It has been a while since I discussed Silversea Cruises and, to be honest, a lot has changed since then…and those changes have markedly improved both the ships and the service.
So let’s dive in!
Short Version: Silversea had floundered for many reasons through 2016, putting it near the bottom of Goldring Travel’s luxury cruise recommendations. However, in 2017 things changed for the better, and an extensive plan to expand the Silversea fleet, as it modernized, repurposed, or jettisoned its older ships was commenced. With Royal Caribbean Group taking a 66.7% interest in Silversea in 2018 and eventually purchasing the remainder, Silversea has become force to be reckoned with in the luxury cruise market.
With Silversea’s fleet of five (soon to be six) classic luxury cruise ships with a fairly consistent product across the fleet and four expedition ships ranging from true expedition to luxury expedition-lite, Silversea is able to offer diverse and creative itineraries on a ship that will deliver the hardware that you desire for same. The question that seems to still be answered in full, but is showing marked improvement is “Does Silversea deliver the service and cuisine at a similar level?”
Long Version: As a bit of background, Silversea Cruises had been essentially owned by the Lefebvre family in Monaco and operated by V Ships since its founding in 1994 with its first ship, the now 254 (240 in polar regions) guest Silver Cloud followed by its sister ship, Silver Wind with 274 guests before its upcoming refitting), about a year later. Five years later, in 2000, the larger Silver Shadow, with 388 guests, entered service, followed again the next year by her sister ship, Silver Whisper.
When I became involved with the luxury cruise industry a few years later Silversea was presented as an international cruise line with a very Italian flare. Without getting too far into the weeds, I was a bit put off by Silversea’s expressed desire to have no more than 40% of its guests coming from North America and some pretty consistent complaints about cost-savings measures ranging from lack of ship maintenance to the quality of the cuisine and training of the staff and crew. The few clients I had booked on Silversea reported back to me with similar experiences.
Over the following years I made a number of efforts to better my relationship with Silversea and its executives. Unfortunately, there was a rapidly spinning revolving door at its Fort Lauderdale and then Miami, Florida executive offices, and, respectfully, a now-gone consiglieri-type corporate overseer that made changes, improvements, and a better focus on the American market seemingly impossible and, thus, building a productive relationship was a frustrating exercise.
During this time Silversea became the first luxury cruise line to enter the Expedition market with its 2008 purchase of the 144 guest Prince Albert II (being renamed the Silver Explorer in 2011 for marketing consistency). The ship was, by that time, 14 years old and in need of some significant repairs in addition to upgrades despite the initial multimillion-dollar refit. Between the softness in the concept of Luxury Expedition Cruising, and issues with the ship, combined with most of its “suites” truly being staterooms, Silversea’s entrance into the Expedition market hit some rough seas with the ship literally sitting dockside for months with no sailings. (Oh have times changed!)
In 2009 – with Silversea’s existing fleet truly ageing – the 540 guest Silver Spirit came into service. There were not only a number of design flaws with the ship, but purportedly due to financial issues the interior designers walked off the job and the ship was eventually finished with a definite “brown” decor and poor finishes. Fortunately, in 2018 she underwent a significant renovation/refurbishment with a new midship section installed, bringing her capacity up to 608 guests and some of her design flaws addressed. However, she is a one-off ship with Silversea having no intention of using this design again…and she is currently on charter to the Saudi Arabia market for this COVID-19 Summer/Fall.
Undeterred, in 2012 Silversea expanded its Expedition commitment with the purchase of another older ship, the 100 guest Galapagos Explorer II, renaming her the Silver Galapagos. Again, Silversea marketed her as an all-suite ship when the vast majority of her accommodations were, in fact, merely staterooms; a sore point with me. With the delivery of the Silver Origin, discussed below, this ship has now left the Silversea fleet.
By now 2012 Silversea had five classic ships and two expedition ships and it was past time for me to experience the true Silversea product. So, in May 2013 I was invited on the Silver Shadow for an Alaska cruise. You can follow my review of the ship starting with Silversea Silver Shadow Alaska Cruise Review – Part I. Short version: My cruise was OK, but there were many missed in the areas of service, cuisine, and ship maintenance. Most notable was the lack of a personal touch or interaction by the vast majority of the crew. My perception was that there was a lack of finances to back the cuisine, crew quality and training. But what really created a stir was July 2013 report that the ship had just failed its Centers for Disease Control inspection for a number of reasons, including hiding trolleys loaded with food in crew quarters. Fortunately in 2019 a much needed major refitting and refurbishment of this ship was undertaken, discussed below.
