Silver Shadow December 12-21, 2006 Barbados - Ft. Lauderdale
This was our first trip with Silversea. We decided on this cruise due to favorable press and internet reviews of Silversea, a fantastic price considering the all-inclusiveness of Silversea, the time of the cruise - just at the beginning of our long, Chicago winters and the itinerary included a number of islands that we have not been to. What also made the cruise especially wonderful was that some wonderful British friends we had met on the Radisson (now Regent) Navigator in 2004 were able to join us.
We have been active on the various internet boards for some time, but for those who don't know us, we are both salaried professionals in our early 50's with a love of travel and cruising in particular. Most of our cruises have been on Celebrity, although, as mentioned above, we have cruised with Regent once and decided to try Silversea for our early winter cruise this year.
While we enjoyed many aspects of the cruise, we were not blown away. On a 10 point scale we rate the cruise as an 8. Had it not been for the price/value and all inclusiveness of the cruise the score would be lower. If we had paid even close to what Silversea charges for many of their cruises we would not have been as satisfied.
The Silver Shadow was built in 2000 and first sailed in 2001. It is an elegant, beautifully simple ship that is tastefully decorated with mostly muted colors and very nice art. We stayed in cabin 810, listed as a Veranda Cabin in the brochure, and the cabin was also tasteful, roomy and elegant. The granite, double-sink, separate bath and shower bathroom is an especially keen design accomplishment.
Speaking of the bath, the BVLGARI toiletries are very nice. Our cabin stewardess also offered Acqua di Parma and Neutrogena products if you wanted something different.
If you enjoy Rembrandt, you may want to select this cabin as there is a very nice self-portrait etching just over the bed.
Much of the art is related to the classics, whether they are ancient Greece and Rome, or Shakespeare and Rembrandt. The more modern art seems to be primarily based on classical themes as well.
The room bar set-up was exactly as requested on-line. Unfortunately we were not able to fully use the Ketel One Vodka and Grand Marnier as it was so easy and convivial to get a cocktail elsewhere on the ship that we rarely had a drink in our room. When we did ask for a new bottle of wine (twice) there was nary a problem with the request. About the only thing our stewardess did not do was removing all the items from our mini-fridge that we did not want or use (causing a minor issue when we wanted to refrigerate some champagne later in the cruise).
The ship is advertised as having the biggest square foot to passenger ration in the industry and I don't doubt it. Even though the ship is relatively small, and normally houses a bit under 400 passengers, it seems much larger due to the spaciousness of the public areas.
The ship sailed well for a small ship. We had a couple of nights with pretty rough seas and the ship did some bobbing and weaving but always seemed quite stable. It was also relatively quiet, although you can't escape a few creaks here and there. In comparing the Silver Shadow to the Navigator, the Silver Shadow wins by virtue of less noise and vibration. Otherwise the elegance and layout are very similar.
Our bed was very firm and my guess after the first of many restful nights was that the mattress had been recently replaced. Sure enough, when we arrived in Fort Lauderdale they were replacing the other 50% of the mattresses, so if you sail on the Silver Shadow in the near future you are assured of a very new and comfortable bed.
The crew was busy re-varnishing many of the teak railings during the cruise and there was evidence of continual cleaning throughout. Our only criticism, and it is relatively minor, is that the carpeting was stained more than usual and is in general need of replacement in the hallways and entry areas to the public spaces. Otherwise, for a six year old ship it was in great shape.
Restaurants, Bars and Other Public Spaces
There is no wow factor for any of the public spaces of the ship. In fact, the overall design of the main restaurant, secondary restaurant (The Terrace or La Terrazza) and two main bars is rather nondescript. The location and use of the restaurants and bars is also somewhat questionable.
The main restaurant is on Deck 4. Except for a few cabins forward of the restaurant, there isn't anything else on Deck 4. The Bar is on Deck 5. This was the most active bar on the ship for pre-dining cocktails. The entertainment consisted of a one man band and his electronics and there was very little dancing. Also on Deck 5 is the main reception area, the (very) few (expensive) shops and the (very) small casino. The lower portion of the main theater is in front of the bar, but the primary theater entrance is on Deck 6.
