Sailing through Alaska and British Columbia with Silversea
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Today is an exciting day for me. I’ve sailed to Alaska many times before – but never with a luxury line. My experiences in the region up to this point have all been on mainstream cruise ships with passenger capacities that run into the thousands.
Today, I embarked Silversea’s Silver Shadow– a ship that only holds 382 guests – for an entirely different sort of Alaskan experience. Over the course of the next 11 days, we’ll sail to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Tracy Arm, Wrangell, Prince Rupert and Victoria – all roundtrip from Vancouver. It’s a unique voyage, and one that’s sailing nearly full. In fact, the top-of-the-line suites are some of the first things to sell out on Silversea’s Alaskan voyages.
I am a huge supporter of sailing from the gorgeous Canada Place Cruise Terminal here in Vancouver, but every time I do so – on any ship – embarkation is an affair that could best be described as “chaotic.” Today, Silver Shadow is the only ship in port and with a maximum capacity of just 382 guests, I had high hopes that embarkation wouldn’t be the normal gong-show that a Saturday embarkation on a megaship can be here.
When you embark in Vancouver, you are first cleared through security, whereupon you are processed by United States Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) officials. This expedites your entry into Alaska, and eliminates the requirement for mass customs facilities in ports of call like Ketchikan.
Once you’ve been processed, you proceed to the check-in and holding area to have your photo taken and keycards issued. Then, finally, you’re allowed to step out onto the tide-sensor gangways to embark your ship. On a megaship, this process can take an hour or even more if you’re kept in the holding area. The fastest I’ve made it onboard a large, mainstream ship here in Vancouver is 57 minutes, start-to-finish.
Today, I beat my previous record by a longshot. From the time I got out of the car at Canada Place, it took me all of 18 minutes to step onboard the Silver Shadow. I was personally welcomed onboard; offered a refreshing towel; and handed a glass of champagne. I even ran into two crew members I’d sailed with two years ago when I crossed the Atlantic onboard Silver Spirit, which was a wonderful surprise!
Now, obviously Silversea starts at a higher price point than a mainstream line in Alaska. Or does it? A certain cruise line with a giant mouse for a mascot wants nearly $6,000 Canadian for a 7-night sailing to Alaska in an oceanview stateroom, and many mainstream lines aren’t exactly giving away their top-of-the-line suites. Considering this was the least-painful embarkation I have ever experienced in Vancouver, I’d say that’s worth noting.
Here’s another small-ship, luxury advantage: Silver Shadow had three different dining venues open for lunch. I love mainstream ships, but I avoid their embarkation lunch like the plague. It’s usually only offered in the overcrowded lido-style restaurant on embarkation day; perhaps in one of the dining rooms if you’re a frequent past-guest. But on Silver Shadow – which, again, carries less than four hundred guests – you could take lunch:
- In the Restaurant from Noon until 1:30pm;
- At the Pool Grill from Noon until 3:30pm;
- Or in La Terrazza from 1pm until 3pm.
I chose La Terrazza because I absolutely love the atmosphere; with 180-degree panoramic windows, it’s a bright and inviting place to dine. The food, which is served buffet-style, also has exceptional variety. There’s fish, meats, salads, stews, soups, desserts, and even freshly-made sushi and sashimi. Or, if you prefer, you can choose from 10 different pizzas. Fair warning: the pizza is huge!
By 2pm, my Suite was ready. There are no such things as “staterooms” or “cabins” here onboard the Silver Shadow; every type of accommodation is considered to be a “suite.” It’s not hard to see why: each and every suite here, like the rest of the Silversea fleet, has the services of a professional butler and suite attendant. They can help you make dinner reservations, stock your mini-bar, arrange shore excursions, spa appointments, or even unpack your luggage for you. They do so many different things that I’m almost certain I’m forgetting something. I first sailed with Silversea four years ago, and even during the voyages inbetween, I am still amazed on each and every sailing by the abilities of Silversea’s butlers.
My suite is a Veranda Suite. They come in four different categories, but are each essentially identical except for their physical location onboard the ship. At 345 square feet apiece, these make up the bulk of the accommodations onboard the Silver Shadow. They’re also startlingly large, with a walk-in closet and a marble-clad bathroom that features dual-vanity sinks and a separate bathtub and shower.
All the normal Silversea staples are here: the Bulgari toiletries that can be swapped out for two different brands if they’re not your thing; the Pratesi linens; the mysteriously comfortable oversized queen bed. There’s even a Pillow Menu with nine (nine!) different kinds of pillows to choose from – complimentary.
