Good Looks, Lacks Personality

The 296-passenger Silver Cloud from Silversea Cruises, the newest cruise line to enter the ultra-luxury sweepstakes, made its debut last month in the Mediterranean with some of the best "hardware" we've seen since the Crystal Harmony.

Unfortunately, the fledgling line's "software"--the food, service and entertainment--has yet to develop a personal stamp or style, unlike other new cruise lines that have debuted in recent years. We think in particular of Crystal Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises, all of which sailed from the moment they were christened with a clear and fixed image they want to impress on a passenger.

Silversea doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a bigger version of the little superdeluxe ships or a smaller version of traditional classic cruise vessels like Crystal Harmony and Royal Viking Sun. That's a pity, since the ship itself has more to offer for the money than most of its competitors in the $600-plus-a-day bracket--an incredibly smooth ride, even in seas so rough the vessel couldn't anchor and tender off the Greek island of Chios during our cruise; a tiered two-deck show lounge with big stage and excellent sight lines; a full-service spa with sea-water therepy tub, a first on a ship of this size.

Cabins are big and comfortable, with the 38 lowest-priced passenger cabins, those without verandas, measuring 240 square feet each, while the 102 cabins with verandas measure 294 square feet.

For comparison shoppers in the deluxe market, this means standard cabins are slightly larger than standard accommodations aboard Cunard Sea Goddess and most cabins aboard Seven Seas' Song of Flower. They're comparable in size to Seabourn's standard suites, which are 277 square feet but don't offer verandas, and Radisson Diamond's standard suites, which are 250 square feet with or without verandas. The handsome marble bathrooms, however, offer less counter and storage space than Seabourn or Royal Viking Queen.

Brochure prices on the Silver Cloud's cabins without verandas are $599 a day per person, double occupancy, in the Mediterranean, $469 in North America, while veranda cabins run $685 a day per person, double occupancy, in the Mediterranean, $549 in North America. Those prices include round-trip air fare, transfers, travel insurance with some trip cancellation coverage, some land hotel stays before and/or after the cruise, port taxes, tips and beverages aboard, including wine, cocktails and soft drinks.

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For comparison, here's a rundown on brochure prices for similar Mediterranean cruises this year aboard Silversea's major rivals:

* Seabourn--$1,032 a day per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air fare, tips, complimentary in-cabin bar; lounge drinks and wine with meals are extra.

* Royal Viking Queen--$942 a day per person, double occupancy, with air fare from the West Coast and tips but not beverages included.

* Sea Goddess--$785 a day per person, double occupancy, without air fare but with tips and all beverages included.

* Radisson Diamond--$783 a day per person, double occupancy, including air fare from the West Coast, tips and house wine with meals included; 120 cabins with private verandas.

* Song of Flower--from $427 to $728 a day per person, double occupancy, with tips and all beverages included, air fare extra; latter price is for cabins with private veranda.

Each stateroom on Silver Cloud has a walk-in closet with generous hanging and drawer space, personal safe, terry cloth robes and slippers. Cabins have sitting area with full-sized sofa and two chairs, a small marble table that can be converted into a larger table for en suite dinning, plus a dressing table with hair dryer, TV with VCR, a stocked mini-refrigerator, twin beds convertible to queen-size bed, bedside tables and good reading lights. A bottle of champagne in a silver ice bucket, fresh fruit and a vase of fresh flowers (orchids when we were aboard) is in every cabin at embarkation. The marble bathrooms all have tubs and extra-large sizes of Caswell-Massey toiletries.

Besides the 140 vista and veranda cabins, there are eight suites--four grand suites with private verandas that sleep four in two bedrooms and two baths measuring 1,085 square feet, three Silver Suites with separate bedroom, big living room with dining table and bathroom with spa tub measuring 528 square feet, and one owner's suite with two bedrooms and veranda that measures 887 square feet.

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On our sailing, the fourth week the ship was in service, the service staff was still tentative and lacked polish and teamwork, in part because most of them were recruited relatively close to sailing. Service did, however, seem to improve somewhat as the voyage went on.

The food, on the other hand, while perfectly acceptable by cruise ship standards, was neither exciting nor innovative but bland, more on the order of what we'd expect from Cunard's Sagafjord or Royal Cruise Line, ships that serve a high proportion of older travelers. Many of the passengers we met on board, however, were pre-retirement-age veterans of Seabourn, Sea Goddess, RVL Queen and Song of Flower, all ships with outstanding cuisine.

Breakfast and lunch daily are served in both the dining room and the slightly more casual Terrace Cafe, and alternative dining with a set theme menu is scheduled in the cafe a couple of nights a week. On our cruise, one menu was the Austrian chef's pallid interpretation of Asian cuisine; the other was a Greek dinner that was fairly tasty. Advance reservations are required, guests are limited to 50, and there is no extra charge.

Shakedown plumbing problems plagued the early sailings but corrections were expected to be completed by this month.

Entertainment follows a predictable format--musical shows with two singers and four female dancers going through the usual reprise of Broadway hits (including the hoary "Fiddler on the Roof") sans scenery but with frequent costume changes. Cruise director Ray Solaire presents his charming puppet act on one evening, followed by a personable young magician. Perhaps the most diverting evening was an impromptu jazz session with five members of the ship's orchestra.

The shore excursions program is exceptionally good. On our Greek and Turkish itinerary, we had both a Greek and a Turkish hostess on board to accompany shore tours and to answer questions for passengers who want to arrange their own visits ashore.

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At least once each cruise, the line presents what it calls a "Silversea Experience." On our sailing it was a free all-day tour through the Turkish countryside along the Turquoise Coast on comfortable buses that, according to line policy, are filled not more than 60%, so passengers have room to spread out. At lunchtime, we stopped at a park and lunched alfresco among the pine trees on a traditional wedding feast--Turkish wines, two dozen cold meze (appetizers), six or eight different kinds of kebabs grilled over charcoal and a table of desserts and fresh fruits--catered by the Antalya Sheraton. The costumed wedding couple rode through the trees on decorated camels greeting guests, and later folk dancers and belly dancers entertained.

A variety of optional shore excursions was offered in each port at prices ranging from $24 to $37 dollars for half-day tours.

The Silver Cloud cruises the Baltic on 10-day itineraries from Copenhagen and Amsterdam now through the end of August, calling in Stockholm; Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, and Helsinki on most sailings. On Aug. 31 the ship leaves London for a Celtic cruise along the Scottish and Irish coasts, then a transatlantic crossing from Cork to New York.

Ten-day cruises between New York and Montreal in September celebrate New England's autumn color, followed by a southbound sailing leaving New York via Colonial America for Nassau Oct. 11. Caribbean, trans-canal and South American cruises fill out the rest of the 1994 calendar.

For a free brochure from Silversea, ask your travel agent or call (800) 722-6655.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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