The Silversea Difference

Ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises is known for its high levels of food and service, and for including all beverages and gratuities in the fare. But what is the real difference from other lines in the day-to-day onboard experience? I recently sailed aboard Silver Shadow to find out.

Arriving at Pier 35 in San Francisco ahead of schedule, we waited to board Silver Shadow for our Alaska cruise. (We hadn't selected early embarkation, which carries a $100 charge per person.) Tickets stated boarding would be at 2 p.m., but at 1:30 our color was called and we proceeded aboard.

Silver Shadow in Haines, Alaska
Absent was the usual stop for the ‘welcome aboard' photo. The only photos taken onboard are portraits on formal nights, which can be arranged with the photographer. The digital portraits are presented on a screen, so there is no photo gallery where your pictures can be viewed by all passengers.

Not far from check-in, a smiling, white-gloved steward assisted me with my hand luggage and escorted me up the gangway to a ‘welcome aboard' glass of Philipponnat champagne. This was our first taste of the high level of service we would enjoy during the cruise. The 28,258-ton Silver Shadow, and sister ship Silver Whisper, carry an international crew of 295 and a maximum of 382 passengers – that's 1.29 passengers for each crew member at full capacity. Service is warm and friendly throughout the ship, and there is always a willingness to meet special requests. All our needs were efficiently handled by the attentive staff around the pool, in all restaurants and at designated hours in the lounges.

All accommodations aboard Silver Shadow are spacious and well-appointed, ranging from the one-room Vista Suite with picture window (287 sq. ft.) to the multi-room Grand Suites (1,286 to 1,435 sq. ft., depending on location).

The Veranda Suite is the lowest category with a balcony. It is one room with veranda measuring a total of 345 sq. ft. (including the 5-by-9 foot veranda). Apart from the enormous size, it differs from veranda staterooms on bigger ships in its many luxurious touches. The cabin's marble bathroom comes with twin sinks, separate bath and shower stall, telephone, Bulgari soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion plus a supply of cotton balls and Q-tips. It also has a walk-in closet with plenty of hanging and drawer space, a shoe rack, belt rack, full-length mirror and safe. A lounge area includes a large wall unit with desk, a well-stocked bar and mini-fridge, mirror, TV/VCR, three-seat sofa, chair, table and side tables. A separate inlaid-wood vanity has special lighting and a large make-up mirror. Beds are equipped with duvet, down pillows and crisp linens.

A pair of high-powered binoculars is provided, a welcome addition for scenic cruising. The suite also comes with personalized stationery, robes and slippers, hair dryer, clothes brush, shoe cleaner, fresh flowers and fruit. The doorbell is a nice touch (and necessary in such large staterooms). Some nights, Godiva chocolates are left on the pillows. Additional amenities for upper-level suites include valet service with complimentary laundry service and pressing, plasma TV, 3 CD stereo and afternoon canapés.

One thing missing from the stateroom was a clock -- an indication that life aboard Silversea is about getting away from it all. However, room service will send one along if you like.

The accommodations are certainly comfortable and spacious enough to relax and enjoy all day, and many Silversea passengers do come onboard to live in their suite. A video library is available, and there are several movie and TV channels. The 24-hour room service menu is extensive and service is prompt. Lunch and dinner can be ordered from the Restaurant menu and served course by course in-suite. Suites without a separate dining room have a portable table for this purpose.

Should you require anything at any time, simply call the service number. Requests are met promptly.

Le Champagne
All beverages, including bottled water, specialty coffees, champagne, wines and spirits throughout the ship are included in the Silversea fare. Not having to sign for drinks or review a price list certainly makes things simple. For pre-dinner cocktails and after dinner drinks in the lounges, waiters are readily available to take orders. Red and white wines are poured at lunch and dinner; many passengers start with the white and move on to the red with their entrée. Californian, French, Italian, Australian and New Zealand wines are included. If you want a wine not being poured that night, the sommelier will bring you a different bottle. I twice ordered Merlot in place of the evening Cabernet Sauvignon and my request was met with ease. (For a 10-day voyage, the ship has 3,500 bottles of wine onboard, with consumption averaging 300 bottles per day.)

For those who want special vintages, the reserve list features a variety of champagnes, wine, dessert wine and port from around the world ranging from $45 to $840 a bottle. There is no pressure to purchase from the reserve list when you dine in The Restaurant or the Terrace Café. Dinner in the intimate Le Champagne specialty restaurant, however, does not include complimentary wine; there is a charge for the suggested wines that accompany each course.

