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©Susan Milne, 2005
ALASKA FROM SAN FRANCISCO
August 4-14, 2004, 10 nights
Ultra Luxury Cruising in Alaska
By Susan Milne
Ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises is known for its high levels of food and service, and for including all beverages and gratuities in the fare. But what is the real difference from other lines in the day-to-day onboard experience? I recently sailed aboard Silver Shadow to find out.
Itinerary and Return to Haines:
Silver Shadow sailed a variety of itineraries to Alaska from Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco in 2004 and Silversea will be back in Alaska with a similar schedule in 2006.
My cruise sailed from San Francisco to Vancouver calling at Sitka, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, Tracy Arm and the Twin Sawyer Glaciers. A scheduled call at Eureka California was cancelled due to fog so we started the cruise with four days at sea.
This article is about the differences you will find sailing aboard an ultra-luxury ship rather than about Alaska but I do want to mention Haines. This was the first time I had called at Haines since 1995 and what a pleasant surprise it was to find an impressive array of artist's shops at the fort where the ships dock as well as in the small town. There are some beautiful pieces at more reasonable prices than in other ports. I visited Skagway a month later on another cruise and tried to find some of the items I had bought in Haines, just down the Lynn Canal, but was unsuccessful. Items in Skagway were not as good quality and much higher in price. Also in Haines we had a delicious halibut lunch at the historic Bamboo Room, highly recommended.
Pre-cruise San Francisco:
San Francisco has so much to offer visitors that it is definitely worthwhile staying a day or two ahead of sailing. We stayed two nights at the Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf situated two blocks from the famous wharf and a short taxi ride to the cruise pier, Pier 35. The Fisherman's Wharf area is low-rise there are no hotel towers here and many of the hotels are older and show some wear but the location is perfect for visiting major attractions including the cable car and the bay.
Dining is of course renowned in this city where fresh seafood is boundless. Don't miss legendary Scoma's one of America's finest restaurants where the food and service are superb. (Pier 47 on Al Scoma Way).
Our two hour trolley tour showed us the major sites and neighbourhoods and was very informative without taking up too much of our precious day. Our informative driver even included a run down to Sausalito from the Golden Gate Bridge which really added to the experience.
After a day of exploring, it was sailing day and we headed for Pier 35 ahead of schedule. We had to wait to board Silver Shadow for our 10-day Alaska cruise since we hadn't selected early embarkation which carries a $100 charge per person. Tickets stated boarding would be at 2:00 p.m. but at 1:30 p.m. our color was called and we proceeded aboard.
Absent was a stop for the 'welcome aboard' photo. The only photos taken onboard are portraits on formal nights, which can be arranged with the photographer. The digital portraits are presented on a screen so there is no photo gallery where your pictures can be viewed by all passengers.
Not far from the check-in, a smiling, white-gloved steward assisted me with my hand luggage and escorted me up the gangway to a 'welcome aboard' glass of Philipponnat champagne. This was the beginning of the high level of service we would enjoy during the cruise. The 28,258-ton Silver Shadow, and sister ship Silver Whisper, carry an international crew of 295 and a maximum of 382 passengers - that's 1.29 passengers for each crew member at full capacity. Service is warm and friendly throughout the ship and there is a willingness to meet special requests. All our needs were efficiently handled by the attentive staff around the pool, in all restaurants and at designated hours in the lounges.
Staff were also constantly cleaning, polishing, painting and varnishing Silver Shadow which is in immaculate condition and looks as though she just entered service. Carpets are replaced every eight months adding to the vessel's tip-top condition.
The spacious all-suite accommodations aboard Silver Shadow range from a Vista suite with picture window measuring 287 square feet to the multi-room Grand Suites which are 1,286 to 1,435 square feet, depending on location.
The mid-level Veranda suites are 345 square feet including a 5 foot by 9 foot balcony, marble bathroom, lounge area and walk-in closet. The classy marble bathroom has a twin-sink vanity, separate shower stall and large bathtub with hand-held shower. High end Italian soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion were replaced as needed. There is plenty of hanging space in the walk-in closet as well as drawer space, a shoe rack, belt rack, full-length mirror and safe. The lounge area includes a wall unit with desk, a well-stocked bar and mini-fridge, mirror, TV/VCR, large sofa, chair, table and side tables. The separate inlaid-wood vanity has special lighting and a large make-up mirror. Beds are in queen or twin configuration with duvet, down pillows and crisp linens. There are two bedside tables and several convenient bedside light switches. Telephones are located bedside, at the desk and in the bathroom.
