While this was our sixth cruise (and second to Alaska) for my us, it was our first on Silversea, or on any luxury line. We are in our late 40's and, by our own definition, "cabin rats". As cabin rats our number one goal on a cruise is rest and relaxation, and to us that means great service, no crowds, good food, a comfortable cabin, good books/movies, an upscale/elegant atmosphere, and no hassles. So, when plans changed unexpectedly for us this summer, we booked a 12-night cruise (3917) from San Francisco to Alaska and back at what was for us the last minute (three months out) through Silversea.
We chose to use Silversea's Air package which gave as our flight into San Francisco plus the transfer to the port. We got off our plane and walked down to baggage claim to start looking for our bags, after which I planned to start searching for our pickup area. As I entered baggage claim I saw a man in a suit holding a sign that said "Silversea". Great, I thought - he can tell me where to go after I get my bags. Instead, he greeted me by name, told me he'd been waiting for us, escorted us to our claim area, loaded our bags into a luggage cart, and walked us to bus pickup point! We had to wait for ~30 minutes for the bus to arrive which seemed to cause a great deal of unhappiness on the Silversea port agent personnel there with us. Finally, bus arrived, bags were loaded, and after about 40 minutes we arrived at Pier 35 around 1 PM. Processing took about five minutes (no lines whatsoever), after which we arrived at the waiting room where we would be until 3 PM as we had not signed up for Early Embarkation. However, during our in-processing one of the Silversea port agent personnel had muttered to another to put us on the Early Embarkation list due to the bus delay. We mentioned that to the rep in the waiting area, and five minutes later we were escorted into our cabin, champagne glasses in.
The 285 sq. ft. for our mid-ship veranda cabin (plus 65 sq. ft. for the actual veranda) was comfortable The walk-in closet, dual bathroom vanities with granite countertop, separate shower and (full) bathtub, and sitting area with separate desk and makeup areas provided more than enough space for us to stow our four full suitcases (plus two carryons) worth of luggage and exist for almost two weeks without feeling the least bit cramped. The mini-fridge came supplied with the usual assortments of juices/sodas/beers plus champagne, but at our request most of that was replaced with bottled water and Diet Coke and restocked as needed.. The basket of fresh fruit was replenished daily as we consumed it. There was only one general-purpose electrical outlet in the room, but it was enough for recharging our camera batteries. Unbeknownst to us (note: check next time before packing!), the bulb in our nightlight had died so we eventually resorted to leaving a light on the bathroom at night to prevent a wrong turn from turning ugly.....
The TV was a flat screen mounted on a rotating stand. Since my wife's and my IQ's tend to subtract from each other's when we're in the same room, we could neither figure out how to rotate it nor how to get it to play an audio CD. We finally asked our wonderful cabin attendants (Evelyn and Sonja) for instructions, and they quickly pointed out the knob to pull out to rotate the stand (duh!), but were also stumped in getting a CD to play. Thinking they were doing something wrong (the TV remote control system was evidently fairly new), they came back with detailed instructions later that afternoon. When it still wouldn't work they called in an engineer who arrived within the hour, took one look and diagnosed a loose cable, tightened it, problem solved.
One of the nicest features in the room was a plastic tray that slides over the sitting area's coffee table. The result was a good-sized table that is at just the right height for in-room dining. We made heavy use of this throughout the cruise! Another nice little touch were the little cloths placed on each side of the bed at evening turndown so your bare feet aren't sullied by the cabin carpet when you get into and out of bed. Bathroom towels were always well-stocked and replaced at the next service.
Although the cabin furnishings/carpet were in good shape, when we received our "mid-cruise" comment form on about the fourth day we noted (in addition to heaping copius amounts of praise on the crew's service, especially Evelyn's and Sonja's) that the seal on our shower door didn't really seal anymore, and the towels/bathrobes, although plush, were a bit rough for our taste. We expected this form to disappear into the bowels of Silversea till it eventually found a home in someone's "circular file", so we were very surprised to find a letter from the Hotel Director next day in our mailbox thanking us for our input and specifically mentioning the items we'd brought up. Even better, the seal on the shower door was replaced that same day while we were out of the cabin. And, to top things off, I looked at my wife the following morning and asked if I was crazy, or did the towels seem softer to her.? She thought she was crazy too as they also seemed softer to her, so we asked our cabin attendants their opinion and no, we weren't candidates for the lunatic asylum, they had started doing our towels separately with extra softener!
To make life complete for the cabin rat, public announcements (other than the captain's daily noontime message ) were not broadcast in the cabins. One source of noise we did have in our cabin (642) was, we thought, occasional nights of constantly ringing phones next door in the early evenings. We eventually learned that what we were actually hearing were the slot machines in the casino below, and would not recommend booking a cabin immediately above it in the future.
