Western Mediterranean, 7-21 October 2011. I am a well-traveled, 53 year-old female cruising with my same-age niece. I have about 10 weeks of cruising experience, on a variety of lines and different-sized ships, this was my first Silversea cruise. Rather than a "destination", we used the ship as a "Five-star floating hotel" to travel to and see parts of the Med that we had not seen before. There's definitely something to be said for unpacking and packing once to see twelve different ports!
Cabin - 910, Least expensive Veranda cabin; located on the Pool Deck. Everything you've read about the narrowness of the cabins on the Spirit is true, it's just too narrow in the very middle where it really counts. We had the beds configured as twins, so this at least made it a little more convenient to pass than if the bed was configured as a queen. It just doesn't work, we were constantly in each other's way. The TV which is hidden behind the mirror is a definite space-saver, but it makes for a darker mirror and it is impossible to use the mirror while the TV is on. The TV behind the living area mirror works better, but is impossible to "tilt" toward any other part of the cabin. Otherwise, the space in the cabin is very comfortable, the veranda is larger than most (deeper) allowing for ottomans for your faux-wicker chairs. Desk area is spacious as is storage and walk-in closet. Shall I tell you about the bathroom?... Whoever designed the sink and faucet was an idiot. After two weeks using the stupid thing, we still sprayed and splashed water all over the place. They should have opted for two smaller sinks with "normal" faucets! The boat-shaped shower is small and awkward, and makes it impossible to shave your legs. Good thing they also put in a full-sized tub. Both have good pressure and we never ran out of hot water. Make-up mirror is not lit, and there is poor overhead lighting; better to opt for the vanity area by the bed - much better lighting. Plentiful and luxurious towels and amenities.
Restaurants - "The" Restaurant - Smaller and more intimate (lots of 2-tops) than most ship's dining rooms. We never had a problem getting a table, even when it looked crowded. Good service, not excellent - and very loud bus stations, ask to be seated as far away as possible. Good choice of "everyday" selections and creative and varied "specials". There was always a selection of good wines available at no extra cost, or you could just ask for your favorite. Portions are small, such that a three- or four-course meal is possible without being stuffed. Breakfast gets boring, always the same menu (exactly the same as room service) and there are no specials.
"Seishin" - I'd call it Asian "tapas". You choose from either a 4-5 course ($30) or a 9-course ($40) dinner, then you can add on Sake tastings for extra. Food and garnishes became repetitive on 9-course meal, but overall it was a fun and tasty experience. This is the only place you can be served Japanese beer on the boat - too bad they don't have a bar, only seating for about 26 diners with a Sushi-bar "demo" in the middle.
"La Terrazza" - This is the ubiquitous buffet restaurant for the boat, at least for breakfast and lunch. Both meals had the same food display and availability (with minor changes) daily - it became boring, but at least you can get in and out in a hurry if you choose. Breakfast service is a little awkward, you must go through the buffet, then sit down to order any egg dishes, as they won't take your order while you wait at the buffet. Lunch always included a generous salad bar and assortment of sushi. For dinner, it's a reservations-only, sit-down Italian restaurant, the menu changes every 5 days or so, but some dishes are always available. Good food, good wine - just ask to be seated away from the bussing stations - as the constant clang of dishes and silverware tends to de-romanticize the dimly-lit beautiful dining room.
"Le Champange" - Best food on the ship! Every day they feature a specific food, then build a six- to ten-course menu around that food. We went twice, for Lobster night and Fois Gras night - absolutely delicious! They advertise it as a Gourmet Food & Wine experience at $200 per person, with a special glass of wine paired with each course. BUT... if you buy yourself a Bon Voyage gift prior to departure (see Silversea's website) , it's only $150 per person. And, even better, it's only $30 each if you get the "tasting menu" and purchase a bottle of wine off their wine list (mandatory), the wine list starts at about $50 per bottle. Generally, what they were pouring with the full menu was very young and mostly drinkable, but in my opinion not worth $170 each.
