Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Industry Legend, Patricia Riley, Guest Blogs for Goldring Travel - Paris and Portugal on AmaWaterways' AmaVida

I am both thrilled and humbled to have my mentor, Patricia Riley, guest blogging for Goldring Travel.  



Pat Riley is truly and industry legend and, although just retired from AmaWaterways, will forever be known for her time as the Regional Sales Manager for The Yachts of Seabourn.  Pat taught me "everything Seabourn", how to "sell" luxury cruises, how to properly treat luxury cruise clients, how to advance within the cruise industry and much more.  She even got me interested in river cruising!

Over the past decade, since I heard Pat  speak about Seabourn at a Cunard function (back when Seabourn and Cunard were somewhat interrelated)...and she actually called me when I gave her my business card...we have become great friends.  But we have very different ways of looking at travel and what gets us excited about it.  Pat, for example, loves public transportation and theatre but isn't quite as impressed with some of the cuisine and wine I enjoy.  Pat and nature?  Not so much.  Taking the subway or taking in a show aren't high on my list of fun things to do, which Pat can't understand. But the contrasts in perspectives is great and we both hope will be of interest to you.

So with that introduction, Patricia "Pat" Riley begins her first - of several scheduled - article. Enjoy!

I am so thrilled that my friend and former client, Eric Goldring has given me this opportunity to blog about my adventures.  This is my first blog in what will hopefully be many.  My adventure this time started with a 4 night stay in Paris at the Marriott Rive Gauche.  As so many of Eric's readers have been to Paris I will be doing some posts about what to do when you pay a  3rd 4th or more visit to Paris. 

I am a firm believer in the saying that the my British friends have which is "Keep Calm and Carry On".  That is nowhere more appropriately followed then when traveling. 

I am currently on the beautiful AmaVida, docked in Porto, Portugal.  Getting here certainly wasn't half the fun.  More on that later.  Now I am going to concentrate on my home for the next 7 nights.



The AmaVida is small, even by riverboat standards.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  The boat should fit the river and the Douro River is small by European standards.  Also, the ports visited are not the big cities or even large towns that are visited on most other river cruises.  For example, its not unusual to see 8 or more ships docked behind each other in Budapest.  That's not a problem as there are plenty of docking spaces and Budapest is a big city.  To have that type of presence in the Douro Valley would be a disservice to the villages and towns that are visited.  It would be overwhelming.  With that in mind, a small ship such as the AmaVida, with only 106 guests is a perfect size.  A brand new ship, launched at the end of March 2013, what she lacks in size she more than makes up for in the cabins and in the amenities.

Check-in was incredibly easy.  I arrived at the pier at 4:00 pm and was in my room at 4:05 and that included my asking questions!   Reception took my passport and traded it for my room key.  They didn't even need a credit card imprint.  Its an all Portuguese staff and their English is perfect.

I'm on the top passenger deck, but as the ship is very easy to get around it really doesn't matter where you are.  You are no more than a slight stroll down a hallway to get to the center of the ship and the open deck.

I am now sitting in the lovely and very homey lounge making good use of the free WiFi.  I have been advised that I may not be able to post daily due to problems with reception.  We will be cruising past some very steep mountain which block the signal.  If you don't hear from me for a few days, don't worry, I'm probably just sipping some local wine, while waiting for the signal to return.  Not a bad way to while away the hours.

The ship's staterooms are decorated with browns, golds, oranges and are very elegant and modern at the same time.  I am very impressed that a bathroom on a river boat, which are known for being small, has a separate toilet area which actually makes the bathroom larger then the one I have at home!  The bed can be pushed together or separated.

AmaVida's Stateroom 215
AmaVida's Stateroom 215- View from Balcony

and there is a large flat screen TV hanging on the wall.  (Lots of choices for entertainment but I don't think Ill have time for TV or movie viewing.  If Porto is any indication, there will be too much beautiful scenery to see!)


I also plan on spending a lot of time on my balcony, which has two chairs and a table.  I can imagine me sipping a glass of local wine (did I say that again!) reading a book and watching the world go by.  Not too much time should be spent there though.  As I always tell people, unlike ocean cruising where you see water on both sides, you can have a great view from your balcony but what are you missing on the other side. 

I already spied a place to sit on the sun deck.  The sun deck is fitted out with heavy deck furniture and big, thick, cushions.  There is an area that is completely covered and judging by the crystal blue sky here I am going to need the shade.  Its not a long walk to the swimming pool though if I need to cool off.  

There is also Al Fresco dining.  I intend to partake in that and report back.  Dinner tonight is at 7:00 pm and immediately follows our "Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party"  which follows our Safety Drill.  Our cruise manager, Cristina, will give everybody the low down on what we are about to experience for the next seven days.  So, please excuse me while I freshen up for the Welcome Aboard.

