The largest and most densely populated city in Washington State, Seattle is known as the Emerald City, in recognition of its lush evergreens and plentiful public green spaces that include an old growth forest, a converted military base, and parks built over freeways.
All that green is a byproduct of the temperate marine climate. And while there are many gray, wet days in Seattle, it rains less here than most visitors have been led to believe. Seattle's average annual precipitation is below what falls from the sky in Boston, Houston, New York City and Washington, D.C.; it just seems like more rain because Seattle's drizzly weather lingers longer.
All the buzz about Seattle's love affair with coffee is real. Starbucks was born here (an outpost at Pike Place Market retains the first store's original look) and the city brims with branches of that now-worldwide chain along with dozens of independent coffeehouses with steadfast followers.
While more than 200 cruises set sail from Seattle for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest each summer, the city does not sit on the ocean. It's actually at the inland-most end of Puget Sound, which wends its way north to the Pacific and is the gateway to some of the most magnificent scenery on the continent. Pristine mountain ranges rim the east, while hundreds of islands dot the Sound to the north and west.
Downtown, you'll find Pike Place Market, one of the oldest continuously operating farmers' markets in the United States. In nearby Pioneer Square is the 38-story Smith Tower, which opened in 1914 and held the title of tallest building west of the Mississippi for more than 50 years.
There's plenty of must-see modern architecture, too, from the geometrically exuberant glass-and-steel Central Library on 4th Avenue downtown to the EMP Museum at Seattle Center, which celebrates music and popular culture in a building inspired by a pile of smashed guitars. Next door to the EMP is Seattle's most famous landmark, the Space Needle, which still looks futuristic although it was created for the 1962 World's Fair.
There are two cruise ship terminals in Seattle.
Bell Street Pier: Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line passengers embark and disembark from the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66, on the downtown Seattle waterfront.
Smith Cove: Passengers traveling with Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International embark and disembark from the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91, which is located at the north end of the Elliott Bay waterfront, at the base of the Magnolia neighborhood and two miles from Seattle's downtown core.
Rain: Yes, rain is common in Seattle, but locals don't let that keep them from doing anything they'd do on a sunny day, and neither should you. Pack light rain gear and a hat, and you should blend right in. Locals say they can spot a tourist by the umbrella. (That said, don't hesitate to use one if you need it.)
Pot: Recreational use of marijuana is legal in Washington State, but if you want to shop and partake there are rules you'll need to follow. Most important to keep in mind is that you cannot consume pot in public and it is illegal to take marijuana out of the state or onto cruise ships. Most cruise ships also do not permit passengers to bring pot paraphernalia on board.
Visa Requirements: Most cruises headed for Alaska make a stop in Canada. That means U.S. citizens will need to travel with a passport or a U.S. passport card, and passengers from certain countries will need to have a Canadian Visa. Be sure to check with your cruise line or travel agent for requirements to avoid being denied boarding.
There are no ATMs in the terminals, but ATMs are plentiful in the city. The closest for many cruises is in the Bell St. Deli next to the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66.
For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Travelex offers currency services at SeaTac International Airport and at Westlake Center, the downtown shopping center at 5th Avenue and Pine Street. Most banks exchange currency for a fee, but fee-free currency conversion vouchers (which can be used at downtown Wells Fargo locations) can be picked up at both downtown visitor centers.
English is the native language in Seattle, but it might be helpful to brush up on basic coffee lingo before you arrive so you can confidently order the correct caffeinated brew while in town.
You'll find a wide selection of unique goods and gifts made by local and regional artists at the daily crafts market held in the North Arcade of Seattle's historic Pike Place Market. This is a great place to purchase cutting boards, boxes and other handmade items made from Pacific Northwest wood. If you're heading home, many market seafood stalls will pack salmon and Dungeness crab for travel.