Day 3 – Ketchikan, Alaska

Liquid Sunshine in the Salmon Capital of the World

The 610-foot long Silver Shadow is seen docked at Ketchikan's Berth 3 on June 21, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The 610-foot long Silver Shadow is seen docked at Ketchikan’s Berth 3 on June 21, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Silversea’s Silver Shadow cut her way through the fog and drizzle early this morning, coming up on the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World” just after 07:00. When I stepped out on deck to watch our arrival into Ketchikan, Alaska, I was caught off guard by just how windy it was. Winds were pushing 30 kilometres an hour as Silver Shadow started to ease her way alongside, and was a topic of discussion for the Officers and our Alaskan Marine Pilot who were controlling the ship’s progress from the starboard bridge wing.

The town of Ketchikan, Alaska, as seen from onboard Silversea's Silver Shadow. Ketchikan is noted for its salmon - and its disproportionally large amount of annual rain. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The town of Ketchikan, Alaska, as seen from onboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow. Ketchikan is noted for its salmon – and its disproportionally large amount of annual rain. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In fact, in the five times I’ve been to Ketchikan previously, I can’t remember a single day when the wind was as ferocious as it was today. Rainstorms of varying intensity came and went suddenly, and the continuing guests of wind made the outside temperature of 12°C feel about half that.

Ever since I first came here in July of 1998, I’ve always loved this quaint little town of 8,000. Ketchikan has changed a lot over the intervening years, though. The main dock apron has been extended, with a new concrete apron being constructed about fifteen feet out from the former wooden one that used to only run to the Tongass Trading Co. building that has seemingly stood at the end of the pier since the dawn of time.

Strong winds ripped across the decks of the Silver Shadow as docking operations commenced. Even a "small" ship like Silver Shadow dwarfs the town. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Strong winds ripped across the decks of the Silver Shadow as docking operations commenced. Even a “small” ship like Silver Shadow dwarfs the town. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Casting lines ashore in our first port of call on this 11-day Alaska cruise. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Casting lines ashore in our first port of call on this 11-day Alaska cruise. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Shadow's Captain, Staff Captain and Alaskan Marine Pilot guide her into our berth in Ketchikan. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Shadow’s Captain, Staff Captain and Alaskan Marine Pilot guide her into our berth in Ketchikan. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In 1998, there was just the one berth in Ketchikan. At the time, two large ships could tie up at the pier, with a third potentially anchoring out in the channel. Today, the dock area has been extended past the Tongass Trading Co., with two additional berths, more room for motorcoaches, and new shops and restaurants.

Silver Shadow is docked at one of these new berths – Berth 3 – today. In Berth 1, across from the Visitor’s Bureau, is Disney Wonder, which pulled into port just after 10:00. Norwegian Sun arrived at Berth 2 directly in front of us just before Noon. For a brief period today, approximately 5,000 visitors “invaded” this small town that was founded in 1900.

Enjoying room service once again - and a piping hot cup of fresh coffee before I disembarked the ship for a few hours in Ketchikan. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying room service once again – and a piping hot cup of fresh coffee before I disembarked the ship for a few hours in Ketchikan. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Just follow the signs! Complimentary bottled water is also available at the gangway; help yourself! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Just follow the signs! Complimentary bottled water is also available at the gangway; help yourself! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The bow of Silver Shadow looms large over the small fishing vessels moored nearby. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The bow of Silver Shadow looms large over the small fishing vessels moored nearby. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The thing you should know about Ketchikan is that it’s a warm, friendly, welcoming town. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll say what I have always said about Alaska, and what I’ll continue to say over the next 11 days: seek out the local shops and experiences. Sure, it’s good to pick up that baseball cap or sweatshirt from the touristy shop, but make sure you get off of Front Street and wander around; you’ll be glad you did.

