Silversea Caribbean Cruise Aboard the Silver Wind December 9-17, 2019
by Carol Farnworth
We love to get away to warm places in the winter. So my husband John and I selected an Eastern Caribbean voyage on Silversea Cruises' Silver Wind. The ship holds 274 passengers and 239 crew. However, since this was a sailing date right before Christmas, there were only about 200 on our sailing. I appreciated the slightly quieter atmosphere and extra public space.
HOW ABOUT SOME CARIBBEAN ATMOSPHERE BEFORE WE GO?
PRE-CRUISE We flew down to Puerto Rico one day early, which I always recommend for a cruise. Taxis from the San Juan airport to our hotel had a set rate of $23. We stayed the night at Courtyard by Marriott in San Juan. It was acceptable. No one at this type of hotel was available to help with bags. Last time we were in San Juan we stayed at the Sheraton, but hotel availability in San Juan always seems tight and there were no bargains. We had been assigned a 2:00pm check in time at the pier. I am so glad we decided to allow lots of extra time to get across the city to the waterfront. Three very large cruise ships were in port (at a different port than for Silversea), traffic getting through the city was unbelievable. One fellow passenger said it took an hour and a half for her taxi to reach the ship. And she said they were only about 5 miles away.
PORT THOUGHTS Our cruise started from San Juan, Puerto Rico, then we sailed onto St. Barts, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, St. John and finally ended in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We had visited all these ports on prior cruises (except Samana)—so we didn’t take any of the organized ship excursions and just wandered around on our own.
We were supposed to also visit La Romana in the Dominican Republic, but there was a schedule problem and we visited Samana instead, also in the Dominican Republic.
Since our last St. Lucia visit a quite nice shopping area around the pier has developed. The ship also organized a complimentary late afternoon beach party on St. Lucia. While we were not able to attend, we heard it was very nice, with music from two steel bands.
There was similar development dockside in St. Maarten. We were stunned when three gigantic cruise ships were in port along with us. Over 16,000 cruise passengers suddenly descended on the port of Philipsburg!
SEA DAYS Maybe because this was a fairly port intensive cruise, there was not a great deal of organized activity on the two sea days. Golf putting and trivia seemed to be the best attended activities of the day. Most people seemed content to be out on deck. There were no photographers on board and no art auctions. Library was nicely stocked with comfortable tables and chairs, although we never saw anybody sitting in there. There are additional books in the Observation Lounge at the top of the ship. This deck is also where the fitness center and spa/beauty salon are located. Yoga and other classes are held in this lounge but I never saw anybody in it otherwise. It was a poor utilization of space.(MOBILTY NOTE: The Silver Wind was the perfect size ship for us, since my husband John needs a transport chair pushed most of the time. He can walk just short distances. It was odd that no regular elevator to reach Deck 9. You either have to take stairs from the outside deck, or from Deck 8 there is a wheelchair lift up to the higher deck.)
SHIP DECOR AND CONDITION The ship is scheduled for refurbishment to expedition status in 2020. I had read on-line reviews before boarding which made it sound like drydock was WAY overdue, so I was not expecting the ship to look great and I was pleasantly surprised. I found the carpeting, upholstery and general condition of the ship to be very good. There was lots of dark wood, marble and tile, which I understand will be updated to a more modern look with the refurbishment. UPGRADE NOTE: A major upgrade in December 2018 saw Silver Wind looking better than ever. A second refurbishment in November 2021 saw her benefitting from a strengthened to ice-class hull and made her one of the most adaptable ships in Silversea's fleet.
OUR STATEROOM We had a midship veranda suite which was very comfortable. It had a layout similar to mini-suites on Princess but just wider giving a bit more space. It also had a walk-in closet, a bathtub and shower. The bathroom size was okay, but not overly spacious and somewhat dark and it could use better lighting. The television in room had the regular assortment of news and other shows plus on-demand television shows and movies. The room service menu is 24/7 and very impressive - really the best I have seen on any ship. They also will serve the menu from the restaurant in your room if you wish, but that’s sort of in the fine print of information.
