Silversea's elegant ships are of several different sizes but of one class -- all-suite, all-inclusive, all-frills-all-the-time vessels. Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, each at 16,800 tons, are roomy, intimate vessels. Each carries 296 passengers. The passenger/space ratio on these ships is among the industry's highest. Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, at 28,258 tons apiece, each carry 382 passengers, and they've taken the company's passenger/space measure to even greater heights.
Each of the four vessels is the result of the work of two Italian shipyards. The hulls were laid in the Francesco Visentini yard near Trieste, after which they were floated and towed to their final outfitting in the T. Mariotti yard in Genoa. All were designed by the Oslo-based marine architect team of Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten. The ships' officers are Italian, and the service staff is international, mainly from the Philippines.
Because of the restrictions imposed by their size, the smaller ships are light on entertainment opportunities. The ships are too small to have significant theater facilities. The two later vessels, however, include rooms in which more extravagant entertainment can be presented.
Silver Spirit, launched in December 2009, was Silversea's first new-build since 2001. The 540-passenger vessel offers 270 oceanview cabins, and all but 12 have balconies. The ship also boasts a supper club-style specialty restaurant. Diners can enjoy gourmet cuisine and jazz in an intimate, clublike setting and show off their fancy footwork between courses.
Silver Muse, which will launch in April 2017 will be based on the same design as Silver Spirit, according to the line, although the ship will be slightly bigger at 596 passengers.
Silversea also has an expedition fleet, currently consisting of three ships. Silver Explorer, built in 1989, is of quite another breed. It's the first vessel not custom-built for the line, although an extreme makeover in 2008 brought its style somewhat closer to that of Silversea's other ships. The 6,062-ton vessel carries just 132 passengers in 66 oceanview cabins. It offers all the amenities of a luxury ship -- spa, elegant dining room, flat-screen TVs -- but also has an ice-rated hull and carries eight Zodiac vessels for up-close explorations.
The second expedition ship, Silver Galapagos, underwent an extensive interior makeover, and the 20-year-old, 100-passenger vessel cruises the Galapagos under the Silversea banner.
In March 2014, 5,218-ton, 128-passenger Silver Discoverer -- the former Clipper Odyssey -- joined the fleet following an extensive refurbishment. It sails the far-flung regions of the globe, including Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, the Russian Far East and the Kimberley, Western Australia.
In April 1994, a luxurious, all-suite ship -- small by the prevailing standards of the day at just 16,800 tons -- made its debut in the Mediterranean. It was 296-passenger Silver Cloud, the first of what has become a fleet of five Silversea Cruises vessels (along with three expedition ships). Within a year, twin Silver Wind followed, and the company figured that the smartest thing to do with their luxury concept was create more of the same -- but bigger. Silver Shadow (September 2000) and Silver Whisper (June 2001) are, essentially, enlarged versions of those two earlier ships, each at 7,200 tons more, with the capacity to carry almost an additional 100 passengers apiece.
In 2008, Silversea expanded into the luxury expedition market. It purchased a pre-owned expedition ship and upgraded it to the line's high standards of comfort and luxury. The 132-passenger, Silver Explorer was named in June 2008 and offers more rugged itineraries than its sister ships. (Think Arctic and Antarctic voyages and Serengeti of Western Africa.) It features up-close and personal wildlife adventures with frequent Zodiac boat expeditions. Yet it's a true Silversea ship, with an all-inclusive price plan, spacious cabins and high-quality service. In 2013, the line added Silver Galapagos, a 100-passenger ship that is stationed year-round in Darwin's favorite destination. And in March 2014, a third expedition ship, Silver Discoverer, joined the fleet, plying the waters on far-flung itineraries like Micronesia, Polynesia, Melonesia, the Russian Far East, and Australia and New Zealand. A fleet of Zodiacs allows exploration on this unique vessel, with a glass-bottom boat, snorkeling and a dive program.
Silversea has also added tonnage through new-building. In December 2009, the line launched 540-passenger, all-suite Silver Spirit, and in 2017 the line will launch the similarly-designed 596-passenger Silver Muse.
Owned by the Lefebvre family of Rome (former owners of Sitmar Cruises), Silversea has shown clearly that it belongs with the best of them in the ultra-luxury cruise market. Though it's an expensive product on paper -- all luxury cruise vacations are -- it's important to look at what's included. Silversea's all-inclusive pricing offers passengers great value for their money. Butler service, gratuities, port charges and alcoholic beverages (including wine at lunch and dinner) are folded into the cost of each cruise. In addition, there's a complimentary, shoreside Silversea experience on selected voyages. Options include visits to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg after closing time; concerts in Ephesus, Turkey; and beach parties in the Caribbean and Seychelles.
Silversea fosters an upscale, yet casual atmosphere with roomy public spaces that provide larger-than-average spaces for passengers. Expect stellar service and no waiting in line for meals or activities. Extraordinary dining experiences are offered on all Silversea vessels, with wine generously poured at meals. The all-inclusive policy, which covers gratuities and unlimited beverages -- wine, liquor, beer and soft drinks (except truly premium brands) -- is appealing.
There are lecturers on virtually all cruises, offering insights into the lives and cultures of the people of the destinations visited. There are sometimes a bridge instructor and a golf pro who offers lessons at the practice nets on each ship. But, partly as a function of size and relatively low passenger capacity, there are few major educational opportunities on Silversea vessels. Each has a well-stocked library, a Steiner-managed spa and fitness center.
Meals are served open seating in the main dining room, with lunch available between noon and 1:30 p.m. and dinner at any time between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Alternative evening dining is available in La Terrazza at 7 p.m. (reservations required) and in the small, upscale (even by Silversea standards) Le Champagne -- again, reservations only -- between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. La Terrazza is free; to eat in Le Champagne, there's a $200/$30 charge, depending on the dining option you choose. (Yes, that's $200 for a multicourse degustation menu that includes wine pairings.)
As there are no organized children's programs, the ships are inappropriate for most families with young kids.
Silversea passengers are affluent and then some. They are heavily skewed to professional types, and they're generally -- as on most small luxury cruise ships -- somewhat older than those found on larger, mainstream ships.
In terms of nationality, usually about 50 percent are from North America, with the other half coming from all over the world (predominately the U.K., Europe and Australia). Many passengers are retirees with the leisure and the resources to make Silversea their cruise line of choice.
Perhaps because they have the space for more facilities (an expanded spa, a cigar bar, a wine bar and a computer center, not to mention a bigger, better-equipped show lounge), Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper attract a somewhat younger crowd, but it's still not a line for the 20- and 30-something set.