Day 9 – Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Silver Shadow’s Unique Call on Prince Rupert

Today, Silversea's Silver Shadow made her only call on Prince Rupert, British Columbia for the entire season. Here, a guest photographs an old-growth tree in the Butze Rainforest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Today, Silversea’s Silver Shadow made her only call on Prince Rupert, British Columbia for the entire season. Here, a guest photographs an old-growth tree in the Butze Rainforest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

After a full week in Alaska, Silversea’s Silver Shadow glided into our first Canadian port of call since departing Vancouver last week.

Home to roughly 12,500 year-long residents, Prince Rupert was founded in 1910 by Grand Trunk Pacific Railway manager Charles Hayes, who envisioned the town as a major tourist destination and a port of call for steamships bound for Alaska and the Orient. Ironically, Hayes would end up perishing less than two years later as a passenger aboard the RMS Titanic, but his dream of seeing Prince Rupert mature as a port city has been realized over a century later.

Silversea's Silver Shadow docked at the Northland Cruise Terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silversea’s Silver Shadow docked at the Northland Cruise Terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Passenger ships never came in the magnitude Hayes envisioned, but the maritime shipping industry did. The deepest natural ice-free harbour in North America, Prince Rupert’s shipping terminals were expanded over the intervening decades.

Today, the Port is the closest large North American port to Asia by up to three sailing days. In fact, the Port is the lifeline of modern Prince Rupert. Last year, 23 million tonnes of cargo passed through the Port’s four industrial terminals. The demand for oceangoing transport is so high that the Port recently acquired a fourth Super Post-Panamax cargo crane, and is on-track for another record year of growth.

Prince Rupert's main claim to fame is as a major shipping port. A total of 23 million tonnes of cargo passed through the Port's four cargo terminals last year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Prince Rupert’s main claim to fame is as a major shipping port. A total of 23 million tonnes of cargo passed through the Port’s four cargo terminals last year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A train - stretching for kilometres into the distance - waits for its spot at the Fairview Container Terminal. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A train – stretching for kilometres into the distance – waits for its spot at the Fairview Container Terminal. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Cruise ships, though, have only been coming here for about a decade. In 2004, the Northland Cruise Terminal opened for business on the waterfront, complete with docking space for one large cruise ship of up to 300 metres in length, and Canada Customs & Border Protection officers to handle formalities for ships coming from Alaska.

There’s just one teensy, tiny problem: unlike the meteoric rise of cargo operations, cruise traffic here has largely dried up.

Silver Shadow docked in Prince Rupert today. Sadly, she is one of only a handful of ships that will visit this year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Shadow docked in Prince Rupert today. Sadly, she is one of only a handful of ships that will visit this year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Prince Rupert mayor Jack Mussallem, right, and a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) greet guests from the Silver Shadow as they disembark. Nice touch! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Prince Rupert mayor Jack Mussallem, right, and a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) greet guests from the Silver Shadow as they disembark. Nice touch! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In the past decade, several mainstream cruise lines used to call regularly on Prince Rupert. At its height, the passenger terminal handled over 100,000 guests in a single season. But those days are gone – at least, for now. This year, just four ships will make a total of eight calls on Prince Rupert – meaning that Wrangell, Alaska – where we were yesterday – is actually a busier port in terms of cruise traffic. Today marks the only call of the season for Silver Shadow, which could explain why the Mayor of Prince Rupert and a very nicely dressed member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) personally greeted guests today as they came ashore.