I'm looking forward to this adventure and will hopefully have lots of pictures.

Of course, if you are interested in information on the AmaWaterways AmaVida please give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Silversea Cruises - The Silver Shadow Failed the CDC Inspection Because V.Ships Failed! Who is V.Ships?

Silversea Cruises' biggest problem is not its failure of the Silver Shadow's Centers for Disease Control inspection, but V.Ships.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, V.Ships is an independent management company that both yachts and cruise lines hire to manage various aspects of their staffing and/or ship management.  This can be stewardesses or ship's officers, provisioning or engine maintenance, etc.  You can read about V.Ships on its website.

In my prior article Aspirations in Luxury Cruising - Is Losing Staff a Good Thing? I wrote the following:

And then there was the head of VShips, a company that manages the crews, staff, hotel services, etc. and/or maintenance of all sorts of ships; including some cruise ships. Its representative made some very interesting, and for me troubling, comments about staffing on cruise ships. He extolled the virtues of Filipino staff because they are loyal and believe there is real value in their jobs. And he claimed that Chinese see a cruise ship job as a life's career. Meanwhile he asserted that it made no sense to hire staff that want to work for a couple of years and then open a restaurant or go to work in a hotel or something else.

Hearing that I said to myself, "Huh?"


Silversea made the decision in 2008 - back in the days of Marilyn Conroy (the wife of Mark Conroy, formerly of Regent Seven Seas) - to change from European staffing to Filipino staffing.  As I wrote in
Silversea - A Call from the Captain!:

[A]ccording to Ms. Conroy the change from European to Filipino staff was done, in part, because some of the European staff were not as friendly as they might have been. However, the training of the Filipino staff was not instantaneous and there was a significant learning curve. Personally, I am not buying this one. While there are definite cultural differences between Filipinos and Europeans (and many cultural differences between Europeans!) this all comes down to training, training and training (as well has happy staff). I have had wonderful Filipino staff on Celebrity and outstanding European staff on Seabourn. It can be done regardless of culture...even though the styles may be different as a result of those cultures. I also remain convinced that the change was, in the other part, a cost savings measure.

And so here Silversea is with is staffing literally controlled by V.Ships whose motivation is personally to profit by providing the most low cost and less prone to turnover staff that is trained far less than it needs to be. How do I know this? In June I spent a week on the Silver Shadow impressed by many aspects of Silversea, but utterly baffled by the poor training of some of its staff not only from a service standpoint, but from a hygienic one as well.  I don't need to repeat the specifics here, but you can read about my experiences in my seven part review of my time on the Silver Shadow in the Goldring Travel Cruise Reviews section of my website.

This is where it can be a bit complicated, but follow me on this:  Since V.Ships virtually controls the staffing there is actually very little that the officers and Silversea Cruises management can do to rectify problems because the staff essentially works for V.Ships; not Silversea Cruises!  

Let's layer this on top of the cultural issues which V.Ships has added to the mix.  The Filipino culture is one that is more group oriented, where conformance is seen as a virtue and "bucking the system" is essentially unheard of (and, in fact, such conduct can bring shame to the group).  So, if the group is not properly trained from the outset there is going to be a systemic degradation of the quality as staff is added because there has never been a proper baseline of standards implemented.  (The Filipino staff on Celebrity Cruises, on the other hand, have a group focused Celebrity's success through the instilling of high standards through extensive training and a culture of exceeding expectations; rather than third-party V.Ships's bottom line.) 

Now let's add the complacency of a group of people that have absolutely no desire to move on to other jobs or to outshine the others in their group and you have, at best, an inability for things to improve and, more likely, as it is a human condition: a recipe for standards to slip...because there is no motivation for the standards to remain where they started or, more troubling, to improve.

Not being done, let's now add a "superior" whether it be a poorly trained or improperly motivated Executive Chef or Sous Chef possibly wanting to save their jobs...which they know they have been poorly performing in (as I noted, observed and wrote about!) and the subservient, group-orientated, non-system bucking, poorly trained staff does what it is told to do:  Hide known violations of health requirements in the hallways and cabins, take short-cuts, fail to maintain galley equipment as it should be, etc. (Can you imagine staff saying, "I am not putting raw meat under my bed!"  I can, as an American, but not as someone culturally trained not to challenge the boss and fearful of loosing my job.)

What is remarkable to me is that Silversea Cruises was compelled to hire an "external sanitation consultant". That should never be necessary as the requirements for appropriate sanitation are quite clear and there are how many cruise ships that meet or exceed these standards on a daily basis (including, I might add, other Silversea ships!).  Properly trained and motivated Executive Chefs and Hotel Managers should be all that is needed. 

