Conrad Combrink Sheds Light on Silversea’s First Amazon Expedition
It’s uncharted territory for Silversea’s expedition fleet: for the first time in the cruise line’s history, travelers will soon venture into the world’s mightiest river on an expedition voyage.
“The Amazon is a destination that most of us who work in the expedition industry love to explore,” says Conrad Combrink, Silversea Cruises’ Senior Vice President of Expeditions, Turnaround Operations and Destination Management. “It’s a massive river and a massive ecosystem, brimming with culture, history and, of course, natural history.”
Departing the Brazilian city of Fortaleza on April 4, 2022, the 21-day odyssey will journey 900 miles inland to the heart of the Amazon region in Manaus before heading back out to the northeastern coastline of South America, visiting French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana, and ending in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The Amazonian odyssey is part of Silversea’s largest-ever itinerary deployment, featuring 315 voyages to 669 destinations across 114 countries. Out of 61 maiden calls featured on the new itineraries, several are present in the Fortaleza to Bridgetown voyage, including a handful of ports along the Amazon River, the Brazilian city of Belém, and the Surinamese capital of Paramaribo. Combrink hails the adventurous itinerary as a textbook example of the expedition program’s mission to push the boundaries of exploration and luxury travel. “Voyages like this allow our guests to step out of their comfort zone and experience these destinations with the familiarity of Silversea and the crew that they love.”
In anticipation of this groundbreaking expedition itinerary, Combrink shares his excitement about being able to finally offer this experience—complete with Zodiacs and a team of expedition experts—to Silversea guests.
How long has this voyage been in the making for Silversea?
The Amazon River has been on our radar for many years. I think the first time I started to work on an Amazon expedition was probably a good six-seven years ago. And every year, the idea of the Amazon comes up and we look at it and we study it. You do need time, you do need a very experienced expedition team, and the right-sized vessel to tackle it. Because we are expanding our fleet by adding Silver Wind, and we continue on our quest to constantly look at new destinations, we made the decision that the time is now to do the Amazon. We spent a lot of time in the past 18 months consulting with our expedition leaders, some of the team members that are going to be on this expedition, and our operations teams, to make sure that we allocated the right amount of time to the Amazon so as to not rush through it. We wanted to really make sure that this 21-day voyage would give our guests a very in-depth experience of the region. And Silver Wind will give us the opportunity to do this.
What are the advantages of offering this itinerary on the soon-to-be refurbished Silver Wind?
It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to showcase the expedition capabilities of the ship. She’s an incredible vessel: she was the second ship that was built for Silversea, and, like her sister Silver Cloud, she’s perfect for expedition cruising. Silver Wind can accommodate a large expedition team of 28 staff members, as well as a large fleet of Zodiacs. And of course there’s the incredible comfort aboard the ship, the guest-to-space ratio… there are not many vessels that have the comfort and the exploration abilities that she will offer. So we’re really excited and I’m very happy that we can showcase her capabilities in a region like the Amazon so soon into her life as an expedition ship.
What does this new voyage mean for Silversea?
For me, it’s absolutely fantastic in that we are constantly evolving our product. We always try to find that new destination or a new way of interpreting a destination. All of our expedition voyages are carefully curated; we give a lot of thought and whenever we put an itinerary out we feel it’s a part of us. It’s our passion to develop these programs. Although new for expeditions, the Amazon is not new to Silversea. We’ve been visiting this region with our classic ships for many years, and it’s been a very successful destination in the past. I’m excited that now we have the opportunity to look at this destination and reimagine it. Frankly, this year more than ever we have taken the time to really think about how we deliver on our expedition and destination experience. We are dedicating a huge amount of time on the river to full expedition activities. This voyage really is an evolution of our South American product and one we’ve been looking forward to for a very long time.
