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Sailing the Caribbean With Silversea's Silver SpiritNovember 21, 2011 By: Susan Young
|The Silver Spirit docked in Tortola// All photos by Susan J. Young|
Sailing from a port close to home is always good, and when the voyage is a luxury experience, it’s even better. Having moved to South Florida about six months ago, I enjoyed the short, half-hour drive to Port Everglades, Fla., a big improvement from the five-hour drive to that port when I previously lived in west central Florida.
My destination this time was Silversea’s 540-passenger Silver Spirit, the luxury line’s largest vessel with an 8,300-square-foot spa, resort style pool, four whirlpools and all suites. The accommodations are also the largest in the Silversea fleet and 95 percent of those have private verandas.
We were booked on Voyage 5134, a nine-night voyage from Port Everglades to Bridgetown, Barbados.This cruise began with two days at sea followed by port calls daily at Road Town, Tortola, BVI; St. John’s, Antigua; Castries, St. Lucia; Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; St. George's Grenada; and then disembarkation in Bridgetown, Barbados.
Boarding with Ease
After clearing Port Everglades gate security, our vehicle motored past a humongous boarding line for Holland America’s Zuiderdam. It seemed that hundreds and hundreds of guests opted to get to the pier early, and as a result, the line stretched along the terminal, down the sidewalk and winded around. Clearly, getting there early isn’t always the best idea.
In contrast, the terminal where Silver Spirit was docked just up the street was nearly deserted. We too arrived early and easily checked three bags with the porters and headed inside. My first thought was: “Am I in the right place? Where are all the people?”
One forgets that often a smaller or mid-sized vessel has a much less frenetic boarding experience. It’s one of the big perks of selecting a smaller ship. And, we arrived right at the earliest time for boarding.
A few others were at the terminal check-in counter, but everyone was on their way quickly. Silversea's staff in the terminal were efficient and friendly. Within five minutes, we had our keys and were en route to the gangway.
As we entered the ship, we were handed a cool wet towel by a smiling crew member. Waiters circulated with glasses of champagne, fruit punch and water. After only a few short minutes at the purser’s desk, we relaxed on soft chairs in the lobby area.
Our suite was ready about 10 minutes later and a purser’s desk crew member escorted us to our cabin. We were booked in Royal Suite #701, all the way forward in the ship.
|The living area of the Royal Suite|
Getting Acquainted with Our Suite
Opening the door to this suite is somewhat like entering a new condominium for the first time. This Royal Suite’s entry area is spacious; a mirror graces the entryway, and a small half-marble table attached to the wall holds a lovely white orchid plant.
A bit further along is the guest bathroom, designed in rich brown and white marble; it has a singular sink and a separate toilet closet. To the other side of the hall is a door that connects to the verandah suite next door – perfect if your clients want to book the Royal Suite as a two-bedroom configuration with a separate master bedroom and bath.
As a one-bedroom, the Royal Suite is about 990 square feet including a large 127 square foot balcony. If the second bedroom is added, which we didn’t need for our cruise, the configuration provides 1,366 square feet of space plus a second standard sized balcony.
The entry hallway fanned out into the large interior living space. On one side is a huge vanity-like area that spans a full wall; it’s a wet bar area with sink and contains an espresso-type coffee maker, multiple glass shelves that hold glassware, a selection of coffees, and a mini-refrigerator stocked with complimentary beverages including sodas, bottled water, beer and wine.
Just ask for the beverages you prefer and you’ll find them replenished automatically.
On the other side of the room is a writing desk, also with multiple shelves and drawers. Upon entry, guests discover welcome letters, pre-booked shore excursion tickets and personalized stationary.
The heart of this suite, though, is the expansive living area just ahead. A round dining table with four comfortable leather chairs can be expanded to seat additional guests. The dining area also has shelving and storage space in wall cabinetry. A mirrored wall displays two artistic framed prints as a decorative touch.
Your clients will view a lovely fresh floral bouquet of tropical flowers as well as a bowl of fresh fruit on the dining room table.
The configuration of this suite is very open, so the dining room flows directly into the living room. In between is an entertainment console positioned along the wall; it contains a 42” flat-screen television able to be turned either way, so guests can watch as they dine or relax.
The living room area has a convertible sofa, one upholstered chair, two more chairs identical to those at the dining room table, several end tables and a coffee table. Upon arrival, Silversea provides guests with a chilled bottle of sparkling wine and a box of chocolates from Pierre Marcolini.
