Silver Sea Cruises
The Line in a Nutshell
It doesn't get better than Silversea if you're looking for a total luxury experience at sea. From exquisite service and cuisine to such niceties as free-flowing Drappier champagne and Ferragamo and Bulgari bath products in the marble cabin bathrooms, the line's six ships offer the best of everything. Sails to: Alaska, Caribbean, New England/Canada, Panama Canal (plus Europe, Asia, Middle East, South America, Australia/New Zealand, Africa, transatlantic, world cruise).
Fine-tuned and genteel, a Silversea cruise caters to guests who are used to the good life, and nothing seems to have been overlooked. The food and service are among the best at sea, and the decor is warm and inviting. Tables are set with Christofle silver and Schott Zwiesel crystal. These are luxe vessels for a luxe crowd that spends a lot of time comparing travel dossiers for their next big trip. If you want the VIP treatment 24-7, this is your cruise line.
While Silversea's typical passenger mix tends to be older, shorter cruises and Caribbean sailings often skew the mix a tad younger, adding at least a handful of 30- and 40-something couples to the pot. Typically, about 50% of passengers are American and the rest are mostly from Europe, with some from Australia, South America, and the Far East in the mix. Overall, they're well traveled, well heeled, well dressed, well accessorized, and well into their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Most guests are couples, though singles and small groups of friends traveling together are usually part of the scene, too. Many have cruised with Silversea before.
Silversea Cruises was conceived in the early 1990s by the Lefebvre family of Italy, former owners of Sitmar Cruises, a legendary Italian line that was merged into P&O/Princess in the late 1980s. Created to cater to discerning travelers looking for a superluxurious cruise experience, the line's four ships were built and outfitted at shipyards in Italy and no expense was spared in their design.
The new line joined Seabourn right at the top of the heap when it introduced the 296-passenger Silver Cloud and Silver Wind in 1994 and 1995 -- and, in fact, features such as stateroom balconies and a two-level show lounge actually gave them the edge. With the introduction of the larger, even more impressive Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper in 2000 and 2001, that bar was raised even higher, with larger staterooms and huge marble bathrooms, dimly lit and romantic cigar lounges, and more entertainment lounges -- all in all, the absolute height of style, paired with itineraries that spanned the globe. A concerted effort has been made to play up the line's Italian connections. The ships have specialty Italian restaurants; Italian-made bath amenities come from Ferragamo and Bulgari; high-end Italian clothes and accessories are in the boutiques.
In late 2009, Silversea took delivery of Silver Spirit, its new 36,000-ton, 540-passenger ship, built at Italian shipyard Fincantieri. The line also purchased an expedition ship (formerly Society Expedition's World Discoverer), and relaunched her in mid-2008 as HSH Prince Albert II in tribute to Prince Albert of Monaco, who in 2006 journeyed to the North Pole to draw attention to the effects of global warming on the Arctic regions. The ship currently sails in the Arctic, Antarctica, and the tropical coast of South America.
For the purposes of this review, references are made to the line's five mainstream vessels, not the expedition one.
Foodies should consider Silversea for the food alone. The cuisine is well prepared and presented, and creative chefs continually come up with a wide variety of dishes. Many ingredients are imported from Italy (the pasta, cheese, and Parma ham, aka prosciutto, for instance) and many of the baked goods -- including the excellent focaccia and flat breads -- are made right on board. Each ship has a formal open-seating dining room and two or more alternative choices. There are plenty of tables for two in all restaurants, though in the main dining room, you may have to wait at the peak of the dining hours.
Traditional -- While the cuisine in the elegant main dining room (straightforwardly called the Restaurant) is not as impressive as that of the more intimate, casual La Terrazza, it still serves delicious meals, with entrees such as a duet of king prawn and halibut with wild-rice cakes, crispy roasted duck, and penne pasta with spicy tomato, olive, caper, and anchovy sauce. The wine list is excellent, and a pair of complimentary wines is suggested at each meal from more than 40 choices; if you'd like something other than the featured ones, ask and ye shall find. You can also choose one of the wines not included on the complimentary list -- a $745 1990 Château Margaux, anyone?
Specialty -- Two specialty restaurants serve dinner on each ship, both by reservation. Open most evenings for dinner, La Terrazza is an intimate spot serving Italian cuisine. Start with a plate of antipasto -- fresh parmigiano, prosciutto, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and marinated eggplant -- before moving on to delicious dishes such as a mushroom tart or buffalo mozzarella with fresh tomato and basil; gnocchi filled with Gorgonzola; and a juicy pork loin. Featured desserts, such as a delicious millefoglie (or mille-feuille: puff pastry with cream filling), are paired with a tray of Italian-made biscotti.
