Silversea or Seabourn? That's a tough question for cruisers waffling between the two lines for their next luxury voyage. Both offer fairly intimate ships that sail the globe, and both have new vessels in the works. (Seabourn Encore sets sail in the summer of 2016 and Silversea's Silver Muse makes its debut in August 2017.)
Both lines offer sophisticated and personalized service, as well as all-inclusive cruise fares that cover all beverages and gratuities. Silversea cruises -- with a butler catering to every cabin -- tend to be a bit more formal, while Seabourn ships offer a true sense of community via amernities such as Seabourn Square (a living-room style concierge area), a well-designed coffeehouse and an aft water sports platform.
It's important to remember that Silversea has both luxury ships and expedition vessels for more active and exotic vacations, but Seabourn's destination department also programs fascinating itineraries across the globe.
So, in what ways do these lines actually differ? Let's compare Silversea vs. Seabourn.
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Silversea has five luxury cruise ships: the 540-passenger Silver Spirit (launched in 2009), 388-passenger Silver Whisper (2001), 282-passenger Silver Shadow (2000), 260-passenger Silver Cloud (1994) and the 298-passenger Silver Wind (1995). The 596-passenger luxury ship, Silver Muse, makes its debut in May 2017.
It also has a fleet of expedition-style ships, including the 120-guest Silver Discoverer (launched 2014), the 100-guest Silver Galapagos (launched in 2013) and 132-passenger Silver Explorer (built in 1989 and refurbished for Silversea in 2008). Silver Cloud, currently a cruise ship for the line, is transferring to the expedition side of the business in August 2017, after some upgrades and retrofits. The maximum number of passengers on all of Silver Cloud's polar sailings will be 200.
This article will focus mainly on Silversea's cruise ships, rather than the expedition ones.
Seabourn Cruise Line
Seabourn sails three sister ships: Seabourn Odyssey (2009) and Seabourn Quest (2011) accommodate 450 passengers, and Seabourn Sojourn (2010) accommodates 462 passengers. On the horizon are two 600-passenger sister ships: Seabourn Encore (2016) and Seabourn Ovation (2018).
Choose Silversea if you want a lower cruise fare.
We compared voyages in Alaska, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Asia, the Norwegian Fjords and Australia on the two lines. Of the six itineraries, five of them were cheaper on Silversea. In fact, their per diems were 18 to 35 percent less expensive, with the least amount of savings on the Asia sailing aboard Silver Shadow and the most savings on Silver Shadow's Alaska voyage.
Choose Seabourn if you have a beef with paying out of pocket for specialty restaurants.
Keep cruise fare inclusions in mind when making your own price comparisons between Seabourn and Silversea. Both cruise lines include select wine, liquor, beer, coffee and soda in their fares throughout the ship and offer an in-cabin bar setup. Gratuities are also included on both lines. Silversea does offer butler service in every suite while Seabourn does not, but Silversea also charges a $40 per person fee to dine at Seishin and Le Champagne while all dining venues are complimentary across Seabourn's fleet, including the Thomas Keller restaurant, The Grill.
A note about itineraries from Silversea and Seabourn: While many luxury lines eschew shorter sailings in favor of longer voyages, both Silversea and Seabourn offer a plethora of seven-night routes. This makes both lines favorable to younger cruisers, professionals and retirees that have commitments at home and can't -- or don't want to -- be away for more than a week's time.
Choose Silversea if you want to sail on a small ship with 300 to 400 passengers and visit some of the world's more intimate and interesting ports.
While Silversea sails the 540-passenger Silver Spirit and the 596-passenger Silver Muse will make its debut in 2017, the line also sails four more intimate ships: Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, each accommodating about 300 passengers; and Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, each accommodating about 390 guests. Sailing the smaller ships is a lot of fun because you can embark from some unique ports including London's Tower Bridge. (The sail-away along the Thames is something you'll never forget.) In the Caribbean, these ships call on some of the more remote islands such as Bequia (part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and Guadeloupe's Les Saintes. On the other side of the world in the Indian Ocean, Silversea can take you to Nosy Be, an island off Madagascar, and Male in the Maldives.
