San Francisco Bay Area
Silver Spirit: Casually elegant ultra-luxury cruising
The Silversea fleet now consists of five classic luxury vessels and four expedition ships, all known for their gourmet cuisine and attentive service. The lithe, winsome 540-passenger Silver Spirit lives up to those high standards and often goes above and beyond.
(The ship went into dry dock in March 2018 and will have significant enhancements; see Patti's blog post.)
I'll say up front that I'll always feel a special attachment to Silver Spirit, which I took for a pre-Christmas holiday spin in December 2016 for my first true luxury cruise. Let me tell you why this beauty of a ship may prove memorable to you, too.
The first thing to like about Silver Spirit is her all-inclusive pricing, which gets you high-end amenities like champagne, caviar, butler service — and minimizes the usual add-ons that plump up your bill. Gratuities are included in your fare, and wine and spirits (except for the super-expensive labels) flow freely, from the glass of champagne guests are offered upon arrival to a mini-bar stocked with your favorite liqueur. (I made the mistake of bringing a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon — the luxury line lets you bring alcohol on board — but never opened it.) Unlike, say, Regent or Viking Ocean Cruises, tours are not included in your fare (disclosure: Silversea comped four of my excursions).
Highlights include the services of a personal butler, the smartly appointed staterooms, a nice choice of dining venues with innovative cuisine prepared with high-quality ingredients, the largest Silversea spa at 8,300 square feet, a resort-style pool, four whirlpools and the largest suites in the fleet.
Who will like sailing on Silver Spirit
Silversea is a favorite among an international crowd of affluent travelers, with a majority of mature travelers who enjoy stylish touches, fine cuisine, exceptional service and day-long explorations in port. While there were a few children on board, you won't find waterslides or dedicated children's programs. Most passengers were Americans and Brits with a smattering of visitors from the Continent, Australia, Mexico and Brazil. Nearly everyone departs the ship for activities in port.
Where Silver Spirit sails
Silver Spirit sails in and around the Caribbean, South America, Europe, the Mediterranean, South Pacific and Australia. Some of the most popular destinations that this ship visits are Spain, Turkey, Argentina and Aruba, among several others.
The onboard experience: Roomy & casual
Silversea is the company that brought luxury cruising to the masses (OK, the upper middle class masses), and service and roominess are hallmarks of the Silversea brand. And compared to other ultra-luxe cruise brands that can tend to be a bit stuffy, Silversea is anything but. Yes, you get a butler, but the entire experience is friendly, unpretentious and relaxing. Although Silver Spirit is the largest ship in the Silversea fleet, at 36,000 gross registered tons, this is not a large ship. Compared with her sister ships, Silver Spirit's extra space allows Silversea to offer more dining venues, more variety and more choices.
The days are counting down when Silver Spirit, launched in 2009, will no longer be the newest, largest vessel in the fleet: Big sister Silver Muse will debut in April 2017. What won't change is the feeling of roominess on board: I never felt crowded and never waited more than a minute in line, thanks to her generous space-per-passenger ratio, which makes her among the roomiest cruise ships afloat. (Silversea doesn't pack 'em in like the big ships do; there were 480 guests on this 540-passenger ship.)
I had not even begun to unpack when Neo (from the Philippines, not "The Matrix") arrived with a silver platter of soaps and toiletries, including Bulgari shampoo and conditioner. Neo asked if I needed anything to be pressed or wanted my bags unpacked. He also checked on the dinner reservations I'd made online for each night of the voyage. And who could not be impressed when you ask for Darjeeling tea and the butler asks, "Spring or Summer Darjeeling?"
Aside from pouring Prosecco sparkling wine, serving canapes and keeping the room neat (with room stewards), Neo also came to the rescue one evening when a screw in my computer/reading glasses inexplicably vanished, popping out a lens. By the next morning, all was clear again after Neo tracked down a jeweler on board who managed to find a replacement screw. That saved me a half day of traipsing around an unfamiliar port.
Here's a 36-second video of my ziplining experience in St. Lucia.
Where I went & what I liked
I took one of the less exotic itineraries: a 7-day voyage in December 2016 that sailed from Bridgetown, Barbados to St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, Dominica and Grenada before returning to Barbados, making the flight in and out super-easy. We hit a different island every day, and it was cool to have new places to explore each morning. The weather didn't completely cooperate: We had a rainstorm every day of the trip, but the clouds usually passed quickly enough for me to work on my tan.
