The line has become the first to lengthen a luxury cruise ship. Jane Archer was at the Fincantieri shipyard in Sicily to witness history being made
When Silver Spirit launched in December 2009, it was just under 200m long and accommodated 540 passengers. When it leaves the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Sicily, on May 1, it will not only have gained another 15m as a new section is inserted into the superstructure, but have 34 more suites and capacity for 608 passengers.
It will also have had a complete makeover to bring the décor and dining in line with Silver Muse, the Silversea ship launched in 2017.
The concept of cutting a ship in half and putting it back together with an extra bit in the middle sounds an amazing feat of engineering. In fact, so many cruise lines have done it that these days it is “routine surgery”, according to Silversea’s technical guru Andrea Zito. However, Silversea says it is first luxury line to undertake the operation.
Much of Silver Spirit’s furniture had been unloaded and distributed to local charities in Crete before it arrived in Palermo so the yard workers were able to get to work fast.
The first job was to tag some 1,300 cables, air ducts and pipes – basically all the services that would be cut – so they could be matched to labels on the same services once the mid-section was inserted. Then the cutters moved in.
Project manager Brian Swensen said: “The biggest challenges are logistics and communication. Get the planning right and people working as a team and the rest falls into place.”
On the afternoon of Silver Spirit’s fourth day in dry-dock, I watched as the final cut was made and the front half of the ship inched slowly away from the back on a system of skid pads and hydraulic jacks and the mid-section started to manoeuvre into position. Just 24 hours later, I was back at the yard to see the new section slide into place.
Once Silver Spirit is welded back together, the refurbishment starts. It’s a big job, not only adding more top-flight accommodation, but changing the décor and reinventing the dining experience.
Among the changes two restaurants, Atlantide and Indochine (respectively a steakhouse and an Asian eatery), will replace the dining room. Both made their debut on Silver Muse, are complimentary and don’t need reservations.
The Stars Supper Club will be reinvented as Silver Note, a venue that serves up jazz and light bites, and there’ll be a new Arts Café for drinks and snacks as well as a pizza restaurant. All the new venues, which replicate the outlets that were introduced on Silver Muse last year, will be detailed in a module in Silversea’s training academy.
It’s all costing a cool $70 million, which seems a lot to add space for just 34 more suites, but UK managing director Peter Shanks said it is considerably less than building a new ship (Silversea already has one new ship on order for 2020 and more in the pipeline) and will be set against extra revenue over many years given that Spirit is only nine years old.
He added: “There is a new drive and ambition to improve the fleet so there will be more refurbishments. We can’t add all the venues to the smaller ships but they will be refurbished in the image of Muse.”
Shanks joined Silversea in January as UK managing director and said the motivation behind the investment is to improve standards and appeal to a new generation of clients. “We attract the Silent Generation [born between 1925 and 1946] but we want to target Baby Boomers [born between 1946 and 1964] and they demand choice and flexibility.”
He admits that Silversea has not always been trade-friendly, but says that is changing with new initiatives including Webinars Wednesdays and an agent reward scheme. There are also new marketing and resource platforms on the cruise line’s website where agents can access and personalise promotional materials and information to send to clients.
Shanks said: “Silversea is seen as a leader in the luxury market by our past cruisers, but not by others. Our challenge is to work with agents to reach customers who are looking for true luxury.”