What does post-pandemic cruising look like, is it safe, and can Silversea deliver a luxury experience without compromise?
PAX recently explored these questions on board the new Silver Moon on her debut North American voyage.
After crossing the Atlantic, the Silver Moon set sail from Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 2 to Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador. PAX was on board for eight days out of the 16-day voyage.
Luxury ships are never flashy or ornate, and Silver Moon’s understated elegance comes through with clean lines and contemporary furnishings with fine upholstery.
There isn’t a soaring atrium, but it isn’t missed.
The hallmark of luxury cruising includes unexpected touches, such as a jewellery box in every suite to store one’s baubles (and one is also offered during spa treatments for our rings and things), complimentary laundry service delivered wrapped in tissue paper, and a range of flavour-infused oils beyond standard dressings for salads.
Even the PPE kits in the suites came inside a smart Bulgari case, and there is a menu of soft, firm, feather, or hypo-allergenic pillows for a good night’s sleep.
What’s on board?
All suites come with butler service, a walk-in closet, marble bath with Bulgari amenities, and a minibar stocked to our preference, and replenished as required.
The ship carries a vertical design, placing all suites at the front of each deck, while public rooms are located in the aft.
Being a small ship (40,700 GRT) also has its benefits, as one is never far away from a restaurant, lounge, or the outdoors.
By far the most popular venue during the day was the living-room-like Arts Café where guests can curl up with a book and a specialty coffee or sweet treat.
Silver Moon also houses a small casino, a show lounge, a cocktail bar, a fitness centre, spa, pools, hot tubs, and boutiques with high-end jewellery, fashions, and designer handbags.
Although it lacks a wraparound promenade deck, the ship does have a running track on the top deck.
A typical Silversea day
Silversea administered a rapid antigen test for all embarking guests at Port Everglades. This provided us a layer of security, knowing that everyone tested negative before crossing the ship’s threshold.
Our daily regime began with our butler taking our temperature before heading to breakfast in the formal dining room or La Terrazza buffet (where all food was served to us and table service was also an option).
On lazy sea days, it was too easy to opt for a hot room service breakfast.
Several soft activities were on the agenda daily, ranging from culinary demonstrations and trivia games to enrichment lectures focusing on the ports on our itinerary.
As we were cruising through Central America, topics included Belize’s Blue Hole, volcanic islands in the Caribbean Sea, and the building of the Panama Canal.
There aren’t elaborate floor shows and the disco does not go all night – in fact it was often deserted – as the clientele doesn’t demand it.
Silversea guests are mature and independent, most are happy lounging by the pool, reading a book, or attending lectures.
Dining worth its S.A.L.T.
The new Salt And Land Taste (S.A.L.T.) program, designed by noted food editor Adam Sachs, debuted on Silver Moon and the connection between travellers and the food from the countries on the itinerary begins in the S.A.L.T. Kitchen restaurant.
On our sailing, the menu featured Central and South American cuisine, as well as presentations of dishes from the port the ship was visiting that day.
The restaurant is complemented by the adjacent S.A.L.T. Bar, with cocktails crafted with local ingredients and spirits.
But more fun was the hands-on S.A.L.T. Ashore excursions and S.A.L.T. Lab cooking classes.
Our first tour was in Cozumel, Mexico, where Chef Paola Torroella of La Gloria restaurant brought us to the market where she buys the ingredients for her kitchen.
This was followed by a lesson in how to prepare dishes such as guacamole, ceviche, tortillas, and tacos that make up the roots of Mexican flavours.
Volunteers from our group helped assemble the dishes and we were all rewarded with our creations.
In Roatan, S.A.L.T. Ashore took us on a cultural and culinary journey with the Garifuna people.
From our Garifuna guide, we learned about the history of the descendants of African slaves who intermixed with the Caribs and Arawaks and are now dispersed across Latin America.
Here, fish and meat stew, fried snapper, rice and beans, fried plantains, and cassava cake filled our tummies.
In the S.A.L.T. Lab on board, under the direction of S.A.L.T. Kitchen chefs, we created a creamy fish soup called hudutu, which is popular throughout Roatan, Belize, and Honduras.
The complimentary S.A.L.T. Lab classes were offered every day of our cruise, and guests had a chance to make Latin American dishes, such as empanadas and tamales, with recipes to take home.
With eight restaurants onboard, the difficult decision each evening began with where to eat, followed by what to order.
Continental, Japanese, French, Italian, pizza, Hot Rocks, S.A.L.T. Kitchen, or Jazz Supper Club? It’s a good thing we had enough days onboard to try them all.
All venues are complimentary except for French (La Dame, USD $60 per person), and Japanese (Kaiseki, USD $40 per person for dinner, but lunch is complimentary).
Sharks & stingrays
The majority of excursions focused on Mayan archaeological ruins, snorkelling, diving, and rainforest/wildlife tours.