But the one that shocks me the most (not really) is the statement by Enzo Visone, the CEO of Silversea Cruises, that Silversea has introduced an anonymous call system where any member of staff can report failings of procedures to senior managers without fear of reprisals.  Let's go back to the beginning of this article about the Filipino cultural group sociology.  Tell me:  Who is going to make that call Why would there be fear of reprisals?

Have I lost faith in Silversea Cruises as a luxury cruise option?  No.

Do I think Silversea will be just a bit better after this fiasco?  Yes.

But I also believe what Silversea is doing is but a band-aid on a problem that was created back in 2008 when it accepted V.Ships' approach of less-expensive, woefully under-trained, staff that culturally complies with whatever they are told and have no motivation to report problems for fear of being rejected by their group.

The solution is simple:  Silversea must fire V.Ships and take back control of its  luxury cruise line.

By the way, Seabourn dabbled with V.Ships and terminated them.  Regent Seven Seas uses V.Ships and, in fact, sued (albeit unsuccessfully) for its failure to maintain its ships.

In closing, I do not find Silversea Cruises without fault. It must correct the situation far beyond complying with the CDC requirements.  But we must be sure not to "throw the baby out with the bath water".  Silversea has been very slow in reacting and far less than forthcoming on the publicity side of things.  I don't run the company, but I can tell you I would be opening up all of its ships to full, very public, inspections to assure its well-heeled and high price paying guests that it is truly a luxury line providing a true luxury experience.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Silversea Silver Shadow Fails CDC Sanitary Inspection - Some Information and Thoughts

The news of the Silversea Silver Shadow failing a CDC inspection was not totally unexpected.  I have waited commenting until I read the Centers for Disease Control report because first hand information is far more reliable.

There is a law firm that spends much of its time going after cruise lines - with very mixed results - that even has an app to "assist" you should you have an issue onboard a cruise ship.  I am not sure that there is any legitimate reason for this law firm to be publishing this information (draw your own conclusions!), but it is probable that without its publicity this situation would not be as widely known...and it should be.  But until I read the CDC report I took the law firm's comments with a grain of salt.

I also want to caution you that a bad report on one ship may well have nothing to do with another ship operating with the same cruise line.  Read on and you will see what I mean.

Note:  I had mentioned in my recent reviews of the Silver Shadow that I was not terribly impressed with the food preparation and, honestly, found some of the actions by staff…including hygiene…to be totally unacceptable.  One example I gave was a bar waiter taking dirty pool towels and then serving drinks, while another was a waiter taking dirty plates from one table to another.  To be sure, those sorts of issues are not aberrations, but signs of systemic poor training and practices.

While onboard the Silver Shadow I observed a number of things in the galley that were not "wrong", but which were not "right" either.  While not apologizing, I must state that my reviews of any ship or cruise line are not to pick them apart, but to give an overall sense of the ship or line.  And while Silversea does much well, clearly there are things that - at least on the Silver Shadow - needs to be done better.

Now having read the Centers for Disease Control published its report today.  There were many violations that were technical (such as not enough light or a dirty condenser grate or the existence of a single fruit fly) and others that were clear signs of a lazy, uninspired, crew ("Why fix it?" mentality).

I thought I would reference some of the most disturbing violations:

Photo from the mentioned law firm's website which has not been verified.
Note the storage of raw fish, cured meats and pastries along with utensils in the same place; not to mention the failure to wrap or cover most of the items.
Violation: An organized effort was made to physically remove over 15 full trolleys of dry foods, spices, canned foods, cooked foods, milk, raw meats, pasteurized eggs, cheeses of all types, baking goods, raw fruits, raw vegetables, and a variety of both hand held and counter model food equipment, pans, dishware and utensils to over 10 individual cabins shared by two or three galley crew members in order to avoid inspection by VSP staff. All the out of temperature potentially hazardous foods were discarded along with most other foods that were not canned or in original containers. The lead VSP inspector poured concentrated chlorine liquid over all the discarded foods as they were dumped into garbage bags to ensure they would not be used again.  

I am at a loss as to how this could have been done without the knowledge and cooperation (or incompetence) of both the Executive Chef and the Hotel Manager.

Violation: There were errors in the cooling process as recorded in the cooling log for potentially hazardous foods found in the walk-in refrigerator. In the initial cooling of tomato sauce, lentil soup, risotto and duck ragout the starting temperature recorded was 110 °F, 120 °F, 100 °F, and 100 °F respectively. It was not clear how long these foods were below the minimum135 °F prior to the start of cooling. In the case of the lentil soup the two hour temperature after cooling was 76 °F and instead of either discarding the food or re-heating to 165 °F the staff continued cooling to the 41 °F point. The small pan of lentil soup in the walk-in refrigerator was discarded. 

You will recall I had commented that we found the food in La Terraza to not be very good in most instances. 

