We are a retired couple in our late 50s and choose itineraries offering a mix of ports and sea days. With this in mind we tend to judge our cruise experience by whether the ship itself offers us the mix of food, facilities and comfort we ... Read More
We are a retired couple in our late 50s and choose itineraries offering a mix of ports and sea days. With this in mind we tend to judge our cruise experience by whether the ship itself offers us the mix of food, facilities and comfort we seek rather than by ports visited.
On this cruise we were accompanied by my sister-in-law and her husband who are a couple of years older and had never cruised before. Silversea offered them a 5% Venetian saving as ''Friends of the Venetian Society'' - that is they were sailing with Venetian members (us!) and profited from the Venetian saving.
Having flown into Miami the previous day and stayed overnight at the Ritz-Carlton we boarded the Spirit around 1pm and, as usual, the procedure was quick and painless allowing us to take lunch in La Terrazza. This was our third cruise on the Spirit and it was gratifiying to be welcomed back on board by several crew members whom we knew from previous cruises.
After lunch we were shown to our suite, 411, a Vista on deck 4 right next to, but not connecting with, suite 409 which housed the in-laws. We always choose Vista because: a. we never use the balcony; b. we're rarely in it except to sleep; c. cost.
Several Silversea old-timers are not greatly enamoured of the Spirit and a scan of the reviews will illuminate their views. For us, however? Well, we rather like it because of its modernity and choice of dining venues. Compared to the Shadow and Spirit it benefits from 2 extra restaurants. In general the ship is in very good condition and only the most curmudgeonly would find signs of wear and tear about which to complain.
We are not really interested in organised activities or entertainment so this reviw will skip those points except to say that if you are ever on an SS ship where Cruise Director Moss Hills gives one of his stage performances then GO! Not only is Moss an excellent Cruise Director, he is also a gifted musician, singer and all-round good chap.
I think our favourite aspect of the SS experience is the crew. Without exception we found the crew accommodating, welcoming and keen to provide a good service. A few examples:
1. B-i-l and I liked to sit out on Deck 9 aft (adjacent to the panorama lounge) for a read and a smoke. Within a few seconds the panorama barman would bring us each a drink - after the first couple of days he remembered our choices and quietly made sure we never went thirsty! 2. After dinner the 4 of us would retire to the Connoisseurs' lounge - upon arrival the dedicated steward would disappear and return within a minute or so with our usual round of post-dinner drinks and coffee. 3. Our butler became intuitive to our needs to the point where he seemed to know what we wanted before we did. I could go on but you get the idea.
Let's get down to the nitty-gritty:
Now we all 4 like our food, but we have very different tastes and requirements from one who will eat anything (and I mean anything), to one who is extremely picky. Bearing this in mind it is outstanding that SS fed us 3 times (or more) a day and satisfied each of us. We found the food to be excellent, the choice of wines suited us very well - indeed, the sommelier would often suggest something other than the chosen wine for a meal because he came to know our tastes. The one thing I might criticise is the selection of dessert wines - they have a choice of 3 free-pour dessert wines, none of which were to my taste. I know this is a very personal thing but a decent Sauternes would have been heavenly. They do, however, have a very acceptable Tokai on the wine list for $90 or so and it is, in my view, worth every cent.
Main Dining Room.
This is a very elegant room with a formal feel. The wait staff are very attentive without being overbearing and the Maitre d' ran a tight ship. We knew the chap from earlier cruises as we did a particular waiter so were always seated at a table covered by that waiter. For dinner one just turns up between 7 and 9.30 pm and chooses a suitably sized table (although a group of 8 or more might be well-advised to clear this with the Maitre d' earlier in the day).
Food is too personal to discuss at length other than to say that at no time did we receive anything that wasn't properly prepared and presented. The quality of ingredients was very good and we found the dinner menus to be imaginative and varied. There has been criticism that ''Gourmet Burgers'' are offered on the menu. I have no problem with this as eating them is not compulsory and they are very popular.
Eating breakfast or lunch in the MDR is a very elegant, if rather lonely, experience. Breakfast in particular is a very quiet time as most people seem to head for the buffet in La Terrazza. We rather like it at such times and there is someting a bit more special about having one's bowl of muesli delivered by a smiling waiter.
No reservations are needed for dinner
Slow food. Eh? Yes, slow food. I think by that they mean that the meal is taken in an unhurried fashion with time between courses to chat, sip wine and generally treat the affair as a sociable, European-style experience rather than a refuelling-as-fast-as-possible exercise. The menu has a strong Italian theme but, dare I say it, with more than a nod to the Big Country on the left of the Atlantic. It works. Again, good quality ingredients carefully prepared and served by charming wait-staff (and again, a favourite waitress from a previous cruise kept us well fed and watered). Good ambiance, too.
