The term “wellness” has permeated most areas of our lives, promising that if only we made some lifestyle tweaks, we would unlock healthier, happier, halo-topped versions of ourselves.
And the world of travel has gone all in, with fasting-based medi-spas and silent retreats. Hotels from Los Angeles to Llandudno now serve up green juices and egg-white omelettes and chuck chia seeds on everything. But all too often this new world order feels punitive or guilt-inducing – the very antithesis of a holiday. What used to be defined as a break from the daily grind and a chance to indulge in daily pastries and an extra glass (/bottle) of wine has been reframed as a dogged self-improvement quest.
For the cruise industry, embracing the wellness behemoth is a tricky one. This is a holiday whose hallmarks are all-you-can-eat-buffets, minimal movement and jokes about packing stretchy trousers. As a fellow cruise passenger once remarked to me while loading up on a mayonnaise-dripping prawn cocktail: “If you don’t put on half a stone on a cruise then you’re not doing it right.”
Nevertheless, the last couple of years have seen an influx of yoga retreats at sea and the launch of “healthy cruise line” Blue World Voyages, whose first ship dedicates a whole deck to fitness, complete with cross-training classes and a juice bar.
Elsewhere, a big-hitter in the ultra-luxury space has taken a more nuanced approach. Silversea – the swish operator readers voted the best small-ship ocean cruise line in the 2023 Telegraph Travel Awards – has decided passengers can have their wellness cake and eat it too.
For its concept Otium – which debuted on its shimmering Silver Dawn ship last year and has been replicated on their newest ship, Silver Nova – the line has taken its lead from the Romans, and their noble commitment to leisure time. The idea encompasses both spa and fitness as well as various in-suite pampering experiences. Picture reclining on a chaise longue after a spa treatment with dark chocolate truffles, or following up a gym session with a cocktail.
In Silversea’s own words, Otium “encourages balanced indulgence, pampering, and pleasure over sacrifice and delayed gratification.” Intrigued by a more inclusive take on wellness and the implication that champagne could be framed as healthy, I took a short Mediterranean jaunt on Silver Dawn.
That Silversea is prioritising pleasure should come as no surprise, given its all-inclusive fares cover everything from private airport transfers, 24-hour dining, white-gloved butler service for your suite (the line doesn’t deal in cabins) and bottles of champagne. And apart from spa treatments, every element of Otium is also complimentary.
The centrepiece is the large spa area, which features Roman-style Doric columns, thermal experiences and a relaxation room where you can sip detox water or boozy spritzes. Taking a holistic approach, my therapist enquired about my emotional state as well as physical niggles before commencing a Roman Bliss treatment, which involved a scrub, massage and my feet being wrapped in warm slippers.
On the same deck is the gym, far superior to some five-star hotels and certainly most cruise ships, stocked with top-of-the-range Technogym machines and weight benches, all facing floor-to-ceiling windows to maximise ocean views. The TRX equipment out on the deck for al fresco resistance training was another thoughtful touch.
But Otium extends far beyond public spaces and, in typical Roman style, bathing is a key part of the experience. Guests can make the most of the generously-sized tubs in their suites – some of the largest at sea – by requesting their butler draw them a bubble bath accompanied by flickering fake candles, canapés and a soothing soundtrack of their choice.
A menu of ritzy comfort is available at any hour – think truffle and parmesan-dusted chips and mini lobster rolls topped with caviar (a dollop of caviar is never far away on a Silversea cruise). And for breakfast, no-sugar multigrain muffins or decadent cream-topped waffles can be delivered to your suite. I happily alternated between both.
Framing both foie gras burgers and pilates sessions as wellness may seem a bit of a stretch, but the concept encouraged me to be more conscious of my choices, and what was going to make me feel good in each moment. And ultimately, I did find that elusive state of balance. A morning workout at the gym made me feel “well”, as did the buttery caviar-topped spaghetti I enjoyed in my suite.
Meanwhile, the transformation of my balcony for a “hot chocolate experience”, complete with cashmere blankets, homemade marshmallows and a glug of Baileys, fostered something often overlooked in the quest for a healthier life: connection. I realised there are few things more bonding than conspiratorially ordering comfort food with your travel partner before settling down to watch repeats of Will & Grace.
I disembarked rested, revived, but not hell-bent on an ill-advised juice cleanse to undo any perceived damage as often follows some holidays. It turns out a little indulgence really can be good for you.
Emma Beaumont was a guest of Silversea (0844 251 0837; silversea.com), which offers seven-day European cruises aboard Silver Dawn from £3,850pp%n