OUR BUTLER Each suite has butler service. In addition to a regular room steward, our butler was from India and he was movie star handsome! He helped us arrange for a minor repair to John's transport chair done and even helping tie John's tie for the formal night. Living in casual Oregon John had forgotten how to do this!
DRESS CODE Speaking of dress code, the Silversea website says: Shipboard attire ranges from casual to formal. Casual wear is appropriate for daytime aboard ship or ashore and consists of standard sports outfits as worn at five-star resorts. Shoes should be flat or low heeled for deck activities. Evening attire falls into three categories: casual, informal and formal. On casual evenings, pants, blouses, skirts and casual dresses for ladies; open-neck shirts and slacks for gentlemen are appropriate. On informal evenings, ladies usually wear dresses or pantsuits; gentlemen wear jackets (tie optional). Appropriate formal evening wear for ladies is an evening gown or cocktail dress; gentlemen wear tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits. Tie is required. On formal nights, guests may dine in La Terrazza and choose to dress informal; dresses or pantsuits for ladies, jackets for gentlemen (tie optional). Dining at The Grill is optional casual attire all nights. Following dinner on the formal night, all guests are free to take advantage of any or all public spaces, however, jacket is required. Sailings of 9 days or less typically feature 1 formal night, while longer voyages usually have 2-3 formal nights. However, despite the code and the brochure photos, we found the dress code to be far less formal. On the formal night men are supposed to wear a jacket to dinner. Many did not, and there was no fuss about that.
LOUNGES AND ENTERTAINMENT People gathered for cocktails either in The Bar or in the Panorama Lounge. There was comfortable seating in both areas, with live music before and after dinner but tiny dance floors. Entertainment and shows were in the ship’s Show Lounge. For a small size ship, it seemed unusual how large the the lounge tiered seating and a good size stage. There were no extravagant shows like on the big ships. There were six young people called the Voices of Silversea who performed in various shows, but these were sadly rather poorly attended. The cruise director was Colin Barbierre-Brown, who was a real class act and a trained concert pianist. He did three classical oriented programs that were excellent.
DINING The Restaurant is open for full service breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was pretty sparely attended except for dinner. The room itself is just one large space. It could really use being somehow broken up so you don’t feel you are in a convention-type dining room. There was not even candles on the table or ambient lighting at night. Dinner menus were were three pages. The top page changed nightly and the second two pages of choices changed every three or four days.
There were always choices of a lobster dish, beef tenderloin, NY steak, etc. It was quite good except I found I needed to season food more than I would normally. The portion side was perfect.
Just off The Restaurant is a small space called La Dame. It is a specialty restaurant with concentration of pairing wines with the menu. It has a $60 cover charge. It did not seem super popular, but I spoke to a couple of people who dined there and thought it was excellent.
La Terraza is another venue for meals. Has outdoor dining space as well at back of ship. Very popular breakfast and lunch, buffet. Waiters would take special orders for breakfast, like omelets, eggs Benedict, etc. I thought it could also use a daily breakfast special, like some kind of crepe or quiche. Lunch was pretty much the same daily with salads, meats, and pizza made to order. John is more a fan of pizza than I am but he said it was nothing special. However they did always have sushi and sashimi (which I love) so I was a happy camper. A daily pasta special at lunch would have been nice. On the last day they had a fabulous cold shellfish buffet. It was so impressive, people were taking photos of it. At night La Terraza turns into a Italian restaurant with waiter service, homemade pasta and a number of other choices. It was very nice with lovely atmosphere and we ate here twice. If you are sailing with Silversea, definitely book ahead for dinner reservations. We were on a waitlist for our last dinner. It is always easier to cancel than to get on board and be disappointed not to be able to dine here.
