Pacific Northwest sights and flavours in Seattle

The Norwegian Bliss docked at Seattle’s Bell Street Terminal. In the distance are two ships at the Smith Cove terminal.

The Norwegian Bliss docked at Seattle’s Bell Street Terminal. In the distance are two ships at the Smith Cove terminal. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

The Port of Seattle used to take a back seat to Vancouver as a turnaround port for Alaska cruises, but no more.

With the 2017 upgrade of the downtown Bell Street Terminal at Pier 66, the continued use of the Smith Cove terminal and plans for a third terminal to be carved out of the cargo port on the south end of Elliott Bay, more and more cruisers will be visiting.

The port expects 1.2 million passengers in 2019.

And for anyone planning a pre- or post-cruise stay in Seattle, the biggest problem is choosing from among the cornucopia of things to see and do.

You might as well start, as I did on a recent visit, with Pike Place Market, where fish get thrown, flowers get sold and plenty of fresh food, mostly local, is laid out in a market-style atmosphere.

Pike Place Market, with its views of Elliott Bay, is Seattle’s top tourist attraction, with an estimated 13,000 visitors daily.

Pike Place Market, with its views of Elliott Bay, is Seattle’s top tourist attraction, with an estimated 13,000 visitors daily. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

The market is Seattle’s No. 1 tourist attraction, with an average of 13,000 visitors a day. One way to beat the crowd is to take a pre-opening tour with Savor Seattle Food Tours.

On my two-hour tour, we made seven stops at vendors who were either just opening for the day or opened early for us. Guide John Lefor pointed out that the market serves as a small-business incubator, and he enjoyed telling stories of how vendors succeeded with their chosen speciality.

Lefor seemed to know everyone at the market, and they greeted him warmly, giving us an inside view of the place. We went to a little-known garden, got tips on some of the best stalls to visit and ate everything from cheesy biscuits to smoked salmon.

Next, I spent some time along the waterfront, where I marvelled at the change since my last visit in 2014. Because Seattle tore down the elevated freeway that divided the docks from the city, the area is now open and far more attractive.

Also new is the Seattle Wheel, a Ferris wheel that offers a nice view of the bay. Cruisers who will be leaving from the Smith Cove terminal can look down the waterfront and see their ships in the distance, with Norwegian Cruise Line ships at Pier 66 in the foreground.

The wheel is nice, but the recently opened Wings Over Washington next door should not be missed. It features a jaw-dropping, 20-minute simulated flight over a couple dozen land- and seascapes around the state. It costs $17, and I nearly plunked down a second $17 to do it twice.

One pier down from the wheel is the Seattle Aquarium, where I spent an hour or so in the company of sea otters, fur seals and other marine creatures found in Pacific Northwest waters.

For lunch, I visited the Crab Pot for a warm bowl of clam chowder. Plenty of diners had ordered the house speciality, a pot full of steamed clams, mussels, shrimp, corn on the cob and hot red potatoes in their jackets poured out on butcher paper over a big table. It is meant for two or more diners and starts at $25.95 per person.

A nighttime view of the Space Needle, with a glass sculpture from the Chihuly Garden in the foreground.

A nighttime view of the Space Needle, with a glass sculpture from the Chihuly Garden in the foreground. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

One of the unique dining experiences in Seattle used to be the revolving restaurant in the Space Needle, but the dining area was yanked in a recent renovation in favour of the Loupe, an observation deck with a revolving glass floor. It’s a great platform to see Seattle and a fun place to learn about the 1962 World’s Fair.

Visitors from downtown hotels were whisked to the fair on a Disney-style monorail that still operates, a fun, retro trip. The three-minute blast from the past is $5 roundtrip.

An ideal time to visit the Space Needle is at dusk, which also puts you in position to see the Chihuly Garden at night. I’ve seen Chihuly glasswork before, even in a garden setting, but this collection by Washington state native Dale Chihuly is truly stunning and one of the must-see attractions when visiting Seattle.

Another unique venue is the Center for Wooden Boats, which shows the craftsmanship involved in boat building. I happened to be in town when the centre’s annual festival was on, so a mini-flotilla of the wooden craft was on display. 

The centre at the foot of Lake Union is adjacent to Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, another nice stop that is located in an old Navy armoury. Exhibits run from the pioneer days through Seattle’s ascendency as a hub for tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon.

Heirloom tomato bruschetta served at the Pink Door restaurant.

Heirloom tomato bruschetta served at the Pink Door restaurant. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

Lodging is plentiful in downtown Seattle, if expensive. The State Hotel, where I was hosted for two nights, is a 1904 medical building that has recently been converted to a 91-room, contemporary hotel.

