When it comes to making the tough choice between Crystal or Silversea, a lot of cruisers in the know give this advice: Leave it up to the destination. That's because both lines offer a truly top-notch product, so sometimes it comes down to which line is sailing where you want to go and when.
Both cruise lines share high standards when it comes to service and attention to detail. The lines each offer all-inclusive fares that include elements such as gratuities and nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages, and they both sail to some of the world's most beautiful regions, including Antarctica, Australia/New Zealand and Africa. Differences are nuanced, though the biggest differentiator is the size of the ships operated by each line.
Which elements of the luxury cruise experience are most important to you and how does Silversea stack up vs. Crystal Cruises? Let's find out.
Editors' note: Crystal cruises has been acquired by Abercrombie & Kent. The two ships will undergo refurbishment and debut under the Crystal name in 2023.
Both Crystal and Silversea are reinventing themselves with recent and upcoming ship refurbishments and new-builds. It's an exciting time for both companies.
Crystal currently has two cruise ships: Crystal Symphony (launched 1995) and Crystal Serenity (launched 2003), both of which were refurbished in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Symphony reduced its passenger count from 922 to 848, while Serenity reduced its capacity from 1,070 to 980.
The line is also currently sailing one yacht, the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit (2015). A second -- the new-build, polar-class Crystal Endeavor -- will launch in August 2020.
Also on the horizon is the Diamond Class (formerly called Exclusive Class). The first ship in that class -- an 800-passenger, 67,000 GRT vessel -- will launch in 2022.
Finally, the line sails five riverboats: the 154-passenger Crystal Mozart (2016), the 110-passenger Crystal Bach (2017), and the 106-passenger Crystal Debussy (2018), Crystal Mahler (2017) and Crystal Ravel (2018).
Silversea's fleet consists of luxury cruise ships and expedition vessels. The traditional cruise ships include the 596-passenger Silver Muse (launched 2017), 608-passenger Silver Spirit (2009, refurbished in 2018), 382-passenger Silver Whisper (2001), 382-passenger Silver Shadow (2000) and 298-passenger Silver Wind (1995). Silver Moon, a 596-passenger ship building on the success of Silver Muse, will launch in August 2020.
Silversea also has four expedition ships: the 116-passenger Silver Discoverer (launched 2014, refurbished in 2016), the 100-passenger Silver Galapagos (launched in 2013, refurbished in 2017) and 144-passenger Silver Explorer (built in 1989, joined Silversea in 2008 and refurbished in 2017). The 260-passenger Silver Cloud, previously a cruise ship for the line, received upgrades and retrofits in 2017 and is now an Ice Class expedition ship for the company. While it will continue to carry 260 passengers on most cruises, it will limit passengers on polar cruises to 200.
Silversea plans to retire Silver Galapagos in March 2020 when it launches the 100-passenger new-build, Silver Origin. Also, parent company Royal Caribbean made a major investment in the line in June 2018. Silversea is now in the process of revitalizing all ships in the fleet over the next few years as part of Project Invictus. Silver Whisper will get an extensive refresh in December 2018 to give it a more "Silver Muse" modern look. Silver Wind will also get a makeover in the decor department.
This article will focus mainly on both lines' cruise ships, rather than the expedition vessels, riverboats and yachts.
Both Crystal Cruises and Silversea are highly inclusive cruise lines. They include all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi and gratuities in the cruise fare.
Choose Crystal if you're looking for high-end service delivered for the right price.
When it comes to luxury cruise lines, Crystal's pricing structure is appealing because it's often lower than comparable sailings on competitors' ships. That's the case, for the most part, when comparing Crystal cruise fares to those available from Silversea.
We looked at three itineraries -- in Alaska, Asia and the Western Caribbean -- and in each case, Crystal offered a lower per diem. In fact, a Crystal Symphony Fort Lauderdale round trip itinerary to the Caribbean was a little bit less than half the price of a comparable sailing on Silver Wind.
Why the price differential? Sometimes it's a matter of the age of the ships you are comparing and sometimes in the size of the entry-level cabins… or both. For example, when we compared Alaska sailings, you could get a seven-night Crystal cruise aboard Symphony for just shy of $2,000 per person in a 202-square-foot deluxe stateroom with large picture window. The comparable Silversea sailing is aboard the newer Silver Muse and its entry-level Vista Suite, also with a large picture window, is much more spacious at 334 square feet.
Choose Silversea if you don't mind paying a bit more for smaller ships and a butler.
While Silversea's cruise fares can be a bit more expensive than Crystal's, you benefit from two major selling points: Silversea's cruise ships are smaller than Crystal's, and every cabin in Silversea's fleet is attended by a butler. If you'd prefer not to sail with 850 or so passengers, you can opt for Silversea's ships, which range from 260 to 608 passengers. Some people think the lower passenger count on Silversea ships ensures a higher level of service and personalized attention.
