Last night we dined at Silversea Silver Shadow's Le Champagne Restaurant, the finest dining venue on the Silversea Silver Shadow. It has but seven tables and a significant demand for reservations as this restaurant’s cache is significant.
Le Champagne has a $30 per person cover charge which I believe is a way to reduce the demand for the restaurant. While its offerings are upscale, so are many of the offerings at the other dining venues throughout the ship, so one is not encountering a meal so expensive that on a luxury cruise line there needs to be an offsetting extra charge. Le Champagne used to have a $200 per person paired tasting menu, but that has been abandoned. The result is a bit of a hesitation to offer you the complimentary poured wines in lieu of the premium wine list.
The space is, without question, small and not designed particularly well, though there is no way more tables could be added. There is a lovely wall of wine bottles but there is also a glass door leading into the Connoisseur’s Club (smoking lounge) that, to me, should be covered with a tasteful drape…not only for décor and intimacy, but because there is a definite light odor of cigars in the restaurant (something for which I kind of feel like a somewhat guilty contributor).
My dinner consisted of an interesting tasting of four amuse bouche followed by a pan seared foie gras appetizer that was uninspiring, a truly excellent forest pigeon main course (apparently a new and very popular menu item) and then a Grand Marnier soufflé. My wife had an excellent porcini mushroom soup and rack of lamb. Paired with champagne followed by a 2006 Lynch Bages Bordeaux, it was a very enjoyable evening. (I am looking forward to dining here again during our cruise.)
Juxtaposed to this fine dining experience was our lunch today at the Pool Grill. I know the Black Rock Grill (offered there in the evening) is supposed to be a highlight, but aside from my preferring others cook my dinner when I am on a cruise (others love the concept, so that is possibly just my being boring!), if the service and cuisine I had at lunch was any indication of what to expect, I have my concerns. I am not going to give all the details, but using American cheese rather than the menu offering of cheddar and serving me rock hard/ice cold onion rings were the least of my concerns. I saw serious hygiene issues (like a bar waiter removing six used pool towels while holding his service tray and then not washing his hands before serving cocktails and another waiter bringing dirty dishes from one table to another table when clearing them). In over 40 cruises I have never seen anything like it!
Let’s just say between the prior poor service at the Pool Bar and my lunch at the Pool Grill, I consider the area a “no go” for the rest of my cruise. That is a shame considering how much the rest of the staff seem to care. I will not allow this area to color my overall experience.
Another slight disappointment was my request for scones and tea at 5:15 p.m. today. Each day you receive a menu for Afternoon Tea and High Tea. It states, “Between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm should you wish to order any of the above, kindly contact your in-Suite butler.” So I did…only to be told a few minutes later that scones are not available after 5:00 p.m. Not a big issue, but curious to me. (Note: Our butler, Yogesh, made it his business to make things right the next day, calling me right at 4:00 p.m. and asking if I would like scones and tea. Although full from lunch we found a way to find room to enjoy the small scones, jam and clotted cream with very good tea.)
Our Silversea Excursion today, on the other hand (and, frankly, far more important to me) was outstanding…even though I really didn’t want to do it. The Grizzly Falls Ziplining Expedition, operated by Alaska Excursions, has funky, friendly, extremely professional staff and is a lot of fun. With brilliant blue skies and 60 degree temperatures we boarded a van and, after about a 20 minute ride through Skagway and then beautiful countryside/mountainside with a colorful young man, we arrived at the ziplining base camp. There we transferred to a Unimog (all-wheel drive open truck) called “Kermit the Mog” driven by another nice young man named Stash (they say because he has a mustache…and beard, but I think it is for another reason) which transported us far up the mountain for a nine zipline and 2 suspension bridge adventure. (There are actually 11 ziplines, but two are training ones which we skipped.)
Our group of seven was harnessed up and our two guides/instructors made quite sure that we were safe and had fun at all times. (“You are on a cruise, so your brains are not working. We know that.”) You should know that I agreed to do this excursion because my wife loves this stuff. I prefer walking through the forest rather than flying over it. As a result I was the most (only?) somewhat reluctant one as I have some difficulty understanding why you would jump off a perfectly good 300 foot tall tower and zip along a 750 foot cable…to then do a flip off another tower and then…well, you get the idea. But I did them all sans the flips and “no hands” tricks the others did.
Silversea really did a great job with this small, boutique, experience. With four cruise ships in Skagway, Silversea apparently was the only one offering this small group experience, though it can be booked directly through www.alaskaexcursions.com. These sort of high quality experiences enrich one’s entire cruise experience and, to be sure, makes it just a bit more about “travel” than “cruising”.
Having survived ziplining, we asked to be dropped off at the top of Skagway’s main street and strolled back to the ship after having a Spruce Tip Beer (actually made from the tips of spruce trees, allegedly originating as a way for the high in vitamin C tips to be used to fight off scurvy) and fondly remembering the Soapy Smith show we saw with the kids a few years ago.
As we walked, the wind picked up, the clouds came in and we are told that after 1:00 a.m. we may have our first seas to contend with. I hope it clears enough for me to enjoy my nature hike scheduled for tomorrow. We have, to be fair, been so lucky with the weather so it will be what it will be.