One of the joys of cruising is the opportunity to explore places we haven’t been
previously. This includes port cities, where this exploration can be planned over
a few days, rather than hours. This was the case with our recent cruise on Holland
America Line’s ms Westerdam to Alaska, which started and ended in Seattle, Washington.
We stayed for three nights—two nights pre-cruise and one night post-cruise. Our days
were filled with fun activities and sightseeing, a few of which were somewhat off
the typical path. Our family fell in love with Seattle—please join us as I recount
our first visit.
On the advice of our travel agent, our family of three stayed at Homewood Suites-Convention
Center. The hotel is located on Pike Street roughly 10 blocks uphill from Pike Place
Market and 3 blocks west of a major public transportation center. There are also
buses that run up and down Pike Street, if needed. The hotel provided a complimentary
breakfast buffet every morning, including both hot and cold items, and evening snacks
Monday through Thursday. High-speed Internet was also complimentary. I highly recommend
Homewood Suites for families and others requiring extra space in a convenient part
View from hotel, looking down Pike Street toward Puget Sound
For our two-night pre-cruise stay, we booked an 800-square-foot corner suite. It
had a kitchen, small dining table, a living room with sofa bed and fireplace, a separate
bedroom with king-size bed, and a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. There was also a balcony
off the living room. We booked a 600-square-foot suite for our post-cruise stay,
and it seemed more spacious than the first, even without the balcony and fireplace.
Both rooms looked exactly as pictured on the hotel’s Web site. It was nice to have
such an inviting and comfortable home base.
There are a variety of dining choices in Seattle, and we tried and enjoyed several
of them. This included two pubs (both parts of small chains), a tourist location,
Chinatown, and even a food court.
Our first meal in Seattle was lunch at Six Arms on the day of our arrival. The hotel
concierge mentioned this to us, and we had to smile as it had also been recommended
by a good friend of ours from home. The décor was rather eclectic, and the food was
fabulous. The fish and chips were wonderful, not at all greasy, and the fish was
fresh and flavorful. If you enjoy beer, check the Web site for information on their
limited-edition beer tastings.
We had dinner with friends at Elephant & Castle on Fifth Avenue. The small bites/sharing
plates menu was a hit! The restaurant is located down a flight of stairs from street
level; it may be accessed by elevator via the Red Lion Hotel.
Another lunch was had at Athenian Seafood & Bar in Pike Place Market. Although filled
with tourists, it was a nice stop on a somewhat rainy day, and the fish and chips
fit the bill! All tables, I believe, are by the window and we had a terrific view
of Puget Sound (and Celebrity Infinity docked at Pier 66). A scene from the 1993
movie “Sleepless in Seattle” was filmed here, and we noted a small plaque indicating
the bar stool at which Rob Reiner sat for the shoot.
As we always try to do something a little different, and because we were going to
be in the area, we decided to have lunch in Chinatown the afternoon of our post-cruise
stay. Upon arriving, we asked a construction worker for a restaurant recommendation.
His suggestion of Tai Tung on South King Street was spot on. The food was marvelous—we
had wonton soup (one order feeds 2 to 3 people), pot stickers and shrimp balls to
start, followed by lemon chicken (for my husband and son) and pineapple shrimp (for
my husband and me). The service was also wonderful. Our son accidentally dropped
a chopstick, and the waiter came by with a replacement before the errant chopstick
could be retrieved by our son.
Still stuffed from our fabulous lunch, we opted for a light meal for dinner. We ended
up at the Food Court at Westlake Center, a mall within a few blocks of our hotel.
The hotel concierge suggested this location when our son asked about a place to get
pizza. Westlake Center is also where you’d catch the monorail to the Space Needle,
which we ultimately decided to do after seeing it pass by a few times during our
Most often, we traveled by foot. For longer distances, we found Seattle’s public
transportation system a very convenient way to see the city. We rode the Downtown
Seattle Transit Tunnel buses several times, taking it to major sites including Pioneer
Square, Chinatown, and Safeco Field. (The latter two use the same station.) The cost
could not have been more reasonable—Seattle has a free zone for some public transit
between 6:00 am and 7:00 pm on weekdays. An evening ride set us back only $2.00 per
adult and $1.25 for our teenaged son. (IMPORTANT NOTE: The free zone will be eliminated
in late September 2012. A free circulator bus may be added—check the transit system’s
Web site for updates:
Now, let’s move on to what we did during our three full days in the so-called Emerald
Pike Place Market
A walk through Pike Place Market is pretty much a requirement when visiting Seattle.