Shore excursion highlights included zip-lining in St. Kitts (see the video above — and here's another zipline video from the same excursion), snorkeling and grooving to souka on a catamaran trip, a beach day in pretty Le Marin, Martinique, with its yacht marina (where we tendered and I got to fly my new drone), and snorkeling during a Champagne Lobster Cruise to Goat Island in Grenada. (Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on your itinerary.)
On board, highlights included dinner at Hot Rocks, lunch at Seishin, a captain's dinner in La Terrazza and a fun night of karaoke in the Panorama Lounge. Chatting up bartender Zak Zlatko in the Panorama Lounge and on the Pool Deck was great fun, too, and I got Zak to whip up a cocktail concoction for each port of call on our voyage.
Top dining choices
Sparkling with silver, crystal and candlelight, Silversea's main dining room serves contemporary, international cuisine with sophisticated elegance and impeccable service. The Restaurant on board this cruise ship offers open-seating dining, which means there are no assigned times and no assigned tables.
A satisfying selection of Italy's best cuisine is served a la carte in La Terrazza (reservations required). Authentic recipes and fresh ingredients come together in a flavorful expression that represents Silversea's distinctive Italian heritage and embraces the principles of the Slow Food movement, using fresh, sustainable and local ingredients. La Terrazza is open for a buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner with set menus that change often. We especially enjoyed the lobster dish during our dinner with Staff Capt. Giacomo Castiglione.
The Grill (Hot Rocks)
The Grill on the Pool Deck transforms from a casual open air table-service restaurant at lunch to a casual, intimate al fresco dining venue for dinner. A preheated volcanic rock is brought to your table, allowing you to cook such delicacies as steak, veal, pork, lamb, fish or prawns to your exact liking right at your own table (you're the co-chef). Informally called Hot Rocks, the superheated granite slabs that cooked our dinner was one of the highlights of the trip — the steak was superb — and I returned for a second night. No need to dress up, and there’s never a charge, but reservations are required.
The only Wine Restaurant by Relais & Chateaux at sea can be found aboard the ships of Silversea. Indulge in an evening where fine wines are complemented by a set tasting menu of regionally inspired dishes in an intimate, elegant setting. There's a surcharge of $40 per person. Alas, although I tried to make a reservation three weeks before departure, it was too late, so sign into your My Silversea account as early as possible to sign up for this well-regarded dining venue.
I enjoyed the presentation by Jane, our server on Silver Spirit, during a last-second decision to have lunch in the cozy, stylish Seishin. You'll start with a strawberry sparkling wine to cleanse the palate, followed by inventive courses of Asian-fusion cuisine such as Kobe beef and spider lobster. Seishin features a large, round chef's table as its centerpiece, so settle in to the surrounding tables and watch the chef at work sculpting fresh sushi and sashimi. There's a surcharge of $20 or $40 per person, depending on what you order.
Stars Supper Club
The dark, intimate Stars, with its elegant Art Deco stylings, recalls the supper clubs of the 1930s (or so I'm told!). Trendsetting menus offer a modern twist, showcasing regional and seasonal delicacies to be enjoyed in a series of small courses. A singer and pianist performed during our dinner, and we received attentive service from the staff, who served a fixed menu that’s posted daily as well as complimentary wines.
Cocktails are served with soft ocean breezes at the casual, convenient Pool Bar. Poolside menu options feature healthy CruiseLite selections and light fare for lunch and dinner, including grilled meats and fresh-from-the-oven pizza.
Entertainment takes place in the Show Lounge. You'll find a broad spectrum of entertainment from full-scale production shows (which we found to be uneven) and classical soloists to cultural entertainment and feature films. The Show Lounge also hosts lectures and demonstrations — cooking classes are well attended — during days at sea.
The best views on the ship
- Observation Lounge: Head to deck 11, and find your way to the Observation Lounge for a quiet retreat above the bow of the ship. There are comfortable seats and beverages available as well as some books and a telescope to gaze out at sea. Head outside and mingle with other hearty souls willing to brave the elements.
- Panorama Lounge: The Panorama Lounge is an ideal place to unwind, enjoy afternoon tea, listen to the pianist and watch the setting sun. After dinner, head back here to listen to music, dance, and even give karaoke a whirl on some nights.
Silver Spirit is an all-suite ship, and each room is assigned a butler and junior attendant. Notably, some 95 percent of the ship's suites have beautiful teak balconies. All rooms feature luxuriously roomy, pretty Italian marble bathrooms with showers and separate tubs and stocked refrigerators. In every stateroom you'll find terry cloth covered slippers, posh robes, Pratesi linens and top-of-the-line toiletries. Even the lowest tier suites are relatively roomy.
