Silver Explorer is an all-suite ice-class (1A) ship delivering a true expedition experience with posh onboard amenities and excellent service. The ship was last refurbished in 2009, but is impeccably maintained and possesses a timeless classic decor.
The destination might be the main focus of an expedition cruise, but that does not mean Silversea ignores the onboard experience. Recently, the luxury line has been moving crew between its classic cruise ships and the expedition fleet (except for the Silver Galapagos), resulting in a higher level of service and cuisine onboard the expedition vessels. Previously, those ships were inconsistent in those areas. Now, dining choices are modern, varied and sophisticated, prepared with excellent ingredients by skilled Silversea chefs. Crew affection for each other and for passengers makes for a relaxed, pampering cruise. We have rarely encountered a crew who act as happy as this one.
All passengers, no matter the suite level, are assigned butlers -- a rare treat on an expedition ship. Well-trained and highly experienced, they cater to passengers' every whim -- and then some. For instance, you might return to your suite from a chilly outing and discover that the butler and suite attendant have prepared a scented bubble bath replete with flickering battery-operated candles.
But fine dining and butlers are not why passengers choose to take an expedition trip. It's the lure of exotic destinations; Silver Explorer's most popular itineraries are the Arctic and Antarctic.
Here, too, the ship excels. A fleet of Zodiacs ensures all passengers experience multiple outings, usually twice daily.
Expedition teams include highly experienced and enthusiastic biologists, historians, geologists and ornithologists, among the Ph.D.-heavy group. Most importantly, they impart in-depth knowledge in an entertaining upbeat fashion. Team members often dine with passengers. Silversea Expeditions also enjoys an exclusive partnership with the Royal Geographical Society, which provides additional scientific and historical information (often seen in the library or on ship display).
Daytime on Silver Explorer is devoted to expedition exploration. When passengers do have free time onboard, they're typically attending lectures by the expedition team, reading and playing board games like Monopoly in the library or relaxing in The Observation and The Panorama Lounges. Some passengers hit the gym or spa, but be prepared that both are tiny. Occasionally, the ship offers a wine tasting or cooking demonstration.
Late in the day, passengers enjoy more traditional cruise ship pastimes, like afternoon tea, cocktails, and multicourse dinners with entertainment by a keyboardist. Most retire early for morning outings.
The overall dress code is relaxed. Casual attire is the daytime norm. In the evening, guests wear resort attire; men in polo shirts and slacks, women in nice tops and slacks. No shorts or jeans are allowed in The Restaurant -- although on the last night the rule is usually ignored. Passengers typically dress up for the Captain's Welcome Aboard and Captain's Farewell Parties (sport jackets, tie-optional for men; dresses or pantsuits for women). That said, we have seen some passengers stick to regular nightly attire.
Silversea offers detailed packing recommendations for the off-ship portions of the cruise. Do heed suggestions. Lists, particularly for polar cruises, might seem lengthy, but you'll be glad when prepared for extreme climes. Each passenger on polar expeditions is provided with a complimentary parka, waterproof jacket and backpack. There's a selection of boots to borrow onboard for wet landings (Zodiac landings in shallow water), but sizes are limited. Silversea also provides a source for ordering fully outfitted clothing and accessory packages, delivered to your home or to the ship.
Cruises include all shore excursions, meals, snacks and room service, alcohol and gratuities. Laundry room use is complimentary. The only additional costs incurred are for spa and beauty salon treatments (no tipping necessary), cigars at the Connoisseur's Corner, laundry service (except for top suites) and wines and spirits from a premium list. The onboard currency is the American dollar.
For each shore excursion, expedition team members hold briefings the evening before in The Theatre on Deck 6. Briefings -- where servers offer cocktails of the day or a drink of passenger choice -- are well attended. The outing's degree of physical difficulty is elaborated so passengers can decide if they are up for the expedition. Occasionally, groups are divided by physical ability for hikes, which could be anything from a walk to a strenuous uphill climb. If motor coaches are involved, about 30 passengers travel together on the bus and split up into smaller groups for tours. On Zodiacs, passengers go out in groups of eight to 10. Passengers have primarily come on the cruise for these outings, so excursions are immensely popular. Everyone is accommodated, and all excursions are included.
Most excursions are done by Zodiac, and there is usually one each morning and afternoon. Sometimes, the outing is only by Zodiac, when passengers search for birds, whales, bears and other wildlife. If passengers go onshore, they know in advance if the landing is dry or wet (stepping into shallow water, with assistance). Onshore activities include hikes and walks, and coach drives to museums, waterfalls or other exotic sceneries and landmarks. Zodiac handlers are excellent in helping passengers in and out of the boats.