And it’s not just an Amazon River experience…
Yes, it’s important to stress that this is not only an Amazon exploration. Our voyage starts in Fortaleza and ends in Bridgetown, so the Amazon is a part of a far bigger expedition along the northeastern coast of the South American continent. We will have the opportunity to spend two days in places like Georgetown, Guyana, where guests can explore amazing highlights like the Kaieteur Falls or the Essequibo River. It’s about learning about the history of places like Île Royale or Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Going to Paramaribo, going to incredible nature reserves, learning about the historical backdrop of places listed on UNESCO heritage sites. So It really is a very rich and diverse itinerary. Moreover, I see this as the evolution of our itineraries from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. I also see this region as the new west coast of Africa. We developed incredibly unique itineraries on the west coast of Africa and spent a lot of time looking at ways to differentiate them, to deliver that destination differently. It’s an interesting part of the world; South America is incredibly rich and this voyage that starts in Fortaleza is really going to give guests a very in-depth look at that coast and then deviate into the Amazon. In fact, our hope is that guests will start the voyage in Buenos Aires and end in Bridgetown, and we designed them in such a way that they can be combined: Ushuaia-Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires-Fortaleza, Fortaleza-Bridgetown… if you combine them, you’re going to have an incredible exploration of the entire east coast of South America. And these three segments are going to complement each other, just like we’ve done on the West Coast of Africa in the past from Cape Town to Dakar and then on to Lisbon.
What makes the Amazon an ideal expedition destination?
It really offers us the opportunity to come into our own right: to put the zodiacs in the water, to explore the waterways, to visit small communities, to witness their lifestyle. We’ll visit places like buffalo farms where you can see the farmers working with the buffalos in the water when the fields are flooded during the rainy season. These are experiences that we’ll only have when you have the opportunity to slowly experience this destination. An expedition trip by nature is designed to take in those special experiences: this area is phenomenal for bird life, going with our zodiacs, exploring the riverbanks to look for dolphins, sloths, iguanas, monkeys. There’s also an opportunity for us to explore the river at nighttime on our Zodiacs. This is an experience that you can only offer with an expedition ship. Then there are attractions like the meeting of the waters near Manaus. This is where the dark tea-like waters of the Rio Negro meet the murky waters of the Solimões… almost like tea and milk. We’ll also spend two days in Manaus, a city in the center of the world’s largest rainforest. And it’s home to things like the Institute of Amazonian Research, which we will visit during our stay, and we’ll be able to offer scenic flights over the Amazon from Manaus. We’re also planning for our guests to have an evening at the Amazon Theater, the city’s opera house which was inaugurated in 1886 during the rubber boom and is absolutely fantastic. Its incredible architecture is really interesting and the opera house itself is phenomenal.
Cultural experiences also play an important role in this voyage?
Yes, the idea is that we’ll be able to visit local smaller communities, as well as the big cities like Manaus. That’s significant because it gives guests an opportunity to really understand the life of the people we get to meet. We will have anthropologists traveling with us on this expedition who will provide an understanding of the cultural differences and, also, the historical significance of the European settlements, the history and the influence that that had on a country like Brazil and on a region like the Amazon. I also think it will allow our guests to understand how the caboclos (locals of mixed indigenous Brazilian and European ancestry) live and how different people in that region live. Our expedition is geared to give guests a far deeper understanding of the daily life of this region, and I think it’s important because cultural diversity is something that we experience on a daily basis. Traveling to places like West Africa or the Amazon just opens our eyes and makes us understand our place and the place of other people and other cultures in our planet.
In your opinion, what sort of traveler will find this itinerary most compelling?
I think it’s going to appeal to our Venetian Society guests, and to guests who have done many of our voyages in the past, especially expedition. It’s going to remind them of how we push the boundaries in other parts of the world: in Papua New Guinea, in Africa, the west coast of South America… Expedition travel has been phenomenally successful and has really wowed inquisitive travelers. An expedition is for the traveler that will look beyond a guide who doesn’t speak perfect English; that will understand that this person sharing their life with them is not a professional guide but is doing it because they want to share their life. It’s for this person who wants to have a deep, authentic experience. And in that sense, I’m certain that this voyage is going to excite, delight and surprise every single day of its 3-week duration.