The Grill is one of the most inviting poolside casual restaurants I have seen on any ship. Instead of buffet style, there are menus and orders taken at your table for lunch. There were excellent appetizer platters, wraps, hotdogs, hamburgers and desserts. John figures we drank at least $100 worth of champagne (the real stuff) one day at lunch. On occasional nights they also have a casual Hot Rocks dinner option where they heat flat stones super hot and you cook your own dinner at your table – shrimp, salmon, steaks.
Afternoon tea is also served in La Terraza, or you can opt for it to be served in your room. It was a lovely presentation with a choice of perhaps eight loose teas and a three-story tower of pastries, sandwiches, cakes, cookies and scones. There was lovely live music.
THE CREW The crew could not have been nicer or more helpful. They really go out of their way to be friendly and made sure we were happy. The wait staff, a mix of European and Indonesian and Filippino people, were excellent.
This cruise was the perfect, warm, luxurious escape that we needed!
I flew down to Southern California with my husband Bob for a long weekend getaway at Terranea Resort. I'd long heard about this oceanfront resort, which opened in 2015, and was eager to check it out for myself. Terranea is an 582-room property in Ranchos Palos Verdes, which is a 30-minute drive from Long Beach airport or 60 minutes from LAX.
Check in was done in the main lobby and while there was always a line of people waiting, they do give you a glass of prosecco while you wait. Funny how people don’t mind the wait while they have a cocktail in hand! The hotel is very pet friendly and there were a lot of dogs.
Guestrooms start at about 400 square feet. Ours had a small balcony which overlooked the property and the ocean. There is little privacy on the balconies so you can friendly with your neighbors quickly! The rooms are well appointed with small refrigerators and a coffee maker, bathrobes, slippers and bath amenities. The closet was a bit small. There was a huge television on the wall and lots of outlets for electronics. The bathrooms were a good size but only one sink. The shower, I have to say was less than ideal. It had a small showerhead and low water pressure. The California Coastal Commission has a lot of regulations and this hotel falls under them, so it does not sound like the water pressure can be adjusted.
Terranea Resort’s scene-stealing backdrop has attracted Hollywood film crews since the 1950s, when Lloyd Bridges starred as ex-Navy diver Mike Nelson in the popular TV adventure series, Sea Hunt. The popular black-and-white program was filmed in and around the present resort site throughout four seasons from 1958 – 1961. At the time, the land was home to Marineland of the Pacific, a seaside animal theme park, which was the world's largest oceanarium when it opened. Sea Hunt is recognized as the first television series that focused on underwater adventures and provided an early platform for the protection of the Earth’s resources. Since then, Terranea’s dramatic landscape and oceanfront setting has been featured in numerous television and feature film productions, including: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Aviator, Charlie’s Angels, Savages, and many more.
The hotel has four restaurants, a cafe and a bar. The restaurants are open to the public and they are busy. They do have a huge Sunday brunch which was lovely. A guest favorite for casual dining, Nelson’s is perched directly above the ocean coves. The cliff-top eatery pays homage to Sea Hunt's Mike Nelson, as well as actor Lloyd Bridges’ lifetime efforts to protect the environment and the ocean. Guests enjoy coastal cuisine and a warm, friendly bar atmosphere surrounded by outdoor fire pits and unrivalled sunset views.
Terranea has their own garden, beehives, and sea salt conservatory where they do tours here for a fee. There was lots of lovely landscaping.
There are four pools and all were busy. The Resort Pool is the family pool with a slide. The Vista Pool is filled with salt water and is open for guests 13 yrs and up, but the teens didn't appear to want to hang out there so it was the quietest of the four pools. The Cielo Pool is the “adults only” salt water pool. But if you were over 30, it was not the place for you! The Spa Pool was nice (18 and over) and the hotel kindly arranged a complimentary cabanas for us there.
There is a good size spa, spa cafe, fitness center and treatment rooms. Food is served poolside at the Spa Pool. They also have a salon for hair and nails. The spa does have offerings for pregnant women and seems to be quite a draw for babymoons.
Terranea does offer wonderful active adventures like kayaking, paddle boarding, archery and falconry for an hourly fee. We choose to kayak and saw a lot of sea lions and pelicans. There were many of hiking trails around the property. The Tide Pool Kids Club is available for a fee. Kids from 2-12 are welcome in the Kids Club.