The theater is only public area on Deck 6 and it is large - especially considering the overall size of the ship. I'm not sure, but I think it could hold everyone on the ship if necessary. The sightlines and acoustics are excellent. (More on the entertainment later).
Deck 7 houses the casual Terrace Restaurant, the small (pricey) alternative restaurant Le Champagne and the Humidor cigar smoking room. Except for a few tables in the back of the restaurant there is very little outdoor seating available at this restaurant. That means if you want to get food from the restaurant and sit outside by the pool, you have to take your food and go upstairs to the pool area. This really makes no sense. This restaurant should be on the same deck as the pool (and they could move the Promenade Bar which is on Deck 8 and woefully underused to Deck 7).
The nice-sized pool and two Jacuzzis are surrounded by plenty of lounge chairs and other outdoor seating on Deck 8. There is the always busy Pool Bar and the small but busy Pool Grill. Aft of the pool area is the previously mentioned Promenade Bar. This is a huge space that (at least on our cruise) was rarely used. Early risers could get a coffee and snack here, and the three-piece Silver Shadow orchestra played here late each night (usually around 11-12) even if they weren't performing with the main show. We thought they would be playing before dinner each night, but that wasn't the case - and with no entertainment at the Promenade Bar and the huge, empty spaces it was a disconcerting place to have a cocktail. We liked the idea of it, but it got lonely, so we moved down to Deck 5 to be with other cruisers.
I'm not exactly sure what the purpose of the Promenade Bar is. It has the appearance of a large nightclub but with no nightclub activities it is dead space.
Deck 9 is open above the pool area and provides additional seating and service by the pool bar and grill staff. The walking/jogging track is also on this deck.
The 10th deck houses the spa, workout room and observation area.
We were not wowed. Dinners in the restaurant were hit and miss. In general the best main courses were the beef. The fish could either be very good or illness inspiring. Other meats, such as pork and lamb were equally inconsistent.
The food preparations also lacked creativity. On Celebrity they typically have very interesting appetizers and even soups, but except for the rare exception the soups and appetizers were mostly forgettable on the Silver Shadow.
We kept the same waiter we had on the first night, Leonard, and his service was always friendly and professional.
We had dinner twice in La Terrazza and found the food to be generally better, but except for the lobster presentations on formal night, were not much better than the average Italian Trattoria back home.
We generally enjoyed the selections of wines from the every day selections. If we wanted a different white or red, the servers were always accommodating. We were especially fond of a nice French Chablis, a New Zealand Pinot Noir and a Chilean Cabernet. It was also a pleasure to be able to get a nice glass of desert wine or cognac after the meal (and not having to pay extra for it). We did not order from the optional wine lists but the pricing for a couple of wines that I recognized was about three times retail.
Our best food and beverage experiences occurred at the pool! The burgers, turkey burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, salads, French fries were all very good. The pool bar was very accommodating with the usual tropical treats as well as special requests.
We breakfasted en-suite as well as at The Terrace and The Restaurant. The room service meals were hit and miss. A couple of times they arrived fresh and hot, and other times cold and stale. Service at The Restaurant was abysmally slow so we only ate there once. The Terrace, which acted as both a buffet and table service, was also inconsistent. The biggest problem with the Terrace is their disorganization. Instead of waiters and assistant waiters having specific stations, it is pretty much catch as catch can. The waiting time for two fried eggs is way too long at 15 minutes. Our omelet orders were always messed up. The Eggs Benedict was served on a plate that was so hot that the bottom English Muffin stuck to the plate. One day a server's hands got too hot and the plate slipped and one Benedict flew off the plate.
The baked goods, especially the croissants, were not good. They were dry and tasteless. The only good bread on the cruise was a German Style bread served at breakfast. Perhaps the bakery cook was German? (This is not to slight the Germans, who can be great cooks, but I've never had good baked goods or good coffee in Germany).
