We set off from home at 04.50 on 1st March from Manchester airport on the 07.20 shuttle to Heathrow. From here we caught the 10.25 BA flight to Los Angeles, touching down at 13.15, local time, 8 hours behind the UK.
LAX appears unique to us in being the only airport where planes are required to be towed onto the stand - jobs for the boys!!? Parked within 50 yards of the stand, the first tow truck that was attached broke down, so we had to wait about ten minutes for a replacement! The Captain (a lady) advised us that this was perhaps no bad thing; because the airport terminal congestion had eased by the time we were able to disembark the plane.
The Immigration hall was still packed with people and we made our way to one of the interminable queues with around at least 100 passengers in front of us, each queue being situated in front of four immigration desks. By the time we could see these booths, we found that only two were manned and soon afterwards, one of the two staff, just got up and left! A notice displayed on the booth read "The face of our country", to which we wryly observed that it was more accurate to say the invisible face! Eventually we were reassigned to a different queue, and finally passed through immigration to collect our baggage, which had been removed from the carousel and put on the floor in a haphazard manner, necessitating walking round the whole perimeter of the carousel to locate each item! We then queued again to pass through customs which involved handing over our declaration form stating we were not in possession of more than $100,000, did not have any food, had not visited a farm in the past 7 days and had not handled any animals! By now over two hours had elapsed since the plane touched down!!
Outside the terminal we found the airport hotel shuttle pick up point and waited about ten minutes for the Marriott bus to arrive. Check in at the hotel was swift and we were given a 7th (top) floor room with a king sized bed. The room was very spacious and had all the facilities we needed.
We had chosen this hotel specifically because we knew from Google Earth street view that it was easy to walk to and from the airport. This gave us the flexibility of either catching the hotel shuttle or walking, and we timed one walk at 13 minutes from leaving our room to arriving at terminal 1.
On the 2nd March we were back at the airport for a 7.20 am flight to San Francisco's Oakland airport. Here we had already booked an open topped bus tour of the city, which lasted two hours. The weather was fine, dry and reasonably sunny, although only around 15C. We then wandered round the central part of the city and took a short cable car ride; the cable cars are one of the main features for which SF is renowned. During our city tour we saw the famous Golden Gate Bridge, whose colour is more akin to the Forth rail bridge in Scotland, red rather than golden. We returned to the airport for our flight at 19.05 arriving back at LAX at 20.25, walking back to the hotel.
On the 3rd we were back once again at LAX for the Flyaway coach link ($7) to Union Station to catch Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner to San Diego, a journey of two hours 50 minutes. We were advised to do this, rather than flying, because the railway hugs the coast for part of the route, and therefore is scenically attractive. San Diego was a little disappointing and we certainly saw quite a bit of it, by taking two different trolleys (trams) criss-crossing the town. We also walked round the famous Gaslamp quarter, which proved to be underwhelming when set against its high rating. Restaurant food was expensive so we waited for our return train journey for food. The train station, known as Santa Fe Depot and dating from 1915, was a short walk from the waterfront, but there were no cruise ships in that day. We were surprised that on the return journey the train was packed and standing, with so many day-trippers returning to Los Angeles from the various beach resorts along the way.
On the 4th, with a bit of a lie-in for the first time since arriving in LA, and seeing the hotel room in daylight, we checked out at 11.am. Our review of the Courtyard by Marriot LAX has already been published on Trip Advisor. Although there were metered taxis in the street outside quoting USD60 but subject to whatever the meter actually recorded, we had arranged transport with the concierge for $65, and arrived at the cruise terminal around 11.45am.
Embarking commenced as usual at 12 noon and we had some lunch and made some future dinner reservations.
Lifeboat drill is now enforced and you are dragged out of your cabin if you are not at your muster station, so "dearly beloved" has now had to change the habit of a lifetime and attend!! We had not finished unpacking before it was time to go to the Panorama Lounge for our prearranged gathering of Cruise Critics.
The next day was at sea and, and as we predicted the weather was cold and cloudy. Matters improved on the 2nd sea day, although the temperatures were far from tropical. However I suppose we were being slightly over optimistic to expect anything else at the beginning of March!! The ship was virtually full with 500 passengers (single occupancy means that it is rare to hit 540 capacity). Silver Spirit is of course the largest of Silversea`s ships and we have always felt it was less intimate and the passengers less friendly, and this time proved no exception. On several occasions when passing passengers in the corridors one felt one was invisible, when they neither smiled nor acknowledged you, and whether or not they spoke English, a smile is universal and costs nothing! However with regards to the officers and crew, nothing is too much trouble and they have worked extremely hard to provide an excellent level of service. We sailed with Captain Arma last November on the Wind, and he invited us to dinner on the first informal evening. We found out later that he is responsible for choosing his own table, and prefers to dine with people he knows.
