By William Wolf

CRUISING ALASKA IN INTIMATE LUXURY (PART I)  Send This Review to a Friend

There is an answer for those who wish to avoid huge ships that pack in a few thousand passengers in what seem like floating cities. My wife and I found it by choosing to book with Silversea, going the Alaska Inland Passage route with its sleek Silver Shadow on a nine-day trip with stops at key ports. The pleasures of going on a comparatively intimate voyage became readily apparent and were demonstrated throughout the journey. One can easily be spoiled by such an experience.

We boarded the Silver Shadow in Vancouver, British Columbia, also the point of return. According to information I was given, the maximum passenger load is 383, with an approximate ratio of nearly one crew member to a passenger. That’s a fabulous ratio, which helps account for the superb service we encountered. Also, the crew members wear buttons bearing not only their names but their country of origin, which results in their being treated by the passengers as individuals, and they in turn are urged to remember the names of passengers, which they do to a remarkable extent.

One of the commendable features is a no-tipping policy, which means that when crew members are especially accommodating it feels genuine, not an angling for gratuities. I asked a few of the crew whether they were satisfied with this arrangement. The Silver Shadow cruise director, Martin A. Blanar, had told me that obviously, if tips were not allowed, the staff had to be compensated accordingly to make it worthwhile for them, and those I spoke to said that Silversea was an excellent line for which to work. This attitude made for a most friendly interactive atmosphere.

Nearly all amenities were covered by the fare. Champagne and wine flowed freely at meals, with waiters constantly offering refills. Ditto for liquor. It was the same at the bars. As for the food, it was excellent and varied. One could choose between the attractive, spacious main room known simply as The Restaurant, or the Italian-oriented La Terrazza. At breakfast and lunch La Terrazza had lavish buffets, and in the evening, the number of guests accommodated was held to a maximum, with the room becoming more intimate with candlelight and special dinner menus. Reservations for La Terrazza were requested. The La Terrazza maître d’ always tried to be accommodating, as was the case in The Restaurant. There was also dining at poolside and early continental breakfasts were served in the Panorama Lounge and the Observation Lounge. Room service was available 24 hours

An open seating policy in The Restaurant was especially congenial. There were no fixed seating times—one could come any time during dining hours with or without a reservation and be given the choice of a private table or being seated with others. Each time my wife and I chose to be at tables with other guests, and as a result we became friendly with three other couples whose company we enjoyed. We repeatedly got together for good conversation, and the result might be possible post-cruise friendships. Two nights were designated as formal nights, with some men wearing tuxedos or dinner jackets but most in suits or blazers and the women in extra finery. But there was no sense of compulsion to conform to a rigid policy. (Obviously no jeans.)

There was one dining facility for which there was an extra tab. It was in the tiny Le Champagne, a room that required advance reservations and which offered a special fixed menu each night with emphasis on varied cuisines. We chose a Spanish night. The tab was $30 per person plus wine ordered, or $200 per person if one wanted to indulge in different fine wines paired to each course. This was the only extra charge involved, apart from phone and internet charges, side excursions arranged by the ship’s helpful staff, the casino, purchases in the various shops aboard and being pampered with massages, manicures or pedicures.

The cabin accommodations aboard the Silver Shadow are especially roomy, judging by the mid-ship Veranda Suite that we booked. Silversea claims that the Silver Shadow and its Silver Whisper are “the most spacious ships in the world.” The design plan made a special point of treating its passengers to the kind of luxury that spells unusual comfort on board. Our quarters had a living room area with a sofa, two chairs, abundant lighting and mirrors, a queen bed with fine linens and a thick mattress, a dressing table, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with twin basins and a bathtub as well as a stall shower. The weather was cold and rainy, so we couldn’t use the veranda much, as was the case with the ship’s pool, but in nice weather it would be appealing. Leading to the veranda were floor to ceiling glass doors enabling impressive views from inside. The suite had assorted welcome amenities, including binoculars for the sightseeing trips, television, a DVD player, three phones, umbrellas, assorted Bulgari bath toiletries, as well as a hair dryer. Also included: a complimentary bottle of champagne and a well-stocked complimentary mini-bar.

The Silver Shadow has a large, comfortable auditorium with good sightlines, the Athenian Lounge, for lectures and entertainment. Cruise director Blanar, who served as an affable host for the shows, told me of the challenge in getting the right programs. Taste will always vary among the passengers, so the aim is to book a variety. On this particular trip, personable Marty Henne, pianist and singer, presented his entertaining program of songs that most people know, but don’t know who composed them. He played and sang the songs and told anecdotes about the composers. On a subsequent night he did a Gershwin program. Other attractions included French Canadian pop singer Claude-Eric Brunelle, Russian violinist Jacob Konviser and mandolin virtuoso Radim Zenkl. The four-piece band Vlado provided music back-up for the entertainment events, and also music for late-night dancing at the Panorama lounge. Guest lecturer was Sabin Robbins, who provided information about whales and in another lecture talked about the Alaska gold rush. Activities incouded aerobics, bridge, yoga and golf putting. Or one could just chill out.

Captain Ignazio Tatulli made a point of using the speaker system to give us ongoing updates about our voyage. He explained why he had to switch course to a backup plan to see a glacier when the ice flow became too dangerous for the original course. On the last night of the voyage the ship’s officers and crew members assembled on stage in the Athenian Lounge, and it was quite moving when the passengers in the filled to capacity auditorium applauded them enthusiastically, reflecting appreciation for the service rendered.

One advantage of traveling on a more intimate cruise is the avoidance of waiting in line when dining or disembarking on the tenders in instances when the ship cannot arrive at dockside. Silversea was also very good about having shuttle buses available to go into the towns.

In 2009 the Silver Shadow will be available for the company’s first 92-day Grand Pacific Voyage departing Los Angeles on March 7. There are a host of other trips offered. For more information about Silversea Cruises, contact your travel agent or go on line to www.silversea.com.

NEXT: PART II—SAVORING THE SIGHTS OF ALASKA

  

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