Silversea Cruise, Silver Cloud, Voyage 1405 – Feb 28, 2014 to Mar 10, 2014 Barbados to Puerto Rico (via St. Lucia, Grenada, Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, St. Barts and St. Maarten)
It’s been 15 years since we last cruised. We did a lot of cruising back then, including two trans-Atlantic ones, and it felt really good to be back on a ship again. Overall we found the cruise quite exceptional, but there were a few minor rough edges. We normally slum it a little more when we travel, and book a 4 to 5 star vacation (sometimes 3 stars), but this time we went the luxury 6 star route. We paid more and we expected more. For the most part we were not disappointed. Our previous vacation was to a land based 4 star (out of 5, different rating scale) property, and it’s only natural to compare apples with oranges. For the most part, things on the cruise were better in almost all areas, as expected. In the food, beverage and accommodation departments, the ship won hands down. Service was a toss-up, and some cases the service at the land based resort was better. Food, no contest
However, things happened that shouldn't have happened. It was supposed to be a luxury 6 star experience, but it didn’t ‘quite’ make that. Close, but not quite. In our opinion, it was a good solid 5 star or better experience, but not 6. The bottom line is "Would we do it again?" The answer is a resounding “YES” (capitals intended).
As you read the review, please be aware that this ship is marketed on a luxury all-inclusive basis. All the arrangements were made through Cruise Connections in Vancouver. The fare included the cruise, accommodations, food and beverages and all gratuities. Transfers were booked through Silversea and our air was booked separately. The only extras would be incidentals such as specialty wine, tours, salon and spa and that favourite charity of theirs that they tried to add automatically to your shipboard account unless you opted out. It seemed to be a good cause, but we prefer to keep our charitable donations closer to home, so we opted out. See, there is good reason to read the literature sent to the cabin. Personally, we’d prefer to opt in rather than opt out.
The ship is a smaller ship and that’s one of its charms. The biggest ship we’ve cruised on carried 600 passengers. This one was half that size. I don’t believe we would enjoy cruising on a ship with another 2500(+) passengers. We stopped cruising 15 years ago because the ships were getting too big for our tastes. Silver Cloud was a perfect size and has a capacity of 296 passengers and there were almost as many crew to take care of them. We truly enjoy cruising on the smaller ships for that very reason. Getting to know and/or to at least recognize so very many people on an every-day basis is a real pleasure. And, of course, that includes the employees of the line. To us, one of the very best aspects of Silversea is their people. They all seemed happy to be there and willing to please.
In general, the dress code was casual during the day. In the evenings, the general rule was that shorts were to disappear at 6:00 pm, and you were expected to wear long pants and that evening’s dress code (casual, informal, formal). And they seemed pretty serious on the 6:00 pm part.
The ship is organized with the passenger accommodations forward and the public areas aft. It was pretty easy to find your way around. Before we left home, I’d made up a sheet with what public area was on what deck and only required it for a few days. The public areas have names like “The Restaurant”, “The Bar”, “La Terrazza” and “The Grill”. None of those names are particularly imaginative, but at least you know where you’re going. The only exceptions were the “Venetian Lounge” (the show lounge / theatre) and “Le Champagne” (the extra cost dining venue).
Silver Cloud has a very nice motion at sea, and with the exception of docking and undocking, we thought she was pretty quiet. Our cabin was in one of the reported noisy areas (forward on deck 5), but we didn’t notice any unexpected noises, at least based on previous cruises. That said, when they are using the thrusters or anchoring, there’s absolutely no doubt about what’s going on. Underway, there’s a little machinery noise but we didn’t find it objectionable. We’ve been on far worse.
Our cabin was very nice. There was lots of marble and wood panelling. We booked a veranda / balcony suite, so we had a queen size bed, sitting area, an honest walk-in closet and a veranda / balcony. Our butler kept the bar fridge stocked with good beer, champagne and wine. It was wonderful to sit on the balcony and watch the ocean go by.
I had a few minor issues with the cabin. The shower drain was too slow and by the time you finished showering, you were standing in 3-4 inches of water. The sink had the opposite problem; the drain was too fast when the stopper was in. This made shaving an ‘interesting’ experience. I had to run water continuously while shaving and I hated to do this because you’re running on tanked water and there’s only so much onboard.
There were lots of hangers, but drawer space seemed a little limited. The cabin obviously wasn’t designed for today’s electronics. Outlets for chargers for camera batteries for example, were quite limited and awkwardly placed. Thank goodness for my MacGyver survival kit. I used a multi-outlet extension cord to resolve that issue. I severely edited the contents of that kit for this trip, and I wished I had brought my whole ‘normal’ kit as I sure could have used the sink stopper that fits almost any sink. We also missed a bathmat one day and only got one washcloth another day.
