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Long before the Starbucks franchise was a glimmer in its creator's eye, Seattle was known for having more coffee drinkers per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. That probably comes as no surprise, but here are some facts that are eye-opening: More sunglasses are sold in Seattle than anywhere else in the U.S., more books are sold and more residents hold library cards.
Seattle isn't just another coastal city; for one thing, it isn't even located on the ocean, but rather at the inland-most end of Puget Sound, which wends its way north to the Pacific. It's the gateway to some of the most magnificent scenery the continent has to offer. Pristine mountain ranges rim the east while hundreds of islands dot the Sound to the north and west. It's the closest big city to the border of British Columbia, has -- or so it's claimed -- the most privately-owned small boats per capita, and has more residential houseboats than any other city in the United States. It's consistently rated in the top 10 cycle-friendly cities in Bicycling magazine, and it has a higher percentage of people biking to work than other metropolitan communities of the same size.
Known as the Emerald City because of its omnipresent evergreens, Seattle is a charming and welcoming metropolis with a small-town feel. Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously operating farmers market in the United States and accommodates millions of visitors a year. Modern architecture (check out the new downtown library, which looks like precariously balanced glass cubes tumbling down a hill) and turn-of-the-century buildings create a visual contrast that works. And of course, there's Seattle's most famous landmark, the Space Needle, created for the 1962 World's Fair, which changed the city's skyline forever.
Seattle gets a bad rap because of its weather, and while it is indeed overcast much of the time, it gets a lot less rain than Miami, for example, or Mobile, Alabama, and when the clouds clear, there is something about the sun glinting off Puget Sound and the many lakes in Seattle that turns the city golden.
Washington has the second largest production (after California) of domestic wines; many of the wineries are located within easy reach of Seattle and offer tours and tastings. If you only have a short time to visit, though, that's all right -- the downtown area is quite walkable, and there is ample public transportation in the city center and along the waterfront. Shopping, dining and attractions are all within easy reach of those in port for even a day.
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Seattle is known for its coffee and, particularly, Starbucks coffee. Stop by the chain's original location, and pick up a few logo items.
English is the primary language spoken in Seattle.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
U.S. dollars are used for purchases, and major credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere. ATM's are available at various locations throughout the city.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock at the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal, which is in downtown Seattle, or at Terminal 91, which is Holland America's home base. The latter is much less convenient and requires a taxi ride to get downtown. Belltown (the new Olympic Sculpture Park is located both on the waterfront and in Belltown), the area surrounding the Bell Street pier, has seen a great deal of urban renewal and an influx of trendy shops, hotels and restaurants within just a few steps of the dock. (There is almost nothing of interest around Terminal 91 at this time; it's in the industrial port.) Holland America, Princess and Cruise West are using Terminal 91 facilities almost exclusively for their sailings.
If you've dropped off your luggage at the Bell Street Pier and are just waiting to board, there are several really nice lunch spots in Belltown not too far away. Flying Fish, (300 Westlake Avenue North, 206-728-8595) an award-winning restaurant specializing in Pacific Rim cuisine, serves lunch (on weekdays only, alas) including a quickie two-course meal from the extensive menu. It's within walking distance from the two dockside hotels and is open every night for dinner. You're in Seattle, so just walk about three feet in any direction and you can get a great cup of coffee, espresso, latte or cappuccino with biscotti, either from a street cart or in a real sit-down joint. Pacific Place shopping center (Sixth and Pine) is a healthy fifteen-minute walk from the Bell St. pier, much of it uphill, but it does offer some swanky shops like Tiffany if you need to buy a bauble or two. If you have a couple of hours to kill, wander down to the amazing Seattle Aquarium (1483 Alaskan Way, 206-386-4300) where you can visit the exhibits. Or go a bit further to Pike Place Market, have lunch (or weekend brunch) at Etta's (2020 Western Ave., 206-443-6000), browse the stalls, throw a fish and return to the ship with bouquets of fresh flowers for your stateroom.
Bus service from Pier 66 along the waterfront and to downtown is actually in the "free zone," available from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day. The waterfront trolley has been removed, but a bus that goes along the same route has taken its place. It is Metro route 99. Cabs are plentiful, and if you want to walk, the waterfront offers plenty of eateries and sights, including Seattle's magnificent oceanfront aquarium, as you meander to Pike Place Market and downtown.
Getting from SeaTac airport to the city center will cost between $28 and $35 in a cab, plus tip.
If you'd prefer to reserve a shared or private shuttle, limousine or sedan for your transfers between the airport and cruise port or just around town Shuttle Express provides reasonably priced transportation for visitors in the Seattle area. Look for cruiser specials on their Web site.
