With Silver Spirit, its first new ship in a decade, Silversea Cruises wanted to build on its tradition of classic luxury while punching up the experience a bit with stylish Art Deco design elements, wider variety in dining venues, and a spacious spa. But the big headline for small-ship purists is Silver Spirit's size. With 540 passengers, it is considerably larger than Silversea's five other vessels, (which accommodate between 132 and 382 passengers.) That's not exactly super-sized by today's standards, but it's big enough to trigger discussion, debate and disassembling by Silversea loyalists.
Does it succeed? On our 10-night cruise of Mexico's Pacific coast, Silver Spirit wasn't sailing at full capacity so it's difficult to judge how crowded the ship might feel otherwise. A few passengers I talked to who had sailed when the ship was fully loaded were disappointed with the experience. Others could have cared less. Notably, with 6,700 cubic feet of space per guest, Silver Spirit does boast one of the highest space-to-guest ratios at sea. And sure, while size does matter, the underlying issue seems not to involve size at all but a few quirks in the ship's design.
Let's just say design at times trumps some of life's more practical considerations. As an example, the Midship Veranda Suite is longer and larger than it is on Silver Spirit's companion vessels but it is also narrower; there are a scant 22 inches between the end of the mattress and start of the built-in vanity table. It makes for a tight squeeze in what amounts to the bedroom's only passageway. Outside the theater, which seats 320 people, there are just three toilets: one for men, one for women and one with handicap access. Get 20 people in a hallway waiting for the loo and you bet it will feel crowded. And on Deck 11, where the handsome Observation Lounge is housed, there's no public restroom at all. One other oft-heard lament: There's no bar, and therefore no bar service, in the theater. It's BYOB.
Is any of that a deal breaker? Not for me. But the niggles are valid -- and Silver Spirit to its credit has worked dutifully to address many of the nuts and bolts complaints aired by passengers. It's too late to massage the bones of the ship, of course, but during its inaugural world voyage Silver Spirit did make a few service adjustments that matter to long-term passengers accustomed to special handling. It added more hair stylists, for example, and began posting bartenders with trays of wine and Champagne at the theater entrance in advance of performances. The ship even moved up the opening hour of its stylish new supper club -- from 9:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. -- to accommodate American guests, who tend to dine earlier than later.
And there is plenty onboard to celebrate, just as Silversea had hoped for. With The Bar, a midship lounge new to Silversea, Silver Spirit has created a central gathering place that's become popular with passengers both day and night. There are two new restaurants unique to Silver Spirit: Seishin, an Asian fusion venue, and Stars, the supper club that is as much about trendy cuisine as entertainment.
Silver Spirit also retains the stellar service quotient that has become synonymous with Silversea. Can't read the menu because you forgot your glasses? No worries. Your waiter will appear with a silver tray featuring a selection of loaner specs. And I'll never forget the waiter who routinely warmed the ice-cold beer for a German passenger who preferred his beer at room temperature. Or the butler who drew me a bubble bath topped with flower petals. So yes, Silver Spirit is bigger than Silversea's other ships. More importantly, the ship lives up to its name. It's got an abundance of fresh, new spirit. And that is big.
Silver Spirit has a great flow. Venues aren't jammed together against a central atrium, as is the case on so many ships. The six dining venues, for example, are located on different parts of three separate decks, which to me seems nice spatially. New on Silver Spirit is The Bar, a gathering place for coffee and complimentary cocktails next to the Reception Desk lobby on Deck 5. It has been so well received that the cozy seating was rearranged recently to accommodate more people. The theatre, which hosts both Broadway-style productions and guest lecturers, is just steps away from The Bar.
The public room that feels most like the ship itself is The Observation Lounge, nautical in design and located above the bow on Deck 11. It has evening bar hours, but it's almost too tucked away for its own good. By contrast, the more centrally located Panorama Lounge, on Deck 9 in the stern, is popular for afternoon tea and has bar service starting at 10:30 a.m. Deck 8 is the retail hub with three shops: an H. Stern outpost with jewelry and watches and two boutiques equipped with Silversea logowear, perfumes, designer jewelry and clothing. Also on Deck 8 is a cigar bar and a casino with 50 plus slot machines as well as roulette, blackjack and poker tables.
