In December 2009, I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to sail on Silversea’s Silver Spirit. The ship was big news in more ways than one – not only was she Silversea’s first new ship for eight years, but the cruise line’s largest-ever vessel (although in Silversea terms that actually only means 540 passengers!) with room for additional places to eat, a larger spa and more spacious suites.
Little did I know that some eight years later I’d be in a shipyard in Palermo, Sicily, watching as Silver Spirit was cut in half and a new 49-foot section was inserted in the middle to make her a little bit bigger but a whole lot more luxurious; to ‘amplify the experience’, as Silversea calls it.
Specifically, the new section is adding another 34 suites (26 Verandas, six Silver suites and two Panorama suites), taking capacity to 608 passengers.
While it was not the first time I have seen a cruise ship cut in half, no-one else has managed it with quite such panache as Silversea. A room at the elegant Villa Igiea in Palermo (my balcony even had a view of the shipyard) and a card inviting me to ‘witness the second significant parting in the history of the seas’.
“I will now pause while you work out which the first was!”
It goes without saying that lengthening a ship is an incredible feat of planning and engineering. First Silver Spirit had to be stripped of furniture, carpets, basically anything that could be moved (a lot was donated to local charities in Crete), because once the yard had finished stretching her, she was going to be totally refurbished in the image of Silver Muse, Silversea’s new ship launched last year.
Before work could start, some 1,300 cables, air ducts and pipes – basically all the on board services that would be severed – had to be tagged so they could be matched to labels on the same services on the mid-section when that was finally in place. And then the cutting began.
On the afternoon of Silver Spirit’s fourth day in drydock, I sipped on Prosecco, nibbled on canapés (I told you it was all done in Silversea style!) and watched as the final cut was made and the front of the ship inched slowly away from the back on skid pads and hydraulic jacks. Less than 24 hours later I was back at the yard to watch as the new mid-section was manoeuvred into place and the yard workers started the job of putting her back together.
Then the refurbishment began. It’s a massive job – new décor and furnishings of course, the extra suites, a new Zagara Spa, an enlarged pool area and completely revamped dining, all to be completed by 1st May.
Two restaurants, Atlantide and Indochine, respectively a steakhouse and Asian eatery, replace the dining room. Both made their debut on Silver Muse, are complimentary and don’t require reservations. The Stars Supper Club is to be reinvented as Silver Note, a venue that serves up light bites and live jazz, and they are adding a funky Arts Café and pizza restaurant called Spaccanapoli (both venues also replicate outlets on Muse).
The price tag for all this? A cool $70million, which seems a lot to add just 34 suites but it is considerably cheaper than building a new ship – although Silversea is doing that as well. Silver Moon, another Muse lookalike, launches in 2020 and I have been told the next ship after that is already in the pipeline. Exciting times indeed!