SILVERSEA VERSUS SEABOURN - WHICH IS THE BEST SIX STAR CRUISE EXPERIENCE?
In the past year my wife and I have been lucky enough to cruise on the two top rated small cruise ships as voted in this year's Conde Nast Traveller Magazine poll, namely the Seabourn Spirit and Silversea's Silver Cloud.
As a result we are able to answer that vital question of which small ship offers the ultimate six star cruise experience. In this article I will endeavor to provide a comparison of the ships and service in a number of categories, finally giving you an overall verdict. Whilst there are a number of moans about small problems encountered, it should be borne in mind that you are paying for a six star product and perfection should be the aim.
We sailed on the Seabourn Spirit (suite 129) from Piraeus (Athens) to Istanbul in October 2004 and on the Silver Cloud (suite 711) from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (Rome) in September/October 2005. Both cruises were for one week.
In both cases we arrived at the ship slightly early, ahead of the publishes embarkation time and in both cases using transportation provided by the cruise company.
Seabourn Spirit - on arrival at the Piraeus Cruise Terminal, our baggage was taken from us as soon as the minibus stopped. We were met by a Seabourn representative and taken quickly through security and directly on to the ship. Before boarding we were given ice-cold towels to help us freshen up. The Cruise Director, Jan Steerman and principle entertainer David E Grant, both old friends of ours met us at the top of the gangway. After a very warm welcome we were lead to the main show lounge where embarkation procedures were taking place. We were initially advised that our cabin was not quite ready, but we could wait in the lounge with a glass of Champagne. However following the hand over of our cruise ticket, passports and credit card and having our photos taken for our ID cards, we were told that our cabin was ready and a white-gloved uniformed steward escorted us to our cabin.
On arrival at our cabin, our cabin attendant was waiting for us with a glass of chilled champagne and a choice of canapEs each. We were shown around the cabin and then offered a choice of luxury soaps each for use on the cruise. We were then left to enjoy our champagne as well as the fresh bottle of champagne that was waiting on ice for us on the coffee table.
Within a few minutes, our luggage arrived and we were able to unpack.
Lifeboat drill on Seabourn Spirit is a very fast and fun affair. Having put your lifejacket on, you make your way to one of four Muster Stations on Deck 7. Once everyone is assembled, a roll call is read out and everyone has to answer. A short talk is then given on emergency drill and how to abandon ship. Within 10 mins you are back in your suite!
Sailaway - the Sailaway party on the Seabourn Spirit is a very relaxed and fun occasion with endless glasses of champagne and cocktails being offered along with the most delicious canapEs. It was a truly memorable experience as we left Piraeus and headed out towards the setting sun. No-one wanted to go back to their suites to get ready for dinner!
Silver Cloud - again our luggage was taken from us as soon as the minibus from the airport arrived at Barcelona cruise terminal. A uniformed steward was there to meet us and guide us through security and to the gangway where we handed in our cruise ticket. We were then escorted to the Reception Desk on board where we handed in our passports and had our photos taken for the ID cards. We were given a glass of champagne each whilst we were going through this very speedy procedure. Once formalities were completed we were told we could go to our cabin. There was no-one to take us to the cabin, so we found our own way there. On arrival at the cabin we found a bottle of champagne waiting for us on ice on the dining table.
A few minutes later our cabin attendant arrived and introduced herself. The luggage arrived promptly a few minutes later, allowing us to unpack and as we had arrived about an hour early, to go for a walk along Las Ramblas whilst the other guests arrived. When we reboarded the ship, we noticed that guests who were arriving at the proper embarkation time were being met by the Cruise Director, Judie Abbott and given cold towels, champagne and canapEs as they stepped onto the ship.
Lifeboat drill on Silver Cloud is a very drawn out affair. After putting on your lifejacket everyone makes their way to the Panorama Lounge on Deck 8, where there are not enough chairs to accommodate all the guests. There is a very long safety announcement, but no roll call so it is not possible for the crew to be able to tell whether everyone has attended the compulsory lifeboat drill. After the announcement, everyone files out of the lounge by means of four doors, each person putting their hand on the shoulder of the person in front and walking along in a slow "crocodile". You make your way to the lifeboat stations, where the announcement continues. It takes at least 30 minutes before you can return to your suite.
Sailaway - as the ship was two hours late in leaving Barcelona (due to a delay in bunkering - taking on fuel), the Sailaway party was a low-key event. Some cocktails were served along with champagne, but no food. The Cruise Director introduced the senior members of the ship's staff along with the entertainers - and that was that!
