The North African country of Libya holds some of the most
spectacular ancient sites in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately,
those sites have been inaccessible to Americans for the past 20
years, thanks to the country’s rogue state status, which prompted
travel restrictions. But, just about a year ago, the U.S.
government lifted those restrictions, after Libya’s Col. Muammar
al-Qadhafi settled long outstanding issues with the U.S. and the
That’s when Silversea Cruises sprung into action. The
ultra-luxury line known for frequenting an ever-changing array of
exotic ports of call drew up plans to include Libya in its
Mediterranean itineraries as quickly as possible.
The distinction of being the first cruise ship serving the
American market to visit Libya in two decades fell on Silversea’s
Silver Cloud. The specific itinerary was a 12-day Mediterranean
passage that sailed from Port Said, Egypt, April 12. The majority
of the passengers, including myself, were interested in this
particular itinerary because of its historic visit to Libya.
Of course, the thought of being pampered in Silversea’s
inimitable style, which the line has branded “intimate Italian
cruising,” was another big incentive. The 296-passenger Silver
Cloud, with its excellent staff, superior dining facilities and
all-inclusive service, was a haven as we sailed into ports unknown
(to Americans, at least) for 20 years.
Most of the cruise passengers arrived in Egypt at least a day
early, taking advantage of Silversea’s optional pre-cruise tour
package with the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo in the Giza District. The
hotel’s airport transfer service arranged for the necessary
Egyptian visas upon our arrival. The next day, a hotel coach
escorted by armed military guards took us to Port Said, to begin
our historic journey.
The Silver Cloud reached the Libyan port of Derna on April 15. I
thought we’d be greeted with the traditional fanfare that
accompanies a ship’s first port call, but the Libyans don’t go for
that sort of thing, apparently. They will, in time, realize the
value of international tourism, and perhaps, future ships will have
a welcome banner, or a band of musicians to hail their arrival.
Immigration regulations and quirky camera fees were a tad
confusing, as well. But we took it in stride, thankful for the help
of Silversea’s patient chief purser, Manette Griffoen, to give us
One of the most unusual aspects of the Libyan visit came in the
form of alcohol policies. Libya, of course, is dry, but even in
strict Muslim countries, hotels catering to foreigners generally
can serve liquor. Not in Libya.
So, when the Silver Cloud sailed into Libyan territorial waters,
Captain Marco Sangiacomo had to temporarily suspend serving all
alcohol in the dining rooms and lounges. That didn’t prevent the
Silver Cloud’s worldly and intrepid passengers from taking bottles
into their suites and enjoying cocktails behind closed doors while
the ship was in port. It was a bit like Prohibition but without the
Charleston and flappers.
If passengers were disappointed at the lack of fanfare and the
various goofy regulations imposed by Libyan authorities, I didn’t
detect any sign of it. Almost half of them were from Europe,
Australia, Korea and Canada among other countries; the rest were
Americans. All were seasoned travelers, clearly accustomed to such
vagaries. This was a group that faithfully attended the onboard
presentations by our guest lecturer. During shore excursions,
passengers were intently interested in the archaeological wonders
before them, some taking notes as well as pictures.
This spirit of adventure, and sense of wonder was rewarded as
the first tours headed off. On Silversea’s Libya voyages, the line
offers guests a diverse selection of optional shore excursions
available for purchase. From Derna, I chose an excursion to the
tiny town of Susah. There, we made our way through the ruins of
ancient Apollonia, built by the Greeks in the 7th century B.C.
Another shore excursion went to Cyrene, founded by the Greeks in
the 6th century B.C. and now recognized as a World Heritage
Two days later, the Silver Cloud pulled into Libya’s capital
city Tripoli. A 90-minute drive from Tripoli brought us to Lepis
Magna, a spectacular Roman city and also a UNESCO World Heritage
What struck us at these awesome ruins was the fact that the
Silver Cloud passengers were almost the only visitors admiring the
triumphant arch honoring the Roman emperor Septimius Severus or the
Not only were there few other visitors but there were no hawkers
spoiling the emotional experience by pestering us to buy things.
Most of us realized that as Libya continues to open up to tourism,
these optimal conditions are certain to diminish. It won’t be like
this much longer, one of my fellow passengers remarked.
Archaeological treasures are clearly the primary reason to
venture to what has been one of the last countries previously
forbidden to adventurous American cruisers. The strong response
from Silversea’s upscale clientele is proof of this. The two
cruises that followed the April inaugural run were sold out, and
it’s easy to understand why.
It’s the journey of a lifetime, even without the brass band
greeting at the dock.
Company: Silversea Cruises
Ship: M/V Silver Cloud
Size: 16,800 tons
Capacity: 296 passengers; 148 suites
Plugging In: Staterooms have outlets for both 110-
and 200-volt appliances. There is a computer room equipped with
five PCs for Internet access.
Hits: The Silver Cloud’s extremely personable
staff offers attentive, efficient service without being the least
Misses: Bedside clocks lack luminescent dials
making it impossible to check time at night without turning on
Itinerary: Silversea Cruises will call in Libya on
four cruises in 2005. Still available this year is the Oct. 26
sailing of the Silver Wind between Monte Carlo and Port Said with
Libyan calls in Tripoli and Benghazi. In 2006, Silversea will call
in Libya on nine cruises.
Cost: $6,995-$17,395 per person, double occupancy.
An early booking incentive discount of 20 percent is offered
Commission: Starts at 10 percent