(10:30 a.m. EST) -- Silver Muse, the flagship of tony Silversea Cruises, debuted early in 2017 with a well-refined roar, setting the tone for the future of the luxury line. Firsts for the 596-passenger all-suite ship included a subtle yet upscale color palette that's being rolled out to the rest of the fleet, technologically advanced cabins and a record eight dining venues.
When Silver Muse launched, the line implemented new procedures as well. For the first time, a Silversea ship had no main dining room, and all restaurants had unchanging menus. The ship also began with a reservation system for all venues and a dress code policy that was driven by venue and not night of the week, as is traditionally the case.
That was the plan. The reality was that passengers used to open-seat dining chafed at the reservation system and almost no one liked the confusion caused by people wearing a variety of attire almost every night of the week. The cruise line took the passenger feedback to heart, and in October 2017, Silver Muse reverted to a more traditional way of doing things. Indochine and Atlantide were designated the reservation-free restaurants with menus that change every seven days, as well as a daily special. The vessel also reinstituted ship-wide evening dress codes (albeit with more flexibility than before).
How the changes are working out depends on who you ask. Here are some of our observations:
Dress Code Remains Traditional
After ditching the venue-based dress code, Silversea went back to a three-tiered nightly system: casual, informal and formal. This seemed to suit the bulk of Silver Muse passengers just fine. Yet no matter which dress code was posted in the bulletin, people erred on the side of dressy; we saw few people without jackets or nice dresses walking around in the evening, even on casual nights. Those who were new to the line -- Gen Xers or those on the younger spectrum of Baby Boomer -- whispered to us that they felt underdressed in true casual wear.
If you don't like formal dress, though, don't worry: you can schedule your meals in Spaccanapoli and Hot Rocks, which always accept casual wear, although keep in mind that these are outdoors and if the weather's bad, they will be closed. On formal nights, La Terrazza, Kaiseki and Silver Note remain informal. And there's always room service.
Atlantide and Indochine Stand Out
One surprise on Muse was that Atlantide and Indochine -- which, because of their reservation-free policy have become the dining rooms that attract the most passengers -- are generally superior to the specialty venues, at least in terms of quality (that's opposite of most cruise ships, where specialty restaurants feel...special). They were also the two most likely to be named by other cruisers as their favorites, and the only two that seemed busy in the evenings. It's not a bad problem to have, as long as staffing reflects the distribution; busy Atlantide was the only place where we thought some service fell short (although that's primarily because things were flawless everywhere else).
Atlantide Adjustments Make Sense
Getting rid of reservations for Atlantide has made both staff and passengers happier, hotel director Lester Woodfall told us. On long cruises, passengers tend to make friends and invite them to dinner, and that's tricky to do if you have to book ahead of time. Passengers also disliked having to plan all of their meals in advance, and many were aggravated when they were turned away from dining when they could see empty -- although reserved for later -- tables, he said.
A barrier was moved to create more room in the restaurant and Atlantide will see some more changes in December, Woodfall said. Some adjustments to the chairs and tables are being made, which will increase the number of seats by 24. That will please the passengers who naturally gravitate toward Atlantide -- Americans and Europeans who prefer more traditional dining -- but the quality is such that even those who dislike classic restaurants should give it a try.
Indochine Clicks With International Cruisers
Open for dinner only, Indochine has proven to be a big hit with spice-loving Australian, British and Asian passengers, Woodfall said. Glancing around the restaurant, we noticed that the multi-culti fusion menu -- think Indian and Asian flavors -- drew a younger crowd, too. The menu changes once a week and offers the same daily specials that you find in Atlantide.
Pro tip: If you like your food spicy, tell the staff when you order, as the default is American bland; this was another adjustment that Silversea made due to customer feedback.
Passengers Griped About La Dame
Silversea's French specialty restaurant is the ship's fanciest venue. As befits its Relais & Chateaux status, La Dame prides itself on providing a formal atmosphere with plenty of gourmet ingredients: if you're looking for foie gras, escargot, sweetbreads, duck, lobster and beef bourgignon, you'll find it here.
Yet despite the gourmet offerings, we found passengers on Silver Muse a little grumpy with their La Dame experience. Many felt that the dishes, while excellent, were the same quality as what you'd find in Atlantide. (We were surprised that La Dame uses the same wines for its pairings that are available everywhere else on the ship.) And still others, particularly those on the long 66-day voyage, disliked paying $60 per person for dinner.
Kaiseki Has Improved
The second of Silver Muse's for-fee restaurants also offers complimentary sushi and sashimi at lunch. Our colleagues noted issues with the sushi bar when the ship launched, but we're pleased to report that they've been rectified. Purists still might quibble -- we met a fellow passenger who seemed offended that his sashimi pieces were touching each other -- but your average sushi lover will enjoy the fresh factor.
Kaiseki carries a surcharge, $60 per person, at dinner. The meal is served teppanayki style, with each diner receiving lobster, miso cod and wagyu beef. It's a lot of food, but it's all very good; the chef uses butter instead of oil on the grill, which gives everything a touch of umami. It's also a convivial place to dine, especially if you sit at the sushi bar. The only issue we have with the menu is that it's set, with no room to add sushi. Kaiseki also does not serve tempura at either meal, which is an issue for some Japanese food fans.
Some Casual Restaurants Shine
Arts Cafe, Spaccanapoli and The Grill during the day resonated, perhaps because we had so many cruisers on long segments. Having plenty of casual options is particularly attractive to those on longer voyages when another three-course meal seems tiresome. (And if you don't want to dress up one night, you need a place to hide out without judgment.) Arts Cafe in particular has become a hub, with passengers lingering over coffee drinks, light bites and afternoon tea. Sea day tip: If you're at the pool, deck staff will take your Spaccanapoli pizza order and deliver it to your lounger -- always a plus!
At night, The Grill turns into Hot Rocks. Built around a gimmick -- passengers grill their own food over very hot volcanic rocks -- the restaurant sounds more interesting than its execution. We wondered how ridiculous we looked on a windy night, huddled under blankets and heat lamps and wearing bibs to protect us from hot oil. We worried, too, about the rocks themselves -- and when our waiter showed us some scars built up from plate mishaps, we felt justified for our tentativeness. Finally, to really do your food well, you need to know how long it takes to cook something -- fish and prawns take much less time than veal or steak, for example. (We had our waiter help us so we could avoid undercooking.) All in all, it's more stressful than fun.
La Terraza Could Use Longer Hours
Silver Muse's buffet has one of the best layouts we've seen at sea. It has options that are made to order, like stir-fries and pastas, as well as an extensive salad bar (with many toppings) and hot items. As befits its more casual nature, the staff here are outgoing, while still efficient. There's indoor and outdoor seating, the latter looking aft for lovely views.
Our main quibble is that it closes fairly early, at 2 p.m. -- not only while the ship is in port but on sea days too. Sure, The Grill, on the pool deck, remains open until 3:30 and you can always order room service. But we found the hours very limiting and out of sync with returns from morning shore excursions or simply having a lazy sea day schedule.
See 1,125 photos of Silver Muse in our online album.
--By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor