Kelly Allen boards Silversea’s Silver Explorer for a voyage of discovery in a pristine marine environment
Fifty-five … no wait, 56!” Lunch doesn’t get any more exciting than this. I’m on the aft deck of Silversea’s Silver Explorer, the sun is shining, I’m enjoying a delicious lunch of steak and prawns, and I’ve just counted 56 humpback whales breaching, tails flapping, and generally having a great time.
Even more impressive, our group has spotted more than 600 marine animals over the past nine days – including whales, porpoises, dolphins and seals – on our memorable expedition voyage from Vancouver to San Francisco.
We are joined on this cruise by two marine experts, Anna and Lucy, from ORCA, one of the United Kingdom’s leading marine conservation charities. ORCA is working in partnership with Silversea to highlight and educate passengers on the amazing life that exists in oceans
around the world.
Our tireless spotters have been out on the deck from sunrise to sunset while at sea each day, carefully monitoring and keeping a tally, and then sharing their findings and knowledge with us through fascinating lectures.
This is the joy of an expedition cruise. No fancy ball gowns or dinner jackets, and no lounging around the pool. The dress code is comfortable all-weather gear by day and smart casual in the evening.
Voted Best Ocean Cruise Line in Luxury Travel Magazine’s Gold List 2018, Silversea is renowned for its high-end luxury cruising, but after talking to many Silversea regulars on this sailing, I’ve discovered they much prefer the more casual and intimate ambience of an expedition cruise – more adventure, less formality and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
While the experience is the main draw of an expedition cruise, Silver Explorer has not forgotten how to spoil its guests with restaurant-quality dining, comfortable accommodations, and polished silver service.
Fresh from a refurbishment in 2017, Silver Explorer is an all-suite affair with room for just 144 fortunate guests and 118 welcoming, intuitive and efficient crew.
Although there are only two dining venues (plus complimentary room service), the culinary choices are sophisticated and delicious; aged Black Angus beef tartar, double clarified oxtail consommé, grilled lobster tail, and fresh strawberry mille-feuille for dessert. There is a wonderful selection of all-inclusive wines as well as chilled sundowner cocktails.
Silversea also includes its onshore excursions, which are often available twice a day when cruising short distances, and the first few days of our voyage are spent in the Puget Sound, hopping between the islands of the San Juan archipelago in Washington State.
We have some extraordinary sightings of bald eagles on Lopez Island and enjoy hiking through evergreen forests with local park rangers as our guides.
Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is a charming, historic and walkable fishing village with friendly locals, quirky bookshops and quaint ‘mom and pop’ cafes – and not a fast-food chain in sight.
In Anacortes on Fidalgo Island, we opt for the three-hour kayak tour of beautiful Burrows Bay, where we observe bald eagles swooping down to snatch unsuspecting fish, curious porpoises alongside our craft, harbour seals, and even a coyote hunting by the shoreline.
Our guides, Dan and James, are passionate nature-lovers and happy to share their expertise, along with making sure we are comfortable and safe during the trip.
One of the highlights is our day spent hiking in iconic Mount Rainier National Park. Although it is a little over two hours’ drive from Olympia, where the ship is docked, we travel in comfortable coaches equipped with video screens that keep us entertained. We hike through old growth forest on our way to the Paradise viewing area where we are blessed with a stunning panorama – even if it doesn’t last long – of the snow-capped summit.
Our last stop in Washington is Port Angeles where we enjoy the breathtaking scenery at Lake Crescent before a visit to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. After a 1.6-kilometre hike through dense forests to Sol Duc Falls, we heads back to the resort for a relaxing soak in hot-spring pools ranging from 37 to 40 degrees celsius.
Crossing into the state of Oregon, a region renowned for its craft beers, we stop in Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. After sightseeing at picturesque Cannon Beach, we end the day with a beer tasting at the Astoria Brewing Company.
The day we explore Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument happens to be the 38th anniversary of its last eruption, the most deadly and destructive volcanic eruption in US history.
We learn how volcanos are monitored, watch rare footage of the actual explosion, and listen to fascinating stories from a park ranger who is working there that day. It’s a powerful reminder of nature’s strength.
For me, the best is saved for last: Eureka, California, home to iconic Redwood National Park. Welcoming townspeople greets us at the dock with live music, craft beer, cider, deep fried oysters, and handmade chocolate before we head out to see the giant redwoods.
I must admit to feeling a twinge of emotion as we approach these primordial trees, some standing more than 100 metres tall and up to 2,000 years old. Unfortunately, due to extensive logging, 95 per cent of the old-growth redwoods have been cut down and now are mostly found only in protected parks.
Wandering around the Old Town of Eureka, with its Victorian-era heritage, we explore antique shops, pubs, cafés and California’s oldest zoo.
On our last morning, as we sail under the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge, sipping coffee delivered on a silver tray by our butler, Aditya, I reflect on our nine-day journey.
From whales to volcanos to giant redwoods, we witness some of the Pacific Rim’s most incredible scenery. And thanks to the talented crew – including marine biologists, geologists, anthropologists and archaeologists – I learn so much and reignite a flame of desire to explore more of the world’s last great wilderness preserves.