Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Group. First-time Cruisers. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, South America, The Orient
Good for: Seniors. Group. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Luxury Travelers. Overall Service. Foodies.
Regions:Caribbean, Eastern Seaboard, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. First-time Cruisers. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Antarctica, Arctic Circle
Good for: Disabled Travelers. Seniors. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Africa, Mediterranean, The Orient
Good for: Group. Overall Service. Disabled Travelers.
My cruising experience has been a pattern of progression. My first it was a weekend Bahamas cruise on Royal Carribean. After watching the belly flop contest I learned about Celebrity's promised "more upscale experience." It was then Millennium, followed by an Azamara to Silversea.
My lady friend and I found a great 7 day Caribbean bargain and decided to see if the "all inclusive" experience was worth all the hype. I'll make this simple. Silversea, down to the slightest detail up to the top is a marvelous experience. Onboard Silversea Silver Spirit even the simplest quick lunch is first-rate. Speaking of dining its consistently at the 4.5 - 5 star level in terms of quality -the entire experience. The "suite" staterooms are just as luxurious as the cruise line claims; marble sinks, tubs, and flooring; impeccable bed and bedding; and the stateroomâ€™s amenities.
Spirit is their "larger" ship but not even close to a mass market sized. You'll see the same staff rotating around from serving and tending position each day. Service is very personable as youâ€™ll get to know the same crew youâ€™ll see every day. The entertainment was varied and done well butwith a ship this size it was obviously limited compared to a mega ship. If numerous entertainment venues are an important option for your cruising experience you'd be on the wrong cruise line.
The greatest distinction of all inclusive cruising is the wondrous absence and silence of the "chit chase". I must confess I enjoy my libations during cruising. It is comforting to not have the round trip chit delivery with the beaming face with pen in hand. Not to mention the solace of very little sticker shock of the "settlement statement" at the end of the cruise, and the tip collection at the end as well -all that mostly gone. Itâ€™s very nice.
Service is also an important expectation and cruising pleasure for me. For example I would be dozing on an outdoor cushioned round rattan chair. As soon as my eye lids parted I'd have an ice water with lemon in front of me -instantly if not telepathically. In short Silversea indubitably lives up to its touted claims of elegance, quality and impeccable service.
But there is one aspect about our Spirit experience I want to convey: the clientele aboard this ship. My girlfriend and I found a 7 day bargain â€“if you could call it that. Generally we would not cruise a cruise line like this. We are both doing well and for the most part were able to â€œfit inâ€. We had fun. But make no mistake; most the cruisers we met and got to know are very well made people. On any given evening the ladies were wearing $5,000-$15,000 worth of stones and many of them wouldnâ€™t have any problem adding that much to their jewelry box in one day either. The men were probably lower key on the self-stature posturing. But their wives wouldnâ€™t let you forget that at times when they were together. These are CEOs, large business owners, and government affiliated types a tad above city councilman. Personally I respect success, am politically and geographically knowledgeable so I had some interesting conversations while sitting at the bars. But after 5 or so days I felt like I was at the country club in the VIP lounge with the same people daily. Also keep in mind that people of this standing may not be jolly social butter flies or closing down the dance floor â€“if the ship even offers it. Picture a senior director for the IRS with an advanced degree in finance and you get the gist. But I donâ€™t necessarily want to be on a mass market cruise with kids running around everywhere and parties flying until 6AM either. After several days I found, at times, I was having more fulfilling conversations with a couple of the bartenders.
Spirit is Silverseaâ€™s larger ship thatâ€™s trying to bring a wider variety of ages aboard. But most were 50 . I am told their smaller ships have a higher ratio of older cruisers aboard them. Their ships are also suitable for the solo traveler that wants to be left alone with a book but showered in exceptional service and fine dining. All being said if an unforgettable luxurious cruising experience is what you yearn for you will not be disappointed by any of their ships.
I have cruised many times, but do not enjoy the "Bigger is Better" theme personified by most of the cruise companies. I saw an ad for huge reductions on Silver Seas last March and we took advantage of the 75% reduction.
The cruise was an amazing experience. The Silver Spirit is their newest ship,(2009) and holds 500 passengers and 375 crew. It is advertised as 6* and does live up to its promise. We booked the least expensive suite,(the Vista) on deck 2. This cabin does not have a veranda, as 90% of the cabins do.
We were contacted one week before the cruise to see if we wanted an"'upgrade"- for $1000.00 more.
AS a former travel agent, I was not familiar with this practice, as to me and upgrade is just that, the passenger is upgraded at no further cost.
Upon arrival at the pier, we had been upgraded to the 8th deck and were situated right beside the Owner's Suite. Our cabin did not have a balcony, but on this ship, it was not an issue, as the pool deck was so close, on deck 9.
There were a couple onglitches on this ship. Our shore excursion in Montenegro was extremely poor and quite dangerous. We did bring this to the attention of customer service and were redounded our money.
The decor of this ship was a bit disappointing. The colours to me appeared dated, very 70's looking and the art was not interesting.
However, everything else was amazing. The food was delicious(except beside the pool) and the crew was wonderful. As we had a $500.00 onboard credit, we enjoyed some amazing wine suggested by the charming sommelier, Carl and shopped in the small boutique.
The evening entertainment here was superlative. Angela and Woody, in the lovely Stars lounge serenaded us to everything from Cole Porter to Stevie Wonder and were the highlight of this amazing cruise.
Personalized attention from our butler, Acula was much appreciated.
Silverseas is a class act. We met the most amazing passengers from all over the world. I cannot wait to take another Silverseas cruise.
SILVER CLOUD CRUISE REPORT
JANUARY 7-16 2012 From Fort Lauderdale to San Juan We arrived in Fort Lauderdale on January 6th and spent the night at the Hampton Inn Fort Lauderdale Airport North 2301 SW 12th. the Manager David Blevins was actually driving a transportation van to pick us up. The hotel also furnishes transportation to the port. The service and food at this hotel was very good. The hotel furnished transportation to some restaurants within a mile of the hotel. We ate at the old Heidelberg German Restaurant that was very good. We boarded the Silver Cloud around 12 noon without incident and hardly any wait being entertained by the local energetic people working the port. They were very hospitable. The Silver Cloud was built in Italy in 1994 by Mariotti and refurbished in 2001. She looked remarkably in good condition for her age. The 16, 800 GRT ship has a capacity for 296 passengers that are carried in superb luxury. She is 514 ft long and a 70 ft beam. She has 4 restaurants one pool and four elevators. One never seems to have to wait very long for anelevator to traverse her 6 decks and no long waits in line at the buffet.
We had two days at sea and then on January 10, stopped at Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda British Virgin Islands. Columbus discovered the islands in 1493 an archipelago consisting of some 60 small islets and rocky outcrops of which Tortola and Virgin Gorda are the largest ones. The British took over in the 17th century and still retain control to this day as a Crown Colony. The B.V.I have a governor who is appointed by the Queen. This was a tender stop and we took a ships sponsored tour in an open air safari type truck that took us up to Gorda Peak and we had several beautiful view stops on this wonderful day. We then descended down to Gun Creek where we disembarked to get on a motor boat to tour around the Dog islands named by Christopher Columbus. We had a view of Necker Island owned by Sir Robert Branson. The main house burned down just before his daughter was to be married, but they put up a tent and had the wedding. BTW you can spend some time on the island for $50,000/p/day. HA. We motored around Moskito island to the Baths just sightseeing. We returned to Spanish town where we browsed the shops and sat at a table to eat a snack and have a drink while we watched people come and go. Jan noticed two young guys that seemed to be getting supplies. Their dingy had Satori written on it. Copy and paste the link. We did not see where the Yacht was. http://www.superyachts.com/news/heesen-yachts-launch-motor-yacht-satori-1105.htm
Wednesday January 11 we arrived at Marigot Bay St.Martin and used the tenders to go ashore. This is a much better stop for St.Martin than at Phillipsburg where competition with the larger ships can be difficult. We just spent time in Marigot having decided not to go to Orient Beach on this visit. Jan did not want to risk walking in the sand with her leg splint on the stress fracture of the tibia. I did climb to the top of Fort Lewis using several rest stops and did the round trip in about 45 minutes. Jan limped around in her leg splint and did not let it slow down her shopping. Marigot is on the French side of the Island and has a more genteel ambience for some fashionable shopping and continental flair. Ships drop anchor off shore and ferry passengers to Marina Royale in the middle of Marigot where you can walk to any of the downtown shops. There were many stalls set up along the wharf with various goods to sell. St Martin remains a part of the European Union.
Thursday January 12, we stopped at St.John's Antigua where I did a Segway tour. Jan had decided not to do it since it was over uneven surfaces and she already had a broken leg. Jan rode in the chase car and took some video. I had done three previous Segway tours, but fell off on this one. No serious damage to machine or passenger. I was kind of standing looking for a parking place when I ended up on the ground. Not sure what actually happened. I should have just dismounted as soon as I got to the area where we were to stop. Antigua is an island of beaches with 365 of them all open to the public. We had previously visited Antigua spending a week and done the Nelson's Dockyard thing, and Shirley Heights for a sunset and BBQ. We had visited the Devil's bridge natural rock formation where slaves were reported to jump to their deaths when their lives became unbearable. This trip after bringing Jan back to the ship, I just hired a cab and rode out to Dickenson bay to see how nice it was and yearned to visit the Sandals again. Same old story. If you are on the ship you want to be ashore and if you are ashore you want to be on the ship.
Friday January 13, we were in Castries, St. Lucia. We used Cosol tours and Yellowbird, Cosol's brother gave us a very good tour for $65/person. He took us all over the island through fishing villages, and then to Jalousie Beach arriving by water taxi since the Jalousie property controls all the other accesses to the beach, but cannot prevent people from coming on the beach from the sea. This beach was between the famous Pitons of St.Lucia. We had beer and Rum punch in our travelling portable bar and several snacks. We visited the Botanical Gardens and later had some Hot bread and cheese. We stopped at a local store for samples of spiced rum and of course buying a few bottles along with some Banana Catsup. They make many things in the Caribbean with bananas. I think this was the day the news broke about the sinking of the Costa ship and Friday the 13th turned out to be an unlucky day for those involved. St. Lucia has suffered through the years from Hurricanes I think the latest was Thomas that brought 1/2 a mountain down on a family of 5.
Saturday January 14, we were in Roseau, Dominica where we met Levi Baron of bumping tours who took us around the Island and we did the Aerial tram right through the forest being below the canopy most of the time . Since 75% of Dominica is a rain forest we thought an Aerial tram through it for 70 minutes would be a good idea. This is also where one can do the Zip line over Breakfast River Gorge. I did walk across the bridge across the gorge, and it was pretty stable. This Aerial Tram through a Rain forest is one of only two available in the Caribbean area. The other is in Costa Rica. I think St.Kitts has a Zip line tour. The roads in Dominica are improving since our last visit, but it takes a driver that knows where all the pot holes are to give a good ride. Levi is well worth any fees. On a previous trip we had used Bumping tours with my family so we were familiar with Levi Baron. We were able to bring Levi and his wife aboard the Silver Cloud for a visit. I have not been able to do this on other ships.
Sunday January 15 we stopped in Basseterre, St.Kitts where we met Royston a 38 year old very young looking gentleman that gave us a great tour around what I think may be the most beautiful of the Caribbean Islands. The views he showed us were magnificent and we didn't have to walk. We went up to Brimstone Hill and Royston would drive and position the vehicle so that I could look out the window and take pictures without getting out. We even drove along the water's edge and actually into the water so he could demonstrate how hard the black sand was and we did not get stuck in just an ordinary two wheel drive van. When he took off on a side road later, climbing at about a 40 deg angle, Jan took a deep breath, but Royston knew what he was doing and he went up the top of the mountain like a mountain goat to where the water tank was and gave us a magnificent view of the beautiful Marriott Hotel on St.Kitts and of the Caribbean sea and shore line.
