Age: over 40
Number of Cruises: 20+
Cruise Line: Silversea
Ship: Silver Whisper
Sailing Date: n/a
Itinerary: Mediterranean (Istanbul to Barcelona)
Although I have cruised extensively, up to this point, all of my travels have been in the western hemisphere. As a member of NACTA, I was given the opportunity to cruise from Istanbul to Barcelona with 38 other travel professionals on the ultra- luxurious Silver Whisper. Having sailed on previous “seminars at sea” with NACTA, I was looking forward to the networking, and the potential for growth that these trips provided. For me, this was a dream come true! I was ready to embark on a journey of discovery, and eagerly anticipated my first venture to Europe. Not only would I be traveling to exotic ports, but I would also be experiencing my first luxury class cruise. I am pleased to say, the trip surpassed my expectations. My review is a compilation of my thoughts and impressions, as well as opinions of some new friends I met onboard.
My flight from Cleveland, OH to Istanbul, Turkey was long, but uneventful. I flew to Istanbul a day early, not only to allow my body to adjust to the time change, but to visit this vibrant city. Many of my family and friends were concerned about my traveling to this part of the world alone. As I had planned to meet others from our group in Istanbul, I was not concerned. Their apprehension and trepidation was unfounded, however. Istanbul is totally cool, extremely westernized, and I felt VERY safe. Had I not joined others, I would have felt quite comfortable traveling in and about Istanbul on my own.
We stayed at the Marmara Hotel, which sits high atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, and provides a marvelous view of the entire city. Thanks to one of our group (Barb) for selecting these fine accommodations. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, the rooms were nicely appointed, the location was perfect, and hotel amenities were extensive. I would highly recommend this property to anyone traveling to Istanbul.
Istanbul, built on 7 hills in 2 continents (Asia and Europe), is a metropolis that is a wonderful blend of the old and the new. On our day of arrival, we wasted no time exploring the Old City. A visit to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, and the Grand Bazaar are all “must sees” in this bustling city of diversity. After some serious shopping, and a break for some liquid libation at the Grand Bazaar, we headed on foot to the Spice Market. The walk was entertaining, and the sights and sounds along the way were mesmerizing. The cab ride back to the hotel was our only negative experience. The value of the Turkish lira can be very daunting and deceiving. A very talented and clever cab driver managed to confuse us so masterfully, that a ride that should have cost us about $6 million Turkish lira, cost us over $40 million. By the time we realized we had been “duped”, rather than be angry, three otherwise intelligent and relatively savvy travelers were left in awe of his machinations. If I might make a suggestion to anyone traveling to Istanbul: First, check with the hotel concierge to determine the approximate cost for a cab to your specific destination, then negotiate the price with the cab driver before getting in the cab.
Awaking early on the second day in Istanbul, I took advantage of the well-equipped exercise room, as well as allowing myself the luxury of my first Turkish bath, before meeting the others for breakfast. The embarkation process was not to begin until 3:00 pm, which gave my two traveling companions, Barb and Janet, and myself another day to explore the city. So, we headed off in a cab (much wiser this time) to Topkapi Palace, which stands atop the ancient Roman Acropolis. The Ottoman residence for over 400 years, Topkapi has now been turned into a museum where many of the Sultan’s treasures are displayed. If you visit Istanbul and have time to visit only one thing, this is it! It is a glimpse into the past that must be experienced to appreciate.
At about 4:00 pm, we negotiated for 2 cabs to take us, and our luggage, to the port. We were instantly met by a porter who escorted us, and our luggage, into the cruise terminal. Within moments we were checked-in, given a “white glove” Silversea welcome, greeted with a flute of Moet & Chandon champagne, and ushered to our suite. Looking around at the environs, as I was being personally escorted to my suite, the term “understated elegance” comes to mind.
“Cabin” is an entirely inappropriate term for the luxurious accommodations I was to share with another NACTA member from San Francisco. From the moment I stepped into my verandah suite on deck 8, I reveled in the sumptuous surroundings. A wall-to- wall sliding glass door opens onto a large inviting teak verandah with two comfortable deck chairs and footrests. The suite is decorated in soft pastels that offer a soothing ambiance and the fine appointments provide an inviting atmosphere. A very comfortable sofa, and chair are complemented by end tables and a coffee table in the sitting area. A special tabletop can be placed on the coffee table to convert this space into an exceptionally pleasant in suite dining experience. A fully functional drape can be used to separate the sitting area from the beds. Along the wall opposite the sofa is a large mirrored entertainment/work unit. Personalized stationary is provided for your convenience. In addition to a large desk area with telephone (one of 3), there is a TV with VCR, a mini-bar, and refrigerator that are restocked daily with your choice of complimentary beverages, including alcohol. This is one of the “all-inclusive” perks that are provided by Silversea. There is one electrical outlet in this unit. However, along the same wall there is a separate lighted vanity that also has an outlet. This comes in very handy when more than one person is getting ready. A hair dryer is provided for your convenience. A note about the hair dryer: It fits into a special outlet in the vanity allowing the other outlet to remain free for a curling iron, etc. But, be advised that the hair dryer requires you to hold down the power button during use, which can be a bit awkward.
