(9:55 a.m. EDT) -- With the smell of fireworks celebrating Silver Moon's christening still hanging in the air, the newest cruise ship in Silversea's luxury fleet sailed away Wednesday from Piraeus, the port for Athens, embarking on a 10-night journey through the Greek Isles and Cyprus.
It's the fourth cruise for the new vessel, which originally was scheduled to make its big debut in 2020, and this voyage feels like a celebration of both the new and renewed.
With a capacity of only 596 (and we're currently sailing at about half that), this small, luxury cruise ship punches above its weight, offering beautiful and comfortable public spaces, incredible culinary options, and the realization of the innovative dining and cultural concept called S.A.L.T. Here are our first impressions of Silver Moon.
We've been hearing about Silversea's new S.A.L.T. (Sea And Land Taste) program for the better part of three years now, and we've even been able to give our regular Cruise Critic readers sneak peeks of what S.A.L.T. might look like before it finally made its debut.
The concept, which truly is Silversea Chief Commercial Officer Barbara Muckermann's baby, is to give guests an immersive dining and cultural experience that goes beyond just eating great food. The program adds stories from the people who grow and cultivate ingredients and those who create some incredible regional dishes.
Silver Moon is where the whole concept comes together.
The ship was built from the ground-up to accommodate the program, going so far as to have three dedicated spaces for it: the S.A.L.T. Kitchen, a restaurant featuring dishes from the region the ship sails and even a rotating menu of hyperlocal dishes from a particular port; the S.A.L.T. Lab, a tasting kitchen where cruisers get a chance to create traditional (and not-so-traditional) dishes; and S.A.L.T. Bar, a lounge that offers craft cocktails made with local spirits.
We'd be content eating in S.A.L.T. Kitchen every night; the menu is so good. We've visited it twice already, with our favorite option coming the day we visited Syros. We loved learning more about the very specific dishes to the island, including a wonderful braised pork and quince dish, and a heavenly nougat and orange yogurt for dessert. Dishes from around the Mediterranean, where Moon will sail through November, are always available, but the local specialties change depending on the port.
The S.A.L.T. Lab is part cooking, part eating and lots of learning. The kitchen is set up for guests to do the minimum amount of work, chopping, sprinkling in seasoning and the like, while an instructor walks you through the dishes. For us, cookbook author and travel writer Yasmin Khan led us through mezze, shared plates in the region. (The goal is to have guest experts on most sailings.)
What makes it different from other classes we've taken on ships is the commitment to storytelling; Khan tied together the dishes with how people in Cyprus or Turkey eat, and how sharing plates is an event to be savored.
In fact, that's the point behind Silversea’s new S.A.L.T. concept: It's about the stories, and that continues ashore, where passengers might visit a farm or restaurant and meet with the proprietors and hear how they started their businesses, and what the food means to them and their families.
The experiences aren't perfect yet -- we didn't see the tie-in, for example, at a bio-farm we visited, where we toured the crops but missed the connection to why we were there. Still, this is only the fourth sailing, and we are confident this program will be a hit. And Silversea is confident, too. The programming has been well attended, from lectures (frequent S.A.L.T. enrichment talks are held in the ship's main theater) to classes and restaurant experiences, and the feedback from guests has been positive. The cruise line is investing in the concept: Silver Dawn, which debuts in November, will be fully integrated with S.A.L.T., too.
As cruising has returned from a long hiatus because of the pandemic, we've been lucky enough to sail on a number of cruise ships. While the energy and excitement from the crew has been warm and genuine, most are operating with reduced numbers, and everyone is learning how to work with passengers again, with the added layer of new health and safety protocols. Hiccups in service, especially around wait times in restaurants and accuracy in orders, are understandably inevitable.
On Silver Moon, though, that hasn't happened.
The crew on this luxury cruise line have been consistently overdelivering on service. One of the perks of sailing on Silver Moon is every cabin is assigned a butler, and ours, Neo, is top-notch. He's delivered our in-cabin breakfast, complete with white tablecloth, brought us bag after bag of ice after we twisted an ankle ashore and made (and remade) reservations for every restaurant. In dining venues, waiters notice when your ice is melting too fast and replace a drink for fear it's gotten too watery in the sweltering heat of Greece. At the buffet, they'll carry your plate for you, or even scramble to get you an assortment of sushi if you happen to mention you like sushi.
At the bars, our bartenders remember we prefer beer to wine, and they've stocked up on new and even craft varieties of Greek beer, a nice departure from the typical mass-market offerings.
This level of service, where crew don't wait to hear what you want but instead anticipate what you'll need, is a Silversea hallmark that has been such a pleasant re-introduction to cruising here on Silver Moon.
For a small ship, Silver Moon delivers a surprising number of dining options. It's no wonder passengers tend to book back-to-back-to-back journeys -- they want to experience it all. (We heard from a crewmember about one couple who joined on the previous sailing, and they're booked through October.)
It's tough to pick a favorite restaurant, as we've enjoyed everything we've tried so far, and we still have a few to test out before the end of our journey. It's not just that guests have some nine spaces from which to choose; it’s the excellent range of dining experiences, from the casual Pool Grill to the refined-yet-modern take on French cuisine, La Dame. The quality is consistently high, no matter where you elect to eat.
The aforementioned SALT Kitchen has been a highlight, but we've also adored the little surprises we've encountered along the way. Silversea President Roberto Martinoli recommended we try the margherita pizza from Spaccanapoli, and we weren't disappointed. It was the perfect lunchtime pick, showing off the cruise line's Italian roots. Also a hit: The Grill at night, a cook-your-own-protein option that lets diners play chef, grilling up meat on hot lava rocks al fresco. This one scores bonus points for being the most fun option, thanks to in part to the DIY component and the oversized bibs you wear to avoid the sizzle splatter.
Like all ships that are coming back in this era, Silver Moon has new rules and protocols onboard designed to keep guests, crew and people in ports safe and healthy.
Even though everyone onboard is fully vaccinated, masks are required in all indoor public spaces on the ship. These are Greek regulations. Passengers were required to show proof of vaccination, and a rapid antigen test was performed at the port of Piraeus (Athens) before we could board. We also have had a mid-trip antigen test, and we'll have one more before we disembark as is required for returning to the United States. Butlers administer daily temperature checks for every passenger politely and seamlessly.
The mask requirement is not unique to Silver Moon, but it's occasionally a bit cumbersome. Still, you can remove the mask when you're outdoors or while eating and drinking, which, let's be honest, is a lot on this ship. What I really like is the availability of masks everywhere. When you leave or return from the ship, you can grab a new mask; each one is individually wrapped. There's also a specific bin for disposal of the old one. Greece is unusually hot right now, and shore excursion staff recommended (rightly so) that we might need an extra mask (or two) ashore because we could sweat through them quickly.
Masks are required on shore excursions, even outdoors, though you can remove them when you're exploring on your own. Some guests complied, some didn't. Silver Moon is trying to keep a bit of a bubble with its passengers, offering most excursions for free so guests would be more likely to book through the ship. (This seems like a preview to spring 2022, when most shore excursions, except for premium options like the S.A.L.T. tours, will be included with all sailings.)
It wouldn't be a Silversea sailing without Bulgari, and each guest has been given a cute zip-top Bulgari bag loaded with masks, hand sanitizer, lotion and a Silversea-branded sanitizer keychain.
Silver Moon is a next-generation ship for Silversea, blending the line's understated approach to luxury with a totally different take on combining local food and ingredients with cultural touchstones.