First, the website list didn't list Tokyo for embarkation. This. our second cruise on Silversea Shadow, was a reposition with fascinating ports of call: embarking from Tokyo, then to Hokkaido, Kamchatka, the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak and Homer, AK. Like many of the folks we met aboard, we viewed this as an adventure, not a primarily a luxury cruise.
Even Tokyo is visited by relatively few cruise ships, because a bridge over its harbor is too low for the behemoth ships that are more common now. So our embarkation was an event, with the Tokyo Youth Orchestra playing and waving to see us off.
The Shadow is a small ship, able to conveniently dock at all but a few of our ports. The two ports in Hokkaido, Hakodate and Kushiro, see very few cruise ships: In Hakodate, high school students in uniform were posted on nearly every corner to practice their English and help the gaijin. It was charming. In smaller Kushiro, banners welcomed us and local families brought their kids to the dock to wave us goodbye.
The downside of a small ship is high seas: in the North Pacific, swells in the teens had a lot of passengers seasick or queasy, but that's part of the deal in such cruises. We were lucky in the equally ominous Bering Sea above the Aleutians (think "Deadiest Catch"), with relatively calm seas as the captain stuck close to the islands.
The other risk in small ports is the quality of shore tours. We had fine tours in all of the ports except Kamchatka, where Russian officials swarmed aboard and gave us a slow, hostile debarkation. They hilariously examined our passports as though we might be spying on their submarine port, and were equally suspicious as we reboarded. Our trip to the base of a local volcano was aboard old military trucks semi-converted to buses. Want to pee? Go behind the bus in the snow. The vehicles were unequal to the wet snow on the slopes, with much time spent getting stuck vehicles out of the slush. Our time on the volcano was short, with a hurried meal including reindeer meatballs and local vodka. We were 90 minutes late getting to the ship, which was fine because the Russian refueler was six hours late. We left port at 4 a.m. instead of the scheduled 6 p.m.
In retrospect, though, it's the best dinner-table story of the trip, and Silversea gave us a refund of half the cost of the excursion.
The stop in Dutch Harbor, Alaska--actually setting foot in the Aleutians--was short but satisfying, especially for WWII buffs. Dutch Harbor suffered the only U.S. bombing by Japan, and the Aleutians in general were hard-fought for control of sea lanes.
Silversea kept up its usual high level of service, and the meals were fine considering the long time without a large port for reprovisioning. There was some repetition, but enough variety and freshness to make us feel pampered, given the locale. The multi-course meals with relatively small portions were a boon to the sedentary--a taste of everything without gluttony.
The speakers were expert and engaging--among the high points of the trip.
We pay a lower price for a repositioning cruise, and on this one we certainly got our money's worth--crossing the North Pacific to ports seldom seen, in good company with deluxe accommodations.