Silver Shadow carries a maximum of 382 passengers and has a passenger-space ratio of 74, one of the highest at sea. Lounges are never crowded, and the only line-up on our cruise was for the on-deck salmon bake luncheon – well worth the short wait. Passengers generally enjoy the camaraderie of smaller ships and dining with newfound friends. Several private cocktail parties were held by sociable passengers and the amiable maitre d' was happy to assist with arrangements and the sending of invitations.

With fewer than 400 passengers to entertain, the daily schedule is quite manageable with few overlapping activities and there is quite enough entertainment to make the sea days pass all too quickly. Bridge classes, port lectures and fitness classes are well attended. The Internet center is a busy spot on sea days, especially in the morning. The Captain and navigator lead the tour of the ship's bridge - the most informative I've attended - while the Executive Chef and Stores Manager take interested passengers on a tour of the galley and storerooms.

Just as on bigger ships, the Silver Shadow's pool area is very popular for lounging and reading in the sun or unwinding in the Jacuzzis. There's plenty for more active passengers to do with the usual jogging track, ping pong and shuffleboard available. There's also a golf net for practicing your swing. As part of the SilverLinks 365 program, a golf pro gives lessons, holds putting contests onboard and escorts excursions to courses ashore.

The Mandara spa -- with Balinese, Asian and European treatments -- books up early. In-suite massage is also available and the ship has a full service beauty salon.

Evening entertainment is quiet with not a lot of variety. Pre or post-dinner cocktail parties, stage and musical shows in the show lounge highlight the evening events. Musicians perform in other lounges, and a disco operates in the late hours. The Humidor, which features Davidoff cigars, fine cognac and port, is a popular after-dinner spot.

The small casino has roulette, blackjack and slots. Shops are also small, including a tiny Silversea boutique with high-end jewelry and a general store with local souvenirs, jewelry, clothing and a few logo items.

The lack of commercialism onboard was refreshing. There are no promotional ads delivered to your suite and no daily change of shop merchandise or sidewalk sales. In fact, the shops closed twice a day on sea days – mid-day and early evening. The absence of a photo gallery and art auction, and the lack of pressure to shop, gamble or tip results in a very carefree onboard experience.

Veranda Suite
For a 28,258-ton ship, the dining options are quite surprising aboard Silver Shadow. Passengers can select from four restaurants and cafés, or you can dine in-suite with lunch and dinner served course-by-course from the Restaurant menu. The Restaurant on Deck 4 is the main dining room where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. All meals are opening seating, so you can dine when you like, alone or with others. Seating for dinner is anytime between 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. with diners lingering long after that for conversation over dessert and liqueurs.

The Terrace Café on Deck 7 aft has a breakfast and lunch buffet but with such excellent service you don't have to leave the table if you don't want to. Breakfast items can also be ordered from the Restaurant menu so you are not limited to the buffet selections. Each evening in the Terrace, a seven-course set menu featuring cuisine from a different region is offered; reservations are required but there is no charge.

The intimate Le Champagne specialty restaurant offers a dining experience equivalent to a two-star Michelin restaurant. The set menu changes every two days. Reservations are required.

The Poolside Grille provides a casual lunch menu from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. while the lounges serve up morning coffee, mid-morning bouillon and afternoon tea.

Since its French cuisine is created in association with the renowned Relais & Chateaux–Relais Gourmands hotel and restaurant group, it is no wonder that Silversea's ships are often privately chartered for major world events like the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and the Russian President's tri-centennial celebrations in St. Petersburg. A preview lunch and dinner menu conveniently arrives in your suite each evening along with the daily program. Overall, the food was of high quality and superbly prepared; several dishes were the best I'd had at sea and only a few courses were disappointing during the cruise.

Silversea is a dressy line with three formal and four informal nights on a 10-night cruise; many passengers enjoying dressing to the nines. Those who would rather dress informally on formal nights may dine in the Terrace Café and use one designated lounge for cocktails and after-dinner drinks. You won't be permitted into the entertainment lounges and casino unless you're wearing formal attire, however. About 25 percent of passengers opt for this informal alternative on formal nights, with men donning a jacket instead of a tuxedo and women wearing pant suits instead of evening gowns.

Reflecting on my Silversea experience aboard the Silver Shadow, I realized this was the most relaxing and carefree cruise I had enjoyed in years, reminiscent of a bygone era of leisurely sea travel. The inclusive fare means you are free to relax and enjoy being pampered. And Silversea certainly knows how to pamper.


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