For a Saturday morning with three cruise ships in port, Ketchikan was oddly quiet today. I blame the cold temperatures and ferocious wind. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
For a Saturday morning with three cruise ships in port, Ketchikan was oddly quiet today. I blame the cold temperatures and ferocious wind. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Unfortunately, it seems many shops – save for the Caribbean diamond and jewelry stores that have become ubiquitous in Alaska – just weren’t that interested in us. Creek Street remained a veritable ghost town well after 11:00 this morning, with only a single shop open for business. Historically, this was Ketchikan’s Red Light district, where “Men and Salmon Come Upstream to Spawn”, as the tagline goes.

Creek Street, Ketchikan's former Red Light district, deserted at 11:30 in the morning. Temperatures hovered around 10 Celsius, but felt much cooler due to winds gusting up to 30 kilometres per hour. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Creek Street, Ketchikan’s former Red Light district, deserted at 11:30 in the morning. Temperatures hovered around 10 Celsius, but felt much cooler due to winds gusting up to 30 kilometres per hour. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

There’s also been a lot of change in Ketchikan since my last visit in July of 2013. One of my favorite booksellers at Salmon Landing has shut its doors permanently. The entire second floor of the iconic building situated at the extreme southern end of Front Street is noticeably empty. There are also numerous vacant buildings throughout town that, until recently, seem to have been occupied.

On the other end of the spectrum, Popcorn is taking over the landscape in Ketchikan. I have no idea when this became a “thing”, but you can now get popcorn everywhere. Air-popped, buttered, salted, candied…if it comes from a kernel and it’s heated, you’ll probably find it in Ketchikan. I first noticed the “Popcorn Trend” on a visit to Alaska last summer, and it seems to have only grown in popularity – though I won’t pretend to know why.

I have no idea when Popcorn became a "big deal", but it's on offer everywhere in Ketchikan this year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
I have no idea when Popcorn became a “big deal”, but it’s on offer everywhere in Ketchikan this year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
There's even a Popcorn Store. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
There’s even a Popcorn Store. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
And "Blueberry Blitz" popcorn. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
And “Blueberry Blitz” popcorn. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

By noon, most shops had opened their doors thanks to the arrival of the Norwegian Sun. But, with a departure time of 14:00 and an All-Aboard time of 13:30, it didn’t leave much time for Silver Shadow’s guests to do a little shopping of their own. Our early call did have one huge advantage: we had the privilege of exploring Ketchikan without an additional 4,000 people bumping and crashing into each other.

Silversea, however, also offered 16 different shore excursions in Ketchikan, ranging from easy to adventurous. These included flightseeing tours of Misty Fjord; a Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s tour aboard the Aleutian Ballad that was featured in the television series The Deadliest Catch; a bike ride through Clover Pass, and more. For those who like their adventures a little more personalized, Silversea even offered a private tour of Ketchikan by Hummer with a local guide.

I didn’t do any excursions today, but I do have a few lined up for the next two days in Juneau and Skagway.

Weather in Alaska can be unpredictable, which is why it pays to come prepared. I personally think Alaska is very pretty in the rain. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Weather in Alaska can be unpredictable, which is why it pays to come prepared. I personally think Alaska is very pretty in the rain. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This is probably a good time to mention the realities of weather in Alaska. Personally, I love it here when it rains. I think Alaska looks more beautiful under misty and overcast skies, as mountains and islands take on a monochromatic appearance that can be punctuated with brilliant shades of green.

To keep track of rainfall in Ketchikan, a 'Rain Gauge' was installed near Berth 2. The tally for 2013? A whopping 147 inches of rain. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
To keep track of rainfall in Ketchikan, a ‘Rain Gauge’ was installed near Berth 2. The tally for 2013? A whopping 147 inches of rain. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Popping into a local chocolate shop (KetchiKandies) makes for a dangerous respite from the rain! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Popping into a local chocolate shop (KetchiKandies) makes for a dangerous respite from the rain! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I’ve been to Ketchikan when it’s been so hot and clear that sunscreen was needed. I’ve been here when it’s poured rain. And I have now been here with overcast skies and high winds. Alaska is not the Caribbean, and never will be. But, if you dress in layers, wear water-resistant shoes, and carry an umbrella, you’ll be able to explore this picturesque State in comfort.