Twin beds with double nightstands ensconce the opposite wall. At this point let me interject that I derived immeasurable pleasure from the posh Frette bed linens, down pillows, and the exceptionally comfortable beds that were provided. Sleeping was pure bliss! Speaking about sleep, there is one glaring flaw with the design of the cabins – paper-thin walls. For all the amenities and luxury that these suites provide, I was very surprised at the poor soundproofing that existed between rooms. I could actually hear my neighbors get in and out of their bed. So much for privacy!
An extravagant walk-in closet is located next to the beds. In addition to an extraordinary amount of hanging space (complete with padded hangers), there is also a chest of drawers, open shelving, a shoe rack, and safe. The closet still has ample space to be used as a dressing area. Last, but not least, is the sumptuous, marble bathroom. With its full-size bathtub, separate enclosed shower, exceptionally large vanity with double sink, telephone, and Bvlgari toiletries, nothing has been overlooked in providing the ultimate in creature comforts.
As I strolled around the suite taking in all the amenities, I was interrupted by the doorbell. (I have to admit that I had never been on a ship that had doorbells, so it took me a while to figure out what the noise was). My cabin stewardess was at the door to introduce herself, deliver my luggage (I had been in my suite less than 10 minutes at that point), and to provide me with any requested cabin amenities. Add to all this the plush bathrobes and slippers, as well as the complimentary bottle of chilled champagne awaiting my arrival in the suite, and it is easy to see why Silversea has received so many accolades.
The Silver Whisper has a unique design that places all the suites in the forward half of the ship. All the public rooms, with the exception of the Observatory Lounge, and Spa are located in the aft portion of the ship. This does afford additional quiet and privacy when utilizing your suite. The Observatory Lounge and Spa are both located on Deck 10 (the highest deck). With its dark blue carpet, white chairs, wood paneling, and floor to ceiling windows, I found the Observatory Lounge to exude a soothing, pleasant ambiance. A self-service bar provided early morning coffee, juice, and breakfast rolls. This was one of my favorite spots to enjoy some early morning tranquility and solitude.
A small hall off the Observatory Lounge leads to the Spa, and exercise room. Although I did not use the spa facilities, in speaking with those that did, the services were quite pleasurable. I was extremely disappointed in the exercise room. It was very small, and what little equipment there was, made the space feel cramped and totally unappealing. I did use the treadmill a few times, but the facility was not very comfortable, or conducive for a serious workout.
The only public facilities on Deck 9 were a jogging track, and the golf cage. There was a golf pro onboard providing workshops and private lessons. I do play golf, albeit poorly, and had planned to use his services, but just never found the time. Deck 9 also serves as the open deck surrounding the swimming pool, providing additional lounge space for the sun worshippers.
The sheltered swimming pool is located on Deck 8 mid-ship. There are a fair amount of very comfortable padded teak lounge chairs surrounding the pool. The nice size pool is flanked by 2 jacuzzis. A small bar, and poolside grill round out this area. We had some beautiful weather on this sailing and the pool area got quite crowded during our days at sea, but was still large enough to provide ample space between passengers. As I love the sun (Someday I know I will regret it), I spent as much time here as possible. The bar and grill provided me all the sustenance I would need to wile away the afternoon hours.
Also located on Deck 8 is the library and computer center. The library was filled with videos, both recent releases and old favorites, to use with the VCRs that were standard in all cabins. As for the computer center, you will receive a Silversea e-mail address with your documents. Using this e-mail address will cost you substantially more money than if you just log onto the internet and use the e-mail address you use at home or work. The $.75 a minute charge initially seems excessive, but you are charged only for the time information is actually being transferred. I was online for a great deal of time during this cruise and my entire tab was under $5.00.
The Panorama Lounge completes the public rooms located on Deck 8. This is the largest of the bar/lounges located on the ship. Its neutral walls, white and green furniture and floor to ceiling windows give it a spacious and open feeling. The rather large parquet dance floor adds to the openness of this space. This lounge was frequently used as the piano bar, as well as the location of Jazz Night.
