Silversea's Alaskan offering is one for the bucket list, writes Julietta Jameson.
Hunting Wi-Fi in Juneau, we find an old-style pub with sticky tables, flocked wallpaper and tiffany lamps. But the internet connection is strong and free and the atmosphere convivial. We order boutique local beers and settle in. On our second round, the chatty barman suggests we try something cheaper, from Pittsburgh, in a can, "but just as good".
It's not. We return the drinks and ask for another two of the lovely Alaskan Summer Ale we were enjoying. He looks at us like ejection is on his mind, then lifts the cans high and pours their contents into his mouth (or thereabouts) before crumpling the vessels against his forehead. The small crowd at the bar whoops.
Welcome to Alaska.
In our stateroom on board our ship, a butler has drawn a bath, sprinkled it with rose petals and lit tea lights. He replenished ice, tonic and sliced lemon to go with the bottle of Bombay Sapphire he furnished us with at the beginning of the cruise.
Soon our ship, the Silver Shadow, will slip out of port, as quietly and elegantly as her name suggests, while no doubt the Alaskan Hotel will only be getting rowdier.
When sailing the Alaskan Inside Passage with luxury cruise line Silversea, such dichotomies abound. Alaska is notoriously untamed; Silversea cruising famously genteel. But my travel companion, cousin Jacki, takes no time at all to reconcile the two. She's an adventurous type who, although well-travelled, hasn't been on a cruise since she was a child. I'm a pretty independent kind of traveller too.
But there's a place, we've discovered, where Alaskan adventure and luxury cruising meet. Both inspire bliss and that's something even the most seasoned of rugged individualists can appreciate.
Alaska, at least the south-east coast of it, is a life-changer, a place which, by its immensity, wildness and remoteness, forces you to rethink your place in the world. Its unspoiled magnificence redefines concepts of beauty. (Some of its bars also redefine the word "lively".)
Silversea challenges perceptions in its own way. For instance, Jacki was cruise-phobic. But Silversea's exemplary service and understated luxury made her rethink that. We both appreciated the quality of the food, from the pool deck barbecue to lobster night in the main dining room. And the sommeliers were always happy to seek out something to suit my palate.
Jacki was particularly taken with the small size of the ship versus the generous space. Silversea's ships carry fewer than 500 passengers. But smaller size does not mean scrimping on space or service. What really sealed the deal was the conviviality of fellow passengers. They are mostly an older and affluent set. They're not all-night party people but certainly not staid either.
Many had long had a cruise of Alaska on their bucket list – and here they were, fulfilling the dream. For many, Alaska's western seaboard, with its abundance of whales, dolphins, seals and sea otters, as well as glaciers, is key.
Silversea is not alone in sailing this route between Vancouver, Canada and Seward, Alaska. In peak season (mid-northern summer) ports can get crowded and sailing itineraries don't vary much as most ships visit the gold rush town of Ketchikan, cute-as-a-button Skagway, the state capital, Juneau, Russian-influenced Sitka, Hubbard Glacier and Seward.
The Silversea difference onshore is the quality and small size of excursions. We went on a dog sledding adventure from Juneau that included a breathtakingly beautiful journey by helicopter to the secluded Mendenhall Glacier and a magical hour with racing huskies. It cost nearly $600 each but we figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Our other excursion was a wildlife tour from Sitka which was just as memorable. The island-dotted sea and landscape of Sitka Harbour was peppered with wildlife including sea otters, whales, seals and bald eagles.
"I'd do this kind of cruising again," Jacki stated happily at journey's end. High praise indeed.
The writer travelled as a guest of Silversea Cruises.
WHO ELSE CRUISES ALASKA
SEVEN SEAS NAVIGATOR
The 490-passenger, all-suite Seven Seas Navigator has a seven-night Vancouver-Alaska round trip taking place from May 21, priced from $2879 a person, twin share. rssc.com.au.
The 682-passenger Oceania Regatta sails a nine-day Vancouver round trip from August 10, 2014, via Sitka, the Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. The Oceania Regatta also undertakes Seattle round trip journeys on selected dates in July. oceaniacruises.com.
Royal Caribbean deploys several ships to Alaskan waters for the summer season, cruising from either Seattle, Washington State, or from Vancouver, Canada. A seven-night cruise from Vancouver aboard the Radiance of the Seas taking place from May 16, is priced from $1971 a person, twin share, for a suite. royalcaribbean.com.au.
Seven nights in a mini-suite aboard the small ship Pacific Princess, sailing from Vancouver on selected dates in 2014, is priced from $1949 a person, twin share. The Princess line deploys at least five other ships to Alaskan waters each summer and has an extensive cruise-tour land-based program. princess.com.
Air Canada flies direct from Sydney to Vancouver, Canada. 1300 655 767, aircanada.com.
The 382-guest Silver Shadow's 2014 Alaskan season is from May to September. Fares are from $3750 a person, twin share, for a seven-day cruise departing on May 22 from Vancouver, sailing to Seward via Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and the Hubbard Glacier.
An 11-day round-trip from Vancouver departing on June 19 cruises to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Tracy Arm Fjord, Sawyer Glacier, Wrangell, Prince Rupert and Victoria. Fares from $6350 and include all-suite accommodation with butler service; meals, wines, Champagne and spirits, and tips.