Expedition. The word conjures images of rugged, parka-clad explorers scaling treacherous ice-slicked mountains and subsisting for days on rations of trail mix and Snickers.
By contrast, my Silver Explorer expedition finds me on a tranquil beach in Madrisky Cay, Venezuela, my feet buried in powder-soft white sand, a clear aqua-blue sea before me and an ice-cold Solera beer in my hand. Nearby, a table is piled high with delicacies like barracuda seviche, seafood shish kabob, the makings of Cuba Libres and more of my beloved Solera, the decadent haul having been transported from a restaurant on nearby Gran Roque.
This is expedition, Silversea style.
To be fair, my sailing is a Silver Explorer repositioning, a sun-drenched voyage from Colon, Panama to Barbados, calling at exotic locales in Central America and the Caribbean as the ship works her way northward. While a far cry from the polar regions that this purpose-built, 6,072 grt, 132-passenger vessel typically plies, the cultural, environmental and adventurous hallmarks of a Silver Explorer sailing are with us every nautical mile.
Silver Explorer joined the Silversea fleet in 2008 as Prince Albert II, a tribute to the continuing conservation efforts of H.S.H. Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco and, in 2011, was rechristened Silver Explorer to conform to the line’s consistent brand identity. A Lloyd’s Register 1A ice-rated vessel, Silver Explorer offers 66 ocean-view accommodations that range from 180 to 600 square feet, some with charming French balconies and the highest suite categories—the Grand, Medallion and Owner’s Suites—offering full, spacious verandas.
Luxury isn’t something usually associated with expedition travel but Silversea has incorporated many of its ultra-premium signatures into the Silver Explorer experience and has piled on new ones, as well. An all-inclusive experience, all beverages (including wine, champagne and spirits), gratuities and specialty dining are included in fares, as are shore excursions and snorkel gear for warm-weather destinations. All suite categories include butler service, a refrigerator/bar set-up stocked with your choice of beverage selection and luxury Bulgari toiletries in the elegant marble baths. Higher category occupants may expect free laundry service, four hours of complimentary internet service per suite and two hours of worldwide telephone usage. And, of course, Silver Explorer hasn’t forgotten that impeccable Silversea service—expect to be greeted by name by staff after just a short time on board and your drink preferences remembered.
What sets Silver Explorer apart from the traditional cruise ship quickly becomes apparent. Look around. You’ll find no swimming pool, only two churning whirlpools, teak dining tables and a bar in an area that I kept erroneously referring to as “the pool deck.” And while you might find the familiar cooking demonstration or wine tasting during a day at sea, you’ll find no casino, no “showtime,” and you just might miss the small fitness room en route to The Restaurant. Instead, with a focus on education and camaraderie, it is not surprisingly The Theater and The Panorama Lounge that comprise the entertainment heart of this ship, the former the site of the daily pre-dinner lectures and seminars conducted to enlighten guests to the scientific, environmental and historical significance of the following day’s port of call and, the latter, a relaxing piano lounge that’s ideal for cocktails and conversation.
The differences continue ashore—down to the process of going ashore, in fact. With Silver Explorer’s itineraries typically including off-the-beaten track destinations, the most common mode of disembarkation isn’t the gangway or the tender but the Zodiac, an inflatable motor-powered dinghy that’s a tad tricky to board (an in-depth briefing is provided) but super fun to ride. The Zodiac is the vessel of choice for the landings that include a dismount into the surf—exactly what Tevas were made for.
My first Zodiac ride sped me toward Panama’s palm-tree-studded Perro Island, home to the Kuna Indians, and one of the 385 islands and cays that comprise the fascinating San Blas Islands, an archipelago that appears to simply jut out of the sea with islands ranging from teeny to impressive in size. We arrived in time to be charmed by a performance of traditional Kuna folkdances, browse a vast selection of molas, the vivid hand-sewn patterned fabric that forms the traditional Kuna dress. Sunbathing and snorkeling followed before heading back to the Zodiac for the return ride.
Whether in the polar regions or in the tropics, Silver Explorer is a distinctly active experience with, in our case, rainforest hikes, swimming and snorkeling in pristine waters, and climbing to the top of the military fort of San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena replacing more passive activities like bus touring, booze cruises or shopping excursions.
