Silversea's Silver Whisper, September 30, 2005, The Lure of the Little Ships

One way to come back from a vacation very spoiled for anything else is to go on your first Silversea cruise. If you've had to deal with lines and waiting and being charged for every small thing, plus on-board "activities" that included smoky turquoise by the carat and "gold" by-the-inch sales along with art auctions at sea, then maybe you'd feel the same way I do right about now, too. It was so completely wonderful to step on-board a ship and not have to worry about what else I'd have to pay for to make my cruise nice or what other antics the cruise line had dreamed up to separate me from my money. There was no sticker shock at the end of this trip. It was also nice to know that any dining venue on the ship would offer me a great meal without charging me extra. The Silver Whisper is small enough so that something like the walk to the dining room for lunch is not a field trip requiring a twenty minute trek from point A to point B. You get to know your ship, and they get to know you, too.

Hans and I had the opportunity to do a ten-day cruise out of New York on the Silver Whisper, one of Silversea's four all-suite ships. Silversea boasts the highest ratio of space per guest of any fleet, not an inside cabin to be found on any of their ships and just about as all-inclusive as any cruise line can be. All passengers receive champagne on arrival, Acqua di Parma bath amenities (I understand this used to be Bvlgari) fresh fruit and flower arrangements, upscale bed linens, personalized suite stationary, plush terry robes and slippers, mini-fridges stocked with your beverage preferences. Our ship was built in Italy in 2001 and is 28,258 tons/610 feet long. Officers are Italian although crew and staff are many nationalities throughout the ship. And not a one of them made an unnecessary announcement over the PA system all week.

Our itinerary was one we have enjoyed several times before on other lines: we boarded in New York, on to Martha's Vineyard (our first time there, actually,) then Sydney, NS, Halifax, NS, Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine, Boston, late evening transit thru the Cape Cod Canal (which I always really enjoy) and Newport, Rhode Island, before returning to New York in the wee early morning hours. It's another nice thing I enjoy about coming and going by ship from New York Harbor.

We had a roomy mid-ship verandah suite with walk-in closet, beautiful marble bathroom with twin sinks, shower separate from tub, plenty of plush towels. Suite voice mail and e-mail was also available for your voyage. More than enough storage space, drawers, shelves, etc. even though, for some reason, this time I'd packed as though I was never returning home again. The pre-embarkation on-line registration form had a place to choose what bed conformation you would like in your suite and what kind of pillows you prefer. Hans and I boarded the ship on our wedding anniversary and a special cake was delivered to our cabin right after the lifeboat drill on embarkation day, a nice touch.

The ship has a small casino, a wonderful little space called Grappa Bar off the casino, an enticing pool bar and grill for those days warm enough to spend on deck, an observation lounge that served as a library/game room and great look-out area, as well as a small library and internet room. Outside the Observation Lounge were a few comfortable padded double chaises on which to snuggle up with your cruising partner to enjoy sail-aways. There's a small group of boutique-style stores, plus toiletries, essentials or anything else needed and not packed could be purchased upon request with a quick phone call.

Actually, anything you wanted could be had on this little ship with just a phone call. Everyone aimed to please. There were no roving ship photogs, and that meant no unwanted photos of you with crew dressed as pirates with stuffed parrots sewn to their shoulders or a constantly backed-up line to get off the ship at a port of call because the onboard photogs wanted to snap for-purchase souvenir photos of you with a life preserver. There were also no embarkation photos, and those I actually did miss. I collect them, am missing only three of all our cruises, and they have been a nice progressive reminder over the years. Some of these are my favorite photos of Hans and me, since we both look relaxed and happy about getting on a ship.

A Friday departure with only one ship … ours… in port that day made the whole arrival at NYPST a breeze. Not even much road traffic on the way over. With only 382 passengers, check in and embarkation was quick and easy. No lines anywhere. Embarkation procedures were done in gradual steps as one got farther and farther onto the ship. Finally, after a security photo was taken (in one of the lounges with a glass of champagne and an hors-d'oeuvres to help ease your way along the line that stretched, oh, maybe two or three people) to match you with your live presence as you walked on and off the ship in the ports to come, you were lastly led to your suite. Luggage, if not there already, came within minutes. Your cabin stewardess arrived a few minutes later to see what you needed and to find out about any special requests. Before sail-away came the lifeboat drill, and again, no lines, no crowds, and no overwhelming feeling of doing something along with a couple thousand other people.