Cabo San Lucas - this was a tender port, but only about 5 minutes to the pierside. We did not have a trip until the afternoon, so just walked along the promenade lined with shops and restaurants. Most of the shops were selling souvenirs and the cafes had loud music blaring out, reminiscent of a Mexican Benidorm! Walking to the end of one side, we came to a weighing machine, which stated that the marlin hanging from it weighed 120 lb! Round the corner the fishermen were selling the catch of the day, mainly mackerel, which were huge and resembled large salmon. They were also gutting the marlin, and the pelicans were trying their hardest to pinch the roe, without much success as it was too heavy for them to break off. As we came into the pier, there were several large seals, one in particular was hanging onto the stern of a returning fishing boat, and was desperately trying to get in, with both flippers and half his body on the back of the boat!! There were several round the fishermen gutting the marlin and were vying with the pelicans for any morsel they could get. Other passengers ventured further afield on foot and said the town became less tacky and more refined so our view of Cabo as sleazy was based on a limited exposure.
Our whale watching trip started by getting on a catamaran in the harbour with about 75 other Silversea passengers, so the boat was not full. We headed out into the Pacific, and not into the Sea of Cortez, which we had expected, but to travel the full length of the Sea of Cortez would have taken several days. The boat could, though, have headed towards the mouth of the Sea of Cortez, where the land-based passengers saw more whales than we did! We were well looked after during our trip and had no complaints about onboard facilities serving us margaritas and/or soft drinks. We saw a few whales, but those who did a cookery course at a local hotel saw more including calves. The tip therefore is to research a waterfront hotel and go there if you want to whale watch!!
Acapulco. We were due in here at 12 noon, but in calm water, the pilot fell off his boat between that and ours, and had to be fished out and hospitalised with two broken ribs! This caused a delay of 90 minutes until a fresh pilot could be found. This worked to our advantage because we did not sail until 22.00 instead of the planned 17.30, for which we were most grateful.
They are currently rebuilding a new cruise terminal, so the approach to the old town was fraught with diggers, cranes, and holes in the road. However we managed to reach the old town and walked round the market district, taking in the shops and street vendors, before finding an Internet cafe for US$1 for one hour! We took a cab to a cafe right round the bay on top of a promontory with a very good view of the whole bay and our ship. We had been recommended to visit Senor Frog's bar but at 5.45pm it was dead. This seemed to sum up Acapulco, where several other bars to which we had been recommended had closed down due to lack of business. The local taxis are mainly old style VW beetles, in varying states of decrepitude. Ours was no exception. The driver said it dated from 1992, but its rust and lack of power on the hills suggested maybe 1972!
We finished the day in Acapulco by going to Quebrada to see the divers who have one performance around 1 pm, and three shows later at night in the dark. They charge 40 pesos (USD4) to watch the performance, paid in advance to a guy selling tickets. People dispersed when the ticket seller came round. Our vantage point was a public viewing area built on one side of the small bay where the divers jump from a different side. There was piped music and a Spanish commentary. The youngest diver was 7 years old, about which his proud grandmother, who was standing next to us, informed us. They dive from three different stages from the cliff, and reach these by climbing up the cliff face from the sea. Although being told the performance would be at 7pm, then 7.20pm, the show actually started at 7.40pm. This performance is quite impressive, not least because of the height of the cliffs from which they jump, but also due to the narrow gap between the cliffs into the sea.
Overall, Acapulco disappointed. The fact that this had once been the resort of the great and the good was remarkable, until one remembers we are talking about the 1950's and 1960's, and time moves on. This was no glitzy resort but bore the hallmarks of a tourist destination from which the tourists (foreign, at least) had gone. This is perhaps a shame because at no time did we feel threatened or intimidated. What was surprising was how few locals had any command of the English language.
Huatulco. After a day at sea, we reached here, a pretty resort with nine bays, popular by virtue of its close proximity to Mexico City. We got a taxi (USD5) from the jetty to La Entrega Beach where one can leave one's belonging with one of the beach bars for the price of a beer. Being Sunday the beach was packed. We had taken our snorkel gear because this beach has a small offshore reef and is popular with divers and snorkellers for this reason, but we found the water to be very cold and didn't in fact snorkel at all.