We arrived in San Juan on January 16th and had cancelled the previously arranged Segway tour. This is where we had done our first Segway tour and had planned to repeat it since we enjoyed it so much last time. Since we survived the Antigua Segway without too much damage we just went to the airport after a wonderful in suite breakfast of Eggs Benedict and Cappuccino. Our flight back was just tiring but uneventful. The food on the Silver Cloud is the best and the service is impeccable. Jan says that this butler was the best we have had. Women seem to know these things. Breakfast in the suite was always on time and hot. Lunches were excellent and were as good as they looked. The dinners were wonderful and fixed to perfection. We never stood in a line for food except at the galley lunch when everyone showed up. This was not a long line and seemed to move very fast. At any other time no lines. We ate under the stars by the pool with a sit down dinner. This required reservations because of the limited tables but was one of the best eating experiences we have had. Of course all beverages are complimentary and in room drinks are also supplied. The entertainment aboard was excellent and after their show the entertainers would carry the show into the main bar dance floor and get everyone jumping and dancing. Who says Carnival is the party ship. The short time us older folks could last was a blast. Unfortunately if my Eagle is going to fly the next day, my Owl has to stop hooting at a decent hour.
When I boarded I had to wait 30 minutes to enter my stateroom as it wasn't ready for me. On disembarking I was to fly Delta 0133 at 11.20 am from Athens. The Guest Relations Officer insisted I use the chartered bus at 8.45 am (which didn't leave until 9.00am). There was a massive traffic jam and the result was I missed the Delta flight. There was nobody from Delta or SSeas to help except they told SSea (but not me) they had made a flight and hotel booking for the next day as an excuse for not paying the air ticket I had to purchase to fly home. First class cruise line?????
Report on Silver Whisper Cruise October 14-24, 2010 New York City to Barbados We flew to New York City and spent two nights pre-cruise and finally used the time to visit the Intrepid Museum. We spent five hours there and were really tired after, but it was well worth the effort.
SILVER WHISPER CRUISE SHIP.
October 14, we boarded the Silver Whisper about 12 noon in spite of the suggested time of 3:00 PM. Our Luggage was in our cabin and we had lunch. We explored the ship and found it to be in great shape. The Silver Whisper is one of the Silversea (an Italian Company) ships. Registry is in the Bahamas. The builder was Mariotti, and it was built in Italy completed on July 2, 2001. The ship's capacity is 382 with a crew of 295. The ship has a gross tonnage of 28,258 and an average speed of 21 knots. It is 610 feet long, 81 feet wide, has 7 passenger decks and 194 outside rooms. It supports four restaurants and has five elevators. It seems like I did not ever have to wait on an elevator over20 seconds.
We had cabin 828 selected by my travel agent and it turned out to be a great choice. Deck 8 has the pool deck and a bar that is open 9:00 AM until. It was 20 steps from our room. If you are a pool person this is the deck to be on. The one elevator amidships seemed to be adequate on this ship. There were four aft in the areas that had more activity and the area to disembark the ship. We never waited very long for an elevator on this ship anywhere. It was easy to get to deck 10 by elevator and get some coffee in the observation lounge. Of course there was excellent room service which my wife used everyday for coffee. We did not do the in room dining since it was much more fun to be in one of the dining areas. Deck 4 aft was the main dining area and if you were on deck 5 you were close to reception and only one down to dining. The Casino and the Grappa Bar (opened late) were on deck 5 along with the shops. This is an all inclusive cruise and I found the drinks to be very adequate serving the best liquor. I did find however that the wine was poor choice for me, but that could be because I like cheaper wines. I did not like the wine aboard. The specialty restaurant (le Champagne) aboard was not good for us, but it could have been because we picked the wrong night. Each night has a fixed menu in several courses. The wine and champagne served were just not to my taste.
The service was the best that I have had after 41 cruises. The food was as good as on any other ship I have been on and better than most. The wait times for special cooked eggs was nothing and you did not have to wait at the cooking station. You just told the cook what you wanted and he fixed it the way you liked it and had it delivered to your table. We always ate in the le Terraza restaurant which was the buffet style. The buffet was never crowded. It was like the buffet was there just for you. The main restaurant was reported to be a little slower for breakfast. The service certainly could not have been any better. One special main restaurant buffet style “Galley Brunch” was spectacular and held in the main dining room. They laid out the food in the kitchen so you got a tour of the kitchen while you went through a beautiful display of food which was very tasty also. The shrimp made a magnificent part of the display and I had shrimp every day.
The night of the first day of cruising was quite a roll. As they say the ship will move. My wife and I both took a scopace tablet (scopolamine) and went to bed. We found that laying crossways in the queen size bed was better than laying length wise and we faired the night quite well. The next day we had a much better weather and the rest of the cruise was quite smooth.
Our first port of call was BERMUDA and we were supposed to stop at St.George. The captain decided that the wind was too high to get through the narrow passage to the harbor of St. George and we docked at the British Naval Dockyard. We had pre-arranged a taxi for St. George and he met us at the Naval Dockyard and we toured the entire island so we got to St. George and Hamilton in addition to the Dockyard. Colin Jennings our taxi driver gave a three hour tour for $40/hr for the four of us. He said that a basic home in Bermuda cost one million dollars. Bermudians paid no income tax, but import taxes were high and this was passed on to the consumer.
Bermuda is an archipelago of islands connected by causeways and bridges. There about 22,000 square miles and have a population of 65,000. Bermuda has very strict immigration laws. Visitors cannot rent a car and can only go on their own using the mopeds. The largest business in Bermuda is the re-insurance business in which insurance companies insure other insurance companies. They pay no income tax so it is beneficial for them to do business here. Bermuda doesn't produce anything for export but does grow a few fruits, but not enough to export. We spent the night in Bermuda and the next day (Sunday) we toured around the Naval Dockyard area which was not that much to see and do, but nice shopping areas and we ate a very nice meal at the Bone fish Grill.
We had two days of smooth sailing to San Juan and played our Joker Poker game with friends and boys beat girls 9 games to 5.
Arriving at SAN JUAN I had pre arranged a Segwey tour. None of us had ever been on a Segway before and we got our instructions and found it to be very easy to do. We thoroughly enjoyed our two hour tour out to Fort Morro and it beat walking. They don't have that many Segways so it seemed best to pre-arranged this tour for the four of us. It worked out to $90/p for the two hours, but a 10% tip was given because of the expert treatment we received. I would definitely recommend this tour www.segwaytouyspr.com My wife and I found a very nice P.R restaurant behind the Sheraton Hotel for an authentic Puerto Rican meal. San Juan is a great city to visit, and I would recommend that one stay in old town to enjoy the full effect of the culture.
The port of Gustavia, St. Barts was cancelled because of flooding there and we substituted ST.MARTEN (SXM). We however anchored in Marigot bay and tendered in rather than go to Phillipsburg dock and tangle with the Soltice and its traffic. We went to Orient Beach and spent the day at KAKAO restaurant area. Round trip $12/p. We then did some local shopping in Marigot before catching the tender back aboard. We stayed in St. Martin until 12 midnight because we had a wonderful barbecue around the pool aboard ship and being stationary we didn't have to contend with wind around the pool We couldn't have found better entertainment anywhere in St. Marten. We had a Latino show put on by the dancers around the pool with a manufactured stage using a backdrop.
Our next port was ST.JOHN'S ANTIGUA. Having been there several times in the past years we hired a taxi for a ride to Devil's bridge and the long bay area. We also had a look at Dickenson bay since we heard there had been some damage, but it looked to be in good shape. We past by to check on the Blue Waters hotel which was in good repair. There is a new Sandals on Dickenson bay right next to the old one. Apparently both are still functioning. Sandals on Dickenson Bay in Antigua would be a very nice place to spend a week. The Royal Antiguan a property on Deep Bay, that we had spent a week in 1994 had gone into some disrepair. The old Jaws restaurant on Deep Bay where the sunset was so magnificent as you dined in the evening was out of business and only used for private parties.
BEQUIA, GRENADINES was our next port of call. Bequia is a small island in the Grenadines measuring just seven square miles and is home to about 5000 people. It is just above Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean windward islands group. Independence from Great Britain was in 1979. The capital of the Grenadines is St.Vincent just across a small section of water 15 min by boat as long as the waves remain calm. The only thing about taking a ferry ride away from your cruise stop island is that if the waves kick up you might get stuck on that island and miss your cruise ship. There are several very pretty beaches on Bequia and quaint waterfront bars. Port Elizabeth is the main town and we disembarked there and met up with our taxi driver Noel Olivierre with his open air taxi. This actually was very nice in that it gave a good opportunity for photography from the back of the truck and was cool as the breezes flowed through. We remembered that this was the same type of transportation as in Papeete,Tahiti and Kirimati (Christmas) Island in the South Pacific used for touring. We stopped at a quaint little restaurant bar with a three room hotel. One would have to know it was there to find it. It had a quaint little small beach associated with it.
We went up to Hamilton fort to overlook Admiralty Bay and Port Elizabeth and then later went to Sargent's Model boat shop. One boat that was a replica of a yacht was commissioned for $5,000 by the owner of the yacht.
We visited Mr.King's turtle farm where he is raising Green and Hawksbill turtles. He is trying to help save the endangered sea turtle species. He said there are seven species of sea turtles. Bequians hunt the turtles for the shells and it was much more popular before they came out with the plastic shells. It is hard to maintain a species when only one out of 3000 will live to maturity after birth in the wild, so he is trying to improve the odds. He raises the turtles until they are full grown and releases them. He has permission to find the eggs on the beach and protect them.
Our final port was BARBADOS for disembarkation which went off very well. We hired a cab to gives us a 2 hour tour on the way to the airport and we went to the Crane Beach Hotel complex to have a look around. We had previously visited Crane Beach at a private home and could see the hotel, so we used the time to visit the hotel. The Crane Beach gets its name from a crane that was on the beach and used to unload cargo. Now you might see a statue of a crane in the lobby of the hotel. Crane beach has been listed as the 17th most beautiful beach in the world by the beach raters from a Travel Channel program. The hotel turned out to be more of a maze of little cottages than an actual hotel, but had a beautiful beach and an elevator to get down to the beach. The beach is under a high cliff that the hotel is built on. It was a good trip and no unusual problems. This cruise had more British than any other nationality aboard.
The down side of this cruise was I didn't like the wine on the entire cruise and didn't enjoy the specialty restaurant le Champagne. The Millennium class of Celebrity cruise ships has some cabins with 270 degree veranda views and that is the only thing I could see that would keep me with Celebrity if I was doing a Fjord Norway, Chilean Fjords, or Alaska Cruise. Otherwise the service and food in general on the Silver Whisper was far better than on a Celebrity cruise ship.
Pictures at: http://www.cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=5321
Filtering through all the brightly-colored and smartly-marketed brochures, and investigating the where to go and what to do on a cruise vacation is quite a lot of fun. I always envision destinations afar, and most times we choose the destination first, and hope for the best on the ship facility part to fill that destination agenda.
The ordinary was not the case this year when reaching out for excellence – There would be no compromises, no excuses, just the finest service and amenities. Every itinerary Silversea Cruises offered seemed embraced by a lavish layer of distinction. In our case, the final Silversea choice was to an area we had longed to visit. This fulfilled our vacation wish-list, blending both our dream itinerary with extraordinary service and elegance.
My wife Carol and I received a shipment some weeks later with our packet of reservation documents and we knew that our cruise on the Silversea ship Silver Cloud would be an exceptional experience. From the moment we opened the elegant leather voucher-case, which was packed with personal and distinctive luggage tags, and a new vacation expectation level ensued. From that moment on we sensed the welcomemat of elegance offered by Silver Cloud – we could hardly wait!