Watch Out For
As you should in any major city, beware of your surroundings, and be careful when carrying cash, wallets and purses. Leave expensive jewelry safely stowed in your in-cabin safe.
Pike Place Market is the oldest continually operating farmer's market in the country, and the home of "those fish-throwing guys." The south end of the market houses the edibles, including the fish stalls, the original Starbucks, fresh meats, and fruit and vegetables. The north end is filled with artists' wares and freshly cut flowers (which cruise passengers are seen carrying back to the ship to brighten their cabins on their voyage -- a nice-sized bouquet can run as low as $5). And don't forget to go to the lower levels; you might find a weird collectible that you've always wanted, or you can get your palm read by a self-proclaimed psychic. It's about a 15-minute walk along the waterfront from the cruise dock, or you can take the free-zone bus. Info: www.pikeplacemarket.org
Experience Music Project (325 Fifth Ave. N. at Seattle Center, 206-770-2700 or 1-877-367-7361) Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen had a great idea, partly inspired by the fact that Jimi Hendrix was a Seattle native. This interactive museum/exhibit space/gallery is housed in a spectacular Frank Gehry building near the Science Center, and offers hands-on music creation in a state-of-the-art studio, among other things. Contemporary artists, classical musicians and retro songsters are featured along with memorabilia and live concerts. Info: The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is also co-located with the Experience Music Project. Open daily in the spring/summer from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and daily in the fall/winter from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.empsfm.org
Space Needle (Seattle Center, 206-905-2100). This indelible landmark allows you to soar in seconds to the Observation Deck 520 feet above the ground. There's a 360-degree view of Seattle, the mountains, the ferries, Puget Sound and the islands, Lake Washington ... and if you can't see it all with the naked eye, don't worry. Complimentary telescopes are part of the package. Info: www.spaceneedle.com. The Web cam at the top of the Observation Deck is a great way to see the ships at dock, too: www.spaceneedle.com/view/webcam.html.
Pioneer Square (starts at Alaskan Way and Yesler Way), Seattle's first neighborhood, is a charming blend of cobblestone streets and turn-of-the-century architecture with some notable historic features. Smith Tower, built in 1914, was for a time the tallest building (at 42 stories) in the world outside of Manhattan. There's a waterfall garden and the Klondike Gold Rush National Park, plus lots of shops and coffee houses to entertain for an entire day. Info: www.pioneersquare.org
Been There, Done That
Paris isn't the only city that has underground excursions; Seattle has them too. The Underground Tour (206-682-4646) takes you beneath Pioneer Square, where the old streets and original storefronts from the Gold Rush Days are visible. Info: www.undergroundtour.com
Gas Works Park (2101 N. Northlake Way) is a 20-acre playground created on the grounds of an ancient gas plant at the north end of Lake Union. Many of the original buildings still stand; the "gasworks" equipment is brightly painted and provides a unique and exciting climbing environment for kids. The big hill at the top is ideal for kite-flying. Info: www.seattle.gov/parks/park_detail.asp?ID=293
Ballard Locks (Lake Washington Ship Canal, 3015 NW 54th St., 206-783-7059), actually named the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, is an engineering marvel that allows passage from Puget Sound into Lake Washington and vice versa. There's a dam, a spillway and, best of all, a 21-step fish ladder so you can actually watch salmon swimming upstream to return to their place of birth to spawn. There's an underwater viewing area as well. Info: www.nws.usace.army.mil
Seattle has been blessed with several parks and urban green areas designed by the Olmsted brothers, the team responsible for the design of New York's Central Park and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Volunteer Park (www.seattle.gov/parks/park_detail.asp?ID=399) is located high above the city in a rolling landscape that offers breathtaking views, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a band shell for summer concerts, playgrounds, formal gardens, a reservoir, an esplanade for strolling, and a huge glass Conservatory reminiscent of the one in London's Kew Gardens. It's a lovely place to spend a lazy afternoon. Check out the funky shops and boutiques in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, too.
Located about 30 minutes from downtown (when it's not rush hour!), Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery (Woodinville, 425-488-1133, http://www.ste-michelle.com), the largest in the state, offers free tours and tastings. You can also visit Columbia Winery (425-482-7490, www.columbiawinery.com), right across the road. A small fee applies for tastings there.
Have you ever wanted to see the Concorde, or go through Air Force One? You can at the incredible Museum of Flight (at Boeing Field south of Seattle, 206-764-5720), which also includes a "Personal Courage Wing" featuring rare and restored World War I and World War II fighting aircraft. Kids will love it too. Info: www.museumofflight.org
It is said that you can return anything at any time to Nordstrom (500 Pine Street, 206-628-2111) and their salespeople will refund your money with a smile; their standard of customer service is taught in business schools around the world. What started as a simple shoe store in 1901, across the street from this new flagship emporium, has evolved into the standard-bearer for class and sophistication. If you can't afford to shop here, pretend it's a museum and browse through the "exhibits" before enjoying a sweet treat in its cafe; then head for Nordstrom Rack at 1601 Second Avenue, near Pike Place, where excess inventory is sold for a pittance. Just don't call it "Nordstrom's"; that's a big no-no. It's NORDSTROM.