The open air feel and abundance of natural light in this suite is quite good. There are three major window areas in the dining room and living room that create a luxury condominium-like feel to the suite.
Two floor-to-ceiling balcony doors each open to one long continuous balcony with teak decking. The furniture includes a cushioned lounge chair with beach towel, a round table and two chairs with pillow cushions and back pillows, and a separate odd shaped chair and ottoman.
The living area also has an additional separate window that, in the case of this Royal Suite, has views out to a crew-only access area. It’s quite private and we only noticed crew here upon occasion, mostly during times when the ship was docking. One nice perk? A cut out in the ship’s structure allows guests in this suite to peer out to the scenery beyond.
Beyond the main living space is a small hallway that leads to the master bedroom, outfitted with either one queen-sized bed or two twins. Guests choose from a menu with multiple pillow types, and linens are high quality.
A nice touch in the bedroom is an upholstered chair with ottoman, allowing guests a private place to curl up with a good book. It is a lovely room, and our only nit was that the wall mounted flat-screen television really was a bit small for the sumptuous nature of this suite.
Another sizable window in the master bedroom offers views to a crew access area on the forward part of the ship. Again, it offers fantastic natural light. Just remind clients to keep the drapes pulled when dressing. I looked out one morning to have a crew member working on the deck wave at me.
The master bedroom also has a large make-up vanity area with its own seat. A hair dryer is located in an adjacent cupboard.
This area also has a plethora of drawers and shelves. In fact, this is the only suite or stateroom I’ve ever had that offered more storage space than anyone could ever need afloat. It was a pampering luxury.
A humongous bedroom walk-in closet also has its own cabinetry including one cupboard with a personal safe. Two soft, comfortable robes with slippers are available for guest use. This suite also comes with free laundry service.
|Master bathroom, sinks|
The master bath, located within the bedroom area, is resplendent with rich tan and white marble. Guests will find dual sinks, a separate rainforest shower, a humongous soaking tubs with whirlpool jets, and a separate toilet compartment.
Perks? We liked the dual air conditioning/heating temperature controls in the living room/dining room and bedroom areas. It was also nice to have a set of full size binoculars for our use, as well as menus from Le Champagne and Stars, a full wine list and room-service menu.
While the ship has two robust libraries – one on Deck 7 and another in the Observation Lounge on Deck 11, this particular suite had its own library of sorts. We discovered a large art book, the Oxford English Dictionary and a complete set of Fodor’s travel guides. Shelves were also stocked with classics by such authors as Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Fielding, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh, to name a few.
A large pictorial travel atlas is helpful for showing exactly where the guest is traveling, and for its information on eco-systems and culture related to destinations worldwide.
|Butler Priyesh Chowdhari offers suite guests a choice of bathroom amenities|
Butler Service With a Smile
Most luxury lines view personalized service as something that sets them apart from the crowd of premium and contemporary lines. Silversea adheres to this philosophy and the ship had 376 crew to a guest complement of about 540, although there were fewer guests on this cruise than were expected on the next segment.
Shortly after arrival in our suite, I answered the door to meet Priyesh Chowdhari from India. He was my exceedingly friendly butler who explained all the suite’s features, as well as his many duties and work hours.
He also explained that even when he wasn’t working, someone would be available to help me 24-7. And, he relayed that Paul Mendoza from the Phillipines would be my suite attendant. For those like me who have a bit of trouble with names, a printed card found at the writing desk provides both names.
Returning a bit later with a silver tray, Priyesh asked if I’d like to choose bath amenities. Displayed were Bulgari and Ferragamo; I chose the Bulgari, which was already in the suite.
He also offered a nice selection of pillows but we loved the soft down pillows on our bed, so we opted to keep what was already in the room.
Many guests enjoy having a butler to help them unpack. In my case, I just felt it was easier to just do it myself, so I’d know exactly where everything was.
After two pieces of our luggage arrived, we unpacked right away, so we’d feel at home and not feel as though we were living out of suitcases for a day or so. One bag, however, was very late so I asked Priyesh to please check on it.
Turns out that port security was holding it curbside because they reported “it had a knife in it.” That I knew wasn’t true. So after a trip back outside, accompanied by the Silversea security officer, we watched them X-ray the bag several times once again.
