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Forty Three Years On

On 24th April 1978, I walked down the gangway as a crew member having signed off ships articles for the last time, little did I know that it would be 43 years until I stepped foot on board a cruise liner again, this time as a passenger.

Of course, I expected many changes, but in some respects so much was familiar.

Having sailed on SS Oriana and both

mv Island Princess and mv Pacific Princess I immediately compared Silver Spirit to the smaller Princess ships the number of passengers on board being similar around the 600 mark, but when l looked up the tonnage I discovered that ss Oriana was much closer in size at 41,915 tonnes to that of Silver Spirit at 39,519. Of course, this got the old grey cells working, how could this be ? as the public spaces appeared similar to Island and Pacific Princess.

The big difference is the guest cabin size, l guess almost three times the size of the older Princess Ships and Oriana.

Covid restrictions played a big part onboard for this first cruise after lockdown. Arrival at Southampton docks was nostalgic but the old cruise ship terminals were long gone as were the days of the odd car being loaded onboard into the hold. Before boarding covid testing was in place and after about 40 minutes waiting for the results we were allowed to board. Masks were required when moving around the ship and social distancing was in place, only one bubble in the lift at a time, and all crew members fully masked all the time in public areas. You get the picture.

The welcome onboard was fantastic by all the crew, after 18 months of no work the friendliness and willingness to please seemed very genuine.

The first officer I saw had red stripes on his jacket so I assumed he was one of ship’s medics, but then I saw another and yes another with red stripes, I was getting confused, Surely not all these extra surgeons on board for covid emergencies. No, It turned out the hotel services officers had red stripes. I told you it was a long time since l had sailed.

The purser’s department as I once knew it was no longer. Of course, now there is a hotel manager. Shore excursions were a completely separate operation and totally new to me was the Future Cruise Team, tempting you to book your next cruise whilst enjoying te current one.

Back in the day, there were no computers onboard and the purser's work was all done manually. Nowadays before boarding the ship your credit card is taken and of course charged automatically at the end of the cruise for any extras. Your picture is also taken then you are issued with a Suite Key Card, that as the name suggests this allows access to your suite, it also serves as an onboard identity card, your passports are collected at embarkation and returned before debarkation, another new one on me as opposed to disembarkation. This id card is swiped when leaving and entering the ship. In 1973 virtually anyone could walk up the gangway and get on a ship.

Technology has got a lot to answer for and was one of the biggest bugbears on the ship. I am not sure if this was normal or the fact that the Cruise Company had experienced a cyber attack recently resulting in some of the systems were shut down The wi-fi was pretty bad as was the TV service in the cabins- oops I mean suites. I actually found it quite refreshing not to be linked to the outside world 24/7 but I would image it might be very frustrating for some passengers and certainly for the crew who we saw hanging off the side of the ship in port trying to get a signal. I must add that all crew shore leave is suspended at the moment due once again to covid restrictions.

The officers on board are not in evidence very much and never appeared in Mess Kit to socialise with the passengers, Once again this may be due to covid so I will reserve my opinion on this until more normal services are resumed. In the same vein there did not appear to be any officers hosting tables in the restaurant with the exception of Captain’s Cocktail Party night when there were a handful in the main restaurant, but again with reduced table sizes and I guess were there especially for loyal passengers with lots of points on their Venitian Frequent Cruiser cards. Yes, folks after you have cruised for 100 days with Silversea you get free laundry and it was certainly a badge of honour to have free laundry.

Onboard entertainment was understated, but we expected this by the size and nature of the ship. The entertainers individually were very good and filled the role of entertainment officers and hostesses of years gone past. The cruise director played a different role. He organgised the team and introduced the various events, but was not an entertainer. I missed the ship’s officers taking part in evening entertainment, amateur though they used to be back in the 1970s. Apart from formal nights, there were no theme nights onboard.

We were informed that guest entertainers were not being allowed on board because of covid, but I failed to see why this was the case.

Silver Spirit as seen from The Royal Yacht Brittania in Edinburgh

This was the first cruise after the ship had been mothballed for 18 months so a few shakedown problems were inevitable. The swimming pool was out of action for a few days due to chlorination, problems. Hey, we were sailing around the UK in UK weather so not a major problem for most people. A few A/C and toilet flushing problems. For some of the passengers, you would have thought the ship was sinking. But having been a Purser and on the receiving end of whinging passengers, it did not bother me a toss. One morning we had water leakage in our cabin, by the time we had had breakfast the plumber had visited and a dryer was at work on the carpet. The service was excellent and very professional.

From my comments about whinging passengers, you will realise that some things have not changed in the forty-odd years since my purser days. The first morning at breakfast we sat next to a lady that had a hissy fit because they had not obtained Twinings Teabags for her visit. “They always get Twinings for my trip” A couple of days later after our first port of call “Diamond Lil” as we nic named her, had Twinings on her table for breakfast.

Another comment we heard “It’s not like Old Silversea” Well it was very special and l am not sure what “The Colonel” expected. Don’t you love giving people names? Another lady we met “Diva” her title this time and not ours. Diva writes her own blog and reported a story about smashed eggs. Read it for yourself here

The fellow passengers we met were charming and interesting, mostly longtime cruisers but a sprinkling of newbies. What was interesting was the amount of Americans onboard, I think in the region of 160, most of whom had flown in especially for the cruise having jumped through a few hoops to get to the UK and were flying directly home afterward,. Of course we are still not allowed to fly to the USA.

Some of the Fantastic Silversea Crew

The crew was made up of 64 nationalities, mostly from the Philippines in the hotel department, above the mask, they all had lovely eyes, of course, we never saw the rest of their faces. Without exception, the crew onboard Silver Spirit were exceptional and did their utmost to cater to your needs in a very friendly and professional manner.

One thing that really stood out was the number of times you were greeted by name. Of course, this was largely due to technology and the fact that your photo was taken on embarkation. But it was very satisfying and the crew members that you dealt with regularly greeted you by name without technical help after a few days.

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1 Comment

Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Sep 19, 2021

Excellent report on Silver Spirit, David, it must have been difficult in the situation to constantly wear face masks around the decks, and to be greeted with friendly masked crew, especially the Filipino service staff, who are renowned for their friendly smiles and hospitality.

For you not to have stepped on a ship in over 40 years, must have been quite a challenge, for it is natural to compare your memories of working on a ship, to being a fare paying passenger. When we worked in the Purser’s Office, we were faced with the constant barrage of passenger complaints, and our job to fix them. Being a passenger, you feel guilty for considering reporting faults to management but plumbing problem…

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