(11:22 a.m. EST) -- Talk about extreme makeovers: Silver Cloud Expedition, Silversea's first ship launched in 1994, was recently converted from a luxury yacht into a 254-passenger (200 in polar regions) expedition vessel for a November 2017 debut. More than $40 million was spent, including transforming the yacht into an ice-class ranked vessel, and remodeling suites and most public spaces to create a modern Italian design complementing the line's newer flagships. What's the result? Below is our outline of some hits and misses of Silver Cloud Expedition after sailing on its inaugural voyage.
Hit: More Elegant Suites
We love the new modern Italian vibe in all suites, a major switch from the previous dark decor. High-end furnishings -- from cozy couches to buttery leather chairs and headboards -- feel and look good. We like the new brighter lighting and the addition of many USB ports and outlets (both 110 and 220 volt), particularly those conveniently installed bedside. Using black-and-white photographs of early polar explorers as art suits the ship's new expedition bent. And since those spacious Silver Suites are so popular on all Silversea ships, the line wisely reconfigured the ship and upped the count from three Silver Suites to 12.
Miss: Suite Bathrooms
The old marble and granite bathrooms still look rich, and we appreciate the oversized glass showers. But when suites were remodeled, Silversea should have added brighter lighting (it's dim in the shower and over the sink -- hard for makeup application and shaving) and new softer, fluffier towels to match the enhanced quality of suites. We miss the Laura Tonatto fragrance diffusers, swapped for a generic brand. We also mourn the loss of the Ferragamo toiletry option; a Sicilian label replaces it. Thankfully, Bulgari is still the signature toiletry brand. Our only other nitpick? Not having a Nespresso machine to make coffee the second you wake up. Yes, you can page your butler, who will rapidly bring foamy cappuccinos or double espressos with a flourish, but coffee fiends love satisfying their addiction within 30 seconds of waking up.
Hit: Explorer Lounge's New Decor
The two-tiered Explorer Lounge now looks like a buzzy hangout, thanks to new groupings of chairs and banquettes rather than just rows of banquettes. We admire the chic new Italian beige-and-cream color scheme (the old brown-and-gold decor was so dated), especially the posh yet edgy polka-dot carpeting. And the new AV equipment -- starring a state-of-the-art giant screen flanked by two smaller ones -- is a big upgrade.
Miss: Seeing While Seated
While the new decor positively transforms this lounge, furniture positioning needed more thought. Chairs are placed in front of banquettes so in a full lounge, passengers in chairs may block views of those seated on banquettes. Also, with cocktail rounds positioned only in front of banquettes, chair-bound passengers must awkwardly turn around to put down a drink.
Hit: La Dame by Relais & Chateaux
This 12-table intimate dining room was always elegant, but the delicate new Relais & Chateaux china adds a ritzy flourish. The new menu -- even more awash in swank ingredients -- still stars dishes prepared with complex techniques, multiple components and intricate presentations. For instance, the accoutrements for the ounce of caviar are painstakingly shaped into a fragile edible flower. La Dame offers two different fresh foie gras preparations; both are generously sized and delicious. Silversea has upgraded ingredients fleetwide, so the La Dame beef served with truffle-infused jus is Limousin -- France's best and one of the world's finest.
Miss: The Cost
With a new charge of $60 per person -- up from $40 -- passengers may grumble about paying extra for specialty dining on a high-end cruise, unusual on luxury and even some upper-premium ships these days. In part, the extra fee is due to serving higher-quality, pricier wines than bottles poured in other dining venues. They weren't stellar on the inaugural, but we're optimistic that it was a first-cruise fumble.
Hit: Beauty Salon
How marvelous that a cruise ship this small -- let alone an expedition vessel -- offers so many treatments. Want a pedicure in a fancy "throne" leather chair with a built-in hot water bath? You got it. How about more high-end specialty services, like adding low-lights to hair, or getting teeth whitened? Splurge on a make-up application for a captain's cocktail party, try one of four different hair conditioning treatments, or get a Brazilian bikini wax for hot tub time. Men can choose from, well, manly services, like chest waxing or sports manicures. Getting pampered in the redone salon -- now well-lit, with new gleaming marble counters and gorgeous creamy-hued leather chairs -- is pure pleasure.
Hit: Zagara Spa
The old generic Spa at Silversea morphed into Zagara Spa, the cruise line's new signature mind-body wellness zone. We like the new mood room, which gets you, er, into the mood to chill. You sniff various aromatherapy scents while a screen plays Zen music and soothing scenes of waves tumbling ashore. Once you choose a scent, you meet the therapist for treatment personalization, including massage oils, room lighting and music. The surprisingly numerous choices create a spa Disneyland. What other expedition ship offers frangipani salt scrubs, sweet orchid body nectar wraps and amethyst crystal sound bath healing?
Hit: Fitness Centre
The new gym is double the size of the old one. The equipment is now spanking-new TechnoGym and there's plenty. You won't see this much choice on current expedition ships. Imagine, fancy Italian-designed stretching mats, whole-body machines, assorted free weights, elliptical trainers, bicycles, benches and medicine balls. Do plies at the barre or take a comp class like yoga or circuit training -- but only the brave step on the scale.
Hit: Expedition Team
This ship's expedition staff matches the stellar quality of experts on other Silversea expedition ships. They're not only seasoned and Ph.D.-credentialed, they also possess charm. (They must partially be chosen for personality; no boring scientists onboard.) The expedition team eagerly share their passion and expertise, whether in groups of passengers or individually. With 22 team members onboard polar itineraries, passengers get much one-on-one time. No surprise, bonding occurs, too. When passengers see an expedition expert they've sailed with before, they may greet with hugs. Who knew learning could be so much fun?
Hit: Photo Studio
Silver Cloud Expedition is the only Silversea expedition ship with a photo studio, and it may be the only expedition ship to offer services this extensive on every sail. You can take individual, couple or group classes at both basic and pro-level (think introduction to Lightroom, PhotoShop for RAW photography), print high-quality photographs and use Mac or PC photo editing software.
You can also visit the Photo Genius Bar for 20-minute appointments on personal support, like SD card problems or image storage. The most exciting Photo Studio possibility? Taking a private lesson in the field (such as on a Zodiac outing), which might be your one chance to shoot a polar bear or penguin colony like a pro. The cost isn't cheap but Silversea passengers -- especially on bucket list trips and for over-the-top service -- rarely blink. If you're serious about photography, the access to such personalized professional assistance is peerless.
Hit: Tor's Observation Lounge
We love this glam new hideaway, tucked forward on Deck 9. Affectionately named for Viking Ocean's chairman (who named his line's Italian restaurants after Manfredi Lefebvre, Silversea's chairman and owner), this lounge is a fab addition to a ship already obsessed with intimate spaces. The decor -- black-and-white, with pops of vibrant red -- creates this sexy Italian vibe, even if you're only visiting to read a newspaper, magazine or travel book lining the shelves. You'll be mesmerized with the over-the-bow, floor-to-ceiling stellar ocean view.
Miss: Getting There
You must walk outdoors to reach Tor's. If decks are closed for inclement weather (not uncommon in polar climes), the lounge is unreachable. Fortunately, this lounge is one of several.
--By Janice Wald Henderson, Cruise Critic contributor