Europe, the Mediterranean and the Silver Spirit

Sailing the Mediterranean aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

It’s taken me an hour and a half to write this opening paragraph summarizing our experience aboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit from Athens to Barcelona, and I think I finally realize why: it’s nearly impossible to put into words how many truly extraordinary experiences we’ve had in the past week: we’ve explored the ancient beauty of Athens, Greece; sailed away from Piraeus, gone ATV-ing on Mount Etna, enjoyed gelato in Taormina, lost outselves on the island of Capri, ate lunch seaside in Civitavecchia, experienced yacht-envy in Monte Carlo, and took in the culturally-rich nightlife of Barcelona.  All in the comfort of our floating palace, the Silver Spirit.

There's nothing quite like the Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Few other vacations could even come close to topping that.  But it’s disappointing that the Silversea experience doesn’t extend to other methods of travel.  They set the bar for their onboard service so incredibly high that it spoils you for anything else.

What could be more relaxing than a cruise through the incredible Mediterranean? The excellent weather! Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Personally, I realized my time aboard the beautiful Silver Spirit had come to an end somewhere between clearing security in Barcelona Airport (an exercise in juggling your personal belongings) and my economy-class* seat on our British Airways flight to Vancouver.  In writing this, I am balancing my orange juice on the side of my laptop, and the person in front of me has just reclined their seat smack into it – again.

Can you imagine if Silversea had its own airline? I don’t dare dream; they’d never get me to leave.

The beautiful skylight above the atrium aboard Silver Spirit. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Besides being an incredible all-round experience, after two voyages with them I firmly believe Silversea  is one of the best cruise values out there.  Why?  Because roundtrip economy-class airfare is included on nearly all itineraries.  Almost every itinerary, with the exception of those aboard Silver Explorer, boasts a generous onboard credit.  And pre-and-post hotel stays can be conveniently added to any itinerary.  They don’t stick you at the Bates Motel either; our stay at the Athens Athenaeum Intercontinental in Athens, Greece was the perfect way to start our cruise vacation off right.  It was modern and incredibly comfortable, the staff were friendly and welcoming, and it was a mere 20-minute stroll from the Plaka – if you didn’t want to use the complimentary shuttle.

Heading for Sorrento, Italy on one of Silver Spirit's tenders. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Speaking of, I was impressed that Silversea offered complimentary shuttles in both Taormina and Barcelona, saving passengers a multi-Euro taxi ride in each direction.  It’s a little detail that helps make your experience as a passenger effortless.  Seriously, I can’t think of a single thing I’ve had to worry about since arriving in Athens over a week ago – and I’m really trying.  Our excellent butler, Arnel, had my shoes shined and shirts pressed before I could ask.  He drew us a bubblebath (twice!) when we’d had a long day ashore.  And he even offered to re-pack our luggage for us.

Evening canapes before departure from Monte Carlo. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

On more traditional mainstream cruises, a harsh reality sets in towards the last day of the voyage.  You’ve probably seen it, too – queues of people snaking around reception desks with passengers anxiously holding their onboard account summaries.  Sticker shock is in full effect as they realize just how much they’ve spent over the past week or two.  Those martini’s weren’t free, and neither were the transfers, bingo, shore excursions or the service – there’s a gratuity for that, too.

None of that exists on Silversea.

For me, real relaxation on the Silver Spirit was being asked if I’d like a glass of wine with dinner and not having to worry what it would do to my onboard account – it’s all included.

Relaxation may very well be not having to worry about your onboard account. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

While there’s nothing wrong with a mainstream cruise, it just can’t compare to an ultra-luxury voyage, simply because it’s not designed to.  But do this little excercise the next time you’re pricing out cruises: look at the total cost of each.  Once you’ve factored in airfare, hotels, transfers, gratuities, drinks, shore excursions and the cruise fare itself, you may be pleasantly surprised at the value Silversea represents.