Everyone was in a good mood, even more so than on our other "regular" past cruises. No one had their hand out at the end of the cruise or was over-the-top sticky-sweet nice because they wanted a tip at the end of the trip. This is what bothered both of us on our Crystal cruise several years ago. These were the friendliest people I've ever met onboard a ship of any size, yet this one was large enough to satisfy but small enough for coziness and yes, even intimacy with staff and my fellow passengers. It was easy to get to know folks you saw regularly in the public rooms, at breakfast and during the daily on-board comings and goings. On the bigger ships, you might see someone the first day and then, never see them again. Or know someone's on the ship, too, but never bump into him/her unless you pre-schedule a meet-up. Someone wrote on an on-line message board I checked out before our trip that there was no snootiness here, and the haughty folk were more likely found in the junior suites of the mass-market lines than ships like these. And I believe that, based on what I experienced on the Silver Whisper. Many folks on our ship were repeaters to Silversea, and I can understand why. I certainly hope to go back again. In all, it was a very pleasant experience and a nice way to cruise.

I love enrichment lectures, and the Silver Whisper did not disappoint. Lewis Falb and Gerald Pinciss, both seasoned university professors, gave talks on New York's Gilded Age, the beginnings of the concept of summer "vacations" at such places as Bar Harbor, Martha's Vineyard and Newport, Rhode Island, all places we were to visit on our cruise. Pinciss gave an interesting talk about 'Bella Gardner, and gave me an interesting idea for our port stop in Boston … the Gardner Museum. It was well worth the trip. That we were able to discuss what we saw there when we got back to the ship with Mr. Pinciss and a small group of others who also went to his lectures AND to the museum was equally nice.

Things such as recent movies, lectures, wine-tastings and other well-timed on-board events kept us busy for ten days. One sea day had a galley brunch offered as passengers wandered through the food prep areas of the ship while feasting on the various offerings. It's the first time I've seen this on a cruise ship, and it was easy to accomplish because the ship has such a small compliment of passengers.

I've learned never to be truly disappointed anymore with cruise ship food, and to not give too much importance, say, to a ship's "lobster night," for example. I depend on land-based restaurants when not on a cruise ship to feed me well. But I happily enjoyed caviar every evening in the main dining room. All I had to do was ask for it, and it was there. I can truthfully say that the food was well above average, and there were not many gaps in selection. Anyone could be made happy with what Silversea offered.

But the service and the general way dining room staff treats the guests is really what appeals. When Hans commented to our Italian maitre d that he was enjoying the view one night in the main restaurant because we were seated by a large picture window, the maitre' d, without missing a beat, said, " …but Sir, you have the best view here right next to you (referring to me.) Generally speaking, everyone looked for ways to make your stay onboard as pleasant as possible and that may not just mean making your martini the way you want it. The specialty restaurants, Le Champagne, a very intimate venue, and the aft-located Terrace Café, used for breakfast and lunch buffets, and were very comfortable. The main reception area and the main dining room, called simply The Restaurant, reminded me of the Deutschland for some reason. The Viennese Lounge was the show lounge and housed such diverse evening entertainment as a four string banjo virtuoso, musical theatre performed by Jean Ann Ryan, several cabaret singers, afternoon and sometimes evening movies. There was a library next to the Internet room, with on-line access charged to your suite only when you actually did something on-line, so there was no need for a pre-paid package of time this trip. This way just seems fairer to me. Radisson Seven Seas had this, as well.

Wine with dinner and lunch, top shelf alcoholic beverages, 24 hour room service that includes that day's lunch and dinner menus served en suite, course by course, plus a regular full service suite menu. Hot appetizers offered with pre-dinner drinks in the bars and lounges always available in the evenings (this reminded me of the HAL of long ago) while I was recalling that on the QM2 a salted peanut in the Chart Room was hard to come by and had to be specifically requested. Hans was particularly taken by the Davidoff Humidor on board and made several "cigar buddies" on this trip. I liked the room - very club-like and comfortable- and spent time in there with him, too.

So, in review, no little slips of paper to sign, no bills for incidentals being slipped under your nose all the time for signature, no extra charges for things we used to get on our trips years ago before alternative dining became a dirty word, no announcements, no public decks littered with "sale" merchandise t-shirts or logo carry-alls, no topaz by the carat. Staff who really cared about service, that were ubiquitous when you needed them to be and all but invisible when you needed that, too. It was all so very VERY pleasant. Half way through the cruise, we got our preliminary onboard statement, and my portion was under $20, mostly for Internet access and two postage stamps.

We've tried three of the four normally considered top luxury cruise lines, and Seabourn seems next on the hit parade at some point in the future. Right now, Radisson and Silversea are neck and neck, with Silversea a wee bit stronger and Crystal a very distant third. Of course there are the yacht-like experiences and the European riverboat trips, and I would like to try these, too, someday soon, but I think they might be too small for me. I still want something that resembles a cruise ship. With longer itineraries that cover the world (another similarity to Radisson,) I would be very comfortable on this ship for a Med or a Baltic cruise. Would I go back on Silversea? Yes, I would. I hope I get the chance to do that again soon.