Puerto Chiapas. This was our final port in Mexico, which is very close to the Guatemalan border. Here we took the shuttle (USD10) per person round trip, for the 50 minutes ride to Tapachula. This is the largest town in the area and the shops gave the impression of a degree of prosperity. There was quite a contrast between the locals here and those in Acapulco, the former being slimmer and apparently more affluent, the latter being invariable well overweight and down at heel. Again, we found an Internet cafe, which charged USD1 for one hour. Back at the attractive port area we perused the few outlets in the terminal, buying some coffee. Close by was a bar/cafe with a large pool and a great R&R spot for the ship's crew. We had a Mexican dish and got a free beer, which was not expensive.
Puntarenas. This is the Pacific port in Costa Rica where we had arranged a trip on the Monteverde tourist train through the rain forest in the mountains. The coach needed remedial surgery on route - administered by the driver after receiving a spare part by special delivery, whilst we sat on the coach for about an hour. The drive was very scenic as we climbed to over 3000 feet with a marked drop in temperature, having left the port at 8.15 with temperatures already at 91F!! After lunch we had a ten-minute ride on a miniature railway followed by a 30-minute walk through the rain forest canopy. Whilst we heard some birds, we saw nothing, the usual story - the fauna are at their most prolific early in the morning and late in the evening. We then retraced our steps by train and coach to the ship. The trip was worth it for the drive but not for the train ride or rain forest walk. The lunch venue is part of the railway setup and fully accessible and modern, although the food was nothing to write home about.
We had a sea day before a full day transit of the Panama Canal, the highlight for most passengers, but we were fortunate to have done this before. We had an exceptionally interesting and informative lady guide brought on at Miraflores, who gave a running commentary until we finally reached the Caribbean side and she left by launch back to Panama.
Cartagena. The following day we arrived in Colombia's popular Caribbean port, also a port we had previously visited. With nothing extra we wished to see, we stayed on board and enjoyed a very hot sunny day by the pool.
Santa Marta. The day after, we reached Columbia's main coal exporting port, further east from Cartagena. Fortunately there was only limited activity in the dock area because it was a Sunday. We opted not to do any of the two ship's shore excursions, but availed ourselves of the Silversea's shuttle out of the container port area to the edge of the town. There were plenty of taxis here and a few market stalls. From here we used the locally provided map to walk along the road with a pleasant beach to our right and the town, laid out on a grid plan, to our left. We walked through a well-maintained park towards the heart of the town. The town itself appeared reasonably prosperous and well kept in the main streets which were bustling with people, roadside stalls, and many shops were open in 5th Avenue - actually named 5th Street.
Unfortunately they would not accept US dollars, which was a shame as there were some nice clothes in some of them. Prior to visiting the shopping area, we came to a large square, at one corner of which stood the Cathedral in which the main Sunday service was just finishing. It was a very plain but attractive church with a stained glassed little annex, with both side doors and the main entrance open to the elements. The music was also interesting and was not of the hymnal type, but very modern, in a show tunes type style. Local women wore attire above the knee and tops without sleeves, contrary to the advice from our ship regarding conservative dress if visiting the cathedral. After realising that we could not spend any money and having seen most of the main streets, we returned to the ship.
After two further sea days with the weather continuing to be generally hot, but sometimes windy, we disembarked the ship in Fort Lauderdale. Silversea arranged facilities for a hospitality room at the Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale, for those flying out that evening from Miami. This worked very well because it gave us another day swimming and sunbathing before our flight at 21.45. The organisation of the Silversea ground staff from getting onto the coaches at the quayside, to being taken to Miami airport was first class and extremely well organised.
Silver Spirit Review
This is the biggest of, what Silversea calls, the line's traditional fleet and it has the worst passenger/crew ratio. Generally, the ship's condition was very good, though our V6 grade cabin, 917, had bad carpet staining beyond routine cleaning and the settee had stuffing showing and looked worn. There was also staining on carpets in the corridors, particularly on deck 9. We feel that the ship is long overdue refurbishment, as some internal areas are looking decidedly shabby. We also found the bed mattress to be unacceptably hard, despite being given the "soft" side, and various doctoring by our butler and his assistant. The lights over the writing desk flickered due to a loose connection but this was fixed, as was a badly squeaking bathroom door. Our butler and his assistant did everything required of them.
All the staff worked hard to provide the highest standard of service. I am sure that if we asked them to lie down so we could walk all over them, they would!! Nothing is too much trouble. We try to be civil and polite and friendly to these people because they work long hours, every day for typically an 8-month contract. The same cannot be said for an increasing number of passengers. One guest relations manager told us that, when he leaves the sea, he plans to get a dog and call it Hey You. This will enable him to say to the dog "Hey You, come here", a familiar cry directed at him by passengers! Such passenger rudeness is total unnecessary and a disgrace.