Or if you'd like to try an expedition cruise without giving up all-inclusive luxuries.
In some ways, Silversea is like two cruise lines in one since it offers voyages aboard both posh luxury ships as well as purpose-built expedition vessels. The common thread across the entire fleet is Silversea's attention to detail and focus on the finest food, wine, onboard enrichment and entertainment. If you choose a Silversea expedition ship, you don't give up any of the niceties; you still get a beautifully appointed suite with butler service, you still enjoy complimentary beverages throughout the ship, and you still won't have to pay gratuities out of pocket. Silversea's expedition ships let you visit some very rugged parts of this world without giving up luxury. You can book itineraries Down Under for the Kimberley Coast, the Great Barrier Reef or New Zealand, including its Sub-Antarctic territory. Voyages to Africa and the islands of the Indian Ocean (Maldives and Seychelles) are also popular. There are plenty of options to choose from in Asia, from Borneo to Japan to Myanmar; and the line also has extensive options in Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Silver Galapagos is stationed in Ecuador's Galapagos Archipelago year-round and the line, of course, visits both poles: Antarctica and the Arctic.
Or if you'd like to book a full world cruise.
Silversea's Silver Whisper embarks on a cruise around the world every year in January. The 100-plus night voyages visit more than 60 ports in approximately 25 countries. Seabourn does not offer a world cruise.
Choose Seabourn if you want to immerse yourself in a region but don't have time for a world cruise.
Seabourn's destination department programs a variety of "Extended Explorations" each year. These are sailings that last anywhere from 32 to 89 days, with each itinerary dissecting a particular region of the world such as the Amazon and Caribbean, the Java Sea and South Pacific, Antarctica or the North Atlantic.
Or if you want to visit Antarctica without resorting to an expedition vessel.
In recent years, several luxury cruise lines -- including Seabourn -- decided they wanted to sail to Antarctica. But they did not want to do so on a typical expedition ship. Instead, the line had Seabourn Quest's hull strengthened so it would be Ice Class certified; that change allowed the ship to embark on luxurious sailings in the region. The ship now offers voyages that offer in-depth exploration of Patagonia and part of Antarctica. The experience will be very similar to what you've come to enjoy on traditional Seabourn sailings, but these itineraries also include complimentary Zodiac landings each day to select Antarctic ports of call. A knowledgeable expedition team and a panel of guest speakers provide context to the exploration.
It's worth it to take a ship-sponsored shore excursion on either line. Both Silversea and Seabourn use the most knowledgeable tour companies around the world operating top-notch transportation, like roomy air-conditioned coaches or luxury catamarans. Both companies also offer special concierge-style services that will create a private tour that meets your unique specifications. Jump-start the planning process by calling Seabourn to talk with a Destination Specialist who will help make arrangements before you embark on your voyage, or call Silversea's Silvershore Concierge.
Choose Silversea if you want a lot of options in the type of shore tours you book.
Silversea offers seven different categories of shore excursions: The most common tours are in the Silver Shore Collection while more active travelers should look through the list labeled Silver Shore Expeditions. If you want to travel in a smaller group while ashore, consider anything in the Silver Shore Excursions category. If you want to book a private car and guide, you can do so with Silver Shore Privato. Those looking for a voluntourism angle gravitate to the Silver Shore Good Citizen group of tours that offer philanthropic opportunities ashore (things like visiting children in an orphanage or doing an activity to help wildlife or the ecosystem). Silversea also offers some limited tours in languages other than English, and you'll find the Silver Shore Sotto Voce option on some excursions, where the guide has a microphone and transmitter and you wear an earpiece so you never miss one word of the tour commentary.
Choose Seabourn if you enjoy group outings with everyone else from your ship.
