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Silver Cloud

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The spiffy little Silver Cloud, a member of Silversea Cruises' fleet of small luxury ships, is the nearly identical twin of Silver Wind; they were launched one after the other back in 1994 and 1995. Like all Silversea ships, the 296-passenger Silver Cloud stands out for its high levels of service, gourmet dining and spacious, all-oceanview suites. Its small size allows it to pull into lesser-visited ports, which is great for far-flung exploration, especially in Africa, where it operates about three months of the year, when it's not in Europe. It's elegant without being too stuffy, fun but not too frivolous and ideal for mature couples that enjoy fine food, sublime service and intimacy.

Silver Cloud has among the highest space-to-passenger ratios in the industry, which is reflected in the spacious all-suite cabins (most with private verandas). The genuine and warm crew members make passengers feel truly at home, and every cabin offers butler service. Many of the onboard staff have been with Silversea for years, demonstrating a true dedication to the personalized cruise experience. The small size of the ship means your name will almost always be remembered by staff.

Plus, Silver Cloud's fares are all-inclusive. Food, alcohol, as well as gratuities, are all included in the fare. (The main exceptions are a meal at the exclusive Relais & Chateaux restaurant and any high-end wines or spirits.) In addition, in select ports, the ship offers free transportation into town; plus, throughout 2016, Silversea is promoting complimentary excursion offerings in every port on many of Silver Cloud's Mediterranean and African voyages.

The elegant ship exudes a faintly Italian-inspired design scheme, with a lot of muted peach hues, wooden furnishings and finishings that subtly tie together one public space to the next, continuing on into most of the guest suites. While Silver Cloud awaits a complete refurbishment later in 2017 (when it'll be absorbed into Silversea's expedition fleet), be forewarned that there are some slight signs of wear and tear in passenger suites and public spaces, since only light, as-needed cosmetic changes are being made ahead of the ship's upcoming transformation.

Daytime dress is always casual, whether on the ship or in port. A typical weeklong sailing includes one formal night, when the dress code is cocktail dresses and evening gowns for women, and tuxes or dark suits for gentleman (a tie is required); three evenings with "informal" apparel (dresses or pantsuits for women, jackets for men); and three casual nights (casual dresses or blouses and pants/skirts for women, sport shirts and slacks for the guys).

Though most passengers choose to participate in formal nights (where plenty of sequined gowns and tuxedos make appearances), they can opt instead to dine in La Terrazza in "informal" attire; The Grill always offers the option for casual evening dress. If passengers don't adhere to the designated evening dress code, staff will politely attempt to enforce it, but they won't flat-out refuse them entry to the dining venues or bars for not abiding by the policy. On shorter, weeklong sailings in the Mediterranean, the formal night is always optional. 

Silver Cloud Inclusions

Silver Cloud uses the U.S. dollar as its onboard currency. Gratuities are included in the upfront cruise fares, and additional tips are not expected; however, some passengers still give them for exemplary service. Tips are not included in the cost of spa treatments (passengers can add on the standard 15 to 20 percent), but no tipping is required for the supplementary-fee Relais & Chateaux restaurant or for ordering fee-extra wine or spirits.

Cruise fares include nearly all nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages (with the exception of some premium wines, Champagnes and spirits), including a setup of complimentary beverages in passengers' ensuite bar and mini-fridge. There is also a complimentary shuttle service provided from the port into town (and back), as needed.

As of January 2016, passengers get 60 minutes of free Wi-Fi each per day; higher-level suite guests (Silver and above) get unlimited Wi-Fi. Also new for 2016, the majority of Silver Cloud's African and Mediterranean voyages are eligible for even more inclusions via "The Most Exclusive All-Inclusive" program, such as select excursions in each port, a two-night pre-cruise hotel stay (for Mediterranean sailings), a three-night safari in Kenya or South Africa (for Africa sailings), round-trip economy flights (from select locales) and ground transfers. Details on whether or not the new ultra-inclusive program will continue into 2017 have yet to be announced.

