The title was chosen since the Silversea cruise could be divided into two parts from Barcelona to Funchal and then the trip to Fort Lauderdale. The Twice part is an ending comparison with the two Atlantic crossings this year, the Spring one on the Seabourn Pride and the Silver Spirit.
The cruise started in Barcelona where we arrived the day before to see some of the sights and also get acclimated to a 6 hour change in time zones . We could have used a few more days to see the city. The embarkation went very well with one exception; the taxi took us to the wrong pier. Her mistake but she had the meter running so we paid for it.
Surprising to us our cabin was ready so we left our carry-on luggage and went for our first lunch at La Terrazza. It was almost impossible for you to bring your plate to your table since the staff practically took it out of your hand. The buffet was well done and had a very good selection, especially if you like sushi. One problem occurred when I asked about the available wine. The response was we have one for white and one for red as well champagne. I asked what others were available, and the response was that if I did not like this one they would bring me something else. Most of the times this took 5 minutes to find a substitute wine.
Based on recommendations from Cruise Critic, we went to make our reservations at the specialty restaurants. There were about 15 people on line but they had only 2 sample menus for each restaurant so you got about a minute to look at each one. Also it was not clear how many reservations you could make. In the end we got two at the Grill(aka Hot Rocks) and La Terrazza, and one each at Le Champagne, Seishin and Stars. We also got waitlisted for additional times at these restaurants.
Our cabin was the standard veranda suite that was about 300 square feet on Deck 8. The cabin size for more than enough for 2 people and had plenty of storage space. The couch was uncomfortable, which is typical for a cruise ship. The only issues in the cabin were the shortage of electrical outlets but the two TV monitors are great. The balcony contained two adjustable chairs and a similar table. We really liked the marble and granite bathrooms, which included a full sized tub, and a separate, glass shower cubicle.
The luggage cam very promptly and we met our butler and cabin attendant. We then placed our beverage order for 2 bottles of liquor that we actually used only one of them since there were plenty of places to drink. The fridge was stocked with a variety of soft drinks and water. When we told the butler what we liked for soft drinks, he filled the refrigerator with the chosen beverages. But he did fail to remove the unwanted brands, which was not a big issue but he had to replenish the requested items more often.
Finally I would like to complement the cabin staff, they were always available to meet your needs and our cabin was made up quickly.
We had the meet and mingle party in the Observation Deck. Silversea did a great job in hosting the event and we met a number of people that we got to know really well for the rest of the voyage. The average age of the passengers was definitely over 60, which is what we expected.
Our first dinner on the ship was at La Terraza and the menu featured many great items. Unfortunately we never saw that menu again since they periodically change the menu about every three days. The food was done right with the exception of the liberal use of salt in all dishes. This was true in all restaurants and we soon learned to have them put the sauces on the side and not to season meat before we cooked it at the Grill. Again we went through the same game with the wine. I had to taste it and reject it first. Since it was an Italian restaurant, you would have thought they would offer an Italian wine as the featured wine. They did find a Chianti that was above average and we enjoyed a few more bottles later in the cruise.
The second night dinner was in the main dining room (The Restaurant) and my meal was the Beef Wellington that was done perfectly. Unfortunately my spouse’s steak was very salty and over-cooked. They quickly replaced it with a Beef Wellington. In most cases when there was a problem the crew responded very well and quickly addressed the issue. At the end of the first few days I would have rated it as the best MDR on any ship. More on this issue later.
My spouse used room service for breakfast on all days while I used it only sparingly. The service was prompt on all days and early on several days when the butler explained that people were specifying the same time for tours so we won (?) and got the food early. If you ordered hot items it was 50/50 chance it was not hot on arrival. We stopped ordering toast since it was always cold and hard. The bread untoasted was the best approach.
I will do a quick review of our and some of our fellow passengers experiences with the other restaurants and room service.
The Grill, starts with a basket of tortilla chips and guacamole dip. There is achoice of a couple of salads and then you get to cook your meat and fish on a hot slab of volcanic stone. As mentioned earlier the first time we ate at the Grill the meat was over-seasoned but the next two times we requested and got the meat with no seasoning. The meat dishes are accompanied by a small and actually the right sized baked potato and a skewer of veggies. The veggies seem to arrive cold so they spent some time on the hot rock to reheat them. There were a few choices for the desert course that were not anything special. It was consistently the best restaurant on the entire cruise.
