5 things to love about Silver Dawn, Silversea Cruises’ new ship
Editor’s note: TPG contributor Janice Wald Henderson sailed on Silver Dawn on a free trip provided by Silversea Cruises. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren’t subject to review by the line.
After a week on ultra-luxury line Silversea Cruises’ new Silver Dawn, my hot take is that the ship feels slightly edgier, and, dare I say, more fun, than its older siblings.
It’s a refreshing surprise, made possible by three strong components in Silversea’s evolution. One: A cruise director who can play the traditional warm and fuzzy host but also perform hilarious, more youth-oriented (either by age or mindset) shows. Two: A culinary program that allows food adventurers to explore local cuisine and drinks, both on board and ashore. And three: A newly launched spa that emphasizes ship-wide indulgence as much as soothing treatments.
Here are my five favorite Silver Dawn experiences from a shakedown cruise sailing before the ship’s official inaugural Mediterranean voyage.
Service beyond a smile
Walking around the ship, I was genuinely surprised by how many crew members not only said hello but actually asked how I was doing. They could have said it slickly or robotically, but they didn’t. I saw their eyes crinkle, a sure way to recognize a smile beneath a mask.
One evening, I rang in-suite dining to order a lobster salad starter for dinner. “Oh no,” said the gentleman answering my call, with genuine anguish. “You must order something else. Please, have an entree, too.” So I added grilled prawns, to which he replied, “What about dessert? Anything else I can get you? Have a wonderful evening.” His caring tone of voice was unmistakable. Perhaps because the world feels so off-kilter at this moment, his kindness touched my heart.
When my in-suite dining server flashed the sweetest smile, I asked him where he was from. “Malawi,” he replied, “although my dad is from Zimbabwe and I visit there often.” I got excited and shared stories of my last Zimbabwe visit and how much it meant to me. When exiting my suite, he turned and said, “The highlight of this experience at sea was meeting you.” Rubbish? Perhaps. Yet as a solo traveler, it was my feel-good moment of the night.
Butlers attend to all kinds of passengers, and my butler, who hailed from Calcutta, read me like a book. He was patient when I felt frazzled with writing, fighting jet lag and was busy with meetings (not the typical cruiser). He solved my internet problem, and later, television issues. Sometimes he popped by midday to see if I needed anything. He brought extra bottles of still water, simply by noticing how much I drank.
Consider new Silversea spa Otium a cruise ship game-changer. And not just for its name, which is pronounced aught-zium, according to Silversea President and CEO Roberto Martinoli, though most passengers will probably say oh-tium or ah-tium.
Enjoy complimentary Champagne and caviar post-massage? It’s the place to go.
Otium was designed to conjure up the lifestyle of the ancient Roman elite class, who spent much leisure time basking in the finest pleasures. In other words, pampering and a smidgen (or more) of decadence is part of the new spa conceit — both in the actual spa and in your suite.
Related: 6 best cruise ship spas
For passenger suites (all accommodations are suites), Silversea designed new mattresses and ordered the softest new sheets for better slumber. I definitely noticed the difference; the mattress nearly cocoons your body, and the crisp sheets feel like those I’ve slept on in France’s or Italy’s finest hotels.
The line also added an indulgent Otium comfort food menu, like foie gras burgers and lobster on brioche, to the regular in-suite dining selections. An Otium packet placed in nightstands explains the new spa concept and includes menus for spa treatments and in-suite comfort food.
One way to experience Otium in-suite is via a complimentary special bath. Just ask your butler and he will arrange it for the day and time of your choice. Imagine walking into your bathroom and finding an aromatherapy-scented (battery-powered) candlelit bath, with classical music playing in the background. Settle into a tub fitted with a wooden tray, then sip champagne or nibble a freshly baked macaron dramatically presented under glass. Or, simply close your eyes and breathe in the aromatic bath salts.