Shore Excursions

The highlights of Silver Cloud's popular (if pricy) shore excursions are the knowledgeable guides the cruise line regularly contracts. Given the ship's small size, it can get into some smaller, lesser-visited ports, where excursions run the gamut from half-day city orientations and winery outings to full-day safaris. The majority of excursions are run via van or coach, though some city tours are conducted on foot. A Silver Cloud staff member accompanies every shore excursion to make sure everything is running smoothly.

On most sailings, the line runs at least one not-for-profit "Good Citizen" tour, focused on philanthropic opportunities ashore (like visiting an orphanage). For all tours, the activity level (minimal, moderate, extensive) is indicated as such in the excursion booking details, as well as whether the excursion is handicapped accessible. Shore excursions may be booked in advance (from 120 days up to seven days in advance of your sailing) online, or aboard the ship (based upon availability).

New for 2016 (no word on 2017 offerings just yet), many of Silver Cloud's African and Mediterranean voyages offer passengers a selection of complimentary excursions in every port. Note that gratuities for local guides and drivers are not included on any of Silversea's excursions.

Supplementary Silversea-hosted pre-cruise, post-cruise and even mid-voyage "land adventures" can also be arranged, which include on-land accommodation and transfers to/from the ship (examples might include a safari in Africa or watching the Grand Prix in Monaco).

The shore concierge gives briefings on ports a day or two before docking via prerecorded information that airs on the ship's closed-circuit TVs; he or she will go over the excursions provided by the line and detail how passengers can tour on their own. At each port, a local expert usually comes aboard just after docking and can provide maps, restaurant and attraction recommendations and information on taxis.

The line's dedicated shore concierge team (their desk hours are listed in the daily program) is available to help independent travellers with destination suggestions or with coordinating private tours with a vehicle and driver and/or guide. Independent travellers can also utilize the complimentary round-trip transportation into town that's provided via shuttlebus, as needed.

Daytime and Evening Entertainment

Silversea, with its small ships and a strong emphasis on ports, is, in general, fairly light on shipboard entertainment during the day, but several offerings are on the roster, like bridge (some sailings even have dedicated bridge hosts on board) or language lessons. The most popular pastime is the cruise director-hosted daily trivia competition, usually held in the late afternoon. The main theatre, the Venetian Lounge, also screens movie matinees some afternoons, and a popular cooking demo is also held there (usually with the ship's executive chef and head sommelier) at least once per cruise.

Evening entertainment features a quartet and pianist/singer who roam between bars and the main restaurant, as well as "The Voices of Silversea" in the Venetian Lounge, a troupe of three female and three male singers/entertainers who perform everything from Beatles hits to Broadway show tunes to opera. In some ports, local entertainers (dancers or musicians, for instance) might be brought on for a special one-off performance. The quality of the entertainers is fairly high for a ship of this size.

Other special social events include the captain's welcome and farewell cocktail receptions in the Venetian Lounge, as well as regular sail-away parties held on the pool deck, with music by the quartet, when Silver Cloud leaves port. For solo travellers, a get-together hosted by the international hostess is scheduled early on in the sailing; some special sailings employ onboard gentleman hosts to dine and dance with solo female travellers, on request.

There's also a small swanky casino on Deck 5, complete with chandeliers dangling overhead, that gets fairly good table action on the roulette, blackjack and poker tables, but not too much slot play at the nearly 20 slot machines. There's the occasional afternoon blackjack tournament held here, as well.

Enrichment

Silver Cloud brings onboard some talented guest lecturers (historians, authors, professors, etc.) to present a series of talks in the Venetian Lounge, with their subject matter emphasizing the cruise destinations at hand. For instance, on our South African sailing, we had a wonderfully engaging South African professor of history onboard who gave near-daily, visually supported presentations designed to illuminate the history, contemporary issues and future of South Africa. If you don't make it to the talk, not to worry; the lectures are recorded and repeated on the ship's closed-circuit TVs so that you can watch them in the comfort of your stateroom.

