Silver Shadow’s Unique Call on Prince Rupert
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
After a full week in Alaska, Silversea’s Silver Shadow glided into our first Canadian port of call since departing Vancouver last week.
Home to roughly 12,500 year-long residents, Prince Rupert was founded in 1910 by Grand Trunk Pacific Railway manager Charles Hayes, who envisioned the town as a major tourist destination and a port of call for steamships bound for Alaska and the Orient. Ironically, Hayes would end up perishing less than two years later as a passenger aboard the RMS Titanic, but his dream of seeing Prince Rupert mature as a port city has been realized over a century later.
Passenger ships never came in the magnitude Hayes envisioned, but the maritime shipping industry did. The deepest natural ice-free harbour in North America, Prince Rupert’s shipping terminals were expanded over the intervening decades.
Today, the Port is the closest large North American port to Asia by up to three sailing days. In fact, the Port is the lifeline of modern Prince Rupert. Last year, 23 million tonnes of cargo passed through the Port’s four industrial terminals. The demand for oceangoing transport is so high that the Port recently acquired a fourth Super Post-Panamax cargo crane, and is on-track for another record year of growth.
Cruise ships, though, have only been coming here for about a decade. In 2004, the Northland Cruise Terminal opened for business on the waterfront, complete with docking space for one large cruise ship of up to 300 metres in length, and Canada Customs & Border Protection officers to handle formalities for ships coming from Alaska.
There’s just one teensy, tiny problem: unlike the meteoric rise of cargo operations, cruise traffic here has largely dried up.
In the past decade, several mainstream cruise lines used to call regularly on Prince Rupert. At its height, the passenger terminal handled over 100,000 guests in a single season. But those days are gone – at least, for now. This year, just four ships will make a total of eight calls on Prince Rupert – meaning that Wrangell, Alaska – where we were yesterday – is actually a busier port in terms of cruise traffic. Today marks the only call of the season for Silver Shadow, which could explain why the Mayor of Prince Rupert and a very nicely dressed member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) personally greeted guests today as they came ashore.
In many ways, Prince Rupert is unsuited to mainstream ships. Sure, the dock can accommodate them physically, but a ship bringing 2,600 passengers ashore would flood Prince Rupert. And, if I may be brutally honest, there just isn’t the kind of shopping mecca here that those passengers would be expecting.
For a luxury line like Silversea, however, Prince Rupert feels like the absolute right choice for this itinerary. What Prince Rupert lacks in duty-free shopping, it makes up for in its friendly, authentic experience. This is a fast-growing, hard-working community, and I’d love to see the Prince Rupert Port Authority really reach out to the expedition and luxury lines to try to draw more guests here. These are the kinds of places that I personally seek out, and I get the impression that I am not alone here on the Silver Shadow in that respect.
To make the most of my very first visit to this fascinating town, I set out on the 2.5-hour long Butze Rainforest Walk (YPR-G) that departed the ship at 9:30a.m. It’s one of seven shore excursions that Silversea offered in Prince Rupert, which is rather impressive considering that this is a one-off port for the 2014 Alaska season for Silver Shadow.
At $69 per person, it was also very affordable – though I have heard wonderful things from those who participated in the $299 per person Canada’s Wilderness by Floatplane (YPR-A) excursion. There were about a dozen or so guests on my rainforest walk excursion, and it could have started off poorly: a mechanical issue sidelined our pre-arranged bus.
Now, I’ve been on excursions where busses have broken down, and usually the tour operator just throws up their hands and generally doesn’t care. These guys cared. Rather than making us wait, they arranged for a procession of taxi cabs to take us the six kilometres up to the Butze Rainforest trail head.
Located just east of the town, the Butze (but-see) Rapids Interpretive Trail is a 5.4 kilometre hike weaving through old and second-growth forest. Wolves and bears have been known to frequent the area, but if you take the appropriate precautions – making lots of noise, as we were – there’s generally nothing to worry about.
Over the course of almost three hours, we hiked along the trail, stopping frequently to learn about plant life in the area, as well as the history of the First Nations peoples that have called this region home for thousands of years.
For example, our guide reached down into the earth and presented us with two nearly-identical leaves. One was a darker shade of green; the other was lighter. We were asked to choose which one we’d boil to make tea. Two people chose the dark one. I – along with most of the group – chose the light one. Guess what? We’re all dead. The light leaf, if boiled, stops your respiratory system within 60 seconds. The other leaf makes a fabulous herbal tea and has medicinal properties.
This was a huge revelation to me. I knew that there were things in the wilderness here (wolves, bears, folksy banjo-strumming woodsmen) that could kill you. I’d never given much thought to all the plants that can do you in as well. In this respect, our excursion today was just as insightful as some of the land adventures I’ve enjoyed with Silversea’s Silversea Expeditions arm.
Our guide also told us how, despite its name, Skunk Cabbage is largely inedible. If you were lost in the woods and starving, you wouldn’t want to eat it because it cuts up your digestive tract. But, in a pinch, the actual root bulb can be dug up and consumed safely – if you boil it three separate times, for an hour each time, in scalding hot water that is changed with each boiling.
Fortunately, there’s no need to resort to anything like that when you’re here onboard the Silver Shadow. Food is a major event onboard, with dinners that frequently run between two and three hours in length – just as guests here like it. But, I also appreciate that I can grab a quick bite, too, as I did today when I popped back onboard for lunch at the Pool Grill before heading back to explore Prince Rupert for a few hours.
Earlier in the cruise, I’d written that I was disappointed in the lack of variety in some of the scheduled daily activity offerings onboard. This afternoon, as we sailed away from Prince Rupert, I realized that I hadn’t even participated in a handful of the activities offered so far. My idea of a good time has been chatting and mingling with my fellow guests, or cozying up in the Observation Lounge with a good book and a cup of tea. Yet, I’ve never been bored once; in fact, I find myself wishing there were more hours in the day to enjoy everything that’s on offer.
Tonight, I enjoyed the live music in the Panorama Lounge on Deck 8 after dinner. It’s something I’ve been missing out on in order to come back to my suite, write the blog, and get to bed at a decent hour. Tonight I decided to make an exception.
The Panorama Lounge had just a few folks gathered at one of the tables in the middle of the room, and a few more off to one side at the bar. But I found myself a nice seat by the windows at the back of the room, where I could look out at the stormy expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The wind howled through the seals in the doors nearby, and for the first time in this cruise, Silver Shadow began to move about in earnest as the swells in the Pacific increased.
It was a really nice way to end the day – quiet and relaxing. For someone on the outside looking in, they might conclude that luxury cruising is boring compared to, say, mainstream cruising. It’s only once you actually sail with a luxury line like Silversea that you realize how relaxing – and rewarding – the entire experience really is.
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow, as we spend a day at sea en-route to Victoria, British Columbia! 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||18:00|
|Friday, June 20||Cruising the Inside Passage|
|Saturday, June 21||Ketchikan, Alaska||08:00||14:00|
|Sunday, June 22||Juneau, Alaska||09:30||23:00|
|Monday, June 23||Skagway, Alaska||08:00||17:00|
|Tuesday, June 24||Sitka, Alaska||09:00||18:00|
|Wednesday, June 25||Cruising Tracy Arm / Sawyer Glacier|
|Thursday, June 26||Wrangell, Alaska||07:00||16:00|
|Friday, June 27||Prince Rupert, British Columbia||08:00||17:00|
|Saturday, June 28||At Sea|
|Sunday, June 29||Victoria, British Columbia||08:00||23:59|
|Monday, June 30||Vancouver, British Columbia||07:00||Disembark|