Then the security folks unpacked it and, presto, the mystery was solved. The so-called knife was a ballpoint pen with a USB drive inside. Legal once again, I was allowed back in and my bag arrived in my suite about a half hour later.
|The balcony of the Royal Suite|
Exploring the Ship
Unfortunately, South Florida’s weather wasn’t cooperating when it came time for the sailaway party, so that event was moved into the Panorama Lounge.
Our cruise director Susan Wood introduced various staff on the ship including entertainers, spa personnel, the shopping expert, shore excursion contacts and others guests would interact with during our voyage.
It was a fun way to enjoy hors d’ouevres, drinks and the company of fellow passengers and crew.
As the ship prepared to sail, we returned to our room, sat out on our balcony and watched the beehive of port activity that included cargo ships, small security boats and a few cruise ships. The MSC Poesia headed out first, followed by the Zuiderdam, and finally Silver Spirit.
On the first night of this nine-night cruise, we opted to just relax and dine in our suite with a friend who happened to be traveling onboard in other accommodations. Our butler served the soup and salad course, and then later the entrées and desserts.
My view is that all the restaurants onboard are great, but there is nothing like a good meal with good friends in the relaxing privacy of one’s own accommodations -- especially on the first night onboard.
Then the ship began plying the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and things got a bit rocky. Rough seas can occur anywhere, and I’ve only experienced really bad seas three times in my 90-plus portfolio of cruises.
|Lobby seating area|
But each time it was late in the year – November or early December – sailing within the North Atlantic Ocean from Fort Lauderdale to the islands of the eastern Caribbean.
I experienced this once on Seabourn Legend, another time on Holland America’s Ryndam, and this time on Silversea’s Silver Spirit. Sometimes the best thing to do is to hit the bed, and that seemed appropriate on our first night out.
While it wasn’t the kind of rough seas that caused dishes to fly or anything of that violent nature, it was uncomfortable for many onboard.
I hoped it would be better by morning, an overly optimistic thought as it turned out. We actually had two days of rough seas – reasonably clear skies but high winds and lots of swells.
People gravitated to the ship’s gift shop to buy seasick preventing wristbands, a natural remedy called Travella and a stronger medicine called Bonine, chewable once-a-day protection that can make one drowsy.
It’s always a good thing to buy these remedies in advance before you leave home. You’ll find it cheaper and you’ll always have them if you need them.
In our case, being as far forward as possible on the ship made the motion worse, so clients who are prone to seasickness would be best booked mid-ship.
Most of the passengers were good troopers and headed out on both sea days to participate in the onboard activities, which seem rather low-key. You won’t find rock climbing walls or zip lines on this ship, but there was water volleyball play one afternoon as well as a high intensity Boot Camp training option with one of the ship’s personal fitness trainers.
Most activities, though, are a bit more staid. Guest Lecturer Michael Teitelbaum spoke in the ship’s theater about “Sugar and Spice (but NOT everything was nice!),” a look at the sugar and rum trade and the related African slave trade. He also spoke on another day about the “Real Pirates of the Caribbean.”
International Hostess Soraia, who hailed from Brazil and spoke more languages that I could learn in a lifetime, gave Spanish lessons in the Panorama Lounge. An introduction to acupuncture spa seminar was held in the ship’s conference room.
Guests headed for the port and shopping talk, and some brave souls -- for whom the motion of the ship wasn’t too onerous -- enjoyed either martini tasting or wine tasting with Head Sommelier Marjan Tasevski.
Spa treatments were a popular choice. Given the rocky seas, some opted to just relax in the ship’s ceramic-tiled thermal suite – furnished with heated lounge chairs that provided relief for tired minds, aching muscles and dry skin.
A Salon Special offered three treatments for $99; guests chose from a deep conditioning scalp and hair treatment; a neck and shoulder massage; a spa mini-facial; a sun glow make-up application or a collagen eye treatment.
Other activities. Some guests duked it out in the table tennis competition, jewelry enthusiasts attended a diamond seminar with the ship’s personal shopper, and others enjoyed a golf putting competition. Team trivia, bingo and dance classes with ballroom dance champions filled out the bill.
I discovered the line’s wonderful interactive television system with 600 movies, all free unless you opt for the “adult” stuff. From “Invictus” to “He’s Just Not That Into You,” from “Seabiscuit” to “Horrible Bosses,” we pulled up a slew of different movies, all for free, and watched in the comfort of our suite.
We particularly enjoyed the documentaries, many on global travel destinations. One excellent documentary covered the “Jewels of the Caribbean,” a gorgeously filmed National Geographic look at undersea life, and a perfect offering for a Caribbean cruise. Another focused on the building of the Panama Canal.