Some passengers are extremely loyal to Seabourn, and one reason is the free shoreside activity that's offered once per voyage. The line's Caviar in the Surf beach barbecues in the Caribbean are legendary, and in Turkey, Seabourn throws an after-hours cocktail party and concert at Ephesus. Just about everyone on the sailing turns out for these fun, free events. Upon return to your ship, passengers are generally greeted by crew members offering cold or hot towels and a refreshing glass of Champagne.
When it comes to your selection of cabins on both lines, you'll have choices ranging from ocean view and veranda staterooms to a range of suites. Silversea's cabins are larger in nearly every category, but both lines offer high-end amenities: Silversea's bath products are from Bvlgari and Ferragamo while Seabourn opts for L'Occitane and Therapies by Molten Brown. You'll find stocked minibars and a complimentary bar setup on both lines as well as your choice of pillow styles (down, therapeutic and hypoallergenic on Silversea, and down or hypoallergenic on Seabourn). Silversea dresses its beds with Italian Pratesi linens while Seabourn uses Egyptian cotton. Silversea's suites use light woods, beiges, browns and reds, while Seabourn's entry-level cabins are decorated in beiges, browns and gold, with red thrown into the color scheme of the top-end suites.
Choose Silversea if you want the services of a butler.
Every single passenger traveling aboard a Silversea ship gets the attention of a dedicated butler. It doesn't matter if you're booked in the lowest-level cabin, a butler is still there to help you achieve the cruise of your dreams. Trained by The Guild of Professional English Butlers, your Mr. Jeeves will welcome you aboard and get you settled in your suite. That means helping you select your pillows (choice of goose down, hypoallergenic or therapeutic) and bath products (Ferragamo or Bvlgari), and unpacking and hanging your clothing (if you wish). He'll ask about your beverage preferences and will make sure your suite's minibar is set up with everything you like best. If you need assistance making onboard dinner reservations, he'll take care of that, too. He'll turn down your bed at night and serve you breakfast ensuite in the morning, if that's your style. Whatever you need, your butler is there to try to make you happy.
Choose Seabourn if you want to indulge in a spa suite.
Spa suites, which package various spa-related perks into the fare, are all the rage throughout the cruise industry. Seabourn offers the Penthouse Spa Suite. Ranging from 516 to 538 square feet each, these accommodations include complimentary full-day access to the Serene Area at The Spa at Seabourn, where you can enjoy indoor and outdoor lounge space plus a Kneipp hydrotherapy pool at the back of the ship. You also get the assistance of a spa concierge who can help you book appointments. In your suite, there are extra perks like two minibars; one is stocked with a complimentary bar setup, while the other is filled with waters, juices and healthy snacks. You can select bath and beauty products from Molten Brown (including Pure Pampering bath oils) and soaps by L'Occitane, Baudelaire and Ferragamo. If you like the L'Occitane scents infused in the spa, you can select one for your suite as well.
Funnily enough, the main dining room across both Silversea and Seabourn's fleets is called The Restaurant. The quality of provisions and the diversity of the menus across the lines is quite good.
Silversea also offers an indoor/outdoor, slow-food Italian option called La Terrazza, as well as specialty restaurants such as Seishin, for sushi and sashimi, and Le Champagne for refined French and Continental cuisines. There is also a pool bar that on some ships is transformed into Hot Rocks at night, where a heated stone is delivered to your table along with a variety of meats, seafood and vegetables and you cook your meal right at your table.
Aboard Seabourn ships, Restaurant 2 and its tasting menu are currently being replaced with a new offering: Thomas Keller's The Grill, which is his take on the classic American chophouse. The Colonnade is part buffet and part a la carte menu offerings, and often serves food based on a theme. Seabourn also has its Patio Bar and Grill.
Choose Silversea if you want to dine at the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea.