Speaking of coffee, the everyday coffee was pretty awful. They even kept it on little burners just like mom and pop coffee shops. On the other hand, if you like good, strong espresso or cappuccinos, then this is the cruise for you. We enjoyed these morning, noon and night. In fact, my drink of choice when getting back on the ship in the afternoon was a wonderful iced cappuccino that our pool bar waiter Jordan had waiting for me as soon as he saw me!
Considering the relatively small number of passengers and the reviews we had read prior to the cruise, we were disappointed with the food. In general, the food on the Navigator was much better and even the food on most of our Celebrity cruises was better.
Silversea takes a bow for its drinks and wine. Susan and I aren't big champagne drinkers, but many Silversea cruisers are, and they really got their money's worth!
We also enjoyed not having to sign all those little chits!! That made up for a lot.
The Mandara Spa is actually run by Steiner, the ubiquitous spa company for most cruise lines. Still, it's supposed to be a cut above, and based on Susan's experiences they are.
Susan had a facial, manicure and full massage. She was especially impressed with the lady who did the full massage. The masseuse was a registered physical therapist and Susan had one of her best massages in some time.
Considering the prices were all inclusive (no tips) Susan also thought the spa prices were quite reasonable.
If using the spa onboard is an activity you enjoy, then Silversea and the Silver Shadow are a great choice.
In general the captain and the crew were not very visible around the ship, and when encountered were pleasant but not very friendly. This could be because they are all being replaced in a few weeks. There was a large brochure in our stateroom about the upcoming world cruise and the list of primary crew-members was different than those on this cruise.
For those of you who keep track of these things, the captain was Marco Sangiacomo, the hotel director was Rene Peter and the Food and Beverage Manager was Herbert Wagner and Chef de Cuisine was Richard Weichbold (gee I guess I was correct about that German connection!).
Frank Freeman was the cruise director. He said it was his first cruise as cruise director (after a major faux-pas when he thanked the employees and crew of the Silver Wind at the farewell cocktail party). He is an affable enough fellow with a pleasant singing voice (he gave a one-man show during the cruise). Unfortunately, he had a tendency to hang out with the same folks, forget your name and did a major disappearing act during disembarkation when there were some serious issues (more about that later).
Everyone else on the ship was quite friendly and professional.
I believe the best gig on the ship was the Golf Pro. Bruce Mendelson enjoyed his first cruise as the golf pro by putting on daily putting tournaments and arranging for one (yes, one) golf excursion on Puerto Rico that ended up being rained out. The ship has no facilities for golf lessons, so why bother? I would think the demographics of this cruise line would cater to golfers and certainly the destinations offered many wonderful golf courses (on Barbados, Grenada, Martinique as well as Puerto Rico), but this is certainly an area that Silversea needs to work on.
The same organization that provides entertainment to Regent also provides singers and dancers to Silversea. The shows on this cruise were definitely a step above the usual cruise shows. We especially enjoyed the last show, called Cirque Neuveau which was clearly a knock-off of Cirque-type shows but was still quite creative and required a lot of acrobatic as well as dancing skills by the dancers.
Unfortunately, the entertainment staff was hugely underutilized. On Regent, the entertainment group was very visible around the pool area and during other activities, such as trivia, bingo etc. Not so on Silversea. A shame, since their attractiveness and personalities might have improved attendance at these activities.
The Bar on deck 5 had an adequate one man band before dinner (well, at least he was in tune with himself) but his selections did not get many people up on the (tiny) dance floor. He was usually joined by a female singer after dinner, and while she had a very nice voice, she was totally unfamiliar with the music (required sheet music throughout the cruise) and I don't think she had performed with the one man band before, and we witnessed them having a couple of spats.
She also NEVER SMILED. There was a little more dancing, though, when she sang, as the selections were better.
The so-called Silver Shadow Orchestra consisted of a great jazz pianist, good bass player and excellent drummer. They accompanied performers on a few shows, but were best when playing on their own (which was far too seldom).
