OnboardThere are lecturers on virtually all cruises, offering insights into the lives and cultures of the people of the destinations visited. There is also, invariably, a bridge instructor on each sailing and, very often, 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 fine Steiner-managed spa and fitness center.
Meals are served in open seating in the main dining room, with lunch available between 12:30 and 2 p.m. and dinner at any time between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Alternative evening dining is available in La Terrazza at 7:45 p.m. (reservations required) and in the small, upscale (even by Silversea standards) Le Champagne -- again, reservations only -- between 7:30 and 9 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 multi-course degustation menu that includes wine with each course).
As there are no organized children's programs, the ships are inappropriate for most families with young kids.
About Silversea CruisesIn 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 the 296-passenger Silver Cloud, the first of what has become a fleet of five Silversea Cruises vessels (along with the Silver Explorer, the line's first expedition ship). At the time, many in the cruise industry wondered whether a niche company with a publicly stated "Uncompromising Commitment to Service" could long survive in an increasingly mass-market business. They're not wondering now.
Silver Cloud was followed within a year (January 1995) by a twin, Silver Wind, 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 weighing 7,200 tons more with the capacity to carry almost an additional 100 passengers. Besides their similar exterior profile and interior configuration, they have something else in common with their smaller fleet mates -- the characteristic Silversea commitment to service and luxury.
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. Silver Explorer was named in June 2008 and offers more rugged itineraries than its sister ships (think Arctic and Antarctic voyages). Yet it is a true Silversea ship, with an all-inclusive price plan, spacious cabins and high-quality service. In 2013, the line will add Silver Galapagos, a 100-passenger ship that will be stationed year-round in Darwin's favorite destination.
Silverea has also added tonnage through new-building. In December 2009, the line launched the 540-passenger, all-suite Silver Spirit.
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 is 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 the cruise.
In addition, there is 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.
The extra time onboard is charged at a per-day rate, which varies depending on the ports and the stateroom category chosen.
Silversea Cruises FleetSilversea'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, at 16,800 tons, are roomy, intimate vessels. Each carries 296 passengers. The passenger/space ratio on these ships (the volume of internal space, divided by the number of lower-berth passengers) is among the industry's highest at 56:8. Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, at 28,258 tons apiece, each carry 382 passengers. They have taken the company's passenger/space measure to greater heights, at 73:9.
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, Norway-based marine architect team of Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten. The ships' officers are Italian, and the service staff is international.
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 in an intimate, club-like setting and show off their fancy footwork between courses. Silversea's expedition ship, Silver Explorer (built in 1989), is of quite another breed. It is 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 TV's -- but also has an ice-rated hull and carries eight Zodiac vessels for up-close explorations.
In fall 2013, the line will add a second expedition ship, Silver Galapagos, currently Galapagos Explorer II. Following an extensive interior makeover, the 20-year-old, 100-passenger vessel will cruise the Galapagos under the Silversea banner.
Fellow PassengersSilversea passengers are affluent and then some. They are heavily skewed to the professional (many of them Fortune 500) types. And they are 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 (but 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.
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