The ship’s satellite television system fielded more limited offerings -- one wine and food channel, one entertainment channel, several ship-related channels, two sports channels and, mostly, a slew of news shows from both the U.S. and U.K.
During our days at sea, we asked if someone from the maintenance or operations department might come up to look at the new transport wheelchair that we had just purchased. It wasn’t working properly and one fastener had snapped out.
Silversea’s hotel director asked someone from operations to come up to my suite and try to fix it. He arrived, worked on it for a few minutes, then called for “backup” and soon another maintenance employee bearing a drill appeared, and the two of them worked on it for about 15 minutes. Presto, it was back together.
During our second sea day, the medicine seemed to be taking hold, the seas calmed just a bit, and we enjoyed dinner – by reservation – in La Terrazza.
During the day, this is the line’s buffet restaurant but at night it turns into a lovely Italian alternative restaurant, with full waiter service. Later in this series of reports I’ll cover the full dining experience onboard Silversea.
On our third day, the islands of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and their amazingly azure waters came into full view. Opening our balcony doors, we watched with anticipation as the ship drew closer to the harbor of Road Town, Tortola, the capital of the British Virgin Islands (www.bviwelcom.com).
Everyone onboard was exceedingly happy to be getting their feet firmly on land for the first time in more than two days – much of that time with hefty motion caused by rough seas.
Last Thanksgiving, I sailed into Tortola on Costa Atlantica and we opted to forego an organized tour and instead to walk around on our own downtown. There are shops, restaurants and some tourism sites, but this year we vowed to take a tour to see more of the island.
I booked all my tours online pre-cruise and the tickets were nicely waiting in my suite upon arrival. For Tortola, I selected Silversea’s “Historical Tortola,” a 3.5-hour tour costing $59 per person.
Getting off the ship in Tortola is easy. The pier allows the ship to dock, and one good reason to sail on any ship of less than 600 guests is that people essentially walk on and off at will.
Silversea nicely offers guests bottled water as they depart, along with beach towels for those hitting the surf and sand. It’s just a short flat walk to the end of the Road Town pier, where guests meet under a small covered tour facility.
At the end of the pier, guests can pick up guidebooks and dining guides, as well as an island map. Taxis are available here as well.
We navigated to the Silversea crew member holding up the “Historic Tortola” tour sign. Starting off, a drive through Road Town reveals that this island is low-key, unlike its busy neighbor St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tortola has a population of about 22,000. The first attraction on our tour itinerary came into view within minutes. The Sunday Morning Well is considered to be the most meaningful historical site on the island.
Here, a Proclamation of Emancipation was read in the 1800s, resulting in freedom for 5,133 island slaves. The mini-bus stopped briefly, but we didn’t get out. People took photos through the windows, which did nicely open so we avoided the reflection of the glass.
Next, we passed the famous Moorings (www.moorings.com) yacht harbor, with a selection of spiffy, sleek mega-yachts for rent on a bareboat charter or, if you prefer, with a full crew and captain.
One of our fellow coach passengers wistfully remarked, “it looks like a good place to head if you want to escape or head out to sea without a care.”
|St. Philip's Anglican Church|
Soon our tour vehicle pulled off the road so we could view ruins of St. Phillip’s Anglican Church, constructed in 1840. Let’s just say these ruins are in bad shape, with only the façade and outer walls remaining. The roof is gone, and wooden braces hold up the front and sides of the church.
St. Phillip’s was the first Anglican Church built for freed Africans in the Americas. It would be nice to see this landmark restored. Historically speaking, this church is significant.
After Great Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1808, the surrounding village, called Kingstown, became a settlement for Africans liberated from slaving vessels.
The tour then continued on to East End, which just as it sounds is a town on the eastern end of Tortola. A few miles beyond, the tour continued at Josiah’s Bay Plantation, where tour goers got out for 10 minutes to learn about the island’s sugar cane history.
Those taking this tour will view steam and other manufacturing equipment and ruins of what originally was a sugar factory and later a rum distillery.
The best part about this tour? Tell clients this is a superb tour if they want to be driven all over the island, viewing gorgeous vistas. Along the way the driver/guide will stop the vehicle at several points, allowing guests to get out and take photos.
Our guide pointed out nearby islands including Norman Island, Peter Island, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, as well as St. Thomas in the USVI. He showed us towns and villages, pristine beaches and mountain scenery.