Site: Other-Galley Crew Cabins
Violation: The food temperatures of just some of the many potentially hazardous foods stored in the crew cabins included: numerous cheeses from 50-68 °F, sliced and full pieces of deli meats from 58-63 °F, and raw pork at 47 °F.

Violation: A variety of packaged, unpackaged, covered, uncovered, raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods were found stored on the deck, under and on beds of the galley crew cabins from 302 to 326. 

I am at a loss to find anyway to minimize or justify these intentional acts to avoid being caught out.

The Silversea Silver Whisper, the Silver Shadow's sistership, was inspected a month earlier in May 2013 and received a CDC score of 94.  There were a few misses, mostly dust or broken gauges (but the correct temperatures were present) and some yogurt stored at 46 degrees rather than 41 degrees.

OK, so what does this mean to you if you are considering a Silversea cruise?  It means that you need to look at your options, but also remember that many cruise lines have failed inspections and then corrected the problems.  Silversea corrected many of the problems "on the spot", the crew and staff underwent two days of retraining back in June and the various other items have been corrected or are about to be (like revising the menus to put an asterisk by the two missed items regarding undercooked food).

Clearly, as I said, there were training issues on the Silver Shadow.  And I am confident that the training issues are being addressed...and not simply by having two days of training.  V Ships runs Silversea's staffing operation and I have never liked its approach of cheaper labor with insufficient training.  In fact, in March I wrote an article on this very subject:  Aspirations in Luxury Cruising - Is Losing Staff a Good Thing? Maybe Silversea will use this opportunity to see a wake-up call is in order.

What do you think?  Give you opinion at The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Announces a New Ship - Seven Seas Explorer

Regent Seven Seas Cruises announced today that it has signed a contract to build the Seven Seas Explorer:  a new all suite- all balcony 738 guest 54,000 gross ton ship. 
It will be the largest of the Regent ships, dwarfing its 708 guest/48,000 ton Seven Seas Mariner and 708 guest/41,800 ton Seven Seas Voyager (as well as Regent's third ship, the Seven Seas Navigator at 490 guests/28,000 tons).  Note:  These are lower berth figures, so the Seven Seas Explorer's total capacity, including third and fourth berths, will be nearly 800 guests.

According to the Regent Seven Seas press releases, it will increase its capacity by 40% while providing its guests with the highest passenger to space ratio in the cruise industry.  It will also, according to Regent, make it the largest luxury cruise line in the industry.

Bigger Does Not Equal Better - The Devil Is In The Details!

I must pause at this point and ask, "Why is being the "largest" luxury cruise line a good thing?"  In this market I would think having the best service, the best culinary experience (not options), the best in-suite accommodations, etc. would be the superlatives being emphasized.  As least to me and my clients intimacy is a more important feature. 

Along those lines Regent Seven Sea's announcement hedges it's bets by claiming it will have "one of the highest space ratios and staff-to-guest ratios ever seen in the modern era of cruising".  Its present ships have approximately a 1.6:1 ratio (1.6 guests for each staff member), while Seabourn Cruises have a 1.3:1 ratio, Silversea Cruises has a 1.3 or 1.4: 1 ratio and SeaDream Yacht Club has a 1.1:1 ratio.  This is a very significant 30% difference and there is nothing in the press releases to suggest a change from Regent Seven Seas having the worst staff to guest ratio in the luxury cruise industry. 

If you think I am exaggerating this point, consider the Celebrity Cruises Millennium-class ships.  they have a 1.9:1 guest to staff ratio...which is far more comparable to Regent Seven Seas than Regent is to Seabourn, Silversea or SeaDream!  In fact, Regent's sister company, Oceania Cruises, has better guest to staff ratios of 1.5 or 1.7:1.

Am I being a bit harsh?  I don't think so.  If you are going to assert you are a luxury cruise line with superlatives about your staffing levels, you better be able to support them. My clients are going to know what they are getting as I will never allow slick marketing to get in the way of assuring they receive the best cruise experience.

Some More Details of the Ship

While details are quite limited and not even a profile of the ship is available, the ship will have 369 suites ranging in size from 300 square feet to 1,000 square feet, six open-seating restaurants, a large Canyon Ranch SpaClub, as well as an array of "ultra-elegant" public spaces.  A "museum quality, eclectic" art collection will also be provided.

The size of the ship most definitely puts it in the large ship category for the luxury category; with a length of 732 feet and a beam of 102 feet, making it 44 feet shorter than its sister-company, Oceania Cruises' Marina.

For comparison's sake the Crystal Symphony is 51,000 tons spanning 777 feet in length with a beam of 98 feet.  What this means to me is lots of decks as it is fitting 6% more space - 3,000 more tons (which is actually a measure of volume) in 6% less length than the Crystal Cruises ship while providing significantly more space and options than the current Regent fleet.