The cabin temperature control seemed to be set to a comfortable level, so we left it as is. The AC worked well and was so quiet that we never noticed it operating. The temperature control for the shower, once you figured it out, was nice. It behaved like a demand heater. We’re pretty sure it was. After you turned the water on, it was cool for about 3 seconds and then it held the set temperature. Perfect.
The channels on the TV were somewhat limited. They had two closed circuit views (pool deck and a camera facing forward on the ship), CNN, a few Silversea promo channels, a safety channel (interestingly in Italian only) and 3 movie channels. They started the days programming at 8:00 and the same movies ran continuously until the next day. On demand might have been a better option. At least you would know when the movie started.
We found the public areas to be quite nice. The décor was well designed. A lot of people complained that the ship was old, but I believe it was refurbished in 2012. The only thing that seemed to be starting to show a little wear was the carpeting. It was obviously picked to avoid showing wear, and they did a good job selecting it. But, consider the countless footsteps that have passed over it and the odd spill. So, yes the ship is aging, but we’ll call it aging gracefully.
Silver Cloud was obviously designed for less temperate climates than the Caribbean. We’re thinking it was designed with the Mediterranean in mind. The entire deck around the pool area was glassed in and the area felt closed in, hot and stuffy at times. It would be nice if a few of those glass panels could be opened to allow ventilation when required.
Dining on board was a very nice experience. Food and service in the main dining room was beyond reproach. They were always there when needed, unobtrusive, watching, but without hovering. Excellent. Our wine glasses were offered to be refilled before they were empty. Plates, menus and other things appeared when they should have and disappeared when they should have. You couldn’t ask for more.
Personally, on some evenings, some of the menu items were not to my tastes. There were some strange items and a lot of seafood. I guess there’s no surprise there. It’s an Italian ship. Not to fear. They had a steakhouse menu available daily, and some of the offerings here were exceptional. The strip loins and filets were larger than advertised, cooked exactly as ordered and were so tender that you could literally cut them with a butter knife. I did read an earlier review for the cruise leg prior to ours that said the steak was tough. Obviously, they must have got a new supplier because on this cruise that was not the case. I’m kind of surprised because one would have thought that good beef could be obtained in South America and that’s where the ship came from before the Barbados to San Juan leg.
I wish I could say the same about the service at La Terrazza and the Grill (pool bar) at lunch time and during the day. OK, I’ll play the devil’s advocate here. These venues are partially buffet and partially table service. For the table service part you frequently had to flag down your server. Not a big deal overall, but that really shouldn’t be necessary. In the evenings, the pool bar area became “The Grill” and the service level got bumped up a notch. Here your steak or fish order appeared on a super-hot slab of lava rock and you finished cooking it yourself. It was a nice casual type evening, but you certainly needed the extra serviettes (napkins to you folks south of the Canadian border) because the food cooking on the hot lava rock tends to splatter a bit, especially if you added some marinade or sauce while cooking. The table service for food, wine and beverages was excellent.
We can’t comment on evening service at “La Terrazza” as it seemed quite popular and it was hard to get reservations. We can’t comment on “Champagne” because we chose not to dine there. The food and service in “The Restaurant” made this unnecessary.
We also dined in our cabin one evening. Our butler served our dinner course by course, each course appearing about 15 minutes apart. Surprisingly, all the hot items arrived hot and the cold items cold. First class.
They had an extensive wine list of extra cost wines. This was absolutely unnecessary. The sommelier (a lady by the way) did an excellent job of picking different wines each evening. We liked every one that was served. In general, our tablemates agreed. But, if only the very best would do, they had an extensive wine list available and you paid accordingly.
As for the beer, I think they misunderstood me when I asked what kinds they had. They told me Miller, Bud Light and Stella Artois. That’s a no-brainer for me. I’ll have a Stella please. Then I saw people drinking Corona. Still a no-brainer. Corona is not on my list of favourites. And THEN I found the beer menu, which turned out to have a nice selection of beers (Leffe Blond, Hoegaarden White, Franzikaner Weisbier, Spaten, Becks and Boddingtons.) I felt obliged to run the list a few times. Very nice.
The show lounge was very attractive. What a great venue. It has tiered seating so all the seats have an unobstructed view of the stage. The entertainers were very good, but for the most part it wasn’t ‘our’ type of entertainment. The Abba show and the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s show were pretty good.
Oh, and mid-cruise they sent a comment form to the cabin. It’s nice to know that they read the comments. Normally comments disappear and you never hear or get any feedback. But, they actually called me because they were concerned about one of my comments and wanted to make it right. It was more of an observation than a complaint, but I felt that when I was in the bar with table service and my drink glass got empty, I should be offered a refill without having to flag down the server. Heck, at the 4 star resort, I couldn’t empty my glass. Another would appear magically without even asking. They were quite apologetic about that, but I told them it wasn’t really an issue. If that’s the way it works, I’m quite capable of flagging down the server. And I did ….
