After a soft knock, a white-gloved butler holding a silver tray enters my suite. He sets the breakfast table with dainty china and gleaming silver. He even pours my first cup of fresh-brewed coffee. I tuck into a Gruyere and fresh thyme omelet, which is necessary fuel for what comes next — zooming off on a Zodiac to visit another Antarctic penguin colony. It’s all part of the daily route on the Silver Cloud Expedition, one of a new breed of luxury expedition ships to sail to Antarctica.
Polar sailings are in hot demand, as passengers continue to seek new itineraries that are far from crowded ports yet still offer comfort and style. The White Continent tops many bucket lists for good reasons: it offers eye-popping vistas of dramatically shaped icebergs and calving glaciers, and gives passengers the chance to stand on ice floes amidst hundreds of wing-flapping penguins. (Plus, with climate change, many feel compelled to visit Antarctica soon — and a cruise ship can offer the height of comfort.)
Silversea spent more than $40 million transforming the Silver Cloud, the line’s oldest cruise ship, into an ice-class rated vessel. Among the changes, the shipyard strengthened the ship’s hull and installed polar temperature-resistant windows. It now holds fewer passengers: 254 for regular voyages, 200 for ones to the poles. The décor — once old school, dark-wood yacht — now resembles a chic Milano hotel with an all cream-and-beige color palette, complimented by modern Italian leather furnishings. New art, primarily black-and-white photographs of early polar explorers, strikes an adventurous note.
Renamed Silver Cloud Expedition befitting its new status, this ship joins Silversea’s growing fleet of small ships, which visit other exotic locales such as Walvis Bay, Namibia or Bear Island, Norway. Pricing is all-inclusive, and encompasses gratuities, shore excursions, meals, snacks, alcohol, and laundry room use. The luxe vessel sails the Antarctic region until late February, repositions to Africa and Europe, and then commences Arctic cruising in mid-June.
There are eight suite categories, each completely redone. Light-hued wood replaces the old dark cabinetry; brighter lighting and popping silver and blue accents make the suites feel cheerier and modern; and longtime Silversea signature amenities, like Bulgari toiletries, Pratesi linens, and a nine-choice pillow menu still impress.
The entry-level Vista Suites are the most affordable, but still roomy at 240 square feet. Veranda and Deluxe Veranda Suites are identical to Vista Suites, but include 49-square-foot verandas. Booked in a Veranda Suite, I found it a real luxury to wrap myself in an Etro robe and photograph humpback whales or admire the otherworldly scenery from the comforts of my private balcony.
The biggest suites, Medallion, Silver, Royal, Grand and Owner’s, come with special perks like additional bathrooms and verandas, larger living spaces, unlimited Wi-Fi, and espresso-makers. Although, never fear; butlers rush complimentary cappuccinos to any suite at any time.
Zagara Spa, which emphasizing the mind-body connection, replaces the old, generic space. Before a treatment, guests visit a candlelit mood room, inhale various aromatherapy scents, and determine which they find most appealing. Next, they discuss a personalized treatment approach (oils, lighting, and music) with their therapist. The space goes way beyond the basic beauty and therapy treatments offered on expedition ships today. Passengers can choose from 12 different facials, five polishes and wraps, nine massages, and an amethyst crystal sound bath. Opting for a massage, I chose the lavender-scented oil, which meant relaxation-driven music, aromatherapy, and lighting.
The Fitness Centre, now double its original size, features new TechnoGym equipment including two treadmills with television screens and headphone jacks, one recumbent and upright bicycle, two elliptical trainers, and one full-body weight machine. Practice pliés at the mirrored barre, do biceps curls with free weights, or stretch on fancy new Italian black mats.
Food & Wine
Silver Cloud Expedition offers five dining choices, including 24-hour room service. All meals are open seating, and all restaurants are complimentary, except for La Dame, which costs $60 per person. The 12-table restaurant is the ship’s most romantic — servers tend to your needs while chefs concoct modern European dishes with the finest ingredients, like Normandy butter, foie gras, and caviar. Don’t miss the Cognac-splashed Maine lobster bisque, double-thick lamb chops with thyme-scented lamb jus, or the textbook-perfect Grand Marnier soufflé.
La Terrazza presents sumptuous lunch buffets, including an excellent array of fresh salads and a pizza menu with my favorite, piccante, topped with ‘nduja (spicy Calabrian sausage). Each evening, the restaurant transforms for dinner service. The buffets vanish, lights are dimmed, blinds are lowered, and servers don suits and ties. The tomato focaccia, veal chop, and pappardelle with duck ragout are menu highlights. Guests also relish the poolside al fresco Grill in the evening — no matter how cold the temperature — to dine under the stars and cook their own primo steak or seafood on a lava stone. When I dined here, my steak grew cold quickly, but I felt like the experience was an awesome rite of passage, similar to the polar plunge.
With six bars and lounges, I found many lovely corners to sip away when not dining. Dolce Vita is the pre-dinner hangout, where guests can order craft cocktails and seek dining companions. Panorama Lounge gets buzzy later at night, when a pianist sings pop songs or a DJ spins tunes.
A mecca for photography buffs, the spiffy new Photo Studio — it’s the only one on Silversea ships — features PC and Mac editing software, image-printing, and individual, couple, and group classes. All handy when you are sailing in Antarctica, and taking photos all the time. Classes run from beginner to advanced. You can also secure a 20-minute consult at the Photo Genius Bar, or book a private lesson on a shore excursion to guarantee a perfect polar bear pic.
On polar cruises, 22 expedition team members sail with passengers. On other itineraries, they number 20. Most team members are seasoned scientists, with Ph.D.’s in fields like glaciology and marine biology. They all exude enthusiasm and wit while leading shore excursions, delivering compelling lectures, and answering questions from inquisitive guests. Personally, I loved reconnecting with team members from previous expeditions. I was particularly elated to find Aussie ornithologist Malcolm Turner on my Antarctic cruise. We had sailed together to Indonesia and he helped me regard insects as a scientific marvel rather than as objects of fear. On our polar cruise, he lectured on climate change and its impact on birds. I was so fascinated by his talk and slide show presentation, that I found myself taking notes as if I were back in college. I didn't want to forget a word.
All shore excursions, from guided hikes around penguin colonies to Zodiac outings for spotting and photographing whales, seals, and albatrosses, are included. So is the fabled polar plunge, where guests can strip down to their shorts and dive into the icy waters. The ship travels with 16 Zodiacs and 10 kayaks, so nearly everyone can explore simultaneously. On non-polar itineraries, passengers visit less-populated ports, like Luanda, Angola, and Douarnenez, France, to tour iconic churches, feast on local cuisine, attend private concerts, and hike nature paths.
Content in this story was produced with assistance from Silversea Cruises.