That’s the Spirit! Day 9

Back to the Start: That’s the Spirit! Day 1

Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 9: Sunday, November 21

Sorry to say it, folks, but I’m out of gas.

I’m tired of these people, and I’m tired of these same old bars and restaurants, and I’m tired of the routine. So as far as the daily report is concerned, I’m taking the day off.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t offer some concluding comments on the entire Silversea experience. The Spirit is one fine and handsome ship, even if the décor seems slightly dull and uninspired to me. The room and bath amenities are quite good, and the butlers and room attendants do a fine job. My fellow passengers onboard are as nice as you’ll find anywhere in a gathering of strangers. The management staff knock themselves out for you. The food offerings and food quality have been way above average. The entertainment has been fine. The free drinks, free wine, tips-included features are fantastic. Negatives? The physical fitness facility and spa are fairly weak– not a big deal to me, but it could be to others. The bars’ and restaurants’ ambiance are just okay. As you have no doubt detected from various tirades, I think the food and beverage service staff is mainly comprised of robots of below-average mentality, and they are the slowest human beings afoot on the planet. And there is a legitimate question, raised by some I have met, as to whether Silversea is worth the very serious premium prices it charges compared to cruise lines one notch down.

So, in toto, what is the verdict? Would I do it again (preferably with AW, even more preferably with AW and friends or family)? If you’d asked me on the first or second day, I probably would have said no way. But the overall quality of this operation grows on you. Over time you see how much effort and planning goes into the daily operation of this ship, and you hear from your fellow passengers that this doesn’t always happen on other cruise lines. So, I guess I will answer that key question with a definite maybe. They had a tough and cynical critic aboard this voyage, and by gosh they may have actually begun to win him over.

Tomorrow, Ft. Lauderdale, then onward to L.A. and Pasadena. Thanks for listening. Over and out.

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Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 9: Appendix to Report for Sunday, November 21 (and Monday, November 22)

Even though I previously declared my intent to forego a report for the last day(s), I decided to include a few musings about the final events.

Sorry to say that the final day (Sunday) was, in fact, pretty uneventful. Slept in for the first time on the trip, hit the pool, went to a special cocktail party for all the Team Trivia participants, then we had our final Team Trivia event (came in third again…I tell ya, these other guys are tough). Why they put the cocktails before the contest is beyond me, as one of our best players, Liz—she may be a social barbarian, but she’s an ace trivia contestant—was half loaded and rather ineffective. The question that broke our back was: What 80’s band’s name was inspired by the movie Barbarella? We guessed Sex Pistols, which was wrong. Correct answer below. See what I mean? All week we dealt with some impossibly tough questions.

Wound up at dinner with Tom and Joan from Chicago and Lake Forest, IL (for the uninitiated, considered by many to be the very top suburb in Chicagoland). Met Tom when he was a fellow grinder on the regatta, then later one night on my lone Casino visit. A mid-40’s guy with a cherubic countenance, he previously s served as General Counsel for pharmaceutical giant Shering-Plough (sp?) (lost that job when they merged with Merck). He presently has the very super-duper job of General Counsel of United Airlines, although his job is ending at the close of 2010 due to the United/Continental merger in which the Continental G.C. got the nod for the position with the combined entity. Don’t feel sorry for him. Like my old roomie Terry Martin, he departs all these primo jobs with golden parachutes and other goodies. For example, one of his severance benefits from United will be a lifetime pass on the airline….oooooh, how I would give anything for that. Originally from Connecticut (went to Wesleyan, same as Bonnie Harrison), he and Joan (no kids) have lived in New Jersey, California and Illinois (the latter four times).

Earlier in the week Tom and Joan, very proper country club types, had had a well-noticed brouhaha poolside with a bald New Yorker that Joan has dubbed “The Plaintiff’s Lawyer.” The PL is part of a NY foursome who yell across the pool and generally are loud and gaudy and inconsiderate and obnoxious. Joan bristles at their showiness (e.g., their wives bringing $15,000 purses to the pool). At any rate, the tiff resulted from fact that, on the first Sea Day– when the pool area was the most crowded and chairs were at a premium– the PL and his gang commandeered four chairs on BOTH sides of the pool so that they could change locations as the sun moved across the sky. Tom objected to this maneuver, and the two of them proceeded to have a little trans-pool discussion, which had to be settled (in Tom and Joan’s favor) by the ship’s Pool Manager, a stout gal who wears a white outfit that looks like a nurse’s uniform. Believe me, all heads poolside popped up from their reclining positions to witness the dust-up, the most excitement we had all week.