For us it was a great cruise. The food and service, especially in the dining room, was excellent. We had a great itinerary, a nice cabin and the cleanliness standards were high. But, as I said, things happened that should not have. For example, breakfast on the terrace is a combination of table service and buffet. Coffee, juice (maybe) and things like an omelet cooked to order are table service items. On the last day we had our coffee, but no creamer. The server was setting out the creamers, but filling the empty tables first, even though we were waiting for creamer. He should have served us first, then the empty tables. All he had to do was look up and see that there was no creamer on the table.
In summary, nothing is perfect and we had to dig pretty deep to find issues, minor as they were. We had a very good cruise and will put Silversea on our ‘to do again’ list. It’s also very nice to pay up front and not have to worry about running a tab throughout the cruise. Once you get over the shock of signing that first cheque, it’s clear sailing all the way.
Comments (in no particular order)
Our arrival at the ship was quite late. Our flight was delayed, and there was a 375th anniversary of Parliament celebration going on in Bridgetown. The Barbados Parliament is in fact the 3rd oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth; only England and Bermuda are older. The ride into the capital city Bridgetown, where the celebrations were being held, was even more hectic than usual due to traffic diversions and special passage for official vehicles with sirens blaring. Along with parades, a gadzillion people and HRH Prince Edward in attendance, it was an area to avoid. So our driver did the round-about route through the countryside to get to the ship. Fortunately embarkation was painless, but we arrived only 15 minutes before lifeboat drill. That was a bit of a rush and unfortunately we missed our welcome champagne. That wasn’t Silversea’s fault.
Because of our late arrival, we never met our butler until the next day. I have to add that he did a good job guessing what to put in the mini-bar and selecting toiletries. When we did finally meet him, he addressed me by name and asked how he did on the pronunciation. I said “Pretty good. Better than I normally get”. We didn’t work him too hard but when we needed his services, he was right there.
Even though the ship is small, we still had to tender in for two ports. So much for small ships being able to get in where large ships can’t. They came pretty close to suspending tender service at one port (St Barts) for a while as it was getting quite rough. Actually, the ship may have been dragging anchor because they powered up and repositioned the ship several times during the day. It was a mite gusty that day.
In St. Lucia, as we were leaving the dock, some guests who missed the ship in Barbados showed up after all lines had been cast off and the ship was about 40 feet off the pier. I can’t imagine the sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs when they saw the ship leaving. However, they re-docked the ship and boarded the passengers. Talk about customer service.
We also made an unscheduled early morning (3:00 am) stop in St. Vincent for a medical situation. They didn’t even put dock lines ashore, and just held the ship against the pier using the thrusters. They stayed just long enough to transfer the passenger to a waiting ambulance. To the best of my knowledge, the passenger rejoined the ship at the next port and all was OK.
It is a small ship and it was nice to be greeted by name at reception and by the other staff.
For a small ship, they provided an amazing number of amenities. Little things like a morning (satellite edition) newspaper delivered to the cabin. They had about four versions, depending on what country you were from. They also left high quality chocolates on your pillow on the evening turn-down service.
One of the amenities provided was a white bathrobe for each guest. They were very nice robes, but personally we found them a little too hot for that climate. We only used them once or twice. We did see other passengers wandering around in them early mornings, so each to their own taste.
They even had a pillow menu of about 20 different types of pillow you could choose from. The ones they pre-selected for us were perfect and we didn’t change them. But it’s nice to know we could have.
Interestingly enough, my air fare was covered, but on the way home we got booked on a US airline and I flew free, but had to pay for my luggage.
Internet access was expensive. Then again, it had to be using satellite, so it wouldn’t be cheap. The rates started at 50 cents per minute and reduced to 25 cents per minute if you bought 1000 minutes. One would have thought that on an all-inclusive ship (accommodation, food, drinks, gratuities) that at least basic access would be included and you wouldn’t be nickel and dimed for internet. At the price you’re paying on a daily basis, basic internet should be included, and perhaps you would be charged a premium if you exceeded a specified bandwidth limit. For example, if you were downloading HD movies or something like that, you might expect to be charged a premium.
On that note, we did discover that in several ports, local restaurants and bars were offering free wifi if you were buying drinks or eating there. So, if you need to check your email or do some light browsing, that would be an option.
The passenger mix was quite eclectic. As expected, there were a lot of Americans and Canadians. England and Scotland were also well represented, along with Belgium and Switzerland. We also met at least three couples that had traveled all the way from Australia to catch the cruise. They all seemed to get along well, so the days on board were quite pleasant and relaxed.
Overall, we had a wonderful time and are already looking forward to the next one.
And now the itinerary.
