Liquid Sunshine in the Salmon Capital of the World
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Silversea’s Silver Shadow cut her way through the fog and drizzle early this morning, coming up on the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World” just after 07:00. When I stepped out on deck to watch our arrival into Ketchikan, Alaska, I was caught off guard by just how windy it was. Winds were pushing 30 kilometres an hour as Silver Shadow started to ease her way alongside, and was a topic of discussion for the Officers and our Alaskan Marine Pilot who were controlling the ship’s progress from the starboard bridge wing.
In fact, in the five times I’ve been to Ketchikan previously, I can’t remember a single day when the wind was as ferocious as it was today. Rainstorms of varying intensity came and went suddenly, and the continuing guests of wind made the outside temperature of 12°C feel about half that.
Ever since I first came here in July of 1998, I’ve always loved this quaint little town of 8,000. Ketchikan has changed a lot over the intervening years, though. The main dock apron has been extended, with a new concrete apron being constructed about fifteen feet out from the former wooden one that used to only run to the Tongass Trading Co. building that has seemingly stood at the end of the pier since the dawn of time.
In 1998, there was just the one berth in Ketchikan. At the time, two large ships could tie up at the pier, with a third potentially anchoring out in the channel. Today, the dock area has been extended past the Tongass Trading Co., with two additional berths, more room for motorcoaches, and new shops and restaurants.
Silver Shadow is docked at one of these new berths – Berth 3 – today. In Berth 1, across from the Visitor’s Bureau, is Disney Wonder, which pulled into port just after 10:00. Norwegian Sun arrived at Berth 2 directly in front of us just before Noon. For a brief period today, approximately 5,000 visitors “invaded” this small town that was founded in 1900.
The thing you should know about Ketchikan is that it’s a warm, friendly, welcoming town. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll say what I have always said about Alaska, and what I’ll continue to say over the next 11 days: seek out the local shops and experiences. Sure, it’s good to pick up that baseball cap or sweatshirt from the touristy shop, but make sure you get off of Front Street and wander around; you’ll be glad you did.
Unfortunately, it seems many shops – save for the Caribbean diamond and jewelry stores that have become ubiquitous in Alaska – just weren’t that interested in us. Creek Street remained a veritable ghost town well after 11:00 this morning, with only a single shop open for business. Historically, this was Ketchikan’s Red Light district, where “Men and Salmon Come Upstream to Spawn”, as the tagline goes.
There’s also been a lot of change in Ketchikan since my last visit in July of 2013. One of my favorite booksellers at Salmon Landing has shut its doors permanently. The entire second floor of the iconic building situated at the extreme southern end of Front Street is noticeably empty. There are also numerous vacant buildings throughout town that, until recently, seem to have been occupied.
On the other end of the spectrum, Popcorn is taking over the landscape in Ketchikan. I have no idea when this became a “thing”, but you can now get popcorn everywhere. Air-popped, buttered, salted, candied…if it comes from a kernel and it’s heated, you’ll probably find it in Ketchikan. I first noticed the “Popcorn Trend” on a visit to Alaska last summer, and it seems to have only grown in popularity – though I won’t pretend to know why.
By noon, most shops had opened their doors thanks to the arrival of the Norwegian Sun. But, with a departure time of 14:00 and an All-Aboard time of 13:30, it didn’t leave much time for Silver Shadow’s guests to do a little shopping of their own. Our early call did have one huge advantage: we had the privilege of exploring Ketchikan without an additional 4,000 people bumping and crashing into each other.
Silversea, however, also offered 16 different shore excursions in Ketchikan, ranging from easy to adventurous. These included flightseeing tours of Misty Fjord; a Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s tour aboard the Aleutian Ballad that was featured in the television series The Deadliest Catch; a bike ride through Clover Pass, and more. For those who like their adventures a little more personalized, Silversea even offered a private tour of Ketchikan by Hummer with a local guide.
I didn’t do any excursions today, but I do have a few lined up for the next two days in Juneau and Skagway.
This is probably a good time to mention the realities of weather in Alaska. Personally, I love it here when it rains. I think Alaska looks more beautiful under misty and overcast skies, as mountains and islands take on a monochromatic appearance that can be punctuated with brilliant shades of green.
I’ve been to Ketchikan when it’s been so hot and clear that sunscreen was needed. I’ve been here when it’s poured rain. And I have now been here with overcast skies and high winds. Alaska is not the Caribbean, and never will be. But, if you dress in layers, wear water-resistant shoes, and carry an umbrella, you’ll be able to explore this picturesque State in comfort.
Since the weather is inclement outside this afternoon, it gives me a chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for several days now: show you the ins-and-outs of the Silver Shadow. Before I came on this cruise, I noticed that Silver Shadow was getting rather hammered in the Member Reviews section of CruiseCritic, one of the online juggernauts in the world of cruise travel.
