In 2009 I posted a review of the Silver Cloud which caused quite a stir. Essentially I said that it was presumptuous on the part of Silversea to associate themselves with Relais & Chateaux property because their food was poor, and worse, they were cutting corners while trying to maintain a veneer of quality. What I did not reveal in the review, but did in subsequent blogs,is that I am a partner in a Relais & Chateaux property and that I am acutely aware of their accreditation standards. In that review I was also very clear that the service on the Silver Cloud was superb, and that the experience of cruising on Silversea was supported by their service. For this reason, we embarked again on the Silver Spirit to cross the Pacific.
The Spirit is a beautiful ship. Nautical architects could argue endlessly over the preferred location of the public areas, but the fact remains that the areas flow very well. Quiet spots are found all day long ( including the pool area) and the dining rooms ( reserved or not) were always comfortably full but never crowded.
The midship veranda cabins, however, were another story. They comprise the great majority of the suites on the ship and they are absurdly narrow, almost claustrophobic despite their stated square feet. And the shame is that had they sacrificed a couple of cabins per deck to enlarge each remaining cabin, the Spirit would have set the standard of luxury cruising because the "bones" of the cabin are great. The bathroom is spacious, with an excellent shower. The veranda is finally usable ( ie. meals for two), and the TV system works very well.
Associated with the cabins is the butler service. This was introduced shortly after our last cruise, and while I was skeptical at the time, I am now firmly convinced that it is an expensive effort which delivers far less satisfaction than offering better quality wines. Although courteous, our butler had nothing to do other than serve breakfast in tails, and leave some canapes before cocktails! Seriously, why demote the cabin steward in favour of a butler, who at great expense, delivers no appreciable difference in service?
The food on the ship covered the gamut, from excellent to indifferent. La Terrazza finally returned to its
trattoria roots and served some very good fresh pasta, and more importantly, they changed their menus from time to time. Their breakfast buffet was an efficient way to get people fed, but it was not imaginative nor was it refined. The advantage was that you could eat on the aft deck, which food aside, was worth the effort.
The Main Restaurant was consistently good, but to be clear, no meal was at the standard of a Relais & Chateaux property in France, Italy, or for that matter, in the US. The Champagne, on the other hand, was excellent and well worth the $ 30 supplement. The same could be said of Seishin. The chef spent 14 years in Japan, and the attention to detail was evident. The dishes were refined , beautifully presented and very good indeed.
Now for the rest. Running a cruise ship line is a business like any other. Tradeoffs are inevitable, but great care must be taken to not devalue the brand you have built. In Silversea's case they must balance their " all inclusive" mantra with superb service, and I strongly believe that they have the skewed it in the wrong direction. The service has gone " over the top" ( ie butlers) and the mainstay of food and wine have suffered. The fish is still frozen ( why offer a frozen branzino?) and the wines are deplorable. For example, the featured red wine at the Terrazza is Col di Sasso by Banfi, a $6.00 wine at US distributors. Why, particularly when you are paying approximately $ 900/day for a full pension? In my opinion, this equation needs to addressed quickly before the brand is damaged.
My comments may suggest that we had a bad time. On the contrary, we had a great cruise, and will probably choose Silversea again, but I am concerned that the company believes that instead of leading the industry in quality and service, they are merely measuring what they have versus the competition and matching it. This is not a formula for success.