The Grill for lunch was ok but only when they had special setups. The standard burgers were ok but the sandwiches were horrible. The choices of deserts were terrible and the selection of ice cream was limited. By far the best pool side grill is on Oceania. The choices are freshly cooked and the ice cream choices are numerous. The one problem with the pool deck is that one side of the deck is reserved for smokers and you can smell the smoke even when you are a distance away. It is time to ban all smoking on ships.
Le Champagne is a Relais & Châteaux restaurant but unfortunately it does not measure up to other R&C restaurants. The menu at Le Champagne changes periodically during the cruise. Le Champagne is an intimate, dark and elegant space on Deck 4 across from Seishin and next to The Restaurant. We were able to find a good Bordeaux wine to drink at the restaurant. The rack of lamb was great but the lobster was terrible. One of the courses arrived cold and it was not the salad. Several days later a group of our friends ate the restaurant and the service was terrible and they also experienced cold food. It was so bad that the cruise line refunded their guest reservation fee is US$30 per person. We cancelled our waitlists for the restaurant.
With STARS, Silversea attempts to re-create the atmosphere of an art deco-inspired supper club with a singer and piano player. The menu is a set, multi-course collection of unique items in tapas-style served three at a time. There were 5 courses and also they offer an additional small plate of pasta if you want it. One of us had the pasta and the other did not need it. The staff did a great job in getting sauces for one of use separated from the entrée. This created a table full of small dishes. It was an unique experience but one we chose not to repeat since we found several items that neither of us liked. We did like the show so we came again later on another evening.
Seishin specializes in Japanese food. The Sushi preparation station is in the middle of the restaurant where you can watch the dishes being created by the Sushi chef. We elected to have the Teaser menu and since my spouse does not eat raw fish the restaurant put together a special Teaser menu for her by combining items from each Teaser menu.There was a $20 pp reservation fee for Teaser menus. Again we went only once.
However the best kept secret is that Seishin offers a complimentary sushi and sashimi bar for lunch. It is GREAT for sushi and sashimi lovers. I ate there six times and always enjoyed it. What was amazing was that the restaurant was also always empty for this lunch treat. The only negative point was that they ran out of Asahi beer. This restaurant had the best service staff. Maybe since there were very few guests.
This brings me to the changing point for the two cruises comment. Starting in Funchal the ship started to run out of items some that could be expected on a 16 day cruise but others were crazy. How could an Italian restaurant on a cruise ship owned by an Italian family run out of Parmesan cheese with 7 days to go. They seemed to make no effort to replenish any items at the ports of call. The food also seemed to increasingly seasoned to a very high level. The soup in La Terrazza was so salted that it was inedible. It just happened that the chef was making his rounds and when we quietly told him about the soup he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. He only wanted to hear complements and not problems.
The Restaurant also became middle of the road in both quality and service. We were told we could not order an alternative wine without tasting the offered one. I tried to explain that I had already tasted that one and did not like it. I asked who told him to do this and he said the head sommelier. Since I had met the sommelier at two wine tastings I knew what the waiter told me was correct. The two wine tastings were humorous. At the first one we tasted only one wine which they were selling on their alternative menu. I think he must have heard the complaints so the next tasting had two wines one of which was available on the complementary list and the other was one they were thinking of adding to that list. I have been accused of being a “wine snob” but I found the pitch from him that their exclusive wine list was a real bargain compared to what passengers would pay at their retail stories. I challenged him on that point since he had a Bordeaux on the list for $240 that can be bought for $100 in the US. But more importantly he was selling the wine from an average year at a premium price when better years were easily available from the same Chateau. There are people that insist you should not order fine wines on ships since the motion of the ship harms the wine.
In the end we were able to narrow down the list of complementary wines to two whites and four reds that were enjoyable. It was interesting that none of these wines were featured at any meal on the ship but had to be requested. Also interesting is that there were no Spanish wines on the available list even though we started in Spain and also made most of our ports in Spain. The wine from Portugal was one of better reds available.
The second half of the cruise also reflected less quality in the service in the restaurants and the bar areas. Many sea days do challenge the crew but this was greater than expected lapse in service.