The resort hosts a lot of weddings. We saw two in the short time we were there. There were also various meetings going on, they have a very large meeting space area.
The resort has a “vacation home” program as well. These are the villa units, 2-3 bedroom (basically they are residences), all individually owned and decorated. All are fully stocked with linens and kitchenware. The rules on these however is that the owner /renters cannot occupy them for more than 90 days per year and not for more than 30 days at a time. Again these are Coastal Commission rules. Rentals start at about $1,000/night.
It is a large property and you can get around by golf cart but again, with the place being so busy there was up to a 20 minute wait for a golf cart during the dinner hour. Golf is nearby and they do offer a golf academy.
The dress code is basically country club casual but there were a lot of families dressed very informally.
This resort is good for multi generational families, girl friend getaways, wedding parties, groups, and of course babymoons. Couples seeking privacy and a quieter environment would do better elsewhere. Terranea could be an excellent place to stay before or after an ocean cruise departing from San Pedro or Long Beach.
Rates start at about $400/night plus their daily resort fee.
If you book this hotel through Dimensions in Travel, you have access to these outstanding ENSEMBLE EXCLUSIVE AMENITIES:
Breakfast for two daily (up to a $60 value per room) in Catalina Kitchen or via in-room dining
$100 resort credit per room, per stay
Do let me know if I can book this Southern California oceanfront escape as a long weekend for you!
Dimensions in Travel agency owner Jill Romano and her husband Bob loved their visit to Egypt in October 2019. They were part of an advisory board of top travel agency owners hosted on the trip by Abercrombie & Kent.
DAY 1 (SFO - Cairo): We arrive in magnificent Cairo. Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) provides us with a VIP Meet and Greet. They whisked us from the terminal gate straight in to a car to a lounge to wait for them to process our visas. Love it!
Our hotel was the riverfront Four Seasons Nile Plaza which offers great views over of the City. All vehicles must stop at entrance for inspection and all handbags are checked carefully but respectfully at front door. It is a beautiful, grand hotel, the rooms are quite large and they offer a very extensive buffet breakfast. There is a small shopping mall adjacent to the hotel accessible via a private entrance.
An A&K Tour Manager traveled with us every day plus our local tour guide and one security officer (yes, well hidden, but still obvious gun). We saw security everywhere in the city and many checkpoints - it’s the world we live in. However we found the Egyptian people to welcoming and gracious.
DAY 2 (Cairo): This morning, we visited Sakkara, a necropolis (cemetery) for the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis and site of the first pyramids. We viewed the famous Step Pyramid of King Djoser with its six tiers representing the pharaoh's stepladder to heaven and admired the beautiful tomb art which offers us great insight into the lives of the ancient Egyptians. We marveled at the Serapeum of Sakkara, burial place of the Apis bulls, sacred animals said to be incarnations of the deity Ptah. Ponder along with scholars as to why the sarcophagi are so much larger than the animals themselves.
We returned to our hotel for lunch and an Advisory Board meeting. While the board convened, travel companions who were not agency owner joined a local expert for a walking tour of Islamic Cairo. They explored the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan, built in AD 1356. Tonight, we celebrated the beginning of our journey at a special Welcome Dinner at the home of Amr Badr, the Managing Director of Abercrombie & Kent, Egypt & Middle East. Joining us were prominent Egyptian leaders in the arts, history, theatre, politics and tourism. It was quite an evening!
Day 3 (Cairo) Off to visit see the Sphinx! Normally, all tour buses must stop and guest clear a security area, then back on the buses before continuing to the site. A&K guests are able to bypass this. We begin with private access to the paws of the Great Sphinx, close enough to touch them, as well as a special one-hour onsite lecture by Dr. Zahi Hawass, the renowned Egyptian archaeologist and former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs.
