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.

Paddlewheeling in the Pacific Northwest

Paddlewheeling in the Pacific Northwest

By Michelle Baran
InsightWhen you think of paddlewheeling, most likely it’s Mississippi that comes to mind, not the Pacific Northwest. But when the 223-passenger American Empress relaunches on the Columbia and Snake rivers in April, it will bring to at least two the number of paddlewheelers sailing along the scenic western routes, paddlewheelers with a somewhat storied and related history in the region.

For U.S. river cruising enthusiasts, the relaunch of the American Empress, which has been dormant since 2008, is likely an exciting offering. The paddlewheeler is undergoing a complete renovation and interior overhaul so that it can once again sail along the rivers it originally plied when it first launched 10 years ago.MichelleBaran

The American West Steamboat Co. introduced the American Empress — then a 235-passenger vessel called the Empress of the North — in Alaska on Aug. 10, 2003, as a reproduction of a 1800s-era paddlewheeler. The vessel’s inaugural 11-day Inside Passage cruise from Seattle to Juneau marked the first overnight sternwheeler cruise in Alaska in more than a century.

In October 2003, the Empress began sailing along the Columbia and Snake rivers out of Portland, Ore., alternating itineraries between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. In 2006, Ambassadors acquired American West, and the Empress of the North became a part of Ambassadors’ Majestic America Line fleet.

On May 14, 2007, the Empress ran aground en route to Glacier Bay from Juneau. There were no injuries, but the vessel incurred damage to the hull and took on water, causing it to list. After repairs, the vessel returned to service that summer and sailed until the collapse of Majestic America Line in late 2008.

When the Empress relaunches in April, it will join one other paddlewheeler on the Columbia and Snake rivers: the 120-passenger Queen of the West, a fellow Majestic America alum, which American Cruise Lines acquired from Majestic as it was unloading its assets in 2008.

The Queen of the West was originally launched in 1995, also by the American West Steamboat Co., which was founded that same year. Also in 1995, the American Queen launched too, which is now owned by the American Queen Steamboat Co.

So, it would appear, what goes around comes around. Just like a paddlewheel.

American Queen buys riverboat for Pacific Northwest cruises

American Queen buys riverboat for Pacific Northwest cruises

By Jerry Limone

Partnering in preservation

American Queen Steamboat Co. has formed a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit based in Washington. 

Beginning June 30, the American Queen Steamboat Co. will donate $5 to the National Trust for every booking, in support of the campaign to protect National Treasure sites along the Mississippi River and in the Pacific Northwest.

Through the partnership, American Queen Steamboat Co. and the National Trust for Historic Preservation aim to “help tell the stories about important historical places along the travels of the ship,” said Terry Richey, chief marketing officer for the National Trust.

Passengers will have the opportunity to visit three National Treasures sites on their cruise: the Mississippi Delta Heritage area, Willamette Falls in Oregon and the Manhattan Project in Hanford, Wash.

The American Queen Steamboat Co. has purchased the Empress of the North, a riverboat that last sailed for the defunct Majestic America Line in 2008, from the U.S. Maritime Administration for an undisclosed price.

The 223-passenger paddlewheeler will be renovated and renamed the American Empress. The crew will comprise 80 hotel staff and 17 deck staff, all locally hired in the Pacific Northwest region. 

As it did when the riverboat was last in service, the American Empress will sail Pacific Northwest cruises, plying the Columbia and Snake rivers, starting next April.

“We are looking at the region [the American Empress] draws from,” said Ted Sykes, president and COO of American Queen Steamboat Co. “We’ve had a lot of people on the American Queen say, ‘Give us some more geography.’ The repeat customer knows of the luxury on the American Queen, and now they want that luxury somewhere else.”

Cruises will sail between Portland, Ore., and Clarkston, Wash. Ports of call include Astoria, Wash.; Stevenson, Wash.; The Dalles, Ore.; Umatilla, Ore.; and Richland, Wash. 

The American Queen Steamboat Co. revived Mississippi River cruising last year with the American Queen, another former Majestic America Line riverboat.

“The American Queen has ushered in a rebirth of U.S. river cruising, welcoming thousands to discover the heartland of the United States and its iconic port cities,” stated Sykes. “Now the American Empress will continue that tradition as an ambassador to the Pacific Northwest, a region equally rich in American and natural history.”

Sykes said the American Empress will be ready to take online bookings by the end of the week.