ITINERARY: I envisioned writing and recounting of our captivating itinerary aboard the distinctive Silver Cloud in the Baltic Sea. I could go on at length about the enticing ports in Northern Europe. However, it was the allure of this top quality vessel that must first be emphasized as I briefly describe this voyage.
We embarked in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Flying in early is a comfort with today's busy pace with airlines, and Silversea's staff can help your travel agent arrange lodging and transfers.
By arriving early, we enjoyed an engaging but leisurely day in Amsterdam, a city to be savored for its world famous museums and the special charms of her canals. This also allowed time to decompress from traveling before boarding Silver Cloud – We did not want to board bleary-eyed and jet-lagged.
Our first cruise stop was Tallinn, Estonia. Its old town of medieval architecture is as wonderful as those in Germany or the South of France. Estonia is a country quite proud to be out of the Soviet domain. Then we were on to St. Petersburg, Russia for two glorious days of exploring the Hermitage Museum, the opulent gilded Peterhof Palace, Catherine's Palace and others. From Russia we sailed onward to historic Helsinki, Finland.
A special city came next, Stockholm, Sweden where beautiful tiny islands link together to form one of the loveliest cities on earth. Last and not least was Hans Christian Anderson's enchanting and immaculate Copenhagen, Denmark. But, I won't go on and on, for on this cruise we found that our ship was to be a destination in and of itself. Does it seem possible that a ship, its crew, and services could account for such feelings of vacation completeness?
But, though this was a most remarkable itinerary, the ships of Silversea generally do not stay fixed on one itinerary. They move on to new and wondrous places around the globe visiting peoples and places on nearly every continent. I want to convey that what came to be our most loved destination of choice each day was the Silver Cloud herself. The ship was a haven that we were eager to return to and share stories of the day with our many new friends.
SILVER CLOUD: The sleek white ship is 16,800 tons at 514 feet in length, and can carry 296 passengers. This is a comfortable number even when dinner time arrives. You get to know fellow passengers in a relaxed, open-seating atmosphere in one of the two available dining locations. Open seating affords the freedom to dine with the people you meet for the first time or prior friends – how delightful!
CABINS: The striking differences between a Silversea cruise vacation experience and the larger more typical ships are many, but they start with the amount of personal cabin space that is standard on this all-suite, all-outside cabin luxury ship. Differences begin with the suite arrangement at a generous 250 sq. feet, and goes up to the impressive multi-roomed Silver Suite at 541 sq. ft., an Owner's Suite. with two bedrooms at 827 sq. ft, the Royal Suite at 1031 sq. ft. with two bedrooms, and finally, the palatial Grand Suite, a 1300 sq. ft., two bedroom, lavish accommodation with all the amenities that a ship's captain or a captain of industry might require.
Our cabin was the introductory size suite. We did have a balcony, and most of the suites aboard Silver Cloud do. If you are in a climate and itinerary that would avail the use of a balcony, why not enjoy this pleasure for a modest additional charge? The suite was essentially two rooms, one a sitting and dining area, the other a bedroom. Draperies may be utilized to separate the two areas if you desire. Appointments in fine wood and attractive art gave the suite a sense of refinement.
We enjoyed breakfast in the suite four of our nine days aboard the Silver Cloud, and we dined elegantly with fine linens in our suite three special romantic evenings. No effort was spared by the room service staff to extend that feeling of gracious attention to detail. Both the main dining room and the standard and quite comprehensive room service menu were available in our suite.
Beverages of choice were always available, and the maid gladly stocked our personal preferences in our suite's mini-fridge. An excellent list of wines and beers was included in your cruise costs for those with a potent-potable palate.
It is not customary for us to rave about a ship bathroom, but when you have fine marble, a full tub with shower, and Bvlgari toiletries –a mention is obligatory! A huge walk in closet had thick plush bathrobes and slippers waiting for our in-suite comfort.
CUISINE: While Silver Cloud roams about the latitudes and longitudes of the world, guest's gastronomic pleasures are enhanced, as her menu evolves to reflect the culinary delights and specialties of the current region.
When Carol and I stepped into The Restaurant we knew we had arrived for a very special dining experience. The Restaurant is elegant, but not stuffy, the staff is attentive and personable, but not hovering, and they are quietly - ever-watchful of your favorite foods, drinks, and habits, with a goal of meeting these personal requirements. Catering to individual taste and preference is what distinguishes the ordinary from the exceptional cruise experience.
Then came the main event, which were inspired dishes created by Silversea's Master Chefs. The dishes were complemented by those of La Collection du Monde, and created by the world-class chefs of culinary partner Relais & Châteaux. The menu was marked by innovation and creativity. I feel certain that most patrons will delight in these epicurean creations, and a dining experience that rivals the best restaurants the world over.
ABOUT SHIP: You might dress for a workout in the well-equipped gym, or visit the Mandara Spa for that special attentive massage, or the full array of services designed to enhance your vacation relaxation. Mandara is a Sanskrit legend translated to signify, a search for a magical elixir to promote extended life and beauty. The staff caters to Silver Cloud guests in the quest for these ultimate experiences while aboard.
Once you have been sufficiently pampered in the Mandara Spa, and you have done your daily gym workout, then perhaps a cool drink of your choice while lazing around the pool is the perfect way to enjoy the passing scenery. Again, all drinks except special or more exotic beverages are included in your cruise rate. Also included are all tips – Guests on the Silver Cloud need not worry of daily issues other than simply enjoying this experience.
Silversea Cruises celebrates its 10th anniversary of providing unexcelled service worldwide. We noted on our cruise that many guests were repeat clients - because they appreciated the high level of service and quality. It was their ultimate vacation and they had come to love and enjoy Silversea's superior quality of relaxation and service.
ACTIVITIES: There were varied ship activities tailored to suit the clientele, ranging from exercise classes, lectures on various topics, and shore briefings. Trivia, scrabble tournaments, and the ping pong invitational brought out those looking for activity. A good book or movie would get the attention of still others. It is a vacation and the choices are many and varied. The richly decorated and well stocked library always had followers, as did the various lounges, and a favorite spot was, of course, the Internet Café.
TO ADJUST: To come up with valid criticisms on the world's premier recognized six star cruise line only makes one think of more positive things…like the gourmet coffee, outstanding room stewardesses, and dining and room service personnel – so this is challenging.
If I proposed change from our entire nine days onboard the Silver Cloud it would be that they raise the television position twenty to twenty-four inches in the standard suites, and this could be easily accomplished. It is difficult to view the programming or news from bed – I know, a really picky criticism and minor inconvenience, but I do feel this to be a positive suggestion and improvement to a nearly-perfect ship, suite, and vacation experience.
My only other proposal would be to begin the single-seating dining at 7PM rather than at 7:30PM. This would allow entertainment to be scheduled at 9:45PM, a seemingly more inviting time than the usual 10:30PM. I feel that more guests would be inclined to stay up after their busy day of such exhausting luxury and personal attention and would be less likely to miss the fine shows and entertainers. It is impossible to savor all that is available, but a bit of schedule tweaking might be helpful.
OVERVIEW: For many Silversea patrons perfection has become a standard for their vacation. Those who are new to the Silversea ambiance are seeking that incomparable way to celebrate an anniversary, wedding, or merely life itself. A Silversea vacation cruise aboard the Silver Cloud may alter your personal expectations and overall concept of vacationing and cruising.
We think you will savor the experience and create exceptional memories that will last a lifetime. My guess is that once will not be enough. You will dream of once again standing forward on a dazzling star-lit evening as the prow of a Silversea ship plies distant seas for new adventures and faraway horizons.
When our friends heard that we would spend our March, 2008, vacation on the Silver Cloud in the Persian Gulf, their first question was "Why Dubai?" and their second question was "Why Silversea?"
The first question is easy to answer. The Middle East is changing faster than any other part of the world. I am not talking about the destruction of Iraq (and our economy with it). I am talking about the construction of ultra-modern Arab emirate cities with enviable infrastructures and booming economies.
Imagine Walt Disney building a clean and modern Manhattan skyline in the middle of the desert. Add the traffic of Los Angeles, the beachfront of Miami, and the glitz of Las Vegas. Toss in the best shopping malls, the most exotic real estate developments, the tallest building, and the most expensive hotel in the world. Mix in 6 million visitors a year and you have an idea of what Dubai is like today.
And Dubai is just one of five Arab emirates (plus Iran) that we visited on our cruise. The oil in some emirates is already drying out, so they are turning to free trade, international finance, and tourismto secure their future. We wanted to see it all before it was too late -- too late for our dollar, not their dirham.
The second question "Why Silversea?" is a bit more complex. We took our first luxury cruise on the Silver Whisper two years ago. It was a short cruise in the Caribbean, and to be honest, it did not meet our expectations (my review of that cruise may be available on this web site). Perhaps it was because we expected too much or perhaps it was because a four-day cruise sandwiched between private charters was too short for the crew to do their jobs really well. In any case, we decided to give Silversea another chance, and we are glad we did. We thoroughly enjoyed our Silver Cloud cruise in the Persian Gulf.
This review is a detailed summary of our Silver Cloud experience. Keep in mind that a luxury cruise is an investment of more than $10,000 per couple once airfare, pre-cruise hotel, and sightseeing are included, even when the pre- and post-cruise arrangements are made independently in economy and tourist class. Because a cruise like this is a major investment for most of us, this review is intended to give you extensive details to help you get a feeling whether a luxury cruise might be right for you.
Because of the length of this review, I will HIGHLIGHT various topics in all caps so that you can skim down to your own areas of special interest.
This review is divided into THREE PARTS -- luxury cruises in general, our Silver Cloud cruise in particular, and independent (and inexpensive) sightseeing options in our Persian Gulf ports of call.
DISCLAIMER Please keep in mind that what follows are my personal observations. I am not in the travel business and I am not a cruise expert. If there are errors, I apologize in advance. Rely on your own reading and experience to form your own opinions, and you will end up choosing the right cruise style and cruise ship for yourself.
A GOOD BOOK In addition to cruise web sites, some of which seem to be losing speed and functionality because of their cluttered home pages and excessive advertisements, I highly recommend Douglas Ward's book Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships (2007, Berlitz). It has a wealth of information, both objective and subjective, to help you plan your next cruise.
PART 1: LUXURY CRUISING IN GENERAL Everyone has his own idea of the perfect cruise. In the end, it probably is the cruise that makes a guest feel like a VIP and yet totally at ease. White glove service and high tea may not suit someone who prefers to amble in flip-flops and a T-shirt. Zodiac excursions and watersport decks may not suit someone who prefers to foxtrot in formal wear. That is probably why there are so many luxury (and luxury adventure) cruise options.
I mention luxury and adventure cruising in the same breath because the costs may be similar even though the styles are worlds apart. An interesting development in the luxury cruise industry is that some of the traditional luxury cruise lines are adding expeditionary ships (think ice-hardened hulls and polar itineraries) to their fleets. You will be reading more about these ships as they enter service. So far, our experience with adventure cruising has been limited to chartered yachts in the Galapagos Islands, so I will not cover that option here.
DEFINING LUXURY For me, several characteristics define a luxury cruise: the high level of attentive yet unobtrusive service; superior cuisine and fine wines without surcharge; sedate and spacious cabins and public areas; unusual itineraries with uncrowded or even undiscovered ports of call; the absence of noise, announcements, and waiting lines; enrichment lectures and interesting activities, with less emphasis on entertainment and more emphasis on learning; inclusive drinks and gratuities; and (we have been happy to experience) well-educated, friendly, and unpretentious fellow passengers.
SERVICE On mainstream cruise ships the service may sometimes be attentive, but it can sometimes seem informal and too chummy. Some luxury ships have a more traditional attitude toward service. We noticed that after the first day on the Silver Cloud our stewards and servers greeted us by surname, but they did not converse further unless we wanted to engage them in conversation. They anticipated most of our needs, and they responded quickly and positively when we had any questions or special requests. On a personal note, my wife was recovering from an illness during our Silver Cloud cruise, and she truly appreciated the kindness and attentiveness of the entire staff.