Since the weather is inclement outside this afternoon, it gives me a chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for several days now: show you the ins-and-outs of the Silver Shadow. Before I came on this cruise, I noticed that Silver Shadow was getting rather hammered in the Member Reviews section of CruiseCritic, one of the online juggernauts in the world of cruise travel.

Reboarding Silver Shadow in Ketchikan. All Aboard was at 13:30, and our departure time was 14:00. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Reboarding Silver Shadow in Ketchikan. All Aboard was at 13:30, and our departure time was 14:00. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Bluntly put, several recent member reviews of the Silver Shadow aired a laundry list of complaints that ran the gamut from “threadbare” carpeting to “inedible” food to gripes about the onboard internet, the DVD players instead of interactive, video-on-demand systems in the suites (which, by the way, the 2014 Silversea brochure does an excellent job of mentioning), to “shabby” painting.

Love it or hate it, many folks use CruiseCritic as an online resource for researching and planning their cruise. However, it should be taken almost like medicine: in very small doses, and never while operating heavy machinery. On CruiseCritic, negative reviews tend to be taken as gospel, while positive reviews brand their posters as “cheerleaders” of a particular line and are regarded with suspicion. As if liking something were a criminal offense. What bothers me, though, is that some of these recent reviews seem to have caused concern for the Silver Shadow amongst the good posters on the Silversea board.

Before setting out on this cruise, I'd read about what "rough shape" Silver Shadow was currently in. So I decided to have a peek around the ship. Shown here is The Library on Deck 8, starboard side. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Before setting out on this cruise, I’d read about what “rough shape” Silver Shadow was currently in. So I decided to have a peek around the ship. Shown here is The Library on Deck 8, starboard side. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Naturally, after reading these tales of unspeakable horror – over some popcorn I purchased ashore – I wanted to spend some time having a good look around Silver Shadow. Sadly, over the past three days I haven’t found any sensationalist deficiencies that could be used to really send my SEO analytics into the stratosphere. What I found was exactly what I expected: a well-run, well-maintained, 14-year old luxury cruise ship.

Now, admittedly, I didn’t put my nose to the carpeting and examine every last micro-fibre. Frankly, I have better things to do, like participating in High Tea, enjoying a glass of fine wine and a book, or just admiring the scenery of Alaska as it drifts lazily by my veranda window to the strains of classical music on the iHome docking station in my suite. Let’s just say the news of Silver Shadow’s current condition has been, to quote Mark Twain, “greatly exaggerated.”

Here is what Silver Shadow looks like on this Saturday, June 21, 2014. Does this look like a bad way to spend 11 days?

Silver Shadow's classy Restaurant on Deck 4 Midships serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Shadow’s classy Restaurant on Deck 4 Midships serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Not even a stray fingerprint is on the wine glasses. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Not even a stray fingerprint is on the wine glasses. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Reception, Deck 5 Midships. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Reception, Deck 5 Midships. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Connoisseur's Club; Deck 7 Starboard. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Connoisseur’s Club; Deck 7 Starboard. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Shadow's aft stair tower and elevator bank, Deck 8 facing starboard. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Shadow’s aft stair tower and elevator bank, Deck 8 facing starboard. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The attractive corridor that runs along the port side of Deck 10 between the forward staircase and the Spa at Silversea and Observation Lounge. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The attractive corridor that runs along the port side of Deck 10 between the forward staircase and the Spa at Silversea and Observation Lounge. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Bar on Deck 5 aft, all subdued and cozy for the evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Bar on Deck 5 aft, all subdued and cozy for the evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In the course of my photography tour of the ship, I also found some public rooms that have received some pretty substantial updates since my last tour of the Silver Shadow back in 2011. The Card Room has been entirely redone with new window and wall treatments. The Panorama Lounge now sports freshly-upholstered chairs that have solid colours instead of the original patterned ones that clashed so badly with the new carpeting put in during her 2010 refit. The Spa at Silversea has a woodgrain floor now. Veranda Furniture has been refreshed and even protected with plastic tabs on the legs designed to keep the teak decking – all of which looks immaculate – protected.

