Silversea Cruises m/v Silver Cloud "African Odyssey" 11-22DEC2007
Itinerary: Port Louis, Mauritius; Tamatave, Madagascar; Tulear, Madagascar; Richards Bay, South Africa, Durban, South Africa; Cape Town, South Africa.
At first glance the itinerary sounds as if it's chock full of exotic locales. After having visited these ports I would downgrade them to "interesting".
We spent 3 days in Mauritius (at the Movenpick Resort) before boarding the ship. Mauritius is the type of destination where you arrive, go to one of the uber-fabulous resorts and stay on the property until it's time to depart. We took a taxi tour of Mahebourg and Blue Bay..both were perfectly fine. Prior to joining the ship we had the taxi driver give us a brief tour of Port Louis, the island's capital.
Tamatave and Tulear, Madagascar. The calls at these ports were primarily for passengers to take tours of the flora and fauna of Madagascar. (see "Tours"). We did neither and elected to take the Silversea-provided shuttle to the respective town centers. There was very little to see of any notable interest in either location. Each town had your traditional marketplace. It was fun to see folks buying there fake Christmas trees for the holiday. I have to say though it was neat to walk around each town.
Richards Bay, S. Africa: Richards Bay is a coal town/harbor. The shuttle bus took passengers to a shopping mall that could've just as easily been in Suffolk County. (NY). The ship overnighted in Richards Bay as it's the gateway to KwaZulu Natal and some of S. Africa's finest game reserves. The reason for the overnight stay was to allow some passengers to do overnight tours to game lodges. We elected to do a full-day tour of Hluhluwe Game Park. The weather at Richards Bay was the only foul weather of the journey. We were delayed leaving the port as it (and Durban's port) had been closed by the harbormaster due to high winds.
Durban, S Africa: Durban is a large city with nice beaches. 'nuf said
Cape Town, S Africa: Cape Town remains a fascinating city to visit. Upon our arrival we immediately rented a car and drove to Franschoek in the winelands for lunch. We stayed at the colonial era "Mount Nelson Hotel" as part of the partnership between Silversea and American Express. The city and its environs are filled with spectacular beauty.
Tours: The only ship-sponsored tour that we took was the full day safari to Hluhluwe Game Reserve. This was offered from Richards Bay. It was a great tour that gave us about 5 hours in the park. We were able to see 3 of the "big five" animals, (the cats being nocturnal). The participants were divvied up into 10 passenger Land Rovers. Our guide/driver was adept at explaining the the park, the animals and their habits. Well worth the money.
The ship offered two two-night safaris that allowed participants to stay at lodges on site. These too were offered from Richards Bay but the tour ended at Durban. These were each in the USD2000.00 range. One couple arranged their own program to the Phinda Game Reserve for one night. They felt the one night with its associated park drives were enough.
The tour offered at Tamatave, Madagascar took participants to see lemurs in a zoo.
The tour offered in Tulear, Madagascar was a multi-hour drive to see a baobab tree. We didn't take this tour and heard complaints about it and that the participants wanted it to end early.
We had planned to take a safari tour from Durban but given that we had done the safari in Richards Bay we cancelled this.
Service: The Silver Cloud's crew was top-notch. The Cruise Director, (Steve Lewis) and the Hotel Manager were omnipresent. Bar service was excellent in all the ship's bars. If I have to cite an "issue" (and I'm reallllly reaching now!) it would be that my stateroom didn't have Pepsi in it which was requested on the guest information form. This was mentioned to the stewardess and Pepsi appeared. For my partner, the only service issue was surrounding the wine service. On previous Silversea trips the sommelier was always knowledgeable about wines, especially the ship's own wine list. On this particular trip the head sommelier, while very enthusiastic and personable was not up to the level of knowledge as other sommeliers.
Food: This was the first voyage for the ship's new chef. Chef Tobias Schreiber joined Silversea from a long stint at Radisson/Regent. We were fortunate to have had chef Schreiber's food on Radisson many years ago and were looking forward to having it again.
"The Restaurant" On the plus side, the meals always ranged from very good to outstanding. Generally speaking, the beef dishes were great. His kitchen welcomed special orders so we took them up on this. One evening we ordered saffron risotto, pasta carbonara and Beef Wellington. The risotto was...was...was...I can't think of a superlative worthy enough for the risotto. The pasta carbonara was also very delicious. The Beef Wellington...well, not so good. It was a recipe of which we were unfamiliar. We were used to the dish being prepared with beef, a layer of foie gras and pastry. This presentation had the beef sitting on a bed of spinach and mushrooms within the pastry.
"La Terrazza/Terrace Cafe" We dined at La Terrazza one evening. The food was very good but not outstanding. The hit of the dinner was the pizza the waitstaff served alongside the bread. Apparently there's a pizza oven in the La Terrazza kitchen and they know how to use it! We even ordered the same pizza for lunch at the pool grill the following afternoon. We took breakfast in the Terrace Cafe twice and each time it was delicious. I've been on other lines where the breakfast buffet on disembarkation day looked a bit thin but this is not the case with Silversea. It looked as fresh on Day 11 as it did on Day 1.
"Pool Grill" This is my preferred lunch spot. The service was excellent and the offerings by the grill were delicious. A big hit for my partner was the glazed grilled salmon. We would also order things like pizza, etc. (see above) to be delivered to the pool grill and it was done with a smile.
State of the Ship The Cloud seems to be in fine form. I didn't go looking for worn carpeting or furniture nicks but there was nothing glaringly in need of fixing. When we disembarked at Cape Town there were two deck's worth of mattresses waiting to be onloaded and installed.
Passengers: There was a mixed bag of nationalities on board with no one nationality seemingly in overabundance.
Entertainment: We generally don't go to ship's entertainment so here's what was offered. Any opinion is second-hand. The entertainment on board included a duo who did "Cirque du Soleil" type acrobatics in the Venetian Lounge. "Gaby and Jean Claude" received rave reviews from the passengers on board. Donnie Rae, a crooner sang twice during the voyage and was generally well received. There was a female British singer however I didn't hear whether she was worthwhile. One of the social hostesses who's an aspiring singer had a show in the Venetian Lounge on the last night. We could hear Laura belting out tunes from the Lounge while we were sitting in "The Bar" and she has a great singing voice.
Deck Barbecue We had a deck barbecue while we were in port at Durban. It was, as always great fun. The ship had Zulu dancers perform for the assemblage and they were warmly received.
Weather This is the Southern Hemisphere's summer so the weather was generally sunny and hot! The only inclement weather was between Richards Bay and Durban. The ship was delayed a number of hours as both ports were closed. Once we were underway the ship rocked and rolled quite a bit. Luckily we didn't get out of Richards Bay until after midnight so most people were asleep during the rough ride.
Overall impression Silversea lived up to all expectations. As for the itinerary...I'm glad to have visited these places but, except for Cape Town, I have no need to go back to any of them.