Bluntly put, several recent member reviews of the Silver Shadow aired a laundry list of complaints that ran the gamut from “threadbare” carpeting to “inedible” food to gripes about the onboard internet, the DVD players instead of interactive, video-on-demand systems in the suites (which, by the way, the 2014 Silversea brochure does an excellent job of mentioning), to “shabby” painting.
Love it or hate it, many folks use CruiseCritic as an online resource for researching and planning their cruise. However, it should be taken almost like medicine: in very small doses, and never while operating heavy machinery. On CruiseCritic, negative reviews tend to be taken as gospel, while positive reviews brand their posters as “cheerleaders” of a particular line and are regarded with suspicion. As if liking something were a criminal offense. What bothers me, though, is that some of these recent reviews seem to have caused concern for the Silver Shadow amongst the good posters on the Silversea board.
Naturally, after reading these tales of unspeakable horror – over some popcorn I purchased ashore – I wanted to spend some time having a good look around Silver Shadow. Sadly, over the past three days I haven’t found any sensationalist deficiencies that could be used to really send my SEO analytics into the stratosphere. What I found was exactly what I expected: a well-run, well-maintained, 14-year old luxury cruise ship.
Now, admittedly, I didn’t put my nose to the carpeting and examine every last micro-fibre. Frankly, I have better things to do, like participating in High Tea, enjoying a glass of fine wine and a book, or just admiring the scenery of Alaska as it drifts lazily by my veranda window to the strains of classical music on the iHome docking station in my suite. Let’s just say the news of Silver Shadow’s current condition has been, to quote Mark Twain, “greatly exaggerated.”
Here is what Silver Shadow looks like on this Saturday, June 21, 2014. Does this look like a bad way to spend 11 days?
In the course of my photography tour of the ship, I also found some public rooms that have received some pretty substantial updates since my last tour of the Silver Shadow back in 2011. The Card Room has been entirely redone with new window and wall treatments. The Panorama Lounge now sports freshly-upholstered chairs that have solid colours instead of the original patterned ones that clashed so badly with the new carpeting put in during her 2010 refit. The Spa at Silversea has a woodgrain floor now. Veranda Furniture has been refreshed and even protected with plastic tabs on the legs designed to keep the teak decking – all of which looks immaculate – protected.
Having said that, Silver Shadow is 14 years old. If you look hard enough, you will find the odd ding here, or the occasional scratch there. That’s part of being a working ship. I’ve been on maiden voyages where paint and walls were already scuffed up, and if you think there’s no ship in the world that lacks a patch or two of worn carpeting, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that you might be interested in purchasing. Technical drydocks are spaced three years apart, and there’s only so much that can be done while guests are onboard. But, in the three days I’ve been onboard, I’ve seen crew members re-varnishing railings, touching up the exterior paint, and keeping the wooden decking so clean you could eat off of it. As for the green astro-turf on Deck 9 and 10? I hate that stuff too. But I’d reckon the cost of putting in new decking is prohibitive, so I suspect – after 14 years – that it’s here to stay. It also strikes me as odd to complain about the horrors of sloshy astro-turf when I’m on my way down to the Pool Bar for a complimentary adult beverage. It’s all about perspective.
On a related note, I have read gripes from some travellers on CruiseCritic that are unhappy that Silversea has done away with the leather wallets and luggage tags, and has instead gone with the personalized Travel Journal. I loved the Silversea leather folders as much as anyone, but to me the Travel Journal is a much better keepsake. It’s personalized. It has my name in it. My stateroom. My itinerary. My excursions. Everything.
Compare that to a mainstream line. If you haven’t sailed one in a while, here’s what you get: an e-ticket that you can use your own toner and paper to print off yourself. Your luggage tags also come from the “Do-It-Yourself” school of design, requiring you to print the tag off, cut it with scissors to fit, and staple it around your luggage. Some assembly required, batteries sold separately.
How do you feel about the personalized Travel Journal now?
The bottom line is that, despite the cold temperatures, high winds and overcast skies, I am loving being onboard the Silver Shadow; a ship that, for me, hits all the right notes in the ballad that is luxury cruising and Silversea. Does that make me a “cheerleader”? Probably. But there’s worse things you can be life. After all, what good is travel if you can’t express joy in it?
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow with our arrival in the Alaskan capital city of Juneau! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Follow along with our entire journey!
Silver Shadow, Alaska
|Thursday, June 19, 2014
|Vancouver, British Columbia
|Embark Silver Shadow
|Friday, June 20
|Cruising the Inside Passage
|Saturday, June 21
|Sunday, June 22
|Monday, June 23
|Tuesday, June 24
|Wednesday, June 25
|Cruising Tracy Arm / Sawyer Glacier
|Thursday, June 26
|Friday, June 27
|Prince Rupert, British Columbia
|Saturday, June 28
|Sunday, June 29
|Victoria, British Columbia
|Monday, June 30
|Vancouver, British Columbia