Monday morning was disembarkation day in Fort Lauderdale, which ended up costing Silversea some future business, I’m sure. A whole lot of us had signed up to disembark at 8:30 a.m., plenty of time for me to get my rental car at Fort Lauderdale airport and drive to Miami airport to catch my 11:51 flight to Chicago. Because they are going to be on my same flight, Tom and Joan are going with me (I’m trying to be as nice as I can to this guy in the hope that he’ll get me one of those lifetime passes). Well, somebody at Silversea was asleep at the switch. Since this is the first time the Silver Spirit has ever visited a U.S. port (up to this time it had been sailing in Europe and across the Atlantic), it’s necessary for the U.S. Coast Guard to board the ship and give it a complete inspection. Coast Guard uniforms are scurrying all over the ship and 8:30 comes and goes, and people are beginning to get worried. 9:30, and they still aren’t done with the inspection. All around, people are moaning about certain missed flights and a completely messed-up day. Finally, at 9:50, we’re told we can disembark…IN THE ORDER OF THE COLOR OF YOUR LUGGAGE TAG. The first color called: Red. Who are among the few with the red tags? The Plaintiff’s Lawyer and his entourage, which of course completely infuriates Joan. Anyway, our color was next, and we ran off the ship at 10:00, then had to go through Immigration and Customs, where there was one—count him: ONE) U.S. Customs guy on duty for the crowd of 480. The Silversea elite are mad as hornets, laying it on the Silversea port attendants who had nothing to do with the problem and were trying to soothe frayed nerves and tempers. Luckily the three of us were among the early ones off the Spirit, but we still didn’t exit the terminal until 10:15…for a 11:51 flight out of Miami! Long story short, we grabbed a taxi to Hertz at the airport, grabbed our car, drove wildly to Miami and get there with 15-20 minutes to spare. I kept saying to Tom: “Maybe you ought to give someone a call.” He’d just shake his head and give me a look that said that’s not how it works, my friend. Made the flight. And all was well that ended well.

As this is being composed, I sit on United 123 on my way to LAX.

Thus endeth the Saga of the Spirit.

 

(Answer to trivia question: Duran Duran. I have no idea whatsoever what the connection is with Barbarella.)

That’s the Spirit! Day 8

Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 8: Saturday, November 20

We’re “At Sea” for the next two days, which everyone agrees will be a welcome respite from the daily go-onshore rat race, although the veterans tell me that pool chairs will hereafter be at a premium. This morning we are being given a chance to view some of the large suites on the ship and invariably receive a sales pitch about signing up for future cruises (as a Venetian Club member, I’m entitled to a 5% discount). Then I’m going up and fight for one of those pool chairs.

Of course, now that we’re all packed together they’ve upped the onboard offerings so that there’s something you can attend literally every half-hour if you want to. E.g., ballroom dancing (no), wine tasting (no), Introduction to Botox (?), arts & crafts (no), water volleyball (maybe), ab class (don’t need it), shuffleboard (no), Bingo (no…been a disappointment), Team Trivia (definitely), dozens of others, and my absolute favorite: Blackjack Tournament, which according to our activities sheet urges one to, and I quote, “put your skills at stake against other BJ aficionados.,” the morning line favorites being the gay guys on board.

Speaking of which, I should mention another daily activity listed in the newsletter each day: “5:00 – Friends of Bill meet.” All, or at least most, the Americans know what this is, but the Europeans have no idea. Yesterday afternoon at the Pool deck bar one of the English gay guys (a bunch of very nice guys, by the way, a lot of them flight attendants with British Airways) came up to me, drink in hand, and clearly supposing this meeting was designed for him and his buddies, mentioned that he was thinking of giving the FOB meeting a try. When I explained that old Bill was the founder of AA and that walking in there with a cocktail might not be the most PC thing, he almost dropped his drink.

Report on the Silver Suite and Owner’s Suite: both a lot larger than I had anticipated, with lots of unnecessary sinks and closets and doors, but not much of an improvement décor-wise. I had expected really nice colors and fabrics Nope. Same old drab monochromatic stuff that’s in all of the rooms. Worth it? Here with a family, maybe. Here as a solo or couple, nah.

Chose as my activities this afternoon (a) to be a spectator at the blackjack tournament, which produced a turnout of about 14 hard-nosed players who weren’t fooling around; you pay only $20 to play, they give you $300 worth of “tournament” ships and play off against six other competitors per table for seven hands of blackjack, until they get to the final seven, who then play off until there is a winner; was great to watch and I’m signing on tomorrow now that I’ve had a chance to observe the winning strategies; (b) Team Trivia where the Soloists came in second against seven other teams, all of which are comprised of very, VERY tough trivia players; and (c) galley tour with the ship’s executive chef, who took us through the kitchens, dishwashing areas, etc.– pretty impressive.

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Whoa!!! What’s going on here? All of a sudden our sunny, balmy day and calm seas have been replaced in short order by a dome of clouds and very rough waters. In the fore and aft parts of the ship, it’s pitching and rolling so hard that it’s actually difficult to stand. The talk everywhere is about queasy stomachs and the availability of Dramamine (which I have, but haven’t taken because while I feel a little disoriented, I don’t feel ill. Matter of fact, I’m ready for a drink pretty soon.) People are walking down the halls, swaying and stumbling like drunken sailors. It’s not raining and according to the Captain, it’s not threatening to do so, but our dinner tonight is a barbeque on the Pool Deck and sweaters are advised.

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Because of the weather, which isn’t conducive to late night bar time, I’m back early from the night’s activities, so I’ve decided to go ahead and compose my report now (please excuse misspellings, grammatical and syntax errors).