Both Crystal Cruises and Silversea offer varied cruise experiences to their passengers. If you're looking for a world cruise, both lines offer one annually and both sail to all points around the globe -- from Alaska and the Mediterranean to the South Pacific, Australia, Southeast Asia and Middle East. No matter where you want to go, Crystal and Silversea can get you there.
Choose Crystal if you want to try a theme cruise.
These days, you'll see theme cruises advertised by just about all of the cruise lines. Crystal is very strong in this arena, and its Wine & Food Festival, offered several times a year throughout the world, is especially popular. Some of your favorite chefs -- the cheeky Brit Jamie Oliver, Miami's Michael Schwartz and London's Alexis Gauthier -- have all been special guests on Crystal Wine & Food Festival voyages, as has chef Nobu Matsuhisa, who is the mastermind behind Crystal's own Umi Uma and The Sushi Bar.
If culinary delights aren't your passion, Crystal offers a spectacular Big Band and Ballroom Dance voyage, plus others geared to style and fashion, movies and theater, jazz, golf and more.
Choose Silversea if you want more choice.
Silversea operates five luxury cruise ships compared with Crystal's two. That means that, almost anywhere in the world, you'll have more itinerary choices with Silversea. For example, 2019's Caribbean season finds four Silversea ships in the region as opposed to Crystal's two ships. And in 2019, Crystal is not sailing Canada and New England or Cuba sailings, while Silversea offers both. One of the only caveats to this is South America. Silversea tends to deploy its expedition ships to the region while Crystal Symphony offers traditional luxury cruises in the area.
Both Crystal and Silversea offer plenty of choice when it comes to ship-sponsored shore excursions in their ports of call. You'll find a range of introductory visits to city centers, market explorations, visits to castles and vineyards, and even more active pursuits like bike rides or kayak tours. You'll find well-organized, small group tours on both lines.
Choose Silversea is you want to tour with an escort from the ship.
A Silversea employee acts as an escort on every ship-sponsored shore excursion. Sometimes it's a member of the entertainment staff or the onboard art expert or an employee from the tour desk. The purpose is twofold: to give cruisers additional support during the tour, and to make sure each outing lives up to the cruise line's high standard. It's a terrific opportunity for passengers to bond with a crew member.
Choose Crystal if you'd like to volunteer while traveling.
Voluntourism isn't just a passing fad. More and more cruise lines are incorporating into their shore excursions an opportunity to give back to the communities the ship visits. In fact, Crystal was a leader in launching these type of tours with its hands-on "You Care. We Care. Crystal Voluntourism Adventures." Volunteers meet locals and help work on a project that benefits the community. Tours are available in destinations ranging from Cartagena, Colombia (to work with underserved communities), to Darwin, Australia (to help maintain a botanical garden), and San Francisco (to work at a food bank).
When it comes to cabin selection on Crystal and Silversea, you have options. Both lines offer staterooms with picture windows, veranda categories and a series of suites.
Choose Crystal if you need an allergy-free stateroom.
If you're constantly grabbing for the tissue box when you travel, you might want to try one of Crystal's Deluxe PURE Staterooms, which can be found in categories P1 and P2 aboard Crystal Serenity and A2 and A3 aboard Crystal Symphony. What makes these cabins hypoallergenic? The housekeeping staff run through a seven-step checklist that purifies the air and all surfaces in the suite, which are inspected every six months.
Choose Silversea if you want a spacious suite and a butler.
All of Silversea's accommodations are larger than comparable options on Crystal. For example, an entry-level Vista Suite (ocean view) on Silversea ships ranges from 240 square feet aboard Silver Wind to 334 square feet on Silver Muse. Comparable staterooms are 226 square feet on Crystal Serenity and 202 square feet on Crystal Symphony.
While Crystal only offers butler service to passengers in Seabreeze Penthouse and higher categories, every single stateroom aboard Silversea's ships is looked after by a butler. Yours will greet you upon embarkation and set up your suite according to your preferences. That includes things like making sure you have your choice of pillows (goose down, hypoallergenic or therapeutic), alcohol in your bar setup and bath products (Ferragamo or Bvlgari). He can unpack your bags, if you'd like. He'll also assist by making dining reservations on your behalf and serving breakfast on your verandah.
Set seating is now a thing of the past on both Crystal Cruises and Silversea. Instead, both lines offer more flexible dine anytime and reservation-style dining at all of their venues. Both offer well-regarded main dining rooms and Italian specialty venues at night. Most, but not all, restaurants are included in the cruise fare.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you love Asian cuisine.
Celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisu has collaborated with Crystal Cruises for years. His Umi Uma and The Sushi Bar features Asian-Peruvian fusion dishes that get rave reviews from Crystal loyalists. Every cruiser gets one complimentary meal at Umi Uma, but additional reservations carry a per-person fee.
Additionally, the line has developed Silk Kitchen, which serves Chinese comfort food family-style. You can order stir-fried beef, crispy duck salad and other Asian favorites. Silk Kitchen is included in Crystal's cruise fare, though reservations are required at dinner.
Silversea does offer the pan-Asian Indochine on Silver Spirit and Muse; it also features the extra-fee Japanese venues Seishin on Spirit and Kaiseki on Muse.