And Now:  The Questions!

The skeptic in me has another question:  Why is the delivery date to be in the Summer of 2016? 

It does not take three years to build a cruise ship.  With today's technologies a new cruise ship can be delivered in approximately 18 months.

I have two conjectures...and they are conjectures: 

Regent Seven Seas has been planning on making an Initial Public Offering (IPO) to become a separate public company.  With its heretofore newest ship being a decade old and there being virtually no upside growth potential other than cost cutting/higher fares, a new ship would be more than necessary to make an IPO a viable (and potentially profitable) option.  (You can read my articles on Regent's overall poor financial performance over the past two years by searching my blog.

Regent Seven Seas is planning on ridding itself of its ugly duckling, the Seven Seas Navigator.  This has been a problematic ship, with curious public spaces, significant vibration issues and a terrible maintenance record since Radisson Seven Seas purchased the abandoned Russian spy ship hull.  I know that Regent, even before Apollo Management came in, wanted to rid itself of this albatross.  The problem has been two-fold:  Nobody else wants this problem child and there was not enough money or financing available to purchase a replacement ship.

I don't know if either - or both - are actually on the table, but neither would be shocker to me.

Final Thoughts

If this was a premium cruise line making a similar announcement I would be hugely enthusiastic.  However, I see this as an effort by Regent Seven Seas to continue the "dumbing down" and the dilution of the luxury cruise market.

While Regent Seven Seas desperately needs a new ship (and to get rid of the Navigator), expanding the premium market with luxury hype in order to continue to market a lesser product at the highest rates in the industry is not something I will ever support.

When Regent Seven Seas provide some real details as to what makes its new ship special I will gladly write about it - objectively.  Unfortunately, what I see so far is nothing to crow about...and most certainly nothing that I am anxiously going to be waiting for...over the next 1/3 decade!

 Do you have any thoughts?  Let's discuss them on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum!



Monday, July 8, 2013

Seabourn Spa Penthouse Suites - A Healthy Combination of Luxury

What could be more luxurious than a cruise filled with exotic ports, fine cuisine, extraordinary service and one of the best spas at sea?  Indulging in all of that in a specially prepared Seabourn Spa Penthouse with a sweeping view off the stern of the Seabourn Quest (and soon to be Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn).

Seabourn Quest's Spa Penthouse
There are only four of these Penthouse Suites and they are integrated right into the Seabourn Spa, accessed only through a spiral staircase within the Spa.

Seabourn Quest's Spa Penthouse Bath with Large Walk-In Shower
While the idea is for these suites is to have a wellness experience with a second in-suite bar stocked with flavored water and fruit juices, and a selection of mixed nuts, dried fruits and healthy snacks your suite will still have the other in-suite bar stocked with your other preferences (including your choice of spirits and beer).

In addition to the custom blended Molton Brown bath amenities, if you like you may have one of four
L’Occitane fragrances diffused throughout the suite during the evening turndown and soothing spa music as a background soundtrack in the suite.  Or, if you like, you can have the expansive doors opened wide so you can enjoy the smell of the open ocean  and the sounds of the ship's wake...drinking a gin and tonic or scotch.

By the way, there is no need for special spa menus.  This is Seabourn!  Spa cuisine is always available...including special orders.

Possibly, a couple with different ideas of luxury just might be able to fulfill both of their desires in one Seabourn Spa Penthouse Suite.

Interested?  Email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or call Goldring Travel at (877) 2GO-LUXURY.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Goldring Travel's Review of Silversea Silver Shadow (With Comparisons to the Seabourn Odyssey-Class Ships)

This review is a summary of my seven part series of my time on the Silversea Silver Shadow May 30, 2013 cruise in Alaska as well as a bit of a comparison of the Silversea product on the Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper to the product Seabourn has on its Odyssey-class ships (Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest) with some comments about Crystal Cruises as well. 

Full Disclosure:  I did not pay full price for this cruise.  Silversea Cruises was a more than a gracious  host, but knew going in that my comments would be my honest opinion.  That is exactly what I am giving you!  As Pamela Conover, CEO of SeaDream Yacht Club and former President of Seabourn Cruises once introduced me, "I would like you to meet Eric Goldring.  Eric can be brutally honest.  Eric, please just be honest."


Short version:  I was very impressed with most aspects of my cruise and that Silversea truly excelled in many areas.  However, there was, in all honestly, some inconsistency in certain areas of the service and cuisine.  

Bottom line:  My overall cruise experience was a luxury one which very few cruise lines can complete with, but alas there is competition and room for improvement.  For an Alaska cruise it is "the" luxury option.

Embarkation

Embarkation was excellent with the processing taking only moments.  The only curious thing was providing a fifth of glass champagne as a welcome.  It was a “huh?” rather than a “Wow!”  First impressions mean a lot and for an experienced luxury traveler that jumped out…and not in a good way.

