My wife and I recently took the Silver Shadow to Alaska. It was my last chance. After all my complaints about past cruises never matching my experience on the "crossings" I took in the 50's and 60's, my wife told me that this was the final straw. Bottom line: we had a wonderful time, but be prepared for a few surprises and disappointments. And let me offer a few tips for future cruisers.
First, we had a Grand Suite cabin. We always go suites -- not because we're stuffy, but because I get so little free time from my practice that if I'm going to go, I want to go in style. The cabin was fantastic. Your own private apartment. Bedroom completely separate (read: closed door) from the living area, which itself is spacious. Butler and attendant couldn't do enough for us. Mention a preference for something, it appeared each night (mixed nuts, sliced lime for our G&T, sushi/sashimi appetizers, my wife's favorite white wine, etc. etc.). Always low key; always without any sense of effort or duty. They were here to please.
The problem with the GS and RS cabins is that they get too much light. The curtains and shades are wearing thin and several requests to repair these were to no avail. Plus, being on deck 8 and at the bow, you felt every wave hit the hull. Strong recommendation: if you want a larger suite, go for the Silver or Medallions on 7 and stay away from the bow.
Pros: Great stateroom service and general service on the ship. Wonderful travel companions. Yes, a few toffy noses, but for the most part very friendly, though well-heeled, passengers who are interesting to speak to and fun to party with. We are mid 50's-mid 60's are not the youngest or oldest. We felt right at home (unlike the experience on Holland America.)
Not having to sign for anything (except spa treatments) is a real plus. And the absence of art auctions and sidewalk sales made this a cruise, not a bazaar.
Food was good -- but not gourmet. I'm a pescatarian and don't eat meat or chicken. The only fish with any flavor was the Dover sole. The maitre d's deboning it was a nice surprise. Dinner in the Terrazzo is your best bet because if there is anything Silversea knows how to prepare it is Italian food. Even the simple pizzas were "to die for". We did the Le Champagne only because a "free" meal came with our suite category. My recommendation: give it a miss. Food was average, service was worse. And despite our pre-notification of our dietary habits, they had no record of them.
Wine steward was attentive and even the offered wines of the day were very good. If you wanted to pop for the connoisseur's list, you could, but there was no pressure to do so.
Sometimes the meal service was slow -- especially getting the cheese trolly to come by. And the cheese and cracker selections were pathetically limited (particularly if you were dining later in the evening).
Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze. Take advantage of their transfer service. It's seamless.
Ian Denton's lectures about Alaska were a highlight. A truly passionate man about his subject. Don't miss them -- and they are much better live than on TV.
The cruise-arranged excursions are expensive, but well run. We did several of these, but also did several on our own. For example, we rented a tandem and rode across the Golden Gate Bridge, with a ferry ride back to the Embarcadero. It's much easier than it sounds: try it. We rented a tandem in Juneau and rode up to Mendenhall on our own as well. There is a lot to be said about doing things at your own pace.
The gym is very small and the aerobics area so tiny that if you had more than a few participants, you had to take the class outside. Not fun if the weather is bad. Nevertheless, Stephanie, the aerobics instructor, is a gem and there is always one or two exercise machines available, at any time of the day.
The pool filter was on the "fritz" so the pool (which is quite tiny) was generally not available. And the spa water was never hot enough. We ended up using the jacuzzi in the suite.
You are likely to have difficulty communicating with the staff. I speak both Bahasa Indonesia and Pilipino (having lived in Asia for many years) and even I did. It resulted in a few botched orders and not what you would get at the Ritz or the Four Seasons. Indeed, I was suprised at how few Europeans were in service. But the ship's crew was present throughout the trip and engaged with the guests. This was a real treat.
So, a few final words. Yes, it's the best we have done, but it is far from perfect.
My basis for comparison is Cunard, Celebrity, HAM, and RC. This is the first "all luxury" line we've cruised, although we've cruised both Princess and Queen's Grill on the QM2.
The food and food serve is significantly better on both Cunard's PG and QG than on the Silver Shadow. I would say it is slightly better than the food on the Celebrity Constellation.
The willingness to serve is as good as Holland America -- they really try to please and generally do.
Final words. We will definitely do this line again (and are already looking at 2011). But don't expect flawless -- it isn't. And stay away from a stateroom in the bow!