Silversea is an independent luxury travel experience company known for it’s 20+ years in smaller ship, unique destination cruising. Ten years ago it launched its luxury expedition cruising to some of the world’s most remote and less traveled destinations. In November 2017 the Silver Cloud, the company’s first ship which debuted in 1994, relaunches from a three-year makeover into the world’s most luxurious expedition vessel, complete with an ice-breaking hull and a complete modernization and redesign. Already known for their adventuresome and in-depth shore excursions, the company has surprised many by announcing an offering of unique land-based experiences this week they’re calling the Couture Collection.
The debut collection includes nine experiences ranging from five to 11 days—most with travel by private jet, helicopter or rail—from the South Pole to the Australian outback, Tibet and Mongolia, Bolivia, Iceland, India, Namibia and Rwanda. Each offers incredible experiences developed with the company’s expedition staff and local experts, offering experiences most travelers couldn’t create on their own. Each is a one-off experience limited to a small number of guests, and connects to an optional cruise. Depending on your budget these will be a someday fantasy experience or a bargain given the detailed journeys, access, private travel, convenience and luxuriously comfortable lodging, much of which will be created for these adventures. Prices start at around $11,000 per person (Namibia) and top out at $78,000 per person (Antarctica).
To learn more about Silversea’s new Couture Collection we sat down with CMO Barbara Muckerman and Conrad Combrink, the company’s VP of Strategic Development, Expedition and Experiences who has been leading their programs since they started 10 years ago. We wanted to know why this travel company who is known for their cruise experiences desired to expand into land-based programs, how and why they developed these trips, and what luxury means when you are spending the night in a tent on the South Pole.
Silversea has made a name for itself in creating great land programs while on a cruise. How did the concept evolve to include amazing adventures on land that can be experienced on their own or conveniently adjacent to one of your cruises?
Barbara Muckerman: Silversea’s mission is to enable amazing experiences for our guests. In this sense the idea on the Couture Collection really came about when I was sailing the Silver Discoverer with Conrad and some guests. We were in Bangladesh and we were having dinner together. They all started talking about how amazing the trip in Bangladesh was and how they would really go anywhere in the world with Silversea and how they were sorry we did not go further inland. Conrad and I looked at each other and started an impromptu focus group, just asking, “What if we were to organize a trip to Mongolia, would you come?” and wine and conversation kept flowing. After the overwhelming response we sat down with Conrad and started working on this. It was February 2017.
How do the incredible experiences available in the debut Couture Collection represent an evolution in how your customers want to travel?
BM: It is not an evolution in how they travel as the special thing about the Couture Collection is also the unprecedented level of luxury, which is very close to the luxury the ships offer. What is different is where they travel, as these trips go further inland. [In addition, guests} won’t travel on a ship but instead on private flights and rail.
And how do they present new opportunities for travelers who may not be interested in a cruise get to know Silversea?
BM: I think that the Couture Collection will open the market for lots of wealthy “new to cruising” guests, who would not take a classic cruise but would get closer to the brand through a product like this one.
You conceived of this program in February 2017 and launched it in October 2017. Can you share a few of the hurdles that your team overcame in creating them so quickly?
BM: The team worked like crazy to put them together. The most complicated things were availability in some of these remote areas; connecting these amazing experiences with the right cruises; and scouting. Fast. Very fast.
How does Silversea keep surprising even the most experienced travelers?
BM: By talking to our most traveled guests and learning from them what they would like next. Also Manfredi [the Chairman and owner of Silversea] is really representative of our best example of a customer, an avid traveler who loves to travel in comfort. Manfredi is often a source of inspiration for our next destinations.
You’ve been developing cruise-based expeditions for 10 years at Silversea, and there are now four out of nine ships in the fleet dedicated to adventurous, expedition based cruises. How did the idea for these land-based expeditions develop?
Conrad Combrink: It has been an incredible privilege to take the idea of our chairman to offer luxury expeditions and build them from a single ship to four ships. Although our four expedition ships and five “classic” ships cover seven continents and hundreds of destinations we felt that there was a need to explore further. Hence the idea to look at other incredible destinations that we wanted to offer. Our guests have a natural curiosity and desire to see more and through that our idea to offer exclusive and unique land-based programs was born.
