Friday, May 31, 2013

Goldring Travel's Silversea Silver Shadow Alaska Cruise Review - Part II



Up at 4:15 a.m. to meet our 5:00 a.m. car to take us to our 7:00 a.m. flight on Air Canada from Newark Airport to Vancouver.  It all went seamlessly, but I note that Air Canada is a rather austere airline so don’t expect any frills or polished service.  Fortunately we had bulkhead seating that really was just the end of probably the least impressive business class I have ever seen, so we had room for our bags and to stretch out. Air Canada got us to Vancouver – with our luggage (I can get used to that!) an hour early, so I have no complaints.

After quickly moving through Immigration, there were at least four Silversea-related people ready to assist those with paid for transfers.  One very helpful gentleman said (incorrectly) that we would be able to board straight away.  We opted for the more direct and less expensive taxi ($35.00) which got us to the Silversea Silver Shadow at almost exactly the time we were to touch down.  (Read:  Way too early).

In fact, we were so early that the 12:00 p.m. boarding time was so long to go we decided to take a walk in the drizzle of Vancouver and find a place for a light snack (it was afternoon in New Jersey, after all) and wound up one pier over at Mahoney & Sons, a rather modern version of a large Irish pub.  So I had a pint of a local ale, my wife had a Pimm’s Cup and we shared some smoked salmon (we are in the Northwest, of course) and shrimp dumplings (OK, not so Irish).  We then wandered back to the ship to, again, find a virtual ghost town save a few Silversea staff directing us.
Our check-in at the terminal took about 2 minutes and after a 3 minute wait for an escort we were on the Silver Shadow.  One curious bit was that we received our boarding passes/room keys on shore, but our photos and credit card information was taken once we were onboard and directed to the Concierge Desk.  It all worked fine, but is just a bit different.  (One note:  When we boarded we were given a glass of champagne that was only about 1/5th filled.  I appreciate the fact that much of those “welcome” drinks are wasted and it was just enough for us, but it did undercut a bit of the Wow factor one might be expecting.)

I must pause here and disclose that I am not paying a full fare and Silversea is taking very good care of me.  To be sure, it is no more or no less than Seabourn does for me.  And Silversea knows that my integrity is not going to be bought for a cruise or onboard credits, so what you read is truly what I see and believe.  But as part of my integrity I need to let you know!

As the suites were not ready we took a quick walk around the ship, made reservations at Le Champagne and La Terrazza for the various evenings and the headed to The Restaurant for a light lunch.  I had a very good Seafood Medley Salad followed by a nicely prepared Cod.  My wife had a Creamy Chicken Soup and a Chili Beef and Basil Stir-Fry with a very nice lemon grass essence.  The offered wines, a South African Chenin Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  As good as the cuisine was – and it was very good – the service was a bit unpolished, but not offensively so.  As it is embarkation, I take note, but don’t hold it against anyone.  Service during normal time periods is what really matters…and the hotel staff has been all smiles and quite engaging.

We went to our suite just before the normal 2:00 p.m. “all clear” and everything was in order.  We were greeted by a bottle of champagne, a nice box of chocolates and a huge orchid.

The suite is well laid out with plenty of storage and all the amenities one might need. 


As this ship is not the newest, but is most certainly not old, there are a number of little things you notice that are missing (such as lights automatically turning on when you enter the walk-in closet), but they do not detract from the very comfortable ambiance and warm tones.

The bathrooms are fairly compact, but perfectly acceptable for a luxury cruise ship.  They are quite nice with double lavatories and separate bath and shower with nice touches of granite.  The shower, curiously, is a plastic composite – though solidly made.  I do not believe bathrooms make or break a cruise, but a nice bathroom is a welcome retreat.


The Bulgari toiletries, in sufficiently large size, are a very nice touch.


One area the Silver Shadow does lack in is the small balconies.  They are large enough for two comfortable reclining chairs (no foot rests) and a small cocktail table, but dining on your balcony is not an option. 


