We embarked Silver Shadow on 23rd February 2012, in Fremantle Perth Australia. Embarkation was smooth, and an extra nice little touch, the mandatory form passengers must sign regarding Norovirus, had already been printed by Silversea, therefore you merely had to sign your name, thereby saving time. As has been commented by others previously, the welcome glass of champagne has now shrunk even further and there is virtually only a mouthful in the glass!
We checked the forward programme for evening events to enable us to then make dinner reservations in the restaurants that require pre-booking, so that we did not clash with special evening events. What proved interesting was the variability in patronage of Le Champagne and La Terrazza on different nights.
There was no welcome bottle of champagne in our cabin, another shrinkage from last November. Our butler said that in line with their Italian heritage, they were now offering Prosecco, but only on request! However newcomers to Silversea would be unaware that this welcome gesture was no longer being provided except on request. We asked for and received a bottle of champagne.
Our cabin was 814, a standard veranda suite on pool deck, whose location is ideal for our "lizard" lifestyle (love of fresh air and sunshine during daylight hours). This was the same cabin as on our Shadow cruise last March, when we sailed from Singapore to Hong Kong, which was also reviewed on CC. The furnishings had stood up well to a year's use, after being refurbished during dry dock prior to that cruise. Another shrinkage, however, is that the little foot mats by your bed in the evening have been dispensed with. Despite emailing Silversea in advance (and being assured the ship had been informed) to request a soft mattress, nothing had filtered to our cabin care team, so we spent an uncomfortable night until the issue was attended to.
Returning to our cabin after a light lunch, our cases had arrived and unpacking commenced, interrupted at 17.00 by the mandatory safety briefing. We met only Mrs Crab and her husband, a delightful Aussie couple from Perth, for a pre-arranged CC get-together in the Panorama Lounge at 18.00, (the others not appearing, apparently due to jet lag) before getting ready for dinner in a quiet La Terrazza, where service and food were up to standard. This is a tip for those who enjoy eating in this venue because the first night of the cruise seemingly finds a significant proportion of passengers 'finding their way around' and thus there should be no problem getting a table here. We were told the menus are now changed every four days.
We were due to tender into Geraldton the next day but choppy seas cut this out. Sadly, if we had waited an hour for a short squall to pass, the sea calmed down and might have made tendering viable. We sailed more slowly than planned towards Exmouth, our next port. This was also by tender and it was touch-and-go, but use of the portside bow-thruster kept the tender platform sheltered and we made it ashore for a snorkel trip on Ningaloo Reef. We were one of the first tender boats to go ashore, and it was certainly an up and down experience! Luckily the transfer was short and we were met by a rep from the Ningaloo Reef Dreaming company, and transferred to what was quite an old vehicle with fresh air a/c, capable of holding about 15 of the 23 allowed on the boat. We had been told that the transfer to the boat would be about 1.5 hours, but in the event, we were told the sea was rougher in that area, so we were taken to an alternative site. We only took about 15-20 minutes to get to the mooring, and arriving at the jetty, our party of 23 took it in relays to get in the dinghy and motor to the boat. There were three crew only, the Captain, the "cook" who was the general factotum, and the young female Sydneysider who had driven from there to Exmouth, taking a week, in a pick up solus, apart from the company of a dog, and had arrived only the day before!!
Unfortunately we seem doomed as far as snorkelling is concerned. We have been fortunate to do so in reputedly, the best sites in the world, but usually there has been a high sea running, with poor visibility and a strong current. This was no exception, and even trying a drift snorkel in the afternoon was no better, and there were several passengers who got into serious difficulty. In the event, Silversea were very fair and refunded $100 off the cost of what was quite an expensive shorex. At least the day wasn't completely wasted, as despite the bad visibility, we did see a couple of turtles, but the sea was too murky to see corals and smaller fish.
We met acquaintances from a previous sailing, who had been on the Shadow since Auckland (a 19 days cruise) and who regarded the food in the dining room as something of a curate's egg. The executive chef was the same one who had been on our Spirit cruise last November. Yet again, as in November, the lobster was way too salty, but most other main course dishes were good. In fact, the venison served in the dining room was almost as good as that which was part of our meal in Le Champagne. On the Spirit last November, the executive chef had performed a culinary demonstration where he made a mushroom risotto, which was perfect. We had the dish in La Terrazza and the rice was hard and undercooked. On the Shadow cruise reviewed here, mushroom risotto was offered one night and was totally different in flavour and texture to either of those on the Spirit. How can the same executive chef serve the same dish three ways and with only the one he cooked on stage turning out perfectly? A further shrinkage is the elimination of the cheese trolley. Last March, demand was such that a second trolley was brought into use. Now the cheese is plated in advance in the galley, with reduced choice and no personal control of portion size.