La Terrazza serves as a breakfast and lunch venue with a very extensive buffet. A few items need to be specially ordered - pizza, eggs - but you'd need to be very fussy not to find something to eat here! Notwithstanding the buffet nature of these meals, the staff still attend table to serve drinks or respond to requests.
Reservations required for dinner.
The pool grill serves lunch very much of the hot dog and fries, light salad, pasta fashion. It does the job but could hardly be described as fine dining. They also set up a buffet style lunch here from time to time that tends to follow a theme. It's OK if that's what you like. In the evening, however, the grill becomes ''Hot Rocks'' where a superheated stone is placed in front of each diner and the food is cooked on that by the diner. The choice is between steak, giant prawns, veal, pork (or all of the above if you are gastrically commodious). Fries, onion rings etc and salads can be ordered as accompaniments.
I don't like this venue yet the other 3 of our group loved it. I'd give it 2 stars, they would give it five. Shows how little I know!
Stars is a supper club serving a six-course menu, each course consisting of 3 very small tasters, to the accompaniment of a very talented jazz singer. Now, we love this venue and because the menu changes every 4 days we go every fourth day. Dinner starts a little later than the other venues (8.00) and the whole meal needs to be taken slowly. Those that wish to go to the show at 10.15 would be ill-advised to dine here. We never go to the shows and are quite happy spending 2 or 3 hours being overly-well provided with impeccable comestibles.
Japanese food. Not for me. We had one lunch, the other 3 loved it, I really, really didn't. According to others we spoke to the quality of the food is very good - I guess if you like dead fish and sticky rice it probably is. That's unfair because there is quite a variety on the menu. And the setting is very cool.
This venue is no charge or reservation at lunchtime but carries a $40 dollar per diner charge in the evening when reservations are needed.
$40 per diner charge, reservations needed, dinner only. Didn't eat there. That was quick, wasn't it?
Suite 411 is fine. As much space and the same facilities as a veranda suite but without a, er, veranda. We found the furnishings and facilities to be in very good condition and the suite was maintained impeccably by our room steward. The wardrobe area is easily large enough even for OH's clothing storage requirements. And the bathroom has a seperate bath and shower. Yippee. (And 2 basins but I've never found I've needed more than one at once although it does mean that you and your partner can get it on with a bit of stereo toothbrushing.)
Each suite has a butler but the butler serves several suites. Quite how he always managed to be available when we wanted him remains a mystery. From looking after the minibar to getting our tax-free smokes, making reservations, serving breakfast or whatever he never put a foot wrong. Best of all, he never called on us - on another line we had a room steward who would call every now and then to see if we needed anything. At my age I can ask and prefer to be left alone.
I find the TV screens in the mirrors quite fun and once you've learned that the remote control sensor is in the grill under the mirror there are no problems with the system. The in-laws couldn't get their's to work but that was because of all the stuff arranged on the shelf in front of the grill. Stuff moved, TV worked. QED. There is an extensive selection of on-demand films for a quiet night in.
Always a contentious issue: pay for a ship's tour or arrange privately? We opted for ship's tours in Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala largely because we had onboard credit to use, we knew nothing about these countries and we had some security concerns (ill-founded, as it happens). On the other hand we went alone in Key West and at the 2 Mexican ports of Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas. Had we known that Acapulco is the fourth most dangerous city in the world we'd not have ambled around the place in such a blase fashion - I suppose the number of paramilitary armed police around the place should have warned us. I'm from Belfast - it was quite nostalgic!
Of course, the highlight of the trip was the Panama Canal passage. This took almost all day starting at dawn and was an awesome experience made all the better by having staff on the observation deck keeping us refreshed with drinks, hors d'oeuvres and cold handtowels. I think this probably rates as one of those ''10 things to do before you die'' things.
So how would I summarise this cruise? It was what we expected. SS suits us and our needs and the Spirit is our preferred SS ship (we have sailed also on the Whisper and Shadow and will be taking the Wind next year). Is it cheap? No. Is it good value? Definitely Yes. We spent the 2 nights after leaving the ship in the Beverley Hills Four Seasons and when you add in the food and drinks that was at least twice as expensive per night as the cruise and it didn't even go to another country.
So could I mark down the score to less than 5 stars? Erm, in all conscience, no. But what suits one person isn't necessarily going to suit someone else. If you want big, professional shows, hideously glitzy decor, holiday camp activities, regimented dining and like standing in line for everything then you need to go elsewhere. Read Less