The name, Silversea, has always meant the best in cruising – small ships and impeccable service amidst luxurious surroundings. So, when we heard about the line’s newest ship, the Silver Spirit, we were anxious to sail on it. With a capacity for 540 passengers, it is considerably larger than Silversea’s five other vessels, which accommodate between 132 and 382 passengers. The new vessel, though, is still small by today’s measure of cruise ships which have increasing capacities, the largest holding over 3,000.
Launched in January 2010, the Spirit started an around-the-world cruise this year. We decided to join the voyage on its departure, Jan. 20, in Los Angeles for the 12-day segment to Papeete, Tahiti. In total, the full world cruise consists of 120 days. Other destinations include New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, with the last half including, among others, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Dubai, Egypt, Greece and Spain. Finally disembarking in Southampton, U.K, it offers a wonderful opportunity to see much of the world.
After boarding, we were at sea for the first six days before reaching the first stop in the Marquesa Islands. This sea time gave passengers a chance to relax and become acquainted with the new ship. Silver Spirit has one of the highest space-per-guest ratios among cruise ships, with a large staff waiting to serve. The interior design has a 1930s Art Deco touch, especially carried out in the art pieces as well as in the design of the circular central staircase. For meals, guests have a choice of six dining venues. There is a spacious spa, and the ship boasts the largest suites in the Silversea fleet, 95-percent featuring a private veranda.
After putting out to sea, the ship headed southwest along the Mexican coast. Our at-sea routine included walking laps mid-morning around top side, above the pool. It was always pleasant to look out at the sea, occasionally seeing dolphins and flying fish.
On the first day out it was cold, and only the hardy were lounging poolside. The weather soon warmed, though. As the ship headed toward the equator, sun-bathers came out in droves. It was easy to relax inside, too, with many niches and corners especially designed for this ship. In fact, we talked to several people who had been on Silversea’s other ships, and they all said they liked the extra space this ship provided.
Whether we went fore to the Observation Lounge or aft to the Panorama Lounge, the times we spent reading were particularly pleasant. Warm and cozy, we were susceptible to nodding off, lulled by the sea. Snacks were available if we got a pang of hunger even after our bigger-than-at-home breakfast. Another popular area was the central bar near the mid-ship registration and excursion desks. There were lots of comfy chairs, and appetizers were served at cocktail time. Very popular was also the pre-dinner hour music by pianist Amadeo.
For the active, there was much to do. Bridge was very popular. We met a Polish couple who had taken many cruises; for them playing bridge was the big draw. Instructors gave tips and low-key tournaments were played. Trivial Pursuit was also a popular pastime, and it was anything but low key. About 90 people took part, forming into teams. Contestants became very competitive with friendly arguments, disputing some answers.
There were arts and crafts sessions, table tennis competition, shuffle board, bingo, language classes – you name it, it was probably an option. My wife went to dance classes during sea days and made a group of friends while learning the Cha Cha and Tango. Persona non grata was I who didn’t go with her.
Most enlightening were the enrichment lectures with world-class speakers. Talks often related to our cruise. Among topics, artist Paul Gauguin, major figure in the history of the Marquesas and Tahiti, was discussed by art teacher/author, Caroline Boyle-Turner. Sea life and coral reefs were explained by marine biologist George Losey. Another big attraction was just relaxing on our verandah, enjoying the bracing air and ocean vista.
A truth about cruising – it seems as if we were always eating. And there are many choices. For breakfast and lunch, a buffet in La Terraza or a sit-down meal in The Restaurant. For dinner there were six choices besides The Restaurant, where we ate most times. With no set seating/dining times on Silversea, we always asked to dine with others and were usually escorted to a table of eight.
Here, we met new people and had interesting conversations while exchanging cruising experiences. At every table, there was a wide variety of folks from around the world: a British actress/director told of her trials presenting avant garde plays in the English midlands; a French woman talked of life in Paris; an Austrian health club operator went into his skiing adventures, just to name a few.
It was particularly interesting to talk to those on for the full four months. A couple from Southern California had not traveled much in their life. Now that they are retired they decided to see the world (or much of it). During their time on board, they would have all their needs taken care of – laundry, medical and a butler to wait on them.
