(11:30 a.m. EDT) -- We're onboard Silver Spirit after its recent ship lengthening and refurbishment, which necessitated a 59-day dry dock. Silver Spirit made its splashy re-debut in May, and now we're checking out the changes on a Norwegian fjords cruise.
Much of the changes involved the restaurants, and the differences are notable -- and for the most part, likable. There's much greater choice in restaurants and bars. Dining venues are sleeker, more contemporary and certainly more appealing to a younger clientele.
Albeit small, the only initial disappointment is the disappearance of afternoon tea in La Terrazza. However, you can find the elements of afternoon tea in the Arts Cafe, or your butler can bring an assortment of tea, cakes and finger sandwiches to your suite.
Out and about the ship, here's our call on the new or improved Silver Spirit dining venues.
We don't miss the old main dining room at all, and the several passengers we've spoken to don't miss it either. In fact, Atlantide -- open for all three meals -- seems the most popular of the restaurants. It's a lengthy room, elegantly designed; think gorgeous marble columns and floors and velvety burnt-orange chairs. One side of the room offers lovely window views framed by thick drapery.
There's an eight-seat bar here, a pleasing place to hang out pre-or-post dinner with an appropriately chatty bartender. Even if you don't frequent this bar, you'll be glad it's there; it makes the restaurant feel more cosmopolitan, as if ashore. Plus, the many tables for two are a big improvement over the old main dining room with an abundance of four and six-tops. Tables are set with Villeroy & Boch china, stylish Mepra flatware from Italy and stainless steel salt and pepper grinders.
The lunch menu changes daily. Choices are lighter and more interesting than in Silver Spirit's original main dining room, including more salads (perhaps a spicy Asian beef) and seafood (such as shrimp in tamarind sauce). At night, we enjoyed the many fancy dishes such as foie gras (excellent), lobster, veal chop (enormous and fork-tender) and generous portions of primo meats from Argentinean grass-fed beef to the world-heralded French Limousin. We are in Norway, and one night, fresh Norwegian salmon was a special and tasted great. Desserts seem a lot better than before -- far more choice beyond gelato, and are sophisticated and tastier.
Another new restaurant, Indochine is open for dinner only, and no reservations are required. The two menus in rotation hopscotch Asia -- think Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Indian dishes -- with a modern twist. From what we've sampled so far, we like it!
Servers bring out crispy pappadum, mango chutney and pickled mango to nibble while you peruse the menu. A server also presents a small cocktail of the day -- perhaps passion fruit and rum. Asian-spiced short ribs are a noteworthy signature dish, and the Chinese egg drop soup is excellent, as is a fiery hot-and-sour soup.
Lobster pad Thai is light on noodles (a good thing) but big on shellfish and flavor. Indian plates -- such as a spicy lamb curry, and a potato and cauliflower medley -- are uniformly outstanding. A Goan chef delivers the most authentically flavored Indian dishes we've had at sea. Desserts include a must-order coconut rice pudding.
This restaurant concept was called Stars Supper Club and is now called Silver Note. It switched locales with the casino, so Silver Note is now on Deck 8. Although dining here is complimentary, you do need reservations, which can be hard to score as the venue is small and popular. Expect a softly lit, intimate room with low ceilings and pin lighting.
The menu is quirky. For starters, tables are set with "test tubes" filled with three types of hot sauces, ranging from jalapeno to habanero -- even though our server tells us that many dishes are quite spicy. Perhaps because of this, we didn't see anyone reach for the hot sauce test tubes.
First courses are divided into two categories: Raw -- like a delicious tuna and green quinoa dish -- and Cooked -- such as a most tender marinated octopus that's grilled and served warm with caramelized pumpkin puree and olives. Entrees are split between Oceans and Earth. The lobster tail with rich and creamy mashed potatoes flies from the kitchen. Same for Salt from the Fields, the unusual name for seared lamb loin with a delicious risotto, caramelized onions and chanterelles. Both are very good and not spicy -- which might be why they are ordered so frequently.
Plating is most contemporary, including wavy bowls and dinner plates with wildly bumpy edges, making it hard to rest your silverware without a knife tumbling off onto the tablecloth. We get that Silver Note seeks to stand out from other restaurants, but we're not sure the concept is cohesive. Perhaps if some of the dishes had less confusing names?
The evening highlight is the jazz singer, who performs three sets nightly, accompanied by a gifted pianist. The singer is a captivating performer, with a sultry voice, and her repertoire is vast -- including Nat King Cole, Doris Day and show tunes from "Evita." Some passengers get up and whirl around the little dance floor. The restaurant is often full for dinner, so we've been coming later in the evening to enjoy the music -- no reservation required.
