cruise line, this creative impresario has fashioned these and dozens of other one-of-a-kind experiences that offer both exclusive access and deep immersion into a destination’s culture.

In a chat with Cloete, we learned about standout events he has planned for past voyages — including both highlights and challenges — and much more.

Jannie Cloete with Dutch soprano Amira Willighagen, winner of the 2013 edition of Holland’s Got Talent and who performed for Silversea guests in Cape Town.

What’s the most over-the-top event you’ve ever planned?

In 2020 we told the story of the tango in Argentina [when guests were transported to the 1930s with a dinner and a show at the El Zanjón, the spectacular 1830s mansion]. And on the “Train Ride to Freedom” in Cape Town, we re-did the train into something amazing, with old hat boxes to take people back in time. We went to a town called Paarl, close to the jail where Nelson Mandela stayed and was released from. We took guests inside the jail and Mandela’s personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, told the story about how she was chosen as part of his vision to unite the nation. Then we went to the cathedral at KWV [a leading wine and spirits producer] and had a meal with the Children’s Choir doing a special performance. The guests all cried.

The 2020 World Cruise kicked off with a gala event at the Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach.

Tell us about some of the most challenging events you’ve produced.

In Vietnam, we thought it would be cool to do tai chi at 6:00 am in Ho Chi Min City. But half the guests didn’t come because it was too early. Those who did it raved about it afterwards, and then the others wanted to know if we could repeat the event. But of course we couldn’t.

Another one: We did a Slum Dog Millionaire-themed event in India, but the local guides said they didn’t like the film, so their enthusiasm was curtailed because they didn’t like India being portrayed that way. We have to be more sensitive to that. So sometimes, a concept may sound great in theory, but just won’t work out.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Guests enjoy a private event in Senegal’s Goree Island during the 2019 World Cruise

I look for the unusual, for the not-available-every-day, which is important. And then I see where we can use that to tell a story of that place. The devil is in the details. Our guests notice the smallest details. People love a story.

For example, I wanted to do a dinner on Tower Bridge in London. I look for the strange things. When you search on Google, you don’t find the answer on page 1, you find the answer on page 2 or 3. You discover you can close the bridge or have a dinner on the glass walkways. I’m always looking for something unique.

In Bangkok, we did a street market and recorded the sounds of the market. We served all the food in food carts outside a restaurant, which was covered in corrugated iron and posters and graffiti.

At the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, which has the largest pool in Miami, we did a synchronized swimming event. We have this chance to do something for guests that they don’t expect.

On Robben Island [in South Africa], we got Mandela’s prison guard, Christo Brand, who became friends with Mandela. He spoke to the guests about his experience. That’s what adds the color to everything.

In Cartagena (Colombia), I’ve ended up with something completely different than originally planned. If you look at a Colombian wedding, the flowers are unbelievable. But when I saw the event space and tasted the food and saw the colors of dishes, I changed the flowers [for the dinner] to just green, because all the color was already on the table.

You have to create an experience from the moment the guests leave the ship, including in the invitation, to try to explain the story. And I made a promise that I will never repeat a special event.

Synchronized swimming event in the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida

Do guests ever share ideas and have any of them turned into an event?

When I first joined Silversea, I went on a cruise and took notice of the guest comments. I met a young lady named Penny who inspired me about things that can be enhanced. I took note of it. I had a farewell event in Sorrento four days later. When we left the ship, we had a fleet of black SUVs waiting on the pier to transport the guests and there were huge flower arrangements to add color while a quartet played. Penny came over and said to me, “This is Silversea.” We still stay in touch. When I wanted to do a Tower Bridge event, she had a great connection there. The guests offer connections, which is wonderful.

Guests wrote on my Facebook page comments like “surprised, unexpected, local.” They gave me inspiration to do even more.

How much work and management goes into planning a complicated event? Do you have staff to help?

I don’t have any staff. I’m on my own, which is not bad. I’m a visual person, so once I have an idea, it’s difficult to change. But I have free rein. I report to [Senior Vice President] Conrad Combrink, and together we have this vision and have worked together for a long time. We feed off each other.

Do you have local counterparts in ports who help execute your ideas?

I work with events companies that I trust. But I try to go to the place to make sure everything is up to scratch. I work with very good people around the world. Together, we come up with the program. Once you have somebody excited about the idea, they have ideas as well.

Is it ever difficult to get authorization to hold an event?

Yes, it is. We had to get permission in Mykonos (Greece) for music and dancing on the square for an event remembering Jackie O. If I hear the answer is “no,” that’s the first step to a “yes.” A guest told me that years ago.

What event are you most looking forward to?

In 2024 in Shanghai, we’re doing a completely immersive experience with food where we’re turning an old building into something spectacular [in which globally renowned chefs will use UV lights to prepare an avant-garde dining experience]. When you’re eating fish, you’ll see the fish being caught and prepared projected on the walls and hear waves crashing. We are using all the senses.

Setting the stage for a cultural performance in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Want to experience some of these gala events yourself? Start by checking out the Grand Voyages and World Cruises offered by Silversea.