This was our fourth Celebrity cruise out of a total of 16 cruises in the past twelve years. We generally like to pick newer ships and at ages 63 and 70 consider ourselves still on the "youthful side", athletic and lovers of sun and water ... avid swimmers which is why we still like to cruise the Caribbean, even to ports that we have been to before.
This particular cruise ended up being a mega geriatric - norovirus adventure. While there were a number of things we did not care for on this ship, on balance we managed to enjoy this cruise. Silhouette is a beautifully decorated vessel. We especially appreciated the ease with which you could get around and the fact that there were no blockages and you didn't need to go up and down elevators to navigate on any one floor. The staff was indeed friendly and tried their best to please. On this particular cruise the staff ended up with a lot of elderly people who got ill (Norovirus) and did their best to contain the situation to avoid total quarantine. More about this later.
We sailed on this cruise out of Bayonne NJ on 1/29/12. We used Trans Bridge bus line which we picked up in Bethlehem, Pa to get to the Jersey Pier. For a modest cost of $26.30 round trip (senior rate) and only $5/day parking, we were dropped off at the Bayonne terminal and picked up there 12 days later.
We arrived at 1:15 pm to a nightmare long line at check in. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes of standing to reach the counter. Since this cruise was 98% senior citizens and a guessed average age of 75 or older, it was a shame that so many older people had to stand for a very long time. At Bayonne, the system is you first go to the terminal, check your bags and then wait on line to check in and finally board very crowded buses (with very few seats). Many seniors had to stand with their carry on to take the ride to the ship in buses that were overly crowded and dangerously packed.
Once on board at deck 2, midsection, we waited another 25 minutes to get an elevator to our room which was located aft. At 3:00 pm we arrived at our category 1A room which had an expanded balcony. As you have already read the rooms are nicely decorated, with a slightly larger bathroom and spacious, curved hard plastic shower (gone is the small plastic shower curtain). While the bathroom has a lot of drawers and shelves, the main cabin is woefully lacking drawer space and to make up for it ... has two, hard to reach bins over the bed. Our bed had a very comfortable mattress, nice linens and was directly adjacent to the sliding door.
We ventured to the Oceanview cafe for a late lunch. The cafe is laid out in many small stations and the first impression of food selection and quality was not great. We noticed at this, our first meal, that the dirty plates/used napkins were not cleared off the tables and very often during the next several days, guests had to move plates and napkins from previous diners in order to find a place to sit. This fact may have been one of the reasons that the ship had an outbreak of what Silhouette finally disclosed as "some type of virus" affecting a number of passengers.
Our bags arrived surprisingly fast and we were able to unpack quickly, before the muster drill, since everything we brought was on hangers. It was nice not to fly to this destination and have no weight limits on the bags.
The muster drill was held at 4:30 pm and we noted that the ship took this very seriously and showed a power point presentation which clearly pointed out the do's and don'ts and specifics should evacuation be necessary. One of the key points made during this presentation is that if guests are not in their cabins should an emergency evacuation be called .... Do not go back to the cabin (to get life jackets). Go directly to assigned muster stations where there are life jackets stowed in the life boats.
We had the late seating in the Grand Cuvee dining room and were assigned to servers Rudsen and Oxanna who gave us great service. Unfortunately that was not the case with our cabin stewards who would forget to leave us the next day's program, not clean the bathroom (at night), leaving dirty towels (and no beach towel replacements) and did not leave us critical document/ forms necessary for disembarkation. They gave the worst cabin service we have had in 16 cruises.
On balance the MDR had the best food for dinner and lunch ... not so for breakfast. Excellent dishes in MDR were prime rib (1st night); rack of lamb (2nd night), goat cheese tart, fish dishes, as well as onion soup, escargot shrimp cocktail, crÃ¨me brulee ( the last four are available every night, if desired). Also the ship serves in both the Ocean View Cafe and MDR, superb, real Sorbet (not sherbet) .... In every imaginable flavor. Baked desserts were also pretty good. Skip the signature dishes such as chef's meat balls ... terrible. Finally on night 11 they served Â½ Caribbean lobster with crabmeat stuffing. The first one I ate had a mushy tail. I ordered a second which was much better. I ate the tail then moved onto the body to eat the stuffing and found a big, dead hook worm anchored to the inside of the shell. It was a bit of a turn off.