Excursions mostly fascinate and expedition team members offer compelling insight along the way. Local guides who speak fluent English often meet passengers at destinations.
Just remember, expeditions are subject to Mother Nature, so passengers should be prepared for Zodiac times to change or be postponed due to unsafe water or land conditions. Flexibility is vital to fully enjoy any expedition travel.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Typical of small expedition ships, Silver Explorer does not offer much onboard entertainment, just a sole keyboardist who entertains at cocktail hours and in The Restaurant at lunch and dinnertime. There is an occasional complimentary wine tasting or chef demonstration cooking class, and daily trivia. One evening, a movie might be screened in The Theatre that showcases the region visited. On the last night, the onboard videographer and photographer show a film of voyage highlights shot during the cruise, and it's available for purchase. The DVD also includes many photographs taken by the professional photographer.
Informative, humorous and stimulating expedition team lectures are the primary enrichment offerings. They're held in The Theatre on Deck 6, usually in the afternoon. There is one big screen and mounted televisions for passengers sitting farther back. On our cruise, we didn't see even one passenger nodding off. In fact, indicative of an engrossed audience, many asked questions. An expedition team photographer sometimes offers photography lessons. Most lectures focused on what passengers will see the next day; expedition team members also recap the day's highlights. Sometimes, toward the voyage conclusion, a lecturer might offer a fun pop quiz, which passengers enjoy.
Bars and lounges are fairly popular pre-dinner, where passengers socialize and often choose their evening dinner companions. Generally speaking, the nightlife scene is very quiet onboard.
Panorama Lounge (Deck 5): Tucked away in a quiet corner with large picture window views is a cosy bar and comfortable lounge with soft leather couches. Late-risers coffee and pastries, bouillon, afternoon tea and cocktail-hour tapas are served here. The bar opens at 9:30 a.m. and stays open until "late," meaning when the last passenger leaves. With busy days ahead, most passengers retire early. During the day, the lounge is quiet, as most passengers are out on expeditions, or, when back onboard, relaxing or lunching before the next outing. Some passengers come for early cocktails before the pre-dinner cocktail briefing.
Connoisseur's Corner (Deck 5): This space is glass-enclosed; all the better to trap the pungent smells of cigars as aficionados puff away. With buttery leather couches and an array of fine cigars for purchase, this lounge attracts those who love to light up and pay extra for high-end Scotch and cognac. It's the only spot passengers are allowed to smoke onboard -- inside or out.
Observation Lounge (Deck 6): All the way forward with big glass windows, this lounge with comfy chairs and couches stars expansive, often breathtaking, scenery. Passengers often bring books (or select one from lounge shelves) and read quietly, peeking often at the view. Early-risers coffee and pastries begin at 6 a.m. The Observation Lounge tends to be a quiet refuge rather than a chatty hangout. Bar service is available.
The Grill Bar (Deck 6): This small bar is open from 10 a.m. until mid-evening, weather permitting. Most passengers enjoy this nook whenever possible for the ocean views and sea air.
There are two hot tubs on Deck 6 in the aft. In polar weather, only the brave hop in. They are open between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. On Deck 7, there is a small observation viewing area, without seating. Passengers can walk much of Deck 6. It's narrow, and not a flat walk -- occasionally, there are steps up and down and a few thresholds -- but this pathway allows for a little outdoor exercise, plus scenery and possible wildlife viewing.
There is a 24-hour staffed reception desk and expedition office (both on Deck 3) and a library with books (including destination guidebooks), magazines and board games like Scrabble on Deck 5. The 24-hour Internet Cafe inside the library has four stations with seven Wi-Fi packages listed, such as $30 for one day and seven-day packages for $140.
A spacious boutique on Deck 4 features perfume and jewellery, beyond the typical incidentals and practical cold or warm-weather clothing. There's also a medical centre on Deck 3, and one self-service launderette with two washers and dryers and ironing facilities on Deck 4.
The Spa on Deck 6 consists of one small treatment room named Jasmine on one side of the hallway, and a sauna and steam room directly across from it. (No one under 18-years-old is allowed in.) The Steiner-trained-and-managed therapists are competent and offer a wide array of services, including hot stone full-body and frangipani scalp massages. Elemis products are used. You can also try a 15-minute mini-treatment like shoulder massages or recharge facials at a most reasonable cost. Tipping is not required.
The spa does get busy. As most expedition cruises involve lengthy flights and sometimes excursions are long days of walking or hiking, passengers appreciate the pampering and getting sore muscles unknotted. Make reservations in advance. The spa is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. The steam room is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m.
