Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Silversea Silver Spirit - Cheers or Bronx Cheer? Depends On Who You Ask!

Silversea's Silver Spirit is in the last days of its Maiden Transatlantic Cruise which was right on the heels of its Maiden Voyage. To say the reviews have been mixed would be an understatement.


There is no question that a few people are being treated like royalty with special ceremonies, dining with the Captain, private parties, etc. And for those people it is very easy to not only look past (or simply not observe) any issues, but frankly it would be illogical for them to ruin the royal treatment by either noting the problems or discussing them on a blog or message board. As one put it, ""Praise in public, but criticize in private".


However, as happens far too frequently on Cruise Critic, those that express an opinion or criticism tend to be attacked because, heaven forbid, they don't think everything is perfect. So, rather than royal treatment they get insulted.


First, the good news.


1. After an expected rocky start, the reports indicate that much of the staff now doing a very good to excellent job. Yes, there are still some serious misses which seem to be attributed to undertrained staff. To expect more than that at this early stage would be, to my mind, unfair as Silversea simply did not invest in training as it should have...making the staff's hard job more difficult. It appears that the Captain and officers are, to their credit, putting on an absolutely first class show!


2. It also appears that the ship is functioning well overall. While I have read it rides like a Lexus on the highway by one person, another complained of some serious vibration and creaking when in some weather. To me, as of yet, not a big deal either way.


3. Similarly, it seems the variety of dining choices is well received (though the quality of the food or cuisine has been debated...and is debated below).


4. Comment about the ship's decor and public areas has been generally positive, but no one is mentioning how its style knocks them off their feet. It has been described as 1940's Hotel/Art Deco, which is a style if not a youthful or modern one. Rule No. 1 in design: Don't Offend. Let's not go down the other rules just yet.


Now, the not so good and bad news.


1. The Standard Suites - It is reported that the suites are the narrowest the luxury cruisers onboard have experienced. There is a narrow space between the foot of the bed and the dresser and between the hallway and the bed. Further the configuration is such that climbing over the bed is required if one person is using the dressing table. The bed-dresser conflict exists on the circa 1980's much smaller Seabourn triplets and was corrected on the new Seabourn Odyssey. There is simply no excuse for this...other than trying to fit additional suites onto this ship...two decades later. (I mentioned this months ago.)

There is but a single 110v outlet for the entire suite. Not sure what, if anything, was being thought of with that one.

The bathroom vanity is consumed by the vessel sink so there is no room for toiletries and the shelving for the toiletries is inconveniently placed. I pointed this out months ago as well.

2. The Main Show Lounge - It is hard to imagine how a more poorly designed space could have been created. Getting over the fact that there is no bar service (that's right!), the seating is for couples...and the reports are they had better be couples, for the seats are quite small. There are no tables for drinks (but without bar service...). The space between the seat is narrow for leg room, so passing through is a challenge, if possible. And, incredibly, the space cannot seat the entire ship at one time, so things like the Captain's Reception must be split. This is inexcusable on a luxury line.

3. Pay-As-You-Go Dining - While is wonderful that there are multiple dining venues, charging to dine in them - on a luxury line - is unforgivable. $40 per person to dine a Sheishen (Japanese) with an additional charge for sake. (Do I get charged if I order sake when I am in a lounge? Or what if I order a single malt - as many Japanese do?) $30 to dine at Le Champagne, but $200 per person if I order the specialty menu with paired wines. (For example, Nicholas -one of the highest rated restaurants in the New York/New Jersey area...you can look it up here! - is offering a special six course Black Truffle Menu for $105 per person. Feel free to add $200 of wine to that...and, trust me, there is no way Le Champagne can compete with the cuisine or the wines.) Yes, there are those that think spending money means luxury, but when spending tens of thousands of dollars the luxury better already be there.

4. Stone Grill "Eating" - There is a new al fresco eating venue (I can't call it "dining") where you are literally given a very rare piece of meat on a hot stone and you cook it. (One guest - who loves the place - noted that her husband now knows not to wear a good shirt because the grease splatters!). Take a look:




Sorry folks, that ain't luxury. That is not even appetizing. That is not to say that it does not have a place on a ship, but to me it is a way to cut down on labor (no chefs and little waitstaff) for what may be fun for some...and they can enjoy it...but not a luxury experience. (I have written recently yet again about the apparent effort to "dumb down" people into believing marginal is high quality: What is Luxury? Luxury is What They Say It Is.) I would think that offering it on occasion - as Seabourn does with its Sky Grill - for a casual and fun/quirky option would be far more appropriate.

5. Small and Unisex Spa - Another baffling aspect of the 500+ passenger luxury cruise ship is that the spa is reported to be about two thirds to half the size of the spas on the smaller Silversea ships. One person noted a yoga class with but eight people was akin to a package of sardines. The sauna and other general facilities being unisex is also troublesome. For some the mixing of sexes may not be an issue, but for many it is just uncomfortable. This is the area to literally let your hair down and relax; not to be placed in a situation you just don't have on any ships or, frankly, any semi-luxury or luxury spas...and you haven't for years. It is, to my mind, another example of poor design fueled by cost-cutting.

6. A Physically Challenged Person's Nightmare: It has been reported, in detail, that there are very many aspects of the Silver Spirit that are poorly designed or simply did not consider the physically challenged. The Main Show Lounge literally has no design for wheelchairs, walkers or the like. Guests are relegated to straight-back chairs at the back of the room and no place to even place a drink. (Of course the Show Lounge doesn't have bar service - discussed above - so this may be moot.) The Suite doors are too small to allow a wheelchair or walker to enter. The space between the bed and dresser and hallway and bed are too narrow. In 2010 these sort of design omissions are inexcusable. One wonders if there will be any issues when she enters United States waters (though probably not). I understand there are further issues on this topic and they will be discussed when available.

Before all the cheerleaders start attacking, take a moment and ask, "Is Iamboatman accurate in what he is saying?" If I am (and I am), then all I am doing is pointing out information which those who expect a more inclusive experience, who love cuisine, are physically challenged, who expect separate spas and/or are concerned with the functioning of their suite want and need to have. It is not a slam of Silversea or a condemnation of the Silver Spirit. Alas, it is what it is.

With all that said, is it possible to have a luxury experience on the Silversea Silver? Absolutely. You can dine on good cuisine and have a wonderful meal in Le Champagne. You can love the television in the mirror (or the black rectangle in the mirror). You can enjoy Stars for a tasting menu after 9:00 p.m. or a nice swim in the heated pool.

For me, with the choices that exist in the cruising world today, the Silversea Silver Spirit just cannot gain my endorsement as she now exists. Maybe I am wrong, and I am happy to discuss or debate it. There is no such thing as a wrong opinion; just different ones.

Join the multiple discussions of the Silversea Silver Spirit on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.