Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: Silversea Silver Shadow

Silver Shadow in Nagasaki Harbour

I sailed on the Silver Shadow in April, on its Hong Kong to Tokyo itinerary, with my very good friend and travel agent, Ellen, owner of Sea4Sail. This was my first time on a ship this upscale and I was excited by both the potential experience and the ports of call: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Osaka and Tokyo.

My cruising experience has been main stream lines, such as Holland America and Princess, river cruises, such as Viking and Uniworld, and small ship adventure cruising, such as a week on a riverboat on the Amazon. Ellen’s experience has been on just about every main stream cruise line from Carnival on up (to lines such as Regent) and also river cruises. So we do have some experience overlap. Mostly, though, we looked at things differently and I want to state, up front, that this review is based on MY opinion alone.

The positives of my trip was the mostly excellent service we enjoyed, particularly from our butler, Roland, and the opportunity to see a part of the world long on my bucket list.

On the other hand, the trip turned out to be nothing like I had expected in a negative way, in both the ship and the ports of call. I will deal with the ports of call in another post. For this post, I’ll confine myself to the ship.

Let’s start with the fact that the ship definitely needed a dry dock. This was not only my opinion but the opinion of many people who commented on things like the condition of the carpet in the corridors and the cabins.

The food experience in the main dining room was a disappointment. With British and Australians making up over half of the passenger contingent, and Americans the very smallest group, the dining room hours and food was not geared to my taste. The absolute earliest to eat dinner is 7:00 p.m., with meals taking at least 1 ½ hours.  I missed having some earlier dining options, other than using room service. There were a lot of spicy dishes, made with what I thought was an overly generous helping of crushed red pepper, obvious in the pasta and not so obvious in Thai spring rolls. Some of the combinations were – at least to me --  strange, such as escargot with hot chili cause, plus many “game” entrees, such as wild boar, venison and goose.

On the other hand, the ship has two specialty restaurants which were excellent and had no surcharge. One is the pool grill where you can grill your choice of steak or prawns on the hot rock placed at your table. There was also an Italian specialty restaurant that we ate at twice and was excellent. In retrospect, I would have planned on eating there every night. (Although with the limited seating available and the necessity of reservations, a tip to the maitre’d might be necessary but, IMHO, well worth it.) Only one restaurant had a surcharge and while other passengers said the food and wine were excellent, the restaurant was situated right next to the smoking lounge and the odor of smoke made its way through the vents. It made for some very unhappy diners, who cancelled future reservations.

The other strange thing was nowhere to get a quick bite in the middle of the afternoon. After returning from shore, tired and hungry, I didn’t want to wait for room service. One of the lounges was supposed to have sandwiches available so one afternoon we went there. Expecting to see the bar counter with trays of already prepared sandwiches, to grab and go, instead we discovered a very limited menu to order from the kitchen. We heard one passenger complain she had been waiting over half an hour for her order so we just left.

We ate breakfast in the main dining room only once. We had been ordering room service for breakfast and we wanted to see what more the dining room had to offer, as past experience on other ships suggested there would be a special or two of-the-day. To our surprise, the menu was exactly the same as the room service menu.

The price of the trip included tips and all alcohol, including a personally requested bottle of spirits, per person, to be had in the cabin. We made the acquaintance of some passengers who were wine connoisseurs, requesting specific bottles of wine. However, for someone such as myself, not a big alcohol drinker, Silversea definitely didn’t lose money on my liquor consumption.

Socially the trip was great. With a passenger contingent of just over 300 passengers, it was expected to see the same faces frequently. It was easy to develop a routine of joining the same passengers in the lounge, or at trivia, for dinner, or for the show. We met many people with fascinating tales of travel and life experiences.

Would I sail on Silversea again? It depends. I liked the size of the ship and the fact that it spent overnight in many of the ports of call. (Actually, we had two nights in Osaka.) But first I would check out the age of the ship and when it was last refurbished. And if I would be allowed to, I would dine in the specialty restaurant every night.