We found the ship to be well laid-out and easy to navigate, and really enjoyed the fact that, from deck 6 mid-ships, we could get to any place we needed to go within only a minute or two. Overall, the general condition of the ship was in good condition, although there were some heavy stains on the carpet in the public hallways that warrant carpet replacement at the next dry dock. We enjoyed the original artwork/photos on consignment that had been placed along the passage ways and stairwells, and the price tags below merely reminded us of days past window shopping along Canyon Road in Santa Fe. And we enjoyed even more the total absence of any "ship's photographers" constantly hounding you to poise for them.....
The library contained a reasonably modern (3-4 year old), well-organized collection of books, DVD's, and CD's that was broad enough to satisfy both of our tastes throughout the cruise. The checkout system merely required entering your name, date, and cabin number for the article you were taking. There was also a good collection of travel guides and other literature in the Observation Lounge. Plus, the Observation Lounge came equipped with about a half dozen massage chairs which were not unpleasant to try out.
The fitness center, although not large, was equipped with a good variety of aerobic/resistance machines and free weights. I used it 5-6 times during the cruise and, if it was busy, sometimes had to settle for the elliptical instead of the recumbent cycle, but my lungs couldn't tell the difference. One thing the fitness center could use is more ventilation but I'm not sure how easy that would be to add.
Another nice feature were the launderettes on most passenger decks. These came equipped with two washers, two dryers, and a self-serve tub of laundry detergent (but no dryer sheets) and a utility sink. Between the ship's dry cleaning (which, although we didn't ask for it, provided same-day service) and the launderette we actually managed to come home with suitcases full of mostly clean clothes! Towards the end of our cruise the launderettes did get busy with guests with fellow ambitions so I would recommend not waiting till the last minute before packing to start washing.
Our fellow passengers, although many (~60%?) were also on their first Silversea cruise, consisted for the most part of well-traveled, veteran cruisers. The majority, not surprisingly, were from the US, but with a good mixture of British, Canadians, Japanese, Latin Americans, etc. Being in our late 40's probably put us in the youngest quartile age-wise of the passengers, but as cabin rats we were also probably in the least active quartile!
The dress code was adhered to by all the passengers we encountered. On formal nights ~70% of the men were in tuxes with the rest in dark suits, and informal nights saw all in jackets with about half in ties as well. Daytimes were a mixture of slacks, dress shorts, and some blue jeans for men.
We would estimate that there were not more than 15 children on board and they were well behaved and also appropriately dressed (especially the young man in his tux on formal nights!). However, we didn't get a chance to talk to any of them to see if they were enjoying things. In general, I don't think I would recommend this cruise for children unless they can tolerate being in a adult atmosphere for prolonged periods and can exist in one without causing a ruckus.
Silversea policy allows smoking in cabins/verandas, sections of the pool deck, the Humidor, and part of The Bar. As non-smokers we didn't see any guests disobeying this policy, and for our part if we were on our veranda and the guests next door were smoking on theirs we didn't complain. Aside from one issue discussed below smoking/non-smoking was a non-issue as far as were concerned.
We had breakfast every morning in our cabins via room service. The card was filled out the night before, a ½ hour block was checked for delivery, and the next morning we'd get a knock on our within the first 5-10 minutes of our selected block. In addition to the usual cold items and breads/pastries/fruit/yogurt, there was also a good assortment of hot items such as pancakes, omelettes, Eggs Benedict, bacon/sausage, hash browns, etc. We found the fresh fruit (especially the mangos) to be quite good throughout most of the cruise. There were occasionally a few items missed from what we had checked off, and once a case of Eggs Benedict that had been turned into rubber, but room service was quick to correct these. The only real complaint I had was that their (decaf) coffee never seemed to suit my taste so I eventually gave up on it and stuck to tea.
Our lunches switched from venue to venue (The Restaurant, La Terrazza, Pool Grill, or room service) throughout the cruise. The Restaurant offered a somewhat simpler version of their evening cuisine (i.e., four or five course with a Continental theme), the Pool Grill (in fair weather) had excellent hamburgers, etc., and La Terrazza had a pasta station, pizza (so-so to our tastes), hot buffet line, salads, and sushi. My wife loves sushi, and while she was not crazy about what was served she did find it acceptable. Unlike the standard buffet line experience on our previous cruises where "jungle rules" applied, on Silversea the maitre d' would find you a table, seat you, the wine steward would promptly stop by to offer you a soda, glass of wine, or a drink from the bar, and while you had to get up to pick out your food (unless you ordered a burger from the Pool Grill), a waiter would insist on carrying your plate back to your table for you. The overall effect was actually so enjoyable and relaxing that, unlike previous cruises where we avoided lunch on the Lido decks at any cost, we didn't think twice about visiting La Terrazza .
