My wife and I just returned from the Whisper on a cruise to the Baltics states and while things are still relatively fresh in my mind, I thought I would write a bit about our most recent Silversea experience. (Previous to this, we had been on the Shadow and the Spirit, most recently about two years ago. We have also accumulated over 100 days at sea on other assorted mainstream cruise lines.) Anyway, here are some general impressions:
We thought the service was not only good but in many cases exemplary. Our butler Arlyn was terrific. Upon meeting, she did indeed offer to unpack for us (declined), make restaurant reservations and even hunted down Diet Pepsi for me. She also delivered room service on the mornings we ordered it (on four different occasions, she was always within 10 minutes of our requested time.) The wait staff in the MDR were also good (by the second day, the head waiter knew that we preferred to sit at a table for two, and always sat us in the section where one waiter we particularly liked was working) and the bar staff knew our drink preferences by the second day (as well as the fact that my wife liked to have a plate of pimento stuffed olives with her drink. No idea where she picked up this odd craving but whenever she wanted olives, she got them!) And at the end of the cruise, I asked in the shop if I could buy the Bvlgari products. They did not sell but called up the spa, which they thought might possibly sell. They didn't either but then contacted our butler and lo and behold, on departure, we were given an entire set of the Bvlgari toiletries complements of the head of housekeeping. I thought this was really nice.
FOOD AND WINE
Of course this is subjective but I thought the food was for the most part very good. I *loved* the afternoon teas. (I should have asked if I could have purchased one of those cool tea timers and maybe they would have given me one of those as well...) And the meals in both Le Champagne and La Terraza were very good. I thought the meals in the MDR were a bit hit and miss in that there were just some errors in execution (i.e. overdone meat, some items under-seasoned and for some reason, the person making the eggs in the buffet just could not seem to make an over-medium egg.) On the other hand, maybe my favorite meal was the "always available" pork chop, and in the MDR, the lunch menus often had some very interesting selections such as a Malaysian coconut curry or dal and basmati rice. (The meze option was not an option on this cruise.) By far, the weakest meal on the trip was the Grill (hot rocks.) The vegetable skewer was really limp and this was the one time on the entire trip where I thought the service was less than stellar in that we were not able to get another vegetable from the MDR. I suspect that if the weather is nice and the sea is calm, with a group of people the Grill might be a social, more pleasant experience but having done this once, once was enough.
As far as the wines went, we prefer reds so this is what we stuck with. Most of the house pours were decent. (I kept a list of them just to look them up for any kind of Wine Spectator rating and retail price. When I could find a rating, they were around 85 and cost between $7 and $12.) I thought only one wine offered was undrinkable and after the third day, the wine steward was very good about trying to find a wine we previously liked. (Our butler also made a real effort to supply us with wines we liked but apparently the way things work on SS is that the restaurants have one stock of wine and housekeeping has another. I found this out when in La Terraza, I said to the head waiter that in our room, we were given a DOCG Chianti and if possible we wanted that for dinner. It took about 15 minutes but they finally found a bottle! They said that they needed to get it from housekeeping; conversely, it took our butler a day to get a bottle of wine we had in the MDR because it was not a part of housekeeping's stock.) And I must say that we had a few of the connoisseur wines (had to use those OBCs!) and I was surprised that the two we had were priced at less than I would pay retail at my local store. I'm actually surprised that SS doesn't "adjust" their prices...)
We were in 711. Regular veranda. Nice room, nothing spectacular but very comfortable. Two things I will mention about this particular room: One is if you look on a deck plan, this is one of those rooms that it is located next to "white space". I was a bit apprehensive when I saw this (I assumed we were next to the launderette) but it was just an area where crew go in and out and we never heard any excess noise or slamming doors. The other thing about this cabin is that it is pretty close to the front (stern?) of the ship and there is no stairway at the front of the ship. Could be a bit of a walk for some (although not an issue for us.)
We thought the Whisper looked good considering her age. One nice thing about the Whisper is that it never felt crowded. My favorite space was the Observation Deck on the 10th deck. Beside one Venetian event, I rarely saw anyone up there. The fitness center was adequate and rarely used (even on the sea day.) Can't really fairly comment on the pool because for most days, it was rather cold and wet so it was pretty deserted. Compared to the Spirit, the Library was pretty small (but my wife did manage to find a few books to read.) And the casino was pretty small (but it did pay one nice jackpot!)
I'm pretty sure that most do not cruise SS for the shows. Saying they were "productions" would be a stretch in that there was not even a live band playing during the evening shows but to their credit the singers tried hard. Kind of reminded me of what you would see on "American Idol" when the contestants have to perform as a group but really haven't practiced that much together and are singing songs they really don't want to sing. And I always found it, um, interesting to see the "Artists of Silversea" double as passport monitors or leading miniature golf contests.
The in-room video system was OK. I seem to remember that on the Spirit, there were a lot more choices (and if I remember, even free movies on demand.) Actually, there was a good collection of DVDs available in the Library if one was so inclined.
Here are just some other random thoughts:
- The wireless Internet was really bad. From what other told me, it was up maybe 50% of the time. (I did buy the 250 minute package and probably used up the 90 minutes on the last morning just because prior to this, I could never get a stable signal either, and when I did, it was like the old dial-up/modem days.)
- I thought the ship should have had somewhere that had coffee/tea available 24/7. With jet lag, I was finding myself up at odd hours of the morning and although room service could have been an option, sometimes you (at least I) just wanted to get something to drink then and there.
- Not that I am overly sensitive to it but I didn't find second-hand smoke to be an issue.
- If you want reservations in the specialty restaurants, I would do this as soon as you get on board. I did this around 12:30pm and from what I could gather, by around 2pm all of the reservations were taken. (I'm pretty sure if I asked my butler to do this, we would have been out of luck since we didn't meet our butler until after 2pm.)
- One thing I found useful to pack from home was an electrical strip. There was one 110 volt outlet and since I had a Kindle and an iPad and a phone, etc. etc, it was convenient to be able to charge more than one thing at a time.
- For some reason, we were invited to have dinner with the ship's doctor one evening. (This could be a thread in and of itself but based on our conversation, *never* get sick on a ship...)
- I thought the head chef (a young South African woman named Ann-Marie) was really personable and did a very nice cooking demo. I'm surprised that SS does not have a chef's table in the kitchen where you can spend more time with the chef and talk more about the food. (Can you say additional revenue stream?...)
- Like I said previously, I thought the house wines were fine but I think that maybe SS should consider stocking up on mainstream wines (i.e. Rodney Strong, Blackstone, Sterling.) None of these are very expensive but are decent (as opposed to some of the hit or miss wines that I tried. I mean SS stocks up on brands such as Glenlivet and Grey Goose and JW Black so why not have a stable of recognizable house wines as well?...)
- When you get your preliminary bill (about two days before the end of the cruise), there is *that* charity charge on it. However, there is also an "opt out" piece of paper attached to the bill. If you fill it out and drop it off at the reception desk, the charge comes off on the final bill no problem.
- I am not getting into the port experience on this cruise (better handled on the Ports boards) but Silversea did provide a free shuttle in the one port (Tallinn) that arguably needed a shuttle service. (I think another advantage of being on a smaller ship was that in ports like St. Petersburg and Helsinki, the ship was able to dock right in the middle of town making a shuttle unnecessary.)
Wow, this went on way longer than it should have but there you have it. Bottom line is that we loved this cruise (more than anything, the itinerary was the real star) but we thought Silversea did a great job and would definitely use her again if she was going where we were going.