We heeded the advice of friends to go early to avoid the crowds, and this was a wise
decision. Business at the Pike Place Fish Market had not yet picked up, giving the
fish mongers opportunities to pose for photos with us. It was great to see these
gentlemen in action as they pitched whole fish to each other in cooperative spirit,
as I’ve seen many a time in management training films.
There were also stalls—many stalls—with beautiful and fragrant flowers, fresh vegetables,
more fresh fish than I had ever seen in one place, and costume and trendy jewelry.
Some friends even picked up some of the beautiful flowers to bring aboard their cruise
ship. Again, I recommend going soon after the facility opens so that you can fully
take in the ambiance while getting great photos. Check with your hotel staff for
hours as they do vary, yet the fish and produce markets opened at 9:00 am and the
rest of the market at 10:00 the day of our visit.
This was an unscheduled stop that turned out to be the highlight of our visit. I
give the Seattle Aquarium the highest marks possible.
After visiting Pike Place Market, we had intended to do a walking tour, yet rain
showers put that idea on hold. In the meanwhile, we decided to visit the aquarium,
which we could see on the other side of an elevated highway. We found it easily—we
walked along the street that backs the Market, and soon saw a sign for an elevator
to the waterfront. From there, it was an easy 5-10 minute walk.
The Aquarium was amazing. There was a section where we could touch starfish and other
creatures. Wow, that water is cold on the fingertips! We also saw eels, river otters,
and sea otters, salmon (including young ones), Northern Fur seals, shore birds, jelly
fish, and a seahorse. The highlight for me was the Giant Pacific Octopus. Actually
there were two—a male and a female. Staff was on hand to instruct us on the lifecycle
of the octopus and to answer any questions.
The Seattle Aquarium is also focused on conservation, recycling, and providing sustainable
seafood for its animals. It also educates guests on sustainable fish for eating.
A wallet-sized guide to west coast sustainable seafood was available for free. I
was dismayed to learn that those to avoid included Chilean sea bass; fortunately,
Alaska wild salmon and striped bass are fine. More information may be found on seafoodwatch.org.
With an evening to spare, we decided to take in a baseball game at Safeco Field,
home of the Seattle Mariners. A few weeks before the trip, we purchased tickets online.
We learned that the visiting team just happened to be our own Boston Red Sox. Our
seats were great—section 138, first level from the field, 36 rows back from third
base. Safeco Field is a great ballpark. There are touches of classic (beams, old-style
manual scoreboard) and modern (massive scoreboard including video, and a retractable
roof). Food selection was amazing. In addition to the usual offerings of popcorn,
hot dogs, and nachos, I also saw sushi and stir-fry vegetables and noodles. It was
also vegan- and vegetarian-friendly—I had a Field Roast vegetarian hot dog from one
of the stands behind the seats. It is easy to get to Safeco Field from the Pike Street
tourist area—walk to the Westlake or Convention Place stations on the Seattle Transit
Tunnel route, take pretty much any bus to International District, and then follow
the crowd for the 10-minute walk to the Field. This was a fabulous way to spend an
Pioneer Square is an historic section of Seattle. This is where the city was born,
settled by 20 families in 1852. Industry sprung up, most notably a steam-powered
mill that produced lumber. This same lumber was used to construct the buildings.
Yet, as explained to us by a tour guide later in the day, the town was built too
close to the water, so dampness and flooding were common issues. In fact, the area
was previously known by Native Americans as “The Little Crossing Over Place” as it
could be used to cross from the islands to the mainland at low tide.