Silver Cloud Bars and Lounges

With nearly all alcoholic beverages included in the rates (with few exceptions for some premium liquors and wines), Silver Cloud offers a welcoming environment for passengers who enjoy imbibing. A handful of inviting bars and lounges offer changing settings in which to socialize and sample the expansive cocktail menu featuring more than two-dozen listed cocktails (like the signature "Silver Spirit," made with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, gin, sauvignon blanc and a splash of lime). Of course, each suite comes with its own ensuite mini-bar, stocked with your preference of wines, beers, spirits and even Champagne, if you don't wish to wander beyond your own suite to enjoy your favourite drink.

The Bar (Deck 5): The most popular spot for socializing onboard Silver Cloud is The Bar, a sophisticated space with a long central bar lined by leather stools and several side tables with meant-for-lingering seating. The Bar opens up around 6 p.m., and folks meet and mingle here before and after dinner or shows (which are held in the adjacent Venetian Lounge).

Don't be surprised when the barkeep calls you by name and remembers what you drink after one visit. On many evenings, the Silver Cloud Quartet performs here, and sometimes there's a pianist and/or late-night DJ, too. The small dance floor is great for showing off your moves.

Venetian Lounge (Decks 5 & 6): The multi-tiered Venetian Lounge, named so for its lightly Venetian-inspired decor and "frescoes," provides a pleasant setting for evening shows (with a wait staff taking drink orders), enrichment lectures or movies. Generous banquettes, armchairs and tables are spread out via stadium-style seating, which overlooks the raised stage at the front of the theatre. Views are pleasantly unobstructed and there was more than enough room for everybody in attendance at each event we attended there.

Panorama Lounge (Deck 8): The aft-facing Panorama Lounge is a great place for sipping drinks (including teas and speciality coffees), listening to music or simply sitting and watching the sea go by or sun set. (A handful of tables and chairs are set up just outside of the venue, on the outside deck area.) In the evenings, a pianist usually plays and sings here.

The Humidor (Deck 8): Tucked into a corner of the Panorama Lounge, this small dark wood-panelled room, with just a couple of tables, is the only spot for indoor smoking on the ship. For purchase are a selection of premium cigars (choose Cubans and more from a cigar menu), as are special top-shelf cognacs, brandies, whiskies and more.

Pool Bar (Deck 8): A favourite daytime drinking spot for warm days at sea, the outdoor pool bar serves up refreshing cocktails (pomegranate mojito, anyone?), beer, wine, Champagne and more (typically from 9 a.m. till 10:30 p.m.). A roving wait staff will ensure that you don't have to lift a finger to have a drink (including speciality coffees) in hand.

Silver Cloud Outside Recreation

Silver Cloud has a sizable saltwater pool (large enough for laps) and two hot tubs on Deck 8. The deck space is more than ample for sun-lovers, with plenty of chaise loungers in both sunny and shaded sections framing the pool. There are extra loungers overlooking the pool area on Deck 9. On sea days, there may even be a game or two of pool volleyball.

You can try your hand at paddle tennis or shuffleboard on the pool deck (weather permitting), or practice putting at the near-daily scheduled golf putting events, somewhat humorously staged with portable putting greens in the lobby.

Silver Cloud Services

Silver Cloud's lobby on Deck 6 is fringed by a 24-hour reception desk, shore concierge desk (hours are posted in the daily program) and a station for the Silversea cruise consultant, for cruisers interested in booking future Silversea sailings while they're on board.

Also on Deck 6, the Card Room (which can also be used as a conference room, on request), with a half-dozen card tables, provides a great meeting place for bridge players. Some sailings even bring guest bridge hosts aboard to teach the game to new players and run tournaments.

Next door to the Card Room is a 24-hour Internet cafe with five PC stations and a complimentary-use printer; the Reception Desk will also happily make copies for you. You can also use your own laptop or tablet to access the Internet via ship-wide Wi-Fi. As of January 2016, all passengers in standard suites get 60 minutes of complimentary Internet access per day. If you go beyond that 60-minute limit, several Internet packages are available, with options like $30 for one day or $140 for seven days of unlimited Internet. Higher-level suite passengers (Silver Suites and above), get unlimited Internet for the duration of their sailing.

