Silversea Cruise Ships Vs. Silversea Expedition Ships

December 7, 2016
Silversea Tahiti cruise

Silversea Cruises is known for small luxury cruise ships with all-suite accommodations and butlers for every passenger. It's also recognized for its growing fleet of luxurious expedition ships. Currently, Silversea has five cruise ships (Silver Wind, Cloud, Whisper, Shadow and Spirit) and three expedition ships (Silver Explorer, Discoverer and Galapagos). Come April 2017, the fleet will grow to nine ships with five cruise ships (adding Silver Muse) and four expedition (Silver Cloud moves to the expedition fleet).

Silversea's cruise ships offer a decidedly different experience than its expedition ships. If you're pondering whether to go on a cruise or expedition with Silversea, here's how we compare the two.    

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Similarities Between Silversea Cruise Ships and Expedition Ships

Cruise and expedition ships draw a similar crowd. Passengers are generally well-heeled, well-traveled professionals and retirees. They don't travel with children. They prefer small ships, small group activities and tours, and a low-key nightlife. They are trivia players. They're also an international mix; while passengers are primarily American, many Europeans select Silversea, too. Other nationalities -- from Asian to South American -- are also represented. 

All ships offer luxury experiences. Accommodations are suites with ocean views. Passengers -- at any suite level -- have well-trained tuxedo-clad butlers, who do everything from prepare a favorite cocktail and draw bubble baths to serve dinner course-by-course in your suite. Butlers also stock mini-bars with wines and spirits, and replenish your favorites as needed. It's all included in the cruise cost.  

All ships offer the same bath amenities (except for Silver Galapagos, which provides all-natural Ecuadorian toiletries). Passengers choose between Bulgari, Salvatore Ferragamo and Neutrogena. Italian designer Laura Tonatto's reed diffusers scent marble and granite bathrooms.  

Passengers choose among nine different pillow types for their Pratesi linen and duvet-dressed beds. Some amenities, like hair dryers, sewing kits, shoehorns and cotton swabs, are in all suites. In upper-category suites (varies by ship and suite), special amenities include illy espresso-makers.

The Restaurant, the main dining room, and the casual outdoor Grill are fleetwide. The Restaurant offers elegant multicourse dining at dinnertime, including vegetarian and healthful selections. It also serves breakfast and lunch. Seating is open, with many tables for two. Dietary requests are granted with advance notice of 90 days; however, chefs go all-out to accommodate any passenger request made onboard. Extensive breakfast and lunch buffets are always options. Wines, spirits and beer are complimentary, as is 24-hour room service. 

Ships have fitness facilities of varying sizes. All have spa treatment rooms. All have a pool or hot tubs; some have both. All ships have computer terminals and complimentary Wi-Fi (minimum one hour per day per suite; length of time dependent on suite category). 

Silver Wind Silver Suite

Differences Between Silversea Expedition Ships and Cruise Ships

Passengers are often younger on expedition ships as mobility is a necessity and many outings are active. If they are older, in their 60s to late-70s, they are fit, energetic and adventurous. Some expedition passengers are not avid cruisers -- in fact, they're often first-timers -- but seek new ways to explore the world. Cruise ship passengers include many repeat cruisers and Silversea loyalists; they are often looking for a comfortable and easy way to travel the globe.

Silversea does not cater to children, and few are onboard. That said, cruise ships can take children as young as 6 months (though the line does restrict the number of kids aged under 3), while expedition ships need kids to be at least 6 years old to board a Zodiac. Generally speaking, expedition cruises are much better for families with teenagers.

Cruise ships are more luxurious than expedition ships. Suites, spas, fitness centers and restaurants are more spacious and possess more elegant design elements, such as richly grained wood and gleaming brass, than on the expedition vessels. Cruise ships also have bigger spas and beauty salons with more choices of treatments. Fitness facilities are larger and offer more workout machines and weights. Passengers also have more lounge and dining options. More suites have balconies. (Even among the cruise ships, there are differences in suite size, public areas and passenger count, so compare before you choose.) 