The location is hard to beat for convenient access to Pike Place Market, the Bell Street terminal and the waterfront. Amenities include an excellent cocktail bar and open-kitchen restaurant off the lobby and a rooftop deck with a clear view of Elliott Bay.

The room interiors are a nice mix of quality materials and industrial-chic design. Prices in December are generally $144 a night, with a few dates higher. 

Seattle is full of restaurants with good Pacific Northwest cuisine. A favourite of mine is the Pink Door, located in an alley with simply the pink door as an identifier. Diners step down into a multiroom dining area, one of which has views of the bay. Its heirloom tomato bruschetta is particularly delicious.

Royal Caribbean Announces Three Ships For 2021 Alaska Program

Ovation of the Seas Alaska

Royal Caribbean International has announced that it will have three ships in Alaska in 2021.

The Ovation, Radiance and Serenade of the Seas are returning to the Pacific Northwest

For the second consecutive year, Royal Caribbean will bring three ships to the region, offering a variety of seven-night itineraries sailing from Seattle, Vancouver, and Seward.

The Ovation will be the largest ship in the market. The Quantum-class ship’s series of seven-night cruises are roundtrip from Seattle. The Radiance is set to embark on seven-night, open-jaw itineraries between Seward and Vancouver, and the Serenade will be sailing seven days roundtrip from Vancouver.

Before and after the Alaska season, the Serenade and Radiance will sail 10-night itineraries between Honolulu and Vancouver.

All three ships will debut Royal Caribbean’s spa staterooms. According to the cruise line, the brand-new lineup of balcony accommodations “will allow guests to relax in between adventures with an array of amenities and perks, including priority spa reservations, lush bedding and bath products, tranquil décor, daily delivery of tea, water and coffee; and priority boarding at embarkation.”

For the Ovation, the seven-night itineraries roundtrip from Seattle promises to visit “the best of the region,” including Skagway, where vacationers can retrace the steps of the historic Klondike Gold Rush and visit a restored 19th-century railroad depot; and Juneau, to go dogsledding over the Mendenhall Glacier or explore centuries-old mining trails.

The Radiance will offer alternating southbound and northbound seven-night itineraries between Vancouver and Seward. Guests will have the opportunity to visit Icy Strait Point, Sitka and Skagway, and sail through the Inside Passage and by the Hubbard Glacier.

The Serenade, returning for a second Alaska summer season, will offer seven-night roundtrip sailings from Vancouver and visit Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka and Juneau.

Royal Caribbean also offers overnight stays before or after the cruise with three- to seven-night Cruisetour packages. Travellers will be able to visit the Denali National Park and Preserve with local experts, hike the Exit Glacier, kayak and bike by Eklutna Lake, and more.

Norwegian Strategic on Alaska

Norwegian Bliss

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) President and CEO Frank Del Rio underscored his enthusiasm for Alaska on the company’s third-quarter earnings call.

He said the company will continue to make investments and cultivate partnerships in the region, noting the new pier NCLH has agreed to build in Ketchikan, its $20 million purchase of 2.9 acres of waterfront property in Juneau, and the construction of a second pier at Icy Point Strait.

“We are investing in port facilities and guest experiences,” he said. “Alaska is destination-centric and you much have the land capabilities in place. We have almost doubled our capacity in Alaska over the past three years and will be even stronger as we finalize our investments.”

NCLH’s Q3 Alaska capacity was up 17 per cent over the same period last year.

In Ketchikan, NCLH has entered into a 30-year preferential berthing agreement with Ward Cove Dock Group, which allows for the construction of a new double ship pier in Ward Cove.

Meanwhile, current zoning laws are said to prevent a pier from being built on the property in Juneau.

The pier will be built to simultaneously accommodate two of Norwegian Cruise Line’s 4,200-passenger Breakaway-Plus class ships and is expected to be ready for the summer 2020 season.

NCLH partnered with the Port of Seattle in 2015 on the renovation and expansion of the Bell Street Terminal at Pier 66 which was ready for the 2018 season and the 4,000-berth Norwegian Bliss.

NCLH and the port entered into a 15-year lease agreement providing its ships priority berth space in Seattle for the full term of the lease in return for passenger volume guarantees. NCLH manages the cruise operations at Pier 66, while the port operates the facilities outside the cruise season.

Next year, the Norwegian brand will have three ships in Alaska, with the Norwegian Bliss, Joy and Sun will be from Seattle. In 2021, the new Encore will take over for the Joy. Oceania and Regent will each have one ship in the Alaska market, with the Regatta and the Seven Seas Mariner from Seattle, Vancouver and Seward.

Del Rio cited what he called “incredibly strong ticket pricing and onboard spend” in the Alaska market and also noted the lengthening of the season, which now runs all the way from April to October.

“In the coming years, we will further bolster our presence and commitment to the region,” Del Rio noted.