Silver Explorer Entertainment
Mother Nature is the star on this type of voyage -- not singers and dancers in musical revues -- and the main pursuits are watching and photographing polar bears, whales and birds. For better wildlife viewing, binoculars are provided to all passengers. And for a zoomed-in view, a high-powered telescope is available for use in the Observation Lounge (Deck 6), which is situated over the Bridge and so boasts superb forward views. During our sailing, there were two special bear guides that helped us spot these fantastic creatures. The bear guides kept watch on the bridge for bears that might have been in the water or the ice, and they accompanied passengers on walks/hikes ashore. (Though general opinion is that polar bears are white, they tend to have a slightly yellow hue. Bear guides look for yellowish patches on the ice to spot polar bears. They are also armed in case a bear is unexpectedly encountered during a hike.)
Ashore, Zodiac landings are accompanied by an expedition team member who discusses subjects like bird life (storm petrels in Fair Isle or Mousa in the Shetlands), polar bears in Hornsund and walruses in Poolepynten, Svalbaard.
Our walrus-sighting expedition was a highlight of our voyage. With ice covering the bay where a colony of walruses resided, it would have been impossible for the Zodiacs to get close enough to the animals for a good look. But with the captain cautiously maneuvering the ship, Silver Explorer cut a path through the ice, and passengers followed in Zodiacs, like ducklings following their mother, to get to the walruses. Some of the majestic creatures were sunning themselves on a rocky promontory, others were swimming close to the Zodiacs, as curious to see us as we were to see them.
The expedition team also presents slide lectures and videos about bird life, whales, dolphins, ecology and geology. (A German lecturer is onboard on every cruise, and lectures in English and German are conducted in separate rooms so passengers do not have to sit through translations. Zodiac excursions are also divided into English and German groups.) On our expedition in particular, there were a number of geology lectures. I would have preferred fewer talks on rocks, perhaps substituting one or two of those for more on marine mammals and seabirds. A couple of other passengers mentioned they'd have welcomed more talks on marine mammals; others said they were fine with the lineup.
A talk from professional photographer Camille Seaman was a highlight of the lecture program. The aptly named Seaman gave several excellent and well-attended presentations on how best to photograph the wildlife and scenery we were seeing.
Each afternoon, the expedition leader and his team presented a briefing in The Theatre or the Observation Lounge, recapping the day's activities and previewing the next day's program.
The sun never set during our Arctic voyage, so late-night wildlife-watching and enjoying the midnight sun were popular pastimes -- and so much sunlight seemed to energize everyone. Many passengers turned in late and rose early the next morning to go out on deck with their binoculars and cameras.
The Bridge is open for visits, and most passengers drop in at their leisure to observe the navigation protocol and chat with the officers.
There were also numerous non-expeditionary activities during our 16-day voyage from Hamburg, Germany, to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, including a martini tasting, a culinary demonstration and a wine tasting. Another highlight was an outdoor afternoon tea party served on deck to coincide with our crossing of the Arctic Circle (latitude 66 degrees 33 minutes north, marked by a large globe sculpture on a cliff). Temperatures were in the mid-50's, the sky was blue and Silversea went all out to commemorate the event. Disney's "A Whole New World" played, the ship's whistle blew at the precise moment of the crossing, and a Minke whale breached spectacularly, seemingly just for the occasion. Canapes, pastries and teas were served by the staff on tables adorned with crisp tablecloths, fine china and flowers, and a special Arctic Punch (Absolut vodka, cranberry juice and lemonade) was offered.
A pianist/vocalist entertained in the Panorama Lounge every day during afternoon tea, during the cocktail hour and after dinner.
There is no casino onboard. A variety of board games, including chess, are available for play in the Observation Lounge, Panorama Lounge or in your suite or cabin.
Silver Explorer Public Rooms
Public rooms are understatedly elegant, decorated with paintings and other artwork, and accented with fresh flowers and maple wood paneling. A well-stocked library/Internet Center (Deck 5) has destination guide books, literary accounts and coffee table books on the Arctic and Antarctica. There are four stations for Internet access (there's also Wi-Fi). The Internet access charge is 50 cents per minute for pay as you go; packages are available for $45 (100 minutes), $85 (250 minutes) and $250 (1,000 minutes).
Other facilities include a changing room that comes in handy to don gear before boarding Zodiacs (Deck 3); and The Theatre, a comfortable setting decorated in tones of burnt orange that's used for lectures and daily briefings by the expedition leader and team (Deck 6). Two lounges, Panorama and Observation (Decks 5 and 6, respectively), are attractive and intimate.
Some unexpected features for an expedition ship include the Connoisseur's Corner (Deck 5), a venue with comfortable seating, earth tones and dark wood paneling that's ideal for cigars and after-dinner drinks, and a boutique with logo items, gifts/souvenirs and other merchandise (Deck 4).
Silver Explorer Spa & Fitness
After Silversea transformed Silver Explorer , the swimming pool was taken out, as it was rarely if ever used during polar expeditions. You will not miss it during a polar voyage, but you may long for a swim during repositioning cruises through Central and South America and Africa. The ship does have two whirlpools (Deck 6) that were used occasionally by passengers during our expedition.
The ship's spa facilities are split into several locations: The Spa (Deck 6), managed by Steiner, with one treatment room for massages, wraps and facials; a sauna and steam room; the Fitness Centre (Deck 4) with elliptical stepper, treadmill, stationery bike and multi-exerciser; and a tiny, windowless beauty salon (Deck 4) for hair and nail services. Spa treatments include an Elemis Urban Cleanse Facial for men (50-minutes, $129); a 50-minute deep-tissue massage for $116; a 50-minute Swedish massage for $110; and a 50-minute Elemis Aroma Stone Therapy treatment for $159 (aaah, so great after a long hike!).
There is no jogging track onboard, but passengers can stroll around Deck 6. And with expedition activities including walks and hikes, there is no lack of opportunity for exercise. Occasionally, there's something more strenuous, like the time the expedition team led a hike/climb up Norway's North Cape, which is situated 307 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) over the Barents Sea.