Seattle Houseboats: You can't get onto most of the docks since they are gated, but you can walk along the roads at the east end of Lake Union and gawk at these floating castles, many worth well into the multi-million-dollar range.
Waterfront: Ivar's Acres of Clams (Pier 54, 206-624-6852), a Seattle institution for over 80 years, is located along the waterfront near the ferry docks. It started out as a little fish stand and has grown into a multi-restaurant corporation, but this, the original, is still special. Yes, it is touristy, but so what? The food is great, really inexpensive and brilliantly served, and the menus are fun and funny. If you listen carefully, you can still hear the ghost of old Ivar yelling his signature "KEEP CLAM" as you blissfully munch on clams, calamari, fish and sourdough rolls while watching the Washington State ferries arrive and depart at the adjacent dock. Info: http://www.ivars.net
City Center: Take time from a busy day of downtown shopping to enjoy contemporary American cuisine in the convivial environment of the FOX Sports Grill (1522 Sixth Ave., 206-340-1369). "Upscale yet casual," this restaurant serves up sports on giant plasma screens but has no kitschy memorabilia. Instead there are armchairs, sofas and places to relax and unwind while you munch. Info: www.foxsportsgrill.com
Pike Place: Located at the north end of Pike Place Market, Etta's Seafood (2020 Western Ave., 206-443-6000) is a perfect place to sit after the walk from Pier 66. It offers fresh seafood daily, as well as weekend brunch. Info: www.tomdouglas.com
Pioneer Square: Pyramid Alehouse, Brewery and Restaurant (1201 First Ave. S., 206-682-3377) serves upscale pub fare and offers brewery tours daily. Info: www.pyramidbrew.com/alehouses/seattle
Chinatown, Int'l District: House of Hong (409 8th Avenue South, 206-8622-7997, www.houseofhong.com) is well known for one thing: dim sum! Seventy-five items of dim sum are offered daily, along with other menu items.
Capitol Hill: Coastal Kitchen (429 15th Ave. E., 206-322-1145) is a casual seafood eatery in the heart of hipness; it serves breakfast, too. Info: www.seattle-eats.com/coastalkitchen
Lake Union: Chandler's Crabhouse (901 Fairview Ave. N., 206-223-2722) serves up fresh seafood and beautiful views of Lake Union. Info: www.schwartzbros.com/chandlers.cfm
Ballard and the Locks: Weekend breakfast, daily lunch and dinner are offered at Chinook's at Salmon Bay (1900 W. Nickerson St. 206-283-4665, www.anthonys.com/restaurants/info/chinooks.html), located where the fishermen dock with their catch.
The Hunt Club (900 Madison Street, 206-343-6156): The romantic ambience at this restaurant, located off the lobby at the Sorrento Hotel, plays second fiddle only to the innovations of the executive chef, who decides his menus based on what's fresh in the market and which fresh herbs and vegetables he can bring to the restaurant from his own garden. Consistently voted "The Best Place to Kiss" in Seattle, it's an ideal mood-setter; enjoy after-dinner drinks and nightly jazz (Thursday to Sunday evenings) in the even more romantic Fireside Room, adjacent. Info: www.hotelsorrento.com/food-drink/hunt-club/
Restaurant Zoe (Capitol Hill, 206-256-2060), in the heart of Belltown near the cruise port, has been Zagat-rated one of Seattle's top five restaurants for New American Cuisine. Calling itself an "Urban Bistro," it combines the best of Northwest ingredients with unique and innovative menu options. Info: www.restaurantzoe.com
The Pink Door (1919 Post Alley, 206-443-3241, www.thepinkdoor.net): The main draw here is the view over Puget Sound from the arbor-covered alfresco patio. Located just above Pike Place Market, it's a lovely spot for a breather after tangling with the crowds below. There you'll find Italian trattoria-style food with "Italian garage sale decor," according to the owner.
Earth and Ocean (1112 Fourth Ave., in the W hotel, 206-264-6060): Even if you don't have a full meal there, at least go in for coffee and dessert. The focus there is on organic, sustainable foods. Info: www.earthocean.net
Closest to Port (Bell Street Pier): Edgewater Hotel (2411 Alaskan Way, 206-728-7000) boasts that it's "the only hotel where you can fish from your window," and indeed, the Beatles sparked a media frenzy when they were photographed doing just that from room 272 during their visit in 1964. Perched on piles in the water next to the cruise ship pier, this elegant hotel offers not only the best views of the ships (if you have a waterside room) but the best location to get TO the ship, just steps away from the hotel's front door. Many rooms over the ocean have small balconies, too; on a nice day, sunset over Puget Sound is spectacular.