The Soloists group reunion dinner was held this evening at the deck barbeque. Except for a Team Trivia or two, we hadn’t gotten together since Day 2. Dinner was windy and cool and rocky, but fun and interesting. Wildwoman Liz was much subdued (and slightly under the weather because of the rough seas), but her sidekick, Karen, whose boisterous, window-cracking cackle has become a topic of conversation around the ship and among the staff (during cocktails one night, hostess Isabelita actually came over with a microphone and asked Karen to give the room a sample; Karen looked like she wanted to kill her), was her old self. English gal Rachel said we hadn’t seen much of her because she’s been suffering all week from a sunburned back incurred while snorkeling the second day. Blabbermouth centenarian Mary was at it again, having decided that the topics of the evening would be (a) the history of English royalty, about which she is an expert, having attended Oxford on a scholarship, and (b) her late husband Basil, whom I suspect willed himself to death so he wouldn’t have to listen to her any longer. Quiet Wendy was the same. And we were joined at the table by shopping huckster Philip and personable Cruise Director Mike, who unfailingly remembers the name of everyone on the ship, here on Silversea following a several-year stint as “CD” aboard a Disney ship (can you imagine that job?).

Tonight was also karaoke night, which ended up being completely dominated by the Soloists (excluding me…please!), as former professional singer Karen led off with a remarkably fine version of “Over The Rainbow” and Liz did “Hotel California” and Rachel did a couple of great numbers (forget the titles) and one of Rachel’s buddies from England sang “Sweet Caroline.” The only person not intimidated by this lineup of ringers was a Mexican doctor who ran up and butchered a song, leaving the audience embarrassed and causing the pool of potential performers to dry up, forcing our Ship D.J. David to come up and do an Elvis number and CD Mike to do a Billy Joel song he claimed he had never done before, but which had been clearly rehearsed (e.g., during the song’s Interlude, he had a fancy little dance number all ready to go).

Good night.

Next: That’s the Spirit! Day 9

That’s the Spirit! Day 7

Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 7: Friday, November 19

I never did quite figure out why the staff invited me for dinner last night (Thursday). They didn’t probe my views on the cruise, so I concluded they merely took pity on me since I’m the only male solo traveler (other than Scottie, who has a visual impairment and dines in his cabin). Since they weren’t doing any probing, I did, trying to get them to tell juicy war stories about the cruise world. This didn’t work out so well, as C.D. Mike responded with a lengthy discussion of how the cruise line he was with at the time handled the 9/11 emergency and losses suffered by passengers and crew, etc., which set a maudlin tone and put a bit of a damper on the evening. It was nice of them to ask me, but I would have been better off dining with passengers.

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Today (Friday) we are docked in Road Town, Tortola , British Virgin Islands, afloat next to a huge German liner, the Aria Luna (as I learned last night, in Cruise-ese the correct expression is “We’re in with the Luna”), an ugly ship with a blue and yellow color scheme and a huge pair of smiling lips painted on its bow.

Tortola is the most populated of the BVIs, and Road Town has to be its most prosperous town. The hillsides above the town are filled with large, pretty homes, and the commercial district is lined with bank after bank after bank, along with handsome colonial buildings sporting names such as “BCQX International” and “ATC Trustees (B.V.I.) Ltd.”. For the life of me, can’t figure out what business they’re in.

Walked off the ship to do my day’s exploring when I realized: you idiot, you’re on the wrong island! The places you want to see aren’t on Tortola; they’re on Virgin Gorda. Hopped over to the ferry terminal for the 40-minute ride to V.G., entertained on the way by a Nicholas Cage movie about an MIT professor with knowledge of impending disasters before they occur. Just when it was getting interesting, we arrive. (Never did get the title, but I was really getting into it.)

I hired a taxi driver to take me around the island, first to the famous Little Dix Bay resort, then to the island’s No. 1 attraction, The Baths, then give me a quick drive around Spanishtown, the island’s nerve center (kidding).

Little Dix, now owned and operated by Rosewood Hotels (owners of such prestige properties as the Bel-Air in L.A., the Carlyle in NY, the Lanesborough in London), was one of the original Rockresorts along with Mauna Kea and Kapalua Bay in Hawaii and Caneel Bay in the Caribbean. At one time…especially back in the 70s…it was a go-to destination for the rich and famous. Not anymore. Like its former sisters, it is graced with a huge, gorgeous half-moon beach and lovely grounds. But the hotel’s physical assets are a mess. Rooms are old and cheap-looking. The spa and physical fitness and sports facilities are second-rate. The restaurants are uninspired (and empty). In short, the place is worn out.

On to The Baths. The Baths, you ask? I’d never heard of them either, but there were 200 people (including 40 Spiriteers) in line to see the place when I arrived. The Baths are a collection of, I’m guessing, about 100 enormous boulders that have been eaten away by wind and water and now sit as hulking pitted sentries a few feet offshore. They supposedly trap water in some unique way and then allow it to pour over the heads of the people underneath. It requires a walk of 500 or so steps down a steep hill to get there, where you see something that’s okay at best. At the bottom you are also given the option of going through a rock tunnel—crawling at times—and walking through treehouses to see beautiful Devil’s Bay. That one will have to exist as beautiful in my imagination. All in all, a waste of time.

My driver, Ivan, was eager to show me his native island, and since I had 45 minutes until the ferry back, I consented, riding with a forced smile as he drove me around a woeful town and a generally scraggly island. It was so sad I tipped him an extra $10.

