Silver Shadow - Barbados to Ft. Lauderdale December 11 - 20, 2009
Susan and I have been cruising since we first got together 13 years ago. Most of our earlier cruises were on Celebrity, but lately we have moved up and have been cruising with Regent and Silversea. This was our second Silversea cruise. Both have been on the Silver Shadow and both originated from Barbados. In fact, this cruise was very similar to the cruise we took three years ago, albeit with some different stops.
I wrote a review of the first Silver Shadow cruise and it can be found on Cruise Critic as one of the 23 existing reviews of the Shadow. This review will update my earlier review and highlight the most significant changes we see with Silversea over the past three years.
First of all, we had a great time. Well, it's hard not to enjoy yourself on such a beautiful ship, sailing (mostly) calm waters and visiting picture postcard ports of call. This cruise was significantly better than the one we took three years ago. I have to chalk up the improvements to Silversea management, which hasn't forgotten its older ships amidst all the hoopla surrounding the Silver Spirit. The Silver Shadow leadership team, starting with Captain Marco Sangiacomo, had the ship's crew well trained in both efficiency and friendliness. We have been on ships (particularly Regent) where the Captain is more visible but we have never been on a ship as well run as the Shadow was on this cruise. We did have the opportunity to meet the captain and watch him work as he brought the ship into Grand Turk. He is confident and has the respect of the ship's crew and is a valuable asset to Silversea.
Other leaders who impressed us were the Hotel Director, Norman Rafelson; the Food and Beverage Manager, Lester Woodfall; and the Executive Chef, Sean Emslie. The hotel and food experience on this cruise was substantially better than our cruise three years ago.
On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being perfect, we give this cruise a 9.5. If you want a cruise with the look, feel and food of a 6 star resort, book a cruise on the Silver Shadow and you won't be disappointed.
Ship and Cabin
The ship was about 90% full according to our butler, so there were approximately 350 guests on the ship. The only night there was evidence of any crowd was the first night when there was a mad rush for dinner in The Restaurant at 7:30. We waited until 8:30 and they did find a table for us and we had a superb meal.
The ship looked pretty good for being nine years old. We were in Suite 924 and it was in excellent shape, including the balcony and railing. Some of the carpeting on deck 8 (the pool deck) showed some wear and the pool, itself, is in need of some re-tiling. Other than that, the ship did not look a day older than it did a few years ago. The furnishings are classy, the color scheme elegant, if a bit understated, and the art magnificent. The Shadow is highlighting modern art and the paintings and sculptures were worthy of an exhibition at a museum. We spoke to one of the guests who said that over 30 pieces of art had been sold on the cruise, and I have to say if I had the resources I may have bid on one or two. Hopefully they won't be all sold out and if you are sailing on the Shadow in 2010 you can enjoy the art as well.
Cabin service is now done by a butler - for all price levels - as well as a steward or stewardess. We had a very nice butler from India who had recently worked on the Regent Voyager, went home to India where he celebrated the birth of a new son and then decided to join the Silver Shadow. He was pleasant, available and helped with all our first day "chores" - such as cleaning and pressing for the first formal night and making reservations at Le Champagne and La Terrazza. He and our stewardess also presented us with a romantic room full of (fake) candles, rose petals and a freshly drawn bath as we celebrated our wedding anniversary on the second night.
We had room service for three breakfasts and the food was always served fresh and hot with an elegant table prepared by our butler. About the only complaint we had was that he never replaced our standing order for a bottle of Chilean Merlot, which caused us to call room service late in the evening a couple of times. I do have to say, though, that the fresh bottle always arrived within 5 minutes with a gracious smile.
Our stewardess was a bit slow, with our cabin not being freshened up in the morning sometimes until after 11 a.m. It may be a case that with the addition of the butlers, the stewards and stewardesses now have more suites to clean up - or, it could be that ours was just a bit slow. If you have never sailed with Silversea you should try out their pillow selection. They have nine different pillows to choose from, so you can try a different one pretty much every night! Or, like us, get a variety. And the toiletries continue to be the best at sea - certainly far superior to those on Regent. They somehow remembered from our last cruise that we preferred Bvlgari products and they were waiting for us in our suite and were replenished daily.
Overall, the hotel experience was superior and much credit must go to the Hotel Director, Norman Rafelson. This is apparently his first assignment on a cruise ship after an extensive career with Hyatt International and most recently the Regent Hotel Group. Silversea and Regent Cruises should do their best to try and clone Norm for all their ships.
As a side note - we had a Rabbi on board and Hanukkah was celebrated each night of the cruise with a candle lighting ceremony, wonderful jelly donuts and (not so wonderful) potato latkes. A special Hanukkah dinner was celebrated one night in La Terrazza (we did not attend as we loved the menu that night in The Restaurant, but we understand the special meal was quite good). The Rabbi credited Norm with making this all possible and I'm certain that the folks on the cruise following ours (which would celebrate both Christmas and New Years) also had some special events to help make those holidays very special.
