Silversea Cruises has just – finally – confirmed its acquisition of the former Crystal Endeavor; a truly world-class luxury expedition ship. And it did so at the relative bargain price of $275 Million Dollars with no payments due for two years.
The Silver Endeavour is the most expensive ship per berth ever built. Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing or bad management by its former owner (Genting), but that is a whole unrelated story. What actually matters is what the ship brings to Silversea and, thus, to the luxury expedition market. But first, a bit of background!
Silversea was one of the first to dabble in the allegedly luxury expedition market with what was called Prince Albert II (now Silver Explorer). It was an old ship that was pitched as having suites and luxury when it really never did. And that was over a decade ago. In fact, the market for her was so limited that she was originally laid up for months at a time because there really was no demand for her.
Silversea then got involved with the Galapagos and the Silver Galapagos; another older ship that – again – claimed suites and luxury, but really didn’t deliver either.
But both ships provided something that otherwise really didn’t exist at the time: An upscale – if not luxury – onboard experience from a major cruise line. Sometimes it is tough being on the cutting edge and, for me, these were tough times.
However, to give Silversea its due, the luxury expedition market really did become “a thing”. But there really weren’t any true luxury expedition ships and nobody was really going to commit to building them…at least not yet! But Seabourn decided to ice-harden the hull of the Seabourn Quest and develop the luxury soft-expedition market. (It eventually would put expedition-type elements such as zodiacs, kayaks, and expedition teams on most of its other ships, but without ice-hardened hulls.) And then the relative flood of true luxury expedition ships started to appear. For example, Scenic announced the Scenic Eclipse, Ponant announced Le Commandant Charcot, Quark Expeditions announced its Ultramarine, and before that, chartered what is now Atlas Oceans’ World Explorer. And more are coming!
Starting at the top, but quickly slipping behind, Silversea engaged in a process similar to Seabourn’s by converting its two smaller ships, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, into soft-expedition ships. This was, to my mind, a very smart move because Silversea was also building new, larger, luxury cruise ships, and the Silver Cloud/Wind ships would have otherwise become surplus inventory…and clearly Silversea didn’t want to sell them and create competition in the luxury cruise market.
But no matter how Silversea presented its luxury expedition product, it honestly only consisted of two soft-expedition ships and two old expedition ships. Especially when Silversea was in a pretty stressed financial situation, What was it to do? How was it to do it?
Royal Caribbean truly came to Silversea’s rescue…and in more ways than one. And this is where I see Royal Caribbean has some real genius!
First, Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises had just started sailing its Celebrity Flora; a product that it had been developing as a luxury Galapagos expedition ship for years. (I was privileged to have been invited by Celebrity to sail on one of its older ships and provide insights as to what a luxury expedition ship in the Galapagos should have.). With the purpose-built Celebrity Flora being such a success and Royal Caribbean obviously seeing the need for Silversea to have a ship in the Galapagos that was at least as luxurious as Celebrity Flora the answer was simple: Have a sistership, Silver Origin, built and offload the now ancient Silver Galapagos!
But Silversea was still lacking a true luxury expedition ship for the polar regions and beyond. And let’s face it, the Silver Explorer was now very old and uncomfortable, so Silversea created the Silver Bridge, where it would fly its guests to King George Island in Antarctica for shorter soft expeditions, while not subjecting them to the uncomfortable Silver Explorer cruise across the Drake Passage. A good stop-gap idea. (And this may continue as the hype about crossing The Drake isn’t going away anytime soon…if ever.)
And while this is going on Crystal Cruises – as part of its hyper-expansion and visions of grandeur – decided to build what is now the Silver Endeavour. Not only was no expense spared, but no luxury concept was either! So with the demise of Crystal, Silversea has picked up one of the newest, most state-of-the-art expedition ships at a great price, with excellent financing, with immediate delivery, and none of the hassles of shipbuilding.
Silver Endeavour has 100 all veranda suites, with a 6-guest submarine, two helicopters, 18 zodiacs, and 14 kayaks. With a limit of 100 guests per landing in Antarctica and most of the Arctic, that means the entire ship can be off on expedition at the same time (100 on land and 100 in zodiacs) if desired. (I’m still not a fan of helicopters in Antarctica but let’s see if Silversea decides to use this capacity.)
When onboard there are six dining venues including the main restaurant, and what Crystal had designated as its ubiquitous Italian and Japanese venues (cuisine Silversea has on its newest ships). Added to this are two more casual venues; one of which is literally poolside in the ship’s Solarium, which also contains a small pool and hot tub. There are also two indoor bar/lounges as well a large fitness area and spa.
Silversea’s immediate plan is to replace the old Silver Explorer with the Silver Endeavour for its 2022-23 Air-Bridge sailings (since the capacity of the ships is almost identical, it makes sense for an easy transition) though I am very confident in the future her capabilities will make for some great itineraries. After her Antarctic season Silver Endeavour will head to the Arctic, so look out for her new itineraries.
One thing to note: If you were booked on the ship as the Crystal Endeavor and have not been able to receive a refund of your deposit, Silversea will honor that deposit amount to be put towards a Silversea, Celebrity, or Royal Caribbean journey; not necessarily just on the Silver Endeavour!
In my opinion, with the addition of the Silver Endeavor along with the Silver Origin, supplemented by the Silver Cloud/Silver Wind, Silversea had jumped to the fore in the luxury expedition market; ending what has been – for those waiting for Silversea to do its luxury thing – a somewhat frustrating wait.