Good service during meals is silent and seamless. Courses are presented and cleared without flourish, and wine glasses are changed or refilled without intrusion. The service is so smooth that it is not noticeable. Part of this is due to good training, and part is due to the high crew to passenger ratios on luxury ships. Silversea, for example, has at least two crew members for every three passengers. The smaller size of the dining rooms and public areas adds to the quality of the service. There is no background noise to interfere with conversations, and servers very skillfully handle china and flatware to avoid making noise.
SPACE Space ratios are a measure of the volume of enclosed space on a ship, expressed in tonnage per passenger. In this case tonnage is a measure of volume, not weight. Mainstream cruise lines usually have space ratios in the high 30s or low 40s. Except for the smallest (Sea Dream and Seabourn) ships in this category, luxury ships generally have space ratios in the 50s or 60s. Silversea's newer ships, the Whisper and the Shadow, have space ratios in the 70s. When cruising this difference is very noticeable.
EXOTIC ITINERARIES Small luxury ships travel the world and are able to dock at unusual ports that have not yet been overrun by oversized cruise ships. This can be a negative, however, when inexperienced local immigration authorities make life difficult, or when the cruise line's central office is less than organized regarding visa or entry requirements for their exotic ports of call. Silversea's disorganization in this regard was a disappointment, but more about that later.
PEACE AND QUIET Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of a luxury cruise is the peace and quiet in the ship's public areas. For example, there is no pool-side music (except on special occasions), and the fitness area is equipped with headphones for the DVD players and TVs at each workout station. There is no muzak and there are minimal announcements. On mainstream cruise ships I sometimes end up wearing earplugs to gain some peace and quiet. On luxury ships this is unnecessary.
ENTERTAINMENT Because luxury ships are relatively small, entertainment tends to be intimate, usually soloists rather than production numbers. Personally, I would rather listen to a top-notch soloist in a small venue than watch a chorus line of singers and dancers in an over-amplified Broadway-type theater. Luxury ships tend to include enrichment programs, usually well known speakers on a variety of topics. Fortunately, mainstream cruise lines are finally adopting similar enrichment programs, which can make days at sea more enjoyable. A bonus on a small ship is the likelihood of meeting or dining with the guest lecturers and musicians, who can be very interesting conversationalists. They were on our cruise.
FELLOW PASSENGERS Yes, some luxury cruise passengers are very rich (on our cruise one big game hunter expressed his need for a Marco Polo sheep to make his trophy collection complete, and one car enthusiast wore his Ferrari-owners logo shirt), but most passengers are simply well-off, having saved wisely during their hard-working careers. Unlike private country or social clubs, wealth and status do not seem to be an issue on these cruises – fellow passengers are friendly and unpretentious. Dinner conversations can be the highlight of each day, since passengers come from such varied backgrounds. On mainstream cruises my wife and I often request a table for two. On luxury cruises we prefer to be seated at a large table because of the very interesting conversations.
SIZE Ship size and space ratios seem to be the greatest variables among luxury vessels. These ships range from small (100-400 passengers) such as Sea Dream, Europa, Seabourn, and Silversea; medium (400-800 passengers) such as Regent Seven Seas: large (800-1200 passengers) such as Crystal; and very large such as Cunard's Queen Mary 2 (2,600 passengers).
Some travelers feel that the former Renaissance vessels currently sailing with Oceania and Azamara are medium-sized luxury ships, but others prefer to categorize them as "deluxe" rather than luxury because of the smaller size of their cabins: 216 sq. ft. standard balcony cabins, 160 sq. ft. inside cabins, and some 143 sq. ft. obstructed-view outside cabins (10 sq. ft. approximately equal one sq. meter). Some feel that the very large ships of Cunard are hybrids with more than one level of food and service, and only their "grill class" qualifies as luxurious. Oceania, Azamara, and Cunard can be excellent options, however, when lower prices compensate for differences in cabin size or level of service.
THE FUTURE Luxury cruise lines are adding new-builds to their fleets. These new ships seem to show "bracket creep" and are larger than their older sister ships, perhaps because larger ships are more profitable to operate. Personally I regret this development, since I find the intimacy and personal attention of a smaller ship among the most enjoyable aspects of luxury cruising.
Whether the current economic downturn affects the luxury cruise market remains to be seen. Affluent passengers may be relatively insulated from market cycles, and luxury cruise prices may remain steady or may even increase in spite of a faltering economy. It is too soon to tell.
One thing that is likely is that small luxury ships will "follow the money". That means more cruises in the "euro zone" where the currency is not under the same downward momentum as the US dollar. After all, what cruise line wants to book a trip in dollars only to have the value of those dollars erode during the months between contracting and cruising? Perhaps the euro will become the shipboard currency on more ships in the future. Certainly the strength of the euro and the pound sterling means that European cruisers are getting a de facto discount that Americans are not. As a result, Americans accounted for fewer than 25% of the passengers on our cruise, the first time we have been in such a small minority on any of our twenty previous cruises.
HEALTH AND SAFETY A lesser known and perhaps just theoretical advantage of small luxury ships involves health and safety. Norovirus and more serious disease outbreaks begin with an index case and spread quickly in areas where people live and eat in close quarters. It seems logical that the risk of a disease outbreak would be much lower on smaller ships with fewer passengers.
Similarly, a small ship should be easier to re-route in case of terrorism or political turmoil, and easier to evacuate in case of an accident or fire. The latter may seem far-fetched, but cruise ships have run aground, been attacked by sea pirates, experienced a major fire, and have even sunk in the last few years. Again, these considerations are theoretical and are just as dependent on the training and ability of the cruise line administration and crew as on the size of the ship. A disorganized central office or an under-trained crew can theoretically negate the small ship advantage.
COST Price is probably the major factor for most travelers when considering a luxury cruise. I have not researched prices recently, but it is my impression that true luxury cruises are priced around 600-700 US dollars per person per day (pppd) for the least expensive cabin category (an outside suite, which may not include a balcony on some cruise lines such as Silversea), although discounts to $500 pppd seem reasonably common, and discounts to $400 pppd on repositioning or less popular itineraries are sometimes available.
VALUE I rationalize that if one takes the per diem cost of a standard cabin on a mainstream cruise ship; then adds the cost of gratuities, adds the cost of wine and other drinks, and adds the cost of better quality (surcharged) dining; then doubles this amount to cover the cost of higher space ratios and higher crew to passenger ratios on luxury ships, one has a reasonable price comparison for a luxury cruise of the same itinerary. Some would argue that large (300+ sq. ft.) suites with butler service on a mainstream cruise ship are directly comparable to a small ship luxury cruise, but I have never taken (or priced) that option.
As an example, the Costa Romantica sailed from Dubai on a similar but slightly shorter itinerary than the Silver Cloud's. The price pppd for a standard outside cabin with the usual surcharges on the Romantica was about half the price pppd of our cruise, so I felt we received a reasonable value for our money on the Silver Cloud.
For those travelers not used to spending $400 to $500 plus per day on themselves, it takes a bit of effort not to think of what one could be doing with that money instead, especially if one is traveling to third world countries where donating that amount might feed someone for an entire year. I have had those thoughts in the past and have acted on them, but now that I am older, I enjoy luxury cruises guilt-free. It is a personal issue that everyone must settle for him- or herself.
PART 2: OUR SILVER CLOUD CRUISE IN THE PERSIAN GULF Booking: We booked our March cruise in October of the previous year. Silversea requires a 10% deposit, with graduated cancellation penalties beginning 120 days prior to the cruise, and full payment due 90 days prior. They offer an extensive variety of booking options, including travel insurance, "reassurance" that allows one to cancel the cruise for any reason up to the day prior to cruising with 100% credit toward a future cruise, air programs at various classes of service, pre-cruise hotel programs, pre- and post-cruise extended stays, baggage forwarding to the cruise port, and private car transfers from your home to your nearest airport. As with our previous cruises, we chose to make our own air, land, and travel insurance arrangements independently.
Insurance: Silversea offers its own insurance program. In the past we always avoided purchasing travel insurance since our own insurance covers medical care abroad (note that Medicare does not), and the likelihood of having to cancel a cruise close to the departure date (when the penalty becomes significant) was slim. More recently we have relied on internet insurance brokers which offer a variety of coverage from a variety of reputable travel insurance companies, often the same ones used by the cruise lines. We have only filed a claim once, and that was for an overnight travel delay on a return flight home. Our insurance policy covered the hotel cost and all meals and related expenses for which we could provide receipts. Our reimbursement was prompt.
An example of a travel insurance web site is insuremytrip.com, where one can easily compare levels of coverage and corresponding premium quotes from various insurers. Travel insurance can be especially useful when waivers for pre-existing medical conditions are needed, but one must read the policy summary to make certain it includes this. Again, older travelers should remember that Medicare does not cover medical costs when traveling abroad.
Pre-Cruise Air: For Dubai we chose Delta Airlines because they have non-stop service from Atlanta to Dubai, which takes between 14 and 16 hours each way depending on the jetstream. Dubai's own Emirates Airlines has non-stops from Houston and New York JFK, but their prices are higher, and connections to those airports from our home airport are relatively poor.
When we originally booked our Delta flight we had an excellent connection from our home airport to Atlanta, with a 90 minute layover until the flight to Dubai. Several weeks prior to our departure, however, Delta dropped some of its regional services and gave us a 6 hour layover in Atlanta. In addition, Delta's non-stop Dubai service was curtailed from daily to twice a week, forcing us to return a day earlier than we had originally booked. We learned this only when we rechecked the flight schedule for our house sitter and saw a 24 hour layover in Atlanta between our return flights due to the curtailed service. We rebooked our return flight a day earlier and had to cancel the desert safari and Bedouin camp overnight that we had reserved for our final night in Dubai.
I mention these setbacks as an illustration of what is happening to air service in the U.S. as airlines face higher fuel costs and bigger deficits. Schedules are being pruned back and flights are being consolidated. One must be flexible when flying nowadays. We have taken six vacations in the last six months, and all six in a row have had major delays, cancellations, or involuntary re-routes due to missed connections. We no longer check bags, but instead travel with just a carry-on bag to give us more flexibility, even on this Silver Cloud cruise. We no longer feel safe arriving at a cruise port on the day of cruise departure.
Pre-Cruise Hotel: Because we never know for certain when we will arrive at the cruise port, even at domestic cruise ports, we always book a hotel for one or more nights prior to a cruise. In this case, we stayed for three nights in the historic center of Dubai, in the Deira area near the spice and gold souks, across Dubai Creek from the museums and attractions of the Bur Dubai area.
Hotel rates in Dubai usually begin around $200 per night and can easily top $1,000 in the fancier hotels. Through the internet we found a real bargain – the Residence Deira apartments (which are run by the Le Meridien hotel chain) offered a three-nights-for-the-price-of-one package, since our reservation extended over a Friday night (the week-end in Islamic nations). Having an apartment with modern shops nearby gave us the option to make our own breakfasts and other meals if we wanted. Also, Le Meridien has a welcome counter at the airport with a free shuttle service between the airport and its apartments and hotels. It also has a free shuttle service between the apartments and Le Meridien's airport hotel for the use of the guest facilities there (spa, pool, and restaurants). I believe that Le Meridien airport hotel was used by Silversea for its own pre-cruise hotel program.
We are glad we spent extra pre-cruise time in Dubai, details of which follow in our port review section.
A Silver Bullet: The following topic is important but is somewhat detailed because I want to be fair and state the facts as clearly as possible. Skip to the next topic if you like.
I mentioned that visas may be a problem on exotic itineraries. We did not expect any problems since all of the ports on our cruise, with the possible exception of Bandar Abbas in Iran, are known to offer free or inexpensive visas on arrival.