The Bar was the evening disco (a poor choice as the promenade bar had a larger dance floor and more seating area). It was going pretty good most nights, with a lot of use by the Spanish passengers. On the last formal night, a large group danced til 2 a.m. to a great selection of oldies and we had a blast.
We were pleasantly surprised at the overall youthfulness of the cruise passengers. I would say that Susan and I were probably about the median in age, with about half the passengers younger than 50 and half older. There was also a nice international contingent. Americans made up about 60% of the passengers, with a large contingent - perhaps as large as 25% - from Britain and Ireland. There was also a nice group from Spain and Portugal that brought some wonderful energy to the ship. If Silversea's marketing is geared to getting more youthful cruisers then, at least based on this cruise, they are being successful.
The cruise began in Barbados. We flew in a couple days before and had two wonderful days at the Hilton. The Hilton resort is just south of Bridgetown and its beach does have waves (which we thought was just fine - what a wonderful sound at night!). Still, it was a nice swimming beach, and the pool area(s) are beautifully landscaped. The service is top notch, and the use of the executive lounge with a nice continental breakfast and fully inclusive cocktail hour is an added plus. I could see spending a week here easily.
We took an island tour to see parts of the island we had not seen before and it is quite beautiful on the North and East coasts and inland. We enjoyed a very gourmet meal at The Restaurant at Southseas including three star service. I'd say that we'll be back for more.
Bequia, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, was our next stop. This is the Caribbean the way it used to be. A small, clean fishing village and beautiful, unspoiled beaches. We took a water taxi to Lower Bay and it was the epitome of beautiful white sand, warm calm waters and natural shade.
St. Georges, Grenada was our third stop. It has recovered a lot since Hurricane Ivan although you can still see lots of construction going on. We picked up a few odds and ends and spices in town and then took a water taxi to the beach to the south of Grand Anse Beach. It was also quite beautiful, with a few more people than Bequia. Although we didn't snorkel, a couple we met on the way over did do some snorkeling by the rocks and they said it was pretty good.
The beach had services, local cold beers for $3 and battling water-taxi drivers. Well, not quite fully battling, but nice shouting matches, anyway.
We enjoyed Grenada a lot. I can see coming back and spending more time here.
On Martinique we had reserved a rental car with Europe-Car, but they were closed, so we stood in line and picked up a car at Budget next door for E56 (about $70). We took a leisurely drive up the coast to Saint Pierre where we shopped, toured the museum and looked at the ruins from the 1902 volcanic eruption and had a marvelous lunch with some morning caught fish or perfectly French Boeuf au Poivre and nice cold Cote de Provence Rose.
After a nice stroll back to the car, we continued inland to the cloud-covered volcano and drove back into town on the Route de la Trace. This was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken (and that includes driving in Italy and France). Every twist and turn gave new vistas, new weather, and new foliage. We had read about this drive in the guidebooks (which was why we rented the car) and it was all we had read about and more. (Unfortunately, my passengers, having enjoyed their lunches and wine all too well, napped through a good portion of this drive!).
Driving in the capital city was the typical urban adventure, but we managed to return the rental car in one piece with time to get back to the ship for the 5 p.m. sail-a-way. St. Barths continues to be St. Tropez in the Caribbean. Even with the high Euro some good deals can still be had. A couple of years ago we discovered a Mephisto store here with prices much less than back home. This year, after the first rainstorm of our cruise came to an end, we sought out the same store. The proprietor, Sophie, remembered us and we spent a pleasant hour or so shopping and trying on shoes. We had priced out sandals and shoes locally before we went and the prices, even with the Euro at $1.32, still couldn't be beat. We window-shopped and shop-shopped at many of the other stores and boutiques (many of which are still way out of our price range, but are evidently not a problem for many of the island's visitors) and stopped for a cafe or cocktail before heading back to the ship.
There are some marvelous beaches here, but the weather was iffy and we had lots of beach time on our first three stops so spent a pleasant afternoon back on the ship.
