Ah, no India. After being left hanging for four days after the fire on the Quest was reported, our cruise was cancelled by Azamara. With less than a week before our scheduled departure, we were scrambling to find an alternative trip. Unlike Boris, I would have opted to save the money and take the perks the company offered for future travel. He had the time off work and was really looking forward to being away, so he wanted to find another option for the same time frame. We were able to identify two cruises that fit the schedule and included multiple ports we hadn’t been to. You would think the time frame would pose the biggest problem, but really identifying an available cruise with new ports was the hardest part for us.
Anyone that cruises knows that the best prices are always found by booking far in advance or very close to the day of departure when they are just trying to fill the ship. Our trip to India had been planned for almost a year and a half. Half the fun for me is the planning part-researching the options, finding the best air connections, reading about the ports, planning the excursions, considering the options at the departure and arrival points, ect. I felt a little cheated not to have that opportunity. The major difficulty with last minute planning for a cruise is finding available air connections. Sometimes they are simply not available or are so outrageously priced as to be prohibitive.
The Celebrity cruise we identified included passage through the Panama Canal and stops in several places I had never been to. (Too date; Celebrity is our favorite cruise line.) It had the added advantage of domestic departure and arrival points, which significantly reduces the cost of air travel to and from the ship. Boris had already been to all these countries though. He would have hit the century club mark of 100 countries on the Azamara cruise with India being 100. He was really disappointed with the idea of not making it to 100.
The other cruise was on a new line for us, Silversea. It is an extremely upscale line and one of those that I usually laugh at when I see the price, never thinking I would be able to try it. In this case, the price on Silversea that close to departure was 75% off and it dropped into our price range. With stops in Barbados, St. Lucia, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, Morocco, and Portugal, it included my two favorite Caribbean islands and several new ports/countries for us. Boris was sold. He loved the idea of the premium service and that he would hit 100 countries when we docked in Casablanca.
Now to get the air…we were very fortunate to have Beth in our corner. With the exception of complicated dive travel and booking cruises, I do almost all our travel planning and arrangements. The Internet has made this so much easier than it was years ago when I was making international phone calls. Although I have booked cruises directly, I now plan exclusively with our travel agent Beth Wehunt with the cruise division of Vacations to Go. Beth really worked hard for us-fighting for what we deserved in compensation for our cancelled cruise (a whole blog post in and of itself), booking a new cruise, securing cabin credits, and finding air travel. She knows I like to book our own air, but in this case she found out air was still available through Silversea and encouraged us to at least put it on hold. It was less than half the price of any self-booking options for air. She also secured for us a $1000 on-board credit.
This close to the sail date, Celebrity would only hold the cabin one hour, but we had 24 hours to make our decision regarding Silversea. It didn’t take that long and we booked on Silver Spirit, the largest of Silversea’s six ships. Large is a relative term-more on that in a future post.
Where Azamara has casual cruising with no formal nights, Silversea’s 14 day cruise includes 3 formal, 5 informal, and 6 casual nights. The temperatures we were anticipating in Singapore, Thailand, and India were in the lower to upper 90s. While Caribbean temperatures were in the 80s, you never know the temperature at sea and later ports on the Silversea cruises had temperatures in the 60s. Needless to say, we had to do some repacking, or at least, re-planning. We were also not able to use our air miles and enjoy the perks of our United Airlines status (early boarding-which translates to first dibs on the overhead space and more luggage, three 70lbs bags on international travel) so we were going to be limited to one checked bag of 50 lbs. I am one of those people that actually enjoy the puzzle part of figuring out what to take in the limited space, just not when it is the second time for the same trip. My mom has always adopted the “mix and match” philosophy. I start with shoes; I kid you not. Shoes (although not sandals) can take up the most room in a suitcase. Once I pulled the black pumps I was taking for formal night, deciding on the dresses was easier.
There was no time to plan the excursions; we just took a look so we made sure we had the right clothes/shoes for anything we might do. With 5 sea days following the Caribbean ports, we knew there would be time later to look into the options. We did have the advantage of shorter air travel. The travel to Singapore with a stop in Toyko was going to take almost 23 hours. The return from Mumbai (Bombay) took just as long. Our departure point for the new cruise was Barbados. We had one stop in Miami and a very short layover before arriving in the Caribbean. The return will not be as pleasant. We fly Lisbon to Paris, Paris to Atlanta, and finally Atlanta to Houston. None of the airlines will give us frequent flier benefits. This is a distinct disadvantage of using the air transportation provided by the cruise line. The plus is that if there are problems, the cruise line will find a way to get you there and home.
We had a very early departure from Houston, 6 am, which meant getting up at 3:45 am. In spite of the early hour and departure from one of the smaller terminals at IAH, there was a line for check-in and an even longer one for security. We are used to the priority lines with United and clearly have been spoiled by them. An hour was not enough time for the process and they were already boarding when we arrived at the gate. We only had a 40-minute layover in Miami, but fortunately the plane arrived 20 minutes early. Both flights were on American in the same terminal, but we found out that being in the same terminal in Miami does not mean you can walk from one gate to the other. We had to board a train and once again the plane was already boarding when we arrived at the gate. American permitted us one free bag at 50 lbs since we had an international flight. If we wanted anything other than a middle seat, we had to pay for our seat selection on both American flights. The flight was full and ready to leave on time, but there was a mechanical problem with the recorder box, so we had to wait for a replacement and left 40 minutes late.
The good news was we made it to Barbados and so did our bags. I have had luggage not make it in time for a cruise. We once left on a cruise from Venice a day after our arrival there by plane and me with no luggage. It didn’t catch up to us until Istanbul, 5 days later. Transportation to the ship was included with our air arrangements with Silversea upon our arrival in Barbados.
Built in 2009, Silver Spirit is a small ship with a passenger capacity of only 540. The check-in process was easier and faster than any we have ever experienced. After a glass of champagne and the registration on our credit card at the front desk, we were escorted to our suite, 905. All the rooms on the Silver Spirit are suites. The room was huge for a cruise ship. There is a full bathroom with a tub and separate walk-in shower. The shower itself is bigger than any I have seen on a cruise ship. The bathroom was done in Italian marble and teak. The suite also has a walk-in closet. Yes, I did say walk-in closet. (I didn’t even know that they put walk-in closets on a cruise ship.) We have a butler, a handsome young man from India. He is there to assist with whatever you might need-including unpacking your luggage. In addition to the butler, there are two young women from the Philippines that fully clean the room twice a day. Who totally scrubs down the whole shower twice a day?
It was after 3:30 pm and I hadn’t eaten all day, so we went to the pool grill (on our floor) to have a late lunch. I am used to a pool grill where you stand at the counter and wait for a hotdog or burger to take to your table. Here we were served at the table and could have a nice lunch, anything from that burger to a steak. Our bags were already at the room when we arrived back and I opted to unpack myself so I could find what I wanted later. We did walk around the ship a bit, but opted from an early dinner and then to bed after the long day.
I should say a word or two about Barbados. It is my favorite Caribbean island with the most beautiful white sand beaches. Much of the Caribbean has been spoiled by overdevelopment and Barbados is no exception, but you can still find a quiet place there and they have improved the roads and traffic conditions. They are fond of roundabouts and you should be prepared for driving on the other style of the road, British style. I love Mullins Beach, but found the access is more difficult than it used to be. However, all the beaches in Barbados are public. A new find is Crane Beach with an amazingly beautiful cove. There is a wonderful sandy area, but the water is definitely rough and might not always be suitable for swimming. You have to go see the monkey preserve and it is a great island to rent a car and wander around on. We are off to St. Lucia next.