However, in early January, exactly sixty days prior to our departure for Dubai and half-way into the cancellation penalty period, we received a written notice from Silversea that "United States and Canadian passport holders must have an individual visa for Qatar prior to boarding. Guests without a visa for Qatar will be denied boarding."
Silversea provided the name of a visa service in Washington DC to obtain the required visa, which cost almost $200 per person including express shipping but not priority service. The visa took three weeks to obtain. For us this visa cost came to about $50 per person per hour that we were ashore in Qatar.
For some passengers this unexpected additional cost may be unimportant compared to the absence of their passports and inability to travel abroad for several weeks. We had previously booked back-to-back Caribbean cruises in January, which we had canceled. We had to obtain the required visa as soon as Silversea notified us in January because we had also previously booked a non-refundable trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories during February.
We were surprised when we ultimately boarded the Silver Cloud in Dubai, we found a written notice from Silversea stating that "With regard to our call at Doha, Qatar, all guests (all nationalities) going ashore in this port must have a valid visa. If you have not already arranged this in advance, we can obtain this on your behalf. The cost is $50 USD, which may be charged to your shipboard account. If you do not wish to go ashore on this day, but choose to remain onboard, then no visa will be required."
You can imagine how angry this revelation made cruise passengers who had followed Silversea's original instructions. I think Silversea may have lost future customers because of their handling of this visa issue. It certainly made their central office look disorganized.
I was angry when I outlined the above events to the ship's immigration officer shortly after boarding. We were later invited to dine with him, where we learned that the poor fellow had only joined the cruise line a month before and was not responsible for the visa misinformation. I had expressed my frustration to the very person who was not responsible.
A Bombshell: Exactly seven days prior to our departure for Dubai we received another written notice from Silversea stating "…that United Arab Emirates Immigration authorities may not allow passengers with an Israeli stamp or visa in their passports to enter the country, go ashore, or debark the vessel…. Silversea will not be held responsible nor will Silversea make a refund or be otherwise liable to any guest for such denial of entry…."
That denial of liability would be logical if Silversea had notified passengers of this possibility well in advance. After all, they planned this itinerary more than a year in advance. Notifying passengers only days prior to cruise departure and then denying any refunds speaks for itself. We were fortunate that our passports had not been stamped in Israel or the Palestinian Territories when we traveled there the month before our cruise.
In the end, one has sympathy for cruise lines that are at the mercy of government authorities, but this sympathy evaporates if the cruise lines do not perform due diligence in notifying their passengers in a timely fashion. I assume that similar problems will not recur now that the Silver Cloud has a new immigration officer.
Embarkation: As part of its drive to attract tourism, Dubai has built a beautiful new cruise terminal. It is designed to resemble a ship, and provides air-conditioning, comfortable seating, and even a snack bar for waiting cruise passengers. On most cruises Silversea embarkations take place from 3pm to 5pm. Earlier boarding costs $100 per person and includes lunch. I did not meet anyone on our cruise who chose this option.
The boarding process could not have been simpler or more pleasant. All necessary documentation had been completed prior to the cruise, and at 3pm we were simply invited to walk the red carpet (literally) along the dock to our ship. We then handed our cruise ticket to the ship's officer who greeted us, and we climbed the gangway to board.
We had experienced a delayed boarding and a disorganized reception on our previous Silver Whisper cruise, but the staff of the Silver Cloud handled this embarkation beautifully. We were offered a glass of champagne when we boarded, then proceeded to the show lounge where we gave up our passports for the duration of the cruise, and then were escorted to our cabin where an additional bottle of the house Nicolas Feuillate NV Brut champagne was waiting on ice.
Vista Suite: Our cabin on this cruise was a Vista Suite, which is the least expensive Silversea category. It has a large window but no balcony. On the Silver Cloud this category suite measures 240 sq. ft. On the newer Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper this category suite measures 287 sq. ft. The difference is not noticeable in the sitting and sleeping areas, but it is noticeable in the bathroom. The Silver Cloud bathroom is functional, with a single sink and a combo tub and shower. The Silver Whisper bathroom has double sinks and a separate tub and shower. The walk-in closets are also slightly larger on the Silver Whisper than on the Silver Cloud, but both are generous enough, even for over-packers.
We found our Vista Suite very comfortable and attractive. A nice feature is the pair of dining chairs (in addition to a couch) and a table that converts in size and height from a small coffee table into a full dining table. This was especially useful for meals ordered from room service. The full restaurant menu is available during regular dining hours, and it is served course by course with beautiful linen and crystal. In addition to the included drinks stored in the cabin's mini-bar, caviar was available for purchase, with prices ranging from $60 to $400 for a small container, depending on the fish species.
The only cabin feature that really needs updating is the television, which is quite small and is hidden almost at floor level in a cabinet below the desk, making it inconvenient to watch the available satellite TV or DVDs. A flat panel wall-mounted television of larger size, preferably with internet access, would be more appropriate. I heard that a dry dock is planned for the Silver Cloud in 2009, and perhaps flat screen TVs will be included in the updates.
Cabin Stewardesses: Our cabin stewardesses were both from the Philippines and were both sunshine personified. They always greeted us by surname and kept our cabin spotless. On our arrival they inquired how we would like our refrigerator stocked (we requested champagne and various white wines) and which bath amenities we preferred – Bulgari or Acqua di Parma (we tried both).
Public Areas: As I mentioned, the Silver Cloud's public areas are spacious, although not as large as those on the Silver Whisper. The décor is pleasant, with decorative but not innovative art works. Smoking is allowed in a few areas, but it was not a problem on our cruise except in the dance area near the bar. Even though most passengers were European, few smoked. Images of Silver Cloud's public areas are available from Silversea's brochures and web site, or on the very useful web site cruiseclues.com, which provides links to other web sites for information about almost every cruise ship afloat.
As on all Silversea ships, most of Silver Cloud's public areas are located at the stern of the ship and cabins are located forward, making it easy to find one's way to any venue. There is one staircase forward and there are four elevators and one staircase midship. The elevators were so efficient that we rarely had to wait for one. Two wheelchair accessible Vista Suites are adjacent to the elevators, although I did not see a wheelchair or electric cart on our cruise. Although we did not tender at any port, the gangway was sometimes three decks high, which can be difficult for the mobility impaired.
There was a small CASINO that was only open when we were at sea, but it did not seem heavily used. There were two SHOPS – one featured Steiner jewelry (which had stiff competition from the extravagant jewelry shops in Dubai), and the other featured Silversea logo-wear and sundry items. There was no photo gallery because there was no official photographer, and no art gallery because there were no art auctions.
A pleasant LIBRARY provided a small but current selection of books and newspapers in several languages. Full page faxes of major international newspapers could be delivered to one's cabin for a surcharge. A well-equipped INTERNET CENTER was said to have good response times, but I did not use it because of the cost (fifty cents per minute, with somewhat lower fees for pre-paid packages). We found internet shops ashore with very quick response times and fees around two cents per minute.
The swimming POOL was a delight. It is small but has very clean saltwater, with minimal chemicals since there are virtually no children on these cruises. (There was a very well behaved toddler on our cruise, but children in diapers are not allowed in the pool or hot tubs.) A pool grill and bar provided simple fare during the afternoon, but the food was far better in the other dining venues.
One minor problem with the pool deck was that pool attendants did not clear used towels from lounge chairs. Most cruises have "pool pigs" who leave towels and possessions on lounge chairs to reserve them for the day, even when not in use. No one did that on this cruise, but few passengers made the effort to clear their own towels after use, hence many lounge chairs had a residual towel and remained empty. Pool attendants provided drinks if asked but otherwise did not offer them. They did not always clear empty glasses from the area, some of which remained next to empty chairs.
One disappointment that we experienced in the public areas was the generally uncomfortable seating. The lounges and theater had armchairs with almost vertical backs, providing little comfort or low back support for people of average size and weight. Perhaps this will be remedied during the next dry dock.
Fitness: Ironically the fitness center on the Silver Cloud seemed larger and more pleasant than on the newer and larger Silver Whisper, perhaps because on the Silver Cloud it is in a traditional forward upper deck location with wrap around windows. The ceiling is quite low, which may be a problem for taller passengers when using the treadmills. The gym was reasonably well equipped for a ship this size, with several treadmills, an elliptical trainer, a recumbent bicycle, several weight machines, and numerous dumbbells (some large enough that it would take two crew members to lift them). As I mentioned, the best feature of the gym was the absence of music – instead there were headphones for the personal TVs and DVD players. An astroturf jogging/walking track is also located on the top deck.
Spa: We did not sample any of the spa or hair salon treatments that were listed on a menu in our cabin. Most ranged from $2 to $3 per minute, which seems standard on cruise ships.
Dining: For many cruise passengers dining is the highlight of each day. This cruise was no exception. The Silver Cloud has a large main restaurant (the "Restaurant"), an alternative mid-sized restaurant which also serves as the buffet during breakfast and lunch (the "Terrazza"), and a small restaurant which provides a tasting menu with wine pairings and occasional meals for select passengers (the "Saletta"). Very enjoyable wines are included with meals, and premium wines are also available for a surcharge.
The SALETTA tasting menu with paired wines is surcharged at $200 per person, and the tasting menu without paired wines is available for $30 (complimentary wines are not available with the tasting menu). A recent review of tasting menus at several Manhattan restaurants published in the Wall Street Journal had an average cost of $150 for the menu and $150 for the paired wines, so the Saletta's surcharges appear appropriate. The tasting menu and paired wine list are displayed outside the Saletta each day so that one can decide whether to participate.
The TERRAZZA breakfast and lunch buffets were very popular on our cruise, in part because of the fine weather and the adjoining open deck dining (hence the name Terrazza). The buffet selections mirrored the menu in the main restaurant and gave one the opportunity to sample widely or to "specialize" in one course (you dessert addicts know who we are). We tended to go to the Terrazza early to obtain outside seating and to avoid the rush that follows shore excursions. Also, at breakfast and lunch the open deck tends to have the more experienced waiters from the main restaurant.
The Terrazza buffet maintains a refined atmosphere. When you reach the end of the buffet line, a waiter will take your plate and follow you to your table. Unfortunately this service doubles the number of people in the aisles, which are already a bit narrow, and distracts waiters from their job of clearing empty plates and refilling empty drinks. The omelet (pasta at lunch) station is in the center of the room. If one tries to place an order directly, one is politely told to take one's seat and order through a waiter. Unfortunately the single omelet chef could not keep up with orders. My omelet usually arrived near the end of breakfast when I was about ready to leave, and once did not arrive at all.
The Terrazza's evening meal is not surcharged but is by reservation only. It features the cuisine of a different region of Italy each evening. This seems appropriate since Silversea is an Italian-owned cruise line. On our previous Silver Whisper cruise we were unable to obtain any Terrazza dinner reservations. On this cruise we went to the Terrazza immediately after boarding and had no trouble reserving a table for one night. We thought we would give other passengers the chance to make reservations before we booked more nights, but within a few days the Terrazza was fully booked and we were unable to return. I regretted my this when we later met a couple who had made Terrazza reservations for every evening of the cruise and who only ate in the main restaurant on the one evening when they were invited to dine with one of the officers.
The evening meal at the Terrazza is somewhat less formal than in the main restaurant, which may be attractive to those men who wear a suit rather than tuxedo on formal nights (most men wore tuxedos). It is candlelit and intimate, with smaller tables than in the main restaurant. The evening that we ate there the sauces seemed somewhat richer and the meat even more tender than in the main restaurant, but this may vary with the daily menu.
The main RESTAURANT is on a single level and is very attractive. The linens and crystal are especially elegant. Wine glasses are changed to match the wines selected, and flatware is changed with each course rather than being laid out prior to the meal. The water is bottled and is available still or carbonated. This is an improvement over some ships, since wine glasses may magnify the chlorinated taste of some tap water.