If you wish to go to the actual spa, your butler will bring you a letter on fancy Otium stationery the day prior to your treatment, with a health form to complete and a special bathrobe to wear to the spa. Sure, health forms aren’t sexy, but by completing it in advance, you don’t have to begin your cushy spa day with mundane paperwork. The special spa robe is a more obvious perk; it doesn’t absorb the oils and creams used in treatment, so your body can soak them up post-treatment instead.
Within the spa, the Roman theme is tastefully expressed through art. Spa improvements include a larger couples treatment room and more longer treatments (100 minutes or more). One niggle: A few passengers told me that the treatment rooms could be better soundproofed; I didn’t notice any outside noise during my two experiences.
The softly lit indoor relaxation room, with loungers separated by mesh curtains, feels invitingly sexy. You will want to linger, particularly when your therapist offers a post-treatment choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails and sweets like candied orange peel, chocolate truffles and marshmallows, all made in-house. I tried most and these treats tasted as heavenly as my massage felt. (I actually swiped an extra marshmallow to go.)
An Otium spa treatment also includes a gift to take home (rather than a product hard sell). My therapist presented me with a lime and lemongrass exfoliating body polish and loofah, wrapped with sparkly paper and tied with a bow.
Like in many ship spas, medi-spa treatments can be booked, too. Teeth whitening? Restylane? Imagine heading home looking and feeling far better than when you boarded (which, of course, also can happen for free by simply relaxing on board).
Alas, bliss is not included in your cruise fare, nor does it come cheap. The most inexpensive massage costs $209, and the 100-minute Otium massage runs $399, with gratuities included. Such fees are not atypical on luxury ships, but the steep prices can be a buzzkill for some.
Food, glorious food
Silver Dawn’s cuisine excels throughout the ship in all eight dining venues. Yes, Silversea, like most luxury lines, is known for fine cooking, but I was impressed with the polish of the plates as I munched my way through the ship.
As on Silver Moon, the modern French La Dame is larger than on sister ships, seating 76 passengers. This is a smart move by Silversea, as passengers always clamor for reservations to experience this Michelin star-style evening, showcasing ingredients like France’s sublime Limousin beef, all presented with a flourish.
Related: The 7 best meals you can have at sea
Even on this all-inclusive ship, the top eateries are not complimentary. La Dame charges $60 per person, and Kaiseki, where deft Japanese chefs perform wonders with pristine fish, costs $40 per passenger. Both are well worth the extra charge – you’d pay far more for such experiences ashore.
If you don’t want to pay extra to dine, you won’t lack for any fancy foods or skilled preparations. Atlantide lavishes passengers with complimentary caviar, lobster and other high-end ingredients, all beautifully prepared, at dinner. The restaurant offers a couple of dishes (lobster salad, grilled prawns) on the in-suite dining menu; I wish it offered more.
For tasty casual eats, grab a great hot dog with grilled onions and a toasted bun at the poolside Grill, or head to Deck 11 for Spaccanapoli’s thin-crusted pizza. I did and loved both. Silver Note scores as a jazz club serving internationally inspired small plates; the music is high caliber, as is the contemporary cuisine.
S.A.L.T. culinary offerings
Silversea’s S.A.L.T. program (an acronym for Sea and Land Taste) delivers in-depth food and wine experiences both on board and ashore, and Silver Dawn is the second ship to embrace the program, after Silver Moon. It’s easy to assume that S.A.L.T. is a marketing ploy rather than actual innovation, but that’s not the case.
“This is the Anthony Bourdain generation,” explained Chief Commercial Officer Barbara Muckermann as to why the program was conceived. Sophisticated cruisers today want to dive deep into the cuisine of visited ports, so Silversea came up with an on-brand way to give travelers what they want.
S.A.L.T. possesses four thoughtfully conceived components to make this program vital: S.A.L.T. Lab as a culinary arts school, S.A.L.T. Kitchen restaurant for regional dining on board, S.A.L.T. shore excursions geared to gastronomic explorations and S.A.L.T. Bar for locally inspired beverages.