Then we go on to explore the Giza Plateau, site of the pyramids of Mycerinus and Chefren as well as the Great Pyramid. Built in the Fourth Dynasty (approximately 2690 BC), the Great Pyramid is the only survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We did the Ride Like a Local program on camelback and visited the Solar Boat Museum, the site of Cheops' funerary boat, the world's oldest intact ship.
We transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM to open October 2022) which houses more than 100,000 artifacts from prehistory through the Greek and Roman periods. While the massive building is not yet open to the public, we were granted hard hat access to the Restoration Laboratories, where scientists and artists are working to restore priceless relics.
At the Marriott Mena House Hotel, we enjoyed lunch and the the restaurant offer breathtaking views of the towering pyramids and the hotel's lush, landscaped gardens. We attend an afternoon Advisory Board meeting at the hotel. As the historic wing is currently closed for renovation, A&K does book the newer wing for all their travelers who stay here. While they have no views of pyramids, Mena House is still the closest hotel to the Pyramids. This evening's special dinner was at the historic Abdeen Palace, one of the official residences of the President of Egypt and former home of the nation's kings, where we were joined by a special guest speaker on Egyptian culture. We had the chance to visit the Throne Room and Winter Garden. The hotel is only open for state functions, not the traveling public.
Day 4 (Cairo): This morning, we explored 7,000 years of history at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including treasures from Tutankhamun and items dating to 4000 BC. We also viewed its famed Mummy Room, featuring the remains of Egypt's pharaohs and nobility, including Ramses II who was one of Egypt's most powerful pharaohs. There is NO air conditioning in the museum, so bring a fan and bottle of water. When the GEM opens, curators will be moving many of the artifacts (in particular the pharaohs) and will host a grand celebration through the city.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we joined a local Jewish expert at a restored, century-old synagogue to discuss Egypt's Jewish diaspora. Up until the early 20th century, 80,000 Egyptian Jews lived alongside the nation's Muslims and Christians. Today, this number has dwindled to less than a dozen. The association Drop of Milk seeks to preserve the story of this diaspora and its fading legacy.
This evening we gathered for dinner at a local restaurant with stunning Nile River views.
Day 5 (Cairo - Abu Simbel - Aswan - Sanctuary Sun Boat III) Early this morning, we took a 45-minute charter flighttoAbu Simbel, site of the magnificent temple of Ramses II. There are actually two temples, the Great Temple of Ra-Harakhte, fronted by the four colossal statues of Ramses II (each nearly 70 feet tall) and the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to Ramses' beloved wife Queen Nefertari. When floodwaters from Lake Nasser and the High Dam project threatened to leave the temples permanently submerged, they were cut into pieces, raised up the hillside from their old lower location and then reassembled around a concrete dome on the new site.
After lunch, we boarded our charter flight to Aswan, the launching point of our Nile cruise. The Sanctuary Sun Boat III is an intimate river yacht representing the ultimate in luxurious Nile cruises. This elegant Egyptian vessel carries up to 36 guests in beautifully designed accommodations on four decks. It has 18 beautifully designed unique cabins with two royal suites and two presidential suites. Modelled on the opulent era of the 20s and 30s, Sanctuary Sun Boat III offers delicious sumptuous meals in the restaurant, afternoon tea in the stunning lounge, and refreshing cocktails on the sun deck. . The reception staff offered us chilled fruit juice and assisted with check-in.
Later we did the Ride Like a Local program in a traditional Nile felucca (sailing boat) around Elephantine and Kitchener's Islands with an opportunity to view the splendid Aga Khan Mausoleum high above the river. We returned to Sanctuary Sun Boat III for a cocktail reception and a gourmet dinner.
Day 6 (Nile River Cruise aboard the Sanctuary Sun Boat III - Luxor) We began our day with a motorized boat ride to Philae Temple on the island of Agilika. This sacred complex was dedicated to the Goddess Isis and reflects a fusion of three great civilizations: Egyptian, Greek and Roman. The temple was dismantled and then painstakingly reassembled when the Aswan High Dam was constructed in the 1960s. The dam spans the Nile River, more than two miles across and incorporating 16 times the amount of material that went into the Great Pyramid at Giza. It provides irrigation and hydroelectric power to much of Egypt. Afterward, we enjoyed lunch as we cruised to Kom Ombo (Hill of Gold) to visit the Greco-Roman temple dedicated to Haroeris (the sun god) and Sobek (the crocodile god), who was considered by some ancient Egyptians to be the creators of the world.