On both Seabourn and Silversea, the cabins are classed as suites and have a similar layout, with a sleeping area containing a Queen size bed, a sitting area, marble bathroom and walk-in cupboard.
The size of the cabin on the Seabourn Spirit was slightly larger at 277 sq feet, against Sliver Cloud's 240 sq feet, however our Silver Cloud veranda suite did have a balcony (55 sq feet) containing two plastic chairs and a small plastic table. The Silver Cloud suite was made smaller by the use of two full sized dining chairs, Seabourn employ two padded stools for use at the dining table (which is an extension of the coffee table), which can be stored away under the table when not in use.
The bathroom on the Seabourn Spirit was considerably larger, with two wash basins, as well as toilet and bath. There was certainly more room to move around and store things on the Seabourn Spirit. The toiletries were superior on the Seabourn Spirit with a never-ending supply of Moulton Brown products including a menu of different types of bubble bath (all of which were tried during the cruise). Silversea now use Aqua di Parma bath products, which did not seem to be quite the same quality and our cabin attendant did not replenish stocks automatically, necessitating calls to housekeeping. A recurring problem we had on the Silver Cloud was that there was no hot water when you first used the bathroom in the morning, resulting a most uncomfortable cold wet shave one morning. Calls to reception got the problem fixed quickly each time.
The entertainment centre on the Seabourn Spirit comprised a TV, Video Player and a Bose CD player, which gave excellent sound. On the Silver Cloud, we had a TV and a DVD player that could be used for either DVDs or CDs. This played through the TV's speakers, so the sound quality was not brilliant. When we tried to use the DVD player, it would not work and despite putting in two separate calls to reception, no-one came to fix the problem. This necessitated me having to pull out the DVD player and TV to discover the problem (the SCARY lead had become unplugged). The DVD/CD Player never worked properly, randomly skipping back to the start of the CD or DVD. Perhaps better quality DVD Players would alleviate this problem.
The fridges on both ships were stocked daily with a selection of alcoholic and soft drinks. There was a better selection of soft drinks on Seabourn, but we could have asked for a better variety on the Silver Cloud. The fridge on the Seabourn Spirit was pre-stocked with our favourite drinks on arrival using a preference form which we had filled out at the time of booking, whereas on the Silver Cloud our cabin attendant made a note of our preferences and stocked the fridge later that day. On the Seabourn Spirit, our fridge was always restocked automatically however on the Silver Cloud, after the first few days, a new bottle of Champagne was never left by the attendant necessitating a call each day to Room Service. On both ships it took a while to impress on the staff that my wife likes lots of bottles of water delivered on a daily basis!
The suites on the Seabourn Spirit (as on all the Seabourn ships) are blissfully quiet, the only noise from adjacent cabins being when the vacuum toilets are flushed. On the Silver Cloud, you could hear your neighbours voices and TVs quite clearly (luckily we had very quiet neighbours) and the noise from the corridor was excessive and obtrusive. Silversea only have one door (that leaks light) between the suites and the corridor, whereas Seabourn use two heavy doors that are completely soundproofed. This point is also made in the Berlitz Ocean Cruising Guide and should be borne in mind. There was never any noise from above or below.
The balcony was pleasant to use, if a bit small. There was complete privacy from neighbouring balconies, but of course smoke did drift across. The most one can normally hope for on Seabourn is a French Balcony, which is really just a pair of sliding doors and a glass railing. You cannot sit out, but can sit next to the open window/doors.
One thing to be aware of is that there are more announcements in your cabin on Silversea than on Seabourn. The only ones on Seabourn are the compulsory lifeboat drill announcement and the necessary instructions during disembarkation. On Silversea, there is always a morning announcement when the ship has berthed/anchored and has been cleared by the local authorities, so people can start to go ashore. The first morning it was a bit like being in a holiday camp (Hi-De-Hi!!)
Seabourn Spirit is 10,000 tons and carries at normal maximum capacity 208 passengers. Silver Cloud is 16,800 tons with a normal maximum of 296 passengers. Although this gives both ships a very similar passenger to weight ratio, when all guests are on board and the weather is fine, the Silver Cloud does tend to feel a bit more crowded, especially around the swimming pool. That said, it is always possible to find a secluded spot from which to sunbathe!