S.A.L.T. Lab is a well-designed hands-on cooking school, where up to 24 students at a time learn to prepare regional recipes. Depending upon passenger demand, classes may run from one to three times a day and are complimentary. Subjects vary according to the ship’s itinerary. If the sailing is in the Mediterranean, you might take a class on Spanish tapas or preparing French or Italian dishes. Sometimes, a regional culinary expert is on board, giving lectures in the Venetian Lounge.
As I was sailing in Portugal, my class delved into the cuisine of Portuguese family-run restaurants, with an emphasis on salt cod (bacalhau in Portuguese), which is widely used in cooking there. Our Portuguese-born instructor spoke excellent English and her recipes were well-written and easy to follow. We made a refreshing salt cod and chickpea salad and tasty scrambled eggs with salt cod and crispy potatoes. Both were easy to make with ingredients that had been pre-prepped for us. I’d like to see more advanced culinary classes befitting those more comfortable in the kitchen.
The 158-seat S.A.L.T. Kitchen restaurant ambitiously pursues a menu reflecting the ship’s itinerary, and therefore, changes it often. That’s no mean feat on a cruise ship, which must procure ever-changing special ingredients, and constantly retrain its cooks to prepare plates authentically.
Food cruisers’ biggest pet peeve is when a ship departs a port before dinnertime, meaning you can’t score a fabulous meal ashore. However, with S.A.L.T. Kitchen, you can experience a relatively authentic dinner on board.
One evening, I tucked into sliced Portuguese-style tuna, marinated with blood orange juice, sherry vinegar and honey, before enjoying a quintessentially Portuguese pan-fried salt cod. I wasn’t the only one liking this restaurant; it was packed nightly, perhaps because this dinnertime eatery is complimentary and no reservations are required.
S.A.L.T. shore excursions allow small groups of passengers (usually under 20) to discover local food culture in places they’d never find on their own. In Portimão, we toured a former cannery, now a poignant museum, that had old black-and-white photographs depicting what life was like for women working there decades ago.
Then we visited a hole-in-the-wall tinned fish market and restaurant and feasted on delicious sardines, mackerel and anchovies served on grilled bread. As an extra bonus, the chef used a blowtorch to char dried octopus before cutting it into tiny pieces for us to nibble. We washed it all down with multiple glasses of local rose and white wine. I’m certain I would not have thought to venture into this place on my own.
In other ports, you may visit an organic farm in Greece or lunch with a vineyard owner in Sicily. These outings can be booked before your cruise and vary in cost from $150 to $350 per person — not inexpensive, but unforgettable.
S.A.L.T. Bar is the program’s final component. Here, mixologists craft cocktails showcasing regional ingredients. It’s the coolest, buzziest bar on board (so buzzy, I never found a seat every time I peeked in).
Comedic cruise director
I almost fell off my chair when the bouncy blonde cruise director hopped on stage for the Silver Dawn welcome onboard reception and said, “Hi, I’m Vicki Van Tassel. That’s not my stripper name, that’s my real name.” I was so shocked, I’m not sure I got the quote exactly right.
I’d expect such shtick on Virgin Voyages or another fun-driven line, but not on board elegant, sophisticated Silversea. Vicki was a singer, dancer, comic and Broadway actress before becoming a cruise director. On board, she stars in a show called “Ship Happens.” (I accidentally called it “You-Know-What Happens” to my most proper butler, who attempted a straight face before bursting out laughing.)
Her performance was a comedic take on her life seeking success on Broadway, and it was hysterically funny. I’m guessing there were 20-somethings to 80-somethings in my Venetian Lounge row, and every passenger of every age was laughing nonstop.
Vicki was totally edgy, poking gentle fun at everything and everyone but mostly making fun of herself. She tap-danced, told jokes, then belted “All That Jazz” and danced like a Broadway star for the finale. The audience leaped to its feet and gave her a standing ovation as tears filled Vicki’s eyes.
Most cruise directors seem so old-school, slick and superficial to me; Vicki delivered a cool contemporary factor to Silver Dawn.