North America: The shadow of greatness

By Pamela Wade

Pamela Wade - and her nightie - enjoy her cruise so much she'll be back.

The Silver Shadow cruise ship in Alaskan waters.
The Silver Shadow cruise ship in Alaskan waters.

My nightie has never felt so special. Put on a hanger for the first time in its life, it then spent the following week neatly folded under a lavender-scented silk-covered pillow before its regular evening outing laid on the bed cinched in enviably tight at the waist, the skirt prettily flared.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you have your own personal butler.

Having my suitcase unpacked for me by Kripesh, graduate of the Guild of Professional English Butlers, was the first of many joys during my seven-day cruise on Silversea's Silver Shadow.

Since the voyage followed the extravagantly scenic route from Seward in Alaska down the Inside Passage to Vancouver, delight overload was a daily fact of life.

Spectacularly beautiful glaciers and snow-capped mountains outside, original Picassos and everything from live opera and Abba to hot-rock dining on the inside: it was hard to know where to look for the next treat.

This is not to say the cruise didn't have its disappointments: team allegiance in the hard-fought Trivial Pursuit tournament meant that not once could I skive off to enjoy afternoon tea in the Panorama Lounge, not even on the day that featured a chocolate fountain.

And by choosing for one of my outings to go to a wildlife rehabilitation centre, I missed the humpback whale bubble-net feeding manoeuvre witnessed at close quarters by those who'd opted for the halibut-fishing expedition instead.

Friendly though my 290 fellow cruisers were, there's always an undercurrent of one-upmanship in situations like this, and I suspect the whale story was paraded as payback for my boasting about seeing two black bears scraping mussels from the rocks on my glacier excursion the previous day.

Actually, on this route there are sights and spectacles enough for everyone.

Though that outing on a shore-based catamaran took me to within 400m of the blue and white glory of the North Sawyer glacier to see it calving in slow motion, the rolling "white thunder" echoing off the surrounding bare cliffs, we had all already ploughed through a real-life super-sized slushie as the conveniently svelte Silver Shadow approached the immense Hubbard Glacier.

Sculpted bergs clinked against the ship's sides like ice cubes in a gin and tonic.

Some were white, some black-streaked or an unreal blue, others perfectly transparent, and on many of the ice floes lay harbour seals with cubs, gazing up at us with Labrador eyes.

It was like being inside a David Attenborough documentary.

Delight overload is a daily fact of life during a Sliver Shadow cruise.
Delight overload is a daily fact of life during a Sliver Shadow cruise.

Though the bears were a thrill, and the breaching humpbacks beside the ship on the last day a well-timed parting present, for sheer whiskery cuteness it was impossible to beat the sea otters.

Surprisingly big, well over 1m long, we found them rafted up in the inlet at Sitka on our morning Wildlife Quest: it was just one of a range of tempting options for each of our four ports, which included something for every taste and inclination.

Some preferred the sedate fun of watching a lumberjack show, but I wasn't the only one adventurous enough to find myself 30m up a mountain hemlock tree at Ketchikan, standing on an unfenced platform facing a 260m zipline 40m above the forest floor, bald eagles circling lazily overhead.

The glacier dog-sled experience at Juneau also seemed popular, judging by the lively conversation at dinner afterwards.

It's a Silversea custom to mix up the seating if you're willing, and it was a great way to meet other passengers, who comprised mostly Baby Boomers but also 30-somethings and a couple of families. (Women travelling solo could also share the attentions of Mike and Spence, a pair of professional charmers with matching blazers - and teeth - who were especially sought-after on the dance floor.)

As well as hearing about the other excursions over some memorable meals, it was a good chance too to compare notes on the novelty of having a butler.

Colin, from England, confessed to being caught washing a wineglass: roundly scolded, he crept away chastened, vowing to think of extra tasks to keep his butler happy. Don, American, cheerfully declared that he was working through all seven options on the pillow menu, having his butler bring him a different one each night.

Everyone was secretly envious, I could tell, when I reported returning from the glacier expedition to find a freshly drawn bubble bath waiting for me, complete with candles and rose petals, and a welcome home note from Kripesh and Marlon, the room attendant.

One thing we were all in agreement about was that the friendly and thoughtful service we were enjoying wasn't angled towards the final tip: on Silversea, all such things are included in the fare, only the excursions and one restaurant costing extra. Knowing there'll be no nasty surprises looming at the end is a huge help to relaxing into on-board life: not having to sign for anything, even - or, especially - at the bar, certainly feels very civilised.

And having bottomless bottles of whatever you fancy provided in your suite? Priceless.

The 382-guest Silver Shadow's Alaska season runs from May to September.
The 382-guest Silver Shadow's Alaska season runs from May to September.

The only drawback is that, when the time does come, all this makes it so hard to leave.

Looked after tenderly, supremely well fed and entertained, surrounded by eye-wateringly expensive artworks (the Picassos were trumped by a Chagall sketch for just $95,000), shown amazing places, having the butler: it's just like being royalty, without any of the boring bits.

And in case you're thinking that all this enthusiasm has been influenced by the fact that our cruise was hosted, I leave you with this fact: at the end of the voyage, my husband and I were so distraught at having to leave the Silver Shadow that, before disembarking, we booked and paid for another cruise next year. My nightie can hardly wait.

CHECKLIST

Details: The 382-guest Silver Shadow's Alaska season runs from May to September. A seven-day cruise between Vancouver and Seward, calling at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Hubbard Glacier costs $4070. Fares include accommodation with butler service; gourmet meals; wines, Champagne and spirits; and all gratuities. Guests can take part in pre- and post-cruise adventures including a trip to Denali National Park, a floatplane ride to bear country and a tour of the Canadian Rockies.

Contact: Silversea Cruises on 0800 701 427.

Accommodation: In Vancouver, stay at The Listel Hotel to enjoy its artworks.

The writer was a guest of Silversea.

- NZ Herald

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