The Suite

While the Silver Shadow is not a new ship, our suite was in suburb condition with all of the amenities one would expect.  

Silversea Silver Shadow Veranda Suite

Silversea Silver Shadow Veranda Suite
The flat screen television sticks out into the room a bit (the entertainment system needs a serious upgrade as, for example, there is an old fashioned movie schedule and no “on demand” viewing – relying on DVDs instead).  The sofa is comfortable, but too small for a nap and getting past the bed when my wife was sitting at the vanity was a challenge.  Dining in suite was great, the bed was comfortable and the walk-in closet worked well and there was plenty of storage.  The balconies are small, with two chairs and only a small low cocktail table. 

Seabourn Sojourn Veranda Suite
In contrast, the Seabourn suites have a larger “nap-able” sofa, a large balcony which allows both lounging and a full table (so working and dining on the balcony are options), the vanity is near the bathroom so there is no conflict with moving around the suite and the television, while smaller, is tucked away when not in use, is not a head knocking invitation, and has a truly robust “on demand” movie system. 

Note, however, that the Silver Shadow and Whisper are not as new as the Seabourn ships and many of these differences are because of the evolution of cruise ship design; not a fault of Silversea.  By way of example, Silversea announced on June 25, 2013 that it is installing a wireless “on demand” movie system where you can watch movies on any portable device (like an iPad) on all of its ships. Pretty cool!

The Bathroom/En-Suite
Silversea Silver Shadow Bathroom
The Silver Shadow’s bathroom is well-laid out with two lavatories, full bath and shower.  There is plenty of granite, except the shower (curiously a plastic composite).  Quickly replenished Bulgari amenities (or Ferragamo if you prefer) are provided.  The towels were both large and plush enough. The shower has a single detachable showerhead.  While not cramped, I find the toilet being on an angle so that it fits between the lavatory and the shower not to my liking.

Seabourn Odyssey Bathroom
Seabourn’s bathrooms are actually quite similar, but larger.  Seabourn’s shower is all granite and has two showerheads; one fixed and one removable.  Because it is larger, the bathtub is fully open rather than partially tucked in behind the lavatory (opposite the toilet) and the area around the toilet is significantly larger.  You also have more space around the sinks.  Seabourn offers specially formulated Molton Brown amenities with additional designer soaps.

In Suite Service

Our butler was polished, polite and wanted to do as much for us as possible.  Whether it was unpacking or packing us (we declined both), stocking our in-suite bar, making dinner reservations (we did that ourselves as well) or bringing us tea and scones, Yogesh was quietly enthusiastic about it.  He properly set our table for breakfast when we ordered room service and provided quite elegant service including preparing out tea/coffee and cereal.  Our stewardess kept our suite tidy without rearranging my papers and always greeted us with a smile…when she caught us in.  Other niceties were “welcome back” messages left on a mirror in our suite and a rose petal bubble bath one afternoon.

Silversea provides a few special touches such as shining your shoes and polishing your sunglasses; which is very popular (though it can initially have a “what else of my stuff is Silversea going through).

Honestly, the butler-thing is something you either love or doesn’t make a difference.  For me it doesn’t make a difference.  On Seabourn you receive effectively the same service, but with a different style as there are no butlers with the tasks are shared by your stewardess and room service.  In essence on Seabourn you form more of a relationship with your stewardess and on Silversea you form it with your butler.

Shore Excursions

Another Silversea strength is its Shore Excursion program (at least that was my experience in Alaska).  There was a wide variety of extremely well priced excursions including quite a number for the more youthful of us.  Our three excursions were a natural walk (with only four guests), zip-lining (with only seven guests) and a 4+ mile rainforest hike (with only ten guests).  All were good, but the zip-lining experience was excellent and it, along with the rainforest hike, were not expected on a luxury line supposedly catering to an older clientele.


Seabourn used to have a similar shore excursion approach, but since the move to Seattle it really has been a sore spot with me.  While many tours are quite good, there is sense that the folks arranging them do not have the same luxury or firsthand knowledge experience that Silversea has.

Enrichment Programs

One big miss for Silversea, in my opinion, was the lack of a naturalist onboard for an Alaskan cruise.  As a nature lover I have always found that understanding what you are about to look at, or are presently looking at, is far more enriching than having a few written generic sentences offered.  Having experiences Terry Breen on a similar Regent Seven Seas cruise a few years ago, there is no question that it “enriched” everyone’s experience. 

Along those lines, the Silversea enrichment lecturers that were onboard were not great; really not offering anything associated with our Alaskan experience.  Guests are onboard an Alaska cruise generally for one of two reasons:  It is a short, relatively inexpensive, first time cruise or they are interested in the nature and culture of Alaska (or both).  A relatively inexpensive “wow” are guest lecturers that go beyond port lectures.