There's an attractive library on Deck 7 with leather armchairs and dark-wood wall units, where shelves come well-stocked with a selection of novels, nonfiction works, travel guides, hundreds of DVDs and some CDs. Passengers can also pick up printouts of quizzes, Sudoku and crossword puzzles here. Silversea provides passengers with access to a free PressReader app whereby passengers can download complimentary digital versions of international newspapers (like The New York Times) to their digital devices.

The duty-free boutique on Deck 5 offers a selection of perfumes, sportswear, costume jewellery, Silversea-branded clothing and hats, sunglasses, watches, designer handbags and incidentals like sunscreen and motion sickness bands. For those in the market for real finery, the upscale section of the boutique offers a mesmerizing selection of high-end jewellery and home accents, including a selection of collectable Faberge eggs (averaging around $10K apiece).

There's a self-serve, complimentary Laundromat on Deck 4, with a half-dozen Miele machines, sink, detergent and iron and ironing board. The medical centre on Deck 3 has regular hours (posted in the daily program), plus an onboard doctor is available at any time for emergencies.

For even more pampering, the Spa at Silversea, on Deck 7, is a sight for sore muscles. There's a full hair salon offering cuts, styling, colouring and men's shaves, as well as nail services. The small spa comes with four treatment rooms to fulfil your every rejuvenating fantasy. You may want to try a warm stone or Swedish massage, a body wrap or an anti-ageing facial. There are also a series of cellulite reduction, colon therapy and tooth whitening treatments, as well as wellness packages with themes like anti-arthritis or "for him."

Fifty-minute spa treatments run in the $150 to $200 range (tips are additional); look out for occasional sampler and other spa specials announced in the daily program. Appointments for these chargeable services can be made in advance of the sailing, via the line's "My Silversea" site, or booked onboard, based on availability.

Both the men's and women's changing room have a sauna and steam bath that are open to all ship passengers, regardless of whether or not they have booked a treatment.

Just above the pool deck on Deck 9 are a jogging track and a lightly used midsize gym housing elliptical machines, treadmills, an exercise bike, free weights and yoga mats. The gym, set at the forward of the ship, provides terrific views, though the room itself is showing some signs of ageing (with scuffed floors, etc.).

A variety of complementary and sparsely attended fitness classes is offered daily, like Pilates, yoga or a morning stretch class (which are held outside if the weather allows for it). Personal training and private classes can also be arranged for a fee (for example, $115 for 60 minutes of personal training) with the onboard personal trainer.

Dining on Silver Cloud is delightful, with numerous options depending on your mood and cravings. For a small ship accommodating less than 300 passengers, diners can choose among four venues on any given night (including the standout exclusive-at-sea Relais & Chateaux restaurant, the only onboard dining venue carrying a supplement), or even opt for an in-room course-by-course menu, delivered by the on-call butler.

No matter where you dine, there's a complimentary selection of red and white wines available, with aperitifs, digestifs and speciality coffees aplenty. Note there's also a for-fee caviar menu that can be enjoyed in the cabins or at the restaurants, touting four types of caviar (ranging from $40 to $75). The high-quality food, which is consistently above average (if not always necessarily gourmet) in taste and presentation, is one reason cruisers choose Silversea over other lines.

Free Dining

The Restaurant (Deck 4): The Restaurant, an expansive and elegant room defined by peach hues, rose-coloured columns, wooden floors, golden accents and panoramic ocean-facing windows, is the main dining venue on Silver Cloud. All three meals here are served a la carte. Friendly, attentive waiters deliver delicious multicourse gourmet meals with a Mediterranean influence.

For dinner, there's a standard menu that's always available, along with a lengthy list of daily chef's specials. Passengers can order as much as they please from a menu broken down by crudo bar selections, appetizers, soups, salads, pastas and mains. Entrees include selections from the sea (like crayfish-stuffed baby squid), from the fields (perhaps glazed leg of lamb) and from the garden (which features vegetarian options like gratinated polenta gnocchi). There's a selection of gourmet burgers, too, while, cheese lovers will appreciate the extensive cheese menu, brimming with nearly two-dozen offerings (Brie, Manchego, etc.). Dessert menus feature an assortment of gelati, frozen yoghurts and sorbets, along with a handful of desserts du jour (like rum baba, a rum-moistened cake with fresh cream), including sugar- and gluten-free options.