Back on board, we enjoyed time to relax, admiring the scenery as we sailed towards Luxor. Later we joined our chef for a cooking lesson featuring Egyptian specialties, followed by afternoon tea and a scenic sundowner. Tonight, we attended a festive Egyptian-themed costume party onboard the boat. We savored a buffet of local cuisine, danced and listened to music, and since we wished to look the part, we tried on complimentary galabeyya (traditional Egyptian robes.
Day 7 (Luxor) After an early breakfast, we visited the Temple of Karnak, via motor boat across the Nile to the west bank. Then we went onto the Valley of the Queens. The site's highlight, the beautiful tomb of Ramses II's beloved wife Queen Nefertari, is said to be the finest tomb in Egypt, with vividly colored artwork and a ceiling painted with stars.
We continued to the historic Valley of the Kings to marvel at the tomb of Tutankhamun and the superbly preserved tomb of Seti I, with its art-filled walls that set the precedent for all the tombs that followed. We also enjoyed special, private access to the tomb of Amenhotep II, not currently open to the public and we also had a choice to see Ramses VI and we were the only ones in the tomb - incredible! . Discovered in 1988, the tomb is considered one of the most important in the Valley of the Kings. It is particularly renowned for its vivid illustrations of the netherworld.
Later, we had a private visit to the home of Howard Carter, famed archaeologist credited with the profound discovery of Tutankhamun's intact tomb. View many artifacts actually owned and used by Carter, including his cameras and darkroom equipment, which he used to catalog the astonishing treasures uncovered in the tomb.
We continued with a photo stop at the fabled Colossi of Memnon, two enormous seated statues of Amenhotep III, known in Ancient Greek times for their haunting voices at dawn. From here, we returned to our motor boat by bike (or vehicle).
This afternoon, we chose from two Design Your Day options:
East Bank of Luxor - Continue exploring the Nile's east bank at the Temple of Karnak, a sprawling monument bearing the mark of 30 pharaohs. Over the span of centuries, each ruler added their own monuments to the temple, making it the largest open-air religious site in the country. Proceed to Luxor Temple, ancient Egypt's most significant religious center.
Funtasia Cultural Center - We all visited this wonderful school and I highly recommend it for all my clients. This is a project supported by A&K Philanthropy and offers after school programming for local children, ranging in ages from 4 to 16 years old. The center focuses on strengthening confidence, communication and collaboration with young people using tools such as the arts, gardening, poetry, nutrition, health and coding. It is taught by locally trained facilitators. The aim is to prepare youth for a life of meaningful connections with people, for the job market of tomorrow, and to use creativity as a means to finding solutions to their challenges.
We returned to 'Sanctuary Sun Boat III for afternoon tea. Tonight's farewell dinner was a gala affair, with white-gloved waiters serving gourmet cuisine.
Day 8 (Luxor - Cairo) Early in the morning, we bid farewell to Sanctuary Sun Boat III. After disembarking, we flew by charter flight to Cairo, where we enjoyed lunch followed by a visit to the Azza Fahmy Jewelry Gallery. Join the famed jewelry designer for a behind-the-scenes look at the intricate craftsmanship incorporated into every piece of her handcrafted jewelry and a discussion on how she gained access to the historically male-dominated field of jewelry making in 1967.
We spent the rest of our afternoon at leisure or shopping at Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, one of the city's major souks (open-air marketplaces).
Tonight's farewell dinner was a private affair at the Madam Sadat’s home. She personally greeted everyone and welcomed us in to a lounge space where she spoke candidly for about an hour, then we were treated to a buffet of traditional Egyptian dishes.