The grilled sea bass is perfection, as is the old trattoria-standby of San Danieli ham with melon - the likes of which we never taste here. The melons are so sweet and juicy they must have been picked in the local hills and never refrigerated. Salads, porcini-pasta, mussels... and of course lots of the local Frascati wine. I'd call this an end to a perfect day.

If it were not for the Rome cab drivers that is, whose main aim in life seems currently to be to rip-off tourists. Whatever is on the meter they charge double, or an arbitrary sum - then dare you not to pay it. What can you do except shrug and pay up? A small price for a lovely time in a wonderful, beautiful city.

Our ship, the Crystal Serenity, was waiting at Civitavecchia, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Rome. A towering white behemoth, and a beauty, with a cool calm, classy interior décor and none of the glitz often seen on cruise ships.
I can't praise this cruise line enough, and especially this new ship. The service was the best I've ever experienced anywhere, even in five-star hotels; the food was delicious, the accommodations superb (though small, after all it is a new ship) and the general atmosphere one of such happy relaxation, with the most charming crew, immaculate in their whites, anyone could wish for.

We had pre-publications copies of my new book, INVITATION TO PROVENCE, (to be published Sept. 2004) waiting in the cabins, along with a bottle of delicious rosé champagne. There's a story within a story about this champagne that we discovered, quite by chance, on our last trip to France. It's a great rosé, almost red in fact, from Piper Heidseck, called Rosé Sauvage. Now, again quite by chance, the "invitation" in INVITATION TO PROVENCE is to the Chateâu des Roses Sauvages - Wild Rose Château. How could I not link this delicious champagne to the equally 'delicious' Provençal Château you'll read about in my book?

There was also another generous gift waiting for our guests – a special tote bag filled with goodies from Bioelements, the best spa products in the country and used in all the good spas near you. Read much more about Bioelements on www.bioelements.com.

Of course all we women surrendered immediately into the blissful life of being pampered princesses. You couldn't even carry a cup of coffee across the room without someone hurrying to take it from you, - and ask if there was anything more they could get for you. The dining room is gorgeously decorated with elegant stemware, Cristophle silverware, beautiful dishes and different charger plates each night. There were lovely linens and white-glove service, with a sommelier on hand for your slightest need. And ladies, as you entered the dining room, a young crew member in dinner jacket and white gloves offered you his arm and escorted you to your table (with your "usual" escort lagging behind!) What fun!
There were three formal evenings which surprisingly, because we're a casual group at heart, everyone enjoyed. It was delightful to see women looking elegant in cocktail or evening dresses. Even the teenagers were lovely in pretty dresses and suits and ties.   Besides the dining room there were other "specialty" restaurants: Prego, an Italian bistro; the Sushi Bar, manned by staff trained by the famed Nobu of New York, and Matsuhisa in LA, London and Miami's South Beach, and soon, Las Vegas. For me, this was the best surprise of the cruise.

I'm not a sushi fan, but my husband Richard is. Basically I went along to keep him company, until I saw the food that is - the works of art on a plate. I have never seen food look so exquisite. Both the Sushi Bar and The Silk Road (the elegant restaurant that serves delicious Chinese and Japanese fare in quietly elegant surroundings) is supervised by Hiroshi Nakaguchi , know as Naka , the Executive Chef de Cuisine, who is a true Master and an Artist. Here are a few photos of the creations he prepared for us. It's worth taking the cruise simply to experience his, and his Nobu-trained staff's art..... and it tastes wonderful too.

As if this wasn't enough, at eleven p.m. (when we were usually to be found in the Avenue Saloon - a bar where the piano is manned by the charmer, Jeff Deutsch, playing and singing anything you ask - my current favorite of course being, As Time Goes By because it features strongly in Invitation to Provence (to be published this September in hard cover on St. Martin's Press). Read it and you'll see why the romantic song was so relevant to the story.

One of our social group is a fine drummer (ex-Beach Boys, Alice Cooper, Chicago and many others) and sometimes he would sit in, quietly playing behind Jeff, lifting the music to new heights. (he's Ross Salamone) Anyway, I was saying, that at eleven waiters came round with hors d'oevres - snacks that those who had been unable to face dinner appreciated, but made the rest of us feel faint at the thought.

 

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