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 arctics.

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 mostly booked.

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 trip.

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 same style.

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.


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