The beautiful Seishin dining room aboard Silver Spirit, offering Japanese cuisine and exquisite Sake. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

I have read some rather harsh criticisms of the line on message boards for offering the Relais & Chateau-run Le Champagne and the Japanese-inspired Seishin specialty restaurants for a fee, claiming the line doesn’t offer a truly all-inclusive concept by charging admission for these.  I think that’s an unfair generalization; the onboard credits offered on so many voyages render that complaint moot, and even then, if you elect to remove the wine pairings from Le Champagne, the price becomes a very digestible $30 per person.  They’re not twisting your arm in any way to participate in these, but you really should, at least once, because of the experience they represent.

The forward stairwell aboard Silver Spirit. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Here’s some more things to consider: Silversea ships have dual-sided mattresses.  That’s right – you can have a firm or soft mattress depending on your preference.  Still not comfy enough?  Why not choose from the line’s extensive pillow menu, featuring nine (nine!) different types.

Don’t care for the Bulgari toiletries?  No problem – there’s two other brands for you to choose from. Want to know what’s going on in the world?  You can have the Wall Street Journal – or any major international newspaper – delivered to your stateroom for a small fee.  Not the small, four-page summary, either – the real thing, freshly printed.  Your shoes can be shined, your laundry washed and pressed, your favorite liquor stocked…it just goes on.  There’s seemingly nothing they haven’t though of.  The attention to detail aboard a Silversea ship boggles the mind.

Silver Spirit passengers tender ashore in Sorrento, Italy. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Now that we’ve completed what has truly been the voyage of a lifetime aboard the Silver Spirit, I’m already looking to the next great Silversea adventure.  And they’re sorely tempting me.  Have you seen their itinerary lineup for the rest of the year, not to mention 2012? It’s amazing. You can explore Antarctica, travel to some of the most remote destinations in Africa, sail the Amazon River, visit exotic locales like Muscat and Dubai, and explore the wonders of Asia and the Glaciers of Alaska.  Unless you’re interested in a cruise to Nevada, chances are there’s a voyage will capture your imagination too.

Sail away from Monte Carlo, Monaco is observed by passengers from Deck 9 Aft. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Departure from Civitavecchia, Italy. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

After our second Silversea cruise, I know this: between the ports, the ship and the service it is impossible to come away from the experience, even after a second time, without being a totally changed person.  It’s not PR-speak, it’s not back-slapping or a “plug” of any kind.  It’s the truth, and the driving reason behind why so many passengers elected to sail for four months aboard the Silver Spirit on her maiden World Cruise from Los Angeles to Southampton.  If you’ve sailed with the line, chances are you know what I mean.

Sunset off the coast of Sicily. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

For me, Silversea it is the standard by which I will measure all my experiences for the rest of my life.

For more information about Silversea, their fleet and itineraries, check out Silversea’s excellent website. And why not keep living vicariously?  My colleague, the incomparable Avid Cruiser, Mr. Ralph Grizzle, is still aboard Silver Spirit as she sails to Southampton, England.  Check out his updates on The Avid Cruiser!

 

* By the way, despite the fact it is the only class I can afford to fly in, I like to make fun of flying economy class because it truly is an un-glamorous experience (and that’s putting it politely!)  But for those who have never flown the nine-or-ten hours from North America to Europe, please take what I have to say with all sincerity: the reward for those nine hours spent in seat 29J is more than worth it.

 

3 Responses to Silver Spirit Live Voyage Report: Recap

  1. Phil Turner says:

    Thank you for the report. As I have never been on a cruise before, and am taking the Silver Spirit from Rome to Venice in August (my wife’s birthday trip), it was interesting to get a heads up about the Silverseas line. Impressive recap, and the hints were appreciated. Just hope we enjoy the trip as much as you enjoyed yours.
    Regards
    Phil

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      I have no doubt you’ll enjoy your first Silversea trip, Phil. Your wife is in for one heck of a birthday cruise!

  2. nolatravelgirl says:

    Was your cruise fare comped or heavily discounted in exchange for this blog report?

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