A small beauty salon on Deck 4 offers everything from haircuts to pedicures. We never noticed the salon particularly busy on an Arctic cruise, as most passengers are less concerned with appearances on an expedition ship than a traditional cruise. Besides, most of the day they are bundled up. However, on expeditions in warm climes where passengers wear less clothing and more sandals, the salon is busier. The salon is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Reservations should be made in advance, particularly for welcome and farewell party nights, and on expeditions in hot climates.
Typical for an expedition ship, the Fitness Centre on Deck 4 is tiny and basic, with a treadmill, elliptical trainer, stationary bicycle, total-body workout machine and a bench. There are some free weights and two scales. Mats are provided, but there is nowhere to stretch out if the machines are busy. Towels, water and antiseptic wipe-down cloths are provided. The Fitness Centre is open from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.
By moving chefs between the classic and expedition fleets, Silver Explorer now offers a more sophisticated, elegant and varied dining experience than before. Modern European cuisine is primarily showcased, prepared with fresh regional ingredients and light sauces. The menu concept is continual, no matter where the ship travels. Executive chefs stock up in major ports to secure continuity of product and cuisine.
Lunch and dinnertime choices are plentiful and often star labour-intensive dishes and fancy garnishes. Vegetarian and gluten-free choices are available. (For other dietary concerns, let Silversea know in advance, and the line will cater to nearly any request.) All meals are open seating, with tables for two and up. Both The Restaurant and The Grill are complimentary.
The Restaurant (Deck 4): The Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can dine as you wish -- with other passengers or at tables for two. Tables for four are often converted to two, per passenger request.
Breakfast is displayed on a permanent expansive buffet lining one side of The Restaurant. Choices consist of juices, fresh-blended health smoothies, cereals, nuts and seeds, smoked salmon, egg dishes, bacon, cheeses, pastries, fresh and dried fruit, and freshly baked breads. You can order pancakes, waffles and omelettes cooked as requested.
Lunch is a substantial buffet featuring a soup and pasta of the day (both excellent), changing daily roasted meat like turkey or pork carved to order, a spicy Asian dish and chafing dishes filled with grilled or sauteed fish and chicken, vegetables, rice and potatoes. Occasionally, a gala table showcases a big cheese or local fish display, and, if you're lucky, caviar and blinis purchased during a Russian cruise. Desserts include tarts, cakes, cookies, pies and fresh fruit.
Dinner includes a chef-recommended menu, plus five courses of a la carte selections, with waiter service. (Most passengers go all-out, so don't hold back.) Selections include appetizers like fricassee of forest mushrooms; an intermezzo of soup or pasta such as risotto with aged Parmesan and asparagus; sorbet of the day; entrees such as whole free-range chicken roasted in rock salt, or beef Wellington; and desserts such as passion fruit cream with honey-roasted pear. Petits fours are presented nightly.
Complimentary wines are both New and Old World, and include modest-priced but decent bottles like California's Bogle Merlot, and the Italian Custodi Belloro Orvieto Classico. The Connoisseur's Wine List features high-end Champagnes like Dom Perignon and Bollinger, first-growth Burgundy, Italian Super Tuscans and Australia's stellar Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series. And for big spenders, what better way to complete dinner than with Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes?
Afternoon Tea (Deck 5): Afternoon tea is an elaborate affair served in The Panorama Lounge, usually around 4 p.m., for one hour. An extensive Ronnefeldt loose-tea menu includes some 10 varieties, such as Jasmine Pearls green tea, classic English black tea and Dung Ti Oolong. Passengers sit at cloth-covered tables on comfy leather couches and chairs, nibbling goodies served on a three-tier silver tray.
The assortment includes small sandwiches, such as smoked salmon or cucumber, pound cakes and cookies, and tiny fruit and chocolate tarts. Buttermilk, raisin or chocolate-chip scones with clotted cream, butter and assorted jams are served on request.
The Grill (Deck 6): The Grill is a small, open-air venue, with a fabulous ocean view and a handful of casual patio tables. It's open for lunch, cocktails and dinner, weather permitting. Reservations should be made for dinner. Even in chilly or downright frosty weather, The Grill will serve meals. (Of course, in inclement weather -- think high winds, rain -- The Grill closes.) Hearty passengers put on insulated jackets and hats, and servers provide thick wool blankets in Polar Regions.
At lunchtime, a small salad buffet includes charcuterie, smoked salmon and open-faced sandwiches. The menu includes hamburgers, hot dogs and grilled fish. Sometimes cooks add a speciality, like a panini pressed to order.
At dinner, the menu is "hot rocks," where passengers are supplied bibs and cook veal and pork chops, steaks and salmon overheated volcanic rock plates. Peruse the small menu for guacamole, salsa and tortilla chips, then begin with a salad like Caesar. Sides include baked potatoes with all the trimmings and vegetable skewers. Apple pie or mousse constitutes dessert.