The Owners Suite, with a single-bedroom (1,292 square feet) or two-bedroom (1,668 square feet) set-up, is the ship's top-of-the-line living space. It features a large teak balcony with patio furniture and floor-to-ceiling glass doors, large living room, dining area, twin beds or queen-size bed, vanity table, writing desk, flat-screen TV and more.
Grand Suites, with one- or two-bedroom configurations ranging from 1,425 to 1,879 square feet, offer two teak balconies with patio furniture and floor-to-ceiling glass doors, a living room and sitting area, dining area, bar, queen or twin beds, vanity table, writing desk and flat-screen TV.
Royal Suites range from 990 to 1,366 square feet in one- or two-bedroom set-ups, with a large teak veranda, living room, sitting area, separate dining area and bar, twin beds or queen bed, vanity table, writing desk and flat-screen TV.
Silver Suites, at 742 square feet, feature a living room, sitting room, teak veranda with patio furniture and floor-to-ceiling glass doors, twin beds or queen, vanity table, writing desk and flat-screen TV. I was upgraded from a Veranda Suite to a Silver Suite and it was plenty big enough to suit my needs for a weeklong journey. Perks included a Bang & Olufsen sound system, a radio/alarm clock with iPod docking station, Illy espresso machine, afternoon canapes on request served by my butler and an invitation to dine at an officer's table (a nice touch).
Veranda Suites, at 376 square feet, have a teak balcony with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, a sitting area, queen bed or twin beds, a vanity table, writing desk and a flat-screen TV.
Vista Suites, at 312 square feet, offer large picture windows framing panoramic ocean views, a sitting area, queen bed or twin beds, vanity table and a flat-screen TV.
Life on board is relaxed. Cruising doesn’t get much better than on a Silversea ship with its chic dress code that includes mostly informal nights (jacket for men, attractive numbers for women), one or two formal nights (jackets and the occasional tux for men and gowns or exquisite cocktail dresses) and country club casual by day. Shorts are discouraged after 6 pm. That said, everyone wears swim suits or shorts during the day.
Room for improvement: Where's the french fries?
While many guests found the entertainment to be fine, I found the stage productions with musical revues of the '60s and '70s less than stellar, and the piano music in the Panorama Lounge more maudlin than spirited, with few contemporary selections.
The art selection throughout the ship was fascinating to observe, with limited-edition prints by Picasso, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol, among others. And while the decor of the ship, which dates to 2009, might be called classic, the carpets and fixtures could use updating. (Sister ships Silver Whisper, Silver Wind and Silver Discoverer recently underwent refurbishments.)
I'm not a fan of the design decision to elevate the bathroom a good six inches above the rest of the stateroom — whacked my foot more than once and still have a bruise.
Viewing choices on your flat-screen satellite TV are quite limited in terms of both availability and programming. The port talks I attended by a local expert/historian (rebroadcast on the stateroom TVs) were dull and lifeless.
Internet service, as on many other cruise lines, was downright poor. It's all but impossible to return to your stateroom after a day in port and upload a 15-second video to your Instagram account or Facebook page, so you basically have to end your day in port by locating an Internet cafe to share your experiences via social media. Upload speeds on my laptop varied from 0.17mbps to never more than 0.25mbps — and more than half the time it was impossible to connect at all. Silversea, you can do better!
And finally, a charming woman I met at poolside pointed out that her request for french fries was met with a swift rebuff. Having recently sailed on Viking Star, where every guest's request seemed to be gladly fulfilled, it seems that Silversea needs a reminder that some gestures are worth going the extra mile. Get the young lady her fries!
All those reservations aside, I found the voyage invigorating, refreshing and quite fun. ☆☆☆☆½ stars for Silver Spirit. I hope to be back soon on another Silversea sailing.
JD Lasica sailed on Silver Spirit on a media pass as a guest of Silversea. See Cruiseable's Ethics & disclosure policy.
Have you cruised on Silver Spirit? What was the highlight? I'd love to hear about your experience.
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Top highlights on this ship
- Relaxed atmosphere and lots of space to stretch out
- All-inclusive pricing
- All-suite accommodations, which represent some of the largest suites at sea
- Butler service in all suites
- Two alternative dining options available for a nominal charge
- 8,300-square-foot spa
- European-style service for hotel and dining operations
- Fares include onboard gratuities
- Complimentary beverages served throughout the ship, including fine wines, champagnes, spirits, beer, bottled water, specialty coffees and soft drinks
- Gourmet cuisine inspired by Relais & Châteaux