The Restaurant menu offers enough selections that it is rarely necessary to request one of the "always available" alternatives such as poached salmon or signature pasta. The dishes were uniformly interesting, delicious, and beautifully plated. As part of our pre-cruise information, I told Silversea that my wife has a mild lactose intolerance. On arrival in our cabin we found a letter from the chef suggesting we meet with him personally to clarify any special dietary needs. This was very thoughtful but was not necessary because of the wide selection available on each menu.
It impressed me that a restaurant at sea serving 200 people with open seating could maintain such high standards day after day. The service was impeccable, as I described at the beginning of this review. The Restaurant maitre d' contributed to our pleasure by seating us at tables with enjoyable conversationalists. All of our fellow diners were English speaking and very interesting, but surprisingly we dined with no other Americans during our entire cruise. By nature, maitre d's tend to play favorites when seating guests (it is their job), but we never had that sense in the Restaurant. We dined with different passengers at every meal, and enjoyed them all. By chance we saw our Maitre d' in the Dubai airport heading home on the same day we did, but we did not get a chance to thank him for a job well done.
Dancing: Some cruise passengers enjoy dancing before or after the evening meal. That was not the case on the Silver Cloud. Even though the ship's trio and the pianist alternated venues and were very talented, the dance floor was very small and was located on the smoking side of the bar. We saw no one dance on our cruise, but we did not stay up late enough to see possible night owls.
Entertainment: Our cruise featured concerts by very talented soloists who were also very enjoyable cruise mates. Over the eight days of our cruise there were two concerts each by a British vocalist, a Polish pianist , and an Anglo-American clarinetist, each of whom had stellar performance backgrounds. In addition, there were lectures by a former ambassador who had retired from the American State Department. On several occasions he provided interesting background for the countries we visited and for Middle East politics in general.
Cruise Director: At this point a special thanks to our talented cruise director, Judie Abbott, is appropriate. She admits to being a lady of a "certain age" who began as a singer in West End musicals then later became an entertainer and cruise director on various cruise lines. On our cruise she handled everything from shore announcements to entertainment schedules to guest relations. She was also a delightful dinner companion. She has enough energy and good spirits to put all of us to shame.
Shore Excursions: Although most shore excursions available from cruise lines are worthwhile, we prefer to explore ports of call on our own. Silversea deserves a special commendation for providing a complimentary shuttle bus between the cruise piers (which may be quite isolated) and the town centers. This made it easy for us to sightsee on our own, which is safe and easy in the Persian Gulf. I will tell you more about this in the next section of this review.
Silversea's own excursions ranged from an inexpensive four hour city tour ($48 per person) to a very expensive 45 minute helicopter ride ($2,687 per person, subsequent lunch included). The shore excursions seemed quite popular on our cruise, and I did not hear about any problems or disappointments with them.
Which brings us to the third part of this review.
PART 3: VISITING PERSIAN GULF PORTS OF CALL ON YOUR OWN Guidebooks: Having a good guidebook on any cruise will help you enjoy your ports of call. Even if you purchase a shore excursion, a guidebook will provide historical and cultural background and will help you decide which excursion to select. If you prefer to explore on your own, a guidebook with good maps is essential.
For our Persian Gulf ports I highly recommend Lonely Planet's Oman, UAE, and Arabian Peninsula. For more detailed information about hotels, shopping, and trendy restaurants I recommend Time Out's Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE.
Purchase and read these books in advance of your cruise since they list supplemental reading and resources you might enjoy, and they will help you with packing and other aspects of your trip. Photocopy specific maps and sightseeing information if you do not want to carry the entire book ashore.
Money: All of the United Arab Emirates use the dirham, but non-UAE nations like Qatar, Bahrain, and Iran have their own currencies. We used U.S. dollars for our few small expenses when UAE dirhams were not accepted. The Wall Street Journal or the FXconverter section of the website oanda.com provides current exchange rates. We did not use credit cards, but they should be acceptable in larger stores and shopping malls.
Dubai (UAE): The emirate and city of Dubai is not what one would expect to find in a desert. Fifty years ago it was a backwater fishing and pearl diving village. Today it is a futuristic metropolis with enough sights and activities to keep one busy for a week.
Perhaps the easiest way to orient oneself on arrival is to spend an entire day on the Big Bus hop-on hop-off tour (bigbustours.com/eng/dubai). For about $50 per ticket one can ride for a day in an open-top double-deck bus on either or both of two tour circuits, one covering the historic city center and the other extending westward to the beach resorts and some major shopping malls. In addition, the ticket includes an hour-long boat ride on Dubai Creek (which can be done at a later date) and a short escorted walking tour of the historic district. There will not be enough time to enjoy all the bus stops, but at least this tour will give an introduction to the city. One warning, however: the air in Dubai can be filled with dust and exhaust fumes. I recommend moving inside the bus when traveling on the expressways (to and from the beach and shopping centers). We stayed outside and coughed up pollutants for the next several days. Also wear adequate sun protection when riding in the open air.
For those who enjoy cultural and historical sights, staying in the Deira or Bur Dubai districts rather than the beach resorts is best. In Bur Dubai one finds the Bastakia Quarter, a historic reconstruction of old Dubai with narrow lanes and typical wind towers (the best way to cool homes before the days of air conditioning). This quarter now houses several modern art galleries, a few small hotels, and a branch of the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding, which provides an introduction to local food in its weekly lunches and provides an introduction to Islam in its tours of the Jumeirah mosque, which is some distance away.
Also in Bur Dubai is the national museum, which is housed in the city's original fort and has an extensive underground display area. Adjacent to the museum is the textile souk (market) and not far away is the abra (water taxi) station for transport across Dubai Creek to the Deira section of the city.
In Deira one finds the gold souk, the perfume souk, and the spice souk, among others. The gold souk is especially enjoyable since it is covered from the sun and has benches for people-watching in front of the numerous small jewelry shops.
A walk along either shore of Dubai Creek is enjoyable. The Deira side has numerous traditional dhows (Arab boats) being loaded with goods for outlying ports. The Bur Dubai side has several small parks with benches and shade. The abra (water taxi) between the two sides costs only one dirham (30 cents US), and the above described sites are all within walking distance for someone in reasonable shape. One can take a metered taxi from the cruise port to the old fort and national museum for about 20 dirhams (about $6) each way.
For those who prefer to shop, Dubai offers endless opportunities. The shopping malls are on the periphery of the city to the west and south. The cruise terminal offers free shuttle buses to two of the southern ones – Deira Center and Wafi Center. We enjoyed the latter for its elegant shops, its over-the-top Egyptian décor, and its khan (a traditional market with carved wood screens and stained glass ceilings). Keep in mind that the prices in Dubai can be daunting. While browsing in the Escada shop at the Wafi Mall, my wife came upon a small jacket that she really liked. She lost interest when I converted the price tag for her – it was exactly $10,000 U.S.
Not on the free shuttle route but on the Big Bus tour is the Madinat Shopping Center, which is built in a traditional Arab style and is surrounded by picturesque plazas and canals that connect to an adjacent hotel. It also provides fine views of the nearby Burj al Arab, the world's only (self-appointed) seven star hotel, with prices to match. For those who cannot afford an overnight, afternoon tea at the Burj al Arab costs a little over $100 per person, is served from 3-5 pm in the view restaurant, and requires advance reservations).
Also on the Big Bus tour is the Mall of the Emirates. This is a must-see for its incredible indoor ski hill and toboggan run. It has hundreds of stores and provides excellent people watching in air-conditioned comfort.
Another favorite mall, which we did not visit, is the Ibn Battuta Mall, which is the farthest west and requires a taxi to reach. It is named after an historic Arabian traveler and features architecture and décor from all over the Arabic traders' world, from Spain to China. Within the next few years several even larger and more exotic malls are scheduled to open.
I highly recommend spending at least half a day visiting Dubai's malls, even if one is not a shopper. Shopping malls are museums of our times, and these malls provide the most amazing displays of consumer culture (and sometimes the lack of it) in the world.
Fujairah (UAE): Fujairah is probably the least wealthy and least developed of the emirates, and offers little of interest near the port. In fact, your cruise ship may stop here mainly to refuel since it is one of the most active refueling ports in the world.
The area is best known for the beach resorts and diving opportunities that lie some distance north of the main city, and for the low Hajar mountains and hiking opportunities that lie some distance to the west.
A taxi ride from the port (too far to walk) is a picturesque old fort (currently undergoing restoration) and nearby is a modest museum of local history and culture. In the modern town are a few shopping centers (such as the Lulu mall) with very reasonable prices for essentials that one may have forgotten to pack, but the luxurious malls of Dubai are absent.
Abu Dhabi (UAE): Abu Dhabi is the largest and one of the wealthiest of the emirates. While Dubai is known for its nightlife and glitz, Abu Dhabi seems proud to be more cultured and sedate. Enormous sums have been spent to turn Abu Dhabi city into a lush green urban oasis with parks and playgrounds next to futuristic skyscrapers. Walking along the corniche (waterfront) and through the many gardens can be an enjoyable way to spend a warm winter day (walking in the summer in any of the emirates is virtually impossible due to the heat).
The port is a few miles east of the city center, and it is necessary to take a taxi or ship shuttle bus into town. In the center of town a few blocks from the corniche is a fine Cultural Foundation, which provides major exhibits and concerts by international stars. When we were there, we saw a very nice exhibit of treasures from Sudan, similar to those from ancient Egypt. Upstairs is a café and an adjacent handicraft center (the larger and more active Women's Handicraft Center is several miles south).
From there we took a taxi to the Emirates Palace Hotel on the western edge of the city. In contrast to Dubai's Burj al Arab Hotel, the Emirates Palace Hotel seems to welcome tourists who are interested in seeing its extravagant lobby or having tea in its café. In the far distant corner as one enters the hotel is an exhibition area (the hotel is so massive that one of the employees will be happy to walk you there). When we were there it featured an Arabic calligraphy show, but only my wife got to see it since that afternoon was reserved for women only (as are some beaches and some taxis in the emirates). Instead, I spent an hour in an adjacent exhibition on the various new architectural projects planned for the city, including maquettes by Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and other architectural superstars. It becomes quite obvious from the enormous public building projects that Abu Dhabi, like the other emirates, is working hard to convert its massive dollar reserves into hard assets.
From the Emirates Palace Hotel it is a pleasant walk to the Marina Mall (exit the lobby front, walk down through the gardens past the water features, exit the main gate, and then turn left outside the garden wall turning north past the VIP gate). There will be beautiful views across the gulf to the back of the hotel, which is far more massive than it appears from the front.
The Marina Mall is very similar to the modern upscale malls of Dubai. A viewing tower in the mall was not open when we were there. From the mall it is a taxi or shuttle ride back across the city to the port. The taxi stand is well organized. Fares should be metered (in UAE dirhams), but are reasonable even if negotiated.
Doha (Qatar): Qatar is not a member of the United Arab Emirates and therefore has its own currency (the riyal, which is almost equivalent in value to the UAE dirham). When we visited Doha, the capital of Qatar, our ship provided a free shuttle into the center of town and the several sights we saw were all free and within walking distance of each other. The only cost was the Qatar visa (almost $200 each in our case), but that issue was already discussed in my Silver Cloud cruise review.
Qatar is completing a beautiful new Islamic museum, a national library, a national museum, and a photography museum, but none of these was open in March 2008 when we visited. Instead, the ship's free shuttle bus dropped us off at the nicely reconstructed Souq (traditional shopping area) Waqif. This provides many small shops with handicrafts, spices, and inexpensive souvenirs. Nearby is a large mosque with a spiral minaret. When we ventured in, we were welcomed by guides who took us to the modern prayer room upstairs and provided us with extensive free booklets about Islam and a copy of the Koran itself. Downstairs was a very interesting photo exhibition of Islamic calligraphy, and a resident calligrapher wrote our (transliterated) names as a free souvenir of our visit.
Until the major new museums are completed, there is not much else to do in Doha, although the nearby corniche (waterfront) provides a pleasant walk on mild winter days.