Here’s what you can get, from the petite information card strategically placed next to the bed:
- Popular Pillow: Our soft sleeping pillow has the most popular blend of 25% down and 75% feature to provide you with tranquil sleep and subtle neck support.
- Prominent Pillow: With a firm core, our medium-firm sleeping pillow in 30% down and 70% feather provides luxurious support for your neck or under your knees.
- Pronounced Pillow: Our firmest sleeping pillow, the Diamond Support sleep experience is ideal for side-sleepers providing extra neck support while you rest, or back support when reading in bed.
- Memory Foam Pillow: Let our memory foam pillow mould to your unique sleeping shape for maximum comfort and relaxation.
- Buckwheat Pillow: Our Buckwheat pillow provides relief for neck and back pains, sleeplessness, headaches and snoring.
- Body Pillow: For the ultimate luxury sleep experience and a full-body hug from head to toe, try this pillow with our 100% silk charmeuse pillowcase.
- Aqua Plush Pillow: The super-soft, luxurious Aqua Plush pillow with a polyester, down-alternative fill will have you wondering if it really isn’t down!
- Fairfax Pillow: Our firm, down-alternative pillow in Fairfax polyester provides excellent support for back and side-sleepers.
- Tiara Collection Pillow Covers: Our cotton and silk pillow covers have hidden pockets for sent sachets to bring the soothing fragrance of chamomile or lavender directly to your pillow.
Before I knew it, we were only an hour away from sailing. The standard muster drill was held, with guests assembling outdoors on the small promenade-style deck amidships on Deck 5. Muster Station A is located along the ship’s starboard side, while my muster station – Station B – is located along the port side. If you ever forget what side your muster station is on, it cleverly corresponds to the side of the ship your suite is located on!
At 6pm sharp, Silver Shadow cast her lines off and began to back away from the north berth at Canada Place. With a sharp blast of her whistles echoing across the North Shore mountains, we gradually made our way out into Burrard Inlet, bound for the Lions Gate Bridge.
I always think departure from Vancouver is a special thing, and our sailaway tonight did not disappoint. As we neared the bridge, Captain Alessandro Zanello sounded the whistles again, which reverberated off Stanley Park on our port side, and North Vancouver on our starboard. Travelocity, interestingly, recently named Stanley Park as the number one park to visit in the world.
Silver Shadow had plenty of clearance between her funnel and the bottom of the bridge deck – but it never looks like there will be enough room. Passing under the Lions Gate Bridge is something I never seem to tire of.
I have to admit that I very nearly ordered room service tonight for dinner. It’s complimentary, tasty, and delivered with stunning flair by your butler. But instead, I decided I needed to be sociable tonight and headed down to The Restaurant on Deck 4. I was seated with a nice couple from Tampa, and another couple from Vancouver Island. Like every other voyage I’ve been on with Silversea, these guests were friendly, personable and fascinating. It’s a trend I’ve noted for some time now with the line: everyone onboard is very like-minded. They’re here because they want to be, not because they just need a week away from work. Within that span, there’s a huge difference.
As we passed near Nanaimo tonight, dinner finished just in time to catch the tail-end of a beautiful rainbow off the port side of the ship. It was quickly accompanied by one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in this area; the by-product of a recent rainstorm that was quickly moving away.
They say mariners are superstitious. I’d say a sunset like this is a great sign of a fabulous voyage to come.
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow with a scenic day spent sailing the Inside Passage! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Follow along with our entire journey!
Silver Shadow, Alaska
|Thursday, June 19, 2014||Vancouver, British Columbia||Embark Silver Shadow||18:00|
|Friday, June 20||Cruising the Inside Passage|
|Saturday, June 21||Ketchikan, Alaska||08:00||14:00|
|Sunday, June 22||Juneau, Alaska||09:30||23:00|
|Monday, June 23||Skagway, Alaska||08:00||17:00|
|Tuesday, June 24||Sitka, Alaska||09:00||18:00|
|Wednesday, June 25||Cruising Tracy Arm / Sawyer Glacier|
|Thursday, June 26||Wrangell, Alaska||07:00||16:00|
|Friday, June 27||Prince Rupert, British Columbia||08:00||17:00|
|Saturday, June 28||At Sea|
|Sunday, June 29||Victoria, British Columbia||08:00||23:59|
|Monday, June 30||Vancouver, British Columbia||07:00||Disembark|