Whether in the main dining room (rather unimaginatively called The Restaurant), in the Terrace Cafe for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or in the intimate and decidedly upscale Le Champagne dinner room (reservations are required for this room and for the nightly theme dinners in the Terrace Cafe), the cuisine is of the highest quality -- the kind of fare you wouldn't mind paying top dollar for ashore.
The options are mind-boggling. Consider, for instance, the following fairly typical dinner menu in The Restaurant. (Since our cruise was to Alaska, there were a lot of Pacific Northwest dishes on tap most days.) The appetizer list comprised an Alaskan king crab cocktail, mozzarella mousse, a fruit cup, and pan-fried veal liver with poached apple and sauteed onions. There were two soups -- prawn and tarragon consomme and mushroom and oyster bouillabaisse -- followed by an arugula and endive salad. A watermelon sorbet was up next and half a dozen main courses after that: monkfish and mussel casserole, grilled filet of beef, roasted kosher chicken, British Columbia wild boar, tomato risotto and the daily vegetarian special of summer lasagna, which consisted of oven roasted pumpkin, sauteed spinach, and parmesan and ricotta cheese.
And the menu was just as exciting at lunch. Here's another selection taken at random from our 10-day cruise: four appetizers (cream cheese and artichoke tart, a tower of marinated crabmeat with sliced avocado, a poached quail egg and caviar, and warm duck confit) and two soups (Maryland corn chowder and chilled pumpkin soup) with a garden salad to follow. There were two sandwiches (a Monte Cristo and a tuna triple decker). And Silversea doesn't even call those items main courses. Under that heading were a Cobb salad, a fisherman's platter, linguini with broccoli, anchovies and peppers, a wok-fried chicken and rice dish, and a slab of roast beef with a baked potato. Desserts were not always as imaginative as they might have been. There was a lot of summer fruit tart, bread pudding, vanilla and rhubarb tart and so on. But they were equally delicious -- and the cheese plate, our particular favorite after dinner, provided an opportunity to sample some truly exotic tastes.
Had the Silver Shadow nothing but a lot of food choices, that would be impressive enough. But that's not all. Not only is there more than ample variety, each dish is superbly prepared by a galley staff headed by South African-born executive chef, Richard Weichbold and professionally served by an attentive international wait staff, heavily European.
If there was a criticism of the ship's food service -- and a small one at that -- it was in the Terrace Cafe's breakfast service procedures. There, passengers could choose from the usual fairly extensive array of dishes: sausages, grilled mushrooms, hash brown potatoes, scrambled eggs and so on. Ordering eggs other than scrambled sometimes involved something of a wait and caused holdups in the food line. That problem could have been greatly minimized by the addition of an eggs/omelet station set apart from the main buffet line. At lunchtime in that same room, a separate pasta station away from the traffic stream worked very well. Why, I wondered, would it not work just as efficiently for egg lovers in the morning? But that was truly a tiny annoyance, an aberration in an otherwise smooth-functioning food operation.
There are a few things to remember about the food and beverage service on Silversea Cruises' four vessels (its original two smaller ships, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, and its two later-model, bigger creations, Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow). First and foremost, there is no additional charge for any of the alternative dining rooms. Reservations are a must for dinner in the Terrace Cafe and Le Champagne. The Terrance Cafe is included in the cruise fare; it's $30 per passenger to dine in Le Champagne ($25 per person for under 18's).
Secondly, it should be noted, is that open seating is the order of the day. Guests in the main dining room may enter any time between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. and may request -- as in any restaurant ashore -- a table for two or, if they are accompanied by new (or old) friends, a larger table. It's all very flexible and the staff seldom fails to provide the appropriate seating. The third thing to keep in mind is that alcohol, including wine with meals, is also folded into the cruise price. There are no bar charges to reproach you at the end of the voyage. At least, there need not be. The complimentary wines served in the bars and The Restaurant, all thoughtfully chosen by the ship's head sommelier, Benoit Trey d'Ousteau, were absolutely acceptable to us -- and, it seemed, to most others. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, a great favorite of many, was available one evening. An excellent Spanish chardonnay (confession: I didn't even know they made chardonnay in Spain) was a pleasant offering on another. An Italian Gavi de Gavi, many U.S. reds and whites, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, rich French reds, and German Piesporter -- all of these and more were liberally served up over the course of the 10 days at lunch and dinner and, presumably, would have been available at the breakfast table had we asked. (We didn't!)