Or a good churrascaria.
Every evening, Crystal's Marketplace buffet venue turns into Churrascaria, serving a selection of meats on skewers plus South American and Latin tapas. Arrive hungry because you'll be treated to as much pork, steak, lamb, chicken, garlic shrimp and veggies as you can eat. This venue is also included in your cruise fare.
Choose Silversea if you appreciate Relais & Chateaux restaurants, because the cruise line has the one only at sea.
Six Silversea ships -- Muse, Spirit, Wind, Shadow and Whisper, and expedition ship Silver Cloud -- feature La Dame By Relais & Chateaux, a super intimate dining venue with just a few tables. This coveted reservation means you'll have the opportunity to dine at the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea.
Why is that such a big deal? The organization is a collection of the ritziest gourmet restaurants, boutique hotels, classy resorts and impressive villas the world has to offer, and it assisted Silversea with the design of the French-inspired menu at La Dame. The six-course menu can be paired with fine wines, and most diners take the suggestions of the sommelier seriously.
Traditional food is cooked to perfection here and might include things like grilled lamb chops, seared sea scallops or even venison served with a raspberry sauce. There is a $60 per person cover charge to dine at La Dame.
Or if you want to dine under the stars.
On Silversea ships, you can book dinner under the stars at The Grill (also known as Hot Rocks). It's a unique low-key venue on deck with a twist: Volcanic rocks heated to 400 degrees are placed on your table, and you cook your meal of meat, fish and veggies yourself.
If you're worried that you'll over- or undercook your meat, or don't want to cook at all on a cruise, a night out at Hot Rocks might not be right for you; however, this is a nice option when it's formal-optional night and you don't feel like dressing for dinner. The dress code at The Grill is always casual.
Daytime pastimes aboard both lines are similar, with guest lectures, bridge, trivia, wine tastings and more. But Crystal and Silversea ships are also a lot of fun after the sun sets. Crystal, with its larger ships, offers more spacious lounges and a variety of onboard entertainers -- everything from pianists and singers to a small orchestra, movies and even magicians from the famed Magic Castle. Silversea opts to offer a larger number of smaller venues for socializing, dancing and listening to music. Both lines offer Broadway-style shows in their theaters (though Crystal's offerings often get better reviews), as well as casinos.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you'd like to twirl around the dance floor.
Of all the luxury lines, Crystal goes to the greatest lengths to cater to dance aficionados. The line makes sure its ships have spacious dance floors to accommodate special events, and passengers have an opportunity to dance every night at the Stardust Lounge.
Even if you aren't traveling with a dance partner, you can still participate in this popular Crystal pastime because the line has a fantastic program called Ambassador Hosts. Crystal screens and hires accomplished ballroom dancers to dance with its passengers, so you can be sure you'll be able to dance the night away. The line guarantees each sailing will have male dance hosts, and certain sailings throughout the year also offer female dance partners. It's a nice touch that dance fans appreciate. (Silversea also offers dance hosts.)
In addition, the line runs several themed itineraries per year that are devoted to dancing.
Choose Silversea if you love the idea of dining while listening to music.
Silversea's popular Silver Note aboard Silver Muse and Silver Spirit tips its hat to the dining, drinking and dancing establishments popular in America's cities during the 1930s. Think Rainbow Room (which was the inspiration for Silver Note's interior design aboard Silver Spirit) meets the Apollo Theater. You'll find comfy banquette seating and intimate lamp-lit tables -- all with a view of the stage, so you can watch cabaret-style shows during dinner.
Entertainment ranges from full jazz ensembles to a singer with a pianist. The menu consists of a variety of small plates featuring cuisine from around the globe. This is a fun spot to enjoy with friends.
Choose Crystal if you're traveling with kids.
Crystal Cruises doesn't offer the same level of childcare that the mass-market lines including Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line do, but it does provide supervised activities for kids between the ages of 3 and 17 on certain sailings each year. Look for holiday sailings and those during the summer months when the kids are out of school.
Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony both have a playroom called Fantasia where there are arts and crafts activities, board games and a large-screen TV for group viewing of movies and cartoons. Teenagers gravitate to Waves, the video arcade that's got Sony PlayStation, Wii and XBox 360 kiosks. Babysitters are available if you'd like to leave the kids behind one night and have a grown-up dinner.
Choose Silversea if you're hoping to avoid children on your cruise.
Silversea doesn't cater to families with small children. While you might see the occasional child onboard, the ships provide no special services for young cruisers. That means no kids club and no private babysitting. If you're the type of person that loves little kids but would prefer not to see them during your vacation, Silversea is a good bet.
Pick Silversea if you want to sail on a newer ship, have a butler (no matter which cabin category you choose) and are interested in a larger entry-level suite (especially on the line's newer ships).
Alternatively, pick Crystal if dancing and nightly entertainment are important to you, if you're looking for a theme cruise (food and wine, bridge, golf, etc.), want to volunteer in the places you visit or if you're traveling with children.
Updated October 10, 2019