The spa and workout areas on deck 10 got moderate use on this cruise. Neither Susan nor I nor any of the other guests who used the workout rooms had to wait to use any of the equipment, all of which was in fine working order. Our only complaint was that the room could get warm and stuffy without an extra fan or two turned on. I did not use the sauna, but it was highly recommended by those who did. On an Alaska or Scandinavian cruise, I could see the sauna being used more often. Susan's only use of the spa on this cruise was for a nail color change so we have no new comments to make - except it was clean and the folks seemed friendly enough.
Food and Entertainment
What a fantastic improvement from three years ago. The breads and pastries were to die for and the other breakfast items were also superb. Lunch, for us at least, was usually on the pool deck, where a friendly server would loudly announce each day at 11:30, "Hamburger Time." These are surely some of the best burgers at sea - fresh, cooked medium rare if you request it - on a very tasty bun. The salads and seafood were also great. I tried the sushi once and it was only so-so, but overall, no complaints about the lunches (at least for us). One thing that Regent does that we have not seen on Silversea, is theme lunches on days at sea. But that is a minor complaint since the food was so tasty and the service was also spot on.
We ate in the primary restaurant (The Restaurant) on five nights and were rarely disappointed. Whatever fish they were serving was always cooked perfectly with a great sauce, and the meats were mostly excellent - especially the lamb and veal. Susan had a sirloin steak one night that was just average, but she said she was so full from the excellent starters it didn't matter. We were able to get a table for two, six, or one night they put together a table of 10 for us. The Maitre' d, Gilbert Lanza was very accommodating and his assistants always came around to see how things were going. The wine service varied from good to excellent. A couple of nights we had a wine server who was clearly in training, but when we requested a different bottle he quickly found the head sommelier who listened carefully to our request and quickly appeared with just the right bottle. Some of the house wines were just so-so but if you ask, you shall receive, and we had some wonderful Italian and French wines with dinner that weren't necessarily the wines of the evening and didn't cost us anything extra.
We ate at Le Champagne on the first formal night to celebrate our anniversary. The service was, as expected, over the top, but the presentation and quality made the experience more than worthwhile. We opted to pay the $30 per person dinner fee and purchase our own bottle of wine, and I have to say the wine list was fairly reasonable. We found a very nice Super Tuscan for $80 that I would have easily paid $100 for in Chicago. The individually prepared prime ribs were quite extravagant. I hope they found a good use for all the meat we could not possibly eat!
We ate dinner at La Terrazza twice. Unlike three years ago when there was a rotating dinner menu with a large antipasto bar, now they serve a set menu with a simpler on the table antipasto to start. Get your reservations in early in the cruise as they do serve just a limited number of tables and reservations were hard if not impossible to get after the third night. If you eat all four courses plan on staying for at least two hours and heading straight to The Bar to dance off all those delicious calories. The set menu does have enough variety so you could easily eat there for five or six nights and never have the same meal (but they probably won't let you - we were lucky to be able to eat there twice).
The ship also prepared a poolside buffet one night with entertainment by the singers and dancers. Since it was a late night in port, the weather was calm and the setting quite delightful. The food was every bit as good as that which was usually served at The Restaurant.
I am a coffee drinker, and the house coffee is strong but not bitter and a big improvement over three years ago. We still had more than our share of Cappuccinos and Espressos which were as good as before. If you are an early riser the place to get your coffee fix is in the Panorama Lounge on deck 8.
Most of our bar time was spent in The Bar. In fact, you could usually find us holding court at the first table to your right as you entered, beginning at around 6:30 each night. After the first night, my standing order for blue cheese olives was guaranteed and they do know how to make a great martini (or whatever your drink of choice is). Some new friends we made on the cruise had a Mai Tai and a blue martini every night, as these were drinks they could not or would not make at home and were delicious on the ship. Susan and I, on the other hand, are pretty much creatures of habit, so a Cosmo and Ketel One Martini (with those amazing olives) were pretty much waiting for us each evening - followed by one or two more, depending on when we went to dinner and how much company we had. Some evenings, our cozy group got to 8 or 10. The other primary drinking option in the evening was the Panorama Lounge, where the ship's band played music from the 30's-50's (well-played but not our style). There was a pianist in The Bar who played pleasantly enough in the background before dinner and he was joined by a singer for more contemporary music after dinner. The duo usually was done by around 11:30 at which time one of the regular entertainers who doubled as the DJ would spin some tunes for the small, late-night crowd. We closed The Bar down a couple of nights, but our days of staying out late every night of a cruise are long since gone.
Except for the show on the pool deck we did not catch any of the entertainment. Based on the one show we saw, we can say the singers and dancers were certainly better than college but not quite Las Vegas.
