Do you prefer the smaller side of travel? Would you consider cruising on a ship of 300 passengers or so? When Alan and I booked a holiday cruise through the Panama Canal on the 296-passenger Silver Cloud, one of Silversea’s smallest ships, we were returning to our cruising roots. Our very first cruise was on Song of Flower, a 180-passenger ship formerly operated by Radisson Seven Seas.
Although we like the intimacy of very small ships, I wasn’t sure how I’d adjust to the smaller cabin size and public spaces of Silver Cloud, especially now that I’ve come to enjoy newly-built luxury ships in the 500 to 700 passenger range. Alan, on the other hand, was sure he’d feel right at home on such a small ship.
The beauty of small ship cruising is guests rarely wait in line for anything, which includes the boarding process. When the rental car agency dropped us off at the San Diego Pier (did you know that they will do that?), we were on the ship within a matter of minutes.
Stepping into the main lobby, I immediately questioned our choice of ship. “Uh-oh,” I thought to myself, “This ship looks old.” (Update: the ship was refurbished in October 2012. Avid Cruiser reveals Silver Cloud’s new look). I later found out that our boomer cruising companions, Jack and Sue, felt the same way.
It took a couple of days before the magic of small ship cruising changed my opinion (Jack and Sue’s, too). But, after experiencing the extremely personal service and intimate experiences, I fell under Silver Cloud’s spell.
Silver Cloud Accommodations (295 sq/ft including 49 sq.ft. veranda)
Although we were in a suite cabin, the square footage was a little smaller than I’ve been experiencing on the slightly larger ships. While it was fine for a 14-day cruise, I wouldn’t want to book a cruise that was much longer. However, the cabins are well appointed, with the exception of the bathroom which is in need of a re-do (which happened in October 2012). In fact, I recommend bringing a shoe bag to hang over the bathroom door for storing toiletries (something that I do for every cruise) due to very limited bathroom counter space. And pack a power strip as there was only one outlet in the room—not enough for boomers toting the latest in rechargeable devices such as camera batteries, laptops and iPads.
A couple of things I really liked about our suite:
The pillow boutique was a nice surprise. It included a selection of different pillows—there’s bound to be one that you will like.
“What will we do with a butler?” That’s what I said to Alan when I discovered that all Silver Cloud cabins include butler service. Ours proved his worth with offers to make dinner reservations (necessary at all dining venues except the main dining room), making sure that our laundry was put away, placing water bottles by our nightstand each night and anticipating our needs before we thought of them ourselves.
Another special touch were the treats we found each night in our stateroom—I don’t mean pillow mints. Each evening, Alan and I would return from dinner and the night’s entertainment to discover a plate of Christmas cookies or strawberries dipped in chocolate or some other special treat, often accompanied by the recipe and well-wishes from the chef.
Silver Cloud Dining
Are you a beef eater? I enjoyed the best that I’ve ever tasted on Silver Cloud—so tender I could cut it with a fork. The main dining room (The Restaurant) included lean and fit choices to satisfy any healthy traveler. The selections (including calorie count) were scattered throughout the menu. The lean and fit desserts were especially good.
With three alternative restaurants, we never became bored with dinner options. Although, all dining venues, except The Restaurant, required reservations. At first, that felt inflexible to us. Alan and I enjoy a drink in a ship’s lounge before deciding where to eat for dinner. Sometimes, we’ll meet new people and invite them to join us, then we’ll all decide on a restaurant. But with a reservation required system, this wasn’t possible. But, we discovered that this system guaranteed quality and good service. The dining venues never took more patrons than they could handle. La Terrza did an especially good job of switching from a breakfast/lunch buffet to an authentic Italian restaurant at night. It didn’t even look like the same room. And, for us, patio dining on deck was always a treat.
Silver Cloud Entertainment
Silver Cloud had the usual assortment of entertainment options. But the on-board entertainment troupe was the best that we have ever experienced. Each member was talented enough to headline a show of his or her own, which is why they were chosen for the ensemble. This gave the Cruise Director lots of options. We saw shows ranging from rehearsed productions to off-the-cuff cabaret offerings in The Panorama Lounge. Mario, the pianist in the Panorama Lounge was another favorite. He played mostly from requests. For awhile, he was stumped because Alan and I never knew what to request when he asked. On the night that we asked for a Beattles song, Mario hit the jackpot. He spent an hour playing every Beattles song in his book.
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Dancers will be a bit disappointed as the only real dance floor is in The Club. On the smallish side, it’s also located in one of the only indoor smoking areas on the ship. And, most of the music is provided by a DJ rather than a band. However, small ship service came into play when several of the English guests requested more ballroom dancing. Cruise Director Judy Abbott opened the theater, which has a nice dance floor down front, several evenings before dinner, although the dancers waltzed and fox trotted to piped-in music instead of a live band.
I was concerned about what the gym facilities would be like on such a small ship. It was actually quite good, although the small space required that any group classes be conducted outside (which was rather nice during the balmy weather of a Panama Canal itinerary) or in another area of the ship (usually The Club). The variety of classes included Pilates, Ball, step aerobics, stretching and yoga. Alan was pleased with the selection of weight and aerobic machines. The exercise studio did tend to warm up in the afternoon when the sun came streaming through the glass walls. It was also nice to have the option of a large walking/jogging deck that encircled the top deck. Unlike many ships, the whirlpools stayed open 24-hours-a-day, which made taking a soak before bedtime a possiblity.
When the ship sailed through the Panama Canal, it was like an all-day party. A local expert came onboard to describe what we were seeing. Passengers crowded the rails, took photos, listened to the expert commentary over the outdoor loudspeaker while enjoying mimosas and a special breakfast on the pool deck.
Our experience on the Silver Cloud Panama Canal Cruise was simply divine. Silver Cloud is the type of ship that we’d choose when cruising the Caribbean or the Greek Islands—small enough to take us to those out-of-the-way islands and away from the crowds but with the amenities that we expect in a small ship luxury cruise.