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It may have been my sixth voyage, but the first where I truly saw Alaska
On Monday morning, my luxurious Alaskan adventure aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow ended as we sailed back underneath the Lions Gate Bridge and came to berth at Vancouver’s Canada Place Cruise Terminal, where we had begun our journey 11 days prior.
The full Live Voyage Report:
- Day 1 – Embarking Silver Shadow in Vancouver, British Columbia
- Day 2 – Sailing the Inside Passage
- Day 3 – Ketchikan, Alaska
- Day 4 – Juneau, Alaska
- Day 5 – Skagway, Alaska
- Day 6 – Sitka, Alaska
- Day 7 – Cruising Tracy Arm & the Sawyer Glaciers
- Day 8 – Wrangell, Alaska
- Day 9 – Prince Rupert, British Columbia
- Day 10 – Cruising the Pacific Ocean
- Day 11 – Victoria, British Columbia
As far as endings go, Silversea makes the breakup between fantasy and reality as soft and comfortable as possible. Despite the fact it was the morning of disembarkation – when all services on other ships typically stop – Silversea still allows guests to order room service breakfast to their suite. So, for one last time, my fabulous butler Muhammad brought me my toast, grilled peaches with honey, and Greek yogurt along with coffee and orange juice.
In typical Silversea style, breakfast was also served in La Terrazza on Deck 7 from 7:00a.m. – 9:30a.m.; and in The Restaurant on Deck 4 from 7:30a.m. – 9:30a.m.
Because I live in Vancouver, I was assigned the last disembarkation colour. At 8:30a.m., I left my suite for the last time and sat in The Bar and mingled with a few guests. When my colour was called half an hour later, I leisurely gathered my things and strolled off the ship into the terminal, where Farida from the Shore Excursion desk was waiting to help guests find their luggage.
Five minutes later, I’m out of the terminal and on my way. For the guests docked next to us on their megaship, the process looked a lot more stressful, with huge queues for baggage, customs and transportation.
At the end of the day, I think there’s five things that made my sixth voyage to Alaska so memorable – and that really set Silversea apart from the numerous mainstream lines in the region:
It’s About You – Not Everyone Else
Full disclosure: I love mainstream cruising. Love it. I cut my teeth on it, and I still like big ships. For who they are designed for and what they’re designed to do, they’re great.
But they’re not Silversea. Silver Shadow carries, at a maximum, 382 guests. There are also 302 crewmembers onboard, which is a superb ratio. At 610 feet in length and 28,258 GRT, that makes her one of the most spacious ships afloat.
On mainstream lines, it’s about the non-stop shows and the onboard art auctions and getting your photograph taken constantly by the shipboard photographers, who occasionally have to suffer through the injustice of gangway duty dressed as a sperm whale. Or a lumberjack. Or a certain former Alaskan governor who looks suspiciously like Tina Fey. Either way, the things start to outrival the destination.
I’ve sailed with Silversea many times now, but it wasn’t until last week that I truly realized just how fabulous they really are. Instead of bogging the destination down in a series of numbing champagne art auctions and sailaway spectaculars, Silversea’s onboard product enhanced Alaska’s beauty.
On Silversea, it’s all about you – not everyone else. Service is personalized in a way that other lines promise, but simply cannot deliver for two or three thousand guests. It’s unobtrusive and friendly, exacting but never stuffy. It’s personal.
When you’re taking photographs out the window while eating lunch, and you turn around, and your Alaskan Amber beer has been mysteriously re-filled for you – that’s not just good service. That’s amazing.
Longer and More Varied Itineraries
The standard Alaska run is typically seven days in length and calls on Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. But even on Silver Shadow’s own weeklong itineraries between Vancouver and Seward – which make up the bulk of her season – Sitka is included along with Hubbard Glacier.