As mentioned earlier, there were around 350 guests - and only one child, a lovely girl who celebrated her third birthday on the cruise. It was an international crowd with about 50% from North America, 30% from Britain and 20% from other countries, including Australia, Brazil and South Africa. The primary age range was 45-75 and it was a fairly active group with lots of hikers and divers. We were quite comfortable and made lots of new friends from San Diego, Rhode Island and various parts of England who we would love to travel with again.
There are fewer and fewer smokers on each cruise we go on. Since this is always a hot topic among cruisers I can say that the smoking policy on the Silver Shadow was properly enforced (only smoking in designated smoking areas, including balconies if you wished) and cigar smoking only allowed in The Humidor. There are probably more smokers on Mediterranean Cruises, if only because more Southern Europeans still smoke compared to Northern Europeans. But, if you are a non-smoker you can certainly still sail on Silversea and be very comfortable.
You can find lots of information about most of our cruise stops in separate destination information on Cruise Critic or Trip Advisor. For us, the only new stop was Iles des Saintes, which is part of Guadeloupe in the French West Indies. It is a beautiful place with lovely shops and a very pretty beach that you must hike about 20 minutes to get to. In some ways it reminded us of St. Barths about 20-30 years ago. The ship also anchored off of Marigot on the French side of St. Martin as opposed to the usual docking area in Phillipsburg. The reason was logistical as there were four other cruise ships in Phillipsburg, including the new Titanic of the Seas (also known as the Oasis of the Seas). We still did most of our touring on St. Martin as we do love the shopping, beaches and restaurants there and we had great company along with us in our rental car.
By the way, it was lots of fun renting a car in Marigot. We were met by a water taxi who took us on a great ride through Simpson Bay to the Hertz location near the airport (and back again later in the afternoon). Since traffic has gotten so awful on the island, this was a lot easier and less trafficky than renting dockside in Phillipsburg. It was also cheaper, for some reason ($60 for the day including extra insurance - with great water taxi rides thrown in for good measure!). The only regret was the heavy traffic kept our beach time there to a minimum (but the shopping was still fun!).
Our favorite beach was on Bequia, followed closely by the beach at the Hilton resort on Barbados.
Embarkation and Disembarkation and other miscellaneous items
We stayed at the Barbados Hilton pre-cruise and it is a good place to start working on your tan, with a fabulous beach. It's not a 6 star resort, but you don't pay 6 star prices either. More opulent choices abound on this most expensive of Caribbean islands, but the Hilton does a fine job for what it purports to be. If you ever want a 6 star experience with Hilton, spend some time at the Hilton in Los Cabos (don't even need to get on a cruise ship!).
We got late check out at 1 p.m. and after a drink poolside with some new friends from New Jersey, grabbed a cab over to the ship around 2:30 p.m. We boarded immediately, had champagne in hand and after some confusion about which elevator we could use to get to deck 9, were shown quickly to our beautiful suite. Our luggage arrived within five minutes. No kidding. Never had luggage arrive so quickly on any cruise. Our butler then arrived, took care of our cleaning and pressing needs and we were quickly at the pool for some liquid refreshment and our first meal. Pretty much the easiest and quickest embarkation of any cruise we have been on.
Disembarkation in Ft. Lauderdale was delayed by about 45 minutes due to U.S. Customs delays, but since our flight wasn't until 12:05 we weren't all that worried. We were off the ship by 9:30 and in a taxi to the airport by 9:45. Unfortunately, there were seven other cruise ships disembarking the same day so the lines at the airport were very long. We flew Southwest to visit some friends in Tampa and our line outside to check in our bags (Bags fly free on Southwest!) was 45 minutes long. Security, inside wasn't nearly as bad so we still had plenty of time before our flight boarded. We have disembarked in Ft. Lauderdale many times and it gets crazier and crazier. Our best recommendation is to not make any flight arrangements earlier than 12 noon. For some reason the captain decided to do a drill during the disembarkation process - well, I suppose that keeps the crew on their toes! Otherwise, a pleasant experience compared to our last cruise where we were quite anxious due to an earlier flight time.
The Silver Shadow and its crew gave us a wonderful vacation. The entire experience was top shelf and we would not hesitate to sail with Silversea again. Pricing on this cruise was pretty aggressive and we don't think we will see these prices again, as long as the overall economy continues to improve. Still, even at the more normal 50% early booking savings you are certainly getting your money's worth on a Silversea cruise. Jeff
Jeff did a fabulous job with his review, so there's not much for me to add. I will say that overall, Silversea was successful in delivering on the 6-star experience that we look for when cruising on upscale, all-inclusive lines. It was an entirely delightful cruising experience and I look forward to other Silversea cruises in the future. If any one has any specific questions, please feel free to ask.