What does it take to reach the farthest corners of the globe?
Cruise lines are asking this question more than ever as dwindling arctic ice has made regions previously unnavigable more accessible.
While Cruise Lines International Association touts cruising as a healthy market with growth projections around 4% this year, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators reports more than triple that percentage with cruising to Antarctica increasing 15% this year from the previous season.
Eager to meet the growing demand for expeditions to the ends of the Earth, Silversea Cruises has recently completed an extensive three-year process of refurbishing its oldest ship into its newest expedition-class ship, Silver Cloud Expedition, which debuted in November.
After undergoing a bow-to-stern overhaul, Silver Cloud Expedition is equipped to travel to polar waters of the Antarctic and Arctic oceans with cutting edge technology and plenty of amenities to enjoy the journey in style.
The $46.5 million project was conceived three years ago, in response to the demand for more polar expeditions from Silversea’s sole ice class ship, the 144 passenger Silver Explorer. (The term “ice class” is a classification used by commercial-grade ships to determine their level of strength to navigate through sea ice).
Looking within their fleet of nine, Silversea chose to transform its oldest, original ship, the Silver Cloud, christened in 1993. Taking the ship out of commission for 65 days, an army of 400 specialists worked around the clock at the Palumbo Malta Shipyard in Cospicua, Malta, to get the ship arctic ready, with clearance to navigate waters of 10% ice coverage.
So, what does it take to meet ice class requirements?
The most extensive and essential element of Silver Cloud Expedition’s refurbishment is a new, strengthened bow and resurfaced hull along the flotation line.
The new bow is built to meet the demands of unwieldy ice patches that the ship may encounter, while steel plates have been added along the ship’s hull from decks one to three to add redundancy for ship protection.
Brian William Swenson, project manager of the Ice Class Transformation Project for Silver Cloud Expedition, spoke about the logistical precision needed for the ship’s two-month dry dock.
“We have to work very closely together on all aspects of the ship. As we’re removing things in and out of the machinery spaces, they’re also trying to put in the ice belt” (the area where the ship comes in contact with the ice).
All the ship’s navigation systems have been upgraded with sophisticated radars and GPS, along with thermal imaging and sonar that aides in navigating arctic waters.
Swenson further explains that the ship will be “using the latest technical advances with the sonar system, which will allow the ship to detect ice and other objects up to 1,000 meters away.”
The threat of ice is a legitimate danger to ships that venture into the polar regions, as punctured hulls can compromise the stability and flotation of a ship, along with the threat of power loss in some of the globe’s most remote territories.
As for what is visible to passengers aboard the ship, Silver Cloud Expedition has emerged a glistening new vessel with no aspect of its interiors left untouched. It is the first luxury cruise ship to be transformed into an ice class vessel.
Complying with the ice class regulations for all arctic vessels, the Silver Cloud Expedition has either replaced or modified all glass windows and portholes to strengthen them for arctic waters.
The ship features many of the same elegant, muted tones and fixtures seen on Silversea’s newest ship, the Silver Muse, which debuted in April.
The newly reconfigured ship features all suite accommodations, mostly with private balconies.
Suites at all categories have walk-in wardrobes, butler service, a flat-screen 40” TV, fully interactive TV-system (with hundreds of movies, TV shows and other multimedia content) and complimentary Wi-Fi (one hour/day).
The ship boasts five dining options, including La Dame, a Relais & Châteaux restaurant that CEO Roberto Martinoli prides for being “the first and only Relais & Châteaux restaurant in Antarctica.”
Keeping up with the demand for wellness in all corners of the world, the ship has a brand-new fitness center with state-of-the-art Technogym equipment and a new spa design concept “Zagara,” as seen on the Silver Muse.
Technology and amenities
The Silver Cloud Expedition is also first to introduce a few industry-leading ways to best explore the glacial waters.
Adding ease and stability to the Zodiacs, the Silver Cloud Expedition has first-in-class, custom loading and unloading platforms that will aide in the safety and timeliness of boarding the small exploratory vessels.
The Zodiacs on board are a new fleet of 16 with greatly increased touring distance and expanded GPS capabilities.
There are also 12 kayaks available to explore the coastlines, which benefit from the new cranes and floats system used for the Zodiacs to help improve the previously precarious conditions for getting in and out of the kayaks.
And it certainly helps to brave the elements with complimentary arctic-grade parkas available for use by guests.
The Silver Cloud Expedition offers the ocean’s first-ever floating photo lab called Photo Studio. Passengers can personally edit their newly captured images on PC and Macs on professional photo programs with the help of a photo studio manager, and then print their shots for postcards, large posters and extended panoramas.
Keeping the blue waters green
As for environmental initiatives, the Silver Cloud Expedition features improvements including a new sewage treatment plant, a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis plant, food digesters that minimize the waste stream and an incinerator that is half the size of what was formerly there.
Martinoli adds that “the ship will only be burning marine diesel oil, the best possible fuel that you can burn today on a diesel engine.”
He says efforts are being made to keep the new vessel’s emissions at a minimum as they traverse the ice-capped water, and the ship will “discharge water that is very close to drinking water, complying to standards higher than the law.”
Life on board
The ship is deemed an ultra-luxury product, and Martinoli says he is proud to have “the most luxurious ship going to Antarctica.”
Cruises that can accommodate up to 200 in the north and south arctic regions will last longer than the typical weeklong cruise, spanning from 11 to 18 nights.
Pricing for a 10-day Antarctica voyage starts at $15,200 and can extend north of $50,000 for the signature owner’s suite onboard. Priced to meet the market, Silversea’s rates are about the same as the most comparable luxury arctic line, Ponant.
Voyages and ports of call through 2020 can be found on Silversea’s website.
Silver Cloud features the highest crew-to-guest ratio in Silversea’s fleet and a notable ratio in the cruising industry: more than 1-to-1 in polar regions.
Passengers can expect a cosmopolitan scene on board the ship, as well-heeled baby boomers from around the world seek out the attentive yet discreet service of Silversea.
Offering some insight into the boom in cruising, Martinoli says that “people don’t value material goods like they used to; they much prefer experiences and the opportunity to explore.”
Among the unforgettable experiences the Silver Cloud Expedition will offer: the polar plunge.
“You’re going to have the chance to go swimming in polar waters, safely, from the Zodiacs,” Martinoli says. “It’s going to be cold … but you’ll have a wetsuit, of course!”