Silver Shadow Entertainment
As mentioned above, the size of the Athenian Show Lounge does not permit overly ambitious, Broadway-style presentations. But the entertainment on most evenings -- by the Jean Ann Ryan Production Company, a popular ensemble on many cruise ships -- made up in enthusiasm and effort for any space-dictated deficiencies. The same room was used during the day for lectures on the history, culture and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of Alaska.
The entertainment hit of the cruise, though, was a talented flautist named Bettine Clemen whose credits include appearances in such prestigious international facilities as the Royal Albert Hall in London and New York's Lincoln Center. Her unusual performance transcends the simple playing of the flute. Her concerts included musical genres as diverse as jazz and pop, illustrated on screen by stunning pictures of animals (from camels to penguins) from the Middle East, South America, China, Sri Lanka, Russia and, of course, Alaska. It is not easy to describe the connection in words but, believe me, it works.
Hint: Pay special attention to the timing of the evening shows. In order to accommodate all passengers -- some of whom like to eat early, some late -- the entertainment might start one evening at, say 6:15 p.m. as a pre-dinner diversion and the next at 10:15 p.m. to allow even the latest of late eaters to attend.
There were the usual shipboard entertainment staples, such as the Liars' Club (with the cruise staff mostly lying their heads off while guests tried to decide which one is actually telling the truth), team trivia every afternoon in the Observation Lounge, and classes in bridge, backgammon, needlepoint and more.
On a recent Silver Shadow cruise to Alaska, entertainment ashore -- namely, excursions -- ranged from the fairly basic (Wrangell Highlights, a coach tour costing $37 per person) to the somewhat more exotic (Haines by Classic Car, $52 per person). The ship's most expensive excursion was a four-hour bear watching adventure out of Prince Rupert that sold for $350 per person and involved a float plane trip over the Coast Mountain Range to the waters of Khutzeymateen Inlet. The shore excursion brochure does not feature a large number of super-active outings, being light on hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, white water rafting and such, primarily a reflection of its more mature passenger base.
Silver Shadow Public Rooms
The lobby of the Silver Shadow, on Deck 5, is an attractive first sight of the ship, with light wood paneling accented by darker wood handrails leading to and, up, a handsome spiral staircase. In the lobby and, indeed, throughout the ship, the beige and grey walls and carpeting give the ship a warm feel. Stone flooring at entryways to various open areas and the judicious use of stainless steel in some public room fixtures add to the ambiance of the ship.
The Restaurant (Deck 4) has a central core of a couple of dozen tables of various sizes with the remainder strategically placed outside this core with most of those against, or close to, windows -- a highly desirable location given the splendor of the islands and wildlife of the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage. The relative compactness of the room (when compared with the massive dining facilities on today's mega ships) means shorter distances for waiters bringing food from the galley and dishes on the Silver Shadow that are meant to be hot invariably are.
The ship's attractive two-level Athenian Show Lounge allows up to 358 people to enjoy the lectures and evening entertainment in comfort and with generally good sightlines. The facility is rather (and necessarily) small -- the ship after all only weighs less than 30,000 tons and carries only 382 guests -- and does not permit the entertainment staff, however energetic and talented they might be, to produce particularly lavish presentations.
There is a cigar bar on board, The Humidor, and two main lounges, the Panorama Lounge and the Observation Lounge. The former is aft on Deck 9 and the latter forward on Deck 10. Both are inviting, but seemingly underused, rooms. The main pre- and post-dinner action was in The Bar (do you think they pay somebody to think up these names?) which was jumping from 6 or so until around 8:30 p.m. by which time most people had gone to dinner. A small combo entertained, or a tape played throughout, and a steady stream of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres was served until the bulk of the guests had departed. A computer center and well-stocked library (open 24 hours a day and operated on the honor system) are located on Deck 8, by the Panorama Lounge.
One major disappointment, it must be admitted, was Silver Shadow's casino. The three tables (craps, blackjack and roulette) were fine. But the slot machine set up was not up to par with the other facilities on the ship. Crammed into two claustrophobically small alcoves (there's no other way to characterize them) were a couple of dozen machines. If anybody was sitting at one near the entrance to the alcove, it was very difficult to get past him or her to claim a place at one of the others. And the equipment seemed not to be in especially good shape. Two of the machines on one side were blank for the whole 10 days of the cruise and at least two others refused to accept dollar bills of any denomination, despite the fact that they were clearly built to do so. That required players to feed quarters in by hand -- a tiresome chore when you're playing $20 or $30 at a time.
The non-functioning machines can almost certainly be revived with the help of a technician; the tightness of the space equally certainly cannot. Although the casino slot machines are obviously considered a profit center, Silversea should think in terms of eliminating six or eight of them in order to open the alcoves up somewhat and facilitate easier entry and exit for passengers.
Silver Shadow Spa & Fitness
The Silver Shadow cannot, under any circumstances, be considered a high-energy, fitness-oriented ship. Its passengers -- especially in Alaska -- tend to be older and perhaps a little more sedentary than on some other vessels in the market. But there are a number of opportunities for keep-fit buffs. Swimmers can tone their bodies by using the outdoor heated pool on Deck 8, forward of the Panorama Lounge.
The fitness center proper, on Deck 10, is small but has some interesting features, not least being an aquaswim pool, which allows guests essentially to swim against the tide -- a great exercise for keeping (or getting) fit. Its weight and cycle equipment are fairly standard fare, but effective for those who want to keep in shape. There is a small track nearby for jogging or walking.
The Mandara Spa, also on Deck 10, offers every conceivable treatment and instruction imaginable, from simple pedicure/manicure to Indian scalp massage, a method said to date back four millennia by which (according to the spa staff) "physical and emotional toxins" can be flushed out of the system. Some of the names of the massage treatments were most appealing, although it would have taken another two weeks or so at sea to try them all. It takes two therapists working in unison on different parts of the body, for instance, to provide what Mandara calls "The Ultimate Indulgence." "Heaven and Earth" is a massage of the scalp and face, hands and feet. One of the most exotic sounding was called "Balinese Bliss for Two," a his-and-hers session with a massage therapist. Enjoy it with someone you love.
While there is no hard sales pitch, per se, guests in Silver Shadow's luxurious spa may purchase any of the Elemis lotions, gels and other items used in treatments at the facility. A Rehydrating Rose Petal Cleanser, for example, costs $43; a Cooling Eye Gel will set you back $19. In total, about 125 items are available for purchase.
A golf net up top was open 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and James Harris, a PGA-approved coach, conducted group lessons in the finer arts of the Royal & Ancient game.