You'll find Le Champagne on five Silversea ships: Spirit, Wind, Shadow, Cloud and Whisper. With just seven tables, this prime dining spot is a tough reservation to get. That's because it's not everyday you can dine at a Relais & Chateaux establishment; the designation is only given to the world's ritziest gourmet restaurants, boutique hotels, classy resorts and over-the-top villas. Be sure to reserve a table online via the My Silversea portal as soon as your cruise documents arrive.
Menus change with the season and voyage destination, and are designed to use fresh artisanal products. The six courses can be paired with fine wines from around the globe. Menu items range from seared scallops to grilled lamb chops to venison with raspberry coulis. The dessert menu often includes a Grand Marnier souffle, which needs to be ordered early in your meal but is absolutely scrumptious.
Choose Seabourn if you'd like to sample dishes from celebrity chef Thomas Keller.
Starting in May 2016, chef Thomas Keller is rolling out his own restaurant, The Grill, across Seabourn's fleet. Seabourn Quest will welcome the dining venue first, and eventually all ships will feature the same restaurant and menu. (In the meantime, select Keller menu items can be sampled at The Restaurant and Colonnade.) Keller hones in on the steakhouse concept here and offers Caesar salad made tableside and entrees including New York strip steak and lobster thermidor. (Leave room for an ice cream sundae for dessert!) In addition to the new restaurant and menu, Keller has also introduced his purveyors to Seabourn. The line is now sourcing ingredients for The Grill from places like Elysian Fields Farms, Sonoma Poultry, Marshall Farms Honey and Cowgirl Creamery.
Because both lines offer complimentary alcoholic beverages in their cruise fares, you'll find that nighttime finds most people out of their cabin and enjoying the ship's facilities. The ships' lounges fill before and after dinner, with live music and dancing on offer. Silversea and Seabourn both feature Broadway-style theater performances and limited casino games.
Choose Silversea if love jazz.
Silver Spirit is home to a dining/entertainment venue called Stars Supper Club. This intimate showplace with an Art Deco flair was designed to harken back to the famed supper clubs of the 1930s, like New York City's Rainbow Room. Most people arrive early to enjoy a cocktail or two while listening to music -- usually a cabaret singer or jazz band -- before ordering a meal of small plates. The fun nightclub setting works whether you're a couple or a group traveling together. Make reservations because this place is popular, and tables book up routinely on every cruise.
Choose Seabourn if you love to dance.
The cruise line throws a terrific party on deck. It's called an Evening Under the Stars, and it combines a delicious barbeque with live music and your chance to go dancing with stars twinkling overhead. Or you can simply sip a cocktail and people-watch.
Or if you want to watch a movie under the stars.
Seabourn offers movies and popcorn on deck under the stars. It's a fun way to decompress after a busy day of enjoying shore excursions, the water sports platform, the pools and hot tubs.
Neither Silversea nor Seabourn have a children's program or kids club. Neither line is right for you if you're traveling with toddlers or young children. It's rare to find families with little ones on either line, though it does happen from time to time.
Choose Silversea if you're traveling with teens or adult children and want to take an expedition cruise together.
While expedition voyages to exotic destinations aren't a good fit for families with little kids, they are ideal if you've got inquisitive teenagers or if you're traveling with adult children. From Alaska sojourns to African safaris to exploring the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands or the rainforests of Borneo, Silversea has an amazingly deep catalog of expedition voyages from which to choose. Expedition cruises are more active than traditional luxury sailings so everyone in your party should feel comfortable -- and be mobile enough -- to board a Zodiac, and go hiking and swimming.
Choose Seabourn if you're sailing with teens who will enjoy the ship's water sports platform.
Seabourn can be a solid choice for families with well-behaved teenagers. Look for destination-intensive itineraries where you know your family will find plenty to do in port. Then be sure to take advantage of Marina Day when it's offered -- usually once per cruise in warm-weather destinations such as the Caribbean or Greek Isles. Head to the aft marina with its retractable in-sea pool and water sports platform; from here, you can go swimming or borrow a personal watercraft like a kayak or pedal boat. You can also try out water-skiing or take a turn on a banana boat.