ONBOARD THE SILVER CLOUD -- Silversea Cruises is in the late
stages of planning one of the most ambitious expedition itineraries ever
attempted: simultaneous multiweek cruises in both the Canadian and Russian
The feat, to offer so-called Northwest Passage and Northeast
Passage cruises in the 2020 summer season, would be unprecedented, according to
Mark Conroy, managing director of the Americas for Silversea.
Conroy said Silversea is still evaluating whether it can
safely accomplish both cruises, each of which requires extensive advance
planning. A final decision is expected sometime in early fall.
The cruises, if offered, would build on experience Silversea
expects to gain with its first Northeast Passage cruise, in 2019. The cruise
will start Aug. 10 in Nome, Alaska, and venture east, north of Russia, to end
in Tromso, Norway. The 25-day, $37,170 cruise aboard the Silversea Explorer is
Only one other non-Russian cruise line, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises,
has attempted the Northeast Passage. The line's Hanseatic made the voyage in
2014 and again in 2016; it took 23 days to complete the 5,542-nautical-mile
Hapag-Lloyd said 86 polar bears were spotted from the bridge
over the course of the 2016 cruise.
Conroy said one of the challenges of a Northeast Passage cruise
is that it can't be commercially insured. That means if the cruise has to be
aborted because ice has clogged the route, guests won't get full refunds.
The cruise ship would be accompanied by an ice breaker that
could help evacuate passengers in a jam.
Silversea, which launched as a luxury brand, started an
expedition arm in 2008 with the acquisition of the 144-passenger World
Adventurer ship, which is now called the Silver Explorer.
It was a steep learning curve in the early days. On one of
its first cruises, the Silver Explorer was forced to give two cases of
champagne to another expedition ship in exchange for some 50 gallons of fuel
for its Zodiac boats after it ran too many excursions and depleted its supply.
Silversea has acquired two more expedition vessels, and last
year it converted its oldest luxury ship, the Silver Cloud, to expedition use.
The growth has enabled Silversea to expand the number of
ports of call it offers guests to 1,028, giving it one of the most
comprehensive catalogs of any cruise line. On the 2019 Northeast Passage, the
itinerary includes such obscure stops as Ostrov Uyedineniya and the Medvezhiy
Islands in the Russian Arctic.
Silversea Expedition ships have visited 129 countries, spent
450 days in Antarctica, made 11,960 port calls and sailed a total of more than
1 million nautical miles, according to a recent presentation at a 10-year
commemorative cruise aboard the Silver Cloud Expedition.
Silversea was among the first to try to combine real
expedition itineraries such as Antarctica with luxury food, service and
amenities. But now a wave of new expedition ships is being built, many in the
During the presentation, Silversea CEO Roberto Martinoli
said he was confident that the rising supply would not erode pricing. He said
Silversea increased capacity in Antarctica more than 60% this year. "We've
been able to fill it pretty easily," he added.
Silversea chief marketing officer Barbara Muckermann said
that while diamond suppliers and luxury watchmakers have struggled with falling
demand recently, travel suppliers have benefitted from a spending shift by baby
boomers toward experiences.
And, Muckermann said, boomers stand to inherit $1.5 billion
over the next decade. "We are
really, really bullish about it," she said.