If you're luxury cruise shopping, it's not surprising that at some point in your research you'd ask yourself, "Should I pick Oceania Cruises or Silversea?" While Oceania doesn't come to the table with the same all-inclusive cruise fare structure that Silversea does, it's a solid competitor in terms of ship choice, well-designed cabins and suites, exemplary dining venues, shore tours, spa services, and onboard activities and entertainment.
Which cruise line and ship you ultimately select will depend upon some personal choices like where you want to go, the size of the ship you prefer, whether you want an alcohol-inclusive experience, how many shore excursions you plan to take, and what sort of onboard activities you find rewarding. Read on to drill down into the nitty-gritty of each cruise line to determine which is the best match for your cruise style.
The Oceania Cruises fleet includes six ships: four 684-passenger, older-yet-beloved R-class ships and two newer, 1,250-passenger O-class ships that were built specifically for the cruise line. The smaller R-class ships include Insignia, Nautica and Regatta -- which joined the Oceania fleet in 1998, 2000 and 2003, respectively -- and Sirena, which joined the fleet in March 2016 after a 35-day, $40-million dry dock. For those looking for newer, larger ships with more bells and whistles, the O-class options are Marina, launched in 2011, and Riviera, launched in 2012.
Silversea's fleet is made up of luxury cruise ships and rugged expedition ships. For the purposes of this story, we'll focus on the line's five luxury cruise ships: the 540-passenger Silver Spirit (launched in 2009), 388-passenger Silver Whisper (2001), 382-passenger Silver Shadow (2000), 298-passenger Silver Wind (1995) and 296-passenger Silver Cloud (1994). The 596-passenger luxury ship, Silver Muse, will launch in May 2017, and Silver Cloud will move to the expedition fleet in August 2017 after some retrofits, including the addition of an ice-strengthened hull.
Silversea's three expedition ships include the 120-passenger Silver Discoverer (launched 2014), 100-passenger Silver Galapagos (launched in 2013) and 132-passenger Silver Explorer (built in 1989 and refurbished for Silversea in 2008). Silver Cloud will cruise the poles when it joins the expedition fleet in summer 2017.
Choose Oceania if you want a larger ship with all the bells and whistles.
Oceania's O-class ships, Riviera and Marina, accommodate 1,250 passengers each and are the largest ships in this comparison discussion. Silversea's largest ship accommodates less than half that number at 540. If you're looking for a larger ship with pastimes (standalone cooking school facilities, art studios and glitzy Broadway-style extravaganzas in the theater) that are more akin to the mega-ships, the O-class ships are your choice, hands down.
Choose Silversea if you want an intimate sailing experience that focuses on personalized service.
All of Silversea's luxury ships accommodate fewer passengers than Oceania's vessels. Silver Wind and Silver Cloud welcome less than 300 travelers per cruise while Silver Whisper and Shadow are only slightly larger, accommodating just shy of 400 passengers each. With fewer passengers to cater to, Silversea can better anticipate individual needs and react to them. There are never lines and you'll almost never be shut out of onboard activities due to crowds. While the line doesn't have its own cooking school facilities or on deck water part, it comes to the table with more personalized inclusions, such as gentlemen hosts that are available as dance partners on every single sailing. If you want top-notch service in an intimate environment, Silversea is the natural choice.
Oceania and Silversea offer a different bundle of inclusions in their fares so it's important to understand that you can't simply compare brochure prices on similar voyages. Instead, you'll need to dig a bit deeper to determine which line is a better value for your cruise style.
For example, when we checked, a 10-day Caribbean Hideaways round trip out of Miami on Oceania Riviera was $2,899 for a Deluxe Ocean View cabin. The fare included airfare from select gateways, unlimited internet, plus a choice of one of the following freebies: six shore excursions, a beverage package or up to $600 in shipboard credit. At the same time, a 10-day Caribbean and Central America cruise on Silversea from Bridgetown, Barbados, to Fort Lauderdale aboard Silver Spirit was running $4,005 in an oceanview Vista Suite. That fare included $199 economy airfare, unlimited Wi-Fi, alcoholic beverages, butler service and gratuities.