The all-important Internet Library Cafe, on Deck 7, houses seven computers although there's wireless Web access shipwide. Payment plans vary, ranging from 1,000 minutes for $250, or 25 cents a minute; 250 minutes for $85, or 34 cents a minute; and 100 minutes for $45, or 45 cents a minute. The pay-as-you-go option costs 50 cents a minute. The library has a fairly robust selection of books and magazines, and it's a quiet place to catch up on crossword puzzles, distributed there daily.
Another thing that Silver Spirit does exceptionally well is create what amounts to public rooms in outdoor spaces. Above La Terrazza, on Deck 8 and removed from any bar or pool, is a quiet spot with deck chairs that's just lovely. There's another respite, this one shaded, by the whirlpool outside of the fitness center on Deck 6 that is free to all guests. The piece de resistance is the deck beyond the Panorama Lounge with its cushioned seats and, best of all, cocoon-like chairs -- think of a convertible with the top up or down, depending on your pleasure -- that are roomy enough to accommodate two.
Now this is living large. All passengers have butler service, an Italian marble bathroom with both shower and a separate tub, a stocked fridge and Champagne upon arrival, replenished as desired.
Silver Spirit has 270 oceanview suites, 95 percent of which have private teak balconies. The suites range in size from 312 square feet to 1,668 square feet. Four suites, all on Deck 5, have handicap access.
There are 216 Midship Veranda and Veranda Suites -- identical in layout, at 376 square feet (including the balcony.) Our Midship Veranda Suite was easy on the eyes with warm two-toned wooden furnishings that complemented the gold and burnished red bed linens and drapes. It's a soothing palette. The bedroom has a queen size bed that can be separated into twins. There's also a built-in vanity with a mirror and flat-screen TV.
New to Silver Spirit are the interactive TV service and movies on demand. Passengers can now review their accounts, check messages or choose from one of 387 movies. The televisions themselves give new meaning to "flat-screen." They are actually part of the mirror so they take up no extra room.The programming lineup includes Fox News, CNN International, BBC World and ESPN.
The sitting room is efficiently arranged with a full-size couch, a chair and a coffee table. There's also a built-in desk, a second flat-screen TV, plenty of shelving and a small refrigerator that our butler kept stocked with Chilean whites and Diet Coke. The balcony, 65 square feet, has two attractive taupe chairs and matching foot stools along with a table for drinks.
As for the bathroom, it's gorgeous - modern in feel with brown and cream marble, a huge elevated sink, and nine different lighting fixtures. The shower has both a handheld showerhead as well as a permanent head that pivots, producing something that almost feels like gentle rainfall. The tub is full-size. Toiletries are compliments of Salvatore Ferragamo, Bvlgari and Neutrogena. I confess it bothered me that there was only one hook in the bathroom, no clothesline and, for some unfathomable reason, the sink was designed with no stopper.
Every suite has a small walk-in closet with a safe, chest with six drawers, and a spa robe and slippers. The cabins, completely wireless, have an iPod station, alarm clock, hair dryer, umbrella and binoculars, a very fine touch. Outlets are wired for both 110 and 220 volts.
Additional amenities in the Silver, Grand and Owner's suites include afternoon canapes, dinner at the officers' table and two hours of complimentary worldwide phone use. The Grand and Owner's suites also feature laundry service (including dry cleaning and pressing,) an espresso maker, dinner for two at Le Champagne, a daily newspaper and two hours of Internet service per day.
The one-bedroom Owner's Suite is 1,292 square feet including a 190-square-foot veranda. Adjoined to a 312-square-foot Vista Suite, it can be configured into two bedrooms. Unlike the standard suites, this one has a separate dining area, a marbled bathroom with a double vanity, a whirlpool tub and a powder room.
The Grand Suite is 990 square feet including a 125-square-foot balcony. When adjoined to a Veranda Suite, it bumps up to 1,302 square feet and accommodates two bedrooms. It has a different layout than the Owner's Suite but offers all the same extras.
