Years ago when I was a university faculty member, I had a reputation as a tough grader who didn't award many "A's." So with that in mind, here are my thoughts about what, overall, was a first-rate cruise experience.
We chose Silversea for our Baltic cruise in large part because we wanted to enjoy a true "first-boat" experience. Which is what we enjoyed during our days onboard along with another couple who have been friends for over 50 years. Our trip began with a long, but unavoidable, business class flight on SAS to Copenhagen, which Silversea arranged at a price well below the standard prevailing rate. Prior to embarkation, we enjoyed two full days in very sunny Copenhagen, burning "points" at the Marriott, walking extensively and doing a very "touristy" but delightful canal boat ride. The Glyptotech museum's collection of impressionist painters was especially impressive.
Check-in at boarding time couldn't have been run any better. We were whisked to our cabin in a blink without ever having to endure the long lines that are so common with cruises on mega-ships. And miracle of miracles, Silversea provided two luggage racks, an amenity that even many top-flight hotels fail to provide. Our butler from Nepal provided a thorough and efficient introduction to shipboard services and we headed quickly to the LaTerraza restaurant for our first taste of Silversea's fine and diverse dining experiences.
During our stay on board, we ate at LaTarraza, Atlantide, Silver Note, The Grille, the Arts Cafe, and the pizza shop, the name of which escapes me. We especially enjoyed the first-two, always receiving both top-notch food and attentive service. I especially enjoyed the soups that were included on the multi-course menus. Unfortunately, we had scheduled our visit to The Grille on an evening that was cloudy and cold, but the overhead heaters and blankets kept us very snug. The white and red white wines that were offered during dinner were quite adequate, but it was a bit disappointing that the offerings changed little from night-to-night. As a beer drinker, I was disappointed that Silversea's offerings failed to include even a single IPA.
As "morning people," my wife and I especially appreciated the ship's breakfast offerings. It is difficult to imagine that someone would be unable to find something at breakfast that failed to whet their appetite. For me, it was the mounds of smoked salmon, and the always hot, buttery, scrambled eggs.
The Silver Spirit's lounges provided comfortable settings for a before-or-after dinner libation. The piano music in the main lounge could not have been better, both in terms of tunes selected and volume. The vista and intimacy provided by Tor's high and at the front of the ship were perfect. From beginning-to-end of the cruise, however, the main lounge was in serious need of another bartender. While the "mixologist" worked at a rapid pace, she plainly was overwhelmed. As a result, table service was unacceptably slow.
The only downside in the ship's food service occurred in the Silver Note. Food quality was very high, but the portions were unreasonably small as if they had designed for a tasting menu than the regular course menu we were provided.
Our cabin plainly met our expectations. We especially liked the fact that it included a walk-in shower and not the ungainly tub-shower combination that seems to be the order of the day in so many European hotels. Silversea should offer better pre-cruise information about bed size. At the time we made our reservations, we were left with the impression that the room's two-person bed option was the width of an old-fashioned "double" bed. We discovered once onboard, however, that this option was, in fact, pretty much the size of an American "queen" bed, which we would have very much preferred instead of the twin beds we selected. One of the greatest problems with the twins is the placement of overhead lighting on the bed closest to the bathroom wall -- it can give you a good whack in the head if you're not careful.
Our excursions overall fully met our expectations. We especially appreciated the fact that our ship was able to dock so close to the center of St. Petersburg -- something that allowed us to avoid the one-hour bus ride to town that comes with the large cruise ships that must dock so far away.
Our guides all were well-informed, and all were readily understandable. Indeed all but one was engaging and truly enjoyable. The extra-cost side trip to Moscow was worth every penny and a real trip highlight. We would recommend it to anyone who can deal with arising at 4:30A and not hitting a bed until almost 1A.
My wife and I, however, would like to offer a few suggestions for making the shore excursions even more enjoyable. First, in St. Petersburg, structure the tours to places like Catherine's Palace and the Hermitage so that there is less emphasis on "seeing everything," and greater emphasis on leisurely, selective viewing. Second, we both were struck by the absence of any tour offering that focused on the Russians' efforts to save St. Petersburg from the Nazis and the terrible conditions that so many city residents endured during the Second World War. Similarly, it would have been interesting to have some exposure to the city's booming neighborhoods of post-Glasnost Russia.
The weakest of our tours occurred in Helsinki. While we were under the impression that we would have a good opportunity to experience the city on shanks mere, we spent an undue amount of time in an undistinguished building listing to performances of Sibelius' music, something we could have done just as easily at home. Additionally, it became immediately evident that we could have seen a great deal of the city by exploiting Helsinki's trams. This proved impossible, however, even during our free time as it is impossible to purchase tickets on the trams or without Finnish currency. Perhaps Silversea could consider pre-purchasing tram tickets for those interested in exploring on their own.
Our guide and our experience in Tallinn were most enjoyable. Indeed, we both wish we had had substantially more time to explore the city, especially the newer sections that have been developed in recent years.
While on-board, we took advantage of the ship's evening entertainment only twice, once when we were dead-tired and really have headed to bed. We all thought the farewell performance was most enjoyable, with the 60's-70's pop music well-suited to the age of most in the audience.
Overall, the debarkation process was handled as smoothly as the boarding process, very professional and well-thought-through. We had decided, however, to stay in Stockholm for two days after the cruise, and received absolutely incorrect and unduly costly advice as to how to reach our hotel. We were advised that it would be difficult to secure a cab, as almost all accepted only Swedish currency; that we would do best to permit Silversea to arrange a private car for a charge in excess of $150. Nonsense! As we discovered subsequently, it is rare cab in Stockholm that doesn't accept credit cards. Indeed, the 10 minute ride to our fine At Six Hotel should have cost us well under $20.