Manama (Bahrain): Like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Bahrain is undergoing an economic boom, with futuristic skyscrapers and massive public works. Ships dock several miles south of the Manama city center, and the free shuttle bus from the port to the Bahrain Gate (Bab al Bahrain) was very useful. However, rush hour can mean gridlock, and some of our cruise mates spent more than an hour on the bus traveling those few miles. Fortunately we disembarked early, as soon as the ship cleared immigration formalities, when traffic was still light.
The highlight of Manama for us was the free Koran Museum (Beit al Quran), about a mile east of the Gate, not far from the new National Museum. This provides beautifully displayed examples of rare and modern Korans and related Arabic calligraphy. While we were there, large tour groups from the Costa Romantica passed through in waves. The groups seemed too large to enjoy the exhibits, and we were glad to have the museum to ourselves between groups.
An easy walk (with some frightening intersections) to the east is the modern National Museum, which provides beautiful cultural and historical displays pertaining to Bahrain. The entry fee is about $3 US ( 1 Bahraini dinar) for two people. The ticket seller accepted US cash. The museum is well worth a visit.
Bandar Abbas (Iran): This was the first time that Silversea stopped at a mainland Iran port (Bandar Abbas is Iran's largest gulf port and is a major naval station). Some passengers were apprehensive about stopping there, but the welcome could not have been warmer. In fact, we were greeted dockside by a group of young children in ethnic (Bandar) costumes as local newsmen hovered in the background taking photos.
As in other ports, the ship provided a free shuttle to the town center, which is several miles to the east of the port. The local escorts seemed hesitant to let us wander on our own, not because of any travel restrictions but simply because they felt responsible for our well-being in the crowded markets. Fortunately a group of Turkish passengers (perhaps Persian emigres) spoke Farsi and explained to the guides that we would be fine on our own, so off we went.
There is little in the way of museums or major sights in Bandar Abbas, which is not known as a tourist center. However, the several traditional covered markets, small modern shopping centers, and outdoor farmers markets provided enough color to make the port a very enjoyable and photogenic stop. Unlike their Arab neighbors, the Persians did not seem to mind being photographed, although we always asked permission first.
In one modern shopping center we found a small internet café. We had no Iranian currency, so I offered the owner a handful of euros, dollars, and dirhams. He took two dollars (for half an hour of internet time), and even though our currency was probably worthless to him, he wanted to gives us change in Iranian rials, which we declined.
Whatever one may read in the news about Iran as a nation, the people of Bandar Abbas were exceptionally friendly and seemed surprised to see us. One senses the financial constraints they are under (there were some beggars but no apparent urban squalor), but still they managed to smile and were happy to help us when possible. Their Persian ancestry is quite distinct from their Arabic neighbors across the Persian (called Arabian by the Arabs) Gulf. One hopes that tourism to Iran will flourish when current political issues stabilize.
CONCLUSION Two weeks after our Persian Gulf cruise on the Silver Cloud my wife and I took a Panama Canal cruise on a premium mainstream cruise line. Although we found that canal cruise very enjoyable, with fine food and good service, the large ship (2,000 passengers) seemed noisy, crowded, and impersonal when compared with our experience on the Silver Cloud. Whether the difference between luxury and mainstream cruise lines is worth the difference in cruise price is a personal question. You will have to try a luxury cruise to answer that question for yourself.
When choosing a cruise style, for us the answer remains "all of the above". We will continue to cruise on a variety of cruise lines in a variety of cruise styles, enjoying each for what it does best. Similarly, over the years we have owned economical compact cars, high performance sports cars, and luxury sedans. Wouldn't life be boring if we were all limited to one type of car -- or one type of cruise ship?
Could not understand why there were no reviews on this line. Just came back from the Silver Wind Fall Foliage Cruise and yes we did have one complaint. Which is not bad considering how much there is to complain about. Our Complaint? Ah yes the problem was that the leaves hadn't turned yet!!!! We have been on 19 different cruises and Silverseas came as close as possible to a 10 which I refuse to give because no one is perfect!
I should add that the other passengers were great (nearly all seniors) and they wanted to keep it a deep dark secret as nearly all had been on 3 or more Silversea cruises!
Several years ago I sailed on Silversea Cruises' SILVER CLOUD in the Mediterranean. I greatly enjoyed the experience but haven't found the time to return as quickly as I had hoped, until now.
My partner and I chose the SILVER SHADOW for a 9-night cruise beginning in Barbados on October 17, 2007 and ending in Ft. Lauderdale. We also spent two nights at Sandy Lane in Barbados prior to the cruise. For those that prefer to "cut to the chase" so to speak, I'll tell you upfront that Silversea lived up to all our expectations and even exceeded them. The reports I have read on various message boards about declining standards were not evident on my sailing. In fact I think some aspects of the cruise were upgraded upon reflection of my previous Silversea experience.
Pre-Cruise Special mention must be made of Silversea's pre-cruise documentation. They say first impressions are lasting impressions in this is certainly the case with Silversea. I don't think any Cruise Line or Tour Company has a better presentation. Your documents arrive in a silver box, and inside is a lovely black document holder embossed with the Silversealogo. The documents have the personal touch and the ticket is actually printed on Silversea letterhead rather than typical ticket stock. Also included is a leave at home itinerary, pre printed baggage tags, two Silversea permanent luggage tags, shore excursion booklet, question and answer book, a suite preference form, and a gift order form. It's this early indication of attention to detail that continued throughout the cruise and sets Silversea apart from other lines. [ http://public.fotki.com/eroller/silver-shadow---oct/silver-shadow---cor/img2624.html ]
Sandy Lane "Simply to die for." We flew from Atlanta to Barbados on American and the flight was average. Nothing to write home about but we (and our luggage) arrived safely and in tact. That alone is a good flight in my book. Once we cleared customs our private car (BMW 7-series) and driver were there to greet us. Round trip transfers are provided by Sandy Lane if you book through the American Express Fine Hotel and Resorts Program (Platinum and Centurion Card holders). It's a fairly long drive from the airport to Sandy Lane. I would say it took about 40 minutes and although we were tired, we quickly forgot about our fatigue once we pulled through the gates of Sandy Lane. "Stunning" is really the best word to describe the property. Flowers, fountains, a fresh fragrance, birds chirping, and the ocean lapping truly put us into sensory overload. A very warm welcome from the accommodating staff (kudos to Sandra, Sophia, and Walwen) immediately put us at ease. Ice-cold menthol towels were presented along with a delicious concoxion of fresh island juices. We were escorted to our suite in the Orchard Wing where the check-in formalities were conducted and an orientation of the suite was given. You might wonder why we would need an orientation, so please have a look at the pictures (see pictures link at the end of the review) and you will see why. The suite had soothing décor, traditional in style but high-tech at the same time. There were three flat-panel TV's where you could program music, watch TV, play DVD's, access hotel services, or surf the net (free of charge). In addition there were several control panels throughout the suite that controlled curtains, music, lights, air conditioning, fans, door locks, etc. Even the "do not disturb" sign was an electronic light controlled from the panel. In addition we enjoyed the high-tech espresso maker.
Our suite included a bedroom, walk in closet, marble bath, second half bath, dining area, parlor, and entry hall. In addition the patio was massive and also included it's own dining area and seating area. Please see the pictures, as words really can't describe this gorgeous room. [ http://public.fotki.com/eroller/silver-shadow---oct/sandy-lane---barbados/ ] We were only steps from the beach, which was an added plus.
That night we enjoyed the Manager's Cocktail reception in the main patio area and then a delicious tasting menu dinner at L'Acadou, the fine dining establishment. It was delicious and very expensive! While we dined we enjoyed entertainment from native Barbados dancers along with island music. The other backdrop was a beautiful starlit beach and a calm surf adding to the ambiance.
Sandy Lane offers an amazing spa, massive pool with waterfalls and swim up bar, country club with three golf courses, childcare center, and a beautiful beach. The entire nature of the resort is one of relaxation, indulgence, sport, and quiet reflection.
Notes and highlights include: amazing beach service and wonderful padded chairs; incredible spa; three championship golf courses with beautiful clubhouse; GPS navigation system in every golf cart; majority of British guests; wild monkeys roaming the property; stunning beach and pools; warm, friendly service from the heart.
I'm pretty much a ship fanatic and usually can't wait to get to the ship. Staying at Sandy Lane was the exception. I really didn't want to leave. It was simply that fantastic. We were given hugs from the staff as we left and another private car took us to the SILVER SHADOW, about a 20-minute drive away along the coast.
Boarding Silver Shadow Boarding the SILVER SHADOW was impressive as ever. A group of about ten staff were pierside in white gloves to welcome you onboard. Once up the gangplank, Fernando the Cruise Director from Portugal was present to personally greet you. Champagne was offered and check-in formalities were conducted in the showlounge. Mission quickly accomplished, we were escorted to our suite, cabin 618, slightly forward on Deck 6 and what Silversea labels a Veranda Suite.
Suite 618 Renee, our cabin Stewardess from New Zealand quickly arrived and introduced herself. She pointed out all the features of the suite and made sure we knew how to contact her for anything we desired. She also asked what type of pillows we prefer, and how we would like the bar stocked. Amenities in the suite included binoculars; umbrella; sewing and shoe shine kit; extra blanket; slippers; robes; safe; clock; cosmetic mirror; stocked refrigerator; ice; glasses; and wonderful Bvlgari bath products. Of course a bottle of champagne awaited us along with the daily program (the Silversea Chronicles) and personalized stationary / welcome letters.
Service provided by Renee was exemplary and the cabin was kept spotless. Everything was like new and in perfect working order. This cabin was very quiet and we rarely heard noise from outside the cabin.
Special mention must be made of room service. It is truly exquisite. There is an extensive room service menu, but if there is something else you desire just ask and the staff will do their best to accommodate you. The breakfast menu is quite extensive and I enjoyed delicious blueberry pancakes most mornings. Lunch and dinner are also superb, and you are free to order off the dining room menu (included in the daily Silversea Chronicles) during normal lunch and dinner times. Room service is not just dropped off, but prepared on a special table that fits over the coffee table in your suite. Frette linens and fine china / silverware accompany the delicious cuisine. At dinner, you have the option of having your courses served course by course if you desire. The room service alone is reason enough to sail on Silversea!
The Ship SILVER SHADOW is typical of the Silversea fleet. Modern, clean, impeccably maintained, understated, comfortable, and well designed. I slightly prefer the SILVER SHADOW over the SILVER CLOUD for a few reasons. The gym and spa are larger, as is the pool deck. Also, the outdoor decks are more expansive and the cabin bathrooms are larger. SHADOW also had a newer feeling to her, which makes sense as she is a newer vessel. The differences are small enough that I would not hesitate to sail on the smaller Silversea vessels again if the opportunity arises.
Food and Service I felt both were impeccable. I never had a bad meal and the service received everywhere onboard was outstanding. The staff learned your name very quickly and called you by name whenever they had the opportunity.
The Restaurant was available for all three main meals, as was La Terrazza, which is the more casual venue. Breakfast and lunch in La Terrazza were buffet style although there was also a small menu at each table with daily selections. Plenty of staff are on hand to carry your plate and provide beverages. A lovely outdoor area with teak furniture is available at La Terrazza as well. For dinner, La Terrazza becomes a specialty restaurant, which I greatly enjoyed. I didn't feel the food and service were any better than The Restaurant, but it was a nice change of atmosphere. Reservations are required. The Restaurant had a four-piece band and dancing on certain evenings along with candlelit tables all adding to the ambiance. Many people danced between courses.
Le Champagne is an extra tariff restaurant and one of the few things you pay additional for on Silversea. I never tried it so I can't comment. It never seemed too busy but then again nothing seems too busy on Silversea. There is simply no waiting and no lines anywhere.
