In the last 30 years, a new concept in cruising has been conceived: all-suite, all-inclusive, intimate ships carrying a relatively small number of passengers whose tastes are simple; they simply desire the best.

First came the Sea Goddess duo of boutique ships that catered to the champagne and caviar set. These were followed in the late 1980s by a trio of chic vessels of the Seabourn mini-navy. The impact on the cruise industry cannot be understated. Here, suddenly, were sirens of the seas offering a similar lifestyle to that of ultra-deluxe resorts.

In 1994, a ship entered this waterborne arena that was to change people’s perceptions of unashamed luxury at sea forever. At 16,927 tons and carrying just 296 passengers, Silver Cloud was small enough to offer a highly personalised experience, yet sufficiently roomy for those who like lots of personal space and the facilities they expect on a larger ship. The rest, as they say, is history. But the story of Silversea Cruises is a defining chapter in the almanac of cruising and cruise ships.

From the outset in April 1994, Silver Cloud was synonymous with style, sophistication and service. This first ship was a paragon, setting a standard for this cruise line for which mediocrity has no meaning. Silver Wind entered service the following year giving the company much-needed extra tonnage and flexibility of itineraries.

The owners were quick to see they had invested wisely and had a winning formula. The bold decision was then taken to construct two 28,258-ton vessels: Silver Shadow entered service in 2000, with her identical sister-ship Silver Whisper the following year.

In hindsight, it was possibly imprudent to have made the substantial investment for these two 388-passenger ships. But, in the carefree early days of the new millennium, no one could have prophesied the impact of terrorism and a global recession on the cruise industry.

However, after a gap of eight years, 2009 was a seminal year in the ultra-deluxe cruise segment when not one, but two ultra-luxury ships were launched to an eager industry. Seabourn Odyssey was the first to grace the ocean waves at 32,000 tons with a passenger compliment of 450; this was followed six months later by Silver Spirit at 36,000 tons, carrying 540 passengers.

It is often said within maritime circles that there is no such thing as a perfect ship. By their very nature, all ships are large and complex, although new ships are necessarily intricate in the extreme and it is seldom the case that a passenger vessel and its design are a triumph of symbiosis, or fully meet all the expectations of her architects and passengers.

Italian designer Giacomo Mortola dispelled that myth. Silver Spirit is the first Silversea ship this graduate of the University of Genoa has designed, but his well-established reputation – creating many of the interiors for Cunard’s Queen Victoria – has infused the vessel with imaginative spaces that capture Silversea’s innovative style.

SPIRIT OF LUXURY

At 642ft long and 88ft wide, this latest addition to the ultra-luxe Silversea fleet boasts one of the highest space-to-guest ratios at sea.

In fact, there’s an astonishing 6,700 cubic feet of personal space per guest.

Nowhere is this spaciousness more evident than in the 270 SUITES, 95 per cent of which feature a private teak veranda.

The two Owner’s Suites, six Grand Suites, 26 Silver Suites, as well as Veranda and Vista Suites, are nothing short of sumptuous.

Each features a separate sitting area, walk-in closet and a marbled bathroom with full-size tub and separate shower.

Silversea’s in-suite dining option invites guests to enjoy breakfast in bed, savour a late lunch on their veranda, or indulge in a romantic dinner served course by course in their private halcyon.

And these suites provide the perfect ability to indulge that possibility.

I joined a two-night pre-inaugural cruise from Monaco to Barcelona just as Europe was gripped by winter chills last December. Having sailed on a similar sailing last June aboard Seabourn Odyssey and been impressed at peerless service, impeccable cuisine, and outstanding levels of comfort, Silver Spirit had a lot to live up to.

In similar fashion to the Seabourn launch, Silversea Cruises rolled out their top management for this crucial event and those I spoke to were naturally overflowing in enthusiasm for their newest – and largest – addition to their fleet.

Like all of these occasions, there was a surfeit of sycophantic hype such as “We’ve raised the bar” and “It’s a new dawn for Silversea Cruises”. In many cases, these claims were justified. However, during my all-too-brief stay on board, I couldn’t help but feel there was a shortfall in levels of training amongst some crew.

From an entirely subjective point of view, this was most evident in two areas: namely in my Veranda Suite and The Restaurant. My Filipino stewardess handed me a ‘pillow menu’ but my request for a buckwheat pillow met with a blank stare, and I didn’t see my Indian butler until the evening before departure, despite several requests to his colleagues who were attending other cabins near by.

On the first evening, I was hosted at a media table in The Restaurant by the UK’s Director of Marketing, and the Filipino waiter seemed out of his depth – not realising the carapace should be removed when serving a lobster tail, being one example.

Before anyone thinks I’m being xenophobic I am well-known for championing the role of Filipino crew. Indeed, I am on record as stating that a good Filipino crew member is a great asset to any ship both in terms of loyalty and service. Rather than leaving Silversea’s new flagship with this dubious impression, I discussed my experience with Christian Sauleau, Executive Vice-President, Fleet Operations, for Silversea Cruises, a charismatic industry guru who I’ve known for many years.

During our candid exchange of views, he agreed there have been some initial training issues but gave an assurance these would be resolved as a matter of priority. When challenged about the new concept of a butler for every suite working in tandem with a stewardess, he explained this needed time to “settle down” and that he would be monitoring this new approach to in-suite service closely.

With such genuine assurances coming from such a capable doyen of cruise ship operations, I have no doubt that, by the time this review is published, these issues will be resolved.

Possibly the most notable enhancement of the Silversea experience aboard Silver Spirit is the choice of dining venues. Undoubtedly, the ship has been conceived to appeal to contemporary tastes and lifestyle. While intimate and stylish have been the all-pervading principals of the designers, innovation and virtuosity are unquestionably the precepts of the culinary team who have devised the myriad menus.

Leading this dynamic team is Culinary Director Rudi Scholdis, a pre-eminent chef who worked for more than 20 years in some of Europe’s greatest hotels before joining Silversea eight years ago.

“We’ve recognised the fundamental importance of the culinary experience for the luxury traveller by adding more dining alternatives. It’s revolutionary for a ship of this size to offer so many distinctive choices,” boasted this epicurean maestro.

With six dining venues, in addition to the acclaimed in-suite service which includes dinner served course by course, Silver Spirit is actually a tour de force for gourmets and devotees of fine wine.

Taking its name from the Japanese word for “spirit,” the intimate Seishin, seating just 24 guests, specialises in Asian Haute Cuisine. Featuring a central, interactive ‘table du chef,’ exponents sculpt Sushi and Sashimi and are masters at Teppan grilling.

This wholesome experience highlights ‘cuisine naturelle’ and the chefs are adept at presentation with Asian flair. The highlight of any visit to Seishin, though, is the 9-course Kaiseki d