In general, Silversea base cruise fares appear to be higher for most voyages (though the gap narrows for itineraries in certain destinations like the Mediterranean and Australia). But it generally includes more amenities in its cruise fares; on Oceania, you'll pay for extras including alcohol and gratuities.
Choose Oceania if you prefer a base fare with a la carte pricing on extras.
One of the nice things about Oceania is that it doesn't force you to pay for inclusions you don't necessarily want. Instead, the line offers a lower cruise-fare price point; then you can add on packages or pay a la carte for alcoholic beverages, shore excursions and Wi-Fi access at your discretion. A suggested gratuity of $16 per person per day ($23 for guests staying in Penthouse, Oceania, Vista or Owner's suites) is added to your onboard account. An 18-percent service charge is added to all beverage purchases, spa services and dinner at La Reserve. (All meals are complimentary aboard Oceania ships, with the exception of the special wine pairing dinners at La Reserve.)
Or if you want some value-added perks thrown in for free.
On select cruises at certain times of year, Oceania offers extra fare inclusions via its OLife Choice perk program. The promotion includes airfare from select gateways plus unlimited internet, and allows the cruiser to select a free extra, such as shore excursions (the number varies by length of cruise), a House Select beverage package (including unlimited Champagne, wine and beer at lunch and dinner) or onboard credit. The OLife Ultimate promotion gives the traveler all three of those freebies, though you can't predict when it will be offered. Cruisers can also opt for a cruise-only fare if they don't need or want the airfare, internet and additional perks.
Choose Silversea if you want a thoroughly all-inclusive experience.
Silversea makes it easy to enjoy a carefree cruise with fares that include just about everything you need to have a fantastic vacation. All suites aboard Silversea ships are ocean view, and most are also outfitted with a private veranda. A butler trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers is assigned to tend to every single suite onboard, so you'll have someone to help you unpack and pack your luggage, serve breakfast on your balcony, help make arrangements for shore tours and dining times, and even serve dinner course by course ensuite. Beverages -- including select wines, premium spirits, coffee and tea, specialty coffees, juice and soft drinks -- are complimentary everywhere on the ship at all times. Your suite's mini-bar is even stocked with your preferences, and your butler will replenish as necessary. Meals are complimentary at all Silversea restaurants (with the exception of Le Champagne and Seishin aboard Silver Spirit, which both carry a $40 per person surcharge). If you prefer room service, you have access to it 24 hours per day, and it's always complimentary. In the evening, you can even order selections from The Restaurant (main dining room) menu. Lastly, one of the nicest inclusions is transportation to and from town in every port so passengers wishing to explore on their own can do so with ease and without dipping into their wallets. (Oceania also offers free shuttle service from the ship to city center in many ports.)
With multiple ships in both fleets, Oceania Cruises and Silversea sail myriad voyages across the planet. If you have your heart set on a specific destination, chances are that an Oceania or Silversea ship can take you there. Both focus on voyages of 10 days or longer, and have dozens of "Grand Voyage" options that last significantly longer. Both lines also offer world cruises: 180 days on Oceania's Insignia out of Miami and 121 days aboard Silversea Silver Whisper out of Los Angeles. All of the world cruises are available for departure in both January 2017 and January 2018. And if you're looking for a basic seven-night cruise, you'll find a fair number available from both Oceania and Silversea to Alaska, the Baltic, Caribbean and Mediterranean.
Choose Oceania if you want to explore Alaska in-depth and bring your kids.
Oceania Regatta sails Alaska from May through September, offering both seven- and 10-night voyages. Oceania's 10-night Seattle round trip itinerary is popular and includes cruising the Inside Passage, Hubbard Glacier and the Outside Passage as well as calls on Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Skagway and Sitka in Alaska plus Victoria in Canada's British Columbia. (Silversea's Silver Shadow only has seven-night options.) Oceania also brings aboard counselors to arrange for games and educational activities for kids sailing with them in Alaska over the summer. This type of program and extras for kids isn't offered on any other Oceania itinerary.
Or if you want to visit Hawaii and French Polynesia.