Prince Rupert is a rather pretty little town, though its downtown core is populated by a surprising amount of abandoned buildings for such a wealthy port city. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Prince Rupert is a rather pretty little town, though its downtown core is populated by a surprising amount of abandoned buildings for such a wealthy port city. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Atlin Terminal now houses several shops and the Interpretive Center for the Port of Prince Rupert. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Atlin Terminal now houses several shops and the Interpretive Center for the Port of Prince Rupert. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The centerpiece of Pacific Mariner's Memorial Park is the Kazu Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel that was found wrecked off Haida Gwaii. It had drifted over from Japan after its owner disappeared. Prince Rupert traced the boat back to its owners, and the fisherman's widow and family were invited over from Owase, Japan to dedicate the park in 1990. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The centerpiece of Pacific Mariner’s Memorial Park is the Kazu Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel that was found wrecked off Haida Gwaii. It had drifted over from Japan after its owner disappeared. Prince Rupert traced the boat back to its owners, and the fisherman’s widow and family were invited over from Owase, Japan to dedicate the park in 1990. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Departing Prince Rupert, BC, aboard the Silver Shadow. Being from British Columbia, I am passionate about seeing more lines call here. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Departing Prince Rupert, BC, aboard the Silver Shadow. Being from British Columbia, I am passionate about seeing more lines call here. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In many ways, Prince Rupert is unsuited to mainstream ships. Sure, the dock can accommodate them physically, but a ship bringing 2,600 passengers ashore would flood Prince Rupert. And, if I may be brutally honest, there just isn’t the kind of shopping mecca here that those passengers would be expecting.

For a luxury line like Silversea, however, Prince Rupert feels like the absolute right choice for this itinerary. What Prince Rupert lacks in duty-free shopping, it makes up for in its friendly, authentic experience. This is a fast-growing, hard-working community, and I’d love to see the Prince Rupert Port Authority really reach out to the expedition and luxury lines to try to draw more guests here. These are the kinds of places that I personally seek out, and I get the impression that I am not alone here on the Silver Shadow in that respect.

Setting out on the Butze (but-see) Rapids Trail near Prince Rupert for our 2.5-hour hike. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Setting out on the Butze (but-see) Rapids Trail near Prince Rupert for our 2.5-hour hike. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

To make the most of my very first visit to this fascinating town, I set out on the 2.5-hour long Butze Rainforest Walk (YPR-G) that departed the ship at 9:30a.m. It’s one of seven shore excursions that Silversea offered in Prince Rupert, which is rather impressive considering that this is a one-off port for the 2014 Alaska season for Silver Shadow.

Whenever you disembark the Silver Shadow, complimentary bottled water is always available at the gangway...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Whenever you disembark the Silver Shadow, complimentary bottled water is always available at the gangway…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...along with umbrellas for use ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…along with umbrellas for use ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

At $69 per person, it was also very affordable – though I have heard wonderful things from those who participated in the $299 per person Canada’s Wilderness by Floatplane (YPR-A) excursion. There were about a dozen or so guests on my rainforest walk excursion, and it could have started off poorly: a mechanical issue sidelined our pre-arranged bus.

Now, I’ve been on excursions where busses have broken down, and usually the tour operator just throws up their hands and generally doesn’t care. These guys cared. Rather than making us wait, they arranged for a procession of taxi cabs to take us the six kilometres up to the Butze Rainforest trail head.

Fair warning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Fair warning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Located just east of the town, the Butze (but-see) Rapids Interpretive Trail is a 5.4 kilometre hike weaving through old and second-growth forest. Wolves and bears have been known to frequent the area, but if you take the appropriate precautions – making lots of noise, as we were – there’s generally nothing to worry about.

Over the course of almost three hours, we hiked along the trail, stopping frequently to learn about plant life in the area, as well as the history of the First Nations peoples that have called this region home for thousands of years.

The forest scenery was varied and changed with surprising frequency. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The forest scenery was varied and changed with surprising frequency. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

For example, our guide reached down into the earth and presented us with two nearly-identical leaves. One was a darker shade of green; the other was lighter. We were asked to choose which one we’d boil to make tea. Two people chose the dark one. I – along with most of the group – chose the light one. Guess what? We’re all dead. The light leaf, if boiled, stops your respiratory system within 60 seconds. The other leaf makes a fabulous herbal tea and has medicinal properties.