Captain Arma splits his time between this ship and Silver Wind, and we had sailed with him on that ship last November. We found him friendly and approachable. Martin was the Hotel Director, deputising for the ebullient and charming Paulo, who returned from leave at the end of our cruise. Don was the cruise director and he handled the afternoon trivia quiz with diplomacy, even when one team exceeded the limit of 8 by an extra member and 2 'observers', and several other teams "cheated". Despite this, our 'little' team of up to only 6 won several times.
We didn't watch very much evening entertainment, partly because poor dining room service precluded this on 3 occasions. Anyone coming to this line for nightlife will be disappointed because the bars and lounges are largely empty by 11pm, reflecting the age profile of many passengers. Entertainment is one of many areas where Silversea has made cutbacks. The troupe of entertainers they do employ are not good all-rounders, and they need to bring back the Jean Ryan company who we saw first on the Silver Spirit, who were infinitely superior.
Dining Room We took breakfast, lunch and dinner here on various occasions. There are some menu items at breakfast that come from this galley and it is sensible to dine here to enjoy them at their best. Breakfast food and service was very good. Lunchtime service was excellent, probably because, like breakfast, few opt to dine here. The food was generally also very good, though the Oriental stir-fry dishes (a welcome option) were very bland.
Dinner was something of a curate's egg. Sometimes the service was faultless, sometimes there were inexplicable long waits; this is unacceptable on a line like Silversea, who proclaim they are 6th star. Sometimes the food was very good, sometimes it definitely wasn't. We dubbed this the artichoke cruise because this vegetable appeared in some form virtually nightly! Previous voyages have majored on spinach or asparagus. The beef Wellington served on the first formal night was cold and rejected for a hot version, which was provided graciously. When dining on a table larger than for four, it was inadvisable to have fish as the main course because it would be overcooked. We always ordered extra vegetables with our main course but it was difficult to get the galley to cook these beyond blanching. Desserts were invariably very good and the sorbets fantastic. The restaurant manager, Marcelo, was charming and very helpful.
In addition to the main dining room, there are 5 other dining venues.
La Terrazza. This was extremely popular and advance reservation necessary. There are 3 menus, which rotate every 3 days. The service was as good as staffing and galley allow. Possibly the worst meal we had here was as part of the Captain's invitation table. Those who chose the ravioli found it congealed, stuck to the plate, and impossible to cut with a fork. The main course fish was served overcooked and dried out. If the galley can't get it right for the Captain's guests, what can one expect normally?
We had a total of four dinners here and some food was better than others. One night, the venison stew was good but the 'catch of the day' was not. Sometimes the pasta was good, sometimes not. By virtue of being extremely popular, and so full every night, the waiters were constantly rushing and this gave the impression the venue was under-staffed. Marcello still managed service with humour and efficiency, though.
We lunched here on 2 occasions and neither were sufficiently memorable to recall now.
We like the opportunity offered to take breakfast outside here. This facility proved popular with passengers but restricting the large tables set for only just 2 effectively reduced capacity, and when very busy, necessitated us asking if the occupied table would mind company. Eating outside brings the drawback of a long walk to and from the food service area. The range of food was good, though omelettes were pre-cooked, thereby rendering them rubbery and cold, so we specified lots of '"extras" to ensure we got a freshly cooked one.
Stars Supper Club This shares a galley with La Terrazza and serves a multi-course tasting menu from 8.30pm. Entertainment in the form of a jazz singer and pianist accompanies the food and there is a small dance floor. The menu does not change and was well prepared and presented. Mickey, the singer has been the resident singer since the Spirit was launched. Even allowing for her heavy cold at the start, she gave the impression of being bored with her role. During a previous sailing on the Spirit, a different artist was superior.
Le Champagne We did not eat here this time, having sampled the revised $30 cover charge and the new menu on the Wind last November.
Seishin Unique to the Spirit, this venue offers Japanese cuisine, subject to a cover charge. The original Japanese chef has been replaced permanently by a Filipino (cutback?), and the food was interesting and well presented. The three female waiters coped well.
Deck Food We often took lunch here because we spend a lot of time around the pool. The menu has not been changed for years and needs a revamp. On sea days a mini barbecue is put on and this adds variety, though the very basic salad choices were very disappointing and could easily be enlarged.
