Having been through Vancouver before and faced major queues for emigration, we were pleasantly surprised to be the only ship in port and upon arriving at US emigration found 6 bored operatives who almost fought over our custom. The process was extremely quick and very polite. This was probably the nicest US emigration experienced in nearly 40 years.
We met Natalie, newly promoted from receptionist to Guest Relations Manager as we got on the Shadow, and it's always a nice surprise to see an old face in a new job.
Reception sign in, photo taking and credit card hand over were all completed with a minimum of fuss, and as it was just after midday, no queues.
The Shadow is still a great ship, the interior is still in pretty good nick, and it was nice to see the new pool furniture that had been installed since our last visit. The repair to the bow was more obvious from the outside, and really looked like a quick patch up job, but from the top of deck 9 it looked better, if a little obvious. The decking was in good shape, the jogging track also. The interior furnishings were not showing any age and our suite was also in good shape.
Guests & Staff
On the run up to Kodiak (which Silversea sold as an optional 6 day cruise) there were an additional 48 guests on board. After Kodiak we had 143, which included some 7/8 guest lecturers, bridge directors and chefs, and about 260 staff, so about 40 light from a full complement.
Guests were a good cosmopolitan mix, 20+ Aussies, quite a few Brits, some other Europeans, some Canadians and less than half were from the US. Unfortunately the removal of the Passenger Lists makes this very difficult to establish these days. As usual there were some healthy & active guests in their 80's. I think there were 23 singles, most of whom were female.
Most guests were over 50, a couple of late teens were travelling with families, but there were no children on board.
Only saw one instance of poor behavior, one of the Kodiak 48 got rather drunk, lost money in the Casino and was last seen banging the bar in the Lampadina. Rod (the barman) saw him safely to his suite and he was next seen at dinner the following evening, still nursing a hangover.
Ate here most evenings and apart from the galley lunch did not venture in during the day. Generally the food was very good. The Executive Chef Ricardo Dotti seemed to set a fairly high standard across the board. Had one bad meal when my steak came well done (ordered med rare) and when it reappeared some 15 minutes later was still well done and I had lost all my vegetables. It was easier to leave it, although no one came to check to see what had gone wrong. It was just a bad night.
I had met the head sommelier, Carolina, before and made sure that we drank what we wanted, and unlike some others I never had any problem with the house wines. It did help to have a chat with her on the first day and also to her main assistant. Plenty of choice with the wines, for instance 2 NZ SB's, two French SB's and one Chilean SB. Some nice Syrah and Cab Sav's.
One point worth noting, there were only two sommeliers onboard, I think one of the 40 staff who had been relocated was the other one, and this meant it was tough for them to cover all 4 dining areas in the evening. Occasionally they struggled, and I'm aware that it annoyed some guests.
Ate breakfast here most days. It was the usual buffet style, plenty of fresh fruit and there were always strawberries available. Service was always good.
Most days I ate lunch here as well, mainly for the Sashimi, and on this cruise the sashimi salmon was the best I had for a long time. The other food was generally good.
The day after leaving Vancouver they served approximately 350 fresh local oysters which had all gone by the end of lunch and were very good.
Only ate once in the evening and apart from the excellent duck ragout the food is not special anymore.
Ate here a couple of times at lunch, but for most of the trip it was either too cold or too wet to be outside. Came back late one day from a port (at about 3:50) and the chef cooked me an exquisite piece of Halibut. This was real service with a smile. On another occasion, and with a different chef, I had the surliest service on the ship. This was an Indian chef who had just been moved from the main galley and it was obvious that no one had told him how to react with guests.
Due to the inclement weather we only ate outside on the first and last nights. On both occasions we had excellent food and service, and we just love the hot rocks. Some hardier souls ate here more often, provided it was not closed.
Gave it a miss on this trip, but did have lunch with David Bilsland on one of his cook and learn days, see below.
In suite dinning / Room Service
Have never felt the need.
Afternoon Tea in the Panorama
Always a delight to have a nice cup of tea, not so sure about the array of extra food, although most guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
The main bar was run in an amazingly efficient fashion by Chester, supported by the lovely Welma. After asking for a particular pre dinner cocktail on the first night, it would be ready most evenings by the time Chester had spotted me walking to the bar. Smoking was still allowed on the right-hand side of the bar, but caused no problems at all.
Rod ran the Lampadina, which was much underused. Francis ran the Panorama and Marylin the Pool bar.
Bulter and assistant
Both were very sweet and did all we asked, but seemed worried that we had very little call on their time.
Apart from the cooking demonstrations we did not attend any of the lectures. We watched some of them on the TV on repeat. The lecturers themselves were nice, but it's not really our cup of tea.