Our driver/guide was a first class act. He nicely told us that if we saw something we wanted to photograph, he’d do his best to find a safe place to stop for that. The hilly terrain, steep roads and hairpin turns made this challenging, but we felt he was an excellent driver.
Beyond the scenic views, tour goers will view some interesting historical sites, and most importantly, they’ll get a sense of how the locals live. We love the picturesque little cottages with Caribbean colors of blue, pink, orange or green.
Continuing along Ridge Road, we stopped at Skyworld, a restaurant/bar of sorts, which is essentially a restroom stop. The facility had definitely seen better days. I’d recommend this stop be eliminated by Silversea, which might find a restroom stop at Cane Garden Bay, the next place on the tour.
Cane Garden Bay on the island’s north shore is a quaint tourism-focused beachside village that still seems to retain its charm with small inns, B&Bs or restaurants, and a thin ribbon of beach. Pelicans were spotted high diving into the horseshoe-shaped bay seeking a snack of fish.
|During a visit at an old rum distillery, tourists were interested in the local banana trees.|
Here our tour stopped at the island’s only operating rum distillery, Callwoods. Rustic is the word for this plantation-era stone building. Tour goers seemed more interested in the bananas growing on nearby trees than the 10-minute visit to the distillery, which wasn’t operating during the time of our visit.
Again, the mini-van delivered more gorgeous island views as it motored upward from Cane Garden Bay to the Sage Mountain National Park, the highest spot on Tortola at 1,710 feet. While it’s not a tropical rainforest, as the island gets less than 100 inches of rain annually, it boasts lush tropical foliage.
Then it was back down to Road Town, where the tour continued with a visit to the Old Government House Museum. This is an excellent touring choice for those who want to “step back” in time to British Colonial days. This was the official government residence until 1997, and the building fields a wide array of artifacts from the island’s past.
Rooms are lovingly restored with period furniture, hand-painted china, and books signed by Queen Elizabeth II on her 1966 and 1977 visits, along with another signed by the late Queen Mum and one signed by Princess Anne, who stayed in the residence’s upstairs bedroom on one visit.
The Old Government House was originally built in 1899, but destroyed by a hurricane in 1924 and rebuilt in a sturdier fashion. This former government residence is perched on a knoll facing the harbor, with cannons pointed out to the water.
Don’t miss the excellent BVI stamp collection on the second floor. In addition, it’s lovely to stroll on its open-air porches which afford tremendous views to the harbor. In our case, we framed a nice photo of the Silver Spirit docked in the harbor by using the Old Government House porch arches.
A nice gift shop on site is staffed by an exceedingly friendly lady who volunteered to let me borrow a guide to the house and its artifacts if I wanted to stroll through on my own first and take photos.
After the house tour, we reboarded the mini-bus for the 10-minute trip back to the pier. Several people asked the driver about dropping them in town rather than returning to the pier, which he was happy to do.
Others on our cruise opted for the two-hour Flightseeing Adventure, essentially a 30-minute, flight in a small twin-engine Piper airplane from Beef Island Airport. Spectacular views of the British Virgin Islands and Caribbean Sea are the reward. Cost is $199 per person double.
One woman on our ship also raved about the 3.5 hour Eco Kayak and Snorkel Adventure offered by Silversea for $89 per person. This tour requires guests to be in extremely good physical condition.
Getting back on Silversea’s Silver Spirit is a breeze. On hot days, the staff is ready with a cool wet towel, great for cooling down. Bottled water is readily available both leaving and coming back to the ship. Beach towels are also available just before the gangway for those heading to a local beach.
After a robust lunch in La Terrazza, we headed out to explore a bit more of the ship, visiting the Observation Lounge on Deck 11 forward. It’s a lovely comfortable seating area that spans the entire forward facing area of the ship with panoramic views.
We discovered complimentary coffee, tea an sodas here, and learned that many of the Silver Suite clients staying in suites on this deck use it like a private lounge. Because it’s so far forward, atop the ship and off-the-beaten path, it’s not as well-trafficked as other lounges elsewhere on Silver Spirit.
One highlight here is a nice telescope. Guests also will discover many maritime and travel themed books in this lounge. Clients won’t find locked book cabinets. The books can be taken out under the honor system, simply by signing your name.
Stay tuned to next Monday’s cruise newsletter for our second Caribbean Sojourn installment about our voyage onboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit and port calls in Marigot, St. Martin and St. John’s, Antigua.