The Silver Suite, at 742 square feet including a 118-square-foot veranda, has a separate dining area but, unlike the other deluxe suites, it does not have a whirlpool tub or powder room.
The Vista Suite, at 312 square feet, is the smallest onboard and has a large picture window but no balcony. Some of the suites accommodate three guests.
A butler and junior attendant are assigned to each suite and will do as much, or as little, as asked. As is the custom, our butler made our dinner reservations, delivered room service and kept the refrigerator stocked. The junior attendant provides daily suite service with a nightly turndown.
Notably, there are seven complimentary laundry rooms onboard. Soap is provided. There is also laundry, dry cleaning and pressing service, but it's pricey.
When it comes to traditional shipboard entertainment, Silver Spirit seems a little quieter than most. Sure, there's team trivia, bingo, golf-putting competitions and an occasional movie in the theater, but most of the spirited entertainment takes place well after dark with Broadway-style productions and really fine live jazz in the Stars Supper Club.
The Silver Spirit singers and dancers on our 10-day cruise put on five shows -- one a "Europe's Got Talent" knock-off, another an Elton John retrospective. They did a very nice turn with the outdoor "Spirito della Celebrazione," a Latin-inspired production that followed a spectacular pool deck barbeque.
Silver Spirit also hosts guest entertainers. Music theater star John Bowles, from Australia, and U.K. entertainer Jon Courtenay both headlined shows during our segment of Silver Spirit's world cruise. Also important to acknowledge are the destination-focused enrichment lectures that have become a hallmark of the luxury lines. Bill Toone, an American conservationist, and Hugh Thomson, a British writer and documentary-maker, added considerably to our understanding of Mexico's natural and cultural history. Broadcast journalist Dan Rather, British biographer Robert Lacey and Zahi Hawas, the world-famous Egyptologist, are part of the deep bench Silver Spirit will bring to its 2011 world cruise.
All gratuities are included in the fare, nothing additional is expected.
--By Ellen Uzelac, a travel and financial writer on Maryland's Eastern Shore
There is no childrens' programming on Silver Spirit.
Slightly more than half of the passengers on our cruise were American, the rest English, Australian, German, Canadian, French and Japanese. It was a nice mix. There were also a number of families with teenagers, which was refreshing. Silver Spirit hoped to attract a younger clientele and with an average age of 64 on our cruise, it seems to be succeeding.
A 10-day cruise typically has three formal nights, four informal nights and three that are deemed casual. Essentially, it's a resort-wear crowd. You're not going to find a lot of denim. On casual evenings, men wear open-neck shirts and slacks while women opt for dresses, blouses and skirts, or pantsuits. On informal nights, men up it a notch with jackets though ties are optional. For women, informal and casual are pretty much the same. Formal night translates into tuxedos or dark suits for the men and evening gowns, cocktail dresses or dressy pantsuits for the women.
|Fitness and Recreation|
With its first new ship in a decade, Silversea introduced with Silver Spirit something the rest of the fleet doesn't have: a stunning spa that includes a ceramic-tiled thermal suite with heated lounge chairs and an array of all-new body scrubs and massages. There's even a Botox doctor on board.
The 8,300-square-foot spa, located on Deck 6, features a beauty salon, fitness center, nine spa treatment rooms, two sauna rooms and two steam rooms. New treatments include the Private Hamman Experience, an ancient Arabian body scrub performed by a therapist; a do-it-yourself scrub bar glow; and a bamboo massage.
Additional services include acupuncture and the usual selection of services that Steiner, the popular shipboard spa operator, offers: among them, tooth whitening, facials, cellulite reduction, milk wraps and lime glows.
Silversea skimped on the fitness center, open from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. There's one bike, three ellipticals and four treadmills -- all with TV screens. There are a few resistance machines and some free weights but, due to space, the two free weight benches are so close together you can't work out if someone is next to you. With more than a half dozen or so people in the room, the space feels cramped. We found the best time of day to work out was at 6:30 a.m., shortly after it opens.
A fitness trainer offers yoga, Pilates and stretching exercises at no cost. And for a nice jog or walk, there's always Deck 10, where 10 circuits equal a mile.
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