The concept of a luxury expedition cruise used to be a thing of fantasy. Expedition cruises, historically, were serious voyages operated aboard serious ships. Ex-research vessels, former icebreakers and the like were pressed into service because of their technical abilities, particularly in the world’s polar regions, where rough weather and ever-shifting ice were a constant concern. They offered few creature comforts, with cabins that could politely be described as “spartan.”
Then, in 2007, ultra-luxury line Silversea turned expedition cruising on its head with the introduction of Silver Explorer, the company’s first luxury expedition ship. Originally named Prince Albert II, she took expedition cruising to new heights, offering butler service and the same exemplary amenities and Relais & Chateaux-inspired cuisine the line was known for.
Silver Explorer quickly made her home in the world’s polar regions, offering cruises to Antarctica during the winter, and voyages to the Arctic in the summer months, when the midnight sun is at its brightest.
Built in 1989 as the Delfin Clipper, her rugged, ice-strengthened hull is all that remains of the original vessel: Silversea gutted the interiors to make way for larger suites and improved public rooms, with a décor that mimics that found on the line’s former flagship, the 2009-built Silver Spirit.
At the time of Silver Explorer’s introduction, no other luxury line was tempted to follow suit. Some said that luxury travellers would eschew adventure cruising. Others doubted the venture would be successful.
But successful it was – so much so that Silversea quickly added two other expedition vessels to its fleet over the intervening decade: the 120-guest Silver Discoverer and the 100-guest Silver Galapagos.
As the name suggests, Silver Galapagos is based year-round in Ecuador, where she sails alternating weeklong itineraries to the North and South-Central Galapagos Islands. Silver Discoverer is more of a globetrotter, exploring the Pacific from Australia’s rugged Kimberley Coast to the far reaches of Russia’s Far East and the hidden passageways of Alaska and British Columbia.
Still, even with three expedition ships, it isn’t uncommon for these voyages to be completely sold-out months in advance. Antarctica, the Arctic and Galapagos can be wait-listed up to a year in advance for the most popular dates. One-off cruises, like Silver Discoverer’s voyages between Alaska and Japan, can be brutally tough to get a spot on – even as they command premium prices.
Where there is demand, there also has to be supply. To better meet the increased demand for luxury expedition cruises, Silversea came up with a radical idea: rather than try to build or acquire a new expedition cruise ship (both of which take precious time), the line announced it would convert its very first ship, the 1995-built Silver Cloud, into an ice-strengthened expedition ship.
“Silver Explorer’s polar expedition cruises have proven hugely popular with our guests,” the line said in a statement. “By converting Silver Cloud into an ice-class ship for our expedition fleet, we will be better positioned to meet the increasing demand for comfortable adventure travel, particularly to the Arctic and Antarctica, places that are best explored by small ships specially equipped with ice-strengthened hulls.”
Starting in August, Silver Cloud will go into drydock for three months for her conversion into Silver Cloud Expedition. Her guest count will be reduced from 296 to just 260, with a further reduction to just 200 for sailings to the Arctic and Antarctica in order to comply with Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) and International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) requirements regarding sustainable tourism in these regions.
As part of this refurbishment, Silver Cloud will be outfitted with 18 Zodiac rafts for explorations ashore, with one Expedition Team member guiding no more than 12 guests for more personal, one-on-one knowledge and experiences.
The ship will also be outfitted with additional Silver Suites that measure 50 square meters (541 square feet) apiece, and will have her existing accommodations completely refurbished. This includes the ship’s two massive, forward-facing Grand Suites that, at 95 square meters (1,019 square feet) in a one-bedroom configuration or 122 square meters (1,314 square feet) with an attached Veranda suite, will become some of the largest and most luxurious accommodations available on an expedition vessel.
Added to this, Silver Cloud will feature five dining options: the ship’s main Restaurant; the Relais & Chateaux-infused cuisines of Le Champagne; the Italian-themed La Terrazza; casual on-deck dining at The Grill; and 24-hour in-suite dining that, like every ship in the Silversea fleet, will allow guests to order off the main dining room menu if they so choose.
Silver Cloud Expedition will feature a dedicated onboard expedition team that will guide adventures ashore, deliver lectures onboard, photo presentations, and daily recaps. Exploratory excursions are complimentary, and led by a team of experts, including marine biologists, ornithologists, geologists, botanists, historians, and anthropologists.
Silver Cloud Expedition will make her debut on November 15, 2017, when she sails her first voyage to Antarctica. A 16-day journey between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, her inaugural voyage includes six days exploring Antarctica coupled with port calls in Puerto Madryn; West Point Island; Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; and the South Shetland Islands.
Her Antarctica season continues through spring, when she sets sail for Cape Town, South Africa for a series of expedition voyages on the African continent. After expeditions along the western coast of Europe, England, Scotland and Norway, she arrives in Longyearbyen on June 24, 2018 to begin her summer season of Arctic voyages through Northern Svalbard.
Silversea pioneered the concept of the luxury expedition cruise back in 2007. Now, a decade on, there are more options than ever before for those who want to have an adventure in the world’s most remote places – without sacrificing a single creature comfort.