The second alternative restaurant provides a new twist on cruise dining, offering menus that pair food with wine -- and not the other way around. Developed in consultation with master sommeliers trained in the member boutique lodgings and restaurants of Relais & Châteaux-Relais Gourmands, the wine menus reflect regions of the world known for their rich viticultural heritage, including France, Italy, northern California, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Sommeliers describe the origin and craft of each vintage, then present dishes created especially to bring out the wine's full richness. Guests enjoy a different wine with each course, with the extra charge for dinner varying in accordance with the wines presented. On a recent cruise, it was $200 per person, and frequented mostly by European passengers.
Casual -- Burgers, sandwiches, and salads are served poolside at lunchtime, in addition to service in the Restaurant and the buffet-style Terrace Cafe (which is transformed into La Terrazza in the evenings). Once per cruise, passengers are also invited into the galley for the traditional galley brunch, which features more than 100 delectable dishes, from stone crab claws to pickled herring, Hungarian goulash, rabbit a la Provençal, and German bratwurst. A red carpet is rolled out, literally, through the galley, and the chef is on hand to chat with guests about the feast.
Snacks & Extras -- The line's 24-hour room-service menu includes such mouthwatering choices as a snack-size portion of crabmeat served with lime mayonnaise and guacamole, and delicious thin-crust gourmet pizzas. Plus, if you'd rather dine in, you can order off the Restaurant's menu (during its lunchtime and dinnertime operating hours) and have your meal served course by course on a table set with linens and china in your suite. There's an elegant, white-gloved tea service in one of the lounges on most days.
All suites include the services of a butler who will unpack your bags, draw your bath, make spa or dinner reservations, put together an in-suite cocktail party for you and the maharajah, or arrange a private car at the next port. Butlers will now also clean luggage with a bio- and eco-friendly cleaner (safe even on fine leather).
The gracious staff knows how to please. Staff members are friendly and oftentimes remember your name, but are never obtrusive or pushy. Waitstaff and stewards are as discreet as the guests are, and chances are you'll never hear the word no. The room-service menu is extensive and at dinnertime you can also order from the Restaurant's menu and have it served in your suite, course by course. Unlimited wines, Drappier champagne, spirits, and soft drinks are included in the rates, as are gratuities. Hot and cold canapés are served in the lounges before dinner, and fine chocolates are left on suite pillows on formal evenings. Laundry and dry cleaning are available. There are also self-service laundry rooms.
Aside from trivia games, card tournaments, stretch and aerobics classes, and bridge tours, Silversea tries to focus on more cerebral pursuits. Wine-tasting seminars are excellent. The line's enrichment lectures are varied and interesting; at least one guest speaker is featured on every sailing, and speakers have ranged from explorers and adventurers to authors and journalists. Culinary-themed cruises, offered in partnership with Relais & Châteaux, are hosted by Relais Gourmands chefs and feature demos and tastings.
Other pursuits include language classes, golf instruction and driving nets, and computer classes. Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper also have special golf cruises that feature PGA golf pros, golfing excursions, and the latest video teaching technology.
Lighter activities include a dip in the pool or two hot tubs; shopping in the boutiques (which include H. Stern, where you'll find high-end gold, diamond, and gemstone pieces); and surfing in the Internet center. Passengers who travel with their laptops can take advantage of Wi-Fi throughout the ships. Onboard cellphone service is also an option. Overall, though, these ships are low-key (don't expect music on the Pool Deck, for instance) and guests are left to their own devices when it comes to keeping busy -- just the way most like it. Reading, dozing, and sipping cool drinks seem to keep most of them happily occupied.
The spa beckons with its flower-strewn copper foot bowls, warm massage stones, and other treatments. To avoid waiting in line on the first day of the cruise to make your appointments, you can now book your treatments via the line's website up to 48 hours before your cruise. You can also prebook shore excursions online up to the week before sailing.
When ready for bed, guests can choose from the new pillow menu which offers eight different kinds, from the popular 25% down/75% feather soft pillow to the Buckwheat Pillow for relieving body aches and pains, or even the Body Pillow for head-to-toe comfort with its 100% silk charmeuse pillow case.
For evening entertainment, the ships each have a small casino; a combo entertaining in the nightclub adjacent to the show lounge; a pianist in another lounge; and dozens of in-cabin movies, including oldies and current films. On warm-weather cruises, there are movies shown on deck by the pool and dancing under the stars at the weekly barbecue buffet on deck. There are also small-scale song-and-dance revues in the two-level show lounges, plus magic acts, singers, instrumentalists, jugglers, and sometimes performances by local folkloric groups. Popular themed cruises from time to time feature classical musicians, guest chefs, and renowned wine experts conducting demonstrations and talks. The pace is calm, and that's the way most Silversea guests like it; most are perfectly content to spend their after-dinner hours with cocktails and conversation. Occasionally, depending on the crowd, the Panorama Lounge (on Shadow and Whisper) or the Bar (on all ships) attracts a contingent of revelers who dance and drink into the wee hours.
These ships are not geared to children and there are no facilities for them, although every so often, one or two are on board. Babysitting may be arranged with an available crewmember (no guarantee); otherwise, no activities or services are provided specifically for children. The minimum age for sailing is 12 months.