We have taken many cruises over the years, with our most recent an excellent Adriatic journey on the Seabourn Odyssey in July. We were eager to try Silversea and thought that this 8 day China itinerary would provide an interesting, comfortable way to see new ports. Unfortunately, we found almost everything about this experience a notch below both Seabourn and our expectations.
Our check in set the tone for the week, with nobody available to escort us to our room. We stood at the front desk while the receptionist had to speak very sharply to someone to find assistance. We were uncomfortable and offered to see our way up ourselves, but help did eventually surface. The butler (more on that later) came by later for a very perfunctory tour of the room. Our only request that day was for him to remove the welcome fruit, half of which was rotting.
We were in a Silver Suite, which was as expected. The bed was comfortable, the room quiet and the temperature easy to control. A lot of the room is wasted space, with a large hallway leading to the sitting area. The bedroom is just a bed cordoned off by a glass door and curtain, so I am not sure if the extra cost is worth it. The sitting room furniture was upright and small, with two chairs (one of which was missing for two days until our request for a replacement was finally honored) and a small love seat. We found the seating uncomfortable and, oddly, some of the less expensive cabins have more appealing furnishings. There is also a table and four chairs plus a nice balcony.
I reserve my strongest criticism for the butler system, which is poorly defined and implemented. My observation is that the butler spends about 90% of his/her time doing room service orders, which means he is bustling around the ship with trays, not in view at all. They are dressed in formal wear which looks silly and adds an unnecessary pomp.
Our butler came by the first day and spent maybe two minutes with us. At no time did he explain the range of what he could do for us. For example, we were never offered wine or alcohol for our room (though I know we should have been), he never mentioned unpacking, shining shoes, etc. He only explained room service and laundry and told us to page him when we needed something.
Well, we needed a chair that was missing in our room and we asked him for it one afternoon (note: the room should have been prepared properly from the get go). The following day, we heard nothing so we paged him again and didn't hear back. We were about to ask at the front desk, when we ran into him in the hall and asked yet again. Knowing we were unhappy, he then turned from being totally absent from our sphere to being a pest. Random things started to happen, like shoes disappearing to be shined, a bath drawn unnecessarily and back issues of another guest's magazines left in the cabin.
I contrast this with Seabourn where our cabin attendant was always around and added tremendous warmth and professionalism to our experience. I will also note that the lovely woman who cleaned our cabin, very well indeed, seemed to have a horrendous work load. If this butler system is to work, I suggest that Silversea standardize the initial contact with guests to learn of their preferences and to also let guests know what is possible. Until then, every guest is going to have a different experience.
The dinners in the dining room were just dreadful from our menu selection/taste perspective. Lots of smoked duck, stilton, foie gras, gelees, etc. - heavy and odd combinations. We are easy to please, but tended to pick "always available" choices, which were bland but edible.
We ate at La Terrazza for one dinner and had an extraordinary pasta followed by tuna that couldn't be cut with a steak knife, so we hit both extremes. Breakfast and lunch buffets at La Terrazza were fine, but nothing special. I do appreciate that the Dining Room was open (though lightly used) for both breakfast and lunch, which was not true on Seabourn.
Tea was our favorite food event of the day. We missed having a dedicated coffee bar, but there were always a few places on board to get tea or coffee throughout the day.
The service was generally good across the board, with many lovely members of the wait staff. There were two formal nights on our sailing and, for some reason, the second one was held on an evening that we were in port until 9 PM. Since we had 3 sea days, this seemed like a poor choice, so we opted for room service rather than rushing around after a day in town.
The spa was smallish but serviceable. We only waited for the recumbent bike once. We had massages in the spa which were good and, happily, had no hawking for Elemis products during the treatment. It must be noted that we booked these massages a month before sailing online with Silversea and these reservations did NOT make it to the ship. I showed the spa attendant the confirmations, but we were out of luck. Apparently, this slip up has occurred before. In our case, we were able to rebook for less desired times but it is really sloppy. My advice, even if you think you have an appointment, check first thing on board to be certain.
We don't expect much from small ships in terms of events, but the options on this sailing were beyond dull. There was a lot of bridge and random things like Intermediate Italian lessons that just aren't universally interesting. We played BINGO once and, with 5 other people, it felt more pathetic than fun. There was a minor diplomat who made a few lectures that we enjoyed but absolutely nothing else. Since we ended up with 3 sea days, it would have been nice to have a movie in the day or some other attempts to fill the time.
We only went to two shows - a classical pianist who was excellent, but both performances were very similar.
There is an excellent library. Wireless was available, with various packages, the cheapest rate being 25 cents/minute. Service was spotty, but to be expected in China.
In a word, awful. Things started well, with Shanghai a wonderful port. The second stop, Jiangyin, was fine, but certainly not a highlight of China. From there, things took a turn for the worse, as we were advised that we would not be going to Nanjing, as it was too crowded and the Chinese Authorities could not guarantee a safe berth. That meant missing a great port plus adding another sea day in very rough conditions. Things go wrong, and we understand that, but this might have been self inflicted, as Silversea chose to run this itinerary during the Chinese National Holiday week, one of the busiest times of the year. We ended up with three sea days in a row. One was titled "cruise the Yangtze," which was really nothing but another sea day as there was nothing to see. At the next stop, Xiamen, the city of 3 million had an additional 1.5 million visitors on the day we stopped. I cannot adequately describe the crowding and crush of humanity. It was impossible to even walk in this port. We ended in Hong Kong, where we were told we could leave the ship at approx. 6 PM and that we did not need our passports, which the ship still had. At 6 PM, with dozens of us milling around waiting to get off, we were told that we did have to wait for passports after all, keeping us on the ship until after 7 PM. Some of this could be caused by local authorities, but Silversea calls at Hong Kong frequently and should have the drill down by now.
We did not get our wake up call, which was requested at reception the night before, again a sloppy touch. We were told to call for help with our baggage on departure morning, since we had a private transfer. Nobody came for 15 minutes, so we started to leave on our own, but fortunately, the butler and another crew member offered to help. One staff member was stationed at the desk when we left the ship and she didn't even make eye contact, let alone wish us a farewell.
On our Seabourn cruise, we were impressed that a survey was done mid cruise, to be used to make adjustments in real time. On Silversea, nobody seemed a bit concerned and the cruise rating form we received to complete was mostly a series of checking boxes. If they truly want feedback, space should be left in all categories for people to comment, rather than just a generic empty space at the end.
We plan to stick to Seabourn going forward......