This was my first experience with an almost all-inclusive luxury line such as Silversea. I was impressed with many aspects of the cruise -- especially the quality of the crew, most of whom seemed eager to please and helpful, and the quality of the guests -- mostly British and American along with some Canadians and Europeans -- who were all exceptionally outgoing and friendly. The number of guests (370+) seemed just right to me.
Boarding was a lonely and strange experience, perhaps because I had been visiting relatives in Fort Lauderdale who drove me to the pier at 4:00 pm -- rather late to be embarking. This, however, was a deliberate choice, as my embarkation experience on Holland America's Noordam the year before had been nightmarish.
When I disembarked the Silver Whisper in Barbados I saw glasses of Champagne and punch on trays for arriving guests. However, due to my late arrival, that set-up was all gone. However, I was in my suite in no time, along with my luggage, where a bottle of drinkable, but certainly not great, Champagne (Drappier which doesn't appear in my local stores) in an ice-filled silver bucket awaited me, along with a fruit plate and lovely potted orchid.
The "veranda suite" is really a stateroom with a sitting area and a balcony with two chairs and a small table (not large enough for lounge chairs). The marble countered bathroom featuring double sinks and both a shower stall and a bathtub with hand-held shower is absolutely six-star quality. I was delighted to find a pair of binoculars in one of the cabinets, along with all necessary bar ware. However, the only outlet where I could charge my camera battery turned on the vanity light as well. Also, the clock radio was on the desk in the sitting area -- not readable from the bed or convenient for wake-up calls.
Although the Whisper spent June, 2010, in dry-dock, and was supposedly refurbished from bow to stern, the furniture showed considerable wear, with noticeable nicks in wood framed chairs, etc. I found the color scheme thoroughly depressing, and entirely non-nautical. The predominant colors were rusty burgundy (think dried blood) and gold, along with touches of brown (the sofa and vanity hassock). There was more than enough burgundy and gold in the theatre (the Vienna Lounge): violets, blues and/or greens contrasting with the wood trim would have made my suite a far more pleasant home away from home. There is an ample closet with plenty of hangers and drawer space. My queen-sized bed was exceptionally comfortable, and a choice of pillows is available.
The much-vaunted Relais et Chateaux dining always sounded great in the menu descriptions but rarely lived up to them. Some specific examples: I've spent a lot of time in Boston and on Cape Cod, and one night New England clam chowder was on the menu, described as containing clams, cream and potatoes. Although a potato may have been pureed into the thin fish stock, I found none of the ingredients listed above. On another evening the appetizer was "crispy prawns;" it was delicious but consisted of a single prawn. One night I ordered grilled mahi-mahi as an entrée. I received two small pieces of dry, barely edible fish that had never been near a grill; I assume the fish was baked. Although I confess to not being a dessert fanatic, the selections were not especially impressive. I do love ice cream, but my favorite flavors, chocolate and coffee(hardly unusual), were never available. The poolside barbecue "under the stars" which was supposed to be a special treat, wasn't. The best dinner I had on board was at La Terrazza, a specialty restaurant that requires a reservation but carries no extra charge.
As to cruising solo, I'm not sure I'll repeat the experience. Vacations are romantic experiences, and I find it tough-going to be a widow among many couples in my age range. Ging444 raved about being invited to dine with officers on formal nights. I looked forward to such invitations, but they never came. One day, the ship's Shore Excursion Manager invited me to dinner, but he didn't show up. Instead I was seated with a family group of passengers I'd been seated with at an earlier dinner, and my next-door-neighbors on board: they were all friendly, pleasant people, but where was the officer who had invited me?
I'm an avid snorkeler who brings along her own gear, and I had high hopes of finding like-minded people among the passengers. That didn't happen. Phillipsburg in St. Maarten might as well have been a sea day for me. I could have gone snorkeling at Dawn Beach via a taxi, but it really isn't wise to attempt to snorkel alone – especially amidst high winds and strong currents -- as I had discovered the day before at Jost Van Dyke. I do not like snorkeling with a life vest on at all, which -- with one exception -- was the rule on snorkeling excursions (although the Shore Excursions Manager had told me, incorrectly, that I would be allowed to waive the vest). Even deflated, vests spoil the freedom of the experience, invariably riding up even when properly strapped on, and the long straps, flapping around one's body, are a nuisance too. When I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Silversea offers an almost all-inclusive voyage, I was thinking of the shore excursions. They are expensive, but entirely necessary for a solo snorkeler.
The ship could have rounded up snorkelers looking for company via the daily newsletter, but did not do so. I assume they were more interested in selling their shore excursions than in accommodating individual interests. To Silversea's credit, someone representing the ship always accompanies shore excursions, which ensures high quality via appropriate feedback to management.
As to entertainment, the best events I attended in the Vienna Lounge were the enrichment lectures. The shows were poor in quality, and I walked out on two of them, preferring to dance with the gentlemen hosts (a big plus for solo women cruisers) in the Panorama Lounge after dinner. A nice event that was held in the Vienna Lounge was the ship's muster on the first afternoon (shortly after I boarded). While we were given all the necessary information, it was presented with some good humor, and in a relaxed, comfortable setting -- so unlike my previous experiences with Windstar and Holland America where one's first impression of the voyage was regimented boredom.
I'd advise anyone looking for luxury to avoid lunches and drinks in the pool area. The food was very ordinary, and I turned down one drink before the bartender had poured it because the plastic glass was all smudgy -- as was a lot of other "glassware" there.
One other cavil: Windstar and Holland America (both owned by Carnival) present you with a tote bag for your towel and beach stuff on the first night. On luxurious Silversea ships, if you need a tote bag, you'll have to buy one advertising the line in big letters to the tune of $30.00. That's downright chintzy.
Please note: the reason I awarded 5 stars to the rates and value for money is that on this voyage Silversea charged only a 25 percent single supplement, which is a real bargain for solo travelers.