After unpacking and the muster, our butler, Yogesh, introduced himself.  He is very nice, well-polished and very attentive to details.  “Is the Mrs. satisfied with the Bulgari amenities or would she prefer the fragrance of Ferrigamo?”  “Would you like a particular type of pillow?” “May I assist you with dinner reservations?” and the list goes on.  If you want everything taken care of, your Silversea butler can do it for you. (BTW, last night I tried the buckwheat pillow and will be buying one when I get home.)

Ironically, I had already made my reservations for dinner in Le Champagne and La Terrazza when I received a call from the maître de for Le Champagne letting me know he had already held reservations for me (I am obviously not traveling “under the radar”).  So with myself, my butler and the maître de making sure I dine throughout the ship I feel a bit over-cared for…not that it is a bad thing!

As my wife rested I took a nice long walk about the ship, wandering into the various venues.  As it was embarkation day and most people had a long trip in, things were pretty quiet.  So I figured, let me sit at the Pool Bar and see what happens.  It was not good.  The bartender poured me my drink, never engaged me and never provided me with any munchies (though a dish of mixed nuts were sitting alone on the bar about 10 feet away).  That got me looking closer and I could see a strong dichotomy of staff that had “it” and those that didn’t.  Whether it was the staff setting up the Patio Grill for the Hot Rocks dining experience or just moving about the ship, it was noticeable.  In the Panorama Lounge I did notice that the “it” staff were hard at work creating a very nice and engaged experience for this more lively venue.

It was then time for dinner in The Restaurant, arriving at 8:30 p.m.  We were given a very nice table for two by the window (and in Alaska the skies remained bright until quite late.).  Our waiter was quite engaging, charming and a breath of fresh air.  But then I noticed my napkin was damp and my wife’s was very damp.  When we mentioned it, our waiter explained it was clean (“just from the laundry”), but did not understand that it was inappropriate.  (As my wife was wearing a black dress, a dry black napkin would have been most appropriate.)

That behind us, the dinner menu was quite good and the food was presented beautifully with inoffensive Italian wines being offered. My duck served three ways (smoked, pate and foie gras terrine) was excellent and my rockfish was done perfectly.  The antipasti salad was just OK.  My wife’s Tower of Beef Tomato and Buffalo mozzarella was fine, but more of a “condo” size.  Unfortunately, her filet mignon looked like it had been sitting for quite a while and was very tough and tasteless.  (Someone else mentioned his was the same way.)  My wife’s dessert, however, was thoroughly enjoyed.

It was then off to the Connoisseur’s Lounge for a relaxing cigar and a whiskey before heading to bed.

Overall our first day was quite good.  We feel comfortable, cared for and enthusiastic about seeing what the Silversea experience in Alaska is all about. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Goldring Travel's New Website Is Now Online!

I am pleased to present Goldring Travel's new website!  (www.GoldringTravel.com)

It has a wealth of information and now allows you to easily find and read my Cruise Reviews, research for cruises and land vacations that are of interest, read about all of the complimentary hotel amenities Goldring Travel offers and much more.

And the site is now fully searchable so if you are looking for specific information you can now find it easily.

The site is still be worked on so there is more to come, but I hope you enjoy the increase in information, the cleaner look and, of course, that it inspires you to book your next vacation or holiday with Goldring Travel.

And, of course, if you see an error or area where I can improve the site, I would greatly appreciate your input.

Thank you all for your loyalty and support!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Goldring Travel's Silversea Silver Shadow Alaska Cruise Review - Part I

On May 30, 2013 I am boarding the Silversea Silver Shadow for a one week Alaska cruise from Vancouver to Seward and then onto Anchorage via the included Alaska Railroad domed wildlife viewing train. 


I know that this may not be the perfect time to visit Alaska and a mere week on a cruise seems all to short, but with a busy schedule this cruise was the best fit for my purposes.  My purposes, you ask?  I am doing my job here! 


