If you're lucky enough to book more than one luxury cruise during your lifetime, you could end up selecting one itinerary on Crystal Cruises and another on Silversea. Both share high standards when it comes to service and attention to detail. The lines each offer all-inclusive fares that include things like gratuities and nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages, and they both sail to some of the world's most beautiful regions, including Antarctica, Australia/New Zealand and Africa.
When it comes to making the tough choice between Crystal or Silversea, a lot of cruisers in the know actually give this advice: Leave it up to the destination. That's because both lines offer a truly top-notch product, so sometimes it comes down to which line is sailing where you want to go and when.
The size of vessel you prefer will also help you make the choice. When it comes to ocean-going cruise ships (rather than the lines' yachts, expedition vessels and riverboats), Crystal sails larger ships than Silversea. Silversea also offers a butler to serve every single cabin, so if that level of service is important to you, Silversea gets nudged to the top of the stack.
What elements of the luxury cruise experience are most important to you and how does Silversea stack up vs. Crystal Cruises? Let's find out.
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Crystal currently has two cruise ships -- the 922-passenger Crystal Symphony (launched 1995) and 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity (2003) -- and one yacht, the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit (2015).
The line will introduce five riverboats, with the first launching in July 2016, and three Crystal Exclusive Class ships with onboard residences -- the first of which will launch in 2019 with additional ships debuting thereafter (dates to be determined). Crystal Endeavour, a polar-class megayacht, debuts August 2018. The line also signed a purchase option to restore the historic ocean liner, the S.S. United States.
Silversea's fleet is made up of five luxury cruise ships: the 540-passenger Silver Spirit (launched in 2009), 388-passenger Silver Whisper (2001), 282-passenger Silver Shadow (2000), 298-passenger Silver Wind (1995) and 260-passenger Silver Cloud (1994). The 596-passenger luxury ship, Silver Muse, will launch in May 2017.
It also has three expedition ships: the 120-passenger Silver Discoverer (launched 2014), the 100-passenger Silver Galapagos (launched in 2013) and 132-passenger Silver Explorer (built in 1989, refurbished for Silversea in 2008). Silver Cloud, currently a cruise ship for the line, will become more of an expedition vessel in August 2017, after some upgrades and retrofits. While it will continue to carry 260 passengers on most cruises, it will limit passengers on polar cruises to 200.
This article will focus mainly on both lines' cruise ships, rather than the expedition vessels, riverboats and yachts.
Both Crystal Cruises and Silversea are highly inclusive cruise lines. They include all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and gratuities in the cruise fare.
Choose Crystal if you're looking for high-end service delivered for the right price.
When it comes to luxury cruise lines, Crystal's pricing structure is appealing because it's often lower than comparable sailings on competitors' ships. That's the case, for the most part, when comparing Crystal cruise fares to those available from Silversea. We looked at seven itineraries around the world and in all but two cases -- the Mediterranean and Africa -- Crystal offered a lower per diem. The price differential was less (about 17 percent) in places like Alaska and the Caribbean, and greater (as much as 40 percent less) for Asian and Australia/New Zealand voyages.
Choose Silversea if you don't mind paying a bit more for smaller ships and a butler.
While Silversea's cruise fares can be a bit more expensive than Crystal's, you benefit from two major selling points: Silversea's cruise ships are smaller than Crystal's and every cabin in Silversea's fleet is attended by a butler trained by The Guild of Professional English Butlers. If you'd prefer not to sail with 1,000 or so passengers, you can opt for Silversea's ships, which range from 260 to 540 passengers. Some people think the lower passenger count on Silversea ships ensures a higher level of service and personalized attention.
Both Crystal Cruises and Silversea offer varied cruise experiences to their passengers. Crystal is launching a series of riverboats starting in the summer of 2016, and has orders in for a new yacht as well as three "Exclusive Class" cruise ships. It also has plans to restore the S.S. United States. Likewise, Silversea offers a fleet of expedition vessels that take active individuals on adventures in the Polar regions as well as Micronesia and Melanasia, Australia and New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands and more. If you're looking for a world cruise, both lines offer one annually and both sail to all points around the globe -- from Alaska and the Mediterranean to the South Pacific, Australia, Southeast Asia and Middle East. No matter where you want to go, Crystal and Silversea can get you there.
Choose Crystal if you want to visit Antarctica but you're not interested in an expedition ship.
