When I cruised with Silversea two years ago, I criticised the line for being complacent. Sure, my ship -- Silver Whisper -- was nice, but I felt that, because everyone was so busy telling me how ultra-luxurious everything was, they failed to notice standards were slipping.
It was not so much about the service (although that could have done with a quick polish). The ship was looking dated -- left behind, not just by other ultra-lux lines, but by those claiming fewer stars, as well.
So, I embarked on Silver Wind in February with a few negative thoughts in my head, especially as the ship is one of the oldest luxury vessels around and has several years on the Whisper. At 15 years old, Silver Wind is especially old for a luxury ship, given that our expectations of luxury are now much higher than they were back in the 90's.
On the other hand, Silver Wind had just emerged from a multimillion-dollar refit, which I hoped would have dragged it into the 21st century.
It did. Silver Wind, one of the cosiest and most intimate ships afloat today, now has a new spa, a handful of new, beautifully designed suites and an overall refreshment of cabins and public rooms that made it even more inviting. Within a day of being on board, I was happy to admit that complacency was out, and surefire luxury was in.
Silver Wind is a small ship -- I reckon it took about five minutes to work out where everything was! For me, that was one of its big selling points, as it offered a very friendly atmosphere. The all-inclusive drinks policy also does a lot to promote that friendliness, especially if you are cruising alone.
Needless to say, though, if you like to do more than sunbathe, read books or eat -- and if your perfect holiday includes a huge casino, schedules packed tight with enrichment activities, and silly pool games -- this is not the cruise for you.
Either side of a rather staid Mediterranean summer season, Silver Wind specialises in more adventurous itineraries.
Mine was a cruise around India, from Chennai (Madras) to Mumbai, before the ship sailed on to Dubai and into the Med. It will be back in the Indian Ocean in November, sailing to South Africa. At the end of 2010, it is set to cruise the Middle East before returning to Mumbai.
The food on Silver Wind was, almost without exception, very good -- tasty (although the curries were a little weak) and served hot, which is a big plus-point for me. They even managed to make the burgers and hot dogs, served on deck, a little bit tastier.
There is one dining room on Silver Wind, rather unimaginatively called The Restaurant, open for breakfast (8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.) and dinner (7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m).
Meals, including dinner, are all open-seating, meaning you can eat when you want and sit with whom you want. Ladies are escorted to their tables by waiters or the maitre d', which is a nice touch.
Other options for breakfast include an early-risers buffet from 6:30 a.m. in the Panorama Lounge and coffee from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Observation Lounge. A continental breakfast is served at the pool grill from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
A breakfast buffet is available in La Terrazza between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and you can help yourself to lunch there between noon and 2 p.m. There's indoor and outdoor seating -- an awning was fixed over the outdoor area in the refit, which made it pleasant to breakfast outside on sunny mornings.
On one sea day -- I'm told this happens on all Silversea ships, when possible -- we had the Galley Lunch, when the galley is dressed up like a self-service, and you go in and help yourself and dine in the Restaurant. On my cruise, the galley was in Italian colours, and there were salads, cold meats, stir fries, sushi, curry, fish and roast beef -- a real feast that was brilliantly done.
The pool grill lunch opens from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m for burgers and hot dogs, grilled chicken, fish dishes and more. You can also help yourself to salads there.
Afternoon tea -- with dainty sandwiches, cookies and cakes, plus an array of normal and spiced teas -- is served in the Panorama Lounge from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
In The Restaurant, my favourite dishes at dinner were the chicken breast with spinach and foie gras stuffing, spicy grilled chicken and bacon-wrapped pork medallions. But, my fellow diners reported favourably on the other dishes -- fish, beef and veal.
My favourite starters were the foie gras with leek terrine and assiette de canard -- a real duck fest, with smoked duck, duck pate and foie gras terrine.
Come evening, La Terrazza is transformed into a speciality Italian restaurant. You need to book a table -- numbers are limited to keep an intimate ambience -- but there is nothing extra to pay.
I ate there on two evenings and had a delicious penne pasta with artichokes, black olives and tomato; a fusilli pasta with spicy tomato sauce; and a hearty lamb stew and meatballs in tomato sauce, but there were plenty of fish dishes, veal, steak and lobster.