We were pleasantly surprised by the reasonable tour prices as most were under USD $100 and many were within the USD $49-89 range.
We were also happy to hear that all tourism workers at every port are fully vaccinated, and those who come in direct contact with guests must wear masks at all times and are tested a day prior to or the day of the excursion.
With up to nine tours at each port, it was tough to decide what to pick.
In Belize, we opted for the Sharks, Ray, Barrier Reef Snorkel & Island Escape which brought us face-to-face with nurse sharks and stingrays.
We swam among these gentle creatures that were more interested in the morsels of fish handed out by our boat crew than the photo-snapping tourists.
A stop at Caye Caulker for a refreshing Belizean beer and lunch (extra charge) was a nice break before returning to the ship.
Since more than 50 per cent of Costa Rica is covered by rainforest, all excursions in Puerto Limon were nature-oriented.
Options included a botanical garden tour, jungle river cruise, canopy zip-lining, rainforest aerial tram, and white-water rafting.
Our relaxing jungle cruise was just the ticket after several busy days, with our eagle-eyed guide spotting countless wading birds, sunning iguanas, howler monkeys, and even a sloth with a golden-haired baby clinging to her chest.
The Panama Canal experience
The pièce de resistance, of course, was the Panama Canal transit.
At the crack of dawn, guests congregated at the ship’s bow, vying for the best photo-op position as Silver Moon positioned itself in front of the Gatun Locks.
Much of the canal operations remain the same as they were when it first opened.
Just like in 1914, crewmen in a small boat row out to the ship to receive its first tether lines, although mechanical “mules” have since replaced live ones that safely guide ships along the canal locks.
Using the sheer power of water and gravity, the Silver Moon was raised 85 feet above sea level through three locks before gliding into Gatun Lake.
After crossing the continental divide, Silver Moon traversed three more locks – one at Pedro Miguel and two at Miraflores – to be lowered back to sea level before emerging into the Pacific Ocean.
We witnessed the sights and sound of the canal operations, and of course, smelled and tasted the Panamanian dishes that evening in the S.A.L.T. Kitchen.
An all-encompassing feeling of safety
We received another antigen test halfway through the cruise.
On the day before disembarkation, complimentary antigen tests were given to all guests, with Canadians receiving the required PCR test (costing between USD $170-190, depending on the port).
The sailing was near half capacity, with just more than 300 of us on the 596-guest ship.
The crew is tested every few days, and in the event of a positive case, there are isolation suites. And, if required, Silversea will disembark symptomatic guests to a shoreside facility, pay for all medical expenses and fly them home upon full recovery.
It is these all-encompassing measures that provided peace of mind to all.
“Our protocols work, and we could offer our guests a balance of feeling safe and being able to enjoy their cruise,” said Silversea’s Chief Commercial Officer Barbara Muckermann.
Support for agents
Being wholly owned by the Royal Caribbean Group has put Silversea in a strong financial position, despite the losses the cruise industry has suffered due to the pandemic.
The company was, for one, the first luxury operator to return to Alaska, Greece, and the Galapagos and the only brand operating a world cruise in 2022.
Mark Conroy, Silversea’s managing director for the Americas, credits the Royal Caribbean Group for supporting the travel trade over the past year and a half.
Silversea, for instance, paid commission on all cancelled sailings, offered an upfront bonus commission for new bookings, as well as honoured all committed co-op payments. It is also currently working on another travel advisor compensation plan for 2022.
Coming out of the pandemic, many travellers will look for fully-vaccinated, small-ship experiences.
With 85 percent of Silversea’s guests coming from premium lines, travel advisors should look for potential luxury clients in their existing database, Conroy said.
Canadians make up between 10 and 15 percent of Silversea’s clients, he said, particularly on expedition voyages.
“Canadians tend to be more adventurous and take longer trips. They have a better sense of life balance and are intrepid travellers,” he said.
Canadian guests have also embraced Silversea’s Canadian pricing program, launched in 2018, resulting in a 30 to 40 per cent increase in bookings.
Make a value comparison between Silversea and other premium brands, Conroy said.
A Silversea suite may cost double that of a premium line, but once all the inclusions have been factored in, Silversea’s per diem may be just a little higher, while offering a small-ship, all-suite, and elevated experience in all aspects.
With an average voyage consisting of 60 per cent repeat guests, a new Silversea client will rebook and become an annuity for the travel advisor, Conroy said.
Canadian travel advisors can look to three Silversea sales team members for support to grow their business:
Chaz Dunwoody (firstname.lastname@example.org) area sales director, Pacific Northwest and Western Canada; Markian (Mark) Dzerowycz (email@example.com) regional sales director, Eastern Canada; Karl Kannstadter (firstname.lastname@example.org), director, Expedition Sales.