On board with Conrad Combrink
The Director of Expedition Cruises with Silversea expeditions talks to Portside Magazine
How did you get the job planning expeditions for Silversea?
In 1997 I worked for Society Expeditions where I went on my first cruise to Antarctica and fell instantly in love with it. Despite starting my career on mainstream cruise lines I knew then that there was no other type of cruising for me. At 24 I got my first job as expedition leader and from there I’ve never looked back. During my expedition career, World Discoverer II had always been one of my favourite ships. In 2007 when I read that Silversea had purchased the ship to set up its own expedition programme, I gave them a call and was offered the job of Director of Expedition Cruises. The rest, as they say, is history.
What makes an expedition cruise different from a regular cruise?
I think the word ‘cruise’ is what puts so many people off trying an expedition holiday for the first time. It is very different from a regular cruise, almost more like a safari at sea. Firstly, expedition cruises use fleets of zodiacs to get close to the wildlife and culture of an area. Secondly, an expedition cruise tends to be more active than a regular cruise. Depending on the area you’re visiting, expeditions can often involve activities like hiking or snorkelling. Thirdly, voyages are accompanied by an expedition team, which in the case of Silversea can include ornithologists, naturalists, historians, environmentalists, biologists and anthropologists, to name just a few.
What does such expertise bring to an expedition?
The teams really help bring a destination to life. We offer a lecture programme on each expedition and host a daily briefing that provides guests the opportunity to ask our experts any questions they may have. The lectures are informative but informal; we don’t want guests to feel like the’re back at school! And crucially, the expedition team accompany all guests on zodiac tours and on land as well, so they’re never far away to offer advice and expertise.
How many ships are there in the Silversea expeditions fleet and what sets them apart from other expedition vessels?
We have three ships in the current fleet – Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos, and Silver Discoverer. What sets us apart is the breadth of destinations we cover. With the introduction of Silver Discoverer focusing on the Asia Pacific we cover nearly every remote region in the world. We offer an incredible expedition experience and have some of the best expedition leaders and lecturers in the industry. Service and amenities are big differentiators too. We don’t believe that to explore remote regions you have to live on a diet of boiled potatoes and sleep in bunk beds, which is why all our ships feature spacious ocean-view suites, butler service, complimentary wines and spirits served throughout the ship, and amazing chefs able to create an incredible variety of tantalising dishes wherever they are in the world.
What types of guests join your cruises?
The majority of our guests tend to be extremely well travelled; they have often been on at least one safari or adventure holiday and are looking for their next big adventure. Often they don’t consider themselves ‘cruisers’ in the traditional sense. Instead they’re looking for a way to access areas often only accessible by sea without compromising on life’s little comforts
How fit do you need to be to go on a Silversea expedition?
In all areas we operate in it’s important to be of a moderate fitness level in order to participate in the activities offered. As we make use of the zodiacs on a daily basis, guests need to be able to get in and out of them by means of the gangway, which involves some steps. Certain excursions also include guided hikes over uneven terrain.
How would you describe a typical day on a Silversea expedition?
It’s difficult to describe a typical day, as our itineraries are flexible by nature. Depending on the region, a typical day could include up to three wet or dry landings. You might set out on a guided hike, visit a local tribe, take a zodiac out hunting for polar bears, swim with sea lions in the beautiful Galapagos, or go snorkelling over the stunning coral reefs of Micronesia.
How do you go about planning an expedition cruise itinerary?
Before we place any destination into an itinerary, myself or one of our expedition team make sure it has been thoroughly explored and researched, so we can guarantee an unforgettable experience for our guests. We will scout the area extensively to ensure there is plenty to enjoy, whether that be stunning wildlife, a unique culture, a diverse underwater world or spectacular landscapes. With our expedition team now consisting of more than 80 staff, we have a vast range of personal knowledge to draw on.
Are there any new routes that you’re particularly excited about?
I’m so excited by the number of destinations we’re now able to offer our guests. If I had to choose one particular highlight of the Silver Discoverer itineraries it would have to be the Russian Far East – for the sheer diversity of the region. It really stands out as an area as it offers both wildlife and culture in equal measure. You can look for brown bears, walruses and sea lions, and it’s particularly great for bird watchers, with some extremely rare birds likely to make an appearance. Yet you also have real history and culture to explore and enjoy.