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Is a Silversea cruise worth the high price?

SmarterTravel

Let me admit up front I’m not Silversea’s targeted demographic. I’m younger than 50, do not possess a large amount of disposable income, and my idea of a relaxing vacation is closer to scrambling around mountains than playing marathon games of bridge. Yet I had a lovely time onboard the Silver Cloud‘s recent South American sailing, and my fellow cruisers raved about the cruise line and swore they’d never go back to a big ship again.

Would I shell out thousands of dollars to sail on Silversea again? Probably not. Should you? Perhaps. The Silversea concept may appeal to you if:

  • you want a truly relaxing vacation
  • you value excellent service and a small-ship, all-inclusive experience
  • you prefer a large stateroom and luxury amenities
  • you’re content with a leisurely port experience that just skims the surface of a destination
  • you’re middle-aged or older, or are quite happy to socialize with people who are

You might not prefer a Silversea cruise if:

  • you’re an independent traveler who likes constant activity
  • you prefer an active port experience or want to really get to know a destination
  • you don’t like dressing up for leisurely dinners
  • you’re young, have children, or prefer to socialize with young people
  • you’re on a tight budget

Silversea scored high points in certain categories but failed to meet my expectations in a few areas. I’ve outlined the highlights and lowlights so you can decide whether a Silversea cruise sounds like your dream vacation… or someone else’s.

Onboard amenities

The first thing you notice is your stateroom. The smallest cabin on the Silver Cloud is still a suite, with a sleeping area, sitting area, large-for-a-ship bathroom with a tub, and a walk-in closet. Despite the fact we were two tall women and mother-daughter to boot, we never got in each other’s way in that spacious cabin. The beds were comfy, and we even had a choice of four kinds of pillows.

The Cloud has a bar, a lounge, a library, a spa/salon, an Internet cafe, a store, a gym, a show lounge, and a pool. But just one of each, unlike today’s megaships. These common areas were tastefully decorated and for the most part served our needs. I was, however, disappointed with the gym, which is situated in a converted observation deck. The machines are mostly European and unfamiliar to American travelers (how many kilometers is a mile?), and once on the treadmill I was too tall to see out the picture window. (Silversea’s newer ships, the Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow, reportedly have better workout areas.) All fitness classes were free, which is a big bonus compared to other lines that charge. But, my guess is many of Silversea’s guests aren’t as concerned about the gym facilities as I was.

Activities

I spent three full days at sea on my cruise. I passed the time playing two rounds of trivia games each day, learning ballroom dancing, attending the occasional lecture, and becoming addicted to Sudoku puzzles. The most popular onboard activity was bridge, with lessons and tournaments full of first-time and expert players. The afternoon golf-putting competition was also a favorite for many.

As an energetic twentysomething, I would have preferred a little more daily excitement. Or at least better weather, so I could have soaked up the sun or splashed in the pool. But many of my cruisemates enjoyed the downtime, perhaps because they wanted a break from their hectic lives or because they prefer to take things slow. Or maybe they just really like bridge.

The one unexpected bright side to the slow schedule (and probably the best part of the cruise itself) is that you really get to know the other cruise guests. My mother and I quickly became a part of regular trivia teams; everyone knew our names and would call us out of other activities if they ran late. Had we been hopping from activity to activity or hiding behind a book poolside, we never would have met as many interesting people.

Evening activities were also fairly limited. The Silversea production company and several guest entertainers put on one performance of one show each night. If you lingered over dinner, you’d miss it. The shows varied from excellent (including a one-man Broadway/lounge act by Simon Leigh) to mediocre (you just can’t emulate Cirque du Soleil with six people on a small stage). Aside from the show, you could drink and dance in the bar or drink and listen to the pianist in the lounge. If you love meeting new people over a gin and tonic night after night, a Silversea cruise is for you.