We were much less enamored of the Ocean View Cafe ... on Deck 14, which on this ship is not on the same deck as the pools. Individual Stations, heavy plates and a lot of walking around to figure out what was available made for a bit of "hunting and pecking" to get a meal. Coffee on the first few days in the Ocean Cafe was vile ... pure chicory flavor ... and then magically, good tasting coffee appeared after the fourth day. Breakfast in Ocean view was much better than MDR as there was a very good variety including frittata, blintzes and many different types of hams, bacon and other breakfast meat. Every few days they served delicious sticky buns.
Overall this ship had the best bread and rolls of any ship we were on in all dining areas. Further if you like arugula salads you'll be in heaven. That is a specialty offered daily. Ditto for fresh fruit. We thought the daily offering of Indian and Mexican food was a bit much. They could have alternated with other types of foods (e.g. Italian). Pizza was very mediocre and usually cold.
This ship was a lot more generous in the offering of beverages at breakfast and particularly at lunch (ice tea, guava juice, fruit punch and very good orange juice at breakfast .... Tasted like fresh squeezed.
Qzine and Tuscan Specialty Dining:
We dined at just two of the specialty restaurants. Qzine ... offered at 20% discount.... was the most unusual dining experience we have every had in terms of menu, food offerings, presentation and overall creativity. You are given an IPAD and can choose from foods representing 20 regions of the world ... tapas--size portions. While we ordered 13 different selections, we ended up receiving only eight since all was very rich tasting and filling and had to cancel the rest because we ordered way too much. We ordered lobster escargot, mescaline greens and fried goat cheese ( out of this world), three different "souffle soups", Kobe meatballs, huge lava crab balls, filet mignon with test tubes filled with mac n'cheese, spinach souffle, marinated onions. The spring rolls were our least favorite and should have been skipped.
My better half ordered the chocolate ganache cake which came out on a huge oblong platter ... it was 14" long, 1 " high and about an inch thick. It was like a big, fat chocolate ruler. He ate the whole thing, claiming that it was a bit of heaven. Do not miss trying this restaurant. You'll never have a more unique dining experience. Our only regret is that we did not get to go back for a second time to try all the other offerings we simply could not consume the first time.
On the night of the super bowl they offered 50% off at Tuscan, so we dined there and had another fantastic meal. We each had a fabulous creamy onion soup... best we have ever eaten. Hubby had a pasta seafood dish followed by a great filet mignon and finally a chocolate fondue with fruits and cakes as dipping materials. I had the prosciutto and melon, superb lobster linguini Alfredo ... followed by enormous pounded veal ... sort of a yager snitzel served with a divine sauce and for dessert gelato served in an edible waffle basket.
With the exception of Labadee Haiti, we had been to all of the other ports and made this a "beach trip" in just about every port. In Labadee we went to the RCL/Celebrity private island for a fun beach and barbecue experience. While the food was mediocre, the beach/water was great. We took a large boat docked right at the ship going over to
Cove Beach (strangely, this did not do a return to the ship in the afternoon) and took a little tram back which gave us a view of the other beaches offered and the shops available. Great day and completely without extra cost.
Do not be tempted to go to the beach right where the ships docks --- very rocky. Take a group taxi ride to Sand Castle Beach, less than two miles to the right of the ship ($6 pp round trip group taxi ride). Nice clean beach with restaurant. While there are some coral formations, there are plenty of places to get in and out of the water easily. Nice place to be in the sun and water.
Our favorite beach here is Magen's Bay, rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world. Open air taxis took us there for $8 pp each way, and the entrance fee to beach area is $4 pp. There are changing facilities and a restaurant at this half- a- mile long beach which is surrounded by beautiful mountains ..., breathtaking views and very cold, pristine water that is refreshing on a hot day.
We took the water taxi ($4 pp each way) to Grand Beach in back of Front Street (major shopping street on Dutch side) and rented two chairs and an umbrella for $12 which included two sodas. We enjoyed the very wavy waters for several hours. If you like surf this is the place for you.
We just did some shopping in the quaint little shops as soon as you got off the boat and skipped the beach.
