The words "luxury cruise" don't begin to describe the small and elegant Silversea cruise ships, according to company spokesperson Helen McCabe-Young. "Silversea is more than a cruise, it's the feeling that accompanies the realization that one is experiencing the pinnacle of luxury."
So, beyond feelings, how does Silversea describe itself? The company eschews descriptions like "the best" even though that is what many say it is. "We don't try to define ourselves," says Helen. "We provide the elements of luxury and allow each of our guests to define the experience for themselves."
Silversea fits my bill for luxury: small, all-suite, yacht-like vessels with the highest levels of food and service, and onboard creature comforts no other cruise line can match. At 287 sq. ft., the minimum category stateroom is nearly twice the size of many cruise ship cabins. It includes a VCR, a fully-stocked mini-bar and refrigerator where you can consume everything you want at no additional cost. If you want, a five course dinner can be delivered to your door by your European stewardess -- one course at a time.
Of course, it comes at a very dear price with rates beginning at $850 per person, per day. But the Silversea experience is as close to all-inclusive as it gets with airfare, deluxe pre/post hotel stays, all-suite accomodations, single open-seating dining, and all tips, beverages and transportation fees included in the cruise fare.
ACCOLADESBy maintaining its high levels, Silversea has received many cruise industry accolades, including "best ship" awards by magazines with readers who rate ships and other vacation experiences against each other. In 1998, readers of Conde Nast not only elected it as the top cruise line, but also the number one travel experience in the world, outpacing hotels, resorts and islands as well as other cruise lines.
And soon the experience will be available to more guests, the current 16,400-ton sister ships Silver Cloud and Silver Wind -- 296 passengers, introduced in 1994 and 1995 respectively, are about to be joined by two new builds, the Silver Shadow in September, 2000, and the Silver Whisper in July, 2001. The new ships each weigh in at 28,000 gross registered tons and carry 388 passengers, so although they are larger, they improve the space/passenger ratio (the area available to the public) from 56.75 for the earlier ships to 72 for the new ships.
We recently traveled to Genoa, Italy to preview the two new ships in the Mariotti Shipyard, one getting very near to completion and the other only beginning to take shape.
ENHANCING THE EXPERIENCEWhen you already have a winning formula you don't change it, but you are allowed to enhance it. Since the line's inception back in 1992, by the LeFebvre family of Rome (former owners of Sitmar), the Silversea concept has remained virtually the same. Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten of Oslo, Norway, the design team for the original ships, bring to Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper similar design elements, but now the ships are larger which affords them room for even more improvements.
PUBLIC ROOMS - NEW AND IMPROVEDTo accomodate the larger number of passengers, the restaurants and other public rooms have been enlarged accordingly and new rooms have been added.
Beginning on the uppermost deck ten, one will see the most significant improvements. On the older ships there is a room called the Observation Lounge that has a commanding view but is rarely used because it is peculiarly orphaned by not being reachable except by extremely windy outside decks. Not so on the new ships. An indoor elevator leads to a much improved Observation Lounge.
Next to this new room is the expanded health spa, 62% larger, that includes an aerobics room and a wider selection of fitness machines, each with its own television and headset. For spa services, Silversea has yanked the management reins from the ubiquitous Steiners of London (who have nearly cornered the spa franchise for the entire cruise industry) and handed them over to Mandara Spas. This unique purveyor of spa services in the Pacific Rim offers exotic treatments in the Balinese tradition such as a Hot Lava Rock Massage, a Milk and Honey Hydrotherapy Bath and a Javanese Honey Steam Wrap. Sounds good enough to eat.
And speaking of eating, the Pool Deck (deck eight), now includes an outside Pool Grill where guests can get a barbecue lunch and drinks from the full-service bar. The pool area features a larger, deeper swimming pool and two jacuzzi pools. Behind the Pool Grill is the Panorama Lounge, overlooking the aft end of the ship. Here guests will gather for special activities and cocktail parties. Next to the lounge, the already wonderful Silversea library has been expanded to include a new business center including five computers with Internet access for a fee. Hundreds of books are available, as well as videotapes of current movies and educational features which guests may borrow, on the trust system, to view in their cabins.
On deck seven is the bistro-style Terrace Cafe with its grand 180-degree panoramic view over the stern of the ship. The seating area has been expanded and the buffet area has been enlarged and moved back by several feet to improve traffic flow. Adjoining the Terrace Cafe is the new "Le Champagne" wine-tasting specialty room created in collaboration with Moet & Chandon. Silversea, in affiliation with this distinguished company, will offer guests the opportunity to taste a new and expanded wine list that now encompasses 25 red wines, 25 white wines and an assortment of champagnes. Educational lectures by wine experts will accompany the tastings, and of course it is all included in the cost of the cruise. These events will be held regularly throughout the cruise and guests are invited to attend at any time. Additionally, a very special selection of fine and rare wines will be carried on board that guests may purchase at an additional cost for special occasions.