My favorite part of a cruise is always the shore excursions. Silversea ran its trips well; I always knew when and where to meet my tour, we didn’t waste time at schlocky souvenir stores, and the guides were excellent. We got to do unique things like taste wines at a Uruguayan winery and visit the penguins in the Falkland Islands. The tours were not geared for a very active group, so the promised 40-minute hike in Torres del Paine national park turned out to be a brief walk to a waterfall after they’d liquored us up at lunch. The rest of the 11-hour day was spent on a bus with several photo and food stops. While I would have liked to have spent at least an hour tramping on a trail, I understood that many of the other travelers could not have managed it, even before the Chilean brandy.

We were also told by other cruisers that Silversea’s excursions are overpriced, and several travelers opted to arrange their own tours for less money. The upside to booking a Silversea tour is that when you arrive late to the pier (like our national park trip), the ship is still waiting for you, and the staff is standing in the ship’s lobby with wine and fresh towels. However, in many ports, you can walk or take Silversea’s complimentary shuttle to the center of town and easily explore on your own.

Food and wine

I admit to being a budding foodie and had high hopes for Silversea’s gourmet cuisine. I can report, however, that the food varies in quality. The chefs do their best to present interesting dishes that always look beautiful on the plate. Some dishes had me raving, while others were simply mediocre. The desserts were almost uniformly disappointing, but suddenly got much better on the last few days of the cruise, especially at the special galley buffet. And you can bet that as my mother and I are experienced chocoholics, we tried as many of the sweets as possible.

The theme dinners in the Terrace Cafe were excellent, and the cafe provides a more intimate dining experience than the main restaurant. The Italian menu we tried was one of my favorite meals of the week. The most disappointing meals I had were at the cafe’s lunch buffet; I much preferred to eat at the poolside grill when it was open on nice days. The Cloud also has a small specialty restaurant called Saletta devoted to wine-and-food pairing, but the menu never appealed to us and we heard from other guests that the food was so-so. The best-kept secret is breakfast in the lounge; it’s advertised as a coffee hour but they also serve tea, juice, pastries, and hot breakfast items. Afternoon tea is also quite good—if you feel you can eat again by 4 p.m.

Would-be cruisers should also be alerted to the pace of the dinners. Even when we got to dinner just as the restaurant opened at 7:30, we would invariably be rushing to make the 10:15 show. If you relish leisurely dinners with good company, you will love Silversea. I would have preferred an alternate dining venue for those nights when I wasn’t up for a three-hour dinner, but there is none; we ordered room service the night we were exhausted and couldn’t bear a long dinner.

The best part of the onboard food-and-beverage service was that it was all included in the cruise fare (with the exception of wine purchased at Saletta). We could order room service without worrying about the extra cost, we could have wine with dinner (or before dinner, or after dinner…) without being concerned about our budget, and we could try anything, knowing if we didn’t like it, we didn’t have to finish it. It made for a relaxing and carefree atmosphere onboard.

Service

Silversea prides itself on its excellent service, and you certainly get a lot of service for your money. I was grateful the maitre d’ remembered I’m a vegetarian, that housekeeping turned down my bed and left chocolates every evening, and that someone would fill our in-room fridge with any kind of beverage we asked for. I heard stories from other cruisemates about service that went above and beyond: the chef planned a special dinner for a wine aficionado guest and his invitees, creating a menu to go with the wines the guest picked out; and one couple’s room attendant came on duty 15 minutes early to help with a cocktail party they were organizing in their stateroom. You most likely won’t find service like that if you book a normal stateroom on a megaship.

On the flip side, I don’t need to be formally seated to eat at a buffet, and I certainly don’t need someone to carry my plate for me. I prefer to be left alone, but guests that aren’t as mobile as I am might appreciate the extra help. And sometimes, it’s just nice to be pampered for a change.

Worth your money?

Is the Silversea experience worth its high cost? Definitely—if a relaxing, pampering, slow-paced sailing sounds appealing to you. If you’re looking for a more adventurous or independent trip, you wouldn’t be spending your travel budget wisely even if the cruise cost a few hundred, rather than a few thousand, dollars. A cruise that can fulfill all your requirements for a dream vacation is worth every penny; if you can’t justify the expense, you should look elsewhere for your next getaway.

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