The first grand ocean liner to make a big spa splash was Adriatic, in 1907, from the White Star Line. At the time, she was arguably the world’s most modern and luxurious ship—the very first to be outfitted with a Turkish bath and indoor swimming pool. The Turkish bath suite came complete with a plunge bath, three electric baths (yikes!), massage “couches” and hot, temperate, and cooling rooms. But, of course, all these amenities were available to only a select few up on top in first class—and there was always the nagging fear that the real steamy fun was going on below decks.
Then, about 28 years ago, the cruise line Silversea democratized the sea-going luxury lifestyle by launching Silver Cloud, the first all-inclusive total luxury liner. This was FOMO no more. Now Silversea is introducing a new concept to raise the luxury cruise ship spa bar even higher. Given the opportunity this past September to experience a test run on a cruise from Athens, I emerged from my Covid cave and practically shouted, “Count me in!”
The new wellness concept is called Otium, a word from ancient Rome mixing pleasure and leisure that SilverSea interprets as the “Original Art of Comfort.”
What first came to mind my first evening aboard is that Otium is the shipboard version of Spa: Salus Per Aquam, Health from Water. Sitting alone ten stories above the Aegean at sunset, I felt small, as one does in the midst of awe. Later that evening, however, I stepped into my large jetted tub that had been especially prepared with custom bath salts. I had a glass of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé and a good book, and I rapidly expanded again. Immersed in my bespoke bathing experience, I felt the master of my element.
Gradually, I realized what Otium really is: a twist on classic mindfulness. In classic mindfulness, you clear your mind to experience the present. While that can be difficult, frustrating, and hard on the knees, being present is said to lead to indescribable bliss. Otium, however, is taking no chances. Instead, you are given the present so you experience describable bliss. That present may be your perfect choice of pillow, your own aromatic massage oil, and a well-timed cashmere wrap, to name but a few—not to mention the 24/7 in-suite Otium comfort food menu (think Truffle Fries, Foie Gras Burgers, and Caviar and Lobster Rolls).
Of course, being present to all these presents can create tough choices when the Silversea definition of wellness is, “What makes me happy now?” But that’s where an ocean cruise really sinks in. All you really have to do is stand at the rail and breathe—and take another sip of Champagne.
The new wellness concept is called Otium, a word from ancient Rome mixing pleasure and leisure that Silversea interprets as the “Original Art of Comfort.”
Just as bubbles and caviar are constantly available to keep mind and body intimately connected to the best of the sea, the foods are chosen for the specific earthly pleasures of the ports visited. That can mean literally going ashore for a special meal at Vezené, “Santorini’s hottest table with a view.” But it also means an exquisite dining experience at the shipboard restaurant, S.A.L.T. Kitchen—the first large-scale regional restaurant aboard a luxury ship. These are virtual feasts in which local farm-to-table experiences are re-created for each location without any effort on your part at all.
S.A.L.T., an acronym for Sea & Land Taste, is a foodie’s dream come true. With a mission to connect travelers to the places they’re visiting through the food and drink of each culture, S.A.L.T. is three-pronged; in addition to S.A.L.T. Kitchen, there’s S.A.L.T. Lab, a gleaming contemporary space where culinary demos and classes take place; and S.A.L.T. Bar, a chic, dark niche where I enjoyed a Symposia Spritz—an effervescent aperitif concocted with prosecco, Tsipouro Sigalas (a traditional Greek distillate), olive brine, fresh lemon, and topped off, naturally, with a Greek olive. It hit the spot.
Our weeklong cruise stopped at five islands, but the most significant for me was the island of Nafplio, home of the famed Temple of Asclepios at Epidaurus—perhaps the world’s most famous healing retreat. The majority of my fellow travelers stayed aboard, but the temple was on my personal bucket list. Here, pilgrims once came from around the known world and shed everything to enter a temple filled with serpents—snakes that now adorn the rod of Asclepius, our symbol of modern medicine. As I walked among the ruins, I felt truly transported—one of the happiest moments of my life. It felt as if I could see the original healing center—one of the world’s very first known spas—amidst the rubble. I felt inexplicably at home—and what got me there was Otium.
The first fully realized Otium cruise is scheduled for the maiden voyage of the new Silverseas SilverDawn this Spring.
Mary Bemis is Founder & Editorial Director of InsidersGuidetoSpas.com. She is a pioneering spa journalist, most recently honored as one of the "Top 30 Influential Voices Transforming Wellness." She is an inaugural recipient of Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and was honored by ISPA with its distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She is a Global Wellness Day Advisor, and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.
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