Sophisticated Sailing

Silversea’s Silver Cloud is a country club at sea

By: Maryann Hammers

I don’t belong to a country club; I don’t own a private yacht; and I don’t spend my winters skiing in Aspen. But a Barcelona to London sailing on Silversea’s Silver Cloud gave me a taste of the fortunate lifestyle.

Yes, in some ways, the Silver Cloud resembles a compact version of the big ships on the mainstream lines. It boasts a theater, lounges and bars, casino, library, Internet cafe, a few upscale shops, dining room, specialty restaurants and poolside bar/grille. It has a spa, walking track and small gym. By day, bridge tournaments, movie matinees, Scrabble, Spanish lessons, cooking demos, lectures on world affairs and afternoon tea kept guests busy; at night, there were variety shows,

piano bars and dancing.

Still, the ship was more like a country club at sea than a commercial liner. With accommodations for just 269 privileged passengers, the Silver Cloud has an exclusive ambiance. Ease and sophistication reigned, whether I was enjoying a meal, taking an excursion, sipping afternoon tea or savoring a glass of wine.

The first point of difference was the hassle-free embarking. I arrived in port; my luggage was whisked away; and I was escorted to the onboard reception area, where I received my card key. No one flashed a camera in my face; no one tried to sell me a gigantic soda cup. When I entered my stateroom, my suitcases were awaiting me. It all felt so civilized, with none of the confusion and crowds that mark the beginning of most cruises.

The ship’s relatively small size meant disembarking at ports was simple and swift with no lines at the shore excursion desk, no mad rush at the gangway. Another plus: We visited ports not commonly visited by bigger ships, such as Bordeaux in France, which required navigating the sometimes-shallow Garonne River. In London, the Tower Bridge opened for us as we sailed down the River Thames, sipping champagne and waving at onlookers.

The Silver Cloud struts her best stuff at mealtimes, with innovative menu selections, ultra-professional waiters and elegant dining rooms. Even in the buffet-style Terrace Cafe, smartly dressed, observant waiters hovered about to assist with my tray, find me a seat, refill my mug or glass and offer to bring me whatever I wanted from the luscious buffet. For an especially marvelous dinner, guests can head to the exclusive Saletta, where each of the six themed courses are paired with a rare wine from a particular region ($150 per person).

I loved that I could eat when, where and with whom I chose there were neither assigned tables nor “early/late seatings.” But that flexibility didn’t extend to the nightly dress code, which crew and guests took very seriously. Gents who showed up without a jacket on “informal night” were sent back to their room. Dressing up for dinner was de rigueur for this stylish crowd.

As part of Silversea’s all-inclusive policy, there’s no charge for beverages, whether it’s mimosas for breakfast or after-dinner cognac. That meant I didn’t have the hassle of signing my room number every time I ordered a Coke, cappuccino, cocktail or cabernet. The all-inclusive policy eliminates the question of who will buy a round of drinks or how much to tip. And for aficionados who prefer a particular vintage, a “connoisseur’s list” is available for an extra charge.

Staterooms on the 12-year-old Silver Cloud are not particularly large or lavish. Televisions are small and chunky; there’s no sophisticated in-room A/V equipment or entertainment system; the marble bathrooms are quite compact. Still, the rooms are luxurious, with full-sized tubs, walk-in closet and draped arched doorways dividing the sitting area/bedroom.

Continually stocked beverage cabinets, fresh flowers, fruit plates, a pillow menu, Bulgari and Aqua di Parma toiletries and extra-plush towels were among the other luxe details. Just about everything is included in the price of the cruise, even tips.

I marveled at the Silver Cloud’s ability to transform itself when the sun set. The Panorama Lounge, a sun-drenched space that serves up coffee, cappuccino and croissants to early risers, became a romantic piano lounge after dark. The bar, a friendly meeting spot for pre-dinner cocktails, turned into a late-night disco. Terrace Cafe, where breakfast and lunch buffets were served, metamorphosed into La Terraza, a fine Italian restaurant where waiters and sommeliers hover about and the chef from Milan personally greets every diner. And I’m 99 percent sure that the young woman who assisted me in the Internet cafe was a dancer at the nighttime variety show.

I must confess, I blinked a few times when a hallway on the 5th deck doubled as a putting green one afternoon. Then again, what else might one expect from a country club, albeit one at sea?