For something really special in the evening, book a table at Le Champagne (called La Saletta before the refit). At $200 per person, it's not cheap, but you do get some extra-special food and personal service for that price. There are usually no more than a couple of tables of diners (just my table of three when I ate there), and after the meal, your menu (with your name on it) will be waiting in your suite.
The $200 degustation menu includes the food and a different glass of wine with each course. The wine is selected by the sommelier to go with the food. There's an introduction about each bottle of wine before it is poured, and it's expensive stuff, so you really do get your money's worth.
There were five different degustation menus on my cruise -- Spanish, North American, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Italian.
I chose the Burgundy one and have to say the food and presentation was faultless. The meal started with some bite-size Burgundy tasters -- meat-filled pastries and foie gras -- and was followed by snails, served with herb butter and tomato fondue, roasted Bresse chicken, a Burgundy cheese brioche and chocolate Eiffel Tower.
If you don't want a degustation menu, you can still eat in Le Champagne -- for $30 per person. For that, you get the food, but you have to pay for any wine you drink -- and you have to pick from the expensive list.
Room service is free and available 24 hours. There's a room service menu with sandwiches, burgers and pasta, but you can chose a meal from the main menu during restaurant hours.
After adding and taking away various suites during the refit, Silver Wind has been left with the same number of suites -- 143. These are a mix of oceanview, balcony and "super" suites. (Silver Wind has all-suite accommodations, so these are the very big rooms with extra amenities.) There are no inside cabins.
Cabin sizes range from 240 square feet (22 square metres) for the oceanview Vista Suites to 587 square feet (89 square metres) for the two Owner's Suites.
In between, there are Verandah Suites -- the same size as the Vista Suites, but with 50-square-foot (4.5-square-metre) balconies -- and the new Medallion Suites on Deck 8, which measure 490 square feet (45 square metres), including 125-square-foot (12-square-metre) balconies.
There is also one "original" Medallion Suite on Deck 7. This is very popular because it is so spacious -- 667 square feet (62 square metres) -- but it has no balcony.
Silver Suites are 541 square feet (50 square metres), including 92-square-foot (eight-square-metre) balconies.
There are two Royal Suites on Deck 6, measuring 736 square feet (69 square metres), including 126-square-foot (12-square-metre) balconies. There are also two Grand Suites that are 1,019 square feet (95 square metres) and include 145-square-foot (14-square-metre) balconies.
All suites have fully stocked mini-bars (drinks included in the price), flat-screen TV's and DVD players, hair dryers, marble bathrooms with showers and full-size baths, a choice of Bulgari or Acqua di Palma toiletries, bathrobes and slippers, personalised stationery and a choice of pillows. A welcome bottle of Pommery Champagne will also be waiting on arrival, along with fresh fruit and flowers.
Passengers in the top suites additionally have free butler service, free laundry (excluding dry cleaning and press-only) and an espresso machine. A complimentary newspaper -- choose from several international titles -- is delivered to each suite early in the morning. (Non-suite passengers can pay for newspapers at a price of $7.50 a day.) Canapes arrive around 5 p.m. each evening.
The top-level suites all have separate sitting and dining areas, second TV's and bathrooms with separate baths and showers. Owner's Suites have guest toilets.
I was in the new Owner's Suite and stumbled on a few irritations -- nowhere to hang towels after use, too few electric plugs in the sitting/dining room -- but, overall, it was superb. I did hear moans from other passengers that there was no news channel on the TV.
The Grand and Royal Suites have connecting doors to neighboring Verandah Suites to provide two-bedroom configurations. The Owner's Suites have connecting doors to Vista Suites -- so no balconies -- if two bedrooms are required.
The most popular place on the ship, by day, was the pool area; once the sun went down, it was The Bar (another rather unimaginatively named room, but at least there's no doubt what goes on in there).
The Bar was always packed before dinner, busy afterwards and empty by about 11:30 p.m. with just a few stalwarts left. It's a shame because that was the time karaoke started, and there were just not enough people to make it work.