On the Joe ratings, Virgin Gorda gets a lowly X. Rating withheld for Tortola since I never gave it a fair viewing. (As far as I know, they don’t have any luxury resorts here, so the issue might be moot.)

On the ferry ride back, the Nick Cage movie had re-reeled and I got to watch the next 45 minutes, but we landed with the good part still ahead. Back on Tortola I walked through Road Town meandering through a outdoor Caribbean barbecue and craft show in a public park, realizing as I strolled back to the Spirit that this would be the last time I would touch foreign soil on this trip. Next stop Ft. Lauderdale.

Returned to the ship for lunch at the Pool Grill, my favorite haunt these days. Limited menu of good burgers and delicious grilled dogs, plus pizza and salads and things they call “Tongue Twisters”. Among the latter is the Guacamole Tumbler, a martini glass filled with shredded lettuce, guacamole and crabmeat with lime mayo…mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. Today, being in an all-crab mood, I’m having the GT along with a Thai Crab Burger with Asian slaw and spicy dip.

They have another great restaurant-concept here called Hot Rocks, where you cook your own entrée (steak, veal chops, fish) on these hot rocks they provide at your outdoor table on a deck above the Pool Grill. Supposed to be fun, but (a) it’s not something that would be fun to do alone and (b) it’s booked for the entire cruise except the next tuxedo night, so I’ve been hoping to glom on with some other people who have reservations and who have an empty chair. No luck so far. When, as frequently happens, I subtly or not so subtly join people at their tables at cocktail hour, one of the first questions I ask is: been to Hot Rocks?, and the answer I inevitably get is, Yeah, we were there last night. Oh well, I’ll live. (Anyway, I’ve looked at the “raw materials” they provide and the N.Y. steaks are 100% marble-less, so maybe I’m not missing anything of note.)

Formal night, and I sit with John and Sandy from Linton in the north of England. John’s in the furniture business, which must be doing okay since I noticed that one of Sandy’s fingers is graced by a brand new Crown of Light diamond ring. (I know it’s not the 3.01 stone because I bought that one for Lynn, but this one’s right up there in the same league.) After dinner, he and I head off to the Casino. Amazing. Seven nights here and this is the first time I’ve placed a wager in the Casino. Passed by it once or twice, but never bothered to go in. About thirty slots, all or most of which sit unused. No craps table. Three blackjack tables, one roulette, and—saving grace—a Three Card Poker table. Which, of course, becomes my game of choice under the circumstances. My dealer, Olga, has a cold Russian demeanor, a look that as much as says she just as soon slit your throat as deal another hand of this stupid game. But deal she does. My luck ebbs back and forth, up and down, and I end up $60 in the red. I still have $140 of my $200 stake. They’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to get that.

Next: That’s the Spirit! Day 8

That’s the Spirit! Day 6

Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 6: Thursday, November 18

Last night’s (Wednesday’s) dinner was “California Night” with Jim and wife Barbara from La Mirada, sister Barbara from San Diego, and “Mother” from Montecito. Last names unknown (around here nobody has last names). We start off with the usual chit-chat…is this your first time on Silversea? Are you a regular cruiser? What other cruise lines have you been on? To be honest, this meal ends up being a pretty boring situation, with the conversation ranging from spa hours to Euro/Dollar exchange rates to the weather, although I probably shouldn’t blame them since it’s hard to find new things to talk about after six days. Every five minutes Mother tells me I have to try Crystal. Yes, I’d like to. They have cruises out of Los Angeles. (She’s one of those old-line 3rd– or 4th generation Angelinos who, like former Mayor Sam Yorty, prefers the Anglicization of the city’s name and call it “Los Angle-ess”.) Yes, I think I knew that. You really should go. Yes, I hope I get the chance one day. They have cruises out of Los Angle-ess. Yes, Mother. I begin to wonder: is she an undercover gnat the front desk has sent to drive me crazy…payback for my complaining about the noise from the next-door veranda? Tough night. Nothing much going on so I go to the nightclub and listen to the blues/jazz singer for a half-hour, then tuck in early.

Today, Thursday, we’re in St. Maarten, and this is the day for the America’s Cup Regatta. (I checked the activities desk and it’s actually going to happen!) As noted in yesterday’s report, the monstrous Celebrity Solstice sits outside my veranda, from which I watch an anthill of Solstice’s 2,850 passengers file down their gangplank onto the pier. Looks like it might be a crowded day here in Philipsburg. Next to the Solstice sits the giant MSC Poesia, and word has it we may soon be joined by Royal Caribbean’s colossal Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship carrying FIVE THOUSAND passengers.

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Wow is all I can say. Just got back from a most thrilling experience: the activity billed as the America’s Cup Regatta. Here’s what they do. 28 passengers are divided into two groups and assigned to one of two boats, each of which competed in past America’s Cup races—the Stars & Stripes (which won it a few years back) and the Canada II (my boat)—to engage in a five-mile race. Among each boat’s crew were three professional sailors, several very experienced competition sailors in our company and some neophytes like me. All the elements were there for a terrific competition: a nice windy day, two sleek boats and two crack crews. I volunteered for an “active” crew role and served as one of the four Primary Grinders, whose job it was crank this apparatus that helps with the turns (I think). I mean, most of us have been out in sailboats, but I at least hadn’t ever seen anything like these boats—a pair of speed merchants with no frills and no fat designed to literally fly through the water.