The Seabourn Spirit has a very classic yacht profile, with the French Balconies not detracting from her beautiful lines. She has a small swimming pool located on deck four, with two Jacuzzis, one on each side. There is a further, wonderfully secluded Jacuzzi at the very bow of the ship that is perfect for drinking Champagne as the ship leaves port. Unfortunately the sun-loungers are all made from white plastic and have quite thin mattresses/covers, this does tend to detract from the otherwise elegant ambience.
There is an outdoor bar located near the swimming pool. There is no continuous deck circling the ship, so any exercise walking involves a flight of steps during each circuit (good for cardiovascular!).
With the exception of the Panorama Lounge, all the entertainment venues are located at the rear of the ship, keeping any disturbance well away from the accommodation areas.
The shape of the Silver Cloud is rather marred by the apartment effect of three tiers of balconies, but her bow and stern are more classical and aesthetically pleasing. There is a larger swimming pool located on Deck 8 with just two Jacuzzis, one on each side of the pool. Most sun-loungers are made of good quality metal, with thick mattresses/covers; there are also a number of double sun-loungers that are perfect for couples.
There is an outdoor bar near the swimming pool. The Silver Cloud also has a continuous deck running around Deck 9, so long distance walking is very easy.
All entertainment venues are located at the rear of the ship, again minimising disturbance.
The Seabourn Spirit has two main dining areas:
The main restaurant, located mid ships on Deck 3 is an elegant place to dine in the evening (or indeed have breakfast or lunch). The lighting is always subdued and creates a very romantic atmosphere. The restaurant is large enough to accommodate all guests at a single sitting, but in practice people tend to wander in when they are ready to eat rather than at a set time.
There are plenty of tables for two people and if one is not available the Maitre D' will allocate a larger table for your exclusive use.
We were always greeted by name by the Maitre D' who would then summon a male member of the waiting staff to escort my wife to our table. On many occasions a waitress would also escort me. A great touch!
Service is always very prompt and seamless, with wine glasses being filled continuously without having to ask. Top quality tableware and finest crystal glasses are always used.
The food is of gourmet standard and provides an eclectic range of taste sensations. That said, one problem we have encountered is that the same menu has been repeated over all the cruises we have taken with Seabourn. If I see Lobster, Lobster, Lobster again, I think I'll throw it off the ship!
In addition to the normal sweet menu there is always a good selection of cheeses and decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas are available to finish off the meal.
The other dining venue is the Veranda Cafe, located at the back of the ship on Deck 7, approached from the open deck next to the swimming pool. This provides a wonderful casual dining alternative to the main restaurant and hosts a different themed evening each day. The service and food are every bit as good as the main restaurant and there is an excellent choice of alternatives for each course. On warm evenings it is possible to dine alfresco watching the wake of the ship disappear behind you.
Once per week, weather permitting, there is a deck barbecue on Deck 7 that is great fun and is followed by dancing under the stars to a live band and talented singers.
The Silver Cloud has three dining areas:
As with Seabourn, there is a main restaurant located towards the stern on Deck 4. This is again large enough to sit all guests in a single sitting, but theoretically it should be possible to dine as and when you like. On our first night, this turned into a rather problem - we entered the restaurant at about 8.30 pm (an hour after it opened) as we had been watching our late departure from Barcelona from our balcony. We asked the Maitre D' for a table for two, emphasising that we do not like to share a table with others except for formal nights. As there were no tables for two available, the Maitre D' allocated a table for six for our exclusive use. This was fine until about 10 minutes into our meal when another couple were shown to our table and we were asked if we minded sharing. It was very embarrassing to have to tell these people that although it was nothing to do with them, we had told the restaurant staff that we did not want to share. It was only after this incident that the staff removed all the other place settings from our table. This was then rapidly followed by an argument with our assigned waiter regarding whether we were having a sorbet before the main course or not. In the end I got so angry at being argued with that I sent for the Maitre D', who smoothed things over. The service that first night was incredibly slow, so much so that we missed the evening's entertainment that started at 10.15 pm.
The following, and subsequent nights we made sure we were always at the Restaurant at 7.30 pm sharp to ensure we had a table for two. There was always a queue of couples waiting for the restaurant to open, so maybe we weren't alone in our problems.