Cruise ships have more restaurant choices than expedition ships. For example, La Terrazza, the Italian specialty nighttime restaurant, is only on cruise ships. The intimate Relais & Chateaux-affiliated Le Champagne is only on cruise ships, though Silver Cloud will keep the venue even after its November 2017 relaunch as an expedition vessel. Silver Muse will have a version of Le Champagne with a different name -- La Dame.

In many ways, Silversea's expedition ships are mini-versions of cruise ships. Think smaller everything -- like fitness centers, salons, libraries, lounges, restaurants and other public spaces. Outdoor deck space is reduced, too. Only expedition ships carry Zodiacs and only Silver Explorer is ice-class (until Silver Cloud's 2017 debut after a refit) and can explore Polar Regions. Decor, such as art, is destination-driven. Libraries are, too.

While all ships have enrichment programs, on cruise ships, speakers include notables like authors and astronauts plus destination experts. Destination experts on cruise ships can be professors or other regional experts, and can run the gamut between dynamic and dull. On expedition ships, enrichment is always destination-oriented and lectures are provided by a highly qualified expedition team staff. They are specialists in fields like botany, marine biology and geology, and usually have a Ph.D. As non-professional lecturers, they give surprisingly stimulating, educational and often entertaining talks. Their passion is contagious. Passengers are responsive -- rare to find a snorer here -- and often ask questions, leading to engaging exchanges. These ships also have onboard photographers and videographers, who create a voyage DVD that's screened on the final night and available for purchase. A photographer might also assist passengers on expeditions to snap that perfect picture, and usually present photography lectures.

Entertainment is more diversified on cruise ships. A guest violinist or classical pianist might entertain, plus a small entertainment troupe performs regular musical revues. On expedition ships, expect only one pianist playing standards in lounges and during lunch and dinner. Expedition ships don't have casinos as do the five current cruise ships; however, when Silver Muse debuts, it will also be casino-free. 

Blue-footed bobbies doing mating dance

Shore excursions are included for expedition passengers. So are water-resistant backpacks. In Polar Regions, passengers receive parkas and stainless steel water bottles to keep and in-suite binoculars to use. Most expedition excursions are by Zodiac -- for wildlife viewing at-sea, or for transporting passengers to shore as there is usually nowhere to dock.  Many shore excursions involve gentle walks and hikes of varying degrees of difficulty to see indigenous wildlife and vegetation. Some are about snorkeling and swimming in remote waters, such as snorkeling amid jellyfish rendered stingless in an Indonesian brackish lake. Others involve bus trips, like traveling to a bat cave in the Philippines or to see orphaned orangutans in Borneo. Even in Europe, they bypass major cities and focus on remote islands and villages, emphasizing indigenous populations and wildlife. Expedition excursions are also not wheelchair or mobility-challenged friendly. 

All cruise ship passengers pay extra for excursions. Daytime excursions visit cities to tour famous sights like churches, palaces and museums, to shop, eat lunch and savor wine tastings and culinary classes. In the evenings, tours take passengers to a ballet or opera performance, or to dinner at a wine-producing chateau or Michelin-starred restaurant. Passengers on cruise ships -- which have elevators and suites for the physically challenged, while expedition ships have neither -- can find some bus tours for the mobility challenged.

The dress code is more relaxed on expedition cruises. Most days, passengers wear casual clothes, fitting for Zodiac excursions and other adventures rather than typical cruise attire. At night, passengers primarily wear nicer tops and slacks (no jeans), and for women, an occasional dress. On cruise ships, passengers wear casual but chic resort attire and pull out the silks and some jewelry for evenings.   

Silver Spirit in Tortola

Bottom Line

Every Silversea ship -- cruise or expedition -- offers pampering galore, and the quality of service and cuisine are fairly even fleetwide. However, cruise ships have more public spaces and larger suites in which to feel spoiled. Choose a cruise ship if you want more traditional destinations, larger accommodations with balconies, more dining and lounge choices, more passengers to socialize with and more entertainment. If mobility is an issue, cruise ships are the only way to fully enjoy the sail. 

If you're fit and active and want to travel off the beaten path -- and care more about destinations than ship amenities -- select an expedition cruise for a thrilling and educational adventure.  You'll find like-minded passengers who love to travel, love to learn and are eager to explore exotic cultures and uncommon corners of the globe in high style. And, you'll think a lot less about wardrobe.

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