We really enjoyed the open seating (7-9AM) policy for The Restaurant in the evenings. The only pressure we ever felt to hurry up and get ready for dinner was from our stomachs! Although the ship as at or near full capacity we were always able to get a table for two regardless of when we showed up. While we enjoyed talking to neighboring tables during dinner during breaks between courses, as cabin rats we generally prefer a buffer space.
True to their Relais & Chateau connection, dinners in The Restaurant (as prepared by Sean Emslie) also had a Continental flare. While our tastes generally lean towards New American/Asian Fusion, we found the food to be good to very good with excellent variety (beef, duck, shellfish, fresh seafood, veal, game, vegetarian, etc.) and interesting appetizers. The only area that was really disappointing were the soups, which I usually found to be somewhat watery. However, this was minor since the other courses more than made up for it. Our particular favorites were the Wild Boar Ragout (me) and Maine Lobster (my wife). Unlike the standard cruise ship lobster which tastes like boiled rubber duck, this lobster had been gently broiled and was both flavorful and tender. My wife had been planning on avoiding it that night due to our experiences on previous cruises, but our waiter insisted she at least try it and, after one bite (and a taste for me), she pushed her original entrEe aside and dug in.
Service in The Restaurant was polite and unobtrusive. Although the waiters generally wouldn't volunteer suggestions, they were quick to offer them when asked and we were always happier when we followed them. It was great to have both the lunch and dinners menu available the night before as an insert n the ship's Chronicles.
Since my wife despises wine (or any other form of refreshment in which she can actually taste alcohol), I stuck to the complementary wines. Although not an expert, I would characterize them as basically decent table wines in the $10-$20 per bottle range. The wine stewards were always quick to fill my glass, and if I decided I had liked last night's selection better to bring me a glass of that instead.
We also had dinner at La Terrazza twice by reservation . Dinner seatings are limited to ~30 couples, allowing a more intimate atmosphere than The Restaurant. The cuisine is Italian, focusing on a different region's food (and wines) each night with a somewhat limited menu. While the service was great, we found the food to be prepared with a heavier hand on the olive oil than we prefer.
We also made reservations at Le Champagne for one night. This is a 3-4 hour experience in a very intimate (5-6 tables) setting where the degustation menu each night is either French, Italian, Spanish, or (in our case) North American. I chose the wine pairings at $200, while my wife just stuck to water ($30). The food was beautifully prepared by Catalan, and we were waited on impeccably by the maitre d' (Marcello) and our waiter (Abay), but somehow the Relais & Chateau flair just never seemed to mesh with the North American menu for us. Some of the wine pairings (six courses equals six different wines, with glasses refilled upon request!) were truly superb, however.
Le Champagne was situated next to The Humidor with a (closed) connecting door. While normally not an issue, unbeknownst to all the air filter in The Humidor chose that night to clog and cigar smoke started infiltrating through the connecting door in increasing quantity as the night wore on. Finally, the couple seated adjacent to the connecting door, and with whom we had been intermittently conversing with, asked Marcello to be moved to La Terrazza, and asked us if we would join him. We readily agreed, Marcello/Abay set things up next door, and off we went, with the other tables following shortly thereafter.
Although we ended up still having a great time, we were not surprised getting a phone call next afternoon from Marcello telling us that he had not charged us for the night before. We were somewhat surprised that he insisted upon inviting us back for another night, and would not allow us to even think about paying for it! Our stomachs were still reeling from the quantity of food (plus, in my case, wine) we had consumed the night before, so I finally gave in (I didn't argue too hard!) and made reservations for the following night.
That night's menu was "Under the Spanish Sun", and somehow Catalan's cooking just seemed to suit it, and us, perfectly. We both agreed that it was one of the best meals we've ever had anywhere, land or sea. Marcello did not give us the wine pairings but instead chose the bottles himself, and insisted that my wife try a sip of each. While neither the champagne nor the Toscana agreed with her, to everyone's surprise she ended up falling in love with the chardonnay and started planning future meals to accompany it as we finished off the bottle! Sadly, it was a Gaja chardonnay, so my wine budget may take a hit..... Finally, to finish off the night, the pre-dessert dessert, dessert, and post-dessert courses prepared by George, the pastry chef, were perfection.