Entertainment

I was pleasantly surprised by the singers on Silversea.  They were truly talented; not “cruise ship” talented, but actually talented.  Not only could they sing popular songs, they sang some excellent opera.  Impressive.  Not so impressive was the entertainment in the bars/lounges.  It ranged from acceptable to just a bit annoying.  Ironically, on Seabourn I have generally found just the opposite.

Public Spaces

I am not going to review each of the public areas on the Silver Shadow, but will highlight a few. Overall the spaces are traditional in setup and décor. 

Silversea Silver Whisper Observation Lounge
The Observation Lounge is fairly small and set with a decided “observe looking over the bow” orientation rather than as being a more social venue with outstanding views.  This was one area where the ship was showing a bit of age with a number of windows which were fogged due to the seals having failed and seating that should have been recovered or replaced years ago.  But nonetheless I used the venue every single day and enjoyed it.  Seabourn’s Observation Lounge is larger, more modern, has entertainment and is the smoking venue on its ships.

Silversea, in contrast, has the Humidor (a/k/a Connoisseur’s Club), this is one of the nicest spaces on the ship with leather chairs, Turkish carpets and a dedicated attendant.  While it is nice to have a place to comfortably smoke a cigar without offending others, the room does need an air filtration system.  Note:  While it is not heavily used, it does work well to keep the less-and-less tolerated second hand smoke away from those offended while giving smokers a welcoming retreat.
 
Silversea Silver Whisper Connoisseur Lounge
The Bar is the main lounge midship with a large bar center stage while the Panorama Lounge, located aft, is a bit more refined and where Afternoon Tea is served daily.  While a bit of an updated is scheduled, one improvement would be advising the bartenders to not call out, “Have a nice Deeenaar!” to everyone while being a bit more “Welcome.  May I get you a cocktail?”  It should be noted that both of these venues need a facelift with the furnishings (especially the sofas) needing replacement.


Cuisine and Dining Venues

Cuisine is subjective and, to be sure, many on our cruise were quite pleased.  There was a notable number of guests, including myself and my wife, were was left a bit disappointed.  Some courses were excellent, but others were bland or worse.  Three times a filet mignon was ordered and none were near up to par.  Pastas (other than at the lunch pasta station) were excellent as was the tiramisu. Curiously, Atlantic salmon (frozen and farmed) was offered at every meal, but on this Alaskan cruise fresh Pacific salmon was essentially non-existent…same for shellfish. 

Culinary presentations were basic and very few were “polished” thus failing giving the impression of a beautifully prepared dish. This was also evident during the Galley Market Luncheon.  I noticed so many places where Seabourn’s cuisine and presentation far exceeded Silversea…down to how the sashimi was cut and presented.

The Restaurant (main dining room) was comfortable and attractive, but the waiter stations use drawers filled with silverware, so you regularly hear a crash when opened or closed. Wine service was minimal (and less than fluency in English made understanding the explanations of the wines a challenge at times), and the daily wine offerings were OK, but nothing special.  Comparing it to Seabourn’s ships is, in a way, unfair as they are newer and have a bit of more modern flair, but I have never chosen a cruise based upon the décor of the main restaurant (and the differences aren’t so severe that I could in this instance).

La Terrazza is a nicer venue with great views. During the day, it is the casual dining venue, but its buffet needs to be redesigned as it focuses on serving main dishes in old-fashioned serving pans/chafing dishes which makes it a bit less appetizing and limits creativity.  Also, the lighting needs to be changed as you kind of feel like you are walking into a closet so the food doesn’t look as good as it is when you return to the restaurant. 

In the evenings, La Terrazza is an alternative dining venue, but not necessarily more casual. (It is where we dined with the Captain.)  With the large windows and the spectacular Alaskan scenery it was visually impressive.  Unfortunately, the cuisine was inconsistent…surprising for an Italian owned cruise line.  The Colonnade on Seabourn is, again, a more modern style (I describe it as upscale New York City) and the buffets are taken to an entirely different level in style, variety and presentation, so on the culinary side Seabourn is hands down a far better product. 

Both have al fresco dining, but Seabourn offers more and in very comfortable and elegant all-weather wicker seating versus Silversea’s more traditional teak wood furnishings.  However, our whale-watching while having lunch on the Silver Shadow made the furnishings rather irrelevant!


Le Champagne, the seven table, $30 per person, reservation only, Relais & Chateau restaurant is the finest restaurant on the ship.  I dined here more than once (a guilt-ridden treat…as many could not get a reservation for even one night).  While the décor could use an elegant bit of sprucing up and the leaching of cigar smoke from the attached Humidor eliminated, just about everything I ate was excellent (special nod to the forest pigeon) and the service was the most consistently high quality on the ship.  I am not in favor of the $30 per person charge and as reservations are at a premium (at least on a short seven day cruise), I think this takes away from a luxury cruise experience. 

