Silver Cloud review: "Whispering Winds"
Dates: March 29-April 12
Itinerary: Dubai, UAE (overnight); Muscat, Oman; Salalah, Oman; Safaga, Egypt (overnight); Aqaba, Jordan (overnight); Suez Canal transit; Port Said, Egypt (overnight).
This itinerary is an excellent introduction into the Middle East and how the region goes from the futuristic, modern Dubai to the antiquities and more traditional lifestyle of Salalah.
Port Overview: Dubai-Modern city...the Monte Carlo or Las Vegas of the Middle East (without the gambling!) Excellent hotels; fine western restaurants. The gold souk (marketplace) is impressive. We spent a few days in Dubai before boarding the ship, While there we rented a car and drove to Al-Ain, a town midway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Well worth the journey. It gave us a better view of what the UAE is like. Muscat: We opted not to do a ship organized tour. We took the complimentary shuttle to the souk (marketplace) and meandered around there and the old part of the city. The souk was more traditional and in my opinion, more interesting than the souks in Dubai. We took a taxi to the Al-Bustan Intercontinental Hotel for a nice, relaxing lunch by the ocean. On the drive to the hotel, the taxi driver took us past the Sultan's palace. Salalah: We opted to take the tour. (See below) Safaga: We opted to take the overnight tour of the 'Valley of the Kings' (see below) Aqaba: Aqaba is the Jordanian port nearest the remarkable archeological site of Petra. The ship's tour included round-trip bus to Petra; approximately 3 hours in the site; a guide; lunch. This cost USD195.00. The three of us knew that Petra was huge and wanted to spend the entire day there. Doing some research on the internet we were able to find a company that picked us up pierside in a new Mercedes-Benz S-class and drove us to and from Petra. This allowed us the freedom to spend as much time as we liked in Petra. The cost for the car was USD300.00 for the car and driver. Entry into the site is 21 Jordanian dinar and they do not take foreign currency or credit cards. (Remember to have dinar with you if you make private arrangements to Petra!) If you would like a guide you can arrange one at the visitors center. We elected to see the site on our own. We spoke with some folks who did the ship sponsored tour and they said it was fine, but not long enough in Petra, and they would've preferred to be in a private Mercedes than in a bus. Suez Canal transit: Certainly an interesting day and process. It's one way traffic only and ships join a convoy. There are no locks (such as those found in the Panama Canal). It's a deep ditch in the sand! Pt. Said: Other than the pier, saw nothing of Pt. Said as we disembarked and headed to Cairo.
Cabin: (719) This is a Verandah Suite and on this itinerary we really enjoyed the ability to sit out in the sun in privacy. Acqua di Parma amenities now rule the Silversea waves and they're quite nice. They were replenished about 4 times over the two weeks. The cabin is your standard, very comfortable Silversea stateroom. It's a bit smaller than the cabins found on the Whisper and Shadow.
Food: Splendid! Whether it is hot-dogs or pizza poolside or a specially prepared meal, we could not find any fault with the food aboard the Silver Cloud. When we travel, we like to bring our own wines with us (the Silver Cloud has a very good Premium Wine List and the "house wines" are good as well so don't feel you need to lug wines around the world!). The head sommelier (J.J.) was truly very knowledgeable about wines. One evening we invited the Cruise Director and her partner to a dinner where the chef and sommelier paired the wines with the food to create special menu for us. Outstanding! We also dined with other guests who had the sous-chef (a South African) create a special menu based on their personal South African wines. Another outstanding pairing! Service: Excellent! The crew of the Silver Cloud doesn't seem to know the word "no". On the guest information form I noted that I preferred "Pepsi" vs. "Coca-Cola". Imagine my surprise when I opened the minibar and found cans of Pepsi! They also had Pepsi at the pool bar from the second day of the voyage. I asked one of the bartenders if they always had both Pepsi and Coke. He said that they carry both on board but Coke is for the passengers and Pepsi is for the crew. Every time I'd order a soda by the pool, they would bring me a glass of Pepsi and the can to show that it was Pepsi. Sort of like the days when someone would order Sanka at a restaurant/diner and they'd bring the empty Sanka packet with the coffee! Midway through the cruise we were given a feedback form to fill in. Anything we wrote about (and they were minor) was addressed the next day by a note from the Hotel Director.
Embarkation: The Dubai Cruise Terminal is very modern and easy to manage. We were met inside the terminal as we cleared the security checkpoint. We were escorted from the terminal to the ship by white gloved Silversea staff. Once onboard we were photographed and issued our keycards and then further escorted to our stateroom. Very easy, very smooth embarkation.
Disembarkation: This was similarly easy as anyone getting off in Pt. Said was either taking buses to Cairo or made private arrangements.
The Ship: The dEcor of the ship is very attractive, very light, and not at all glitzy. She's an easy, very comfortable vessel to get around with the design of all staterooms forward and most public rooms aft. The social locations on the ship were the "Panorama Lounge" and "The Bar". It is in these lounges that people would congregate for their cocktails and conversation. One caveat for you ship lovers: If you're looking for a nautical experience you won't find it on this ship. The Silver Cloud is more of a floating Ritz-Carlton and less a seafaring vessel.
Shore Excursions: Dubai: "Sharjah", Sharjah is an emirate about 30 minutes from Dubai. We took a ½ day tour of Sharjah on the morning the ship was to sail. It was a nice diversion but nothing to write home about. Salalah: "The Frankincense Trail"-This was a very interesting tour. During this tour we were taken to the tomb of Job (from the Bible story). We were also taken to a frankincense tree where we were shown how frankincense is 'tapped' from the tree. The last stop was a beach with blowholes. It was nice to see the "countryside" of Oman. Safaga: "Luxor and the Valley of the Kings". This was an overnight excursion. We were taken by buses to the Karnak Temple. Karnak is amazing and our guide was knowledgeable. We spent about 90 minutes at Karnak before making our way to the Sonesta Hotel for lunch and to check in. The hotel is fine. Not luxury but by no means a "Motel 6". All meals at the hotel are buffet style and average at best. After checking in we went to the Luxor Temple. We returned to the hotel for dinner, but instead of going to the buffet, we ventured next door to the Le Meridien for dinner. After dinner we returned to the Karnak Temples for a Light and Sound show. The Light and Sound show is included in the cost of the tour but is frankly too long. The following morning we went to the "Valley of the Kings" where we saw the tombs of King Tut, Ramses III, Ramses IX. Truly fascinating. The only 'ugliness' on any tour came about when one of the tour guides from another Silversea bus took two of her passengers straight to the head of a very long line to get into a tomb. There was a near riot and the tour guide didn't seem to care.
Entertainment: We're really not ones to go to the shows in the lounges but what we did see was very good. The ship has a troupe from the "Jean Ann Ryan Company" as resident performers performing various shows. The ship also had a jazz pianist on for the first week and a singer for the second.
Security: Whether we were walking in a city by ourselves or were part of an organized tour we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. People were friendly at each port even when we said we were Americans. In Egypt the tour buses are escorted by and manned with a security detail. At no time during our trip did we feel unsafe or in danger.
Overall impressions: The Silver Cloud was the way to see this part of the world. The passengers were of mixed nationalities and got on quite well (US, UK, Australia and Luxembourg nationals formed the 4 largest nationality blocs). The average age was probably in the 50s. Six Stars for the Silver Cloud!