An ideal jumping off point for an Alaska adventure is Seattle. This year, the Port of Seattle will enjoy a busy cruise season, welcoming more than 140 ships bearing a half a million passengers. Many Alaska and Pacific Northwest voyages originate in this gateway to the Pacific Northwest. Sparkling new ships, and a second cruise terminal make Seattle an attractive travel option, especially for passengers preferring a U.S. port.
Norwegian Cruise Lines departs from the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66; Holland America Line and Princess Cruises hunker at the new Terminal 30 Cruise Facility. Both terminals are conveniently located on Seattle's downtown waterfront with easy access to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac).
Before flying to Alaska to board American West Steamboat Company's Empress of the North, we spent three delightful days in Seattle, home to 570,000 souls. As our United Airlines plane banked over the airport, we were greeted by the magnificent Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. Glistening in the sunlight was 14,410-foot Mount Rainier. This sight was a rare treat as these mountains are usually enshrouded in clouds.
A complimentary shuttle bus whisked us to the Doubletree Seattle Airport Hotel. For travelers preferring to stay near the airport, we highly recommend the Doubletree, whose beautifully landscaped grounds lend a serene Asian feel. We enjoyed our first afternoon swimming and sunning ourselves at the spacious outdoor pool. (Again, we lucked out on the weather!) That evening, we celebrated my husband Peter's birthday with cosmos in the Seaports lounge, followed by a delicious dinner of salmon chowder, cedar-roasted salmon and hazelnut-crusted halibut. Afterwards, the nightclub on the 12th floor provided a stunning view of the mountains.
The next morning, we caught the Seattle Express, which provides regular shuttle service into town and to cruise terminals. En route we met a fascinating Native Alaskan, David Cooper, who is part Aleut and part Russian. Chatting with this gentleman prepared us for adventures to come. Our bus passed the bustling Port of Seattle, where the Diamond Princess and Holland America's Oosterdam were docked. After being deposited at the waterfront, we headed for Pike Place Market. Reportedly the nationís oldest continuously-operating market, Pike Place is a colorful kaleidoscope of colors, sounds and aromas. Fish stalls teemed with red and pink salmon, huge Dungeness crabs, spidery King crabs, slithery octopus and tiny crawfish, glorious produce (including Washington State's delicious cherries), preserves, jewelry, pottery and other crafts. However, the place was too darn crowded; we had to elbow our way to the displays.
Seeing all this food made us hungry, so we lunched a half block away at Etta's Seafood, owned by well-known restaurateur/cookbook author Tom Douglas. At Etta's (named after Tom's daughter) we sipped Washington State Sauvignon blanc along with flash-fried Pacific calamari with green olive tapenade and Dungeness crab salad.
Our friend Sally, a real estate consultant, offered to show us the "real" Seattle. We rendezvoused with her near Pioneer Square (more about that later). After a latte at Seattle's Best (I swear, the whole town smelled like coffee!), we embarked on Sally's tour.
We started with Capitol Hill, a sprawling, tree-lined neighborhood highlighted by the Seattle Asian Museum. In the adjacent Volunteer Park, we caught the tail end of an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." Nearby Gas Works Park, a former gas processing plant and now a popular picnic area, provided a marvelous view of Puget Sound. Crouched under the Fremont Bridge is an enormous troll, supposedly devouring a half-buried Volkswagen -- all created by the Fremont Arts Council. This troll is no cute, cuddly caricature; the towering creature -- with a single baleful eye fashioned from a hubcap -- could induce nightmares.
By far the funkiest, most outrageous sight was a monumental stature of Lenin, which someone hauled all the way from Russia, standing guard over a Taco del Mar fast food outlet.
After driving through the Scandinavian-influenced Ballard neighborhood, we were ready for cocktails, and we settled on the outdoor terrace of the beautiful Edgewater Hotel. While taking in the grand view of Puget Sound, we sipped martinis while grazing on addictive edename (green soybeans) dipped in salt. Recently refurbished, the 234-room Edgewater -- Seattle's only waterfront hotel -- was built for the 1962 World's Fair. Two years later, the hotel hosted four famous guests: The Beatles.
Dinner was at Salty's on Alki, the site where the first Europeans settled Seattle 150 years ago. Again we marveled at the view, which was of Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline. We also savored Caesar salad and an evening special: cedar-plank smoked/grilled salmon with cocoanut-steamed red rice and wilted spinach.
Next day was devoted to touristy activities. Lunch was at Kojisakaya Japanese Restaurant, on the Harbor Steps. From the extensive menu we chose a sushi assortment with miso soup, as well as a yakitori lunch with mackerel and chicken kebabs accompanied by Japanese beer. Afterwards, we continued up the Harbor Steps to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), where we viewed "Van Gogh to Mondrian: Modern Art from the Kroller-Muller Museum." The Netherlands-based show featured paintings and drawings by Van Gogh (my favorite artist), Piet Mondrian and other 19th-Century/early 20th Century masters.
Then we walked to Pioneer Square, Seattle's oldest neighborhood. First, a drink at Merchants Café, the city's oldest restaurant, established in 1888, right before a fire devastated the city, which had been built of wood. Enroute to the Underground tour (see below), we gazed up at the Smith Tower; when erected in 1914, this 42-story tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. In 1962, the 605-foot Space Needle overtook it, but the handsome, white terra cotta building with umpteen windows crowned with an ornate pyramid remains a beloved Seattle landmark. Visitors may ride an old-fashioned, brass-caged, manually-operated elevator to enjoy the view from the 35th floor observation deck.
(We skipped the Space Needle this time, having dined atop the famous tower on a previous visit. However, this Seattle icon, featuring one of the nationís few remaining revolving restaurants, is well worth a visit.)
Underground Seattle: Bill Speidel's Tour was a lively, guided walk beneath Seattle's sidewalks and streets. The tour began with a seated introduction inside Doc Maynard's Public House, a restored 1890's saloon. While we explored the dank, uneven subterranean passages that once were the streets and storefronts of old Seattle, our guide, Serena, regaled us with humorous stories. We also viewed the first flush toilet, perfected by Sir Thomas Crapper.
We caught the last shuttle back to the Doubletree, where we attended a welcome dinner and cruise orientation hosted by American West Steamship Company. The next day began early, as we boarded our two-hour flight to Sitka and the Empress of the North! (Celeste's Empress of the North review)
(Photos by Celeste McCall and Sally Thompson.)
A freelance food and travel writer based in Washington, D.C., Celeste McCall loves ships, past and present. A member of the Titanic Historical Society, she has embarked on more than a half dozen very modern voyages. She has visited ports of call including Lima, Rio, Buenos Aires, Shanghai and Hong Kong; sailed through the Panama Canal, explored the Volga, climbed the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu, and snorkeled in Belize.
A former writer and restaurant critic for The Washington Times, Celeste has contributed to local and national publications including Fodor's City Guide to Washington DC, Best Bets (an annual guidebook to DC), Caribbean Travel & Life, Porthole, The Washington Post, Foodservice Monthly, Lodging and Roll Call.
She is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier, an international organization of women in the fields of food, restaurants and hospitality. When not traveling or writing, Celeste and her husband of 32 years, Peter, who shares her love of travel, like to read, lounge on the beach and cook out in their backyard. They dwell on Capitol Hill with their four cats: Eggplant, Artichoke, Gypsy, and Jesse. Celeste may be reached at email@example.com
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