Oceania Sirena and Regatta both offer a variety of voyages that explore South Pacific ports such as Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island in Hawaii; Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas; Fakarava in the Tuamotu Islands; and Bora Bora, Raiatea, Moorea, Rangiroa, Huahine and Tahiti in the Society Islands. These sailings range from 10 to 48 nights. (Insignia and Marina also pay a few visits to the area in 2017.)
Choose Silversea if you want to visit lesser known, out-of-the-way ports of call.
Silversea's Silver Whisper, Silver Shadow, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind are significantly smaller than any Oceania ship. For that reason, these particular vessels can visit some small, little-known destinations. Silver Wind routinely calls on places including Mayreau and Bequia in the Grenadines; Les Saintes, Guadeloupe; and Roseau, Dominica. Larger ships have a hard time calling on these magical isles.
Or if you want to go to Africa.
Silver Cloud offers a handful of 10-night round trip voyages from Cape Town that call on South Africa's Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay, Durban and East London as well as Maputo, Mozambique. Silversea offers pre- and post-cruise land adventures in and around Cape Town that include safari drives and visits to wine country as well as a one- or two-night midvoyage safari at Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Oceania and Silversea excel when it comes to offering their cruisers intriguing and well-guided shore excursions. Neither line rolls up the cost of shore tours in its cruise fare; instead, you must pay a la carte for each excursion you wish to book. However, both lines do sometimes offer special promotions that offer complimentary shore excursions. Look to Oceania's OLife promo, where you can opt for free shore tours (the number of which depends on the length and itinerary of your cruise). In 2016, Silversea offered what it called "The Most Exclusive All-Inclusive" package on select itineraries in the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa; it included shore excursions, Wi-Fi, airfare and a pre-cruise hotel or safari. (The cruise line has not announced if this program will be extended to 2017.)
Choose Oceania if you'd like to buy a discounted shore excursion package.
If you can't or don't want to opt for free excursions as your OLife Choice perk, you can still buy packages that bundle discounted tours. The Unlimited Passport Collection gives you access to unlimited excursions throughout your cruise, but you must select from a set list of options. The package doesn't include every shore excursion sold on an a la carte basis by the company. While you can't choose from the complete list of tours, you will get up to 40 percent off the tours that are included in the Unlimited Passport Collection. Alternatively, opt for the Your World Collection package that allows you to custom-design your shore time by selecting any of Oceania's available tours. You'll get 25 percent off a la carte prices and you'll need to book a certain minimum of tours to get the discount. (The minimum is dependent on the particular cruise you've selected.)
Or if you're a foodie and want to experience the cuisines of the ports you visit.
Oceania gets high marks for its Culinary Discovery Tours that introduce a traveler to the port's culinary history and local food scene. The ship's chef or a chef instructor accompanies the tours, which focus on meeting locals and sampling the specialties of the region. Book these tours in advance since they are limited to groups of 20 or fewer.
Choose Silversea if you want tons of choices as well as customized options.
In many destinations, Silversea has more choice when it comes to programs onshore. When you book a Silversea cruise, you can opt for seven different types of shore excursions. Look to the Silver Shore Collection for the most commonly booked tours. More active travelers are often drawn to the offerings labeled "Silver Shore Expeditions," and travelers that want to explore a port with a small group of like-minded people love the options that are part of the Silver Shore Excursions category. If you want to book a private car and guide, you can do so with Silver Shore Privato. Those hoping to volunteer in a particular port can look for options in the Silver Shore Good Citizen group of excursions 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.
Or if you want to be well cared for.
Silversea makes sure its passengers enjoy shore excursions in a number of ways, from limiting the number of people on each motor coach (allowing for a more comfortable ride for all) to having bottled water on hand and handing out umbrellas or ponchos when the weather makes a turn for the worse. A representative from the ship -- often someone from the Shore Excursion desk -- accompanies each tour, which gives passengers an added level of comfort and security.
Oceania and Silversea have many things in common when it comes to accommodations, but there are some major differences as well. Both lines have beautiful, comfortable and well-maintained cabins and suites. Oceania offers its Prestige Tranquility Bed, with a two-inch-thick, gel-filled pillow top -- oh, so heavenly! Silversea tops its beds with sumptuous Pratesi linens. Oceania offers butler service in its top suites, while every Silversea stateroom gets the benefit of a butler. Oceania offers inside cabins; Silversea does not. And while Oceania's R-class ships offer smaller staterooms on average than those aboard Silversea's smaller ships, top suites across both lines are very spacious.
