Ok, let me start with full disclosure...I am NOT a professional critic... As such, I am not required to excise emotion form my review. I think we all will agree that an individuals experience will result in a general gestalt reaction to the cruise. When the experience is positive, many little things can be forgiven...When the gestalt is negative, every niggling little annoyance will be amplified in one's memory....Ironically, many of the things that lead to the gestalt are beyond the control of the cruise line.
Our experience was incredibly good....Our cruise mates were surprisingly young and lively, and made for some very memorable, very fun nights that help to flavor our experience.
So, the fact that we had a great time will weigh heavily into how we reflect upon, and rate this cruise.
Having said this, I hope to actually provide something of value to people either waiting to board a ship on the cruise line, or trying to decide.
put things into further perspective, I am Mid-30s, wife early 30s. We have sailed Seabourne (Legend), Azamara (Journey), Celebrity (millenium) and even Disney (Magic - with child, all others childless).
Much of my review will compare and contrast to the relative class competetors - Azamara ( Az) and Seabourne (Sb).
#1. The ship - The Whisper -- No complaints whatsoever. Beautiful ship and well maintained. We had a veranda suite on the 8th level - it was quite large and beautifuly appointed. The Bathroom, with it's marble-esque finishings and large tub with separate shower rivaled many land Hotels.
By far the beats out Az and Sb.
The size was perfect with enough space to provide for enough Bars and venues, and an ACTUAL theatre, but without feeling too large.
The MDR was well lit and looked beautiful - I'd put it as even with Az - far superior to the Sb legends Dark, poorly lit MDR.
#2. Activities - For the most art - standard fare - trivia, shuffleboard, Drinking. We did attend the Enrichment lectures and found them to be outstanding - but again this is dependent on the speaker and the topic - this cruise lent itself well to enrichment lectures with the rich history of Russia - Again something that scored points for this cruise, but is not necessarily something unique to the cruiseline.
The fitness facilities were the best ever on a small ship...Az was ok, Sb embarrassing, Disney and Celebrity were equivalent to land Gyms.
#3. Service -- Left us speechless. The Butler service is not an advertising gimmick. Again - this is probably the luck of the draw, and more reflective of an individual's prowess, than of an entire cruise line. Our butler - Bryan - was incredible! - Possibly even Clarvoyant...the kind of service that doesn't make you ask for something, but can anticipate your needs - afternoon cappucinos, shoe shine and preparing your clothes for formal night, and one time in particular - as we were returning from a marathon excursion in St. Petersburg, while on the bus - My wife commented that she could not wait to just go back to the room and soak in the tub for a while....amazingly, when we got back to the suite - a bubble bath with rose petals was waiting for her!
The unpacking service was an amazing service, and one that he did not make us feel at all guilty about accepting.
The rest of the service on the ship was top-notch, very attentive and friendly.
#4. Entertainment - Surprisingly good...limited to the quartet, a lounge singer and her pianist, and a group of 6 incredibly talented performers - the shows were really entertaining and engrossing. Az offered club comedians which was fun, but no real engaging performances. Sb entertainment was high school Talent show level.... No comparison to the SilverSea players. ( of course, Disney remains incomparable here)..
#5. Dining -- This one is entirely Subjective. Now, I have never considered myself a wine snob, but many would disagree. The 'House' wines were so good, that Actually was not compelled to look at the Boutique list at all... as usual, there was the house red and white of the day, but if at anytime you didn't enjoy the days offerings, any of the house wines were made available - My wife fell in love with an Australian dry Riesling early on in the cruise, and it was table side in an ice bucket ready for her nod.
The food ... is a Hard one to truly Judge - some meals in the MDR were very very good, the ones that weren't great , I don't think were the fault of the staff...I ordered things inspired by the local port..and they just weren't to my taste. nothing for which that an entire cruise line could be blamed.
La Terraza was Amazing twice - (a walnut pesto ravioli was to die for) - and La Champagne left us speechless....(White truffle risotto with edible gold leaf?? I still am tying to re-live that in my fantasies)..
I've read that there was a time when the premium was $200....for us it as $30. After meal, I was almost willing to pay the difference...it was that good...but - only 6 tables - so we were lucky that fellow cruise critic bloggers gave the advice of making a bee-line to the restaurant manager to make reservations -
Breakfast was pretty standard fare...Only Az stands out with breakfast ( carving station at Breakfast was a nice touch)
The specialty buffet (Galley lunch buffet ) was kind of weak when compared to Az special buffet, and Seabourne's deck barbeque.
#6. Fellow Cruisers - We were lucky to have a lively group that made the nights very alive - 2 am dancing etc... But in general the fellow cruise-mates were a very friendly bunch... And for the most part everyone was impeccably dressed - even on 'casual' nights, there was mostly Blazers worn. On 'Formal' night - everyone was well dressed - enough tuxedos and bow ties to not feel out of place if you chose to wear one ( which I did) , but mostly Dark suits. no one visibly out of place.
My only issue with Formal night - which stands for most formal nights on most cruises is that there was nothing special about it....we just dressed up and ate in the restaurant that we had been in the night before wearing a polo shirt.
no special music playing, no ballroom dance after, nothing that would make you feel like it was worth getting dressed up ... If part of the experience is supposed to be entering a world of fantasy, then I think that an atmosphere should be created - they failed at this - but so has everyone (but Disney's formal Princess and Princes night).
In Summary - we felt that everything was just Magical and wonderful...We will look forward to Sailing SS again in the future...but we are fully aware that our experience this time may not be fully representative...unfortunately, it is now the measuring stick that will serve as the frame of reference for all future cruises...the bar has been set very high! Less