Caveat: You may be required to pay for wine on Silver Shadow if you wish to deviate from the tipple being served on any given evening, or if you wish to upgrade. If, for instance, your palate will tolerate nothing but a deep red, fruit and spice-scented 1994 Napa Valley Dominus Estate, it will cost you $230 a bottle. A French Richebourg Grand Cru Cote de Nuits, 1999 vintage, goes for $600 a bottle and a 1998 Opus One by Robert Mondavi will show up as a $120 charge on your cruise bill. All of these wines, and dozens of others, were to found on what Silversea calls -- for obvious reasons -- its Epicurean Wine List. But, for most people, the wines served from the complimentary list were more than adequate.
Room service is available 24 hours a day. Whenever possible (the hour of the day clearly has a bearing on this) the ship's staff tries to provide food choices as close as possible to those on the menu of the main dining room.
The lobby of the Silver Shadow, on Deck 5, is an attractive first sight of the ship, with light wood paneling accented by darker wood handrails leading to and, up, a handsome spiral staircase. In the lobby and, indeed, throughout the ship, the beige and grey walls and carpeting give the ship a warm feel. Stone flooring at entryways to various open areas and the judicious use of stainless steel in some public room fixtures add to the ambiance of the ship.
The Restaurant (Deck 4) has a central core of a couple of dozen tables of various sizes with the remainder strategically placed outside this core with most of those against, or close to, windows -- a highly desirable location given the splendor of the islands and wildlife of the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage. The relative compactness of the room (when compared with the massive dining facilities on today's mega ships) means shorter distances for waiters bringing food from the galley and dishes on the Silver Shadow that are meant to be hot invariably are.
The ship's attractive two-level Athenian Show Lounge allows up to 358 people to enjoy the lectures and evening entertainment in comfort and with generally good sightlines. The facility is rather (and necessarily) small -- the ship after all only weighs less than 30,000 tons and carries only 382 guests -- and does not permit the entertainment staff, however energetic and talented they might be, to produce particularly lavish presentations.
There is a cigar bar on board, The Humidor, and two main lounges, the Panorama Lounge and the Observation Lounge. The former is aft on Deck 9 and the latter forward on Deck 10. Both are inviting, but seemingly underused, rooms. The main pre- and post-dinner action was in The Bar (do you think they pay somebody to think up these names?) which was jumping from 6 or so until around 8:30 p.m. by which time most people had gone to dinner. A small combo entertained, or a tape played throughout, and a steady stream of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres was served until the bulk of the guests had departed. A computer center and well-stocked library (open 24 hours a day and operated on the honor system) are located on Deck 8, by the Panorama Lounge.
One major disappointment, it must be admitted, was Silver Shadow's casino. The three tables (craps, blackjack and roulette) were fine. But the slot machine set up was not up to par with the other facilities on the ship. Crammed into two claustrophobically small alcoves (there's no other way to characterize them) were a couple of dozen machines. If anybody was sitting at one near the entrance to the alcove, it was very difficult to get past him or her to claim a place at one of the others. And the equipment seemed not to be in especially good shape. Two of the machines on one side were blank for the whole 10 days of the cruise and at least two others refused to accept dollar bills of any denomination, despite the fact that they were clearly built to do so. That required players to feed quarters in by hand -- a tiresome chore when you're playing $20 or $30 at a time.
The non-functioning machines can almost certainly be revived with the help of a technician; the tightness of the space equally certainly cannot. Although the casino slot machines are obviously considered a profit center, Silversea should think in terms of eliminating six or eight of them in order to open the alcoves up somewhat and facilitate easier entry and exit for passengers.
This is an all-suite ship. And how! The smallest, the Vista Suites, of which there are 32 on Decks 4 and 5, measure an ample 287 square ft. From there they range in size, starting with the Verandah Suites (the majority of the ship's passenger accommodations on Decks 5, 6, 7, and 8) at 345 square ft. The Medallion Suites (521 square ft.), Silver Suites (701 square ft.), Royal Suites (one at 1,312 square ft., another at 1,352 square ft.) and the Grand Suites (one at 1,409 square ft., another at 1,435 square ft.) round out as impressive an array of accommodations as can be found at sea.
