In July of this year, our Senior Product & Marketing Manager Helen Tabois embarked on an unforgettable Arctic expedition cruise onboard Silversea’s Silver Cloud ship. In the first instalment of her two-part blog, she shares just what she thought of the luxurious boat and the incredible facilities it had to offer…
I've cruised before with Silversea (and other luxury lines) in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean but this was my first taste of "expedition" cruising. Let me start by saying this: I'm hooked! The sights I saw, the experts on board, the sense of sailing to new frontiers - but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning…
I'd chosen a 12-night cruise along the coast of Northern Norway and up to Svalbard in the high Arctic, aboard Silversea Expeditions' Silver Cloud. She differs from the other three expedition ships in that she was originally part of Silversea's "classic" fleet, until a major refit in 2017 turned her into a 240 passenger, all-suite, ice-strengthened vessel complete with a fleet of 20 zodiacs (small watercrafts used for shore landings). As I embarked in the small Norwegian town of Kristiansund, I was greeted with all the familiar hallmarks of the Silversea experience; a welcoming glass of champagne, swift check-in, personal escort to my suite, and a friendly suite orientation from my butler, followed by the mandatory lifeboat drill. So far, so very Silversea.
The first sign that this was going to be a completely different experience came with the initial expedition briefing that evening. This was mandatory, as was the one held immediately before we reached Svalbard, but although the other daily briefings were optional, it quickly became clear that attendance was essential if you wanted to maximise your enjoyment of the holiday. Usually held late afternoon, these half hour sessions were where plans for the next day's landings and excursions would be discussed, and where the specialist expedition staff would give updates and further information on what we'd seen during the day. If that all sounds a little dry and formal, believe me when I say that it was anything but; in the hands of the passionate and incredibly knowledgeable 28-strong expedition team, there was plenty of fun and laughter mixed in too - from musical interludes to a game of "I'll Name That Bird Call In…", during which the resident ornithologist on the team stunned us all with his 100% record, not least because it was his colleagues and us, the guests, demonstrating the bird calls!
The practical side of this cruise was just one of the things that Silversea handled brilliantly, demonstrating that their ten years of experience in expedition cruising are well-utilised. The mantra of expedition cruising appears to be "flexibility" and thus there was always a Plan B (and C, and D) should the weather or other unexpected obstacles mean that Plan A wasn't feasible, wasn't safe, or simply wouldn't give guests a very good experience.
What to pack?
One of my big dilemmas relating to practicalities had been what to pack. It's a question that most people wrestle with before going on holiday but this was a packing conundrum like no other I've experienced!
Fortunately, with Silversea Expeditions, there's lots of guidance available in advance and, to lessen the load luggage-wise (on the outbound journey at least), every guest received an expedition parka jacket, a rucksack and a reusable water bottle in their suite on arrival. You could also choose to pre-book and rent "mud boots" to keep you warm and dry on those aforementioned wet landings if you didn't want the hassle of bringing your own. I'll admit, I did still "over-pack"! However, it was mostly in terms of the evenings, where other than the nights of the Captain's Welcome and Farewell cocktail parties, the dress-code was much more casual than I'd been used to on other cruises – this laid-back attire was welcomed by everyone I spoke with and was perfectly in keeping with the style of the cruise.
Fine dining at sea
One time I did "dress-up" was when dining in the French restaurant, La Dame. It's the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea and although it does come at an extra cost (all other restaurants, food and beverages are included), I'd recommend it for one extra-special evening during your cruise. For the remainder of my time on board, I relished the wide choice of dining options that Silver Cloud's size enables her to offer.
Every morning, noon and night, The Restaurant and La Terrazza offered a mix of à la carte and buffet fare showcasing a range of cuisine, with Italian the speciality at the latter. At lunch, there was also the Pool Grill if you wanted to eat out on deck taking in the fabulous scenery, while by night this turned into "Hot Rocks", a novel experience of selecting your food and then cooking it to your personal taste on the sizzling-hot volcanic stones placed in front of you. Of course, we were sailing into the Arctic, so despite the outdoor heaters and blankets, those Silversea Expedition parkas came in handy here too - very different dinner attire than I'm used to on a cruise!
The spacious nature of Silver Cloud means that there are plenty of bars and lounges in which to relax at any time of day or night and watch the world go by. Something I loved to do was escape the breakfast bustle in La Terrazza and swap it - not for the serenity of The Restaurant - but for the "Early Riser" breakfast of coffee, fruit and warm pastries served in the Panorama Lounge. From here, I watched the fjords and mountains glide by in peace and quiet, spotted black-legged kittiwakes and northern fulmars swooping high and low on the thermals, and marvelled at the dramatic beauty of the scene laid out in front of me. Just the occasional other guest joined me and, to my mind, this little hideaway is one of the best kept secrets on board!
However enjoyable life on board though, the star turns of any expedition cruise are the destinations you visit, the experiences you have and the sights you see – and that’s what’s coming up in part two of my blog…
Have you been tempted by a luxury expedition cruise with Silversea? For a bespoke quote and expert recommendations, contact our Travel Specialists today on 01244 355 600, or browse our extensive luxury cruise portfolio online now.