Silversea Cruises and Celebrity Cruises are currently the only two major cruise lines to have entered the expedition cruising market, and both this week upped the stakes with a bang.
Silversea Cruises launched its entirely refitted Silver Cloud for cruising in the Artic and the Galapagos, while Celebrity Cruises announced a newbuild called Celebrity Flora, which will cruise year-round in the Galapagos Islands.
Silver Cloud Expedition (left), Celebrity Flora (right).
Both ships are uber-luxurious entrants to a market that has traditionally been dominated by smaller, more niche ship owners. Lindblad and National Geographic Expeditions are perhaps the most well-known of several dozen small ship cruise lines in this highly niche market, but the entrance of Silversea and now Celebrity Cruises will prove a game-changer for the appeal of this type of cruise.
With both of them launching or announcing the build of new ships for this sector in the same week, we decided to take a look at how their respective ships stack up.
Launched in 1996, Silver Cloud is a veteran of the Silversea fleet. In 2017 she was withdrawn from regular cruise service and put in dry-dock for a major US $40-million refurbishment and refit that saw her re-launched in November as the cruise line’s new expedition cruising flagship. She joins her much smaller expedition fleet mates Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer and Silver Galapagos.
Silversea are billing her as “the most spacious and comfortable ice class vessel in expedition cruising”. Her guest capacity has been significantly reduced from 296 to just 200 and 80% of her staterooms now have private balconies. By enlarging the existing staterooms and converting inside passenger cabins into crew quarters, the line has made space for a whole extra department of staff – 22 expedition experts.
Silver Cloud also now has 16 zodiacs and 10 kayaks, making it possible for the ship to operate simultaneous explorations in remote waters and she’s been made compliant with ice-class 1C during her refit, meaning that she can cruise through ice flows and areas of water where there is known to be icebergs of a thickness less than 0.4m. 1C is the entry-level ice classification according to the Finnish-Swedish ice class upon which such classifications are based.
In order to bring the ship up to ice-class standards, the steel exterior was extensively reinforced, and the bulbous bow was replaced with a reinforced ice-class bulb to allow for navigation in polar waters. Other polar-related enhancements included the installation of sonar for underwater detection of ice and other impediments, and new windows resistant to polar temperatures.
Elsewhere on-board, Silversea added the Zagara Beauty Spa, which was first introduced on the line’s flagship, Silver Muse and for the first time in the Silversea fleet they have offered a Photo Studio, where cruisers will learn to digitally edit and manage their photos so they can capture their expedition experiences.
The ship retains its small boutique shopping area, but it has been restocked with merchandise more appropriate for an expedition vessel.
Dining Options: 5
Amenities: Spa, Fitness Centre, Boutique Shopping, Beauty Salon
Ice class: 1C
Like Silver Cloud Expedition, Celebrity Flora will be the lead class of ship in Celebrity’s expedition fleet, outsizing her fleet mates by a considerable margin. At 2,842 gross tons, the next largest of Celebrity’s expedition ships is Celebrity Xpedition, but she has the same passenger capacity as Flora at 100 guests, meaning that Flora will have double the per-guest to tonnage ratio and will be a far roomier ship.
Compared to Silver Cloud Expedition, she is also much more modern and ‘avante garde’ in her exterior and interior design, which is to be expected as Celebrity Cruises is all about ultra-modern luxury, while Silversea has traditionally gone for a more ‘old money’ feel to its interiors.
Because she is a newbuild ship, designed specifically for expedition cruising, Celebrity Cruises will have an advantage over Silversea because she features amenities that just can’t be retrofitted to existing tonnage, such as her showpiece aft marina, where guests will depart the ship on Zodiac excursions to the islands of the Galapagos.
Like Silversea Expeditions, all staterooms will come with a personal attendant, and she will have at least one restaurant with menus created by Michel Star chefs. She will have a topdeck Ocean Grill, a Discovery Lounge where presentations and lectures will be given, an Observatory Lounge forward with views over the bow, all very much like Silver Cloud Expedition, which has a few more lounges and bars thanks to her larger size. Unlike Silver Cloud Expeditions, however, Celebrity Flora will feature a Stargazing Platform from which guests can see the stars over the Galapagos. It’s unfortunate that this platform doesn’t feature telescopes on self-levelling gimbals, but this might be included once the ship is built.
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Dining Options: 2
Ice class: NA (she will be based in the Galapagos year-round)