As the city of Seattle is now garnering the majority portion of cruise ship departures to Alaska; hopefully - said as an original Seattleite - hopefully, guests embarking and disembarking will want to spend a little bit of time exploring this beautiful city. Because of the increase emphasis, I edited the third edition of, “The Cruiser Friendly Guide to Alaska’s Inside Passage” with more information on what to see and do pre and post cruise. Here’s a sample!Seattle has always had an inextricable tie to Alaska dating back to July 17, 1897, when the steamship Portland sailed into Elliott Bay with two tons of Klondike gold. It was on that day that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran the headline, GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! Men and women flocked to Seattle in preparation for their trips north to Alaska. Prospectors bought provisions from Seattle merchants in what is now Pioneer Square. To commemorate this historic relationship, many buildings in Pioneer Square are included as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Monument. Tours are available.
Seattle’s Underground: Did you know that looming under the streets of historic Pioneer Square is the remnant of another city? No? Well up until 1954, most Seattleites didn’t either - not until Bill Speidel wrote a letter to The Seattle Times asking about the authenticity of rumors that the present day city had been built upon the ruins of what was left after The Great Fire of 1889. The response that followed prompted lawmakers to designate the area a historic site which started the process of preserving the oldest part of the city. What Speidel found continues to fascinate locals and visitors to this day; a series of tunnels that take you past what were the store fronts, hotel lobbies and saloons of Old Seattle. The 1890 fire destroyed 25 blocks of buildings constructed almost entirely of wood. It was vowed that in the future all new structures would be built of stone or brick. Though the buildings were now safer the city’s was still plagued by poor roads; seepage from Puget Sound and poor drainage from the rain created muddy roads that were reported to have swallowed dogs and children. Eight foot retaining walls were built along the sides of the mucky roads; the old streets were then filled in and paved over creating new eight foot tall roads. A gap up to 35′ wide was created between the raised road and the buildings. Ground level front doors and display windows were in the shadow of the eight foot wall. From the new roads pedestrians crossed the chasm by way of bridges that entered on the second floor making the original first floor obsolete except for use as a basement. Eventually sidewalks straddled the gap and second floors became first floors hiding the original storefronts and doorways until their rediscovery in 1954. Today you can explore the original store fronts and buildings of Old Seattle on the Underground Tour. Tickets and tours start at 608 First Avenue in Pioneer Square.
Seattle is still the primary port for provisioning the state of Alaska. Goods are sent up by barge or cargo plane. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system starts just a few miles north in Bellingham. Like Alaska, Seattle’s economy has been predicated on fishing and timber with its own unique periods of boom and bust. Aircraft manufacturer and long-time Seattle family, Boeing was responsible for much of the city’s growth during the mid-twentieth century. Today, Microsoft and other high tech industries have taken the economic lead however Boeing remains a strong influence. The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in south Seattle is a must-see for any aviation enthusiast as is the Future of Flight Aviation Center at Paine Field in South Everett where you can also tour the largest building in the world (by volume) and see the production lines for the Boeing 747, 767, 777, and soon the 787.
Cruise Seattle - Still the Gateway to Alaska Just as in 1898, visitors are lining the piers of Seattle eager to board ships bound for Alaska. These days a few things have changed; the ships are little more comfortable and the voyage is now the destination but the sentiment remains the same - North to Alaska! In recent years, Seattle has responded to the growing interest in Alaska cruises by building new cruise terminals. Hoping passengers will take advantage of the convenience of travel and the discounts afforded by round-trip domestic airfare; the Port of Seattle has aggressively sought to lure ships to its shores. Located at Pier 66 on Alaskan Way, the Bell Street Terminal was the first to open. With a sweeping view of downtown Seattle and the Olympic Mountains the terminal is easy walking distance to the city’s most popular attractions. Located at the north end of the waterfront, Terminal 91 at Smith Cove is the newest facility; this state of the art cruise terminal located at the base of Magnolia Hill offers new passenger terminal with comfortable check-in area; parking and taxi vouchers for those departing from Pier 66. What can you see in a few hours? Depending on where your ship is docked along Alaskan Way, the Seattle Aquarium and pier side shops and restaurants are not far. The aquarium contains exhibits featuring the undersea world of Puget Sound including a working salmon ladder. The free vintage trolley run that used to service Pier 54 to Pioneer Square has been replaced indefinitely by a free bus run, Route 99. Look for the buses painted green and yellow to look like the old trolleys with the words “Waterfront Streetcar Line.” Seattle Metro also offers free bus service between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily in Downtown Seattle except for Metro routes 116, 118, and 119. The Ride Free Area (RFA) extends from the north at Battery St. to S. Jackson St. on the south, and east at 6th Avenue to the waterfront on the west.