We simply believe that we have a responsibility to turn peoples’ dreams into a reality
How is Silversea able to deliver these immersive, very special experiences?
CC: Although Silversea is a cruise company we understand luxury travel. But more than a cruise line we are a destination specialist at heart. We take great pride in how we deliver our destinations. With our small ships we have always been able to push the boundaries and visit remote and more out of the way places. With our fleet of expedition ships we have always had a very serious focus on how we present the destination we take our guests to. We spend a lot of time researching and scouting each of our specialized expeditions. This will be the same for land based exploration. We have a team of destination experts that are passionate not only about luxury travel but also about taking people to incredible places. We simply believe that we have a responsibility to turn peoples’ dreams into a reality. And with that as part of our ethos we are able to easily transition from being not only the best luxury cruise line in the world but being the best destination company in the world.
The Couture Collection that’s been announced includes some incredible experiences—a visit to the South Pole, lunch on a glacier-topped volcano in Iceland, visiting Tsataanese reindeer herders in Mongolia. How do you develop these programs, and why are they so special?
CC: This takes us back to the very origins of Silversea, to its DNA. Since it was founded in 1994 Silversea has always been a pioneer in the travel industry, constantly challenging the status quo through unprecedented innovations: the first ultra-luxury cruise ships with over 85% private verandas, the first cruise line with butler service for every guest, the first cruise line to merge ultra-luxury and expedition travel when everybody thought that it was impossible, exploring in comfort some of the most remote and amazing destinations on the planet (by the way, in 2018 we will be celebrating “10 years of exploration”) the first cruise line to visit Bangladesh in a memorable voyage in 2016. It’s this passion, this continuous striving to go beyond what has already been achieved that drives everything that we do and that brought us to create the Couture Collection.
We spend a great amount of time researching each destination and we also travel to these destinations before we actually run these programs. We need to have a very deep knowledge of each destination to not only understand what it offers but also what the challenges will be in operating there. We have to have very close cooperation with local partners. However we have been very clear from the beginning with our partners that we need out of the box thinking and Something new, something fresh.
Traveling in some of these locations is often a casual experience. How were you able to create these adventures in an ultra-luxurious manner, one that Silversea is known for delivering, while also keeping them authentic with the surroundings?
CC: When we kicked-off this project we started from the principle that no destination should be ruled-out. Of course some of the chosen destinations presented significant challenges, particularly when it comes to delivering a luxury product, but that’s exactly the essence of the Couture Collection—opening up places which normally would not be accessible with a certain standard of comfort. And the only way to do that was to create bespoke programs and innovative arrangements. When luxury facilities were not there we found a way to build them ourselves. But what counts even more than the remoteness of the destinations is the way in which we will explore them; being curated programs for very small groups we are able to take our guests to the real core of the destinations and offer them unique, authentic experiences. Nothing is staged, nothing is fake.
Can you share any of the more complex challenges that you were able to work through? And perhaps a few that so far you haven’t?
CC: These programs are a Silversea product. We have actively driven the development and the scouting of each and every itinerary. It has been an interesting process looking at remote parts of the world, parts of the world not easy to get to and to make them easily accessible. Challenges became opportunities and sometimes added a dimension to the product we sometimes overlook. Take our traversing of Bolivia as an example. High altitude, no problem—we outfit our vehicles with oxygen. No place to sleep—we will put up a bespoke luxury camp.
These are just launching but we know that you’re already working on the next year’s adventures. As our readers love to know things before everyone else, is there anything you can share with us about what you’re up to?
CC: We are looking at more remote lands and with the partnership we have photographer with Steve McCurry. We will bring you closer and in contact with experiences we sometimes only read and dream about. Think of exploring the cultural riches of the five Stans, a luxury remote camp in Greenland or perhaps a dive in a submarine to explore the Titanic.
Images courtesy of Silversea