By 1889, the population of Seattle had grown to 30,000 people and consisted of many
wood buildings. At that point, the city experienced a terrible fire that burned down
every building over 28 city blocks in 12 hours. Thankfully, no lives were lost. The
story of the rebuilding—and its uniqueness—are picked up in the Underground Tour,
which we visited next.
One final note. Also located in Pioneer Square is Smith Tower, a 42-story office
building dating back to 1914. At the time, it was the tallest office building in
the world, excepting New York City. The 35th floor observation deck remains open
to visitors, and I am told that the lobby and iron-cage elevators are also stunning.
We will save this for our next visit.
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour was recommended highly by several friends and relatives,
and I am glad I followed their advice. Picking up on the fire mentioned in the previous
section of this narrative, the city’s needs to rebuild also gave it the opportunity
to work around the flooding issues that had plagued it. The decision was made to
elevate the streets and build stone or brick buildings. The remains of the former
city would then become the basements of the new buildings. But, with shops needing
to be open for the several years this was estimated to take, a novel idea was presented.
New buildings went up on the ground level as the sidewalks were built and shored
up above, creating an underground passageway under the new sidewalks. New buildings
would be constructed with two entrances—one on the ground level, and one on the second
to story to line up with the eventual new street.
During the construction, skylights were installed to provide natural light to the
underground as the sidewalks and roads were constructed. These skylights remain part
of the sidewalk today. Some of the owners of the buildings—who today lease out the
space for the tours—put their addresses on the walls of the now-closed former entrances,
enabling us to compare above-ground with below. This was nice as it helped us picture
our general location under the city.
111 Yesler St. From below (left) and above (right)
The walking tour is roughly 75 minutes long. Tickets may be purchased in advance;
we did not make reservations and were able to obtain tickets roughly an hour before
the next tour. (We also spent a little extra to be in the first group for the seated,
introductory portion, yet that is not necessary, in retrospect.) This tour was so
amazing that I would consider repeating it on a future visit.
As mentioned earlier, we stopped in Chinatown for lunch. Chinatown was easily reached
by public transit—we exited at International District Station and simply crossed
the street. It is also an approximate 15-minute walk from Pioneer Square. Its technical
name is Chinatown/International District, given that the area is also home to Filipino,
Japanese, Vietnamese and Southeast Asian culture. We enjoyed this visit and recommend
it highly for its ambiance.
For our last night in Seattle, we decided to do something very touristy. We rode
the Monorail, partly because I wanted to see more of Seattle and partly because our
interest was piqued after watching it go by several times during one of our dinners.
It was somewhat pricey at $4.50 per person round-trip, yet it was preferable to making
the mile-long walk. I’m glad we did it, just to say we did, yet don’t expect what
you’d find at Walt Disney World.
We were blessed with clear skies on our final evening in Seattle, so we made the
Space Needle a last-minute addition to our day. The Space Needle, built in 1962 for
the World’s Fair, is a massive structure. It’s also quite inviting—I didn’t even
mind the 52-story elevator ride to the top and the elevators are outside of the structure.
What a spectacular view from the top, from both indoor and outdoor observation decks.
Mount Rainier was clearly visible in the distance. I even saw a cruise ship pulling
into the port. Tickets were $19 per adult, and well worth it. Lunch and dinner packages
are also available.
The final paragraph of my journal for Seattle reads as follows: “I can now write
a fairly comprehensive piece on Seattle. This is a great city, and I will miss it.”
How true. Even with as much as we saw, there is still much of Seattle to explore
on a future visit. There were several art museums that we passed that looked interesting,
and I might also like to get outside the city to take in the scenery on the far side
of Puget Sound. And, we would definitely like to visit the Museum of Flight as well
as the new Great Wheel on the waterfront (a 16-story Ferris wheel that opened our
first day there).
Seattle is a great city that also makes for an excellent starting or ending point
for cruising, with convenient travel to the airport by taxi or rail, and also complements
nicely the ports of southeast Alaska. I hope to return in the near future—and I may
even do so absent of a cruise.
Mount Rainier, from atop Space Needle. In foreground are fireworks near Safeco Field.