Dining room service was generally good and it was nice to see Rose had been promoted to Junior Sommelier. Perhaps because the Australians comprised the largest contingent, it was noticeable that the dining room filled up quickly and was quite full by 19.45. Yet again, the Americans were very much in the minority, so this is perhaps why Silversea is struggling. If there hadn't been such a large contingent of Australians on our cruise, the Shadow would have been as empty as apparently it had been on the previous voyage.
The menus in Le Champagne have been changed since our sailing on the Spirit last November, and we opted for the mushroom-orientated fruits of the forest creation, with venison cooked rather rare as the main course. There were only eight patrons that night, whilst the asparagus and lobster menu attracted a full house. Last November on the Spirit, it was spinach with every dining room dish but this cruise it was asparagus that was available in profusion! We opted out of the wine paring and had to buy wine from the connoisseur list, the complimentary wine being unavailable. There has been some discussion on CC concerning this issue, some ships seemingly, being willing to serve complimentary wine in Le Champagne.
We varied our breakfast and lunch arrangements to suit the day ahead. Generally breakfast was taken in La Terrazza, where the disjointed layout of all Silversea ships sees some fruit in one area and other fruit some distance away; annoying. Bread and pastries were very good. The speed of production from the galley was faster than the Silversea's habitual snail's pace when breakfasting in the dining room. It was interesting to note two different forms of preparation of the spinach and bacon souffle, just why there should be such inconsistency is odd. Room service breakfast suffered from the long walk it had to undertake from the La Terrazza galley to our cabin, one deck higher and forward, therefore hot food was either avoided completely, or had to be eaten "out of course" immediately on arrival.
Lunch was generally taken from the pool grill, often the freshly grilled fish. La Terrazza offered a few themed buffets, though the advertised Indonesian food turned out to be predominantly Greek! In all the dining venues, during all meals, service was attentive and obliging, as always, nothing being too much trouble. Christophe (probably incorrect spelling -- so apologies in advance) was the stand-in Restaurant Manager, covering somebody on compassionate leave and was highly visible throughout the ship, something that cannot always be said for some of his permanent colleagues. He was on the ball and on top of his job and deserves to be given the position permanently. Similarly, Flavio, the hotel director, was also visible around the decks and was only too happy to stop and have a word with any passenger.
Another area of cutback appears to be in the evening entertainment. The post-dinner offering one night was the Liars' Club, during which International Hostess Anita provided a review of the rise and fall of her love life and past partners (one of whom we knew). Whilst this might have been cathartic for her, who did endeavour some humour (she is German and humour in a foreign language is tricky), it was a little excruciating at times. On another night, there was a quiz on musicals, which combined with some karaoke. Finally, there was a specific billed karaoke night. Has the Silversea's entertainment budget been cut to the point where passengers are offered no more than parlour games for their main post dinner entertainment? We only watched one show, a Motown tribute. Whilst the singing was generally very good, both the choreography and dancing were virtually non existent and wooden to those who remember the 1960s performances by the Supremes, Four Tops et al. Furthermore the bank wasn't broken on the costume front. Cruise director Kirk, a recent arrival from RCI and Azamara, did a good job with the well-attended teatime trivia quiz.
The weather changed after leaving Australian waters, becoming more cloudy, less hot but more humid. On arrival at Komodo Island, the sheltered bay created perfect conditions to tender ashore. Here there is a simple wooden jetty, with a steep upward slope to the beach (presumably the incline being dependent on the tide). Dragons were sighted on the beach prior to our arrival. We were divided into groups of about 15 and ours had three local ranger guides. Fortunately walking was pretty easy because we followed a well-kept track that was generally dry. Our guides pointed out local flora and fauna before arrival at the watering hole, where several dragons were congregated. This was the only area where it could be considered "contrived", as during the dry season -- there are pipes carrying water to this watering hole to ensure that the dragons are likely to be there. From here a short walk led to a parting of the ways. The mountain goats among our party attempted a tricky hill climb, the descent being more tricky and slippery, where a couple of people needed assistance. Meanwhile, the chickens continued with a ranger on level paths back to the village area and the shopping opportunity -- which was no more than a group of villagers side by side under a covered awning. Various merchandise, from postcards through carved dragons and Ts were on sale. Dragons roam freely across the island and are not fed by the locals to make them quiescent for the tourists because any dragon could turn up anywhere. Indeed on the return walk, nearly at the beach, in the middle of the path on which we were walking, there was a large pile of dragon poo -- (white for those wishing to know the colour, and just a bit bigger than kangaroos!), proving that they do not differentiate from paths or undergrowth!! En route we saw a dragon padding along the beach, whilst another lazed under one of the stilted houses in the village. Our ranger waited to escort us the 50 yards to the jetty and back on board. Originally we were told that no passenger would be allowed onto the island if they were not doing the shorex -- but obviously "business" overcame their resolve, and passengers were allowed to walk the short distance to the "shopping opportunity". Passengers wishing to take cameras ashore, had to prepay on board the day before, several US dollars and the charge for using a video camera was $US19, very much a business venture for the Indonesian authorities!!