Lunch menus highlight appetizers (like marinated crabmeat or a gorgonzola tart); "intermezzos" that typically include salad, pasta, soup and sandwich options; a special carving of the day (slow-roasted goose or whole roasted white fish); a selection of entrees (grilled lamb chops, paella); as well as an Asian speciality (like chicken korma).

Breakfast options include freshly baked breads and bagels, pastries, cereals, pancakes, waffles, French toast and "from-the-griddle" selections like omelettes, corned beef hash and hash browns.

No reservations are required and seating is open; there are two dozen tables for two, and solos are hosted by the ship's senior officers. Breakfast is generally served from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (with some exceptions, depending on in-port schedules); lunch is from noon to 1:30 p.m.; for dinner, passengers may arrive anytime between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.  

La Terrazza (Deck 7): La Terrazza is the setting for open-seating buffet breakfasts and buffet lunches. You don't need reservations for these meals, you'll never wait for a table or on long lines since people come at different times. There's plenty of ocean-view seating inside, but on a sunny day, the dozen or so tables with wicker chairs that overlook the ship's wake, on the restaurant's namesake outdoor terrace, are among the most coveted.

The breakfast spread has all of the usual players (eggs, cereals, yoghurts, etc.), while the lunch buffet includes stations for green salads, cold salads, sushi, pizza, cold cuts and cheeses, a carving station and a selection of hot mains (like Cajun turkey or chicken quesadillas). There's a dessert bar, too, and an occasional pasta station. Expect set hours for breakfast buffets (usually running till 9:30 or 10 a.m.); lunches last a couple of hours, typically from noon until 2 p.m.

Buffet staff is on hand to assist with plating dishes, and the wait staff is otherwise available to carry food trays to tables and take drink orders. They can also put in requests for off-menu, made-to-order pasta or pizza dishes; simply tell your waiter your preference, and the galley can accommodate nearly any request of this kind.

There's also a late afternoon tea service here, often with keyboard accompaniment. Order from a selection of black, oolong, green and white teas, while snacking on finger sandwiches, decadent mini-desserts and, naturally, scones with cream.

Come evenings, La Terrazza transforms into an a la carte restaurant  (with seatings from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.) that features scrumptious Italian cuisine in the tradition of Slow Food. The dinner menu of delights -- Pecorino pie, handmade tagliatelle, veal, tiramisu and panna cotta -- changes every three days. Each of the four courses (antipasti, pasta, main and dessert) is paired with the perfect Italian wine. This speciality restaurant (at no extra cost) is a must for at least one night, but many cruisers find themselves there several times, given the intimate, quality dining experience. Reservations are recommended (but not necessarily required), as the capacity is limited to 50 people.

The Grill (Deck 8): For casual lunch fare served poolside (usually from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), the Pool Grill serves up a selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and grilled specialities, which pair well with the surrounding ocean views and a frothy cocktail or homemade ice tea from the adjacent pool bar in hand. Top lunch off with a sundae, prepared with your choice of toppings.

Come nightfall (7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), and weather permitting, the alfresco space is reinvented as The Grill, which offers passengers the chance to cook their own prime cuts of meat (like filet mignon or pork chops) and seafood (like salmon steak or prawns) on heated volcanic rocks at their white tablecloth-covered table under the stars. Some passengers enjoy the novel experience of cooking their own meal, while others would prefer to leave the work of cooking on the volcanic rocks to Silversea's excellent chefs or waiters. Dinner reservations are suggested.

Panorama Lounge (Deck 8): The pretty and quiet Panorama Lounge, set at back of the ship high up on Deck 8, is the spot for early- or late-riser continental breakfasts (usually available from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.), and light lunches/snacks featuring bouillon (from 11 a.m. to noon) and sandwiches (from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Room Service: Silver Cloud's 24-hour room service is notable, as the dishes served in the main restaurant for lunch or dinner can be ordered in. Choosing to spend the night in your cabin doesn't mean you need to forego the gourmet experience. Dinner orders can come all at once or be served in courses -- the butler simply asks when you'd like him to come back. For other times of the day, an array of burgers, pizza, salads, soups and appetizers is available 24/7. The extensive room service breakfast menu, with both continental items and cooked-to-order dishes like omelettes, corned beef hash and souffles, is a great alternative when you want to spend a little more time in your cabin getting ready for a port call.

