Embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale was a terrible disappointment. Rather than assigning guests a number, or somehow identifying the order of arrival, guests were simply crowded into a small space where seating was limited. While everyone was aware that boarding time was 2:00 p.m., no one expected that at 2:05 they would simply open the door to the security area and allow the crowd to rush into a very unorganized and pushy queue. It would have been so simple to have assigned numbers and board in an orderly manner. Once through security, the remainder of the check-in procedure was orderly and painless. We were welcomed with a glass of Prosecco and then directed to a table where we turned in our passports and received our boarding cards. Next we had our identification photos taken and then we were escorted to our suites, where a chilled bottle of Pommery champagne was waiting.
Suites We booked a verandah suite. It was beautifully appointed and quite spacious. In addition to the large bathroom with double vanity sinks, tub, and separate shower, there is a large walk-in closet with plenty of space. The sitting area includes a sofa, small table, a large writing desk which housed the refrigerator and some additional shelving and drawers, and two chairs. The verandah, while not large, is certainly comfortable. There are two chairs which recline and a small table. The decor is very pleasant and the colors (ours was in blue tones) were quite relaxing.
While we had made our preferences known prior to sailing (via the pre-cruise information request form) relative to pillows and how we would like our refrigerator stocked, no notice was made of our request. However, after meeting our stewardess on the way to dinner we made our requests known and she changed out the pillows and stocked our mini-bar to our liking. Our verandah door was off the track and would not open or close. We would have expected that our stewardess was aware of this. It took 2 phone calls to reception to finally get someone up, but it was fixed within the first few hours on board. However, it had to be repaired several additional times during the voyage.
Our stewardess was somewhat of a disappointment. While the service itself was impeccable, she never said hello in the hallways nor ever asked if we needed anything, She did not introduce herself upon embarkation nor "show us around" the suite to explain how things operate. In her defense, our suite was spotless, supplies were refreshed regularly, and our mini-bar was stocked every day. Linens were changed every few days as were our bathrobes. As we walked around the ship we would hear other stewardesses recognizing passengers by name and being quite friendly. As a matter of fact, except for our stewardess, every crew member was extremely friendly and all of them called us by name.
Smoking As non-smokers, we appreciated that there were designated smoking areas by the pool and in the main bar. Smoking was limited in other areas throughout the ship and there was the Humidor for pipe and cigar smoking as well. One problem was that smoking is permitted in cabins and on verandahs. Unfortunately, there were smokers next door to us so if they were smoking when we were on our verandah we had to go inside as the smoke just blew over on our balcony. Also, there was a cigar smoker two suites away from us. He chose to smoke his cigar on the verandah, so that was another time when we would confine ourselves to be inside. My understanding was that pipe and cigar smoking was only permitted in the Humidor, but I was not inclined to "turn him in."
Dining Room service was to die for! Breakfast was delivered hot and exactly as ordered. The waiter placed a table top on the "coffee table" and then set the table complete with Frette linen and silver and china. It was just beautiful and this was the quality of the service no matter what type of service you ordered, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks. Even if you call for a bottle of champagne before dinner, the wait staff insists on opening and serving it before they leave.
La Terraza, the casual spot for breakfast and lunch was lovely. While billed as a "buffet" it is far from it. Guests can go through the buffet line to pick up some food items of their choice and then they are walked to their table by a waiter. The rest of the meal is ordered and delivered by your waiter. Again, tables are set with linen, silver, and china. At night, La Terraza becomes an Italian Trattoria. Each night the food served is from a different region in Italy. This is a small and intimate setting. It would have been a lovely venue every night.
The Dining Room also offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is a full-service venue with impeccable, elegant service. The menus were varied and consistently well prepared. Every day there is a dish featured from the carving trolley at lunch. In the evening, the themed menus are varied and offer dishes of a particular region of the world. The quality of the wait staff is the best I have ever experienced on a ship - for that matter on land as well.
Much credit goes to the head wine sommelier for the excellent wine pairing of all of the included wines on board. Every day there were new wines at lunch and dinner. Of course, should you have like one in particular, they were happy to serve that one to you if it was available. One of our traveling companions preferred pinot noir and was served pinot in every bar and at every meal. The standard champagne was Pommery, however Nicolas Feuillatte as well as Perrier and Jouet were also available on request at no additional charge.