In 2014 Silversea added another older ship, the Silver Discoverer, to the Silversea Expedition fleet. I would sail on this 25 year old 120 passenger expedition vessel built in 1989 right after her somewhat refit in 2016. While the expedition itself was one of my favorite travel experiences the ship was tired and many functional issues, some of the staff could hardly speak English and it was more food than cuisine. You can read my delving into Myanmar and Indonesia (including Borneo) at Silversea Expedition Cruises – Exotic Journeys Focus on “The Journey” – Silver Discoverer Indonesia/Myanmar Expedition: Part I. Fortunately, Silversea has recently rid itself of this very “not Silversea” ship.
Clearly, as of mid-2016 I was quite frustrated and disappointed with Silversea. It was saddled with a hodge-podge of older – not terribly well maintained – ships, less than consistent cuisine and service, a rotating door of executives, questionable finances, etc. BUT then things started to happen; lots of things! And that is a good thing!
In 2017 I saw a number of positive moves, starting with a more stable executive base and clients coming back from cruises being far more positive. In fact, those who also sailed with Seabourn were saying the service – while different – was wonderful and the cuisine much improved and the overall cruise experience was equal to, or better, than Seabourn. However, being the skeptic I am (Ya think?), I needed to see and hear more from Silversea and those sailing on its ships.
First, Silversea announced it was going to build the 596 guest Silver Muse; a new flagship for the cruise line. This ship has eight true dining venues with each focusing on a particular cuisine (French, Indo-Chinese, Italian, Tapas, for example), the ubiquitous cigar lounge, larger standard suites, and more. Silversea also announced, as part of a clear plan of rapid expansion, the construction of the Silver Muse’s sistership, the Silver Moon, which is now scheduled for delivery in October 2020.
Silversea also announced in 2017 that its older and very tired Silver Cloud would be converted to a luxury Expedition ship. I thought this was a bit of brilliance for a number of reasons:
Silversea’s plans, while enthusiastic and forward thinking, were of great concern to me due to, among other things, its history of financial issues, the condition of its ships and recent history of purchasing older ships for its Expedition product.
The biggest news of 2018 was Royal Caribbean purchasing 66.7% of Silversea with Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio retaining both the remaining interests and his status as the head of the cruise line. This, to me, was the breakthrough event that has my confidence in Silversea soaring. Gone would be (over time) the financial and procurement issues, the antiquated computer systems, the instability of executives, etc. Note: In 2020 Royal Caribbean purchased the remaining interests in Silversea.
Silversea also announced the planned construction of the Silver Dawn to be delivered in late 2021; the third sistership…again with some tweaks from the Silver Muse and Silver Moon.
In 2018 Silversea’s continued with the announcement that the Silver Wind (sister to the Silver Cloud) would undergo a two-stage, but similar refit, resulting in a further expansion of Silversea’s Expedition fleet and bringing its classic fleet into more consistency. While the first stage was completed, the second, and more comprehensive refit, has been pushed to the summer of 2021.
Silversea, still making major improvements and expansions, made its 2019 announcement that it would be building the most luxurious Expedition ship to sail the Galapagos Islands: The 100 guest Silver Origin. This ship is a close cousin, but not sister, to Royal Caribbean’s other new Galapagos-based ship, the Celebrity Flora. You can read my article about them: Silver Origin & Celebrity Flora – A “Royal” Pair of Luxury Galapagos Expedition Ships. The synergy and energy that Royal Caribbean Group brings to Silversea is unquestionable; something that will continue to grow over time.
In 2019 Silversea also announced and completed the previously mentioned – and sorely needed – major refurbishments to the Silver Shadow and the Silver Whisper; not only upgrading the suites and public areas, but integrating many of the features found on Silversea’s flagship, Silver Muse.
OK. Breathe! Whew that is a whole lot of changes, new-builds, and juggling in a very short period of time. So where does that leave us…I mean Silversea?
Silversea now has a total of five (5), soon to be six (6), classic luxury cruise ships with four (4) luxury expedition ships. With such a large fleet Silversea has the ability to offer quite a number of unique itineraries ranging from Africa to Asia to Northern Europe and beyond; usually with a choice between luxury cruise and expedition styles.
Interested in exploring Silversea further? Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!
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