Aboard the Silver Spirit. Day 1: Saturday, November 13.
A complimentary mojito sits before me on my veranda table as I prepare to embark on a 9-day Caribbean voyage on the Silver Spirit that I hope will be an interesting counterpoint to my 2009 experience aboard the Celebrity Solstice as I report on my itinerary, the foibles and quirks of my fellow passengers and the positives and negatives of the journey.
To start off, some basic nuts-and-bolts facts about this tub. The Silver Spirit is uber-luxury Silversea Cruises’ newest (and largest) vessel, yet still is a member of the “small ships” category. In comparison to the gargantuan Solstice (2,850 passengers, 122,000 tons, 1,033-foot length), the Silver Spirit is an “intimate” vessel– 36,000 tons, a mere 542 feet long, transporting 540 guests, weighing. And unlike the massive Solstice that at sea resembled a skyscraper hotel afloat on its side and in the harbor lorded over every other ship like an NBA tackle, the Silver Spirit is sleek and tailored. Not exactly yacht-like, but a lot smaller.
95% of the ship’s cabins feature private verandas. The distinctive aspect of Silversea cruises is that they are all-inclusive…well, sort of all-inclusive. While meals, beverages (including liquor and wine), entertainment and all gratuities are freebies, the good folks in Silversea’s management ranks have come up with clever little ways to pry additional revenue out of us patrons—the ones I’ve noticed so far are a “premier” wine list, a couple of “specialty” restaurants (more on those later), a casino, a half-a-deck’s worth of el clippo boutiques and pricey shore excursions. On my journey, I will be served by a crew of 376 crew members (most notably Harry, my butler), many of whom I have already found to be pesky can-I-help-you-can-I-bring-you-anything-sir types who won’t leave me alone. A guy I met on the Pool Deck, Kenneth, a ballet dancer from Australia, who’s been on Silversea three previous times, says they eventually sort out who wants to be cowtowed to and who wants to be left alone. We’ll see.
The ship itself? Hmmm, some first impressions. The funny thing about it is that this is a brand new vessel, less than a year in service, but it doesn’t look sparkling new. It looks a little “used,” a little worn. The public rooms…lounges, bars, theater, dining rooms etc. Magnificently elegant? Utterly luxurious? Sad to say, not really. In fact, the overall décor is quite underwhelming, sort of bland in fact. When I mentioned this to the aforementioned Kenneth, he smiled and said: ”Isn’t it wonderful? It’s so understated.”
Well, it may be “understated” in comparison to some gaudy Carnival ship, but I think they could have used a decorator with fresher, brighter taste.
My cabin? Reasonably spacious, nicely equipped (two flat screen TVs are hidden behind the mirrors in the bedroom and “living room”). Excellent bathroom (separate bathtub, walk-in shower, spacious sink and tabletop, plenty of storage). Decent veranda (albeit sort of boxy). All in all, nice, but not exceptional– not nearly as nice, in fact, as the Aqua Class staterooms on the Solstice.
Bottom line: they had the chance to build the most splendid ship in the world, and instead they built one that looks a lot like a lot of others. All this having been said, I’m going to keep an open mind and see if the food and the service and the crowd makes up for these initially perceived imperfections.
On to today’s preparatory experience. Flew down on American from JFK to Bridgetown, Barbados, where I was fortunate enough to talk my way into an upgrade to (flatbed) Business Class. Arriving in Barbados was a messy affair in which the Silversea arrivees at the airport were being asked for “vouchers” for the motorcoach transfer to the Deep Water port. Most of us didn’t have any idea what vouchers they were talking about, after which we were all told we’d have to take $50( U.S.) taxis; after a small rebellion brewed, we were finally allowed to board the buses for the 35-minute journey through this sadsack island, strictly Third World. Throughout my trip I intend to evaluate each destination and give it a check (think seriously about coming back) or an X (off the list). The Big B got a quick X.
About the upcoming itinerary. No sooner had I stepped onboard than I was handed a revised itinerary. Sunday’s planned port of call, St. Lucia, apparently was flattened by Hurricane Tomas and all cruise lines have cancelled their stops there. Replacing it will be Martinique, about which I know nothing. Any way, we will be sailing to Fort France, Martinique, then Roseau, Dominica, then St. John’s, Antigua, then Gustavia, St. Bart’s, then, Philipsburg, St. Maarten, then Road Town, Tortola, B.V.I.—a string of islands that form a big apostrophe to the outermost Eastern boundary of the Caribbean.
Coming up: our safety drill, an early evening cocktail party, a “Solo Travelers” get-together, and dinner tonight before setting sail at 10:00 p.m., all of which I’ll be reporting on. So it’s off for the evening, about which you’ll hear in my next missive.