Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Luxury cruises are as much about what is included as what is excluded. That’s the realization I came to as I boarded Silversea’s beautiful Silver Spirit in the Port of Barcelona this afternoon; the start of my fourth voyage on a ship and a line that have become something of a home-away-from-home for me.
Silversea, of course, is famous for its inclusions. Gratuities aren’t expected. Drinks of all kinds – from simple tonic water to hand-crafted cocktails – are included in the price of the voyage. So are most dining venues onboard. The line has even rolled out inclusive shore excursions and internet access on select voyages.
There are some things you don’t get on Silversea – things that no cruiser will miss. For example, you won’t find lines when you check in. Unlike big-ship cruise lines, Silversea’s entire check-in process for the Silver Spirit took me a whopping five minutes – and I arrived on a coach with twenty other guests.
You also won’t find photographers harassing you to have your picture taken with a guy dressed as a whale, or a bear, or a Roman guard. No one will shake you down to buy the Drink of the Day in a commemorative glass so expensive that you’ll practically need a credit check. There’s no pushing, no shoving – no hassle. Just civility from start to finish.
You simply arrive at the pier, collect your keycards, go through security, step onto the ship, swipe your keycard, register your credit card at reception and drop off your passports. That’s it: done.
To compare, one of my mainstream cruises had a wait of nearly two hours to embark.
I always like to tell people who have never sailed with Silversea before that the line is great on your first cruise, but it becomes amazing on your second Silversea voyage. That’s because the crew gets to know you, and you get to know the crew. So far, I’ve run into a dozen familiar faces that I recognize from past trips aboard the Silver Spirit, Silver Shadow, and Silver Wind – not to mention the line’s three dedicated luxury expedition vessels, Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer, and Silver Galapagos.
You’re welcomed onboard with a glass of Champagne. At every turn, smiling faces are there to greet you as one might greet an old friend. One of the couples behind us remarked they were on their first cruise. Champagne in hand, they’d been onboard for all of 40 seconds when the husband remarked, “I think we’re going to have to do a lot more of these!”
And so begins another alluring Silversea voyage – a journey of relaxation, education and rejuvenation, not to mention the joy of being at sea.
This week, we’re headed for Sete, France; Sanary, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Livorno, Italy and Olbia, Italy before our arrival into Civitavecchia (Rome) on May 2. If you’re doing the math, that’s a six-day voyage – one that has attracted an eclectic mix of both European and North American guests.
Easing into the Silversea way of life is deceptively simple. After a lunch on the Pool Deck (accompanied by my favorite drink, Fruit of the Glen), I made my way to my suite, which was ready by 2:00 p.m. and which already had my luggage waiting at the ready outside my door.
My home for this short voyage through the Med is a Category 5 Veranda Suite. Identical to Category 1 through Category 6, my suite is located on Deck 9 forward, and is one of the most common kinds of suites found aboard the Silver Spirit.
Measuring 376 square feet, Veranda Suites include practically everything you could wish for, including a private balcony that measures 65 square feet. There’s also a marble-clad bathroom complete with a full-sized bathtub and a separate shower; a choice of Bulgari, Ferragamo or hypoallergenic toiletries; nine different types of pillows to adorn the king-sized bed draped in Pratesi linens; a walk-in closet; and a sitting area that can be separated from the bedroom by way of a pull-out curtain.
These rooms also feature two flat-panel television sets inset into the mirrors that line the main wall; a nifty (and space-saving) touch. You can get a selection of television channels, the usual bridge-cam and map channels, and complimentary movies-on-demand on either television.
My butler, Anu, introduced himself in the usual way. He explained the suite’s amenities, and asked if I had any additional requests. As usual, I asked for a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and, this time, a bottle of Port wine. I was pleased to receive a bottle of Sandeman Ruby Porto along with my Johnny Walker Black. Oh – and these are no small Hilton-style liquor bottles. In the next six days, I apparently have to plow through a 1 Litre bottle of each. Bottom’s up!
If you’ve never been on Silversea before, the idea of a butler can seem intimidating. However, these kind professionals are really just there to help you enjoy your vacation to the fullest. Service is personable, not stuffy. There’s a genuineness to their service that escapes much of the tourism industry these days, and it’s something I appreciate more and more with each voyage I take with Silversea.
My last voyage aboard the Silver Spirit was in April of 2012; a transatlantic crossing between Bridgetown, Barbados and Lisbon, Portugal. While I’ve sailed Silversea since then, the Silver Spirit and I haven’t crossed paths in four years. It’s a long time, and I was curious as to what – if anything – had changed.
As it turns out, there have been some noteworthy changes to the ship that fall outside the usual carpeting replacement and soft furnishing items that you’d expect.
Loungers – once bright orange – are now a dark brown colour.
The Shops on Deck 8 have been given a complete overhaul, in keeping with Silversea’s new fleet-wide branding. While I’m not a fan of the plain-grey carpeting, lighting here has been dramatically improved, and the space now sparkles with elegant light sources that cast a flattering glow on this area that borders the Casino and the Connoisseur’s Club.
The private Spa Pool on Deck 7 aft that comes complimentary when you purchase a Thermal Suite Pass from the Spa at Silversea now has a new fibreglass divider between it and the fitness area next to it. I can recall sitting in the Spa hot tub on my transatlantic crossing and having my peace and quiet interrupted by about a dozen yoga participants, so I think the divider is a good thing. It helps ensure your privacy while allowing fitness participants to do their thing.
Elsewhere through the ship, there are new menus and dining options in the main Restaurant, as well as in the Pool Grill on Deck 9. Expect a refreshing mix of new items and old favorites. For those who love Silversea’s cocktail menu, fear not: the drinks menu hasn’t been touched.
As a whole, however, the Silver Spirit sparkles, looking even better than she did when I disembarked her exactly four years ago today, April 26, in Lisbon.
At the stroke of six (or 1800 hours for my European friends), Silver Spirit quietly pushed away from Barcelona’s World Trade Center cruise terminal and passed the breakwater. I’d forgotten what a silent ship this was; not even the slightest hum or rattle could be heard as Captain Mino Pontillo increased her speed to an easy 12 knots. Evening turned into night, and guests aboard the Silver Spirit retreated to an enjoyable evening of dining, dancing and nightcaps.
It’s everything I remember about the Silver Spirit, with all the best bits left wonderfully unchanged.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea’s Silver Spirt continues tomorrow from Sete, France! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.