Choose Oceania if you want a suite decked out by a designer.
Respected designer Ralph Lauren created the gorgeous Owner's Suites aboard the line's O-class ships, and New Yorker Dakota Jackson developed the interiors for Marina and Riviera's Vista and Oceania suites. If you wish to go all-out, you can't go wrong in any of those top digs. The Owner's Suites, with furnishings from the Ralph Lauren Home Collection, span 2,000 square feet and include a spacious living room, bedroom with a king-sized bed and two walk-in closets, and both indoor and outdoor whirlpool spas. Vista Suites have similar layouts but a smaller footprint, from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. Ocean Suites are 1,000 square feet and are perfect for entertaining, with a living room, dining room and second bathroom for guests. All three types of suites include priority embarkation, 24-hour butler service, a complimentary ensuite bar setup with six full-size bottles of premium spirits and wines, plus complimentary, unlimited Wi-Fi and access to the VIP Executive Lounge.
Or if you just need somewhere to sleep.
Every ship in Oceania's fleet has a few inside cabins; Silversea has none. While the lack of a view might bother some cruisers, others appreciate the value of a lower-priced stateroom -- especially if they'll only be in the room to sleep and get dressed in the morning. If that sums up the way you use a cruise ship cabin, an Oceania inside stateroom could be a good value for you. Oceania's R-class ships also offer several categories of ocean-view staterooms that can be a value on many itineraries. Always compare rates on both lines to see which line and stateroom best suits your needs.
Choose Silversea if you want a butler.
While only a few of Oceania's top-end suites are tended to by a butler, Silversea offers personalized butler service 24 hours a day in all suites. Butlers are carefully selected, and all received their education at the Guild of Professional English Butlers. Your suite will be your oasis, with a butler and steward tending to all of your needs. Don't miss having a meal served course-by-course on your veranda; it's a special experience. The rest of the crew aboard Silversea's ships have been trained by The Leading Hotels of the World, a luxury hospitality consortium, in an effort to provide personalized white-glove service throughout the ship.
Or if you want more space.
While Oceania sails four R-class ships that are a favorite among a loyal group of cruisers, the ships' ocean-view accommodations are a bit tight at just 143 square feet. Compare that to ocean-view suites aboard Silversea ships that range from 240 square feet on Silver Cloud and Silver Wind to 287 square feet on Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper and 312 square feet on Silver Spirit. That's a lot more space to enjoy if you plan to spend some downtime in your stateroom.
One of the toughest questions is: Which line is best for fine dining? That's because they both have a lot to be recommended. Oceania Cruises consistently gets excellent ratings for restaurants across its fleet -- and that includes its main dining rooms, specialty restaurants, buffets and poolside grills. On Oceania's larger ships, Marina and Riviera, you will be spoiled for choice by the range of free specialty restaurants, including options designed by famed French chef Jacques Pepin.
Silversea comes to the table with consistent fine dining offerings, including one of the best main dining rooms at sea (don't miss it at lunchtime!). It also has a fantastic alfresco steakhouse called Hot Rocks, an Italian restaurant devoted to the Slow Food movement, a fun supper club, an Asian fusion option, outdoor grill and more.
Choose Oceania if you love fine dining and want access to a variety of complimentary restaurants.
Foodies love Oceania for its incredible choice of dining venues -- especially on its larger O-class ships. You don't pay a dime for the line's specialty restaurants (with the exception of a special wine pairing dinner at La Reserve, which is sponsored by Wine Spectator). Jacques Pepin, one of the most beloved French chefs of our time, partners with Oceania as the line's executive culinary director. His even hand can be seen in everything from the high-quality provisions to each restaurant's unique menu offerings. Across the fleet, you'll find steakhouses (Tuscan Steak on Sirena and Polo Grill aboard all other Oceania restaurants), an Italian restaurant (Toscana), an outdoor cafe and grill, and the Asian-inspired Red Ginger. If you love French food, Jacques and Jacques Bistro are not to be missed. (Francophiles, take note: You will only find Jacques as a standalone dining room that's open for dinner aboard the O-class ships, Riviera and Marina. On Sirena, an R-class vessel, the Grand Dining Room transforms into the more casual Jacques Bistro each day for lunch. The other R-class ships do not offer a French restaurant.) The main dining room also gets high marks from diners, and even the ships' buffets and pool grills serve up some delectable dishes.