While we had planned to, we did not dine in Le Champagne. Only a few of the menus looked exceptional and worth the experience.
The various bars are relaxing and friendly. The bar staff quickly learns your name and your preferences. They always have a smile on their face and a warm welcome. They just can't seem to do enough for you. They will create drinks for you to suit your liking—anything to make you happy
Activities/Entertainment Activities are the same as you would find on most ships; pool games, table tennis, card tournaments, etc. What really stands out is the lecture series. On our particular sailing, one of the lecturers was a celebrated television producer and director. We couldn't wait for each of his 4 lectures. There were also two other lecturers who spoke on a variety of topics that were specific to the region and ports of call we were visiting. There was also a Viking chef on board who did cooking demonstrations. While they were not especially interesting dishes, the demonstrations were fun and entertaining, especially when paired with wines by the ship's head sommelier. Speaking of the sommelier, he also did several wine tasting lectures which were entertaining and educational. They were "blind" tastings which made it very interesting.
We only made it to one evening show. The problem was that the shows began at 10:15. We normally ate dinner between 8:00 and 8:30. Most nights there were wither four or six of us and we tended to "dine" and were usually the last to leave the dining room! We were told that there were several very good performers including 2 singers (completely different shows) and a pianist. The rumor mill had it that the ventriloquist, who only appeared once, left the ship at the first port of call due to low attendance at his shows.
On most nights the disco (in the Panorama Lounge) was started off by the young cruise staff, and then pretty well attended. We had fun there on several nights enjoying both passengers' and officers' company. There was also dancing with music by the ship's orchestra every night in The Bar.
Casino The casino was very small and virtually empty. We never played, but we did speak to some people who did and they felt that there was a lack of ambience and there were too few people to make it fun and exciting.
Ports I will not give a lot of detail on all of the ports as we have been on similar itineraries many times so we did not do the usual tourist things while in port. On this particular cruise, the ship was our main destination so we were not disappointed.
Cartagena- We did not take any tours nor did we go ashore. We heard from several passengers that they were disappointed in the tours and were not impressed with this port of call.
San Blas Island- Why ships even stop here is puzzling! This is a tiny island where all there is to see or do is look at the local indigenous people and buy crumby souvenirs, mostly made in China.
The Panama Canal was the primary destination for most on board. The Canal is always an amazing operation to see in action. We arrived at the first locks right on schedule at 6:30 am. The lecturer on board gave regular commentary throughout the entire transit from beginning to end. We arrived at Gatun Lake as scheduled and anchored until 1:30 in the afternoon. Some passengers chose to attend the "Silversea Experience" which was a folkloric show at the Gatun Harbor Country Club. We continued to enter the Pacific Locks when we were delayed due to a technical problem. Apparently a buoy came lose and got caught in one of the lock gates. We had to wait until the buoy was removed and the gate became operational. This created a backup of several ships. Therefore, the final locks were transited during early evening hours and went on until approximately 10:00 p.m. While some might have found this disappointing, everyone we spoke to loved the experience of transiting several of the locks at night. Everything was all lit up and you could see many details. Of course you couldn't take photos, but we did transit the Atlantic locks during daylight so there were many photo taking opportunities.
Puntarenas- Having been to the interior of Costa Rica and having enjoyed many of the beautiful sights of this lovely country, it is disappointing when a ship calls here. The port is more than 2 hours away from the nearest attraction/point of interest and the ship only stays in port for the day. So if you want to see anything, you need to take a 2 to 2 ½ hour bus ride to spend 1 hour touring and then get on the bus for the 2 ½ hour ride back to the ship.
Acapulco- Besides the Cliff Divers and the beaches, this is just a typical Mexican beach town.
Manzanillo- We did not take any of the tours so we just took the complimentary shuttle to the downtown section. There was nothing of note in this small town.
Puerto Vallarta- In our opinion, Puerto Vallarta is the best port of the Western Mexican ports. Why this was out shortest stop I just don't know. We arrived at 8:00 and sailed away at 1:30. There is so much to see and do in Puerto Vallarta, but no time to do much of anything with such a short stop.
Disembarkation Disembarkation was simple and easy once the ship was cleared. The only glitch was that the US officials in Los Angeles required every crew member on the ship to personally appear before immigration prior to clearing the ship. This resulted in a delay of more than one hour, but disembarkation still began by 8:45.