Editor's Note: Prince Albert II was renamed Silver Explorer in April 2011.
Silver Explorer, a purpose-rebuilt expedition ship, makes it possible for the first time to say "polar bears and penguins" in the same sentence as "cuisine by Relais & Chateaux, cigar and cognac lounge, and 675-square-foot suites."
Built in 1989 as the World Discoverer II, Silver Explorer was acquired by Silversea from now-defunct Society Expeditions in 2007, and given a multi-million-dollar refit at the Fincantieri Shipyards in Trieste, Italy. An ice-class vessel with the highest rating, Lloyds Register 1A, Silver Explorer goes beyond what most people would consider an expedition ship. It is more like an exclusive floating country club with 132 passengers (tops), who occupy the largest accommodations on average of any expedition ship and who are regularly spoiled with touches like chocolate-covered strawberries and chilled Champagne served from a "Zodiac bar" during polar bears-sighting excursions. (The ship is equipped with eight Zodiacs.)
Silver Explorer could be said to have two "faces." The first is a daytime expeditionary one, when passengers go on Zodiac excursions, walks and hikes; participate in whale- and other wildlife-watching; take in lectures about the destination, its flora, fauna, ecology and geology; and attend briefings and previews of the next day's program.
The other "face" is the evening one, when passengers stow away the complimentary parkas and backpacks (provided for them to keep), boots and other gear, and don chic leisure wear. The ambience becomes that of a luxury yacht, where the staff knows your name and welcomes you to a musical cocktail hour with tapas in one of the lounges, and you do not have to sign for beverages at the bars and restaurant.
While the yacht-like "face" includes cruise ship amenities such as an observation lounge, spa facilities and the Connoisseur's Corner cigar and cognac lounge, voyages on Silver Explorer are definitely expeditions -- not cruises. You will not find karaoke and deck games here, but you will come away with detailed knowledge of the region you are visiting.
On an expedition, flexibility is the name of the game, particularly in the polar regions, as ice and other weather conditions may affect the course of the itinerary. Since schedules can vary from announced times, it is important to be ready to get into Zodiacs on short notice when wildlife sightings and weather conditions dictate changes. In the Arctic, when the first polar bear is sighted an announcement is made -- even if it is 2:30 a.m. People throw their parkas over their nightclothes and come out on deck to the viewing areas located aft on Decks 5, 6 and 7 and forward on Deck 5.
Editor's Note: Silversea sends out packing recommendations so passengers can prepare for their expeditions in the polar regions. The list includes such items as waterproof pants, boots and gloves, and thermal underwear. Passengers may encounter chilly situations like being sprayed with water during Zodiac rides and having to make wet landings (Zodiac landings in shallow water). Heed the recommendations to the letter to get the most out of your expedition. Each participant is provided with a complimentary parka and backpack, and there is a selection of boots to borrow onboard, but be advised that they may not have all sizes.