Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 4: Tuesday, November 16
So, last evening our Silver Cloud Van Group of eleven reassembled on the outside deck of La Terrazza. Five couples– three English, two American– and the “eleventh wheel,” a/k/a me. I sat next to Susan and Rick from Hawaii. Rick’s a retired Navy Commander who recently served as CEO of the Honolulu bus company and Susan grew up in Southern California “near Pasadena.” Dinner was held in a near gale in which things were flying every which way, tablecloths flapping wildly, empty chairs literally being blown over. I made several suggestions that we move inside, but Rick merely replied with a quizzical smile, as if to say, “This is nothing, landlubber.” Very friendly crowd, even though you couldn’t hear anyone beyond your immediate seatmates because of the windstorm. Skipping the theater show, we all ended up at Stars, our jazz nightclub which is reminiscent of those 1930’s movies where people sat around tiny cocktail tables and danced to swing music.
Another early night, albeit not so early to sleep as, for the second straight night the people in the cabin next to me had a crowd over on their balcony and were causing a racket. Which meant I had to close my veranda door, which defeats the thing I like best about cruising—sleeping with it wide open and listening to the rush of the waves next to the ship. Another night or two of this and I’m going to have to talk to the front desk about a room change.
Morning in Antigua (“An-teeg-guh”).
Now the next door crowd is having 6:30 a.m. soirees for room service breakfast and coffee. Oh well, it forces me to get up and get going. So I head down to The Restaurant at 7:00 and am one of two tables among maybe 100. Eggs over easy, bacon crisp, hash browns, juice…takes over a half-hour for them to get the food to the table.
As I may have hinted early, I am being driven batty by the food service staff on the ship (not the food itself, which is darn good, but the service people). They take forever to perform the simplest task. Part of it is because of an idiotic system where one guy takes your order, hands it to another guy to take to the kitchen, ultimately to be delivered…a lonnnnnnng time later…by a third guy, while in the meantime another group of guys pesters you with good-mornings and coffee-sir? (for the 4th time, no thank you, I don’t drink coffee), tea-sir? Ahhhrrr! These are ones whom you want to do something, but can’t get them to do anything quickly.
Then there are the ones you DON’T want to do anything except leave you alone. I call them the gnats– the hordes of “service” people on this ship who buzz around the hallways, the pool deck, the restaurants and pepper you with conversation, unnecessary requests and things that beg to be responded to. If it sounds like I’ve started ranting, it’s because I’m being slowly driven nuts by these characters. Silversea likes to rave about its level of service. But my experience has been that so much of it is faux. What I call “Ritz-Carlton style-over-substance”. Vacuous bowing and scraping and smiling and chtatter, but little action or results when they’re called upon. Where they go through the good morning/ good afternoon/good evening/how are you motions, but don’t get anything done promptly when you ask them to do something. The gnats have obviously been trained to inquire of every blank face: do you want something to drink (NO! I’M TRYING TO READ!), would you like some coffee? (for the 5th time, I don’t drink coffee), how are you? (please, I beg of you, leave me alone).
Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m feeling better.
The moment you’re off the pier in St. John (capital of Antigua and Barbuda) you run into a long string of jewelry stores—including some of the ones on our shopping consultant Philip’s “map.” Because I’m thinking of buying Lynn Conrad a diamond so that she’ll be induced to put my stationery job on the top of her pile, I pop into Diamonds International, where I’m spotted by Philip, who urges me to look at the 3.01 karat “Crown of Light” diamond he has been shown earlier. Sure, I’ll take a look at it. No, no, insists Philip, you must see it out in the light of day. The salesperson doesn’t even flinch as he grabs the stone and runs outside, waving it in and out of the sunshine and then in and out of his shadow, all of which was supposed to mean something. We go back in and Philip hails the store manager to give me the “manager’s price.” Mr. Manager fiddles around with his calculator and tells me he’ll give it to me for $53,000. Ordinarily, I’d take it, but I’m a little concerned about this Crown of Light stuff, a new cut that has 90 facets as compared to the traditional round cut’s 58 facets…according to Philip, much more brilliant, the newest thing, available exclusively in the Caribbean, not sold elsewhere, a must-have item, all the Silversea people, especially the Texans, are buying them. Is thjs for your wife for a special occasion? No, it’s for my stationery lady. Perfect gift, he swoons. Let me think about it.
Decades ago Alison and I knew a Chicago couple, Greg and Susie Thomas (he was once our bartender at Butch McGuire’s, then later a rising star at William Blair & Co. who sort of lorded his success over the fledgling banker and the newbie attorney). The Thomases regularly took trips to an island paradise, Curtain Bluff, in Antigua. They made it sound like heaven. Someday, I sighed, we’ll be as big-time as the Thomases. Once I even went to the extent of calling the owner to see if they could squeeze us in impromptu one February. “I have a room that just opened up!” he exclaimed, but for reasons I’ve forgotten (air fare, no vacation time, no money?) we couldn’t make the trip. Well, today I stopped a taxi in town and asked: How much for a ride to heaven and back?” “$50 U.S.” So I was off on a somewhat lengthy 19-mile drive out of town through the Antiguan countryside and alongside some of the prettiest aquamarine water and white sand beaches I have ever seen. At the Bluff, I met Sherrie, widow of the founder (the guy I had spoken to), who had her mid-40s assistant (boyfriend?) give me a tour. The verdict: very, very nice. All rooms (10-year-old décor, but bright and airy and cheery) having perfect views of the water, fancy tennis courts, great beach, etc. The only off-putting part was his insistence on dropping names of their regular guests—YoYo Ma, President of CBS, etc. “Everything included, all meals, all drinks, fishing boat, everything,” he said. A guy trying a little too hard. How much for a junior suite in high season? “$1,395 a night. Same price as our 5-star competitors, and they only give you breakfast,” he concluded. Let me think about it.
P.S. to Greg and Susie: It was really good, but not heaven.
Antigua is by far the nicest West Indian island we’ve visited so far. Hilly and green all over, ringed by clean, pretty beaches. Not a lot of opulence, but a reasonable degree of prosperity and tidiness. My taxi driver’s pride as he told me about the country was palpable. On the streets, there was none of the atmosphere of anger and frustration that travelers to this part of the world complain about. Good place. Unlike its predecessor, Domenica, which earned the big X, Antigua is awarded a Come-Back check mark.
Tomorrow the legendary St. Bart’s.