At the risk of boring you with the details of the regatta (it’s sort of like recounting a golf game stroke by stroke, but I’m going to do it anyway), here’s how it went. A little warm-up and we were off to a running start, side by side with the Stars & Stripes. We’d be flying along a straightaway when the time would come to tack around a red flag, which was when the real work and the racing strategy really began. My fellow grinders and I—Main and Primary— and the team of mainsail trimmers would spring into action as the Canada II surged into a turn, the wind blasting us in the face, the keel leaning half-way over, the Skipper calling out “Rail in the water!”, which essentially means that you’re going really, really fast. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it—thirteen “teammates” and I pulling together in a frenetic effort in pursuit of the Stars & Stripes, which had jumped out to an early lead and held it doggedly for four miles. Finally, as we were preparing to tack around our final flag, the Skipper makes the decision to tack to starboard instead of port—an all or nothing gamble which meant were going to swing wide right and hope to catch a miraculous blast of wind. Precisely what happened. As the crews on both boats hurled catcalls at one another, the two crafts spun around the flag in opposite directions and flew toward the finish in a V formation, the S&S far to the left and C2 far to the right. Our Skipper surveyed the churning waters and smiled: “Better wind for us than for them!” The came a mile of tense racing, like two champion racehorses barreling head-to-head down the stretch, as the Canada II inched closer and closer, then even, then ahead, and crossed the finish, winning by maybe 30-50 meters. We all looked at one another. We just beat the America’s Cup winner! Morgan congratulated us heartily and told us it was traditional to gloat over a victory like this, also reminding us it was customary to tip the pros on board, returning us to reality.

So, there it was—an experience that in and of itself has gone a long way toward making this whole cruise memorable and worthwhile. Things like that always make me wonder why I didn’t try them earlier in life, when I could have allowed the thrill to grow into a passion. Oh well, I guess I’ll just take it as it comes.

Tonight (Thursday) I’m the guest of International hostesses Isabelita and Carla and Cruise Director Mike (one of my mates on the Canada II today) at dinner. Just the four of us. When I came back from breakfast this morning, out of the blue appeared a written invitation on the ship’s stationery. Not really sure why me (maybe they’re pumping me for my impressions of the Spirit), but I think it will be fun.

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It’s just after sunset and our neighbor, the Solstice, is blowing its air horns in preparation for its departure from St. Maarten. Camera flashes popping, passengers along the decks and verandas of both vessels are lined up to watch the spectacle of this massive creature being untied at the dock and then pushing off unassisted into the harbor and out to sea. You stare and wonder how it’s even possible to budge such a beast, how incredible the task was to build such a thing. Above the growl of its engines can be heard the shouts of crewmen going through their checklists. The lights from the Captain’s bridge on the 13th deck flash red and blue, giving it the appearance of a nightclub. A line of spotlights illuminates the waters, giving them a teal hue. The Solstice rumbles and pushes off sideways from shore, pauses, then begins its forward thrust. Quite a sight.

Now it’s the Spirit’s turn to rumble as she prepares to depart for Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Next: That’s the Spirit! Day 7

That’s the Spirit! Day 5

Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 5: Wednesday, November 17

Kenneth and the Australians sounds like a 60’s pop band that would have opened for Herman and the Hermits, but it’s actually the people I had dinner with Tuesday night. I happened to meet the eponymous Kenneth the first hour I was aboard ship last Saturday when we were both looking for an afternoon snack and arrived at the Pool Grill at the same time. Kenneth is probably mid-40’s, a nice looking guy with a haircut that slightly resembles a porcupine’s, and he’s got the engaging upbeat quality that makes Australians so engaging. He and his entourage– frequent Silversea’ers all– are coming off a trip to Cuba where they attended an international ballet festival. Last night he was kind enough to take mercy on me as I was sitting alone in the Observation Lounge and invited me to join them. I guess I may not have noticed in the past, but Australian accents become harder to understand the more you (or they) drink, so a good portion of the time I felt as though I were listening to Russians. Anyway, they were a nice group of charming people and we passed the evening pleasantly.

In a recent email, Alison comments that my missives don’t say a whole lot about activities. That’s because the Events people have cancelled my first two planned activities—Whale Watching on Day 2 and a “Fun ‘n Fast Boat” to circumnavigate the island on Day 4— not informing me of the cancellations until the morning of the planned event, and then the activities that still had room didn’t appeal. (I’ve got one to go, a sailing outing on the America’s Cup boat Regatta in St. Maarten.) So, I’ve had to improvise with self-designed tours of the destinations, mixed in with a nice amount of reading and a little pool time. All in all, not necessarily “active” enough for the peripatetic me, but okay.

Not that it’s all fun and games. I have rather grueling a Italian lesson each day from 4:00 to 4:30 with Professora Carla, a stickler on correct Italian pronunciation despite the fact that she’s Brazilian. Lesson One dealt with pronunciation (Roll those R’s! Let’s all pretend we’re sitting on our Harley Davidsons. Rrrrrrrmmm, rrrrrmmm, rrrrmmm!) and all the “must know” words and phrases (Hello.. goodbye…etc.), Lesson Two with concepts like big/small, open/closed, et al.. (I cut Lesson Three, but she gives us make-up lessons if we want.) Happy to report that, according to Carla, whom I saw at Bingo, in comparison to my lackluster classmates I’m nearly fluent.