All but a handful of the units have balconies, although in some instances -- eight of the Vista Suites, for instance -- passengers share a common, narrow and unfurnished balcony. Suites 535 and 537, on Deck 5, are handicap accessible.
All of the rooms have walk-in closets, a sitting area with writing desk (and personalized stationery waiting arriving guests: "From the Suite of ..."), a dressing table with hair dryer and good lighting (a touch much appreciated by the ladies onboard), double basin vanity in Italian marble, full bathtub and separate shower, refrigerator (stocked with a bottle of wine, some beer and some soft drinks), an entertainment center with satellite-ready television and VCR unit (ship's library has a supply of tapes for viewing), and a safe. The bathroom amenities are by Bvlgari with Frette Italian linens. We found the towels -- thick and ribbed -- to be a little less absorbent than I would have wished.
The beds are convertible twin-to-queen size, with firm (but not too firm) mattresses and down pillows. Fresh fruit and flowers are always on the coffee table.
As mentioned above, the size of the Athenian Show Lounge does not permit overly ambitious, Broadway-style presentations. But the entertainment on most evenings -- by the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company, a popular ensemble on many cruise ships -- made up in enthusiasm and effort for any space-dictated deficiencies. The same room was used during the day for lectures on the history, culture and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of Alaska.
The entertainment hit of the cruise, though, was a talented flautist named Bettine Clemen whose credits include appearances in such prestigious international facilities as the Royal Albert Hall in London and New York's Lincoln Center. Her unusual performance transcends the simple playing of the flute. Her concerts included musical genres as diverse as jazz and pop, illustrated on screen by stunning pictures of animals (from camels to penguins) from the Middle East, South America, China, Sri Lanka, Russia and, of course, Alaska. It is not easy to describe the connection in words but, believe me, it works.
Hint: Pay special attention to the timing of the evening shows. In order to accommodate all passengers -- some of whom like to eat early, some late -- the entertainment might start one evening at, say 6:15 p.m. as a pre-dinner diversion and the next at 10:15 p.m. to allow even the latest of late eaters to attend.
There were the usual shipboard entertainment staples, such as the Liars' Club (with the cruise staff mostly lying their heads off while guests tried to decide which one is actually telling the truth), team trivia every afternoon in the Observation Lounge, and classes in bridge, backgammon, needlepoint and more.
On a recent Silver Shadow cruise to Alaska, entertainment ashore -- namely, excursions -- ranged from the fairly basic (Wrangell Highlights, a coach tour costing $37 per person) to the somewhat more exotic (Haines by Classic Car, $52 per person). The ship's most expensive excursion was a four-hour bear watching adventure out of Prince Rupert that sold for $350 per person and involved a float plane trip over the Coast Mountain Range to the waters of Khutzeymateen Inlet. The shore excursion brochure does not feature a large number of super-active outings, being light on hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, white water rafting and such, primarily a reflection of its more mature passenger base.
The only difference between the Silver Shadow and its two predecessors, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, is its size. The line's reputation for quality and service, established with those two (which debuted in the mid 1990's), is carried on here. In shape and configuration the Silver Shadow (and its twin, Silver Whisper) is simply a bigger (by about 7,000 tons) and newer version of the first two.
Built under a cooperative agreement by two Italian shipyards (the hull was constructed at the Visentini yard near Trieste; final outfitting was done at the T. Mariotti yard in Genoa) the ship is an all-suite, all-inclusive, all-frills vessel, which carried its first guests in September 2000.
Its suites are bigger than the industry norm -- about as big, in fact, as you would expect from a ship with the Silversea logo on its stack. The ship's overall passenger space ratio -- an esoteric measurement to the layperson -- is a whopping 74. That's arrived at by dividing a vessel's gross tonnage (which, incidentally, is the volume measurement of its interior space, not literally its weight) by the lower-berth passenger capacity. That may seem complicated but, believe me: A passenger space ratio of 74 is HUGE! Its passenger to crew ratio isn't too shabby, either. Just fewer than 300 crew members means that there is one to every 1.3 passengers.