Finally there is the Poolside Grill. Beautiful teak tables and chairs are located in shaded areas poolside, and there is a special menu. Here they have burgers, hot dogs, fresh fish, chicken, salads, and wonderful deserts. Unlike poolside grills on most ships, this one is all waiter service. Everything is brought to you and made to order. If you want something off the menu, just ask. I really enjoyed the Poolside Grill, as I tend to spend a lot of time by the pool.
Something Silversea is well known for is an evening barbeque poolside. This is not a typical barbeque but truly a first class affair with dancing, entertainment, waiter service, real china, and linen covered tables. I greatly enjoyed this on SILVER CLOUD and was looking forward to it on the SHADOW as well. Unfortunately after the crew spent hours preparing, it had to be canceled due to showers. A disappointment for the passengers, but I felt more sorry for the crew who worked so hard to provide a truly memorable experience.
Entertainment Entertainment is very low key on Silversea. There are no art auctions, photographers, bingo, pool games (besides water volleyball) Vegas shows, or revenue producing announcements. Instead there are enrichment lectures and demonstrations during the day, with a small show (usually a vocalist or musician) at night along with dancing and music. Don't be fooled though, evenings can be lively on Silversea with dancing and conversation going into the wee hours. One set of lectures I enjoyed on this sailing were provided by the Cruise Director Fernando. It turns out he is a bit of a ship nut like I am. Just like I did as a child, he collected brochures, deck plans, and visited any ship possible while growing up in Lisbon. He is quite knowledgeable about ships and put on an entertaining lecture all with his own slides.
Fellow Passengers In keeping tradition with my last Silversea Cruise, our fellow passengers were a diverse group. There were only three children onboard, with a nice mix of ages for the adults. I think something like 27 nationalities were represented among the passengers, which speaks volumes considering the ship had just under 300 passengers onboard. I think the majority of passengers were from the UK, with the US close behind. What I love about Silversea passengers is how well traveled they are. Most love to talk about travel and they have lots of interesting stories and antidotes to share. Many seem to know each other from past Silversea Cruises. It really felt like a big family and everyone seemed to get along famously. With only 300 passengers onboard, you always ran into a familiar face, which is a pleasant change from the mega-ships.
Weather The weather was simply marvelous from start to finish. We had short rain showers in St. Barts (between the sun and stars) and the rest of the time it was glorious sunshine. Our final morning pulling into Ft. Lauderdale we were met with overcast skies and rain, but at that point who cares?
Seas were calm and usually it was difficult to tell the ship was moving. There was a slight rocking on a few nights, just enough to lull you to sleep.
Ports Barbados; St Lucia; Guadeloupe; Antigua; St Bart's; St Kitts; Virgin Gorda; Prickly Pear.
I'm not going to write too much about the ports. We had been to most before and we really went on this cruise for the ship experience more than the ports. Barbados and St Barts were my favorites, and I would certainly return to either. I wasn't too thrilled with St Lucia or Guadeloupe. In fact Guadeloupe should have been skipped all together as far as I was concerned.
In St. Bart's we went to the lovely Guanahani Hotel and enjoyed an afternoon of sun on the beach. We were able to use all the facilities of the hotel and enjoyed a wonderful lunch poolside. The Guanahani is a first class resort, but personally I much preferred Sandy Lane on Barbados. The SILVER SHADOW actually arrived in St. Bart's at 11pm the night prior to our schedule arrival. We simply anchored off the island and spent the night in the shadow of the island. It was kind of magical with the ship being so quiet (no engines) and the shoreline being so close.
Silversea provided a lovely private beach barbeque on Prickly Pear Island. This island is next to the exclusive Necker Island owned by Richard Branson. Literally everything was brought ashore from the ship via tender and the crew did an amazing job. The only thing local was the music, which was great. Cocktails, champagne, beer, etc. were all included just as they are onboard ship. A special treat were the waiters who waded out into the ocean to serve guests champagne and beer (or anything else you wanted) from special floating trays. It was truly a sight to behold and I quite enjoyed the experience, decadent as it was! I think the waiters enjoyed it as much as the passengers. I know Seabourn Cruise Line had done this for years, and now it appears Silversea is getting into the act as well.
Disembarkation All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately this Silversea cruise was no exception. Debarkation was smooth and civilized. There are no announcements before 8am and I was even able to enjoy my blueberry pancakes via room service the last morning. We said our goodbyes and we were off the ship by 9am. The staff was lined up to say goodbye as you exit the ship and available to carry your hand luggage if you so desire. We took a cab to Miami where we caught an uneventful American flight back to Atlanta.
Final Thoughts I hope from this review you are able to determine how much I enjoyed this vacation. I truly feel Silversea is better than ever, as they continue to provide a first class cruising experience. The combination of newer small ships, larger cabins, balconies, spotless vessels, delicious cuisine, attention to detail, interesting itineraries, and excellent personal service truly places Silversea at the forefront of the luxury cruise industry. I did not witness any penny pinching or a decline in service as some have indicated on various message boards. In fact I felt many things were even better and more luxurious than my past Silversea cruise about six years ago. Some people just can't be pleased and seem to look for anything to nit pick at. I have sailed on over 60 cruises on many different cruise lines and I can tell you it would be difficult to surpass my experience on the SILVER SHADOW.
Just below is a link to pictures and my email address if you have any questions. I hope you enjoyed the review and pictures.
Note: The pictures are divided into several different folders (ports, cabin, ship, etc.).
Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just Returned From Silver Whisper-FABULOUS!!
My husband and I were on Silver Wind ten years ago and had the trip of our lifetime. I never thought it could be repeated again. But it was! Another trip of a lifetime on Silversea!
We were on a 9 day cruise - June 6-15 to Greek Islands, Sicily and Italy.
Of course the ports were wonderful, but I am not going to review the ports since everyone chooses an itinerary based on their own preferences. My objective is to discuss our experience on Silversea.
From the moment we boarded the ship- The service was incredible!! Every staff person always greeted us and had a big smile on their faces.
Woke up very early every morning (we couldn’t wait to start our day on Silver Whisper) - and ordered cappuccino delivered to our rooms. Ten minutes later it would arrive and placed on our balcony with fine linens and china. 24 hour room service- you can order anything to eat or drink. Ordered drinks at 2:00 a.m. and same efficient and quick service.
Then we would go to La Terrazza for buffet breakfast when it opened. Huge wonderful assortmentof breakfast items, juices, fresh omelet station, fresh fruit station with staff cutting the fruit. etc. - Glasses for juices were chilled. The attention to this kind of detail was evident in everything they did on the ship. Then you could have pancakes, waffles etc., prepared for you.
I am not a breakfast eater- so ordered Lamb Chops, with wild mushrooms and ice tea every morning. (Asked for fresh pineapple slice in my ice tea). By the second day, the waiters knew me and would say - “Are you ready for your Lamb Chops and your Ice tea with fresh pineapple”. 10-15 minutes later the Lamb Chops arrived. The point I am trying to get across is whatever special request you may want- the answer is always “YES”! The waiters would carry your plates to your table from the buffet. All the waiters had wonderful attitudes and were there to please you in every way. You are made to feel very special!
We had a veranda suite which included a balcony. We loved having the balcony and used it all the time. The room is lovely, with plenty of closet space and more drawers than you can fill up- and we had 4 pieces of luggage. Personalized stationary with your name on it. Fresh flowers in your cabin. The bathrooms were fantastic! - double sinks, shower and tub with Bulgari amenities- soap, shampoo, conditioner etc. Very comfortable bed with fine linens and duvet cover.
The stewardess was fantastic. Always smiling and calling us by our names. Good morning Mr. and Mrs.…... The stewardess’s- work in teams with 2 people taking care of your suite. The cabins are cleaned twice a day and the cleaning was immaculate. They even lined up my makeup in a straight row!
We kept saying to ourselves, this service is UNBELIEVABLE!!!
We had to keep asking ourselves how anything can be so perfect like this.
We ate dinner every night in the main dining room and also ate once in the Italian Restaurant. The food was excellent. Many choices and if you don’t see what you like on the menu- they will bring you what you request. One day I saw an appetizer from lunch that looked interesting and requested it for dinner. Nothing was ever a problem! The dining room wait staff was so professional, great attitudes and impeccable service.
We were greeted by the waiter and wine steward the minute you sat down. Every night it was like eating in a fine restaurant. Presentation of the food on the plates was always beautifully done. The beef dishes were extraordinary- beef melted in our mouths! You will be pampered beyond belief!!
Most nights we would stay in the dining room for 3 hours talking to our fellow guests we were dining with at our table.We enjoyed the formal nights as it made for a Glamorous Evening!
Chef David was accessible to all the guests. Coming out to the dining room, greeting everyone and making sure you were happy. One day my husband told the chef- he may prefer something different instead of a filet of fish. The chef said call me and let me know- he said "do you want a whole fish- I can make it anyway you want".
Almost on every port before we were ready to sail- there would be a lovely small buffet set up by the pool area before dinner. Chef David was always walking around - getting to know all the guests.
One night we had a "Barbeque Dinner" on the pool deck. It was FANTASTIC! Forty desserts to choose from- I counted! The pool deck was set up with fabric covered chairs, linen tablecloths. Great entertainment and dancing to the wee hours. We were talking to a few couples and the Captain came by our table and talk to us for one hour! That is what made our cruise so special- all the staff treated you like family!
Every cruise they do an open Kitchen Galley Buffet Lunch. What a magnificent presentation! So interesting to see how the kitchen functions.
See pictures of Kitchen Galley Lunch, Barbeque Dinner Buffet on Pool Deck and Breakfast Buffet:
At the bars they use linen napkins- another attention to fine detail! All the bartenders made great drinks! I like Pina Coladas and had it prepared in Hawaii with vanilla ice cream. I told the bartender and with in a few minutes they went down to the kitchen galley and got the ice cream. No request is denied!
When we disembarked at the ports they had cold bottled water to take ashore and on the way back waiting for the tenders to return to the ship -at the ports they had cold punch, water and chilled towels!
What makes Silversea cruises so special are the fellow passengers you meet. We met wonderful, fascinating people from all over the world. Everyone was so friendly and wanted to socialize. We have made some lasting friendships that we will keep in touch with.
If you want wonderful service, great food, and a smaller ship than there is only one Cruise Line- SILVERSEA!
The advantage of the smaller ship is that it is easier to make friends since you run into the same people all the time and the staff members get to know you personally.
Ron our cruise director was so friendly, and eloquent making announcements and always had a big smile when he greeted us.
The entertainment was classy, A Broadway singer, a famous pianist etc.
On the third day the Cruise Hotel Director delivered to all cabins a sheet asking if there is anything that he can do to make your cruise more pleasant please let him know. I wrote back on the sheet: “HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE PERFECTION” And I meant it. There is nothing that I would add or change.
Spoke to many fellow passengers the last day of the cruise and everyone had the same opinion saying it was FABULOUS!
If you like Four Seasons hotels than you will love Silversea!
In fact I think Silversea is a cut above Four Seasons Hotels if you compare everything.
Silversea is a CLASS ACT! You will not be disappointed. In fact it will probably be one of the highlights of your life!! You will be blown away with the Perfection in everything they do to make your cruise a memorable experience.
Silversea is expensive, but worth every dollar you pay. We loved an all inclusive cruise- never have to sign for anything. Everything is included.
We kept asking ourselves, how can a cruise line deliver such a perfect product down to every last detail.
We travel all over the world for our business and have stayed in the finest hotels- and the Cruise we just went on with Silversea in all around service, food, attention to detail, and staff is top on our list.
To be honest it was hard to go back to reality when the cruise ended as this cruise was a Fantasy come true!
Our experience on Silversea was beyond our wildest dreams!
How would we describe our cruise? MAGNIFICENT! AMAZING! PERFECT! FANTASTIC! INCREDIBLE! AND FABULOUS!!
If you want the best service, great food, a wonderful cruise experience than Silversea is for you!