And Alison asks if I’m having fun. Well, yeah, I am. Not raucous, side-splitting fun, because the people on the Spirit are a more homogenous group of well-heeled country club types whose lives don’t seem to be as full of the idiosyncracies and jaw-dropping quirks as the Solstice crowd. It’s a tamer, saner group. So, as noted above, this is a “pleasant” fun. My favorite time of day is morning as we coast into a new port, where the pleasure is the anticipation of a new place to explore and a new serving of corned beef hash (one of the best dishes on the ship) for breakfast. The experience has been very enjoyable, albeit maybe a tad lengthy. I don’t know if I’m cut out for anything longer than a seven-day cruise, as the repetitiveness and the sameness of the venues begins to get to me. But I’m doing fine.

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And then (today, Wednesday) came St, Bart’s, which ended up being one of my best days ever. Anytime. Anywhere.

For years and years and years I’ve heard about St. Bart’s. I’d heard about it from an old bon vivant college friend named Tim Bouscaren (a faux Frenchman who used to claim that his family spoke French around the house), who came here every year. And from our Sharon, CT pals Graham Klemm and Matt Lynn, who jetset the world and make it an annual stop. I must not have been paying close enough attention, because this place was never on my radar as a “must”. Big mistake.

This is a stunning place, a gorgeous place, a spectacular place…the prettiest island I’ve ever been to. Devoid of the junky shacks and tenements that scar so many Caribbean islands, it’s an almost Disneyesque version of what the perfect place should look like, sort of a Caribbean version of Maui, La Jolla, Cap Ferrat. Hundreds and hundreds of beautiful villas dot the tall hillsides that trundle down to a ring of perfect beaches.

People who know me make fun of my use of superlatives, especially in connection with recent discoveries, but I state here and now that St. Bart’s has to be ranked among the top five places in the world.

At this island we are required to anchor off shore—a real benefit since the distance “frames” the island– and use tenders to the mainland. Today I rented a car from Cool Auto Rental (they pick you up at a currency exchange in town and drive you to the parking lot of a KFC to pick up your car), which provided me with a tiny little Kia Picanto (French for “little hottie”?) with a Toro lawnmower engine, which I used to tour the island extensively and visit some of St. Bart’s renowned 5-star resorts, among them Guanahani, Le Toiny, Eden Roc, and the newest and my personal recommendation, the most spectacular hotel here—the Il de France. This is a gorgeous property set smack dab on a private beach and featuring fresh, bright and airy rooms and an overall ultra-luxury atmosphere. I also had time during my grand tour to make stops at two of the beautiful public beaches on the island; not usually a “beach guy,” I really enjoyed them. Adding to the adventure was the presence of hundreds of crazy French drivers racing along the rough, narrow roads at breakneck speeds, driving on sidewalks (saw it twice), and tailgaiting so brutally I had to pull over about two dozen times.

THE place to eat in St. Bart’s is Maya’s, famous for its creative seafood dishes (to put this into perspective, it happens to be P Diddy’s favorite restaurant in the Caribbean). Although Maya only works her magic at night., she does, however, operate an informal little picnicky roadside café called Maya’s To Go, misnamed because practically everyone eats right on the tables and wooden benches outside, where I had a delicious lunch consisting of lime-marinate shrimp skewer and a cold cucumber-with-pepper-with-octopus salad.. Perhaps more important, St. Bart’s is the exclusive home to the one-and-only JoJo Burger, where a cheeseburger comparable to a Wendy’s is priced at 12 Euros (about $15…ouch!)

A triple check mark for St. Bart’s, which will definitely become a return destination.

.                       .                       .

SPECIAL POSTSCRIPT

As you may have discerned, I write these entries late afternoon at poolside, recapitulating the events of the night before and then continuing on with that day’s activities (in the interest of coherence, I don’t write anything after cocktail hour), then send it out to you the next morning. Editing, but not adding to the report.

But today (Day 6 now) merits a special early morning exception. I awoke early to watch us sail into port in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, only to look out my veranda door and discover that we are docked next to…you won’t believe this…THE SOLSTICE!!! I walk out onto the veranda and look over at my old friend, a veritable leviathan parked next to our relatively shark-size Spirit. Mirabile dictu, up on the top deck of the Solstice, I spot the Captain and crew waving at me and yelling, “Come back, Joe! We miss you!” I can only smile and call back to them: “Sorry, fellas, next time!”

Next: That’s the Spirit! Day 6

That’s the Spirit! Day 4

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.