Most Antarctica adventures are undertaken aboard expedition ships, some of which lack the panache that luxury cruise ships possess. Crystal sails its own Serenity to the Great White Continent during a combo cruise that includes calls along the east and west coasts of South America for places like Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Puerto Madryn, as well as destinations along the Chilean coast such as Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, the Chilean Fjords and Valparaiso. You'll also get to visit Port Stanley, sail around Cape Horn, visit Elephant Island in Antarctica and sail the infamous Drake Passage. Like expedition voyages, you will make landings via skiff and enjoy lecturers by knowledgeable naturalists. The only difference between Seabourn voyages and those from expedition companies is how deep into Antarctica the ship explores. Expedition vessels generally go farther into the Antarctic.
Or if you want to try a theme cruise.
These days, you'll see theme cruises advertised by just about all of the cruise lines. Crystal is very strong in this arena, and its Wine & Food Festival, offered several times a year throughout the world, is especially popular. Some of your favorite chefs -- the cheeky Brit Jamie Oliver, Miami's Michael Schwartz and London's Alexis Gauthier -- have all been special guests on Crystal Wine & Food Festival voyages, as has chef Nobu Matsuhisa, who is the mastermind behind Crystal's own Silk Road Asian restaurant and The Sushi Bar. If culinary delights aren't your passion, Crystal offers a spectacular Big Band and Ballroom Dance voyage plus others geared to style and fashion, movies and theater, jazz, golf and more.
Choose Silversea if you want more choice in Alaska.
Silver Shadow spends all season (May through early September) sailing between Vancouver and Seward. These well-priced, seven-night voyages call on Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Sitka, and the ship does some scenic cruising near Hubbard Glacier. Crystal sails Alaska as well but only a handful of itineraries per year, so your choices are much more limited.
Or you want to cruise Africa.
Silversea has a terrific track record when it comes to offering interesting voyages around Africa. Each year, a dozen or so itineraries are offered with options such as Mombasa, Kenya, to Cape Town South Africa, plus several roundtrip options out of Cape Town that visit Walvis Bay in Namibia and then the South African ports of Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Richards Bay and Mossel Bay.
When it comes to cabin selection on Crystal and Silversea, you have options. Crystal offers six categories aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, from the Deluxe Stateroom with picture windows to similar rooms with verandas to a series of penthouse suites. Silversea has seven categories of accommodations, including the Vista Suite (with picture windows) and Veranda Suites, which are the same as Vista cabins with the addition of a balcony. A variety of large-scale suites fills the upper five categories. Almost all of Silversea's accommodations are slightly larger than comparable options on Crystal.
Choose Crystal if you need an allergy-free stateroom.
If you're constantly grabbing for the tissue box when you travel, you might want to try one of Crystal's Deluxe PURE Staterooms, which can be found in categories P1 and P2 aboard Crystal Serenity and A2 and A3 aboard Crystal Symphony. What makes these cabins hypoallergenic? The housekeeping staff run through a seven-step checklist that purifies both the air and all surfaces in the suite, which are inspected every six months.
Choose Silversea if you want a spacious suite and a butler.
Silversea's staterooms are well sized and more spacious than comparable cabins on Crystal ships. While Crystal only offers butler service to passengers in Penthouse with Veranda, Penthouse Suite with Veranda and Crystal Penthouse categories, every single stateroom aboard Silversea's ships is looked after by a butler, who has been trained by The Guild of Professional English Butlers.
Yours will greet you upon embarkation and set up your suite according to your preferences. That includes things like making sure you have your choice of pillows (goose down, hypoallergenic or therapeutic), alcohol in your bar setup and bath products (Ferragamo or Bvlgari). He can unpack your bags, if you'd like. He'll also assist by making dining reservations on your behalf and serving breakfast on your verandah.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you prefer set dining times.
Crystal allows cruisers to make reservations for dinner at the time of their choosing each evening, or they may select a set dining time to enjoy throughout the voyage. Early seating starts between 6 and 6:15 p.m. and late seating begins at 8:30 p.m. With set seating, you may still ask the maitre d' to seat you with different passengers each evening instead of dining at the same table every night.
Or if you want to dine at specialty restaurants for free.
