Voyage of Discovery

First, a confession: I’m no lover of boats, and having never been on a cruise ship, I was slightly apprehensive that boarding the Silver Explorer would end in tears for this land lubber…

For on every voyage, short or long, across a choppy Firth of Forth to circle the Bass Rock, or aboard a long boat in Thailand streaking across aquamarine marbled waters, I quickly go green at the gills and end the day regretting my nautical choice. All the same, I was delighted to be invited on board for a tour and four course lunch, albeit staying put at sunny Leith docks.

Operated by Silversea, a family-owned company, and under the banner Silver Expeditions – for adventure travellers (but who still like their luxury after a hard day’s sight-seeing), the Silver Explorer is small compared to many cruise liners. With an impressive ratio of guests to crew – 144 guests to 117 crew members – each suite has butler service so weary travellers can put their tired feet up and order all they need in the way of refreshments and pampering.

The Silver Explorer has a strengthened hull allowing her to push through ice flows and reach the parts other cruises can’t. Her smaller size also enables her to manoeuvre in waters too shallow for larger liners.

Here are a few facts about her: there are two Jacuzzis on deck but no swimming pool (where this vessel goes, it’s too cold); she has 7 decks; 24-hour reception and weighs just over 6,000 tonnes. There are 46 possible cruise choices ranging in prices from £3,500 to £23,000. Yes, you read it correctly; this is for serious spenders, but you get a lot of bang for your buck here.

Julie, sales development manager, and Hans Peter, a biologist and one of the team of experts on hand to give guests information about the regions they visit – often the “white continents” of the Arctic and Antarctic – gave us a short presentation. It was peppered with National Geographic–style images of a whale’s tail before it plunges below the surface of the sea, a penguin comically eyeing up the camera lense and a polar bear oblivious to the group of spectators on a small boat, which I later learn is a Zodiac carried on board to allow up close exploration of the wildlife and ice formations.

Julie explained, “you don’t have to be Bear Grylls” to go on one of their expeditions, but visiting the polar extremes populated by endangered animals is not for those whose idea of a cruise is mostly to eat, drink and laze about on deck. We saw the “mud room”, with its rows of thick rubber boots tucked into cubby holes awaiting their next adventure, showers and places to dry out kit. It gives an inkling of the tough environment passengers will be stepping into.

Food on board is fine dining though: a tower of marinated crabmeat, avocado and quail egg; char-grilled grouper with sautéed artichokes and arugula leaves (rocket); roast beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and asparagus tips, port wine sauce and foie gras sauce, followed by the prettiest dessert of dark and white chocolate mousse with ornate chocolate flowers piped onto the plate.

Arctic conditions don’t stop al fresco dining. Aided by blankets, passengers can opt to cook their own dinner on heated volcanic slates whilst sitting outside admiring the passing scenery under a star studded sky: it sounds unbelievably romantic and for a moment, I am whisked away to a land time forgot, dreaming of how many pay checks it would take to get on board a voyage, forgetting for a beautiful, short moment that we are berthed at Leith Docks awaiting the lucky passengers for whom this is about to become reality.

There is a cruise for everyone, I’m told by one of the travel agents present – and despite my initial reservations, this one certainly floats my boat.

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