Room Service: In-suite dining is available 24 hours a day and is complimentary. Breakfast can be ordered the night before (convenient for early-morning outings) and includes cappuccinos, omelettes and three types of bacon. Lunch and dinner choices include salads, matzo ball soup, sandwiches, pasta and steak. Butlers deliver all meals and elegantly set the small table. During The Restaurant's dinner hours, you can order off the evening menu, and butlers can serve the meal course by course.
All 66 accommodations are posh ocean-view suites, divided into 10 categories. They are classically styled with richly grained wood, plush carpeting, bright-hued accents and flat-screen HD televisions. All have seating areas of varying sizes. The smallest suites have portholes; the largest have verandas. Space is well utilized, and storage is adequate.
All suites have writing desks with personalized stationery, safes, mini-bars stocked with passengers' preferences and filtered water, stainless steel water bottles, hair dryers, Etro robes and slippers, seating areas with a wood-trimmed glass table and bathtubs (most are shower/tub combinations). A sewing kit, shoeshine bag and lint brush are also provided.
Most beds convert between queen and twins. Matermoll mattresses, from an Italian luxury firm, feature Pratesi linens and down duvets. Passengers choose from a pillow menu with nine choices. The flat-screen television has interactive video, on-demand movies and music, and satellite news channels (although news channels might not work in remote regions). All suites are Wi-Fi accessible. Electrical outlets are 220-volt; bring a 110-volt converter for charging smartphones and computers.
Bathrooms are small, with marble flooring and granite counters, and an oval vessel sink. There is an expansive wall mirror but no makeup mirror. Laura Tonatto (a high-end Italian perfumier) scented reed diffusers, in fragrances like Shanghai (we suppose there isn't a polar scent yet), rest in a glass bottle on the counter.
Cotton puffs and cotton swabs are provided. Choose between Bulgari, Salvatore Ferragamo and Neutrogena toiletries, such as shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion and soap bars, restocked as needed. (If you ask for more than one brand, your request will probably be graciously received.) Store personal items on glass shelving. with additional shelving below. The combination tub/shower includes a clothesline.
Each night, passengers find a turndown chocolate treat, such as a gold foil-wrapped gianduja (hazelnut-flavoured). One night, it can be a gift box of exquisite chocolates from award-winning Belgian confectioner Pierre Marcolini, in intense flavours like caramel ginger.
There are 16 connecting suites and no suites designed for the physically challenged.
Oceanview: Between 157 and 167 square feet, the six Adventure Suites on Deck 3 are the smallest accommodations and have two portholes for ocean views. The seating area has two chairs and a small table. Despite the optimistic title, these accommodations are more cabin than suite.
The eight Explorer Suites on Deck 4 run between 175 and 190 square feet, with a picture window instead of portholes.
The 12 View Suites on Deck 3 are 192 square feet and have a picture window. Four have sofa beds for small children. The Vista Suites are identical, but located on Deck 4.
Balcony: The eight Veranda Suites on Deck 5 are 206 to 216 square feet. These roomier suites have floor-to-ceiling windows with a 16-square-foot French balcony.
Expedition Suite: Considerably larger, the eight Expedition Suites on Decks 3 and 4 are between 388 and 397 square feet. They have a separate living room, walk-in wardrobe, two flat-screen televisions and two picture windows. The living room has a sofa bed to accommodate a third passenger. Amenities include complimentary laundry service and unlimited complimentary internet access.
Medallion Suite: These two suites on Deck 7 are 400 square feet, which includes an 86-square-foot teak-trimmed veranda with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and patio furniture. They have a full-size bathtub and separate shower with a clothesline. Amenities include all the perks Expedition Suites receive, plus afternoon canapes upon request and dinner at an officer's table.
Silver Suite: The six Silver Suites on Deck 5 have a separate living room, sofa bed to accommodate a third person, two flat-screen televisions and with two French balconies, total 422 square feet. The bathroom has a full-size bathtub and separate shower, and a walk-in wardrobe. Passengers receive all the amenities of the Medallion Suites.
Grand Suite: The two one-bedroom Grand Suites on Deck 7 are 618 square feet, including a private teak-trimmed balcony at 86 square feet, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, patio furniture and a lounge chair. Passengers receive all the amenities of Silver Suites, plus an illy espresso machine and two hours of worldwide phone use from the suite per voyage segment.
Owner's Suite: Tucked discreetly away on Deck 7, the most exclusive two suites run 728 square feet, including a 158-square-foot veranda. Passengers really enjoy those verandas, even in polar regions; they dress warmly and use them to privately view the wondrous scenery and wildlife. Amenities are the same as for the Grand Suite.