I have to admit a special weakness for cruising the Baltic Sea. Maybe it is because of my Scandinavian ancestry or because of its wonderful light — seen both day and night — but I find the culture fascinating, the history engrossing and the art simply gorgeous. I also have a weakness for the Silver Cloud, Silversea Cruises’ first ship. So, I was especially pleased to step onboard Silver Cloud in Stockholm, Sweden, for a nine-day roundtrip Baltic cruise.
The Silver Cloud in Saint Petersburg // © 2009 Silversea Cruises
Silversea is launching a newbuild, the Silver Spirit, next year, and the company has been renovating its other ships in the fleet. But, the Silver Cloud had not been redone, so I was prepared to forgive some flaws. Onboard, however, I found there wasn’t much to forgive. The ship and the journey were delightful and memorable.
The artwork onboard is quite beautiful, much of it the property of the owners, the Lefebvre family, and the atmosphere is that of a European grand home. This was enhanced by the nearly 300 guests; at least half of which were from outside North America, the majority being European. Everyone was pleasant and friendly, comprising a very sophisticated group of travelers who had nothing to prove.
Silversea helped pioneer the idea of overnight stays in port, and we spent three days in Saint Petersburg, Russia, which was the perfect amount of time for exploring the area. Some of the guests had arranged private tours, some had booked a series of shore excursions, but just about everyone went to the Hermitage for Silversea’s exclusive tour and concert. Passengers who had visited the fabulous art collection during the day were especially impressed by the private tour, as only Silversea passengers walked the rooms, which closed behind us as we moved from room to room. A very impressive concert followed, with Mozart echoing in the Great Skylight Italian Hall, while guests schemed to take home the huge peacock clock, — which once belonged to Catherine the Great — a few galleries away.
On land, complimentary shuttles to the town center were provided at the ports in Tallinn, Estonia, and in Gdansk, Poland. Local representatives for each port were available to advise guests who wished to tour independently, and passengers often returned to the ship laden with local arts and crafts, woolen goods and other gems.
If it hadn’t been for the shore excursions, I’m sure we would have had to be rolled off the ship. The food was wonderful and varied, with the main restaurant offering leisurely meals rich in variety and presentation. Since drinks are included in the price of the cruise, there is no waffling among new acquaintances about which bottles to buy and who is treating. Diners simply greeted each course, from appetizers to the cheese plates, with anticipation.
Special diets were taken in stride with creativity and panache. My companion followed a gluten-free diet, as did another passenger, who quickly made herself known: “Oh, you’re the other gluten-free!” At every meal, the staff went over the menu and explained which options would work, provided special gluten-free breads and desserts and left gluten-free cookies in our stateroom “just in case.”
There were plenty of guests onboard who made reservations most nights for La Terrazza, which allows casual elegant wear even on formal nights and serves truly exquisite regional dishes, like the truffle and porcini dinner or the Polish meal, tangy with sauerkraut, sour cream and beets. However, warn your clients to make their reservations early in the cruise or they may be disappointed. (Although there is no extra fee, seating is limited.)
Of course, there are consolations such as room service, where meals are served course by course. And, while we enjoyed La Terrazza for breakfast and lunch buffets, we also liked the poolside grill with its fabulous salads and sandwiches.
The cruise had a wine theme representing Old and New World vintages, and a Relais & Chateaux degustation menu is available at reservations-only Le Champagne, as is a gourmet dining experience without the pre-set wine pairings, priced at $30.
The onboard spa offered a broad spectrum of choices from detoxification to muscle-soothing treatments (the cure for too much biking on too many hills). There was also a selection of express spa services that lasted for 10 to 25 minutes.
In terms of entertainment, Silversea has brought back the production show, as well as a solo piano concert and a comedy act. The farewell reception, which is sensibly held before dinner, was greeted with applause as images of the cruise were projected right up to the last day.
The Silver Cloud is back in the Baltic next summer, with itineraries from seven to 15 days in length and different combinations of ports for embarkation and disembarkation. Pricing starts at $3,638 for a seven-day roundtrip Stockholm cruise on June 17, 2010.