Fee Dining

Le Champagne (Deck 4); $40: The experience is even more exclusive at Le Champagne, the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea, open for dinner only. Only 20 diners per night can enjoy the exquisite six-course meal here, with an emphasis on regional flavours and ingredients.

Fitting to its name, your feast kicks off with a flute of Champagne once you're seated in the sophisticated and slim dining room, touting some half-dozen tables with leather seats and additional booth-style seating. The tasting menu starts with a selection of hors d'oeuvres (like king scallops and foie gras cones), cold appetizers (red tuna carpaccio or caviar), hot appetizers (perhaps edible gold-leaf risotto), an "entredeux" (lobster bisque, porcini mushrooms with truffles, etc.), the main entree (rack of New Zealand lamb, Dover sole) and, finally, dessert (like chocolate lava cake).

Most wines are included in the surcharge, but any upgrades in the wine selections will cost extra. Reservations are required.

Silver Cloud, like the rest of Silversea's fleet, is an all-suite ship, with well-appointed units offering varying degrees of size and comfort. All 146 suites grant ocean views, and about 75 percent have private balconies. There are seven categories of suites ranging in size from 240 square feet to more than 1,300 square feet, touting one of the highest space-per-passenger ratios for luxury cruise accommodations industrywide.

Perhaps most distinctively, every unit, regardless of suite category, enjoys the same level of polished service, including the attention of an appointed butler (who wears tails). He's a phone call away to make dinner reservations, bring you a different type of pillow or to provide you with the specific complimentary beverages (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) that you'd like stocked in your ensuite mini-fridge and cocktail bar. Upon arrival, your butler will also offer you a choice of Bvlgari, Salvatore Ferragamo or SebaMed bath products. (Feel free to ask for samples of all three.)

Each suite features, at a minimum, a sitting area with two chairs, a table (that can be unfolded for in-room dining), a sofa and a desk; in standard suites lacking built-in partitions, this part of the suite can be separated from the sleeping area by drawing a curtain as a room divider. A vanity table with a small stool and lighted mirror is another nice feature. Even the smallest Vista Suites offer walk-in closets with a safe, plush robes and slippers, drawers, shelves and plenty of room to hang clothing for a longer journey. A couple of bedside nightstands and additional storage consoles ensure plenty of space to settle in. Silversea's suites use space so efficiently that even the smallest ones feel like they have everything you need.

The mattresses were made exclusively for Silversea, and they're outfitted with Pratesi sheets and linens. The beds can be configured as two twin beds or a queen, and passengers can select preferred pillow types from a range of options (like memory foam or buckwheat).

On the technology side of things, rooms are equipped with iPod alarm clocks, direct-dial phones and flat-screen TVs with DVD players and satellite reception. A handful of movies are screened daily, and there's also a DVD selection on loan from the ship's library. All passengers get complimentary Internet packages; Wi-Fi is available in the suites and ship-wide. Other thoughtful extras include personalized stationery, an umbrella, a hairdryer and binoculars; there's also free shoeshine service.

Silver Cloud offers two accessible suites (in the Vista category); connecting cabin options are limited to only a handful of suites, at the highest-category level. Apart from the highest-level suites, 20 units in the Vista and Veranda Suite categories also offer pull-out couches for third-person accommodation.

Though there was a soft-goods refurbishment (carpets, drapery, upholstery, linens, etc.) in November 2015, the line hasn't done any major updating to Silver Cloud since, nor does it plan to, given that the ship will be refitted and absorbed into Silversea's expedition line in August 2017. In some places, some signs of disrepair show. In our cabin, for instance, there were some stains on the couch and scratches on the furnishings that one wouldn't expect at this price point; both our phone and hairdryer went on the fritz during the course of the sailing. While our butler immediately replaced both items, it was clear that the major overhaul planned ahead is indeed in order.