Being a small ship, we could dock in Benoa, Bali. We wanted to sample a traditional Balinese massage and also use an Internet cafe. We shared a cab with a couple from our quiz team but making the arrangements proved fraught. We agreed a price and trip duration but the driver tried to make us stay longer so he could get another fare in between, and then tried to overcharge on return to the port. We got 30 minutes of Internet for $2 and a 90-minute massage cost $10! This was in Sanur, about 15 minutes from the port, a small town boasting a lovely beach area. On our return to the ship we saw the behemoth Caribbean Princess in full flow with its tendering operation to get passengers ashore. We of course were tied alongside. The joys of small ship sailing
Our ship-organised vintage train trip in Semarang was cancelled because the train was out of service. Instead we opted to get a taxi to a recommended local mall, travelling via the old town to see the sights. Here there was excellent organisation for taxi procurement. There was a printed price list of fares to typical destinations or for sight seeing, whether you wanted a tour or just a "drop of". You paid your money to the man behind the desk, your destination was written in duplicate on a piece of paper, top copy for you and second copy for the taxi driver. We were escorted out of the main ferry terminal area to a driver, who was given his copy of our destination, taken to his cab and away; painless!
The mall was large and offered quite a variety of outlets, especially stylish shoes. A furtive-looking man at one entrance offered a poor rate of currency exchange but this was used to facilitate a few purchases, which had to be made in Indonesian rupiahs. An adjoining hotel's business centre offered cheap Internet but the hotel spa was expensive for a massage. What was surprising, was that the hotel did not have a money exchange and we were directed to the same little furtive man in the corner of the mall. We later found out that his rate of exchange of American dollars was not as bad as we had thought. Securing a taxi for our return was easy and we paid the same amount of $10 that we had paid from the port.
Jakarta is the Indonesian capital and was our final port. Good old Silversea provided a free shuttle to a large mall where we had a 90 minute reflexology/massage for $10. Unfortunately, this was the only port Silversea were able to offer the free shuttle into town, as in all previous ports, the taxi union is too strong, and they are prohibited from offering this service. Browsing the shops, it was staggering to find electrical and electronics goods priced higher than in the UK. Laptops were only loaded with Windows 7 home basic. The pharmacy shelves were labelled in English, rather than Indonesian, surely an oddity, but one we have seen elsewhere. We bought antibiotics without prescription for under $2.
We arranged for our butler to fold our laundered clothes, ready for packing, on the afternoon we were in Jakarta, and this speeded our packing on the last sea day. A butler with 15 cabins cannot pack and unpack for all passengers in those cabins, but at least our arrangement was well before the dreaded "Packing Day".
So far as onboard activities were concerned, the teatime trivia was pretty much all we did. Silversea issue points tokens for attendance at such events and on the last day of trivia, three other team members gave us their tokens, making a grand total of 106. These were redeemable at 18.00 on the last day and a range of Silversea branded items were available from a pen to a cap (100 tokens). These caps cost about $15 in the shop, so one can appreciate the token system is for fun, not value. A large number of passengers gathered to redeem their points and when I asked for a cap, I was told there were none left. I could have a key ring, a pack of cards, a bill holder, a credit card wallet but not a cap. We still had sufficient OBC for me to get a hat from the shop but that was not the point. Now I know this comes down to budgets, and different cost centres within the ship but, as a matter of principle, on a cruise line like Silversea, there should not be an issue of 'none left' and I made this point. I said I expected a cap to be in my cabin by the time I returned from dinner and, yes, there was, with a note of apology, which I duly accepted in a 'thank you' note. Silversea, please don't be so mean in saying you have 'run out' of particular prizes. These are your branded goods passengers are sporting during their use. Just make sure your stocks are more than adequate and don't remonstrate with passengers in public about such a minor issue! It leaves a bad taste.
Disembarkation in Singapore was easy, helped by Jennifer from the tours office in the luggage area, helping to find bags. She of all the staff in the Tours Office was the only one who was extremely helpful, charming and professional, and it was a nice touch by Silversea to depute a member of staff "shoreside" to help passengers with their luggage. This is often a complaint made by other cruise passengers on other lines who say that once they leave the ship, they are on their own. Once clear of immigration, we were approached by a 'fly' taxi driver, who offered an airport transfer for a fixed rate pf $50 Singapore dollars, and said we would pay 25% more in a metered cab. We knew from our visit in March 2011 that this was a con and took a metered taxi, which worked out at Singapore $17.07, about US$14! Silversea was charging US$49 per person for the transfer.
So in summary, the Shadow's staff were as obliging as ever and, overall, the food was good, sometimes very good. The ports of call lived up to expectations. We were not alone in noting the various cutbacks and a Silversea diehard planned to schedule the economies of recent times. It's clearly hard times in the cruise industry as a whole and this reflects in some unprecedented pricing. On the back of this, we've just booked a Suez transit in November because Silversea will not be sailing this route in 2013 due to poor demand.