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.

NCL's Silver Cove villas open on Great Stirrup Cay

Norwegian Cruise Line’s deluxe Silver Cove area of its Great Stirrup Cay private island in the Bahamas has opened for guests.

Silver Cove includes an oceanfront lagoon area and private beach, 38 beachfront villas, a Mandara Spa as well as a new Moet Bar and the Silver Cove Restaurant and Bar.

The air-conditioned villas range from studios to larger one- and two-bedroom villas and they are equipped with a full bathroom, daybed, club chairs, TV with on-demand entertainment and outdoor patio and lounge seating.

Villa prices range from $299 to $1,100 per day, depending on size and season.

Norwegian Encore draws applause for big views and thrills

The Observation Lounge on the Norwegian Encore offers ample seating and food and drink options.

The Observation Lounge on the Norwegian Encore offers ample seating and food and drink options. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

ONBOARD THE NORWEGIAN ENCORE  — When Harry Sommer, the incoming president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, spoke to travel advisors aboard the line’s newest megaship, the Encore, he reeled off a list of its activities: 29 dining options, a collection of virtual reality games, laser tag and the 1,100-foot racetrack.

But surprisingly, it was the “huge, huge” observation lounge that elicited spontaneous applause from the travel advisors in the audience. 

“Prime waterfront property,” Sommer said. “I think some of our cruise line competition uses that to put cabins; we like all our guests to experience that type of view. The exact same view the captain gets from the bridge.”

He then deadpanned, “Though he hasn’t invited me yet.” 

Sommer wasn’t kidding when he said the observation lounge was huge. It takes up a generous chunk of Deck 15 and offers vistas both port and starboard plus two-deck-high, floor-to-ceiling windows over the bow. There are loungers galore for disappearing with a book plus couches grouped in conversational seatings.

The decor is done up in soothing shades of sea green, taupe and wood tones, and basket-style chandeliers are suspended from the very forward part of the room. Three buffet stations and a bar offer food and drink at various times of the day. 

Haven passengers get their own generously sized forward lounge on the deck above. 

The Encore is the billion-dollar finale in Norwegian’s Breakaway-Plus class, so many of the travel advisors who saw the ship in New York, like those who would later tour it in Miami, were familiar with the ship’s layout. Agents, media and Norwegian VIPs were able to tour and stay on the ship during a two-day visit to New York  —  a “cruise” in name only, as the Encore remained docked. 

The Encore is not too different from its sisters, although, of course, there are tweaks here and there. More than one travel advisor on the ship raved about the interior decor. More than one executive pointed to the design influence of Frank Del Rio, the CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. 

A unique feature on the Encore that is destined to become a recurring feature on other ships is a new restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta, which specializes in upscale Italian cuisine. 

On the interior entrance, Onda is tucked behind Cellars, the wine bar runs in partnership with Michael Mondavi. But it’s also part of the wraparound Waterfront dining and drinking promenade and as such has tables for dining outdoors.

Also unique to the Encore is the slate of entertainment, and advisors I spoke with talked up the main-theatre productions of “Choir of Man,” which got two standing ovations during my viewing, and the Tony Award-winning musical “Kinky Boots.” 

In the category of super-active vacation, the Encore doesn’t disappoint. 

The Speedway go-kart racetrack is wider and longer than on other Breakaway-Plus ships, and each participant gets to drive for eight minutes, a suitable number of laps around the track. Passengers who aren’t into driving can watch the action from the observation platform.

Behind the go-karts is the laser tag zone, where teams of up to five players each are pitted against each other in the ruins of Atlantis. Adjacent is the gravity-defying Ocean Loops waterslide that twists and turns off the side of the ship. 

One deck below, passengers will find the Galaxy Pavilion, a collection of intense VR games, and yet another deck below that is the gym  —  and the spa, for when they’re ready to trade activity for a massage.

Another feature new to Norwegian, although not unique to the Encore, was the presence of water cartons instead of plastic bottles. In his remarks to agents (see a report, this page), Sommer talked about Norwegian’s investment in “doing the right thing,” which includes eliminating single-use plastic and plastic straws fleetwide.

“You can’t get a plastic straw on any of our ships,” he said. “Don’t ask.”