It's all about the little differences: Silver Shadow's Card Room on Deck 7 today...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
It’s all about the little differences: Silver Shadow’s Card Room on Deck 7 today…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...and in 2011. Note the lack of coloured wall treatments and venetian blinds. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders
…and in 2011. Note the lack of coloured wall treatments and venetian blinds. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Having said that, Silver Shadow is 14 years old. If you look hard enough, you will find the odd ding here, or the occasional scratch there. That’s part of being a working ship. I’ve been on maiden voyages where paint and walls were already scuffed up, and if you think there’s no ship in the world that lacks a patch or two of worn carpeting, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that you might be interested in purchasing. Technical drydocks are spaced three years apart, and there’s only so much that can be done while guests are onboard. But, in the three days I’ve been onboard, I’ve seen crew members re-varnishing railings, touching up the exterior paint, and keeping the wooden decking so clean you could eat off of it. As for the green astro-turf on Deck 9 and 10? I hate that stuff too. But I’d reckon the cost of putting in new decking is prohibitive, so I suspect – after 14 years – that it’s here to stay. It also strikes me as odd to complain about the horrors of sloshy astro-turf when I’m on my way down to the Pool Bar for a complimentary adult beverage. It’s all about perspective.

Tonight, I indulged in one of my favorite dining experiences with Silversea: The Grill featuring "hot rock" dining! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Tonight, I indulged in one of my favorite dining experiences with Silversea: The Grill featuring “hot rock” dining! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The heat from the volcanic rock provided some welcomed relief from the cool temperatures, but dinner was pleasant thanks to heavy wool blankets and overhead heaters. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The heat from the volcanic rock provided some welcomed relief from the cool temperatures, but dinner was pleasant thanks to heavy wool blankets and overhead heaters. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

On a related note, I have read gripes from some travellers on CruiseCritic that are unhappy that Silversea has done away with the leather wallets and luggage tags, and has instead gone with the personalized Travel Journal. I loved the Silversea leather folders as much as anyone, but to me the Travel Journal is a much better keepsake. It’s personalized. It has my name in it. My stateroom. My itinerary. My excursions. Everything.

Compare that to a mainstream line. If you haven’t sailed one in a while, here’s what you get: an e-ticket that you can use your own toner and paper to print off yourself. Your luggage tags also come from the “Do-It-Yourself” school of design, requiring you to print the tag off, cut it with scissors to fit, and staple it around your luggage. Some assembly required, batteries sold separately.

How do you feel about the personalized Travel Journal now?

This evening, I also discovered that guests can access the "mini promenades" that border the port and starboard sides of Deck 5. Great photo opportunities here! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
This evening, I also discovered that guests can access the “mini promenades” that border the port and starboard sides of Deck 5. Great photo opportunities here! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The bottom line is that, despite the cold temperatures, high winds and overcast skies, I am loving being onboard the Silver Shadow; a ship that, for me, hits all the right notes in the ballad that is luxury cruising and Silversea. Does that make me a “cheerleader”? Probably. But there’s worse things you can be life. After all, what good is travel if you can’t express joy in it?

Sailing toward another exciting day in Alaska onboard Silversea's elegant Silver Shadow! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sailing toward another exciting day in Alaska onboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Shadow! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow with our arrival in the Alaskan capital city of Juneau! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

Follow along with our entire journey!

Silver Shadow, Alaska

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Thursday, June 19, 2014Vancouver, British ColumbiaEmbark Silver Shadow18:00
Friday, June 20Cruising the Inside Passage
Saturday, June 21Ketchikan, Alaska08:0014:00
Sunday, June 22Juneau, Alaska09:3023:00
Monday, June 23Skagway, Alaska08:0017:00
Tuesday, June 24Sitka, Alaska09:0018:00
Wednesday, June 25Cruising Tracy Arm / Sawyer Glacier
Thursday, June 26Wrangell, Alaska07:0016:00
Friday, June 27Prince Rupert, British Columbia08:0017:00
Saturday, June 28At Sea
Sunday, June 29Victoria, British Columbia08:0023:59
Monday, June 30Vancouver, British Columbia07:00Disembark
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