It’s Silversea’s longer itineraries, however, that really showcase both Alaska and the luxe style of cruising the line has been known for since its inception in 1994. Next year, the line is offering a fantastic 10-day sailing (Voyage 3509) from San Francisco to Vancouver; an 11-night sailing in July departing roundtrip Vancouver (Voyage 3518); followed immediately by another 10-night sailing roundtrip Vancouver (Voyage 3519); and finally, concluding Silver Shadow’s 2015 Alaska season in September with an amazing 14-night sailing between Seward and Tokyo, Japan (Voyage 3527).
This goes hand-in-hand with Silversea’s longer and more diverse itineraries. At first, I was perplexed at why my own sailing spent an entire day in Tracy Arm Fjord. After all, it’s just a few hours’ sail from Juneau, and most mainstream lines call on Tracy Arm in the morning and Juneau in the afternoon.
But by devoting an entire day to Tracy Arm fjord, Silversea allowed guests to do something that the megaships we saw simply couldn’t: sail farther into the fjord than on any other sailing I’ve ever been on – including a small catamaran from Juneau. Since we weren’t in a rush, we picked our way along through the ice at four or five knots, using our thrusters to gently maneuver the ship close to the South Sawyer Glacier.
After an hour at the glacier, we sailed leisurely back up Tracy Arm – which is as striking as anything Norway’s famed fjords have to offer. On the way, we met up with the Disney Wonder. It’s a gorgeous ship – but it was stopped halfway down the fjord, its railings thick with passengers keen on getting a good view.
It doesn’t matter what deck they stood on: their view just wasn’t going to be what ours was, and I like that Silversea took the time to exploit opportunities like the one we had in Tracy Arm for the benefit of their guests.
It’s a Better Value
The average suite aboard Silver Shadow is 345 square feet and includes a private veranda. That suite comes with butler service, a soft-or-firm mattress, three different types of bathroom toiletries, nine different types of pillows, Italian-made Pratesi linens on the beds, bathrobes, slippers, an iHome docking station, a flat-panel television and DVD player, a marble bathroom with two sinks, a full-sized bathtub and a shower; personalised stationery, Belgian-made Pierre Marcolini chocolates, and a mini-bar stocked with whatever adult beverages your heart desires. All complimentary. And you haven’t even left your suite yet.
Compare that to a mainstream cruise ship, where the average stateroom (notice the different wording?) runs 185 square feet at best, and includes a bathroom with a modular shower, a flat-panel television set, a queen bed, and a mini-bar stocked with for-purchase water and soft drinks. Your gratuities are not included, your drinks are not included, and you’re sailing with between two and three thousand other guests who all want that coveted spot on the railing.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with mainstream cruising – far from it. This observation isn’t aimed at folks booking that last-minute, rock-bottom-priced inside cabin for a week away from work in Alaska. But if you’re routinely booking a suite on a mainstream ship – which doesn’t come cheap – chances are you’re already purchasing a Silversea cruise and just don’t know it.
On the mainstream line, you get a larger room and some perks. On Silversea, you’re getting the whole package.
Stay with me on this one, because it’s true. Silversea is romantic in the way that boutique lines like Windstar Cruises are romantic – because they deliver something extraordinarily unique and special. You can do as much or as little as you want. You can splurge and order that tin of $550 Petrossian Caviar and order room service to your suite course-by-course, or you can just pick a deck chair – any one will do – and read a book. And enjoy being you.
My very first cruise was a sailing to Alaska, and with this sixth voyage under my belt – and a seventh coming up in August – my affections for Alaska haven’t diminished any in the intervening 16 years.
If you haven’t been, you should go. It will rain, it will be cold, and the over-commercialisation of some of the ports will make you grind your teeth in agony, but the local shops – and the local Alaskans – will win your heart over just as surely as the sweeping mountains and glaciers will.
But if you’ve already been to Alaska before on a mainstream line, Silversea is worth saving your pennies for. You’ll be amazed at how much more you come away with.
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow has sadly come to a close. Be sure to follow along with future Live Reports on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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