A pair of high powered binoculars was a welcome addition for scenic cruising in Alaska. The suite also comes with personalized stationery, robes and slippers, hair dryer, clothes brush, shoe cleaner, fresh flowers and fruit. The door bell is a nice touch and necessary in such large staterooms. (Additional amenities for upper level suites include valet service with complimentary laundry service and pressing, plasma TV, 3 CD stereo and afternoon canapés.)
Absent was a clock, an indication that life aboard Silversea is about getting away from it all. However, room service will send one along if you like…….
The suites are certainly comfortable and spacious enough to relax and enjoy all day if one wants. For those who don't want to read or simply watch the scenery go by, videos are available in the library to view in-suite and there are several movie channels and TV channels for entertainment. For dining, the 24-hour room service menu is extensive with food prepared in the main galley. Service is prompt except for the pizza which takes 20-minutes to prepare. The separate breakfast menu is put outside your door before retiring. Lunch and dinner can be ordered from the Restaurant menu and served course by course in your suite. Suites without a separate dining room have a portable table for dining including breakfast which arrives ready to be set formally with a linen table cloth on the tray.
Two stewardesses attend to the suites twice daily and re-stock the bar with your choice of beverages. Turn down service frequently includes Godiva chocolates on the pillows. Should you require anything at any time, simply call the service number. Requests are met promptly.
Sailing aboard Silver Shadow reminded me of life aboard the famous transatlantic liner S.S. France in the 60's: Champagne…. for breakfast….. in bed…..at 2 p.m……. Add that the champagne is complimentary and can be delivered with caviar and you've captured the luxurious lifestyle in a Silversea suite.
I called for brandy for the bar one day and soon afterwards a bottle of Hennessy Cognac arrived at the door since Silver Shadow doesn't have miniatures onboard. The cognac was complimentary of course as all beverages, including bottled water, specialty coffees, champagne, wines and spirits throughout the ship are included in the fare.
Not having to sign for drinks or review a price list certainly makes things simple. For pre-dinner cocktails and after dinner drinks in the lounges, waiters are readily available to take drink orders. Red and white wines are poured at lunch and dinner with many passengers starting with the white and moving on to the red with their entrée. Californian, French, Italian, Australian and New Zealand wines included. Should you want a wine not being poured that night, the sommelier will be happy to bring you a different bottle. I twice ordered Merlot in place of the evening Cabernet Sauvignon and my request was met with ease. (For a 10-day voyage, 3,500 bottles of wine are carried onboard, the estimated consumption being 300 bottles per day.)
For those wanting special vintages, the reserve list features a variety of champagne, wine, dessert wine and port from around the world ranging from $45 to $840 a bottle. There is no pressure to purchase from the reserve list when dining in The Restaurant or the Terrace Café. Dinner in the intimate Le Champagne specialty restaurant however does not include complimentary wine. There is a charge for the suggested wines that accompany each course in Le Champagne.
Silver Shadow carries a maximum of 382 passengers and has a passenger-space ratio of 74, one of the highest at sea. Lounges are never crowded and the only line-up on our cruise was for the on-deck salmon bake luncheon - well worth the short wait. Passengers generally enjoy the camaraderie of smaller ships and dining with new-found friends. Several private cocktail parties were held by sociable passengers who wanted to entertain and the amiable maitre d' was happy to assist with arrangements and the sending of invitations.
For those who simply want to relax outside their suites, the Panorama and Observation lounges have plenty of seating and floor to ceiling windows for an excellent view. The Observation Lounge has cabinets of board games and its own collection of books along with a coffee bar in the mornings.
With less than 400 passengers to entertain, the daily schedule is quite manageable with few overlapping activities and there is quite enough entertainment to make the sea days pass all too quickly. Bridge classes, port lectures and fitness classes are well attended. The Internet center is a busy spot on sea days especially in the morning. The Captain and navigator lead the tour of the ship's bridge - the most informative I've attended - while the Executive Chef and Stores Manager take interested passengers on a tour of the galley and store rooms.