A card room, conference center, cigar bar and champagne bar are all located on Deck 7. The champagne bar serves as the location of the pre-dinner presentation at 7:45 each evening when dining in the “by reservation only” Specialty Restaurant adjacent, the Terrace Cafe. The Terrace Cafe also serves as the location of the breakfast and luncheon buffets. In the evening the buffet area is closed off, and the space is transformed into an intimate dining alternative.
The main showroom, the Viennese Lounge, is located on Decks 5 and 6. This is an exceptionally large showroom for a ship with so few passengers. It is reminiscent of “Moulin Rouge”, with its central color scheme of deep red and gold. Although site lines are very good, the seats on both sides of the upper level provide a limited view, and should be avoided if possible.
Immediately forward of the Viennese Lounge, on Deck 5, is “The Bar”. This seemed to be the place our group elected as our pre and post-dinner spot. A mellow dance band, as well as an outstanding piano player, took turns performing here. It was an extremely comfortable lounge decorated with plush sofas and chairs arranged in many conversational nooks. Tasteful artwork adorned the walls, and from my point of view, was one of the most inviting public areas. An oval lobby is located on Deck 5, which is where to find the purser, hotel manager, and shore excursion desks. This space is enhanced by an open stair tower, and utilizes earth tones and wood paneling to provide an elegance befitting the size of the ship. Off the lobby is a small shopping area. The Silversea boutique and the Bvlgari store both offer a nice upscale selection. Directly across from the shops lies the casino. The casino is small, but offers sufficient gaming tables and slots to appease those that enjoy this “sport”. Actually, some of my new cruise friends spent quite a bit of time here and left the ship with their coffers full. Directly off the casino is the Grappa Bar, a very intimate space that accommodates 24. Although small, it was the only place to get a cocktail late at night. The group of revelers I had the pleasure of partying with closed this spot many a night.
The formal dining room, aptly named “The Restaurant” was on Deck 4. Large windows, wooden floors, and once again those neutral colors, made this area appear much larger than it actually was. Open seating was enjoyed on this cruise, and the restaurant never seemed overcrowded. One special note to demonstrate how Silversea anticipates and provides for passengers every need: On one occasion I mentioned casually to a dining companion that I had forgotten my glasses and might need some help deciphering the menu. Within moments a waiter presented me with a handsome box that contained none other than numerous reading glasses of various magnitudes for my use. Now that is what I call service!
Needless to say, on a cruise of this caliber, one would expect gourmet food, of outstanding quality and service to match. In most instances this cruise lived up to those high expectations. Each evening “The Restaurant” provided a unique and varied menu. Having already mentioned that the Silver Whisper enjoys open seating, it was very pleasant to eat when, and with whom we pleased each night. I should mention open seating on mainstream cruises often means that you do not eat at your assigned table, but are seated in the order in which you enter the dining room, filling all the space at one table before moving to the next. Consequently, depending on the number in your party, often sitting with a group of strangers. This was not the case on the Silver Whisper as tables of 2 to 10 are provided to accommodate the dining requests of the passengers. Having made friends with passengers who had sailed on Silversea frequently, I was given an insiders scoop to specific requests.
Silversea prides itself on fulfilling passenger requests if at all possible. One evening a group of us wanted escargot, which was not on the menu. The restaurant staff was quick to assure us, that although our request could not be honored that night, a special order had been placed, and we would have the delicacy the next evening. Service was never rushed, and dining was a culinary treat.
An exquisite gourmet feast was presented in the Terrace Cafe each evening. Reservations were required, and seating was very limited. Dining was an event, which began with pre-dinner presentation of the pre-selected menu for the evening. The chef and sommelier made the course selections and the wines to accompany them. We had the pleasure of dining at this venue twice during the cruise. Although this was an interesting concept, I am not a gourmet aficionado, and would have preferred some choice in finding a delicacy to delight my palate.
The Terrace Cafe was, however, my favorite place for breakfast. Although it was considered a casual dining venue, linen tablecloths, fine china, and white-gloved waiters at your service were part of the package. Eggs, and any other breakfast delicacy, were prepared to order, and delivered to your table. Many in our group also enjoyed the excellent luncheon buffet.
My priority, however, was to enjoy the sun. So, when I chose to eat lunch while on board, I opted for the poolside grill. Even in this casual setting, service was of the highest quality. Food was brought to you upon request, and served with real silverware and plates! The burgers, fries, and hot dogs were excellent, as were the salad and sandwich offerings. Being pampered and catered to while lounging in the sun was truly a decadent delight.