Once we had found a new table at which to eat, the service both of the food and wine was first class, with no complaints whatsoever. In fact our waiter, Sergio and wine waiter, Alan, really made the cruise for us, in particular Alan with his knowledge of each wine and its vineyard. He was always able to recommend a complementary alternative to the wine of the day. The quality of the food, in our opinion, was superior to Seabourn, true gourmet standard with good-sized portions and lots of vegetables, which meant we were always satisfied at the end of the meal. The only except was a rather lurid mint jelly served with one of the lamb dishes that I swear glowed in the dark! Like with Seabourn there was a selection of decaffeinated coffee, herbal teas and liqueurs to end the meal. After our first night problems, we saw a lot of the Maitre D' (Jorge) who ensured that we were being well looked after.
The lighting in the Restaurant varied according to the dress code of the evening from too bright on Casual nights to subdued candlelight on Formal nights.
Next to the main restaurant is located La Saletta restaurant, a Michelin 2 star venue for which one must make a reservation. Although the wines in the main restaurant are complimentary, the wines in La Saletta must be purchased from the wine list. We did not eat in La Saletta, so cannot give you our opinion of the food or service. It never seemed to be crowded and one evening I think I only saw two people in there.
The main casual alternative-dining venue is the Terrace Restaurant on Deck 7. We ate here one lunchtime and the food was excellent. Each evening there is a themed meal, however there are no choices for each course, you just follow the menu from start to finish. People who ate there said the food was very good, but the service was slow.
One great plus for Silver Cloud is that they have a deck barbecue every lunchtime (weather permitting) next to the swimming pool, which allows you to order your food and eat without having to change out of your swimwear! The burgers (including veggie-burgers) are great!
The biggest disappointment on Silver Cloud was that we were not invited to anyone's table on the Formal evenings (maybe this was because we had made such a fuss about wanting to dine alone on the other nights!), whereas on the Seabourn Spirit, we had invitations to dine with officers and entertainment staff every night and could decide whether to accept or decline.
On both ships Room Service is very fast and efficient. We always ate breakfast in our suite and this arrived on time and as ordered each day. The stewards on both ships set out the tables beautifully.
We like to order caviar and champagne most evenings before we go for dinner and this was always delivered promptly and beautifully presented (including Mother of Pearl spoons) on both ships. However the first night we ordered caviar on the Silver Cloud, I am convinced that it was Lumpfish Caviar as the eggs were very small and black. Subsequent nights, the caviar was the larger, grayer Sevruga caviar and had a totally different (and superior) taste. I have read about this trick on other reviews of Silversea, so please do beware and check the quality! The caviar served with canapes also seemed to be Lumpfish!
The scale of shows on small ships is never going to match those of the super-sized cruise liners and tends to be more intimate, cabaret style productions.
There was a show every night on Seabourn Spirit, whether it be a one man/woman show by one of the very talented resident vocalists, a violin concert, dancing under the stars to the whole company of singers accompanied by a live band. There was also a resident duo playing in the Bar every night and a pianist in the Horizon lounge.
The main show venue, the Amundsen Lounge, is large enough to accommodate all guests and has good sight lines to the small stage. Wine waiters are always on hand to keep your glasses topped up during performances.
We did not think the entertainment on Silver Cloud was a good as Seabourn. There were two "Broadway musical" productions during the week featuring the resident singers, dancers and musical trio. One night there was a variety show given by staff that do not normally provide the entertainment and other nights a film was shown in the main Show Lounge. There seemed to be something wrong with the projector, as the picture quality was always fuzzy. Another night the main entertainment was a 70s disco in the Bar (which was well attended) and there was also a karaoke night.
The deck officers on the Seabourn Spirit are Norwegian and although friendly tend to be very quiet! The amount of information relayed by the Captain before setting sail each day depends very much on the Captain himself. The waiting staff are European and Australian, many of whom address you by name and for whom “No” is not in their vocabulary. The cabin attendants tend to be Eastern European and are excellent and hard working, leaving gifts and messages in your cabin each evening and on one night strewing the bed with rose petals.
The deck officers on Silver Cloud are Italian and again very friendly. The Captain always gave full information about the voyage and weather conditions before leaving port each day. The waiting staff are a mixture of European (Portuguese, French, Spanish) and Asian (we met many staff from Mauritius), most of whom are extremely friendly and give excellent service – in particular our waiter and wine waiter in the Restaurant and the bar waiters on deck, for whom nothing was too much trouble. We only encountered a couple of problems, notably the waiter on our first night (see above) and one of the Head Waiters who didn’t want to deliver our barbecue lunch to our sun-loungers on the deck above (other waiting staff had been more than pleased to do so).
The Cruise Director on the Seabourn Spirit was more visible during the day and at meal times than on the Cloud. Maybe it was because we knew her from a previous cruise with Seabourn, so she always came up to have a chat with us.
