Beyond the Sea: Port Mini-Breaks
Families | Couples | Seniors
Why you need three nights in Seattle: It's true that Seattle is hilly, and while it doesn't rain as much as people think, it is overcast a lot of the time. Still, there's so much to do and see, with easy access, that neither the mobility-impaired nor the arthritically challenged need worry. In fact, we've heard that dunking an achy joint or two into some of Seattle's famous coffee might just be a miracle cure!
For active seniors, Seattle is an ideal spot. It's a cyclist's haven, and a great city for walking.
And, for everyone, there is a rich cultural backdrop, with world-class museums, art galleries, music -- including opera and symphony -- and one of the finest aquariums in the world.
Transportation in the downtown core is free, and 100 percent of the buses are accessible. Even outside of the core, transportation in Seattle is a bargain, as low as 50 cents to many destinations. See Seattle's Regional Accessible Transit Guide for more details on local transportation. If you plan on staying downtown, it's best not to have a car, but you can rent one for a day trip.
Fabulous Freebies Worth Pursuing: Transportation in the downtown core; walking the waterfront; Pike's Place Market; Ballard Locks; Volunteer Park Conservatory; walking around the houseboats on Lake Union; wi-fi Internet all over the city; Klondike Goldrush National Park (which isn't really a park -- it's a museum in Pioneer Square).
Home Away From Home:
The Alexis Hotel pays homage to Seattle's art scene in a small, historic boutique hotel. Located within walking distance of some of the city's best-known attractions (the waterfront, Pike's Place Market, Pioneer Square and the ferries) the 121-guestroom hotel has several wheelchair-accessible rooms and offers a complimentary wine reception each evening, as well as morning coffee and a newspaper. There's also a spa and a full-service gym on-site.
One of the most notable larger hotels in Seattle is the Fairmont Olympic, located downtown within the business and shopping district. It's elegant and charming at the same time, and offers some wonderful packages. The 450-room hotel has its own indoor pool and fitness facility, several ADA-configured rooms and suites, its own full-service spa, three restaurants and a fancy afternoon tea.
If you're looking for old-world charm in a smaller, quieter ambience, you can't do better than Sorrento Hotel, located on a hill above downtown and away from the noise and bustle. It makes walking around a bit less convenient, but not to worry; the hotel's Town Car will transport you to the city core and pick you up again. And you'll be glad when you are back in one of the hotel's 76 charming rooms or mini-suites, with their luxurious beds, fluffy down comforters, pillow menu and cool jazz and blues in the elegant Fireside Room. This hotel offers packages for cruisers, so be sure to ask.
The cool, trendy Marriott Waterfront Hotel is located directly across the street from the Bell Street Pier (Pier 66), so if your cruise ship docks in that location, it's a convenient place to stay. Many of its 345 rooms and suites have views over Elliott Bay; there's also a 24-hour on-site fitness facility, in-room coffee-makers and daily newspaper delivery. Ask about cruise packages.
Check into your hotel and settle in. If you have arrived before lunchtime, walk (or take the free bus service) down to the northern end of Pike Place Market, where you can have lunch at Etta's Seafood, an unpretentious eatery with a menu designed by Tom Douglas, one of Seattle's uber-chefs. Here you'll sample Northwest seafood at its freshest and best.
Walk off lunch by going a few blocks north to the Seattle Aquarium, where you'll get the best bang for your admission. (It's wheelchair-accessible, too.) Walk through the 400,000-gallon fish tank, where all sorts of Northwest species swim above and around you.
Head south again, toward Pike Place, where you can finish your walking trip by wandering through the market. The north end, where you're starting, features crafts and artwork, flowers and plants; as you go south, you get into the food areas, including the original Starbucks, where you can stop for a cup of coffee and rest your legs. You should, however, spend a few minutes watching the flying fish at Pike's Place Fish Market, as entertaining a show as you're likely to see in any public market anywhere. Finish up your tour by choosing a bouquet or two of Northwest flowers, which can be purchased for as little as $5, to dress up your hotel room.
After all of that walking, you'll probably be exhausted and, after a rest, want a casual dining spot for dinner. Head to Seattle's Capitol Hill (by cab or bus) and Crave, for some down-home comfort food. End the day with a stroll around some of Capitol Hill's trendy shops and boutiques.
Walk (or take the free bus) down to Pioneer Square, the founding center of the Seattle. If you'd like, you can wait to have breakfast at one of Seattle's "artisan bakeries," Grand Central Bakery. If it's chilly out, you can sit inside near one of its fireplaces, and if it's nice you can sit on the brick promenade and people-watch.
Spend the morning exploring the area, much of which is actually part of the national park system. Bookstores and art galleries line the streets, as do coffee carts and cafes. If you love history, take the Underground Tour of the original streets of Seattle from the Gold Rush days. And if you are an antique buff, you're in the right location: Pioneer Square is full of antique shops.
Then hop one of the free buses along the waterfront to Ivar's Acres of Clams for a lunch of clam chowder, fresh sourdough bread and any number of fish or seafood dishes. You can munch while you gaze at the seagulls that come to be fed and the Washington State Ferries as they arrive and depart from the pier next door.
Grab a bus to Capitol Hill, and head to the Volunteer Park Conservatory, a massive garden under five separate greenhouses. Afterward, wander the trails in the park, or just sit and enjoy the view. Seattleites love and treasure their books, and the Elliott Bay Book Company -- which relocated to Capitol Hill from Pioneer Square -- is a city landmark. If you're lucky, there will be an author reading or signing during your stay.
Dinner tonight should be at SkyCity, the restaurant atop the Space Needle, Seattle's version of the Eiffel Tower. Reservations are recommended. Try to get a table just before sunset so you can enjoy the magnificent views over Puget Sound. There is always something going on at Seattle Center, so plan to spend the evening at a concert or exhibition.
Spend the morning at Green Lake Park for some boating or bicycling, or just to sit in the sun. Green Lake is one of Seattle's notable city parks, with a 2.8-mile wheelchair-accessible path, a jogging trail and opportunities for boating and canoeing. You can rent bikes at Gregg's Cycles or a canoe, paddleboat or rowboat from Greenlake Boat Rentals.
In case it's a rainy day, or if you're not up to the activity, spend the morning instead at the Seattle Art Museum, one of the most lauded in the U.S. And, by the way, if your visit includes the first Friday of the month, admission is free to this and some of the other art museums in Seattle (for seniors 62 and older). The Frye Art Museum on Capitol Hill, which showcases classic art of the 19th and 20th century, is always free.
A visit to Seattle would be incomplete without seeing the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (otherwise known as the Ballard Locks), Seattle's unique passage between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. Not only can you watch as the mega-yachts and fishing boats navigate the passage, but there's also a visible fish-ladder that allows you to watch as adult salmon swim up the 21-tier ladder and smolt (young salmon) swim down to get to the sea.
Have lunch at Anthony's HomePort Shilshole, which is located to the entrance of the locks.
For your final dinner in the city, go to The Hunt Club, one of Seattle's most renowned and elegant dining spots, after which -- if you are in the city on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night -- you can take in some cool jazz and hot blues at the Fireside Room, both in the Sorrento Hotel.
--By San Diego-based Jana Jones, who is the creator and editor of lodging Web site Sleeping-Around.com, as well as one of Cruise Critic's stalwart ship reviewers.
For more details, go to our mini-break toolbox