Next: That’s the Spirit! Day 5

That’s the Spirit! Day 3

Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 3: Monday, November 15

Formal Night last evening was uneventful. Captain’s cocktail reception, followed by lobster dinner, followed by the Silver Spirit Singers and Dancers performing in Rocketman, a tribute to Elton John. This was a virtual all-tux and long gown crowd, and the cocktail hour was quite festive. At dinner I was joined by a contigent of Brits– the aforementioned Mary (talk, talk, talk) and the very nice Rachel, and a newcomer, Scottie*, a late-seventies Scotsman who is in the midst of a back-to-back-to-back-to-back 28-day cruise on the Spirit. In a Silver Suite, no less. Nice gentleman, except we had to repeat every morsel of the conversation twice. (Liz and Karen, whom we saw during the afternoon at Team Trivia…we’re “The Soloists” and came in 3rd…and Bingo…I was never in any of the games, but the good news is that they don’t charge for Bingo, unlike the Solstice…opted for Le Champagne, the $200/person surcharge restaurant.) The theatrical performance was fine—a bunch of young twenties wannabes singing and dancing their hearts out before a largely sexagenarian and septuagenarian audience nodding off at the end of a long day. I felt for them.

Another thing I did yesterday was attend the shore shopping seminar given by Philip, a slick, self-assured San Franciscan who assures us that we will find miraculous bargains on jewels and jewelry and watches in some of the upcoming islands by religiously following the “maps” of each island that he has handed out with the aid of his assistant Jolie (later to be seen as the lead jazz dancer in Rocketman). He gave example after example of previous passengers saving $1,000, $10,000, $30,000, etc. on purchases, and I have to admit he was doing a fabulous job of reeling the crowd in. The whole time I kept wondering: how is this guy compensated for directing patrons to all of these astounding bargains? Nobody asked during Q&A, so I went up to him after the presentation and posed the question, which he sluffed off, his glare saying “Just follow the maps, bud.”

As noted earlier, all or most of Martinique was closed on Sunday and I didn’t bother to go into town or do the island. So no rating given.

Now it’s Monday.

We’re at Roseau, Domenica (accent on the third syllable), self-proclaimed “Nature Island of the Caribbean.” Well, there’s plenty of nature, that’s for sure. The island is a plentiful collection of towering verdant mountains, with numerous scraggly settlements scattered around. The main burg, Roseau, is a forlorn, beat-up place with obviously a quite lax zoning code, as evidenced by the variety of colors the houses and buildings are painted—canary yellow, lime green, bubble-gum pink, fire engine red (or is that fuschia?). It was worth a half-hour.

My scheduled activity for the day—whale watching—was cancelled (apparently the last two groups on the ship went out for hours and didn’t see a whale and demanded refunds). I thought about replacing it with the “Volcano Tour”, until I learned that it entailed an actual mud bath in volcanic goo, and the other “garden/waterfall/fort” tours didn’t interest me.

What did interest me was the presence in port of another Silversea liner, the flagship Silver Cloud, 16 years old and only one-third the size of the Spirit. I signed up to be a Visitor on the Cloud (Silversea veterans call all of the ships by their last name—the Cloud, the Whisper, the Wind, the Shadow, etc.). What a disappointment. Our Spirit visitor group was given a complete tour of the ship, only to witness grungy old bathrooms (e.g., shower in tub, single sinks), tired old staterooms (ironically, the ones on the Cloud are actually larger than the ones on the Spirit…go figure…whereas the ones on the Cloud a shorter and wider, the ones on the Spirit are long and narrow, which has prompted lots of complaints from couples whose husbands can’t squeeze by the wives at the make-up table), and a cacophony of bilious colors and styles that look like something out of Vegas in the 50’s. Yeccchhh. I would caution anyone about signing up for an expensive cruise on that thing. (Special note to AW: because the Cloud is only a third the size of the Spirit, and thus about a tenth the size of the Solstice ships, there was a very noticeable “roll and sway” all during our tour—and this was when the ship was tied up at port on a reasonably calm day. Definitely not the vessel for you.) The positive side is that I met a vanful of nice people, all couples, mostly English, and we’re all getting together for a group dinner tonight.**

Now a word about the food on the Spirit. I thought I’d wait a few days before opining on the subject so that I would have a chance to sample the various offerings. I’ve tried The Restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, La Terrazza (Italian) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Pool Deck Grill for lunch. I’ll give them credit: they’re trying hard, offering an amazing variety of dishes at every meal, most of which sound very appealing and make for hard choices. Aside from the snail- slow service that everybody is complaining about, it’s basically banquet quality food…not really all that surprising since they are feeding 450 people at a crack. That being said, I have found the food to be very good. The liquor selection is top notch, with all premium brands (except no Chopin, Alison) available; ditto with the wine selections, all very tasty, with lots of alternatives if you don’t love the selection of the day/evening. And it’s a true delight to step up to any bar and order whatever you want and not have to wait for a check or have ticky-tacky service charges assessed. Now THAT is a feature that gives this cruise line a thumbs-up in comparison to the next tier. No tabs. No tips. As General Patton said about war, “Oh, how I love it so.”

More Trivia and Bingo this afternoon, then Informal (coat, no tie) Night in the restaurants, then those Silver Spirit Singers and Dancers are at it again in Jazz a la Carte.

You’ll hear all about it.

  • CORRECTIONS: Had a drink with Scottie at the bar and it turns out he’s Australian, not Scottish. Also, his trip on the Spirit is for 65 days, not 28. (Last year he did 70.)
  • AM I CRAZY OR ARE THEY DEPT. Almost everybody I’ve talked with about the Silver Cloud say they LOVED it…”so intimate…”, “very nice…”, etc.