What a huge difference this remodel has made. Rather than one big buffet, La Terrazza now offers three stations. One is an omelet station in the morning, and switches to pasta and stir-fries midday. Another offers smoothies and fruit and vegetable juices blended to order in the a.m. and becomes a dessert mecca at lunch, with an assortment of cakes, tarts and fruit salad. We notice the cookies are bigger and chewier than before -- more American style and tastier to our palates.
The largest buffet area -- that once housed all dishes -- now beautifully presents cheeses, breads, smoked fish and fruit at breakfast, and salads, sushi and hot dishes at lunch. Plus, gorgeous meats, such as strip sirloin of beef or a whole suckling pig, are carved to order. No skimping here. However, pizza-lovers should note that pizza is no longer offered at the buffet; you'll have to trek over to Spaccanapoli for your pies.
The dinner menu showcases some new items, and remains table service only; buffets are closed. New pastas include a potato gnocchi with lardo, which was a little too oily for us. The pappardelle with braised duck ragout is still a signature dish; that's a good thing as it's a standout, although one night we wished there was more ragout for the noodles. All pastas are perfectly cooked al dente and sauce use is restrained, as in Italy. Another holdover, the dark chocolate torte, tastes as scrumptuous as before.
This fancy, $60-a-head restaurant changed names from Le Champagne to La Dame, but the decor and menu haven't changed. We wonder how popular this restaurant will be, now that dining in Atlantide and Indochine offer foie gras, lobster, prime beef and many other high-end delicacies at no extra cost, but it was full every night we checked. For us, the meal was well worth the price tag, and foodies will not want to miss the experience.
With just 11 tables, the restaurant is romantic and intimate in a way no other venue onboard can deliver. Service is beyond attentive and highly personalized. The wines presented are a notch above the complimentary wines poured in other dining rooms, and if you don't like the sommelier's suggestion, he's only too happy to open another bottle.
During our five-course meal, we savored a superb lobster bisque, made with an intense lobster stock base and garnished with a giant lobster chunk, and a generous portion of caviar with blinis, which is not offered in any complimentary restaurant and begins at $40 on the room service menu. The generous portions of foie gras are more intricately prepared than in the included restaurants. We also noticed La Dame's lamb chops are thicker and meatier than those served in Atlantide.
This pizza eatery is located outdoors, a deck above The Grill, with an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs at work. A canopy makes it easy to dine here no matter the weather. Deck 10 is also the jogging deck and, we must say, it's rather torturous to run by Spaccanapoli and inhale the pizza aromas. (On the other hand, you can look at it as motivation to jog another lap.)
The pizzas, which come with a variety of excellent toppings, include a purist's Margherita and a prosciutto pie with cow's milk mozzarella. The venue uses 26-month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, and it's excellent.
The one disappointment is that the menu is all pizza, no salads. Spaccanapoli would be more of a meal alternative if some greens were an option. In fact, we've seen passengers go downstairs to The Grill for a salad, once they discovered that none are offered in the pizzeria. But this is Silversea -- your waiter will be happy to bring you a salad from the Grill downstairs (or bring down a pizza if you're dining at The Grill).
For dessert, ask your server, or order gelato at the glass counter adjacent to the pizza ovens. All gelatos are homemade except for that ubiquitous zero-zero ice cream. Gelato textures are silky, and flavors, like coffee or chestnut, are delightfully intense and not sugary. A fig frozen yogurt is spot-on. Sophisticated toppings, like homemade caramel sauce, candied fruit and freshly toasted almonds, are wonderful.
The biggest room service change is the inability to order from a restaurant menu during dinner hours. You can, however, still be served course by course by your butler from the existing room service menu. The in-suite dining menu is substantial, offering everything from soups and salads to steaks and burgers. Plus, Silver Spirit still allows you to order from the room service menu anywhere around the ship. For breakfast, be sure to try the new brand of preserves, alain milliat, from France. The varieties are delicious; not overly sweet and intensely fruit-forward, and come in assorted flavors like wild blueberry.
Silver Spirit's Arts Cafe is less whimsically designed than on Silver Muse but still filled with colorful nooks for sitting, sipping and schmoozing. It's easily one of the busiest -- and buzziest -- spots onboard. The barista makes an excellent cappuccino, and you can also choose from a variety of fine Ronnefeldt teas, as well as a full selection of liquor.
All sorts of gastronomic goodies are on display, depending upon the time of day. Start with a freshly made smoothie or a glass mason jar filled with fruit and yogurt; drop in for a mozzarella panini at lunch; snack on scones and fingers sandwiches at tea times; and end your day with homemade (and oh so yummy) white, dark and milk chocolate truffles served in mini glass jars.
-- By Janice Wald Henderson, Cruise Critic Contributor