While Silversea charges $40 per person for meals at Seishin and Le Champagne, there are no additional fees at any of Crystal's three specialty dining venues: Silk Road, The Sushi Bar and Prego. Both Silk Road and The Sushi Bar are under the domain of master chef Nobu Matsuhisa. If you've never been to a Nobu restaurant on land, this is your opportunity at sea. Silk Road melds the flavors of Asia and Peru with menu items that incorporate flavors from ingredients such as truffles and yuzu (a citrus fruit from East Asia). At The Sushi Bar, you can either sit "at the bar" or at tables to enjoy a variety of sushi rolls and sashimi, along with free sake. For everyone who loves Italian cuisine, Prego will be your go-to dining venue.
Choose Silversea if you appreciate Relais & Chateaux restaurants, because the cruise line has the one only at sea.
Five Silversea ships -- Spirit, Wind, Shadow, Cloud and Whisper -- feature Le Champagne, a super intimate dining venue with just seven tables. This coveted reservation means you'll have the opportunity to dine at the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea. Why is that such a big deal? The organization is a collection of the ritziest gourmet restaurants, boutique hotels, classy resorts and impressive villas the world has to offer, and it assisted Silversea with the design of the menu at Le Champagne. The six-course menu can be paired with fine wines, and most diners take the suggestions of the sommelier seriously. Traditional food is cooked to perfection here and might include things like grilled lamb chops, seared sea scallops or even venison served with a raspberry sauce.
Or if you want to dine under the stars.
On certain Silversea ships, you can book dinner under the stars at The Grill (also known as Hot Rocks). It's a unique low-key venue on deck with a twist: Volcanic rocks heated to 400 degrees are placed on your table, and you cook your meal of meat, fish and veggies yourself. It's a lot of fun and allows you to cook your own meal. If you're worried that you'll over- or undercook your meat, or don't want to cook at all on a cruise, a night out at Hot Rocks might not be right for you; however, this is a nice option when it's formal-optional night and you don't feel like dressing for dinner. The dress code at The Grill is always casual.
Crystal and Silversea ships are still a lot of fun after the sun sets. Crystal, with its larger ships, offers more spacious lounges and a variety of onboard entertainers -- everything from pianists and singers to a small orchestra. Silversea opts to offer a larger number of smaller venues for socializing, dancing and listening to music. Both lines offer Broadway-style shows in their theaters, as well as casinos.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you'd like to twirl around the dance floor.
Of all luxury lines, Crystal goes to the greatest lengths to cater to dance aficionados. The line makes sure its ships have spacious dance floors to accommodate special events, and passengers have an opportunity to dance every night at the Stardust Lounge. Even if you aren't traveling with a dance partner, you can still participate in this popular Crystal pastime because the line has a fantastic program called Ambassador Hosts. Crystal screens and hires accomplished ballroom dancers to dance with its passengers, so you can be sure you'll be able to dance the night away. The line guarantees each sailing will have male dance hosts, and certain sailings throughout the year also offer female dance partners. It's a nice touch that dance fans appreciate. (Silversea also offers dance hosts.) In addition, the line runs several themed itineraries per year that are devoted to dancing.
Choose Silversea if you love the idea of dining while listening to music.
Silversea's popular Stars Supper Club aboard Silver Spirit tips its hat to the dining, drinking and dancing establishments popular in America's cities during the 1930s. Think Rainbow Room (which was the inspiration for Stars' interior design) meets the Apollo Theater. Here, with an Art Deco vibe, you'll find comfy banquette seating and intimate lamp-lit tables -- all with a view of the stage, so you can watch cabaret-style shows during dinner. Entertainment ranges from full jazz ensembles to a singer with a pianist. The menu consists of a variety of small plates featuring cuisine from around the globe. This is a fun spot to enjoy with friends.
Choose Crystal if you're traveling with kids.
Crystal Cruises doesn't offer the same level of childcare that the mass-market lines like Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line do, but it does provide supervised activities for kids between the ages of 3 and 17 on certain sailings each year. Look for holiday sailings and those during the summer months when the kids are out of school. Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony both have a playroom called Fantasia where there are arts and crafts activities, board games and a large-screen TV for group viewing of movies and cartoons. Teenagers gravitate to Waves, the video arcade that's got Sony PlayStation, Wii and X Box 360 kiosks. Babysitters are available if you'd like to leave the kids behind one night and have a grown-up dinner.
Choose Silversea if you're hoping to avoid children on your cruise.
Silversea doesn't cater to families with small children. While you might see the occasional child onboard, the ships provide no special services for young cruisers. That means no kids club and no private babysitting. If you're the type of person that loves little kids but would prefer not to see them during your vacation, Silversea is a good bet.