Next: That’s the Spirit! Day 4

That’s the Spirit! Day 2

Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 2: Sunday, November 14

Okay, so all the solo travelers get together at a cocktail gathering last evening at the Panorama Lounge.

Preceding me into the room is a young (maybe 23) girl, who edges into the lounge and spots the “Solo” group—all 25-50 years her senior—sitting in a cluster around a coffee table. She takes one “Whoa no!” look and skirts back out the door.

But I’m a social guy, so I head on over. As it turns out, only six of us end up at the gathering…five women and yours truly. Introductions all around, chit-chat about nothing…seems like a friendly group. Eventually, our shipboard “International hostess” Isabelita, suggests that we all have dinner together and before I know it we are off to The Restaurant, where upon our approach the maitre d’ smells TROUBLE (mainly in the person of one member of our party, the infamous Liz…see later) and seats us in the farthest corner of the room, where none of the other guests can see us and none of the staff can even find us and of course the service is glacially slow. The dinner drags on for two hours, where the six of us mainly listen to two speakers—Liz and Mary (not me for a change)—regale us with stories, complaints, jokes and seagoing tales and where the six of us get to know a little about each other. Here’s the lineup, with names, approximate ages by my estimation, and domiciles.

Liz (48), a buxom babe from Houston, on her 10th Silversea cruise, LOUD and (her words) “crude and rude,”, but actually pretty funny in a bawdy and outrageous way, repeatedly describing herself as a hotelier (French pronunciation, please) and bragging about her world travels and her dinners with such luminaries as Joel Rubichon and Gordon Ramsey (when teased about her obvious crush on him, assures all of us…her words again…“no, I didn’t f— him”).

Karen (65), widow from San Diego, a professional singer who gave up her career to raise a family. She’s Liz’s regular cruise buddy who laughs hysterically at all of Liz’s antics. (Although the two of them are tight as thieves, she at least has the smarts to get her own private stateroom. One can only imagine what nine days and nights in a room with Liz would do to someone.) She’s all geared up for the karaoke night, and if they don’t have one, she’s going to create one.

Rachel (44), from Yorkshire in England, executive with a British version of an S&L.   Married with two kids, but travels solo four times a year. Nice gal.

Wendy (74), widow, pharmacist from Wales. A pleasant woman who continually smiles and laughs at everyone’s stories, but barely says a word herself the entire night.

Mary (114), widow, a retired and very wrinkled lawyer from Northern Ireland, who was very witty at first, telling us all about all the important cases she has handled and important people she has met, before it got sort of tiresome. She’s doing a “back-to-back,” having completed a week on this ship before starting on our 9-day’er. She asks us all if we wanted to find a beach and go swimming on Martinique. The mental image of her in a bathing suit immediately gives me indigestion.

Me.

Since fate has thrown us together, I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of them. Isabelita has already planned a dinner for the group of us on Thursday, and tonight our sixsome has been entered in Team Trivia.

First night, and I actually live up to my promise to get to bed early. I head back to my room, where Harry has stocked my fridge with Miller Lite, have a cold one on the veranda, then tuck in. Ah, nothing like sleeping with the gentle sway of the ship and the veranda door open with the sound of the waves and the ship cutting through the Caribbean waters.

Sunday morning.

Got up early and went up to the Observation Lounge on the 11th deck to watch our entrance into Martinique harbor. Now this is more like it. The Observation Lounge is a beautiful space with an English clubby décor and a cozy library, floor-to-ceiling picture windows and a comfortable deck that offers a head-on view of everything. Absolutely first rate. I can’t imagine anything prettier on any other cruise ship.

The Spirit sails past a line of picturesque piton-like mountains and glides to the pier. Hey, looks like a pretty nice town. I say to Harry: maybe I’ll walk into town, or better still, rent a car and drive around the island. Un-uh, says Harry. Rental car agencies closed on Sunday. Shops closed, too. Which leaves me what option? Beach time with Mary? Looks like I’ll spend the day aboard ship and go sit by the pool. Un-uh, says Harry. Rain today. Oh. “Go explore the facilities,” he says.

After breakfast on the outside terrace (nice), the sun makes an appearance and I end up going to the pool for a hour. Observation time. So how does the crowd on this luxury ship stack up against my former mates on the Solstice, which you may recall was packed with government bureaucrats, wackos, beer guts and tattoos? Well, for most part it’s a much fitter group. And a tad older. They look a little richer, the women especially. Only two tattoos spotted so far. People from all over. Mostly Americans, of course, but also Germans (detectable by their Speedos), Brits (lots), Australians (a whole, whole lot), and Irish. As far as I can tell, only two kids on the entire boat.

Today will be a reading day. Until, that is, it’s time for activities: Port Shopping Talk With Philip, followed by Italian lessons with International hostess Carla, followed by Team Trivia, then my perennial favorite: Bingo! Tonight is Formal Night. I can only wonder what adventures await Tuxedo Joe tonight.

Next: That’s the Spirit! Day 3

That’s the Spirit! Day 1

Aboard the Silver Spirit. Day 1: Saturday, November 13.

Ahoy!

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.