As pleasurable as the dining options were, I was a bit disappointed in the dessert menu. The choices were uninspiring, and seldom tempted me to indulge in unnecessary calorie consumption. I actually lost weight on this cruise, rather than gain, so perhaps I should actually thank the chefs!
It is in this category that I think the “Silver Whisper” may have missed its mark. There is no question that there were some extremely talented performers on board to entertain us. Colin Salter had a wonderful voice, and entertained us nightly on the piano. In the intimate setting this ship provides, we were able to enjoy his company, as well as his talents. Our nightly sing-alongs became a highlight of the evening. The very talented and accomplished Broadway entertainer, John Paul Almon was the male lead of the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company. He had a magnificent voice and extraordinary stage presence. The multi-talented Gloria Parker was the female lead of the company and is a renowned opera singer. Unfortunately, their exceptional talents are limited by the constraints of the production material. Somehow an accomplished opera singer performing 70’s disco music is not a good match. It was evident when given the latitude to showcase their own unique talents, as they did on Jazz Night in the Panorama Lounge, the true depths of their abilities can be appreciated.
I do not believe the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company and Silversea is a good mix. Don’t get me wrong, I consider the Jean Ann Ryan Company to be one of the better production companies. Their shows are always high energy and very entertaining. But, this is the same company that produces the shows aboard NCL. NCL and Silversea are two entirely different products, and the type of entertainment on board should reflect these differences. Jazz Night was wonderful, as was the special concert, “Baroque to Broadway” performed by Gloria Parker. Songs by Puccini and Verdi featuring special guests from Livorno, Corale Pietro Mascagni, was the kind of entertainment one would expect as part of the “Silversea Experience”. Entertainment like the cruise director’s puppet show, and the efforts of a very poor ventriloquist/comedian are other examples of what didn’t work.
Ports of Call/Cruise Highlights:
As delightful as I found the cruise experience, visiting this part of the world for the first time was awesome! As there was so much to see and do, I could write a book about each port. In an attempt not to bore you, I am going to share the highlights, and if you have specific questions about a port, contact me via e-mail and I will be happy to answer your query.
Leaving Istanbul at ll:00 pm meant that Day 2 of the cruise found us cruising the Dardanelles. The tour manager, Neil Hird, provided a detailed commentary on the significance of the many landmarks we passed as we sailed through the straits. This informative presentation could be heard in the Observation Lounge and on the open decks. It was also a treat to cruise by Mt. Athos, the seat of Eastern Orthodox monasticism, in the afternoon. Neil, the tour manager, again shared fascinating details about this unique island of 20 monasteries, where women are still forbidden.
Early in the morning on Day 3 we arrived in Mykonos, Greece. A shuttle bus was provided to deliver us from the port into town. Mykonos is a visual delight with its whitewashed buildings contrasted by vibrant blue shutters and doors. After walking through the labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, our group headed for one of the beaches that make this little resort community so popular. Not quite ready for the European beach experience, we chose not to go to one of the nude beaches. Instead we made our way to Platis Gialos, a quaint and picturesque beach, with a marvelous little restaurant that served excellent food as well as outstanding Greek hospitality! I would love to return to this island for a longer stay.
Day 4 was another day at sea, and a NACTA “seminar at sea” occupied my morning. The presentation was informative and quite helpful in developing my computer/internet skills. The conference room is long and narrow, however, and if I were doing a presentation in that room, I think I would configure the chairs to face the windows. It would provide a more central location for the speaker to be heard. The remainder of my day was spent enjoying the sun and appreciating the perfect weather.
Catania, Italy was our next port of call. Situated at the foot of Mt. Etna, it is one of the busiest cities in Sicily. Catania itself is not very picturesque, nor memorable, but grabbing a cab to Taormina made this port another fascinating stop. Taormina is built on a hillside, providing a breathtaking and dramatic view of the Mediterranean Sea. Here one can visit the ancient theatre, walk through old town pedestrian areas, or do some elegant shopping on “Corso Umberto”. Enraptured by the charming atmosphere and unspoiled beauty, it is here that my love affair with Italy began.
On Day 6 we arrived in Salerno. Once again our group chose to explore on our own, rather than through a ship’s excursion. We hired a cab for the day, and headed off to Pompeii. As we had so many things we wanted to see, we allocated only a few hours to explore the ruins. Even sailing through at a record pace, we could not accomplish our goal. Allow yourself ample time to explore this fascinating look into the past, and purchasing the audio guide is well worth the money. Not realizing the enormity of Pompeii, we made the mistake of exiting from a different place than we had entered, falsely assuming we could walk around the periphery of the site, thus avoiding the crowds. Not so, we had to hire a taxi to take us to our taxi that was waiting for us on the other side! What a comedy of errors! We had planned to take a ferry over to Capri for lunch, but were running short of time. Not wishing to miss the ship, we opted for a trip to Sorrento instead to enjoy lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking the sea. Sorrento is another quaint and picturesque town that would have been wonderful to explore in greater detail.