We also did not get off the ship in Puerto Rico this time as we have been there many, many times.
We enjoyed all of the entertainment, but felt that only three major productions in twelve days were just too little. The singers (Chris Riggins), British pianist (Bill Ahrens), comedians (in particular Bostonian Don Gavin an absolute riot), magicians, jugglers, aerialists gave very good solid performances. Lectures by Bill Miller, cruise expert extraordinaire, about the history of cruise ships with pictures were really very well done. Don't miss his lectures if he is onboard when you cruise.
Overall, there was plenty to do and see aboard this ship. Something for everyone.
Silhouette has a nicely equipped computer area with ample staff. The issue is that the computer room is outfitted with Macbooks, not PCs. I took a free class to learn how to use a Macbook and this ended up being a non-issue and I was easily able to retrieve emails. They also offered classes ($20 each) for IPADS and I Phones ... both devices were sold on the ship. As a "select" Captains club member I was able to buy 208 minutes of use for a net cost of $74.99. Connections were pretty good ... not lightning fast, but much better than on other ships. P.S. Over the years I learned a handy little tip for maximizing paid computer minutes .... the quickest way to get into my email is to log into "mail2web.com" ....try it the next time you are onboard .
Silhouette's gym is nicely outfitted ... with more than just tred mills. There are a lot of weight lifting machines as well. As a personal trainer, my husband was very surprised at the selection of the latter, which most ships do not usually have. We usually opted for the Solarium pool (covered pool in the back of the ship, deck 12). It is quiet, children free and a nice place to relax. As is the case with most new ships, all the pools are way too small and certainly a disappointment to swimmers. This ship lacks the "Thalassotherapy" pool which we had on the Summit, Millennium and Equinox. We really missed it and feel this was one of the major design flaws along with the poor cabin storage and lack of a set of third elevators, for aft passengers.
At day 8, right after the port announcement, the captain announced that the ship had passengers who had a virus, and those passengers who were feeling ill (gastrointestinal) were asked to see the doctor. This was followed up by a formal letter to every passenger. From that point on, everything changed ... no more plates/utensils could be picked up by passengers in the Oceanview Cafe. Nor could you serve yourself anything. All food stations were blocked by walls of saran wrap and employees had to give you plates/utensils/food/beverages/condiments. Huge lines developed everywhere, especially for beverages. Tables were finally being cleaned quickly, with bottled disinfectants and generally the whole ship was consumed with disinfecting everything. The first meal in the Oceanview cafe practicing this was such chaos, we never returned to the Oceanview
Cafe and took all of the rest of our meals in the Main Dining Room. The next morning, everyone else had the same idea and showed up at the Main Dining room for breakfast. Clearly the staff was overwhelmed by all the people who showed up. Things got better in the ensuing days as more waiters were assigned to the main dining room.
While dining was no longer a pleasant experience, it was clearly understood that the ship was doing all it could to contain what could have been a total ship quarantine situation, that two Princess ships also in the Caribbean at the same time suffered.
Since Trans Bridge Bus lines picks up at 9:00 am (and says they leave promptly at 10:00 am) we decided to do a "walk-off" with our own bags to make sure we got to the bus by 9:00 am. Those doing the walk-off are supposed to be on deck three, centrum by 7:40 am. We were told by Celebrity that we would have to allow at least 40 minutes to get through customs. Well that was not the case. They started to let us go down to deck 2 to exit at precisely 7:40 am and we went through customs in a flash and found ourselves outside the terminal in 10 minutes. Our bus did not come for another 45 minutes so we waited outside the terminal area in the cold. We noticed that for at least a good half an hour nobody else was coming off the ship. We later learned from other people on our bus that showed up at as late as 11:00 am that it was a nightmare of waiting for those who did not walk off with their bags. Some waited over 1 Â½ hours in designated waiting areas to get off the ship. This had to do with the fact that the ship was rated category 2 red alert due to the Norovirus and they were taking on a large staff to disinfect "every inch of the ship" which is what we were told by an official outside of the ship.
During the cruise we learned that Silhouette will no longer be sailing out of Bayonne after it departs for its transatlantic cruise in April. Cruising out of this port is not ideal, but since it offers a fly --free vacation for those living in NJ, NY and PA, it certainly serves a purpose.