While the vast majority of our highly international guests—who ranged in age from young honeymooners to fit and active seniors–seemed delighted with the activity level and educational focus of the sailing, Silver Explorer converted even the less cerebral into full-fledged explorers. One example was a woman who, from our first meeting, had regaled me with tales of her experiences aboard several ships known for their non-stop party atmosphere. This, I incorrectly assumed, was one guest who’d never give a damn about preventing the extinction of the Hawksbill turtle or experience chills upon seeing where Simon Bolivar spent his final days. Instead, she surprised us all, hiking the rainforest (albeit in 5” heels) and eagerly joining in early morning shore excursions. By journey’s end, she had booked another Silver Explorer sailing and, I suspect, had learned that Silver Explorer is a decidedly casual ship so, next time, she could leave her sequined clothing and ornate jewelry at home.
With all its activity, Silver Explorer guests can’t help but work up an appetite and Silver Explorer responds with the superior and innovative fine dining that is a trademark of the Silversea experience and that, of course, allows guests to dine when and with whom they choose. The ocean-view Restaurant offers full breakfast and lunch in a buffet style that is supplemented by a cooked-to-order menu although choices are so delicious and varied that I rarely found additional selections necessary. Breakfasts include omelets, breakfast meats, fruits and pastries as well as French toast and pancakes, and cereals; while lunches typically include soup (on our tropical sailing, the chilled soups were a glorious highlight!), salads, pasta, hot dishes, pizza, a carving station, and more.
In the evenings, The Restaurant offers a more elegant dining experience with a full menu that would appeal to the most finicky eater or those with specific dietary requirements. And should your culinary desires stray beyond the printed menu, Executive Chef Janine Fourie accepts and executes with delicious results (I watched one evening as a full Indian feast, complete with homemade papadum, was served at the table beside me). While I found no need for requests outside any evening’s menu, a taste of my appetizer one evening—a tender, sweet and crunchy colossal shrimp wrapped in shreds of phyllo and deep fried—was enough to urgently cancel my main course in favor of an additional serving of those heavenly crustaceans. I was rewarded with a towering portion, the memory of which could bring me to tears of joy.
See recipe below: TIRAMISU (provided by Silver Explorer Executive Chef)
Unique for such a small ship, in the evening, Silver Explorer also offers an outdoor reservations-only dining option: The Outdoor Grill which features healthy and innovative lava stone cooking at its finest. At The Grill, guests are invited to cook their own food directly at the table atop volcanic rocks that have been heated to a sizzling 400 degrees C. Simply place your meat, seafood or vegetable selections upon the grill stone or within the bowl provided and you control the cooking for a meal prepared to your exact liking. During the day, the lava stones are stashed away and The Grill becomes a gourmet salad and burger bar, with guests building their own burgers from a selection of premium meats and toppings. While The Grill isn’t an option that will work on the ship’s arctic itineraries, on our Caribbean sailing, the warm tropical breezes combined with The Grill’s delectable daytime and evening menus to create a relaxing and enjoyable option to the Restaurant. We were regulars.
Silver Explorer may not be for everyone, but for those looking to explore our world against a backdrop of casual luxury, the finest dining and superb service, she is the only destination.
Cover photo courtesy Silversea: Aerial view of the Silver Explorer, Brujo Glacier, Chile
TIRAMISU (provided by Silver Explorer Executive Chef)
3 egg yolks
2 oz. sugar
1 tub of mascarpone (about 9 to 10 ½ oz.)
5-6 oz. of heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
5-6 oz strong dark coffee or espresso
4 tsp. Amaretto
20 Lady Fingers
Cocoa powder (sifted)
- Beat egg yolks, Amaretto, vanilla and sugar with a whisk or beater until creamy. Set aside
- In a separate bowl, mix the mascarpone cheese and heavy cream until creamy.
- Gently fold the mascarpone and cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
- Pour the coffee into the bottom of a shallow dish.
- Dip the Lady Fingers in briefly—don’t immerse for long or they’ll become soggy!
- Line the bottom of a serving dish (or individual dishes) with the moistened Lady Fingers.
- Spread some of the mascarpone mixture on top of the Lady Fingers and repeat with another layer of Lady Fingers and another layer of mascarpone.
- Cover with plastic wrap and allow to set in refrigerator for at least four hours.
- To serve, remove plastic wrap and dust generously with sifted cocoa powder.