Sitka by Day, Italy by Night
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports Silversea’s Silver Shadow dropped anchor off the gorgeous little port of Sitka, Alaska this morning, as my fellow guests and I woke up to what will be our fifth full day onboard. Although it’s a staple on many Alaskan itineraries operating out of Seattle, Sitka’s inclusion on weeklong itineraries from Vancouver has become something of a rarity these days. To go there – and to really enjoy your time – you have to take a longer itinerary. C’est la vie. Fortunately, Silversea calls regularly on Sitka. In fact, every one of their 17 2014 Alaskan voyages aboard Silver Shadow will stop here.
Sitka – or New Archangel as it used to be known – is situated on the Pacific Ocean side of Baranof Island, not far from Juneau and the entrance to Glacier Bay. It is home to about 9,000 residents, and it was where the Alaska Purchase agreement was signed between the United States and Russia in October of 1867. Alaska’s native Tlingit people have been here for over 10,000 years. The Russians first came here in 1799 and created a settlement called Redoubt Saint Michael. The local Tlingit people didn’t take this threat lying down: two years after the settlement was established, they killed 24 Russians and 200 Aleuts and enslaved anyone who happened to be wandering around at the time. In 1804, Russian America Governor Alexander Baranov returned with a battleship and a welcoming party, resulting in the Battle of Sitka.
Despite the adverse effects of those fun-loving times, Sitka has retained much of its historic Russian and Tlingit influence to this day. In fact, a total of 22 different buildings in Sitka are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Sadly, the rain and cooler temperatures that have chased us for the duration of our journey continued to plague us today. While it only rained heavily intermittently, a persistent, drizzling mist kept umbrellas up and coats zipped for the duration. As I was waiting to embark the Silver Shadow’s tenders for the quick trip ashore, I overheard someone mention that they’d checked the weather and it hadn’t called for rain. Another person piped up and said they didn’t remember seeing cloudy shots in the brochure.
I know that sunny photos sell cruises, but I would love to see some cloudy, brooding exterior shots in the Alaska section of the Silversea brochure. Here’s why: it may be cold and wet outside, but nowhere is the beauty of Alaska more prominently displayed than here in misty Sitka. When it rains in Sitka, the result is a landscape that is constantly changing. Islands, mountains, and even roads and buildings seemingly move in and out of focus with the shifting fog. Clouds hang low on mountains like snow covering a roof, and the water takes on an eerie black sheen that acts like a mirror with its surroundings. None of that is present on a hot, sunny day (yes, those can actually happen in Alaska!)
Since this is the first time I’ve been to Sitka, I opted to just spend time leisurely strolling around town. A few enterprising kids and their mom had gone to the trouble to set up a little stand near one of the town’s many churches – in the rain and uncovered by any umbrellas, no less – so I purchased a small pumice stone from them for $2. It could just be your standard, garden-variety rock, but I had to buy something from them. Once again, I think Alaskans are just a bit heartier than the rest of us.
On the other hand, I bumbled onto three teenage girls smoking pot on a Tuesday afternoon when I went up to photograph the Russian Block House that used to separate the Russian and Tlingit sections of Sitka. Why they chose to do so in front of an attraction that’s on every printed map in the town is a bit of a mystery to me, but to each their own.
If you’re here to shop, there’s not really much to Sitka – though I do have to admire the complete lack of stores like Diamonds International that have invaded many other ports of call here. But I did find a cool local bookshop (Old Harbour Books)that has a fabulous selection of Alaskan titles; and I popped into a local café for a latte to warm me up.
I have to be honest, though: after two hours ashore, I was wet, cold, and fully ready to come back to the warmth of the Silver Shadow, which sat anchored in the harbour surrounded by a veil of mist. So, I cut my explorations short and headed back to enjoy an afternoon onboard. As chilly as it is outside, I have taken every single lunch onboard the Silver Shadow outdoors at the Pool Grill. Between the cozy wool blankets and the heat lamps, it’s quite pleasant to sit outdoors here as long as you have a jacket on. It doesn’t hurt that the freshly-made pizza is pretty darn good, either!
