Never having been to the Arctic, taken an expedition cruise of any kind, or sailed with Silversea, this was a true voyage of firsts for us. The experience was incredible and I can assure you it will not be our last expedition cruise or sailing we take with Silversea.
Pre-Cruise: Independent - 2 nights in Oslo at the Thon Panorama. A great location and nice hotel we found on an internet special. Based on our brief stay, Oslo is a wonderful city and we plan to return. We took a 7.5 hour all-day land and water tour that showed us as much as possible in the short time we had.
On day 3 we flew to Longyearbyen and overnighted at the Radisson Blu hotel. It bills itself as the northernmost full service hotel in the world and was comfortable and convenient.
The cruise: Embarkation was a snap (complete with Champagne) and we were our stateroom in perhaps 15 minutes or so. It is such a small ship, our luggage beat us there - a first! The stated boarding time is 3:00 PM but we met some people from Virginia that actually boarded at 12:30.
Like the Crew and Expedition Staff, the passenger list was literally from all over he world - Germany, Austria, Italy, England, Scotland, the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia (just to name the ones I know). This fact helped to make this cruise very different (and very enjoyable) than others we have taken. No matter where our fellow passengers came from, they were all here for the scenery, history, and above all, the wildlife. That singleness of purpose made the cruise even more fantastic.
The daily Voyage Journals posted on the Silversea site tell a far more detailed story of what we saw and did than what I can relate. I will tell you, however, that we saw 10 Polar Bears (our #1 goal and I think that is true for perhaps all the passengers), visited 2 Walrus haul-outs, saw different types of seals, viewed reindeer (even at the Longyearbyen airport!), and saw a wide variety of birds (a special delight for the many birdwatchers on-board). We visited historic sites, did some ice cruising, visited glacier faces, etc. We have been to Alaska 3 times, but this was the best!
Stateroom: This was the lowest category (Adventurer Class) and was excellent. The design and storage was more than adequate and the bath very well designed with a tub/shower combination. The only suggestion will pass along is that blackout curtains are needed, We had 24 hour daylight and I hadto lower the portholde covers (did not dog them down) and used the decorative pillows to block the light (about 85%-90% effective). Two nice pairs of binoculars were supplied for our use.
Food: It ranged from very good to outstanding. The buffets in the morning and at lunch were varied and delicious. Dinner was multi-course with a wide variety of options. Desserts were a little hit-and-miss, but we did not come on the cruise to eat. Nice house wines were offered with lunch and dinner. We always had a choice of a table for two or a larger shared table. Only once did we opt for the table for 2 and that was on an evening when we wanted to turn in early. The conversation was always interesting, but we were tired that night.
Service: The crew learned your name quickly and it made for much more personalized experience. We are not very formal so what I will call relaxed Continental service was very enjoyable. Stateroom service was excellent.
Entertainment: Except for a keyboardist who payed background music, the organized entertainment was minimal - daily tea, puzzles, conversation, reading, and a good variety on in-room movies on demand (no charge). The main daily activity was the recap of the day and briefing for the next day. There were also daily lectures before and between the twice daily Zodiac excursions on history, wildlife, glacier formation, etc. In addition there were four evenings when a cocktail party was hosted - the Captain's Welcome Party, the First Timer's Party, the Venetian Society party, and the Captain's Farewell. There was also a get together the last night to see professional photographer's day-by-day video of the cruise set to music. It was not inexpensive ($150), but given our experiences and the things we saw, I think it was an absolute bargain. In addition, he supplied a disc with perhaps 100 photos per day that he took. He received a standing ovation because his work was so fantastic. I would be surprised if anyone filed to purchase a copy.
Disembarkation was as easy as Embarkation. Our transfer took us into Longyearbyen where we visited the Arctic Museum, did some shopping, and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Then it was on to the airport and back to Oslo by way of Tromso.
Post-Cruise: We spent the night we left the ship at the Radisson Blu/Oslo airport(a short walk of perhaps 100 yards from the terminal). The next day we flew to Copenhagen for a few night at the Copenhagen Marriott. It is very well located (an easy walk from the central train station). Tivoli is across the street from the station and the Marriott has a water taxi stop outside. The hotel is very comfortable, convenient and definitely recommended.
Final Word: When they talk about the trip of a lifetime, this is the type of thing they are talking about. If you can - go!