I've always wanted to see the Kimberley but balked at the price of the cruises, looking at Orion and True North. When we heard about the Silver Discoverer we decided it was going to be worth the (extremely high) cost. After all, not only is it all-inclusive (alcohol and gratuities) but all excursions are included. And it's Silversea.
We had high expectations for our 10 day Darwin to Broome cruise, as this is a newly leased and re-badged ship for Silversea. It came out of drydock in Singapore only at the beginning of the year and had, I think, 3 or 4 journeys before ours. From the official website: "And she has been newly refurbished to help guests maximize their experience…"
So you would expect a spotless and immaculate ship, right? Unfortunately, wrong.
The public areas were mostly good, though it was pretty annoying that some outdoor areas were still being painted (mattress box near pool). In a pristine landscape, it's not pleasant to smell paint fumes over lunch outdoors.
Being an expedition ship, we expected the smaller lounge and dining areas, and the lower ceilings, and fewer amenities. But we did not expect cheap wines, or a cabin that was poorly finished.
When choosing a cabin, we realised that the View (16.8sq m) would be too claustrophobic, and while the Veranda sounded great at 32sq m, the room itself was 26sq m, which was almost the same size as the Vista at 25sq m. So the balcony was about 6sq m, which is tiny in anyone's language. And it was considerably more money, so we passed on the balcony and were very glad we did. It would have been a very expensive way to dry clothes. So we were happy with the size of Vista Suite 653, and the location was good, too. The bathroom was a decent size for one person at a time, with an adequate shower stall. This was a big complaint from guests in smaller suites: apparently the shower stalls are so small it's hard to turn around.
But our cabin disappointed for many reasons, all of which could have been rectified and should not have been an issue in (a) a Silversea vessel and (b) a newly refurbished vessel.
If anyone wants photos, I have them!
1) Between the wardrobes and the bedroom area there was previously a curtain. The old hooks were still swinging freely. These took 10 minutes to remove when brought to the attention of the hotel manager, but why where they still there after a refurbishment?
2) Behind the TV (which pulls off the wall) were large dirty handprints. Probably from the installers of the TV. So after a launch and 3 cruises, no one checked?
3) One bedside lamp was held together with putty.
4) The emergency sign was stuck onto the back of the door over what was obviously a bigger sign, so the marks of the previous one were obvious. Tacky.
5) Large marks and scratches in the walls/ceilings in various places.
6) Metal pins in the wall had been puttied over (badly) and touched up with paint (badly).
7) The bathroom door squeaked VERY LOUDLY – especially annoying in the middle of the night. All it needed was a squirt of WD40. Why did no butler or room attendant have this fixed in the month she was at sea, before we complained? (For that matter, did no previous guest complain about it?)
8) Overall cleanliness of the cabin was sadly lacking. They sent a team in to fix on the second day.
Have a look at my photos and tell me, is this what you expect from a Silverseas suite? This is the question we asked of the hotel manager Sonia (who was charming, I might add). She apologised and did what she could to rectify the situation, but the bottom line is still that we paid a great deal of money for a substandard product. Definitely not a 5-star product.
Moving on. The staff was exemplary, especially the food and drink staff. Really excellent: remembering orders and names, being cheerful and attentive. All top notch.
The food was good. Nothing special, but by no means awful. It wasn't 5-star, although the dinner menus far outshone breakfast and lunch (both of which were buffet, with some freshly made offerings).
The wines were, quite simply, shocking. We are in the wine business and Australia is a wine lovers delight, but Silver Discoverer served plonk which can be purchased for $7.95 in any bottle shop. The sommelier – a pleasant European – had no idea of Australian wines and obviously just took whatever the supplier offered, without doing any homework at all. It was extremely disappointing and not what should be acceptable on a cruise of this caliber and cost.
The dining room atmosphere was pleasant and the restaurant manager ran a very efficient operation. Dinner was very enjoyable: we could sit at a table for 2, or ask to join other tables of 4, 6 or 8. This way you could sit with different people every evening if you chose, which made for a very friendly and convivial atmosphere. Remember, this is an expedition ship so you are thrown together more often than occurs on a more formal type cruise.
And on that subject, the excursions were also excellent. It's not an exaggeration to say the expedition guides – all men, of various nationalities but mostly Aussies – could make or break this cruise. Every evening there was a briefing from expedition leader Mick Fogg, outlining the next day's excursions and options, weather, and what to expect. A very amiable, straight-talking man, Mick obviously had the respect of his team and, quickly, of the guests. He has a big job: organising 120 guests, checking tides, and weather, getting 13 zodiac boats up and down, explaining how tough an outing could be (eg: a 2km walk in the sun over rocks to see rock art, or a 6hr zodiac ride to see cascades) and hoping guests are realistic about their abilities. Many skills are needed here, including tact and diplomacy, and Mick has them all. He and his team are experts in their fields: zoologists, botanists, naturalists, marine biologists: the breadth of their knowledge is astounding and, combined with their passion, totally infectious.
In this respect, everything was definitely 5 star. The excursions were well-planned, well organised and interesting, with various options to suits all guests.
One issue for everyone was that we spent the first 2 days at sea sailing out of Australian waters to Indonesia and back. The purchased itinerary stated a half-day landing in Indonesia, but this did not eventuate and we were never really given an adequate explanation. Everyone was annoyed at this, feeling it was a great waste of time, and did not represent value for money. The explanation given: an Australian government requirement that ships over a certain size have to go into international waters. But the gossip is that if they go into international waters they pay no GST on alcohol, which would be a huge saving for the cruiseline. I have no idea if either of these are true or not.
So, the ultimate verdict is that the Kimberley did not disappoint – absolutely stunning - and the expeditions did not disappoint. Silversea has some work to do on this ship – it should never have gone out in that condition. We feel very cheated in that respect and are unsure we will try another Silversea cruise.
My husband and I are in our mid-50s, have travelled extensively, and enjoy wine, food, theatre, museums etc. Previous cruises include one Celebrity to Alaska when our daughter was young, then RSS Voyager in the Med, and in 2013 Seabourn Odyssey also in the Med. We hope to cruise often in the future.