Civitavecchia (Rome) was our next port of call. Rome is actually over an hour away from the port and can be reached by train. That was our original plan, but as it was raining, and we had a long list of “must-sees” on our agenda, we opted for our tried and true plan of hiring a cab for the day. This truly was the cheapest and most efficient way to travel when in a small group. Arriving in Rome on a Wednesday provided us with the special treat of a papal mass at St. Peters. As it was raining, and the pope’s health is failing, mass was held indoors. Our whirlwind tour of Rome took us to Vatican City, the Coliseum, the Forum, and the Spanish Steps. We threw our coins in Tivoli Fountain, and made sure we had time to enjoy a marvelous lunch at another glorious restaurant! Good Italian food and wine were high priorities with our merry band of travelers, and needless to say, we were not disappointed!
Day 8, and this would be our last port in Italy. We arrived in Livorno early in the morning, had a hearty breakfast, and located a van to take our group into Florence. We got tangled in a huge traffic jam as we entered Florence costing us valuable sightseeing time. Florence is a city best traveled by scooter. When it rains, which it was on this day, all the people who normally travel by scooter are forced to take their cars, thus the huge traffic jam. Once we arrived in Florence we took in the Duomo, saw Michelangelo’s “David”, shopped for leather goods in the upscale shops in the town, and once again located a perfect restaurant to taste local delicacies and enjoy some wine. Architecturally I would probably rate Florence as my favorite of the ports. It was an absolutely beautiful city! Each port enhanced my love of Italy, and my desire to return.
Our last day on the ship was spent cruising the Mediterranean on our way to our final destination, Barcelona, Spain. Our NACTA group had a business card exchange, was taken on a tour of some of the larger suites (absolutely decadent), and enjoyed a wonderful Galley Buffet luncheon. Lounging at the pool, and in the jacuzzi was a perfect way for me to end the cruise.
Overall Impression (Kudos and Complaints):
My cruise on the “Silver Whisper” was overall an excellent experience. Passengers ranged in age from 30 to 80+, with the majority falling somewhere in between. For the most part they were experienced, discerning travelers, but genuinely friendly. The atmosphere on board was one of quiet, easygoing elegance. The non-invasiveness of the staff was particularly appreciated. There were no photographers on board, and no one ever tried to sell you something. They truly did respect your privacy, while still finding a way to cater to your every need. I also liked the “all-inclusive” feature. No tipping, and a tab at the end of the cruise that was under $10, was a rare treat for me! I have always preferred to cruise the new mega-ships, but there is something to be said for the small ship experience. I loved getting to really know and socialize with many of the other passengers and entertainers. It was a pleasure to have the staff recognize you by name. Embarkation and debarkation is much less stressful on small ships, as is the ease of getting off the ship in each port. With advance notice, the “Silver Whisper” even permitted passengers to bring guests on board while in port. This is unheard of on the larger mainstream cruise lines!
The relaxed, quiet atmosphere on board, however, would not be to everyone’s liking. A party ship this was not! Very little activity could be found at night. Lounges closed early and late night entertainment scarce. One interesting note regarding this, however: One night there was a group of about 20 of us drinking, and enjoying the piano music, when the bar tender announced that the bar was closing (it wasn’t even midnight yet). One of the ship’s officers was with our group, and was not pleased! He let it be known that the lounges are for the passengers’ enjoyment, and it is the passengers, not the crew that decides when it is time to retire. The officer was true to his word, and from then on, lounges remained open for evening socializing. This speaks volumes to the commitment Silversea has for providing personalized service and acknowledging their guests as the number one priority.
Although service was usually impeccable, friends I met that were frequent passengers onboard Silversea felt that the service on board the “Silver Whisper” was inconsistent They felt some of the bar and wait staff did not provide the gracious and personalized service that is a trademark of this cruise line. Also one note regarding wine and alcohol: On occasion the wine and brand of alcohol served were of poor quality (For some reason this seemed to occur most frequently in the Viennese Showroom).
I am sure after this cruise I have been forever spoiled! Getting my first taste of European culture, and being pampered with six-star service has raised my level of expectation. I have tasted the best the world has to offer, and I am hungry for more!