Choose Silversea if you appreciate slow food and are willing to pay extra for special dining experiences.
One of the most special restaurants across Silversea's fleet is La Terrazza, a venue highlighting authentic Italian cuisine made with sustainable ingredients. Focusing on Slow Food -- the concept of using high-quality, locally sourced ingredients to prepare food according to regional culinary traditions -- the menu is rife with specialty provisions such as homemade pasta, buffalo mozzarella sourced in Naples, delicious organic balsamic vinegar and olive oil from Umbria, and 24-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. On certain ships in Silversea's fleet you'll also find two specialty restaurants that carry a $40 per person surcharge: Le Champagne and Seishin. French-inspired Le Champagne is the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea, and it features menu options like lobster thermidor and coquilles St. Jacques. Seishin features Asian fusion cuisine, with sushi and sashimi taking center stage along with Kobe beef and lobster.
Or if you love supper clubs.
If you enjoy dining on small plates while listening to music in a cozy Art Deco-inspired venue, you'll love Silversea's Stars Supper Club. This complimentary dining experience can be found aboard Silver Spirit. A similar venue, Silver Note, will be onboard the line's forthcoming new flagship, Silver Muse, which makes its debut in spring 2017.
Drink inclusions are an area where you can see a big difference between the offerings of Oceania and Silversea. Oceania is a pay as you sip while Silversea packages alcohol into its cruise fare.
Choose Oceania Cruises if you don't drink alcohol.
Some cruisers are not interested in partaking in alcoholic beverages, so the idea of unlimited alcohol included in their cruise fares is not very appealing. Why pay for something you won't use? Instead, Oceania offers a bevy of complimentary nonalcoholic beverages, including soda, bottled water, juice, coffee and tea, espresso and cappuccino.
Or if you'd prefer to pay based on the amount you drink.
Those who do wish to enjoy alcohol onboard can pay an a la carte price per drink or sign up for one of three beverage packages. That way, passengers are in control of their beverage spend. The Prestige Select package costs $59.95 per day and includes unlimited premium spirits, Champagne, wine and beer "wherever and whenever you wish." The House Select package is a bit cheaper at $39.95 per day and offers unlimited Champagne, wine and beer with lunch and dinner only. (If your voyage is eligible for Ocean's popular OLife promotion, you can select the House Beverage Package as your free inclusion.) The Wine by the Bottle package consists of seven bottles, each priced at $47.50 (gratuity included).
Choose Silversea if you want access to all types of beverages at any time throughout the voyage without paying extra.
Silversea includes a variety of nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages in its base cruise fare. You'll have access to select wines, premium spirits, coffee and tea, plus specialty coffees, soft drinks and juices at all bars, lounges and dining rooms. Your suite's mini-bar comes stocked with your preferences -- a nice perk if you like to enjoy a cocktail as you dress for dinner. Your butler replenishes the drink selection as needed throughout your voyage.
To be honest, neither of these lines is a perfect fit for families. They don't offer permanent facilities for children (no kids clubs) nor do they normally organize activities that would keep little ones busy. Both lines are more suited for families traveling with young adults or kids happy entertaining themselves and enjoying adult company.
Choose Oceania Cruises if you're sailing to Alaska.
While Oceania doesn't normally offer children's programs, the line does present the Alaska Explorer Youth Program during its Alaska summertime voyages. Counselors organize complimentary games and educational activities for kids ages 5 through 12. Those voyages are your best bet if you want to sail Oceania with your children in tow.
Choose Silversea if you're traveling with adult children.
If you're celebrating a special occasion with your adult children -- maybe a high school or college graduation -- Silversea is an excellent option since you can book two-bedroom suites with luxurious common areas including a living room, dining room and expansive teak balcony.