Based on our previous cruises we did our own touring at all ports on our own. The only exception was the tour of the Alhambra from our stop in Malaga. Silver sea did a great job on this tour. We had two buses that were about half filled so it was a manageable number. The tour guide on the bus was entertaining but he tended to repeat himself constantly. The guide for the Alhambra was first rate and she really knew how to keep the group under control. Even though it was off-season it was full of tourists and tour groups. The restaurant for lunch was first rate with plenty to eat. The dessert was passable but I was not hungry after the previous courses. I think the tour could have been shortened by dropping the drive through Granada since all you saw was some buildings from the bus. Once again there are passengers who do not read the description of the amount of walking and they had limited mobility so that they should have skipped this tour.
Silver sea did a good job of providing information on the ports of call but neglected to tell you where free Wi-Fi was available in the town. The ship internet rates were high but luckily we were able to use the smallest package for the days at sea between Funchal and Bermuda. By doing our homework we found places with free or low cost internet. In Barcelona our hotel was only 10 minutes from the Apple store and McDonalds worked in Valencia although you had to buy something to get the code for the internet and the bathroom.
The library on the ship was first rate and also provided an area to exchange books among the passengers as well as their own books. Even on sea days it was not crowded most of the time. The Fitness Center was small and a selection of equipment that worked and other items. I found it never crowded and saw the same few people in the morning every day that I went. My spouse was totally disappointed in the Spa. She found the need to wear a bathing suit instead of just a large towel to be stupid in the steam room and sauna.
On a trip with many sea days, the entertainment becomes more of a necessity than on a port heavy cruise. . We attended a few of the lectures but they were a mixed bag of presentations including a few that had technical difficulties. The entertainment was provided by six singers whose voices were above average for a cruise line. Two of the shows were very good while two of them were subpar. The worst one was the sing along to Elton John songs. They picked the wrong songs that had too many lyrics and the lyrics on the screen did not match the song. It looked like a grammar school show.
The Casino was a joke; they ran two blackjack tournaments that only a couple of people showed up. The highlight of the day was team trivia with about 30% of the passengers participating. As usual too many took the game too seriously. The cruise director did a good job in controlling the group. The real disappointment was the lousy gifts for the points won at that and other games. When we pooled our points we had enough for a t-shirt. Unfortunately the size we wanted large was unavailable so we got a small for our daughter. The t-shirt was a piece of junk. It was a Hanes underwear shirt with Silversea on it. We decided to use it as a rag rather than giving it to her. This is what you got for 110 points. On another cruise line we got a great shirt with a collar for 10 points.
Since drinks were included our review will include an assessment of the bars we visited. The pool bar suffered from having the smokers around it but you could get a drink easily. However there was a limited selection of beer. The bar in the Observation deck was the best one and served great drinks and nibbles. Unfortunately it was not the place to be during rough seas. The Bar was generally crowded and also the waiters brought the wrong drinks.
Arrival at Fort Lauderdale was fine but slow in getting people off the ship and then a long wait at customs. Only two agents available initially and then a third one was added. There was no wait for a taxi and we got to the airport faster than people who used the cruise line transfers.
In summary the cruise was very good and the best part was the people we met. We found them to be fun loving and felt very comfortable with most of them.
Now for a comparison of Seabourn and Silversea for the same size of ship. Where they were equal I did not evaluate them.
Cabin – about the same but you felt more closed in on the narrower Silversea room.
Cabin furniture – Silversea since the balcony furniture was better and better TV size
Main Dining Room – better on Seabourn but one of the best meals on Silversea
Specialty restaurants – better on Silversea but you have to pay extra for two of them
Pool Grill - Silversea
Sushi – clear winner is Silversea, none available on Seabourn
Buffet – slight edge to Silversea except conversion to dinner better on Seaborne with different themes
Alcohol – generally gave you the same brands, easier selection process on wines on Seabourn
Pool Deck Furniture – better on Silversea
Excursions – Silversea but limited data here based on a few tours
Spa – clear winner is Seabourn
Entertainment – a few better shows on Silversea but more consistent good performances on Seabourn
Internet – clear winner is Seabourn, 20% of the price of Silversea
Fellow Passengers – very similar but edge goes to Silversea on these two cruises
Crew Helpfulness – slight edge to Seabourn, Silversea crew tended to focus on frequent travelers