At each of the venues waiters kept wine glasses full, and it was a temptation to drink too much. While there were several choices, what the servers poured was perfect for dining selections. Every evening in The Restaurant guests could choose from “La Collection du Monde,” choices by Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef Jacques Thorel. Haute cuisine offerings might include Artichoke Fondant with Sage Coating or Marbled Foie Gras with Leek Terrine as appetizers which would be followed by Steamed Turbot served on a Tower of Truffled Ratte Potatoes for the entrée. Simpler, yet deliciously prepared dishes might be a Grilled Rib Eye Steak or Prosciutto-wrapped Pork Medallions.
Other areas were La Terraza which featured regional Italian cuisine, specializing in pasta made daily. Here we thoroughly enjoyed perfectly prepared penne along with a delicate white fish. We didn’t get around to visiting two spots: Le Champagne, with its special epicurean six-course dinners and a “collectors’” wine selection, and Seishin Japanese restaurant, highlighting Asian fusion and Keisiki traditional dinners. There was an extra charge for these two spots.
We really enjoyed the Hot Rock on the upper pool deck. Here, heated stones were put before diners who grilled their choice of prime steaks, veal chops and seafood. All served with a baked potato, skewer of vegetables and salad. Our filet was perfectly cooked by us, one might say. Let me say, as well, that the beautifully presented desserts in all the venues were hard to turn down.
Finally, there was the Stars Supper Club with dining in art deco surroundings bringing back New York café life in the thirties. A wide array of small plate selections were served, with entertainment provided by a jazz duo of singer and piano player. Dining hours started later here, and we never made it to eat. But almost every night we would stop by after our dinner to listen to the singer Juliet Dunn and pianist Peter Shea, both from Canada. She sang numbers made famous by greats, such as Billie Holiday and Dianne Reeves; he was influenced by Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson. They definitely appealed to us jazz lovers.
Each night there is either a before-or after-dinner show in the large room, The Theater. The ship had its own singing-dancing company of six energetic young people who donned extravagant costumes and put on tributes to Elton John and other entertainers. Other shows starred performers who came on board at various times. Our favorite was Kyle Esplin from England. He brought to mind early rock stars Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. He also honored composers from the past and appeared twice to cheering capacity crowds.
Day seven the ship reached Nuku Hiva, largest island in the Marquesas. These islands are very scenic but not very touristy. The reason is that almost no coral reefs shelter them. Hence there are virtually no white coral-sand beaches, not welcoming conditions for water activities such as swimming, snorkeling and diving. The islands are volcanic, and the port city here is in a sunken caldera. Biggest hotel on Nuka Hiva is only 22 units.
We signed up for a tour which took us to the top of the island, offering spectacular views. Next we went to a valley with a wide river running through. Coconut plantations line the banks. This island was made famous by American author Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick.” Earlier, in1846, he wrote “Typee,” based on his experiences in Nuka Hiva. It is said that he was held prisoner by a local tribe of cannibals. He was not eaten because they wanted him alive as a translator for ships that came into port. One night, he escaped and swam down the river to the ocean where he was rescued by an Australian whaling vessel.
Our stop next day was Atuona-Hiva Oa, the place where Gauguin settled and created 14 of his best paintings. Lectures had prepared us for a visit to his grave and nearby museum. Buried a few yards away is Jacques Brel, French-Belgian singer. He was internationally famous in the in mid-20th Century. Unfortunately, though, the sea was too rough for tenders to take us to shore. Regretfully, we missed this highlight. (Cruise veterans know that the unexpected is to be expected.)
After a day at sea, we arrived in French Polynesia for day-long stops in Rangiroa and Moorea, before arriving at our destination – Papeete, Tahiti. The contrasts between Rangiroa and Moorea are fascinating. Rangiroa is also known as The Endless Lagoon with its flat coral land mass, the rough ocean on one side the world’s second largest lagoon on the other.
Moorea, on the other hand, is the “high” island with its volcanic peak rising in the middle. It is said to be the inspiration for the idyllic Bali Hai in “South Pacific.” Needless to say, there was lots to do on both islands: visiting a pearl farm, exploring lush highlands and much more. But we settled for snorkeling, which could hardly have been better.
On Day 13, we reluctantly departed leaving the world travelers behind. Our verdict on Silver Spirit: bigger, in this case, means even better. For information on Silversea cruises, call 800-334-6544 or http://www.silversea.com.