"Stars" - Billed as a "Tapas" restaurant with live Jazz entertainment. Good food, not great. Good music, not great. Still, I think it's a "must" during the cruise.
"Hot Rocks", also known as The Pool Grill - this is a great idea that really works. You get a salad, then they bring out individual hot "tiles" on which they have just placed your selection of meat(s); you also get a veggie skewer and a baked potato. You cook your meat the way you like it, then put it on your plate and eat it. Simple dinner, but it was really good. Somehow, after all the fancy food, a steak and baked potato just hit the spot!
Dress - As I expected, anything goes. Unfortunately for you guys, ladies can get away with dressing-down easier than men can. Ladies can go to dinner any night in nice black pants and a silk top. On the formal nights, I saw everything from tuxedos and ball-gowns to jeans and short skirts. If "Formal" is your thing, just plan the evening around "The Restaurant" or "Le Champagne" and dress to the nines! If "Formal" doesn't do it for you - then make a reservation at Hot Rocks and wear your jeans. It's just no big deal - do whatever you feel like and you'll be comfortable. I way-overpacked, especially considering the convenient and free self-service laundry on each deck.
Service - Silversea obviously cares about this aspect and has trained their staff to be responsive to the guests' needs. Almost always, they come through with shining colors, but occasionally, they just miss the mark. When they don't get it done correctly the first time, follow-up and follow-through get lost; I have a feeling that because the staff has such task-specific jobs, they expect each other to take care of issues, and then they drop the ball thinking it's not in their job-description. Then, when you have to ask again, the staff seems put-out, like "we are taking care of that already," you want to ask who is? and when? Nevertheless, within less than a week, most of the staff knew us and addressed us by name - what an accomplishment when there are 500+ guests on board! All staff we encountered spoke perfect English, as well as other languages I'm sure. Overall, I was definitely impressed by the level of service and the extensive knowledge of the staff.
Shore Excursions - It was nice to have smaller size groups for tours, it was also a bonus that each tour was accompanied by a crew member, usually from the "Social Staff" (entertainers, etc.). During two weeks on board, we took a tour everyday except one. Sometimes we would have only 18 to 20 people on an excursion - and they used those huge, 52 passenger busses. It felt like a waste, but I understand why they do it - people would rather have the extra elbow room and not feel packed-in like sardines. I personally think it would be better to use those smaller 22 passenger mini-busses and just fill them up. Most excursions were very professionally led and very informative - you know there's always an exception, we had one tour-guide who spent more time on her cell phone than she did telling us about what we were seeing. I highly recommend ANY of Silversea's shore excursions which feature the little crown - they are very special indeed, always done in very small groups, usually include an incredible meal, and worth the price! If you want to stay away from the larger groups and the older, slower-moving crowd - look for the "extensive walking" excursions - they were much faster-paced and tended to cover more ground and spent far less time sightseeing from the bus. However, be aware that even with a sold-out cruise, they still cancelled shore excursions (always at the last minute!) - book yours early and be prepared with a second choice.
Spa - Every day they have a "special" announced in the Silversea Chronicles - act fast getting a reservation, because the specials are usually combination-type packages and up to about 30% off, and they sell out fast. They have a wide variety of treatments, more than I've ever seen offered on a ship - but they are very expensive. The facial and massage treatments I had were basic and average, but being able to take advantage of the quiet, covered deck, exclusive hot-tub, and heated relaxation beds was a treat. Facilities are new and really nice, but not worth the extra $$$ required if you are not having a treatment.
Overall - I detest being nickled-and-dimed to death on cruises, I also dislike the constant P.A. announcements trying to sell me something and not being able to enjoy sea-days without having art or jewelry hawked all day. It was a real pleasure to be onboard Silversea and have absolutely NONE of that! Silversea's Spirit is the epitome of a truly classy, luxury vacation. The "house" champagne was Heidseick Blue-top, and it was available whenever and wherever I wanted it - does vacation get much better? I loved having all the different dining options on the Spirit, just be sure and get reservations for every night as soon as you get on board, otherwise you'll be disappointed when your wait-list never clears! I'm ready to go again... where do I sign up?