While on Silversea’s newest ship, the 540-guest Silver Spirit, I spent time considering what defines an ultra-luxury vacation. After much thought, I believe that a 6-star cruise experience needs to provide aesthetic appeal, an attractive design for the ship’s hardware (the ship and its furnishings), and the software (the food and other items consumed).
Freedom to do what one wants, when one wants. A stress-free experience in which service is attentive and nearly every want and desire is satisfied with minimal apparent effort on the part of a happy and friendly staff. Most of the newer four and five star ships provide attractive surroundings, and physical comfort and good levels of service, but complete guest freedom is not typically available. An ultra-luxury ship, on the other hand, should provide excellent service and freedom of choice in all aspects of the voyage. On these metrics, the Silver Spirit was a real disappointment. The ship met expectations for attractiveness and physical comfort but failed far too often when it came to meeting ultra-luxury levels of freedom and service. My verandah stateroom on Deck 8 was nicely appointed and the bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced at sea. The only major complaints about the cabin involved the noise levels from the hallway and the bathroom’s single, poorly designed wash basin.
But, those items are minor compared to the voyage’s poor levels of service and the ship’s inability to provide the freedoms one typically experiences on an ultra-luxury cruise. I should add that the butler service provided for all staterooms is outstanding; it was the only element of the ship’s service that exceeded those of competitors. I encountered far too many lapses of quality and service which reinforced a recurring impression that the overall service product on the ship was both rote and impersonal. From disorganized arrival and departure experiences to dining services that were almost always poorly executed, the voyage just didn’t offer an ultra-luxury level of service.
I had great expectations for dining at the various specialty restaurants that are prominently advertised by Silversea and quickly learned that many of the restaurants—such as Le Champagne and Stars Supper Club—had been booked weeks in advance and there was nothing available on any night. While a few slots at other restaurants were available, I was now being forced to eat on the ship’s schedule, not mine. I tried eating at La Terrazza—it’s the largest specialty restaurant, so walk-ins shouldn’t be too difficult to accommodate, especially if one arrives outside of peak times. Approaching the maître d’ several evenings at 8:30pm, I was dismissed with a, “Sorry, there’s nothing available,” even though half of the tables were empty and already cleared. An unacceptable amount of coaxing was required each evening before the maître d’ very reluctantly agreed to seat me.
Service ship-wide conveyed a feeling of disorganization, disinterest, and lack of oversight for even the most basic of service elements. Table settings in restaurants, for example, would vary from table to table. One table would have a plant and candle on it, while an adjacent one would not. One would have an oil and vinegar set on it, while another would not. One chair would have a seat cushion on it, while another at the same table would not.
Staff engagement was also lacking. When passing each other in corridors, staff would often avoid eye contact by looking down or not acknowledging my presence. One day, I decided to run a small test: I said hello to a random set of crew members that I passed in corridors to see how many would say hello back. Out of twenty staff, seven ignored me, looked away, or made eye contact but said nothing.
Having sailed on numerous other ships—including 52 days on ships in 2015—I’ve never encountered such widespread, disappointing service levels. Unfortunately, stressful and frustrating experiences are what I remember most about this voyage as they occurred far too frequently and across too many of the ship’s venues.