With an afternoon onboard, it’s also a good chance to answer some reader questions about the Silver Shadow and Alaska:
How big is the Bathroom? Can the shower head detach?
The bathroom in my Veranda Suite, which makes up the bulk of the accommodations here onboard the Silver Shadow, is generously-sized. Two adults could easily get ready in there at the same time, thanks to the dual sink configuration. The shower head does detach, and the shower is separate from the bathtub on the other side of the bathroom.
How many formal nights are there?
There are two formal nights on this 11-day voyage, one of which is this evening. There is also one informal night on our last day at sea before reaching Victoria, and a total of eight casual nights. It’s worth mentioning, though, that even on the casual nights, many guests put on “resort casual” clothing like polo shirts and slacks. You don’t see anyone wearing jeans on casual nights, so it’s good to bring a variety of dressier dinner clothing.
Did you feel the Alaska earthquake yesterday (June 23)?
No. I never felt a thing. Skagway is a long way away from the epicenter, which was off the Aleutian Islands.
How is the internet access onboard? With the exception of last evening and much of today, access has been quicker than I expected. It’s also worth noting that Silver Shadow now has day-based internet fees instead of the old bill-per-minute packages, though you can still purchase 1,000 minutes for $250, or simply go online on a minute-by-minute charge of $0.50/min. The new day-based internet packages are as follows:
- 1 Day Access (available for 24 hours from the time of purchase): $30
- 2 Days Access (valid for 48 hours from time of purchase): $50
- 3 Days Access (valid for 72 hours from time of purchase): $60
- 7 Days Access (valid for 168 hours from the time of purchase): $130
Personally, I’m a big fan of the new day-based packages. You no longer have to worry about how long you’re online, or if the connection is slow and loading webpages take a long time. There was nothing worse than watching your internet minutes ratchet down because of a slow server or bad connection.
Just before 6pm, Silver Shadow raised her anchor and sailed from Sitka, heading out into the Pacific Ocean until roughly 1am, when we will re-enter the sheltered islands as we make our way toward Tracy Arm Fjord for a day of scenic cruising tomorrow. Tonight, I dined in La Terrazza, Silversea’s Italian specialty restaurant located all the way aft on Deck 7. There’s no cost to dine here, though reservations are required. Honouring the Slow Food tradition, dining here is an experience that is meant to be savoured. With subdued lighting and classical Italian music playing softly overhead, La Terrazza is one of my favorite dining experiences on any Silversea ship.
The key staple of the menu, naturally, is pasta. Silversea makes their own pasta noodles right onboard the Silver Shadow, and you can taste the difference. You begin by ordering an appetizer, then choosing from either the “short” pasta or “long” pasta section of the menu. Entrees primarily revolve around veal, fish, or beef, and guests can select dessert and coffee – perhaps even a limoncello – following their main course. Of course, if you’d rather skip the entrée and do a short pasta and long pasta dish, well, that can be easily accommodated.
All of this takes place within sight of the wraparound, 180-degree windows that nearly stretch from floor-to-ceiling. With grey and foreboding skies outside and the wind from the outer deck whistling through the seals of the doors, La Terrazza has never felt so cozy! I was thinking back on my experience in Sitka today. It’s a nice, quaint little town with nothing much to it. Yet, I’d come back again. You don’t come to Alaska for the towns; they’re just a bonus. You come here for the ridiculously beautiful scenery. It’s beautiful from any ship, big or small. But there is a marked difference between sailing to Alaska on a huge ship and here aboard the luxurious Silver Shadow, and I’m not just talking about the complimentary wines.
Much like the feeling onboard their entire luxury fleet, Silversea’s Alaska is oddly personal. It feels closer, like nature is at your doorstep. It fills the windows of every public room on the entire vessel, and there’s nothing to distract you from it. It’s barely 10°C outside as I write this, and the rain continues unabated. But I don’t mind. Onboard Silver Shadow, I know I can be indoors and still enjoy the scenery outside, whether I am relaxing in the Observation Lounge with a cup of tea or having dinner. You’re not battling for space at the railing, or fighting over that last seat by the window. To me, that’s real luxury.
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow as we spend the day cruising Tracy Arm & Sawyer Glacier! 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