Once, in that vanished sepia age before the First World War, there was no distinction between luxury cruising and the mainstream. This can be seen in photographs from the time, but also in the menus of the on-board restaurants, aboard liners like the Prinzessin Victoria Luise. Sent to sea in 1900, guests on a typical evening could enjoy a dinner of eight courses, involving everything from American beef and roast turkey to green turtle ragout.

But with the decline of the aristocratic society and the rise of mass tourism, cruising would soon change. Effortless luxury would gradually disappear – replaced by market forces. In 1968, for instance, Holland America became the first line to introduce the so-called ‘Lido dining concept’ to its vessels. We know that rarefied term by a less glamorous name: the buffet.

Now, though, the cruising zeitgeist is once more wafting back towards the elegance of the Prinzessin Victoria Luise. Though relaxed vacations aboard huge vessels are still eminently possible – and are indeed more popular than ever among certain demographics – an increasing number of passengers are eager for more sophisticated trips to more obscure destinations – on much smaller ships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this trend comes with a hearty dose of environmentalism, both from operators and the people they serve. But what does this rising world of compact, chic cruising actually look like? And with such little space to work with, how do operators aim to dovetail the future of the planet and the comfort of their guests? There are worse places to begin answering these questions than casting an eye to Silversea and the newest addition to their Nova class of ships.

Sea green

Over recent years, cruise ship design has generally gone in two opposing directions: big and small. Maybe because of the engineering miracles involved, the former has often received more attention. Think of a vessel like the Wonder of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean titan 361-metres long and capable of carrying almost 7,000 guests. Yet, amid the fascination with these hospitality dreadnoughts, it’d be amiss to forget their more bijou cousins. AmaMagna, for instance, is a 196-passenger hybrid ship that recently started plying the Rhine and Moselle. Le Commandant-Charcot, for its part, is a new expedition ship by Ponant, boasting liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel and expressly designed to explore the Arctic and Antarctica. These examples are of a piece with the industry more broadly. According to the ‘2022 Luxury Market Report’ by Cruise Industry News, 89 luxury cruise ships are expected to be sailing by 2027, with more likely to join them.

As these references to hybrid engines and LNG imply, the rise of more individualised cruise experiences can broadly be understood in environmental terms. Certainly, that seems true of Silver Nova, Silversea’s 11th ship due to set sail next year. “Among the most environmentally conscious ships ever built, Silver Nova is the latest manifestation of our commitment to sustainability,” says Roberto Martinoli, president and CEO at Silversea Cruises. As Martinoli continues, these principles reflect broader company aims. Fully owned by Royal Caribbean since July 2020, Silversea now comes under the auspices of the ‘Seastainability Report’, a 75-page document detailing everything from the operator’s climate change research to its waste reduction efforts. The aim, stresses Martinoli, is to reflect Royal Caribbean Group’s “continued commitment” to the planet. Not that this sustainable agenda is being encouraged by cruise companies alone. Rather, customers themselves are an important factor in prodding operators to go green. A 2021 poll by Mundy Cruising, for example, showed that half the respondents considered environmental questions when booking a cruise, while 55% thought smaller vessels were more sustainable.

Otium of the people

The word ‘asymmetrical’ is not one you typically associate with cruise ships – or indeed any ship. Speak to Roberto Bruzzone, however, and it’s clear Silver Nova is different. As the senior vice-president of marine operations at Silversea explains, the ship’s unusual design is a “giant leap forward” in how the operator conceives of its vessels. An excellent example of this in practice, continues Bruzzone, is the ship’s swimming pool. Rather than being in the centre of the ship, embracing asymmetry means the pool will be outward facing, to one side, offering more space to guests and providing unobstructed views. The point, stresses Bruzzone, is to “connect guests with the destination like never before”.

Details like this are typical of the thought Silversea is putting into their new vessel. Despite her relatively intimate proportions, after all, Martinoli promises Silver Nova will also be “one of the most spacious” cruise ships ever built (when considering her space-to-guest ratio of 75 GRT-per-passenger). That’s reflected, among other things, in the cabins available to passengers. Even the smallest suites will boast floor-to-ceiling glass doors, verandas with patio furniture, and a writing desk, suitable accoutrements for rooms measuring a generous 357ft2.

True to its word, meanwhile, Silversea is also balancing this luxury with broader environmental commitments. As Bruzzone puts it: “We have integrated many pioneering technologies to ensure that Silver Nova is among the most environmentally conscious cruise ships ever built.” Perhaps the most obvious feature here is LNG, with the ship altogether boasting an output of 4MW. That’s shadowed by a battery bank, capable of generating 0.8MW. From there, the vessel will have the option to be connected to shore power. More fundamentally, Silversea is also building the ship with hydrodynamics in mind, its hull and propulsion design ensuring the ship uses less fuel than some of its peers. According to Bruzzone, all this will mean Silver Nova will be 30% more fuel efficient than Silversea’s previous class of ship and secure an Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) rating 25% better than International Maritime Organisation standards.

Ship shape

It’d be wrong, of course, to imply that Silver Nova could just be conjured up from nothing. On the contrary, Bruzzone is careful to stress the benefits of working with Royal Caribbean. “When Royal Caribbean Group first acquired Silversea shares,” stresses Bruzzone, “we identified synergies across global market access, supply chain, and purchasing power.” That’s particularly true, Bruzzone adds, when it comes to sharing resources, something he suggests has “proven invaluable” since their collaboration began.

Given all this, it’s probably unsurprising that Silversea’s executives are so excited about the future. “There is no doubt that sustainability is the future of luxury travel and we can be as bold to say that Silver Nova is a game changer in this space,” says Martinoli. “By introducing Silver Nova to our fleet, we are creating a new era of luxury cruising that prioritises both sustainability and the guest experience. Whilst the ship focuses heavily on deepening our commitment to sustainability, luxury on board is not compromised, but rather enhanced.”

Considering everything we know about the vessel so far, it’s hard to disagree. The glitz of the Prinzessin Victoria Luise may be gone, but guests could soon experience something quite close.