Well Worth the Wait: An Emotional Return to Cruising Aboard Silver Moon

The border control booth at Athens’ Elftherios Venezelos International Airport is not exactly my idea of a place to experience a swell of emotions. I can think of many other worthy sites in this extraordinary city – the magnificent Acropolis, lively Monastiraki Square, or the endlessly charming streets of Plaka, to name just a few.

Yet it was here, following a 10-hour flight from Newark on my way to Silver Moon’s maiden voyage, that I burst into tears. As the Greek agent starts rifling through my passport (fortunately she didn’t notice the waterworks), I felt an overwhelming gratitude for being here, in this place, at this time. And for a moment the enormity of the pandemic, a crisis that has impacted the lives of every one of us in this line and beyond, just packs a powerful emotional punch. I thought back the 15 months or so, thought about what we have all been through and have survived, remembered those who didn’t make it through.

And I thought about how, for the Greek agent, this one stamp in my passport is just admitting another tourist to Greece. To me, it means freedom. Having lost it, 15 months ago, I appreciate how much freedom matters. I feel grateful.

For me – and maybe for you, too – it’s been too long since I’ve stepped away from my hometown to embark on an international journey. Travel has changed, for now. It’s more important than ever to pay attention to requirements for testing (where applicable) and forms that need to be filled out. The payoff, once we embarked on Silver Moon in Piraeus, is deeply satisfying.

Syntagma Square in Athens/Carolyn Spencer Brown

In this era of the pandemic, when borders are opening up and you must follow new rules, travel is in a state of transition. Greece is a great choice for that first back-to-cruise experience, not just because Silversea’s Silver Moon has embarked on its maiden season here, but also because restrictions are less onerous than other countries (and yet, rules change by the day in many places, so bear in mind that it is already getting easier). On our 10-day voyage, we departed from the bustling port city of Piraeus to spend ten days calling at islands both well-known – like Crete, Rhodes and Mykonos – and, excitedly, places like Patmos, Syros, and Paros, which are completely new to me.

Relearning to travel

On my way to Newark International Airport, to check in for Emirates’ once-a-day non-stop flight to Athens, I’m checking – and rechecking – my travel documents. I’ve made sure my passport is in hand of course, but I also anxiously paw through my PLF, a simple form that the Greek government requires you to fill out in order to enter the country. My Covid vaccination card, which I’ve pulled out 30 times today to make sure it’s safe, is still tucked safely into the pages of my passport. It’s my golden ticket: without it, I can’t board either an airplane or a cruise ship.

Some wonderful bits about traveling to your ship are just the same as I remembered: Two fellow passengers were checking in for the same flight. Noticing one had a Silversea tag dangling from his satchel, I struck up a conversation and – immediately – we became fast friends. Cruising does that to you. And I learned from Mary and Bill that they too were on their first big trip in a long time.

Travel is still in flux at this international airport as it is at others. Lounges are open for limited hours (Lufthansa) or closed altogether (SAS). The pizzeria in Terminal B, one of just two eateries in our terminal, has open for just its second day. It draws huge throngs it can’t manage, and closes early. And it’s crowded in this mostly long-haul terminal. People are definitely traveling internationally again.

Greece’s Hellenic Parliament at the Old Royal Palace of Athens/Carolyn Spencer Brown

Aside from being required to wear masks at all times (save for eating and drinking), our Emirates flight met its normal high standards. An entertainment system with tons of choices of movies, lovely food, an occasional cocktail and the chance to sleep was a nice way to ease into our upcoming cruise.

It wasn’t until we descended into Athens that my eyes recorded the beautiful shock of seeing an utterly different landscape than the one at home that has been my near-constant companion for 15 months. Athens’ arid mountain ranges, the bluest of skies, brightly colored flowers in shades of pink, yellow and red, the piercing sun…. I had craved a fresh perspective and here it is.

Coming Home to Silver Moon

A two-night, pre-cruise hotel stay at the Grand Hyatt Athens (other good choices are the Grand Hotel Bretagne and the Intercontinental) is an attractive place with a wonderful roof top pool, a spectacular view of the Acropolis, and a trendy restaurant. And Athens, with the amazing Acropolis following you around like a rising moon, is magical, busy and vibrant. At the hotel, you can still feel the impact of the pandemic restrictions: rooms are only cleaned upon request, the spa is open just a few hours each day, and there was still that is-it-open-today-maybe-not quality to services, from daily cleaning to its lounge bar.

I met fellow guests Mary Lyons and Bill Donovan at our U.S. airport before we departed; we stayed in touch aboard Silver Moon/Carolyn Spencer Brown

How very different it was when I rolled up to Silver Moon in an Uber. After an efficient check-in, a crew member welcomes me “home” as I ascend the gangway. Onboard, there’s the wonderful, bustling energy of embarkation day that I remember from so many great cruises. I head to the pool deck for a scrumptious lunch and the menu is so full of choices it’s tough to make one (I opted for the grilled rockfish with onion rings). Aimlessly, I wander deck-by-deck, inspecting Silver Moon, comparing and contrasting this new vessel with Silver Muse, its near sister.

The Art Cafe has moved — and it’s bigger. S.A.L.T. Lab, a dynamic cooking space and an entirely new program debuting on Silver Moon, is as glamorous as a film set, and the Observation Lounge atop the ship, a favorite place to read a book and watch the sun set and rise, looks just the same, which is the way it should be.

And here on Silver Moon, for the first time on this momentous first-big-trip, travel no longer feels strange and new. I am onboard and, indeed, it simply feels like I’ve come home again.

Carolyn is chronicling her voyage on Silversea’s Facebook page as well as here, on Discover.

Unforgettable sunrise in the Aegean Sea/Carolyn Spencer Brown