Just as on bigger ships, the pool area is very popular for lounging and reading in the sun or unwinding in the Jacuzzis. More active passengers swim laps in the pool or run the jogging track. The ping pong table and shuffleboard court are well used. There's also a golf net for practicing your swing. As part of the SilverLinks 365 program, a golf pro gives lessons, holds putting contests onboard and escorts excursions to courses ashore.
The Mandara spa with its Balinese, Asian and European treatments books up early. My massage and salon pedicure were the best I've had. In-suite massage is also available and there is a full service beauty salon.
Pre or post-dinner cocktail parties, stage and musical shows in the show lounge highlight the evening's entertainment with musicians performing in other lounges and a disco operating in the late hours. A popular after dinner spot is the Humidor which features Davidoff cigars, fine cognac and port.
The casino is a small gaming room with roulette and blackjack and slots on the side. Shops are also small including a tiny Silversea boutique with high-end jewelry and a general store with local souvenirs, jewelry, clothing and a few logo items. There are no promotional ads delivered to your suite and no daily change of merchandise or sidewalk sales. In fact, the shops closed twice a day on sea days - mid-day and early evening -. This lack of commercialism was a refreshing change. The absence of a photo gallery and art auction, and the lack of pressure to shop, gamble or tip results in a very carefree onboard experience. Simply relax and enjoy.
For a 28,258-ton ship, the dining options are quite surprising aboard Silver Shadow. There are four restaurants and cafés or you can dine in-suite with lunch and dinner served course by course from the Restaurant menu. The Restaurant on deck 4 is the main dining room where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. All meals are opening seating, so you can dine when you like and either alone or with others. Seating for dinner is anytime between 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. with diners lingering long after that for conversation over dessert and liqueurs. A thoughtful touch is the box of reading glasses which can be brought to the table for those who have difficulty reading the menu.
The Terrace Café on deck 7 aft has a breakfast and lunch buffet but with such excellent service, you don't have to leave the table if you don't want to. Breakfast items can also be ordered from the Restaurant menu so you are not limited to the buffet selections. Each evening in the Terrace a seven-course set menu featuring cuisine from a different region is offered - reservations are required but there is no charge.
The intimate Le Champagne specialty restaurant offers a dining experience equivalent to a two-star Michelin restaurant. The set menu changes every two days. Reservations are required.
The Poolside Grille offers a casual lunch menu from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m while in the lounges, morning coffee, mid-morning bouillon and afternoon tea are served. The extensive room service menu is available 24 hours a day.
With French cuisine created in association with hotel and restaurant group, Relais & Châteaux - Relais Gourmands, it is not surprising that Silversea is frequently privately chartered for major world events including the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and the Russian President's tricentennial celebrations in St. Petersburg. A preview lunch and dinner menu conveniently arrives in your suite each evening along with the daily program. Overall, the food was of high quality and superbly prepared with several dishes the best I'd had at sea and only a few disappointing courses during the cruise. The food is very rich and I was happy to have the sorbet course each evening before the main course. Many passengers also remarked on the high quality of food in the café and the Poolside Grille where fresh tuna sandwiches, ground steak burgers and European sausages are among the casual menu items. Delicacies not on the menus are also available upon request, including caviar which can be ordered in the Restaurant or in-suite at anytime.
Silver Shadow is a dressy ship with three formal and four informal nights on a 10-night cruise and many passengers enjoy 'dressing to the nines'. Those who would rather dress informally on formal nights may dine in the Terrace Café and use one designated lounge for cocktails and after dinner drinks. You won't be permitted into the entertainment lounges and casino unless dressed in formal attire however. About 25 percent of passengers opt for this informal alternative on formal nights with men donning a jacket instead of a tuxedo and women wearing pant suits instead of evening gowns.
Reflecting on my Silversea experience aboard the Silver Shadow, I realized this was the most relaxing and carefree cruise I had enjoyed in years, reminiscent of a bygone era of leisurely sea travel. The inclusive fare means you are free to relax and enjoy being pampered. And Silversea certainly knows how to pamper.