PHOTO: The Hubbard Glacier as seen from the deck of the Silver Shadow – a highlight of the cruise. (Photo by Connie Walsh)
An Alaska cruise was on our wish list for a while, so when the stars aligned we booked an eight-day voyage on Silversea’s Silver Shadow. The luxury line is noted for its small elegant ships, all-inclusive policy, and highly personalized service.
Embarkation was from Seward, and a rail transfer from Anchorage via a domed sight-seeing train is included. And there are sights to see. Stunning vistas, glimpses of wildlife, whales, and soaring bald eagles are part of the experience. The cons? The trip is four and a half hours long leaving us to ponder if there can be too much of a good thing. We found the seating — rows of two-seater benches on either side of a table — to be a bit cramped. The temptingly named Bistro Car (Visions of linen table-clothed Orient-Express style dining danced in our heads.) was, alas, an Acela train-like grab-and-go snack bar.
Consider renting a car in Anchorage – the drive time is just two and a half hours. You can stop at observation points, then explore Seward, a postcard-worthy village with a bustling harbor. Lunch on king crab legs at the old-school café Ray’s Waterfront, then hop onboard.
The ship – and the experience
Silver Shadow’s boarding process included smiles and greetings on our way up the gangplank, flutes of Champagne, and a quick sign-in process. A staff member escorted us to our Veranda Suite on Deck 6 - accommodations are all called suites. Fair enough. They are spacious with furnishing and décor a la a higher-end hotel chain. Ladies, the Suites have a makeup vanity and a super-sized walk-in closet. The marble bath includes a bathtub, separate shower, and a double vanity. Oh, and a mini-bar stocked with your choice of beverages – all included.
The suite’s sitting area has floor to ceiling glass sliders that open to a teak verandah. They framed a week-long parade of stunning views - dramatic mountains, breathtaking icy-blue glaciers, and quaint towns straight out of a Jack London novel.
The Shadow holds 382 cruisers, so there’s an intimacy here that one doesn’t find on larger ships. There are no rock climbing walls and such, which is just fine with its well-heeled and well-traveled passengers. Of a sophisticated sort, most are in the 55-plus range but we saw many 40-somethings, a few families, and one young couple canoodling on deck that we suspected were honeymooners.
The Shadow has a pool, a pair of hot tubs, a spa, and a glass-walled gym with a sea view. A library and a card & game room are nice spots to while away an hour and there’s a casino-ette. The 10th deck forward-facing Observation Lounge is delightful, especially in the morning – there’s a barista on duty. If you’re lucky (we were) you may spot some breaching whales. We always headed up as the ship sailed into a port.
Silversea’s super-service includes a designated butler. Spiffy in his tuxedo, Jerry introduced himself within minutes of our arrival and went above-and-beyond all week. He polished our shoes and sunglasses, cleaned our suitcases, and when he saw us enjoying a glass of wine in our suite, coaxed us into a cheese plate. Oh, that Jerry.
“Haute cuisine on the high seas”
Silversea is at the forefront of cruise lines that have put an increased focus on food and wine. Cruising to Alaska, one would expect the fish and seafood to be fresh and delicious. It was. The lamb, veggies and other dishes also wowed us. Two complimentary wines are served each evening with dinner but if they don’t please your palate, the Sommelier will find something that will.
The main restaurant, aptly named The Restaurant, is elegant, and open for a la carte breakfast, lunch, and dinner – no reservations needed. The dinner menu is well-executed with changing specials. Two quibbles - The Restaurant’s dessert menu was static, and the gelato was disappointing with a chalky consistency.
Most folks go for the bountiful breakfast and lunch buffets at La Terrazza. It has an 180-degree view and an option to dine alfresco. At night, La Terrazza gives a nod to its Italian heritage and transforms itself into a trattoria. It’s Slow Food Promozione partnership means diners are treated to authentic dishes prepared from traditional recipes and quality ingredients. The fresh pastas are exquisite.
The Pool Bar & Grill is a versatile venue. We loved it for a late-morning Bloody Mary. They offer lighter fare and healthier choices for lunch in addition to killer burgers. Come evening, The Grill features their signature Black Rock Grill experience. Guests cook their choice of selected meats and seafood on an individual pre-heated volcanic rock, and are served salad and sides. My take? “Eh.” Maybe it was just me or the night we reserved — unfortunately, chilly and damp.
In conjunction with Relais & Châteaux, a prestigious independent association that raises the bar for excellence in culinary arts, Silversea boasts a bistro called Le Champagne. Its reputation and small size make a dinner reservation difficult to secure. The surcharge deters no one. Book early. There’s 24-hour room service, so you can dine in your suite. After a full-day shore excursion, it’s nice to hunker down for “dinner and a movie.” The library has a diverse selection of DVDs.
Making merry on the Silver Shadow
Venues for imbibing and socializing include the Pool Bar, The Bar (Loved it for pre-dinner cocktails.) and the Panoramic Lounge, with live music, dancing, and “parlor games.” Cigar aficionados can bond in the Connoisseur’s Corner with premium brands and snifters of fine cognac.
The two-tiered Show Lounge offers lectures and demonstrations during the day and a variety of entertainment at night. We were regaled by a handsome – and surprisingly good -- young Italian opera singer, and a quartet of American-as-apple-pie millennials. Their delivery of pop tunes and old faves was a tad dentist office-y. A peppy rendition of the keening ballad “Danny Boy” made me wince. However, they were sweet and earnest.
Our ports of call included Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. We docked in all but Sitka, where we tendered in. Cruisers can choose from an impressive list of shore excursions: fishing, crabbing, hiking, biking, kayaking, seacycling, ziplining and bear peeping. Helicopters and floatplanes provide a different perspective -- pricey though. For those seeking less active pursuits, guided walks and trolley tours provide the opportunity to learn about Alaska’s history and its Gold Rush days. A stroll down the gangplank has you in town where you can meander, shop, or lunch, and return when you please.
One gloriously sunny day we thrilled to the gigantic Hubbard Glacier. The calving process -- huge chunks of ice crashing into the Bay -- provides a soundtrack called “white thunder” by the local Tlingit people. Seabirds perched on small icebergs floating in the vivid blue water watching us watch them.
Our last day was at sea -- we found sea days to be the ultimate in relaxation. Note to spa aficionados -- get that massage booked well ahead of time. Siesta in your suite. There’s nothing more decadent than a nap in a gently rolling ship. Word. And if you haven’t indulged in the daily High Tea, carpe diem. How many opportunities are there in life to eat those little coronation chicken sandwiches and bowls of trifle? Cheers and Grazie, Silver Shadow.