Silversea has been working hard to improve the consistency of its luxury cruise product and the time has come for me to see first-hand how things are going.  Having been to Alaska on pretty much the same itinerary in reverse on Regent Seven Seas Mariner a few years ago, cruised on the Crystal Symphony on the West Coast  even more recently and having an intimate knowledge of the Seabourn ships, there are going to be a lot of comparisons.  But there is also going to be a focus on what Silversea delivers that is unique; what distinguishes Silversea from the pack.

The Silver Shadow was built in 2000 and sails with 382 guests and 302 crew.  The ship is all-suite with the majority of the suites having private balconies (there are a few Oceanview Suites and even fewer Terrace Suites that share a large balcony).  I will be sailing in a Veranda 3 Suite on Deck 6.


Note:  While there will be some differences, I did a ship inspection of the Silver Whisper, the Shadow's sister ship, two years ago and am providing some photos of her here for context. During my cruise the photos will only be from the Silver Shadow.

The ship has a number of dining venues ranging from The Restaurant to the more casual La Terrazza to the truly luxurious Le Champagne (including its $200 per person tasting menu)



to the Pool Grill (and its popular Black Rock Gill "hot rocks" concept).  My goal is to dine in each venue (though, honestly, the Black Rock Grill - if it is warm enough to be offered - may be given a miss...just a personal choice).

The public areas on the Silver Shadow are more traditional as is her styling as the ship is thirteen years old.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, as I do enjoy the warmth of wood as well as the recognition of the fact that you are actually on a ship with a bit of maritime heritage.


One area that I wish all luxury cruise ships had is a dedicated smoking room (which I will use to smoke an occasional cigar).  While having a puff outdoors is truly enjoyed, I understand that the vast majority of people no longer wish to share the experience out on deck...or in other public venues.  So for me I am interested to see how the Connoisseur's Corner functions (as a refined space or a smoking closet).
 
As Alaska is rich in natural history I am also very interested to see how Silversea's enrichment program pans out.  Silversea let's you know who the scheduled enrichment lecturers are well in advance.  There are two on this cruise, but neither appear to be specialists on Alaska...but you never know how close the "blurb" about them reflects their knowledge or passion.
 
OK, so what is the itinerary and what do I have planned?
 
May 30 2013ThuVancouver, Canada 



May 31 2013FriCruising the Inside Passage



Jun 01 2013SatKetchikan, Alaska, USA  



Jun 02 2013SunCruising Tracyarm/Sawyer Glacier  



Jun 02 2013SunJuneau, Alaska, USA  



Jun 03 2013MonSkagway, Alaska, USA  



Jun 04 2013TueSitka, Alaska, USA  



Jun 05 2013WedCruising the Hubbard Glacier  



Jun 06 2013ThuSeward, Alaska, USA 
 
Having been on a similar cruise once before, and my primary purpose of this cruise is to "use the heck out of the ship", I have not planned too many shoreside activities.  That said, Silversea has a very impressive list of shore excursion offerings in each port (especially for the number of guests) and the prices are extremely reasonable. 
 
Also, having just been in Iceland this past February and been up close and personal with glaciers and ice walls, I don't feel compelled to engage in the same sort of activities here.
 
Instead I am doing three things that get me off-the-beaten-path and into the forest!  In Ketchikan we are taking the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary Tour, in Skagway we are taking the Grizzly Falls Ziplining Expedition (11 ziplines and 4 suspension bridges!) and in Sitka we are taking the Tongass Rainforest Hike.  In early June I expect to get wet and muddy in my ventures into as close to the Alaskan backwoods as one can easily get to on a cruise, but I am very much looking forward to it.  You see luxury is not necessarily flying onto a glacier for a 15 minute walkaround, but finding ways to enrich one's soul.  [Note:  my 11 zipline experience costs $159 which is not much more than the $93 single zipline ride on my Celebrity cruise in March.]
  
So let's see how all this goes.  I am, most certainly, looking forward to this experience.  And you should look forward to my honest and candid comments!
 
And if it inspires you to try Silversea, whether sailing in Alaska or somewhere else in the world, give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.