San Juan Puerto Rico on a rainy Sunday is not a great cruise stop. We took the time to use an internet cafe in the city (at 1% of the cost on the ship) and visited with some dear friends we had met on a cruise a few years ago. We had brunch at a private club that was a throwback to Miami or Havana circa 1955 and caught up with our good friends. The rain in San Juan ended around noon but evidently it followed the golfers who went to one of the Robert T. Jones Sr. courses an hour or so west and after a few holes they were washed out (but they got full refunds).
Speaking of the internet. Our friend Rodney did purchase internet services on the ship and his report is that it is quite expensive and very slow.
Samana Dominican Republic might have some interest if the weather is decent but when the rains are falling and the winds are howling, it is not a good place for a cruise ship. The local town is dirty, falling apart and full of hustlers on noisy, smelly motorcycles. Some cruise mates said they hired a taxi to get out of town and were so depressed by the poverty, they turned around and came right back. Others took the excursion to the waterfalls, which they said were pretty but nothing like the scenery on Dominica or St. Lucia.
Most of the passengers were in agreement that this stop was awful. It appears Silversea already knows this since they apparently don't have any more plans to stop here.
Carnival has built a wonderful new pier and port facilities at Grand Turk and it has many of the attractions of most of the cruise lines private islands, such as Princess Cays. They have built a beautiful pool area with a swim up bar provided by a pleasant Margaritaville knock-off. The beach is nice, although you need swim shoes since it is rocky and there is some coral. There are some nice duty free stores and it was a very pleasant and enjoyable stop. The snorkeling excursions that left early in the morning had great weather and very clear water.
A fantastic storm blew in around 1 p.m. and about 2 inches of rain fell in the next 3 hours. Many folks still at the resort/beach got really soaked! We had gotten back on-board around 12:30 p.m. to have a leisurely lunch and it turned out our timing was perfect!
The one sea day on the last day of the cruise was picture-perfect. As I mentioned earlier the pool area and service on Silver Shadow are excellent so we had a great day soaking up the sun and enjoying the libations.
Disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale was not pleasant. The ship docked on time around 8 and everyone retrieved their passports and we were ready to disembark. Many passengers had early flights (before 11 a.m.) that Silversea said shouldn't be a problem. Well, 8:30 came and went - 8:45 here is our cruise director - any news? No news. Pursed lips. Never saw him or heard from him again. 9 a.m. Nada. Crowd getting larger and more nervous. No announcements. 9:15 a.m. a passenger is chased back up the stairs after accidentally coming down the stairwell where we are supposed to exit. 9:30 - rumors fill the full hall - problems with the luggage, problems with US Customs, we'll never know. Finally about 9:40 they let us off. After racing through immigration, we get a porter, find our bags and are ready for customs, taxi and airport. We might still make our flight.
But no Customs. I'm serious. We were the only ship in port (rare for Port Everglades) and no Customs agents to be found. Calls are made, customers get unruly and surly Customs agents finally appear (evidently upset the ship released us prematurely!).
We get a taxi and race to the airport and find out our plane was delayed!! Well, that could have been good news, but we ended up at the airport an extra 2 ½ hours (could have been worse if we had been going to Denver which was shut down).
We're still not sure what happened on the Shadow, and having done many cruises understand there can be some delays getting off the ship. But we have been off much larger ships with many more ships in port much sooner than this. What was also galling was the lack of communication from the cruise director. For many of us, it was a sour ending to what had been an otherwise wonderful cruise.
Our cruising friends Rodney and Dorothy were also comparing Silversea with Regent and decided by day 5 that they preferred Regent (even in the pre-all-inclusive days). At this stage, with a few days between us and this cruise, we have to agree. Regent has better food, more affable crew, more activities, similar entertainment and more variety. Depending on the cruise, it's either more expensive or less expensive, but now that Regent is going all inclusive, comparisons should be much easier to make.
We also must say that Celebrity looks better and better compared to both Regent and Silversea. Yes, we still have to deal with the chits and the tipping, but the atmosphere and overall cruise quality are very comparable especially if staying in a Sky Suite like we usually do.
If you would like more information about this cruise or any of our island stops, feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan and Jeff Taxier December 24, 2006