The Panorama Lounge is a comfortable place with views out the back, and there's a rather intimate observation lounge at the front of the ship with seating for just 34 people. There are a few books and games, and you can help yourself to tea and coffee. There were also two telescopes, but I could never see anything through them, so I suspect they were just for decoration.
The library is a lovely little room with a selection of books, newspapers and loads of DVD's if you fancy a quiet night in your suite. To the side is a small Internet cafe with six computer terminals. The ship (including the suites) is wired for Wi-Fi, which is so much more convenient if you have your own computer. Pay-as-you-go prices are 50 cents a minute, but the packages are a better value -- 100 minutes for $45, 250 minutes for $85 and 1,000 minutes for $250.
There's a small, rarely used casino -- four gaming tables and 15 slot machines -- and a couple of high-class boutiques: H Stern for jewellery and a general shop that sells all the usual logo wear, perfume, hats, bags and sunglasses -- all with designer names like Gucci, Versace and Seiko.
Deck 6 has a card room, as well as separate reception, concierge and tour desks.
Tips are part of the all-inclusive package on all Silversea cruises. There is nothing extra to pay, and the crew do not expect additional gratuities.
--by Jane Archer, a U.K.-based Cruise Critic contributor
|Fitness and Recreation|
One of the biggest changes on Silver Wind is the spa, which has moved from Deck 7 to Deck 9. It's small, with just four treatment rooms, but there is also a salon where you can get your hair and nails done, as well as separate male and female changing areas, each with a sauna and steam room.
As is usual with Silversea, the spa is run by Steiner. Despite its small size, it offers the full range of therapies, including massages, facials, body wraps and detox programmes.
The bad news for those who like to be rubbed and scrubbed is that prices are steep -- especially for the British, now that the pound is so weak against the dollar. On the plus side, my massage was very good.
A 75-minute stone massage will set you back $210, a 100-minute lime and ginger body scrub costs $178, and a Sole Delight pedicure (where they clean up your feet and paint your nails) is a breathtaking $84. There are special offers if you book more than one treatment at once.
Through the spa, on the port side, there's a small gym with four treadmills, two cycles, two cross-trainers and some weights. The area was used but not over-worked. The fridge with free water was a welcome sight.
There is also a daily fitness schedule with yoga, Pilates and the like -- all free -- but I admit that I managed to give those a miss.
Silver Wind does not ban children, but this is not a ship for kids. There is nothing to keep youngsters amused on sea days, and I suspect many passengers would not be happy to have their tranquillity spoiled by noisy kids.
There were 213 passengers on my around-India cruise from Chennai (Madras) to Mumbai, and they had come from all corners of the earth. By far, the biggest group was from the U.S. -- 80 passengers -- but there were Australians, New Zealanders, British, Germans, Belgians, Spanish and various other nationalities. Many were retired or close to retirement age; 140 were past Silversea passengers. Only one couple had never cruised before.
Silversea has a mixture of formal, informal and smart-casual dress codes. For formal nights, women should wear cocktail dresses, evening gowns or trouser suits, men should have tuxedos or dark suits. Informal means dresses or trouser suits for the ladies, jackets for the men (ties optional). Our 11-night cruise had three formal nights, four informal nights and four smart-casual evenings.
This was definitely the weakest link for me. I admit I am not the greatest fan of cruise ship shows, but I can appreciate talent even if it's not my taste.
There were shows each evening in the theatre -- they call it the Parisien Lounge, which is appropriate because it is quite compact -- but all except one failed to impress.
The staple evening performance was the Silversea singers, who were limited by the size of the stage. The singing and dancing were amateurish; good sound and light might have helped, but that, too, was very poorly done.
We also had a rather unimpressive songs-from-the-shows male vocalist, a song-and-chat show by David Lawton (the cruise director) and violinist Beverley Davison, whose performance was the exception. She was a terrific player -- her rendition of a train was amazing -- and had a sense of humour to boot.
Daytime enrichment was provided by Alan Nazareth, a former Indian ambassador, who gave lectures on all things Indian -- including Mahatma Ghandi, the Moghuls and Indian religion and politics. His talks were well attended, and I tried a couple but found them very dry.
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