All in all, there's not much that can be said against the Silver Shadow. It was built and designed to cater to the carriage trade -- those who are rich and proud of it. And it does. If this ship were a movie, the appropriate star would be Jack Nicholson. And the title of the movie? "As Good As It Gets."
The Silver Shadow is not built to cater to very young people. There were half a dozen kids who appeared to be in the 14- or15-year-old range who always seemed to be enjoying themselves, but the facilities designed specifically for them were limited. There was a Ping-Pong table and not much else. There is no formal kids program.
There were a number of youngish passengers -- maybe in their mid-40's. But, generally, the group was way north of 60 and one couple admitted to "coming up to 80." Silver Shadow guests tend to be well traveled, loyal to Silversea and well heeled. It was an international group. A Belgian couple traveled with their 14-year-old daughter. An Australian pair was approaching the end of a round-the world vacation which had seen them travel by plane, motor coach, train, and, now, before their return to Melbourne, cruise ship. British accents were everywhere, one of them belonging to a 70-something gentleman with a peculiar habit: On formal evenings he dressed in a tuxedo with all the trimmings, patent leather shoes -- and no socks. At first I thought maybe he had a skin problem that prevented him for wearing socks ... ever. But no -- by day, or on non-formal nights, his feet were always conventionally covered.
One guest who always seemed to draw a crowd before dinner appeared from a distance to be a spellbinder. I thought it was fitting when I found that he was a mid-Atlantic states attorney holding court in The Bar!
There were two formal nights during the 10-day voyage, requiring tuxedo or dark business suit for men -- usually with socks. As is generally the case, though, there were men even on those evenings who wore slacks and jackets whose only nod to formality was to wear a tie. The rest of the time, the dress code called for semi-formal (jacket, please ... tie not required) or casual (slacks and sports shirt acceptable).
None are required and none are expected. Silversea crews are paid above the industry average and seem content with that. Some guests choose to tip maitre d's and other dining room decision makers, it's true. A word to the wise here: If you're going to do that, do it early in the cruise rather than at the end! As proof of the crew's commitment to the Silversea no-tipping policy I offer this. I tried to reward my cabin attendant with a small gratuity for having exchanged the beer in my fridge for another brand. She politely declined, noting refreshingly, "It's my job to make sure you have the right kind of beer in your room."
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Silver Shadow cannot, under any circumstances, be considered a high-energy, fitness-oriented ship. Its passengers -- especially in Alaska -- tend to be older and perhaps a little more sedentary than on some other vessels in the market. But there are a number of opportunities for keep-fit buffs. Swimmers can tone their bodies by using the outdoor heated pool on Deck 8, forward of the Panorama Lounge.
The fitness center proper, on Deck 10, is small but has some interesting features, not least being an aquaswim pool, which allows guests essentially to swim against the tide -- a great exercise for keeping (or getting) fit. Its weight and cycle equipment are fairly standard fare, but effective for those who want to keep in shape. There is a small track nearby for jogging or walking.
The Mandara Spa, also on Deck 10, offers every conceivable treatment and instruction imaginable, from simple pedicure/manicure to Indian scalp massage, a method said to date back four millennia by which (according to the spa staff) "physical and emotional toxins" can be flushed out of the system. Some of the names of the massage treatments were most appealing, although it would have taken another two weeks or so at sea to try them all. It takes two therapists working in unison on different parts of the body, for instance, to provide what Mandara calls "The Ultimate Indulgence." "Heaven and Earth" is a massage of the scalp and face, hands and feet. One of the most exotic sounding was called "Balinese Bliss for Two," a his-and-hers session with a massage therapist. Enjoy it with someone you love.
While there is no hard sales pitch, per se, guests in Silver Shadow's luxurious spa may purchase any of the Elemis lotions, gels and other items used in treatments at the facility. A Rehydrating Rose Petal Cleanser, for example, costs $43; a Cooling Eye Gel will set you back $19. In total, about 125 items are available for purchase.
A golf net up top was open 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and James Harris, a PGA-approved coach, conducted group lessons in the finer arts of the Royal & Ancient game.
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