In the evening this galley runs the Hot Rocks venue of dining under the stars. The menu is limited and focuses on steaks, though salmon, prawns and pork chops are also on the menu. The concept is to cook your own main course on a hot stone, which is brought to your table for the purpose and is a concept which was popular in the UK 20-30 years ago in mid-range restaurants but has long since died out. Frankly, this is not fine dining on any measure, does not fit with the original Silversea concept of ultra luxury and shows how Silversea is now catering for a different demographic. It was amusing to watch other passengers stuffing their faces with large slabs of meat, clearly oblivious to the Relais et Chateau marque to which Silversea belongs.
Brown Rolls The availability of these became something of a saga! We were told company policy lays down that Silversea only provide these at dinner, where they were always in short supply. For breakfast and lunch, a brown loaf is offered, already sliced by the crew so it is dry and unappetising. Eventually a special bake was prepared for us but 'hidden away' in case other passengers ate them first! Ultimately, brown rolls debuted for everyone at breakfast in La Terrazza on the last morning of the cruise prior to disembarkation! The good news part of this saga is Silversea work hard to never say 'no' to meet reasonable requests from passengers, which we gather is not true on rival Seabourn and (from our own experience) not the case on Oceania.
Disembarkation This was handled very well by Silversea, both in terms of baggage handling and the transfer arrangements to the Hyatt Pier 66 hospitality room and late afternoon journey to Miami airport, as previously stated above. The same could not be said for US immigration, which, like our arrival at Los Angeles on the 1st, was an appallingly protracted process. Silversea kept passengers on board in comfortable surroundings, in order to minimise the time spent standing in line in the terminal, though inevitably some passengers had already started to queue alongside the outside deck prior to their luggage coloured tag label being called. Some passengers had taxis waiting for them on the quayside, but didn't manage to disembark till after 11 am. One wonders if their taxis waited! We won't be returning to the USA any time soon because of these delays at immigration which are lamentable for a technologically-advanced country.
Passengers Of the roughly 500 on board, there were 183 from the USA, typical for a voyage starting or ending in a US port. Next by number were 88 from the UK and there were roughly 55 German speakers (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). Only 14 were staying on for the following cruise. A significant proportion of the passengers were plain rude; they would pass you in a corridor without even a smile, as if you were invisible. This is another indicator in the changing demographic on board these days.
It never ceases to amaze us how many passengers have little appreciation of the ports of call and no clear understanding about the return flight arrangements. They just leave this to their TA in blind faith that the 'travel professional', who is always described as 'brilliant', knows best. From long experience of TAs, this is very risky because, often, their knowledge is inadequate and we frequently come up with better alternatives than the TA, when taking account of the circumstances of the passenger.
Our favourite quote from this cruise came during a dialogue over where in the world we have sailed with Silversea. One of the sectors is the Middle East and a passenger enquired whether this was China! Still, it's probably cheaper on a cruise than in a care home!! Sadly, the number of passengers of this sort appears to be increasing and one marvels at Silversea taking care of them, always with a gracious smile; another Silversea plus.
There is no doubt that the Spirit is regular Silversea passengers' least favourite ship, and surprisingly a number said they would not sail on her again. We would certainly think hard before choosing the Spirit again, which is a shame because we like Captain Arma, Paulo (hotel director) and many of the crew, all of whom try their best to serve passengers well. The problem is the dining arrangements do not work consistently and to the standard of the other 4 traditional ships.
Two further comments, which are seemingly not within the remit of either the officers or the crew.
Dress code Quite rightly, Silversea have a strict code to which they ask their passengers to adhere. On a formal night, one couple was seen entering the theatre, the lady in a heavy knitted sweater, accompanied by her husband with a baseball cap on his head! We have heard alarming rumours that Silversea are intending to relax the dress code, removing the requirement for male passengers to wear jackets in La Terrazza. Unfortunately most passengers seem incapable of understanding what "smart casual" means, and quite frankly they are an insult to those passengers who do. There were several occasions when jacketless men appeared in public rooms and were not censured. It would seem Silversea are letting this ride.
Smoking policy Once again Silversea are specific on where passengers can and cannot smoke. This also was not adhered to. With the advent of the electronic cigarette, which does contain nicotine, passengers were surreptitiously smoking all over the ship and were not told this was not allowed. There was often a smell of cigarettes from some passengers' balconies, and some passengers blatantly smoked on deck in non-designated areas and were not stopped.
If Silversea have both a dress code and a smoking policy, then it needs to be adhered, to regardless of whom the passenger might be.
The title for this review refers ostensibly to the above two issues, the state of the cabin and internal decorations, and the inconsistency of the food, but in no way to the standard of the service provided by the crew.