Next to "Le Champagne" is another new opportunity to get a taste of luxury, "The Humidor" created by the European purveyor of fine cigars; Davidoff. The room is reminiscent of an English smoking room and features a walk-in humidor where guests may purchase hand-rolled cigars from the Davidoff line or other premium brands from around the world. Cuban cigars will be available, but locked-up while the ship is in U.S. ports.
Deck six includes the balcony level of the new "Athenian Show Lounge," site of lectures and live evening entertainment. Silversea has commissioned the Jean Ann Ryan production company of Florida to produce a new set of shows and increased the production staff to six singers and dancers. The lower level of the theater is on deck five.
Continuing on deck five one finds The Lobby, The Boutique and the exclusive jewelry and bauble shop by Bvlgary. Next to the shop is an enlarged casino featuring, for the first time on a Silversea ship, an actual craps table. There is also a new bar adjoining the casino which as yet is still un-named, though I am wagering it will be called the "Monte Carlo Room." Also on deck five is a traditional room on all Silversea ships, "The Bar," a room which was named almost as soon as the steel was cut on the very first ship. Though they have considered changing the name from time to time in the past, it has now become a sentimental tradition just to call it "The Bar," and so it will likely remain forever.
ACCOMODATIONSSilver Shadow is an all-suite ship. There are no inside cabins and over 80% of the suites have a private teak veranda. All the suites feature walk-in closets, a sitting area with a writing desk, a refrigerator and mini-bar, and an entertainment center with a VCR. The marble bathroom includes a double sink vanity, full bathtub and separate shower. In-suite television includes CNN and several in-house movie channels, and will soon feature Bloomberg financial information via satellite.
The smallest suites are the Vista Suites (287 sq. ft,) with a large picture window. The very popular Veranda Suites (349 sq. ft.) are identical except that they include a balcony.
The Medallion Suites (521 sq. ft.) are the beginning level for those who want truly separate sleeping and sitting areas. The queen-size bed is enclosed by walls and beautiful floor to ceiling glass doors with drapes. There are separate televisions for each area and the bowl area is separate from the bathing area.
The Silver Suite (701 sq. ft.) is similar in design to the Medallion but wider for a larger balcony and additional space for a dining set able to seat four.
The Owner's Suite (827 sq. ft.) features a guest powder room, a flat-screen plasma display television and a CD stereo system. This suite can be adjoined by an additional Veranda Suite to make a single, large two bedroom suite. Each suite has it's own entrance and shares a common living room area.
The Royal Suite (908 sq. ft.) also features a guest powder room, a flat-screen plasma display television and a CD stereo system. This suite can be adjoined by an additional Veranda Suite to make a single, large two bedroom suite. The two suites share a common entrance hallway with separate front doors.
The Grand Suite (953 sq. ft.) also features a guest powder room, a flat-screen plasma display television and a CD stereo system. This suite can be adjoined by an additional Veranda Suite to make a single, large two bedroom suite. The two suites share a common entrance hallway with separate front doors.
What is significant about the Royal and the Grand Suites are their positions above the bow of the ship. The slanting and curved walls, large windows and unique forward looking views from the balconies make them exquisitely distinctive. Bathrooms include large jacuzzi tubs, a bidet and granite walls.
EXPANDED ITINERARIESOne benefit of expanding the fleet will be the ability of Silversea to offer new itineraries to its already loyal base of repeat cruisers -- without having to forego the destinations that have proven to be so popular in the past. The company plans to include new cruising regions, such as the Middle East and Africa, and to include land packages with them. Dubai will be used for an embarkation point for a series of cruises that will include the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Other cruises will include the East Coast of Africa. Popular itineraries such as the Chilean Fjords, the Mediterranean and points in Europe and the South Pacific will continue as before.
The company also plans to make its ships more accessible to a wider range of passengers by offering shorter length cruise segments. It will be possible for guests to find itineraries in lengths of seven to nine days. The length of the average cruise will be shortened to eleven days.
PREMIUM CRUISINGThe luxury cruising market is experiencing the same rate of growth as the rest of the cruising industry. But pricing for a Silver Shadow cruise during its inaugural year ranges from $5,095 for a 7-day Caribbean voyage to $35,595 for an 18-day voyage around South America. Prices are per person, double occupancy (they do offer reasonable singles supplement rates and provide gentlemen hosts on selected cruises), and include roundtrip airfare, pre-cruise deluxe hotel, all beverages throughout the ship including wine at dinner, spirits and Moet Chandon champagne, and all gratuities, transfers, porterage and port fees.
We have seen discounts from Seabourn and free air offerings from other high-end cruise lines, but don't expect to see such discounting from Silversea. Overall, they have been able to remain above the crowd and maintain some of the most consistent, and richest, pricing of any cruise line in the industry, with no regional discounts and no last minute sales. Yes, they are expensive, as much as $1900 a day per person, but maybe it's because they're worth it - it's up to you.
email: Paul Motter