Standard Suites

Entry-level standard suites are decorated in beige and orange with wooden accents. The bathrooms are fitted with marble finishings, and nearly all suites have glass-enclosed rain showers (complete with seats), while a few have bath-shower combinations. Note that the bathrooms in these units are on the snug side, with shelves on the sides of the bathroom mirrors only offering limited storage for toiletries. 

Vista Suite: The Vista Suite, with 36 units on Deck 4 (a couple more are on Deck 5), is the smallest of Silver Cloud's suites at 240 square feet, and is the only unit on the ship that does not have a balcony (though it does have a panoramic window). Eight Vista Suites accommodate up to three passengers with a pull-out sofa, while a couple are wheelchair accessible. (These are the only accessible units on the ship.) Four units have a bathtub/shower combination; all others come with a rain shower only.

Veranda Suite: The next step up, Veranda, is identical to the Vista Suite (at 240 square feet), but offers a 49-square-foot teak balcony (where two seats and a table are set up), with a floor-to-ceiling glass door instead of a large picture window. Fifty-six Veranda units are spread out over the forward of the ship on Decks 5, 6 and 7; a dozen of them also offer a pull-out couch for third-passenger capacity, while six units have a bathtub/shower combination.

Midship Veranda Suite: Identical to the Veranda Suite in all but location, the slightly more expensive Midship Veranda Suites are perhaps the best value on the ship, as they are well located, proposing a smoother ride in rough seas (such as the waters surrounding South Africa's Cape of Good Hope). Forty-six units are spread out over the middle of the ship on Decks 5, 6 and 7; six offer a bathtub/shower combo.

Higher-Category Suites

The upgraded units in the higher category of suites -- Silver Suite or higher -- additionally come with an Illy espresso machine and Bang & Olufsen audio system, expanded living areas and dining room sections, as well as larger balconies with chaise loungers and dining tables. Plus, passengers get extra perks like special welcome chocolates, afternoon canape service (on request), complimentary laundry, unlimited Internet and an invitation to dine with an officer during the sailing.

Royal, Grand and Owner's Suites tout a different design scheme than other units on the ship, with ivory and beige wallpaper, and finer furnishings and in-room artwork. They each come with connecting stateroom options to allow for two-bedroom configurations (and are the only suites on the entire ship that do connect). Their oversize bathrooms are outfitted with full-size jetted tubs and separate showers. Passengers in these accommodations additionally get complimentary dry cleaning and pressing, a dinner for two in Le Champagne and two hours of international phone calls.

Silver Suite: At the entry-level to the higher category of suites are three Silver Suite units, measuring 541 square feet (including a spacious 92-square-foot balcony), which tack on a dining area to an expanded living area, with a sectioned-off sleeping area. You'll find one each on Decks 5, 6 and 7, set at the middle of the ship. These units also have a pull-out couch to accommodate a third person. Note that the bathrooms are lacking tubs.

Royal Suite: Two Royal Suites, set on Deck 6 forward, pile on the space with an additional 200 square feet, measuring 736 square feet total, including a 126-square-foot veranda. These suites come with a pull-out couch for a third person, and can also be combined to an adjoining Veranda Suite to be booked as a massive two-bedroom, 1,031-square-feet unit.

Grand Suite: Two Grand Suites, set on Deck 7 forward, are the largest suites onboard with stunning ocean views and 1,019 square feet of space, including two verandas (one off of the bedroom and another off the spacious living/dining area). Like the Royal Suites, the units have a pull-out sofa and can connect to an adjacent Veranda Suite, adding on an extra bedroom, sitting area and veranda, and expanding the total square footage to 1,314 square feet.

Owner's Suite: Finally, the one-off Owner's Suite is available as a 587-square-foot one-bedroom unit or 827-square-foot two-bedroom unit, including a 95-square-foot teak veranda. (The second bedroom, a connecting Vista Suite, is an optional add-on.) Though smaller than the Grand Suites, it offers a roomy prime location (set midship on Deck 7, across from the spa and just a flight of stairs away from the pool); plus, it's perfect for entertaining, with an apartment-style feel, extra guest bathroom and spacious living room/dining room area.

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