Few may know that Silversea Cruises, known for luxury and plush accommodations, also operates expedition cruises. These aren’t bare ironclad barges; rather nimble cruise ships equipped with all of the luxuries of a traditional Silversea vessel. It’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown meets Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Recently I had the opportunity of cruising aboard one of three Silversea expedition ships — the luxe, albeit restrained, Silver Discoverer — which took me to the Russian Far East and Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Here, a snapshot of the 18-day voyage for a glimpse into what really happens on an expedition cruise.
Based on the exotic destinations that Silversea Expeditions cruises to, you might expect life on board to be equally rugged. To the contrary, the Silver Discoverer brings nearly every Silversea luxury along for the ride — though on a smaller scale, and with an added dose of adventure. Picture full-service terrace dining for lunch with the Aleutian Islands as your backdrop.
The all-suite accommodations feature Silversea's usual plush bedding; lavish marble bathrooms; and attentive butler service. Veranda suites, shown here, afford even more space — think a dining area for in-room meals and a private balcony to take in all the breathtaking views.
The only primitive experience to be had aboard is a decidedly enjoyable one: cooking your own meat atop a volcanic hot rock at the ship's outdoor grill. At no extra cost, this alternative dining option is as hands-on as excursions are immersive.
Unlike most cruise ships, when it's time to explore, the Silver Discoverer anchors more often than it docks. Similar to tendered ports, guests board the ship's fleet of Zodiacs from a platform right off the back of the vessel. Depending on the destination's accessibility, expedition guides then either take you for a scenic cruise or bring you ashore for some on-foot exploration.
Fog-shrouded Yankicha Island in the Russian Far East provides passengers with the opportunity to hike along the rim of its steaming volcano — as seen here from above — or cruise through its flooded center, taking in the dramatic flora and fauna native to this remote region.
Expedition cruises teem with opportunities for bird-watching. Bring a long telephoto lens, and you too might capture crested auklets while smelling their curious tangerine scent as they take flight above your zodiac near the aforementioned volcano. The expedition team is fantastic at pointing out such not-to-be-missed sights and providing expert knowledge along the way.
As is true of all adventures, expedition cruises are built on spontaneity and require a certain amount of flexibility. Because itineraries are contingent on weather and available transportation, stops vary and can change with little notice. For instance, on one day of our cruise, we were treated to an impromptu flight on this Alaskan seaplane. We boarded directly from the Zodiacs and took off for an afternoon of aerial sightseeing.
Sometimes you don't even need to leave the ship for a front-row seat to nature's greatest shows. Off Silver Discoverer's starboard bow, a pod of humpback whales emerged, and this one continually breached in a way that none of our expedition team members had ever witnessed before.
In addition to getting up close and personal with wildlife, passengers aboard Silver Discoverer get a lesson in geology. We visited incredible landscapes that are otherwise practically inaccessible. On this particular journey, our expedition leader, who also happened to be a trained geologist, guided us up to a natural cave that opened to either side of Yankicha Island’s volcanic mountain range.
What stands out most about Silversea Expeditions is just how up close and personal you can get with nature – from a safe distance, of course. To wit, this slumbering bear, which I was able to photograph using a zoom lens while safely floating by aboard our zodiac.
No matter how wild things become ashore or however choppy the water and foggy the surroundings are upon return, the luxurious comforts of the Silver Discoverer always await back on board.