A large tree, toppled by a storm and cut to allow access to the path. Many trees here can be upwards of 800 years old. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A large tree, toppled by a storm and cut to allow access to the path. Many trees here can be upwards of 800 years old. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This was a huge revelation to me. I knew that there were things in the wilderness here (wolves, bears, folksy banjo-strumming woodsmen) that could kill you. I’d never given much thought to all the plants that can do you in as well. In this respect, our excursion today was just as insightful as some of the land adventures I’ve enjoyed with Silversea’s Silversea Expeditions arm.

Our guide also told us how, despite its name, Skunk Cabbage is largely inedible. If you were lost in the woods and starving, you wouldn’t want to eat it because it cuts up your digestive tract. But, in a pinch, the actual root bulb can be dug up and consumed safely – if you boil it three separate times, for an hour each time, in scalding hot water that is changed with each boiling.

Do you know which leaves you can eat? I learned today that I don't. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Do you know which leaves you can eat? I learned today that I don’t. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Fortunately, there’s no need to resort to anything like that when you’re here onboard the Silver Shadow. Food is a major event onboard, with dinners that frequently run between two and three hours in length – just as guests here like it. But, I also appreciate that I can grab a quick bite, too, as I did today when I popped back onboard for lunch at the Pool Grill before heading back to explore Prince Rupert for a few hours.

The elegant surroundings in La Terrazza, Deck 7 Aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The elegant surroundings in La Terrazza, Deck 7 Aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Dessert in La Terrazza, with the Silversea Logo 'painted' on the plate with chocolate dust. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Dessert in La Terrazza, with the Silversea Logo ‘painted’ on the plate with chocolate dust. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Earlier in the cruise, I’d written that I was disappointed in the lack of variety in some of the scheduled daily activity offerings onboard. This afternoon, as we sailed away from Prince Rupert, I realized that I hadn’t even participated in a handful of the activities offered so far. My idea of a good time has been chatting and mingling with my fellow guests, or cozying up in the Observation Lounge with a good book and a cup of tea. Yet, I’ve never been bored once; in fact, I find myself wishing there were more hours in the day to enjoy everything that’s on offer.

Tonight, I enjoyed the live music in the Panorama Lounge on Deck 8 after dinner. It’s something I’ve been missing out on in order to come back to my suite, write the blog, and get to bed at a decent hour. Tonight I decided to make an exception.

Few guests were in The Panorama Lounge, but a handful of guests - including yours truly - enjoyed listening to the sounds of the Silver Shadow Quartet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Few guests were in The Panorama Lounge, but a handful of guests – including yours truly – enjoyed listening to the sounds of the Silver Shadow Quartet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Panorama Lounge had just a few folks gathered at one of the tables in the middle of the room, and a few more off to one side at the bar. But I found myself a nice seat by the windows at the back of the room, where I could look out at the stormy expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The wind howled through the seals in the doors nearby, and for the first time in this cruise, Silver Shadow began to move about in earnest as the swells in the Pacific increased.

It was a really nice way to end the day – quiet and relaxing. For someone on the outside looking in, they might conclude that luxury cruising is boring compared to, say, mainstream cruising. It’s only once you actually sail with a luxury line like Silversea that you realize how relaxing – and rewarding – the entire experience really is.

Good night! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Good night! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow, as we spend a day at sea en-route to Victoria, British Columbia! 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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3 Comments

    • Forgot to ask is it typical to encounter rough seas on a Alaska Cruise? If so, is sea sickness to be expected by someone who has a hard time handling rough seas?

      Reply
      • Hi Jeff,

        When you’re in the protected waters of Alaska – like sailing between Ketchikan and Juneau, for example – seas tend to be calm. But any time the ship has to swing out into the Pacific – to call on Sitka or Victoria, for example, rough seas are a real possibility because of high winds and swells. Occasionally, fog will force ships out of the Inside Passage and into the Pacific as well.

        If you’re prone to seasickness, definitely consider sailing from Vancouver as opposed to Seattle. Vancouver at least offers the relative shelter (and beauty) of the Inside Passage. Roundtrip Seattle cruises have you out in the Pacific for two days, and it’s not uncommon for those days to be a little rough.

        However, if you take some precautions (sea bands, ginger ale, even ginger tablets) you should be just fine!

        Reply

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