Honestly, Seabourn’s regular menu offerings are of the same quality as I found in Le Champagne…with a few limited exceptions.  Seabourn’s Restaurant 2, which has a more Avant garde tasting menu is an entirely different concept, so comparisons really aren’t appropriate here.

The Patio Grill at lunch was, for me, disastrous.  Poor service.  Nothing better than OK food.  Hygiene issues.  A sirloin steak served with no garnish or the requisite French fries and onion rings, then being given ice cold (not fresh) onion rings.  An order of two hot dogs came, curiously, on one bun…but with garnish and hot fries and rings.  A bar waiter picking up dirty pool towels and then immediately serving drinks.  Dirty dishes being taken from one table to another. Etc. It left me worse than flat.  Seabourn’s Patio Grill at lunch has a wider variety of, and higher quality, offerings and appropriate service.

The Patio Grill is “transformed” into the Hot Rocks Grill for dinner where you are given a hot lava stone to cook your own food (meat, vegetables, etc.)  It is popular, but just not my thing.  Seabourn continues with its Patio Grill, but with an essentially full waiter service and a thematic menu that varies each night (Surf & Turf, Grill, Mediterranean, etc.)

Service

As with food, service is a personal thing.  Silversea’s service style is markedly different from Seabourn’s.  Silversea has a large Filipino staffing, so the more subservient culture onboard is far different than the Seabourn European/South African staffing “I own this” approach.  A simple example:  On Silversea I generally had to call over a bar waiter to get another drink and tell him what I am drinking, while on Seabourn the bar waiters look at your glass and before you are finished they come over and say, “May I get you another Glenfiddich?”  In other words, I don’t want to have to ask to be served.

To be sure there were a few on my Silversea cruise that “got it” and took a more proactive approach, but they were standouts; not the norm and not looked upon by the other staff (from what I can tell) as leaders, but rather “different”.

That said there are a lot of people that prefer this manner of service.  It is, alas, a stylistic approach that is not comfortable for me.  It gives me the feeling that I am somehow treated as superior rather than as a guest.  I don’t want the staff to be sitting down and having drinks with me, but then again, I don’t want to feel like I am more important than they are.

But what was missing, regardless of style of service, was polish.  Too many of the staff was new and/or had trouble speaking American/British/Australian English.  The language barrier created insecurity on the staff’s part and a bit of frustration on the guest’s part.  That is not acceptable.


Am I being a bit tough?  Absolutely!  Silversea is one of the top luxury cruise lines and its service should not be “as good as” a premium or mass market line.

Overall Experience

The executives at Silversea are some of the nicest and most caring people I have met in the industry.  They know they have a wonderful product and are always looking for ways to make it better.  I enjoy doing business with nice people and find it can make ones overall cruise experience just that much better.

Going into this cruise I had my concerns about the consistency of the cuisine and service and, as noted, those concerns remain.  But as important as they are for me, my standards are generally much higher and I am much more critical than most and should be read in that light.  (Seriously, you don't know the details I observe!)  Possibly of greater importance, there is much that surprised me in a good way, from the comfort of the suite to the excellent suite service to the onboard entertainment to the shore excursions.

Overall Silversea does provide a wonderful experience and is greatly concerned that its guests are happy and well taken care of.  It does not load its product with mass market "included" shore excursions or provide restaurant waiters that are hapless (ala Regent Seven Seas Cruises) and then charge you extra.  Especially if you are ready to move up from the mass market or premium lines, Silversea does an admirable job.

As I was finishing up this article, a client of mine moved up to Silversea from Princess and just returned from a Mediterreanean cruise on the Silversea Silver Spirit.  She wrote to me, in part:

We got back from our trip and cruise on Silversea last week. It was absolutely the BEST time of my life! [My husband] still not 100% into cruise travel, but agreed there was no better way to get a taste of the Mediterranean. And Silversea was amazing – the value was definitely there for us with everything included. 

The best part was the ease and speed of getting on/off a small ship like that with no line-ups or waits, and often getting into ports before the masses from the big cruise ships hit. For example, we got on the wall in Dubrovnik without a single person in the queue, and within 30 minutes when [the other cruise ships' passengers] came from the port, and line-up was a hundred deep! 

I loved every single minute of our adventure. Happy to write a testimonial for Silversea and/or your website, and am referring friends your way. 

For me it is about making sure my clients are on the right cruise line for them, with the right itinerary, and that fits within their budget.  As you can see, I may find some faults, but I also know Silversea Cruises made my clients very, very, happy.

Interested in a Silversea cruise?  Give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.