Seattle Marriott Waterfront (2100 Alaskan Way, 206-443-5000): Located across the street from Pier 66, this new, modern, vaguely art-deco-looking hotel meanders over an acre or two, with most rooms having great views of the dock and the Sound. A bellman will transport your luggage across the street to the cruise pier for you, or you can carry it yourself; it's a very short distance.
Family Oriented: The Westin (1900 Fifth Avenue, 206-728-100) is the original, the real thing, the first Westin Hotel and the original headquarters of the Westin brand. The twin round towers are a Seattle landmark, easily recognizable. There's a great kids' program, and of course, Westin's trademarked Heavenly Bed.
Mayflower Park (405 Olive Way 206-623-8700): Located in the center of downtown, this historic property loves kids and has a family package to prove it; plus, kids 18 and under are free with their parents. It's next to a shopping center with 80 specialty shops and restaurants and is actually right at a monorail stop for easy access to Seattle Center.
Big Splurge: Sorrento Hotel (900 Madison Street 206-622-6400) is, without a doubt, one of the classic small urban hotels, and the fact that it offers a special package for cruisers adds to its appeal. The hotel welcomes its guests with lush, comfortable beds, elegant decor and a genuinely charming staff. The 76 guestrooms, almost all suites or junior suites, pose odd angles due to the quirks of the nearly 100-year-old (completely renovated) building. The Fireside Room -- perfect for conversation, tea, drinks or evening jazz -- is warm and inviting with an Italian-villa-meets-Victorian-England atmosphere, and the award-winning restaurant, Hunt Club, features market-fresh ingredients and an innovative menu.
Fairmont Olympic (411 University St., 206-621-1700) is substantially larger with 450 guestrooms, but equally grand and elegant -- if less personally welcoming -- with a full-service spa and indoor swimming pool to its credit. Located downtown in the heart of the shopping and business district, the hotel offers great packages, including one for families who don't mind splurging.
For Hipsters: Kimpton Hotels' Monaco (1101 Fourth Ave., 206-621-1770) is fun, whimsical and hip. Miss your pet already? Not to worry, the front desk will lend you a goldfish to tide you over. Enjoy complimentary morning coffee (Starbucks, natch) and evening wine and cheese by the lobby fireplace. The downtown location is ideal for shopping and fine dining.
Wine Country: Willows Lodge (14580 NE 145th St., Woodinville, 425-424-3900) is located across the road from the St. Michel Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery (about 30 miles from the port). This gorgeous 86-room hotel is built in a typical Northwest lodge style, with stunning design elements, in-room fireplaces, amazing bathrooms, a full-service spa and two renowned restaurants, The Barking Frog and the Herbfarm restaurant. This is an ideal respite from the rigors of a cruise vacation, and the wine doesn't hurt, either.
Budget Conscious: Four Points by Sheraton, near Seattle Center (601 Roy St., 206-282-2600), is within walking distance of the Space Needle and Pacific Science Center. Mini-suites to two-bedroom units are available, all with kitchenette; a complimentary breakfast buffet is offered as well.
Staying in Touch
Seattle is the most "wired" city in the U.S. If you have a laptop or PDA, turn it on; you're probably already in a "hot zone." If you don't, here are a couple of Internet cafes where you can enjoy a cuppa brew and a connection:
Online Coffee Company (1111 First Avenue, 206-318-1911), www.onlinecoffeeco.com
Seattle Duck Tours: Tour Seattle in these restored World War II amphibious landing crafts; go from land right into the water. Silly narration and sing-alongs included. The cost is $24 adult, $13.50 children (www.ridetheducksofseattle.com/.
Seattle Highlights: Approximately three hours, includes motorcoach tour of Seattle, including Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market and the top of the Space Needle. Cost is $45 adult, $30 child under 13 (www.seattletours.us.
For More Information
Call Seattle's Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-206-461-5840
On the Web: www.visitseattle.org
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--by Jana Jones. San Diego-based Jana Jones, who is the creator and editor Sleeping-Around.com, the lodging-oriented web site, writes a range of stories, from reviews to features, for Cruise Critic.
Photos of downtown Seattle, Hammering Man and Space Needle appear courtesy of Seattle's Convention & Visitors Bureau. Photo of sailboats on Lake Union appears courtesy of Jim Poth/Washington State Tourism. Photo of Pike Place Market appears courtesy of Sunny Walter.