Barbados was our port of embarkation. We got quite a tour of the countryside around Bridgetown as our driver wanted to avoid the 375th anniversary of Parliament. Along with our flight being a bit late, we were boarded and documented a mere 10-15 minutes before muster drill. Fortunately, embarkation was pretty painless, and we were escorted to our cabin. Lifeboat drill didn’t take too long and we returned to our cabin. About 5 minutes later our luggage showed up. We started to unpack, had a nice quiet dinner and retired a wee bit early. It had been a long day.
Our next port was St. Lucia. Here we spent some time exploring Castries and visited the local market. That’s always an interesting experience. It was hard to believe how fresh looking and attractive the produce was. Most of it was likely picked that morning.
Our next port was Grenada. Grenada is one of our favourite islands in the Caribbean. In fact, we spent our winter vacation there 13 years in a row. It was at a wonderful ‘low key’ property, called Gem Resort. It had 17 units and was situated on an absolutely stunning white sand beach. The only other things on the beach were two private homes and the ‘secluded beach’ used by the local “Rhum Runner” party boat. We stayed at this resort and occupied the same room every year. It was like returning home. When we told the resort that we were visiting, they offered to pick us up at the port and take us to the resort while we were on the island. They even remembered the type of rum we drank and presented us with a complementary bottle. We also had some Canadian friends who built their dream home overlooking the same beach, and they also met us at the resort for some good old times chats and a few cocktails. The beach hasn’t changed much, but Gem acquired the two private homes (pretty much decimated by hurricane Ivan) and built a sister resort called Kalinago on those properties. We toured the Kalinago property and it’s pretty nice. It’s definitely more upscale than Gem. Unfortunately, our stay on Grenada was short since we had a lot of sea time to our next port, Bonaire.
Bonaire was pretty quiet. They had just finished celebrating Carnival the day before, so almost all the shops and restaurants were closed. So we just spent some time exploring the port. This was one of the ports that Silversea provided a complementary shuttle in to town. It turned out to be such a short ride that we walked back.
Aruba was our next port and we docked quite close to the main shopping area. That day we visited what seemed like about a hundred jewellery stores along with our exploration of the town.
Curacao was our next port, meaning we visited all three of what are referred to as the ABC islands, but we did them in the wrong order (BAC). Willemstad is a wonderful town to walk about and explore. It was formerly the capital of the Netherlands Antilles prior to its dissolution in 2010. The city centre, with its unique architecture and harbour entry, has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. We were docked (as usual in Curacao) on the far side of the ship channel. However, it is connected by the Queen Emma bridge, a long pontoon floating bridge. The bridge is opened whenever a ship transits the channel. During those periods, the bridge is replaced with a ferry service. We always try to time one of our crossings so that we can ride the ferry. Road traffic uses the Queen Juliana bridge built in 1967 (rebuilt 1974) which arches high over the bay further inland. If you took a taxi into town, that’s the route you would take. You wouldn’t want to walk it; it’s a long way around.
Following Curacao, we had a day at sea before arriving in Dominica. Dominica was a tender port. It was also a fairly rainy morning and early afternoon, but the sun came out for the rest of the afternoon. We managed to get some exploring in and stopped at one of the local waterfront watering holes (Fort Young Hotel) and tried a local beer, Kubuli (not bad by the way). The tender dropped us off a fair ways from the town, so Silversea provided a shuttle into town. We spend some time exploring.
Our next port was St Barthelemy (St Barts). It’s a nice place, very French and very expensive, and has a fair number of celebrities running around. It was rumoured that Leonardo Dicaprio was in town that day, but we never saw him. His loss. We spent some time exploring and found a local beach called Shell Beach. It wasn’t a long walk, but you did have meander through some side streets. Fortunately, there was the odd sign pointing you in the general direction.
Our next port was St Maarten. We were docked somewhat close to town and it was a pleasant 15-20 minute walk in. We passed by the 12 Metre Yacht Race operation, and I saw an opportunity to upgrade my badly wearing shirt from a previous visit there years ago. Unfortunately, I decided to wait until my return to the ship and the place was closed when I passed by again. We spent a fair bit of time in port and again hit a few jewellery stores. Do you see a theme here?
Our final port was San Juan. We had to vacate our cabin by 8:00 am. We didn’t have time to do much but have breakfast, clear immigration and customs and head to the airport for our flight home. Our package for the cruise included the airport transfer, so that was somewhat painless. Our air arrangements provided for a direct flight to the cruise, but a connecting flight via JFK for our return trip. Thank goodness that wasn’t as bad as I expected. Then after clearing Canada customs and immigration, we spent an overnight at an airport hotel, followed by a two hour drive home.
Photo set can be seen at http://www.worldisround.com/articles/381134/index.html
Photodex video slide show can be seen at www.bobfromcanada.com (PC only, not compatible with Apple or Android systems)