The Evolution of Expedition Cruising
BY JANET STEINBERG
My first journey on an expedition ship was 35 years ago. I had to pinch myself to believe I was actually heading to Antarctica. My emotions vacillated between anticipation and excitement… fear and sheer panic. The former was easy to handle. Handling the panic (icebergs) and fear of the unknown (type of ship) took a lot more work.
To put your mind at ease, let me preface this article by saying it all worked out. Antarctica was magnificent… unforgettable. However, the since-retired ship, whose name I fortunately forgot, was not magnificent… it was forgettable. The ship, an old “remodeled” vessel, was adequate… but light-years away from today’s current cruise ship standards. The beds in our cabin were metal frames with a mattress… one against each side wall of the small cabin. Over each bed was a metal-frame bunk bed.
Fast forward 35 years to the 21st-century life of a cruise-aholic whose 2023 itinerary of choice was on Silver Cloud, Silversea’s first hybrid ship that pioneered as an all-inclusive classic cruise ship in 1994. Woe is me when I saw that I had booked a cruise on a ship that had recently been titled an Expedition Ship! Would I once again have metal beds and overhead bunks?
Having breezed through embarkation on this 20-year old “new” Expedition Ship, I was greeted by a crew member who handed me a flute of champagne and accompanied me to my suite. As we walked to the suite, my escort explained that although Silversea’s icebreaking Silver Cloud had been converted to an “Expedition” Ship (carrying 20 zodiacs and 10 kayaks… but no covered tenders) it also did cruises that are not just for hard-core adventurers. I was told that my cruise on Silversea’s Silver Cloud “Expedition” Ship would have many of the same amenities offered on their “Classic” cruises.
Upon entering my suite, my eyes were drawn to a cocktail table with a white orchid plant and a bottle of bubbly Dom Perignon chilling in a silver champagne bucket. Minutes later, I was welcomed by my personal butler Rodney Tan. I was not a privileged passenger. Butler Service is offered to all guests whether they are on a “Classic” or “Expedition” cruise. So far, so good!
Rodney began by presenting me with my choice of bathroom amenities from Bulgari or Ferragamo. He then offered me a choice of goose down, hypoallergenic or therapeutic pillows and explained the suite’s entertainment controls. After offering to unpack my luggage, (a gracious gesture I gratefully declined) Rodney made it clear that he was there to indulge my every whim and take care of every detail such as making onboard dinner reservations, taking clothes to the ship’s laundry, replenishing complimentary bar setups, nightly turn-downs on the bed, as well as polishing and conditioning shoes.
Following the mandatory fire drill, 205 passengers from 10 countries joined me for a Sail-Away Party complete with music, cocktails, hors de oeuvres, and an introduction to the ship’s staff. A casual dinner followed in THE RESTAURANT, the ship’s main dining room (with sweeping ocean views) that serves international cuisine with sophisticated elegance. It offers open-seating dining… no assigned times… no assigned tables. You dine when, where and with whom you please.
I also made it a point to dine in the ship’s other three restaurants.
LA TERRAZZA is a buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch with indoor or al fresco seating. In the evening, it is transformed into an intimate Italian restaurant that served the best lasagna I have ever tasted.
THE GRILL is a pool-side, salad/burger bar during the day. As the sun goes down, it becomes a moonlit restaurant aka Hot Rocks… where, directly at their table, guests can grill their main course on lava stones heated to 600-degrees. Of course, the staff will grill your entree in the kitchen, if you prefer that.
LA DAME, an alternative restaurant with minimal reservation charges for dinner, features a seven-course dining experience that celebrates the world’s most distinguished wine regions complete what may possibly be the finest dining at sea. Dining alone in the intimate, couple-filled, elegant La Dame was a unique experience. The staff pampered this contented solo diner with so much personal attention, that my mind flashed to a funny cartoon I had once seen: The cartoon pictured a smiling contented lady dining alone in a small elegant restaurant. The maitre d’ approached the solo diner and apologetically said to her: “We’re going to relocate you to the bar. Your contentment is unnerving the couples.” Fortunately for me, La Dame let this smiling contented solo diner remain in the elegant restaurant for the entire evening.
Besides eating, when Silver Cloud was at sea, there were a myriad of options to stimulate both mind and body: Lectures by highly qualified guest speakers… a well-stocked library… bridge games… a spa… a salon… and daily trivia games where you team up with other competitive passengers, all trying desperately to beat the other teams for prizes that nobody really needs. What you won’t find on Silversea expedition cruises are bingo games, costume parties or Broadway-style productions.
And then there were the amazing East Coast ports, all offering complimentary shore excursions:
HALIFAX, the cosmopolitan capital city of Nova Scotia and Canada’s 13th largest city, was our point of embarkation. It is a city that embraces the sea… where all roads lead to the shore and you are never more than 35 miles away from the water.
BAR HARBOR, Maine was Silver Cloud’s first port stop. A complimentary Silversea shore excursion drove passengers through Bar Harbor, laden with 20th century Victorian Mansions, and along the 27-mile Park Loop Road of Acadia National Park and The Jordan Pond House.
PORTLAND, Maine and NEWPORT, Rhode Island were originally scheduled to be our next two port stops. However, the ship’s captain made a very wise decision to avoid Hurricane Lee and sailed us (on calm waters) to the next port… New York City!
NEW YORK, New York proved to be a bonus, as a result of Hurricane Lee’s diversion. Because of an extra day and night in one of the world’s greatest cities, the ship’s shore excursions gave passengers the opportunity to snack their way through the Big Apple, see the 9/11 Memorial, The World Trade Center and the Wall Street Bull, etc. It also gave passengers time to take in a Broadway performance if they chose to do so.
BALTIMORE, Maryland offered 4-hour tours to the city’s best breweries or a food tour in the historic town of Fells Point. Longer shore excursions (from 6 to 8 Hours) were options for those wanting to drive to DC for a Monument or Smithsonian tour… or to Annapolis for a walk through the venerated campus of the US Naval Academy.
NORFOLK, Virginia, once a neglected rough and rowdy Navy town, has undergone a mighty metamorphosis. Berthed in the historic Elizabeth River, is America’s largest and last battleship, the USS Wisconsin. Her mighty 16-inch guns boldly and proudly project toward the City of Norfolk that was her homeport during much of her distinguished 45-year career. Shore excursions included drives to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown or Virginia Beach. Instead, I opted to have two of my grandchildren, who live in the area, come aboard Silver Cloud for lunch and a tour of the ship. (Note: Advance security clearance is needed to bring guests on board the ship.)
CHARLESTON, South Carolina, 423 nautical miles from Norfolk, was one of the wealthiest cities in America in the first half of the 1800’s. The 6-hour “Nineteenth Century Interlude in Charleston” shore excursion immersed Silversea passengers into that gilded age. Four additional excursions focused on nature’s gardens, forests, dolphins and birds of prey.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Florida was the point of disembarkation from the best of both Silversea worlds. The cruise afforded me some of the luxuries of a classic cruise plus the exciting experiences of a high-tech expedition ship.
Silver Cloud’s 11-day cruise from Halifax to Ft. Lauderdale filled my physician’s post-pandemic prescription that read: Rx: A LARGE DOSE OF VITAMIN SEA.
Janet Steinberg, winner of 55 national Travel Writing Awards, resides in Cincinnati but calls the world her home.
Photo Credits: Janet Steinberg