Although the ship offered a wide selection of activities, including art tours, dance classes, bridge instructions, French/Spanish/Italian clubs with the cruise hostesses in The Bar, etc., as cabin rats our predominant activity consisted of relaxing in our cabin and watching the ocean go by. There were two guest lecturers on board who gave several talks on Alaskan geography and history, but we skipped these in favor of more ocean viewing. This cruise was also billed as a "wine enthusiast" cruise, and there were two wine tastings held in the theater that I attended. These were each a ½ hour apiece, with tastings of 3-4 different wines at each one plus a cooking demonstration and hors d'oeuvres. Although I enjoyed these, I expected more for a 12-night "wine enthusiast" cruise.
Service was superb throughout the cruise. Whenever we asked for something we were not only not ever told "no", but were also never told "yes, but that's not my job, ask XXX instead". The crew consisted of 24 different nationalities, with the largest fraction being from the Philippines, and others from Indonesia, India, South Africa, Portugal, New Zealand, etc. Even the junior crew members we spoke to were on at least their second eight-month contract with Silversea, and most of these had sailed previously on other cruise lines. While English may still have been a distant second language for some of them, we never had any trouble understanding or being understood.
As an example, our shore expedition to the bear observatory near Wrangell required about a mile-long hike along a trial through the rain forest littered with, well, what bears do in the woods. Upon return to our cabin I decided that, while my tennis shoes were in no state to pack, it would be unfair to both current and any future occupants of our cabin to clean them off in the bath. Not realizing there was a utility sink in the launderette, I then proceeded to the front desk to ask the young Peruvian woman there what she would suggest. Although (as my wife will attest to) her English grammar and pronunciation were certainly more correct than mine will ever be, it was an interesting experience seeing the expression in her eyes once I explained the concept of "bear doodoo" to her. She informed me that a cabin attendant would promptly be by my cabin to pick up shoes, which was done within a half hour of my return, and Evelyn returned the (now acceptably smelling) shoes with the evening turndown.
Although no gratuities were ever asked or expected throughout our cruise, as advertised, the service was so superb we did make a donation to the Crew Fund. No mention of this fund was ever made to any of the passengers on board, and we wouldn't have even known of its existence except for Cruise Critic.
The Shadow's offerings in the theatre consisted of a song and dance troop, an "international showman" (Craig Dahn), and a tribute to Nat King Cole (Donny Ray Evins). While the song and dance troop was energetic and enthusiastic, and I thought the female singer had a decent voice, my wife (who used to be a dance instructor) thought the overall quality was about equivalent to a high school production, and I had to agree. I went back (solo) for a second show, but my wife skipped any more. Craig Dahn basically did a Liberace imitation that the crowd seemed to enjoy, but something about it irritated us enough that we left halfway through. We didn't see any of Donny Ray Evins's shows.
There was also a piano/vocalist (I believe) duo in The Bar before dinner for listening/dancing, and a DJ afterwards, but we missed all of those and the Silver Shadow Quartet (who were excellent when I heard them at other functions) in the Panorama Lounge for after-dinner dancing.
Port and Shore Excursions:
We booked all of our excursions through Silversea. This came in handy when our stop at Ketchikan was removed due to a delay from a medical evacuation our first night out as we didn't have to worry about canceling it. Other stops consisted of the standard ones at Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, so I won't go into them any further here. I will remark that one of the advantages to a smaller ship is the ease and speed with which one gets off and on for shore excursions, and the ability to find your tour group on the dock.
Another advantage to a smaller ship is that it may visit ports less frequented, in our case Wrangell Island, Alaska. Although the 45-minte air boat ride (each way) to the bear observatory we visited was rough, spending two hours at the observatory watching 6-7 black bears fishing for salmon in a stream (literally at arm's length at times!), plus the comparison of the black bears' size with those of the grizzly that was also fishing in the stream was worth every bounce in the air boat!
We were somewhat nervous when asked to turn in our passports when embarking, but we appreciated throughout the entire cruise that we never had to go through the mass cattle calls with immigration that we had on our previous cruises.
As we didn't bring our laptop, and I didn't want to bother with using the public computers in the library, I gave our flight info and credit card number (for luggage fees) to the front desk the day before. The concierge took care of these the afternoon before disembarkation, and I picked up the boarding passes before dinner.
Full room service was still available on disembarkation day, so we had breakfast in our cabin, then cleared out shortly before the requested time of 8:30 AM. We then waited in The Bar for about 45 minutes before casually walking off the ship, easily finding our bags in the neatly arranged lines, tipped a nearby porter to tote them to the waiting bus, and climbed aboard.
Our worst fears came to pass - we fell in love with luxury cruising! For us, this cruise gave us exactly what we were looking for, and we booked another one for 2010 while still on board. While we certainly intend to sample other luxury lines, and may do a mass market cruise again with our families some day, we really loved the overall ambience and service that we received on the Shadow.