I want to state right up front that we have to take part of the blame for our dissatisfaction with the cruise. We booked the itinerary. Silver Explorer was our favorite ship, but her capabilities were totally wasted on this fully mainstream sailing. I understand the economics of having the ship "earn her keep" when sailing between main expedition regions like the Arctic and Antarctic, but surely she could be better deployed than on this type of cruise.
Accepting that (with very few exceptions) the itinerary was even more boring than we could have feared. I will, therefore, evaluate the cruise as a mainsteam cruise with very limited shore options and mostly Zodiac landings. Taken on that basis, it was still below average (even more so for a luxury cruise) and not a good value for money.
Pre-cruise and post-cruise: We booked 3 nights in London (Apex City of London Hotel) before sailing and 2 nights in Edinburgh (Apex City Hotel)after the cruise. Very good values and extremely well located. When in Edinburgh again we will try the Apex International Hotel. It is a few doors down from the City and has more facilities.
The ship: I would say she could use a facelift. The hull paint is faded and there is really evident discoloration (rust?) below the waterline. Looking at the public rooms, there are just so many layers of paint you can put on. Soft furnishings and carpet probably have been refreshed since our last sailing (6/10), but everything else looks the same.
Cabin: Well located and quiet, the problem was the overall condition. I think this area had some flooding from the problem in Antarctic this past season. The ceiling has some peeling paint that flaked off to the touch. We reported it and it was addressed (except for a full repaint they probably could not accomplish at sea). My question is why was the problem even present? We saw it within 2 minutes onf coming into the cabin.
Other issues: 1) Window dingy and fogged (broken seal?)and plastic sill cracked and poorly caulked; 2) beaten up coffee table (looked like someone had taken a knife to the edge); 3) under sink door pull loose and just spun when I tried to tighten it by hand; 4) lens for light in the shower had been painted over and then scraped to allow light through; 5)the sink stopper mechanism was disengaged so the sink drain could not be opened. This may seem like nitpicking, but this is not acceptable on a luxury line. Had this been a real expedition sailing, I have to admit it would not have made such an impression.
The heating/cooling and other systems worked very well. The bed was comfortable and the storage space was more than adequate.
Expedition Staff: This staff was definitely not of the caliber we had in the Arctic. They were not nearly as engaged with the passengers and much more stand-offish. We had an Expedition Leader, Robin West, and an Assistant Expedition Leader, Yarda Versloot-West (his wife) who, coincidentally are moving to Seabourn (along with another staff member)for the Antarctic season (permanently?). I know these folks have contracts that come to an end, but I found it interesting to see Robin as the "Face" for the new Seabourn expedition effort.
We also had a Botanist (he would quiz us on plants that were seen on excursions we might not have been on) , a bird expert, and a fish expert (why??). All in all, the recaps and preps for the next day were very weak since here was not a lot to cover. The photographer/videographer was young, appeared inexperienced, and produced the worst voyage video I have ever seen.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention that there were some stars on the staff - an incredible Military Historian (Gordon), a wonderful Medieval Historian (Imogen - Gordon's wife), and an incredible wildlife photographer, Sue Flood. Gordon and Imogen were invaluable in making the highlights of the trip - the Normandy beaches and Many St Michel come alive. Sue was charming, enthusiastic, and her short lecture on photography was excellent. Unfortunately here talents were squandered by under-use on this trip. Instead we were saddled with the ship's photographer (see above).
It will be a while before we consider the Silver Explorer again - an only then if it is for a true expedition. The ship was
Food: Always subjective. My complaint is not with the quality of ingredients but in the preparation and temperature control. How are bacon and ham on the buffet in the morning cold? How is a caramelized onion and mushroom tart served at or below room temperature? Fresh fish was the best choice, but often the other three members on our group had to go off the menu for steak or a chicken breast to find something that appealed at dinner. The pastas were lackluster and that is really disappointing. I will say desserts at lunch were better than last time. All in all, average to good is the best I can rate it.
Service: On the whole, very good. Our butler, Lorenzo, was excellent as was the cabin attendant, Dipan. I am still not sure why we need to have a butler and cabin attendant. Bar service and dining room service was quite good.
The assistant restaurant manager was terrific, but the restaurant manager on this cruise, Debbie, was awful. She rudely butted in while a server at the carving station at lunch was going back to get another turkey to slice since he was out of white meat. She did not want him to go get it because there was dark meat there and gave my girlfriend a hard time. With that type of attitude, she should not be employed in a service industry, especially as a manager.
Competency of the bar staff to make drinks was variable. For instance, how good a Pina Colada was depended entirely on who made it. Also, the wincne service was a little disappointing. On the last night, we ordered an expensive dessert wine. The wine staff came back twice to verify he order before the Sommelier (after a total of 10-15 minutes) came over to apologize and told me the last bottle had been sold during the cruise. Why was it still on the wine list?
This cruise was not a good value for money and I cannot recommend it. It will be a while before we consider the Silver Explorer again.