The bridge lecturers, Tony & Dee Hoffman were outstanding, and he was a wonderful teacher. I was impressed that he had all his own audio/visual equipment for his lessons. Some guests thought he was the best bridge teacher they had ever met.
The afternoon duplicate sessions were well run and tabulated (by hand) extremely quickly.
Silversea should certainly use them more often.
Trivia was well attended, pretty competitive and very well run by the CD, Jimmy Kovel. He certainly introduced some new twists. Jimmy is actually a very good CD.
Bingo also existed, a mileage pool ran most days. There was putting with the SS Artistes, but no shuffleboard, table tennis and the weather was too nasty for water volleyball. There was a liars club one evening which was great fun, and a couple of name that tune evenings.
The Artists of Silversea put on a number of shows, now all based around singing, and ranging from classical to relatively modern. The best show, if a little short, was the British Invasion. It would normally be held on deck with a BBQ, but this type of crossing and the cold meant it was in the theatre. All three female and three male artists were very good, and very approachable outside of the shows. What was amazing was that one of the male artists had arrived on the ship at Vancouver and without any prior run throughs. He had to learn everything on the ship from the bottom up, and you would never have known. He was a true professional.
One niggle here was that Jimmy sometimes put the shows on at 9:45 instead of 10pm, which made it hard to get there for the start. Supposedly this was because of the constant time changes forward and the age demographic of the guests. We were not amused.
As this was an L'Ecole des chefs voyage we had David Bilsland onboard along with an American/Chinese chef named Ying Chang Compestine, who was very into green tea cooking.
In addition to the standard Ready Steady Cook show there were four or five other morning cooking demonstrations, all of which were excellent. David ran 3 cook and learn lunches in Le Champagne, again they were excellent and the food memorable. David also ran a market visit in Hakodate which was a lot of fun.
We thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the voyage.
Ports & Tours
The Shadow mostly docked very close to the centre of the port town, and when it was further out, as in Hakodate a free shuttle was provided.
We walked in Ketchikan, Juneau (went up the Mount Roberts ropeway which was fun if rather wet), Skagway and in Kodiak.
In Kodiak the only disappointment was the Russian Orthodox Church was closed at its normal afternoon opening time. It had been opened in the morning for a ships tour and I think we just lucked out.
Apart from Kodiak there were at least 2 and sometimes 5 other large cruise ships in port, and this meant all the points of interest were crowded.
In Petropavlovsk we did the ATV Volcano trip, which was awesome, and included 15kms up and then back down a dry river bed. They also provided an excellent typical local lunch along with local beer and vodka.
In Hakodate we did the market visit and then went up the cable car to the observatory. There were wonderful views of both sides of Hakodate. The town itself was a joy to visit, along with the English speaking schoolgirls who were waiting for us by the shuttle stop at the main station, and who came and did multiple renditions of the local Cuttlefish dance on the dock as we sailed away.
Tokyo was disembarkation day, which went very smoothly, but unfortunately it was teeming it down which rather made the day a very damp squib.
As expected it was cold once we had left Canada and even colder going across the Bering Sea. Things looked up when we got to Russia. The sea was also rough for two days in the middle of the crossing, and on some days it was pretty windy (>50mph). A number of days were wet and we also had a morning of fog.
We didn't go on any trips specifically to see wildlife, but did see a number of whale sightings from the ship whilst in Alaska, saw some seals and an otter, and also saw a pod of killer whales between Russia and Japan.
The removal of the Guest/Passenger List is a real drawback, and even if it happened because of privacy complaints (as was alluded to), this could be covered better in the Guest Info form that we all complete or with a check once onboard. It looks like SS decided to ditch it because it saved both paper and time. People should complain until we get it restored.
Because of an engine problem we did not sail past Tracey Arm, so saw no glaciers. Not a huge problem but a bit of a shame.
It was often cold in the theatre in the mornings and on a couple of days it was freezing. People were wrapped up in blankets. When asked if the A/C had failed the response was no, but that the engineers never came up to the public areas so had no understanding of the temperature. Believe that one if you will.
There was a smell of drains on the 4th deck quite often, near the rear lift, and on one day in the Bering Sea it was across decks 4, 5 and 6. Someone very cleverly had opened the side doors on deck 5 near reception and it was blowing a gale through the middle of the ship. The smell was better than the arctic wind though.
There were no Gentlemen Hosts on this voyage, and with at least 20 single women onboard, almost no one to dance with. This was a serious oversight, and it's interesting that the 2013 voyage is listed with Gentlemen Hosts.
The slow erosion of the "benchmark in ultra-luxury cruising" continues and unfortunately it is not the Captain & crew that are causing this, but the bean counters in the offices who rarely get on the ships and see what really matters to Silversea's guests.