Having sailed previously with Seabourn and Crystal, my husband and I expected Silversea would equal, if not surpass, our previous experiences. I’m sad to report we came away from our 10-day Baltic cruise disappointed and hungry. Very hungry.
We decided to try Silversea after it was recommended to us by my parents who, in all other things, are reliably excellent judges of quality. In their defense, my parents (like many we met aboard the Silver Cloud) have never tried any of the other high-end cruise lines and, if your standard of comparison is the Carnival Funships, Silversea probably seems like the gold standard of luxury cruising. And some aspects of Silversea ARE pretty swishy. The service is excellent, as good as we’ve had on Crystal and Seabourn, and very friendly. There were none of the delightful, above-the-call-of-duty surprises we’d come to expect from Seabourn-no constant stream on yummy treats on the pool deck, no canapés on the dock after a long day of sightseeing, nothing but the standard chocolates on the pillow at night, no trademark complimentary excursion-but the wait staff had memorized our names and preferred cocktails by Day 2, and our cabin stewardesses were most meticulous women I have ever met. The cabins were spacious and luxurious. (The walk-in closet was fitted-out with cherry built-ins and padded hangers, by far the nicest closet I’ve seen on a cruise ship.) The gym was truly impressive given the size of the ship, and it’s location (top deck, forward) provided great views from the elliptical trainer. The box of Godiva chocolates we were given upon embarkation was very much appreciated. Best of all, was the pool deck, the nicest I’ve seen on any ship, truly superlative in both quality and layout. It became our very favorite place to while away sea days, even in the blustery north. The pool-side grill provided the tastiest food on the ship, the pool itself was generously heated (and the hot tubs actually HOT!) and deck stewards were quick to supply coffee drinks, wool blankets or anything else we requested.
The real problem we had with Silversea is that we shouldn’t have HAD any problems with Silversea—that’s what luxury cruising is all about. And my husband and I are pretty good sports. We do our share of luxury travel, but we also do our share of “roughing-it,” and aren’t normally critical people. Enough was amiss with life aboard the Silver Cloud, though, that we started to Notice Things-and those things added up. We were able to see the humor in a lot of it (the free cocktails really helped with that) but there were definitely times we were Not Having Any Fun, and we were more that ready to get off when we at last disembarked in London.
Our biggest complaint was with the food. The pool deck grill served fairly well-prepared basics and, throughout the ship, the pastries and baked goods were very nice, but the dining room was a disaster. I recall only two good meals in the dining room: a lunch with a very nice soup course and a halibut cooked in truffle oil, and a dinner that featured some kind of smoked reindeer carpaccio. Beyond that, the Dining Room cuisine was complicated but badly executed, and sometimes not even hot. (Sometimes not even WARM.) Moreover, service in the dining room was almost comically disorganized and really, really slow. At breakfast, I often waited 15 minutes for my beloved caffeinated beverage and another 30 minutes for eggs. Lunches took two hours, and dinners nearly three. I mean, I can “dine” with the best of ‘em, but we spent huge stretches of time seated at a table with nothing in front of us-no bread, no drinks, and no hope of a satisfying meal. Overall, the food ranged from almost good to downright bad. We discovered the best dishes were the wellness options, which featured delicately prepared shellfish, fish, soups and some nice desserts. The problem with sticking to this menu was the very real specter of starvation. After a 64 calorie appetizer, a 186 calorie main, and a 119 calorie dessert (the calorie counts for wellness dishes were helpfully listed on the menus) we would bolt back to our cabin, salivating at the thought of our turn-down chocolates. La Terrazza, the ship’s alternative dining venue, served good-but-not-great Italian food at dinner, pizza at lunch, and offered hearty but unimpressive breakfast and lunch buffets. Still, food quality in La Terrazza beat the Dining Room hands down and, for this reason, it was very popular and usually very crowded. The crowds were a real problem in the snug, galley-style buffet area because, believe me, in those quarters you do NOT want to be trapped between the 95-year-old lady and the chaffing dish when she decides she wants some hash browns. Some things just aren’t worth dying for.
Okay, enough about the food. It was bad. Moving on…the bathrooms were small, with only one sink and they were looking a little worse for wear, but the real issue was the toilets, which must have been manufactured by N.A.S.A. because every time one of them was flushed it sounded like a FREAKING ROCKET BEING LAUNCHED. If anyone along our line of plumbing flushed in the middle of the night, it literally woke us from a dead sleep. Most passengers seemed to abide by an unvoiced pact not to flush between midnight and 7AM, but it happened occasionally. Napping was never an option. Even more disturbing, the hallways twice smelled strongly of sewage while maintenance men with shop-vacs bustled about. I thought riots might start in the laundry room, which was unwisely outfitted with 5 Miele washers and 5 Miele condensing dryers. The controls on the Mieles were so complicated, most older passengers needed help just turning them on, and the condensing dryers literally took several hours to dry a single load. One of the two receptionists at the front desk was consistently snippy to the point of rudeness.
We spent an entire day in Szczecin, Poland, home to the captain’s wife and children. Unfortunately for those of us not married to Szczecinians, there was NOTHING to do in Szczecin beyond posing for photos with the giant fiberglass shark outside the town’s nicest pub. Like most of our fellow passengers, we were back on the ship within an hour and spent the rest of the day reading on our deck chairs and watching the captain’s kiddies frolic in the pool. As for the captain, he didn’t bother to attend either of the cocktail parties he “hosted,” which resulted in rumors he a) spoke no English or, alternatively, b) hated us all. The piano player was so bad that the cruise director, Judy, referred to him as “Poor Henry” in her announcements and twice encouraged us to go listen to him as he was “up there all alone.” Judy was charming and British but was absolutely addicted to the sound of her voice over the ship’s PA system and, according to those who attended her lecture on the final evening, shared entirely too much about her tragic relationship history. Afternoon tea was interrupted by “fashion shows” from the ship’s boutique and H. Stern jewelry store, and you basically had to tackle someone to get a scone. Disembarkation in London Bridge was interesting but very disorganized. The Silver Cloud rafted up alongside the HMS Belfast and, after milling around in the reception area while we ostensibly waited for our luggage to be unloaded, passengers disembarked by walking across the Belfast and boarding a Port Authority launch, which dropped us off on the Westminster pier. I have no idea how some of the less-ambulatory passengers managed this, as there were lots of slippery ramps and steps on and off of ferries involved, and we STILL waited in the rain for 40 minutes for our luggage to appear. Silversea had assured us there wouldn’t be any taxis available and encouraged everyone to buy pricey ship transfers or hire private cars. We were not the least bit surprised to see the long line of waiting taxis, though, and as we hopped in one of them and headed for the train station, we felt nothing but relief. And hunger.