The gym on the Seabourn Spirit is large for such a small ship and very well equipped especially with regard to weight machines (better than the gym I subscribe to at home!) as well as an adequate number of cardiovascular machines. We never saw the gym packed and there was always a plentiful supply of water and towels.
The gym on the Silver Cloud is beautifully located at the front of the ship above the Bridge on Deck 9. There is a large array of cardiovascular machines, but just one “multi-gym” which only seemed to be able to allow you to undertake a very limited amount of resistance exercises. There was however a comprehensive set of free weights.
We did not use the Spas on either ship, so cannot comment on them.
Internet access on both ships is slow and expensive. On Seabourn, you buy a pre-pay card (like a telephone card) and use it to pay for your connection and downloads. Silversea give you the option of two denominations of pre-pay facilities or a pay-as-you-go option (the latter costs 75c/minute).
On both ships it was impossible to complete our online check-in for British Airways, due (I think) to the slow response times causing screens to time-out.
It was always possible to find a vacant screen on both ships.
Ports of Call
Our two itineraries were very different
Piraeus (Athens) – Monemvasia – Santorini – Mykonos – Bodrum – Kusadasi (for Ephesus) – sea day – Istanbul
Barcelona – Sete (diverted from Marseilles due to strike) – St. Tropez – sea day – Valetta (Malta) – Syracuse (Sicily) – Naples (for Pompeii) – Civitavecchia (Rome)
It has made us realise that we prefer itineraries that call at small resorts/islands as well as an interesting Sea Day (on Seabourn we transited the Dardanelles with David E Grant providing an excellent commentary of the places that we were passing).
Additionally the Seabourn Spirit has a marina that is lowered from the stern of the ship, which allows you to partake in sailing, canoeing, pedalloes, water-skiing, banana rides and to be bounced about on sea-biscuits towed behind a speedboat. There is nothing like this on the Silver Cloud.
Going ashore from the Seabourn Spirit (as with all Seabourn ships) when at anchor is more of an occasion as she uses two beautiful mahogany water taxis that are normally stored in the stern of the ship. It is often possible to be the only person being “privately” tendered ashore. The Silver Cloud uses her two larger lifeboats as tenders, which are not at all glamorous!
We are not great ones for going on guided tours, preferring to make our own arrangements and exploring places ourselves. However we always go on Seabourn’s excellent complementary Exclusively Seabourn Experiences that take you to places and see things you could not normally do. On the Seabourn Spirit a coach took us from the ship at Kusadasi to Ephesus one evening to see a classical concert amongst the ruins, whilst being supplied with drink and food. It was a truly memorable experience.
On the Silver Cloud, we booked a trip to see Pompeii from Naples, as it was somewhere we had always wanted to see. The coach picked us up from the ship at 9.00 am and instead of going straight to Pompeii (which apparently did not open until 10.30 am), we were treated to a tour of the “sights” of Naples. This involved driving twice up and down the incredibly congested road outside the port, having a distance look at the castle, shopping arcade and a square only to find ourselves back next to the ship again an hour later before setting off for Pompeii. By the time allowance was made for the drive to and from Pompeii, there was only a short time available to be guided slowly around the ruins, which were packed with tours from the other four mega cruise ships that were also in Naples that day. All in all a real disappointment.
Disembarkation is a very straightforward and fast process on both ships. Luggage is labelled and left outside the your cabin the night before (by 11 pm on Silversea and 2.00 am on Seabourn). The following morning passports are collected from a member of staff and then you wait until the colour of your luggage tag is called.
After leaving the ship, you identify your luggage in the cruise terminal (takes about 2 minutes), then you either make your way to your coach or taxi.
The worst part is realising that you have left the ship!
Each ship of course has its pluses and minuses and the ideal cruise would take the best elements from both. As this is not possible a decision has to be taken as to which is the best overall cruise experience, the verdict being overwhelmingly the Seabourn Spirit for her ideal size, smaller number of passengers, size and quietness of suites, the best staff, fantastic trouble free service, better entertainment, more interesting ports of call and complementary, exclusive tours.
We would cruise again with Seabourn tomorrow (if we had the money!) and certainly will do next year, whereas we would think twice before going with Silversea.
On our arrival home from the Silversea cruise, we discovered that we had left all our swimwear in a drawer in the cabin. Despite describing exactly where we had left the items to Silversea, they could not find any trace of them! So for the first time in years we are going to have to make a claim on our travel insurance.