A few beads of moisture had collected on a marble tabletop at the outdoor Panorama Lounge aboard Silversea Cruises' Silver Spirit. Seconds later, a waiter appeared out of nowhere with a white rag. “Here, madam. Let me just take care of that,” he said, wiping away the droplets. That's one example of the service level passengers can expect on a luxury ship like this. On the Silver Spirit, there is one crew member for every 1.4 passengers – that's half the ratio offered by most premium-category ships.
Rooms, butlers, and excursions
On board the Silver Spirit, which carries 540 guests, every cabin category provides butler service. Each butler is responsible for a handful of staterooms. But they make their presence known by booking dinner and spa reservations, unpacking and packing suitcases, handling any laundry or dry cleaning requests, and even polishing shoes. Room service orders are delivered by the butler, rather than regular wait staff. A speed dial number on each stateroom phone connects directly to the butler and he (or she) is the guest's go-to source for virtually any question or concern.
People often ask about differences between the cruise lines. There are too many to list here, but at the luxury level (which, in addition to Silversea, includes lines such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, and Crystal Cruises), the biggest difference to me is the quiet. That's because there are few, if any, children on board. These lines do not have structured programs for children, and while they are not prohibited from sailing, it's unusual to see families with young kids. Unlike non-luxury ships, where the atmosphere typically is hectic and noisy, Silver Spirit offers a kind of oasis, where passengers can sit undisturbed in sun or shade, read books, chat, or doze.
Our seven-night, late-March cruise took us to the Eastern Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, calling at Turks and Caicos, the Domincan Republic, Tortola, St. Bart's and St. Maarten, and ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Several shore excursions were offered in each port, ranging from relaxing beach destinations and art gallery tours to rugged all-terrain-vehicle rides and snorkeling. The ship overnighted in tony St. Bart's, allowing guests to spend more time shoreside and check out the nightlife.
Meanwhile, on-board the ship, Silver Spirit has one pool and three hot tubs, a casino, and several lounges, including the Panorama Lounge, which offers indoor and outdoor seating and is the place to be after dinner for dancing, live music, and late-night cocktails.
I was booked into a veranda suite, which provided a spacious 376 square feet of living space, a walk-in closet, sitting area with a couch, table and chair, and full tub in the bathroom. Flat-screen TVs are located in both the sitting area and the bedroom, and bed linens are the luxury Pratesi brand.
Dining and entertainment
Passengers can choose between five elegant dining venues. The Restaurant is the main dining room serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while La Terrazza is a breakfast-and-lunch buffet that transforms into an Italian restaurant for dinner. The Grill is set up each night on the pool deck, where meats and seafood are grilled table-side on a hot rock.
The Grill is wildly popular and reservations are a must. On the night I dined there, I ordered a filet mignon, which was delivered to my table on its hot rock, and I grilled it to a perfect medium-rare. Guests love this venue; it's fun and interactive. Two specialty restaurants, the French-themed Le Champagne and the Asian-fusion Seishin, each charge $30 per person for dinner. These, too, are popular eateries and reservations are necessary. And people dress for dinner on Silversea ships. On a seven-night cruise, there's one formal night when ladies don fancy dresses and men must wear a jacket and tie; however, even on informal nights, a jacket is required in the dining venues.
The ship's theater, the Show Lounge, provides concert-style entertainment. A lively show featuring Abba tunes brought most of the baby boomer audience to their feet; other concerts featured Motown music and opera.
Like other luxury lines, Silversea includes all beverages, including fine wines and premium spirits, and gratuities in its base cruise fare. This is another big difference in shipboard lifestyle: it means that passengers aren't signing a receipt every time they order a drink. On Silversea, guests pay extra for shore excursions, Internet access, and spa treatments. The passengers on Silver Spirit, most of them affluent couples in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, are looking for-top notch cuisine and service, some light-hearted entertainment, and, mostly, peace and quiet. And that's exactly what they get.
Through October, 2014 the Silver Spirit will sail the Eastern and Western Mediterranean on seven-to-ten-night cruises from Rome, Venice, and Barcelona. Veranda cabin fares for a seven-day cruise, sailing round-trip from Venice in July, range from $3,850 to $4,450 per person.
The ship will head to Fort Lauderdale for Caribbean cruises from mid-November to December. In January, 2015 it will deploy to the South Pacific, where it will spend the winter and offer eight-to-fourteen-day sailings.