September 4, 2023
This is a comprehensive review of the Seattle Harbor Cruise which is a major attraction for visitors to the Emerald City. For most tourists, this will very likely be one of the most memorable highlights of your trip. Not only will you have the best vantage point to enjoy the city’s skyline, but you will also get to see the waterfront from a perspective that you cannot see on land. You will learn a lot about Seattle’s history, culture, dynamics, and economics. I really appreciate the presence of a knowledgeable and engaging tour guide who delivers a live and interactive commentary throughout the excursion.
Table of Contents
The cruise departs from Pier 55 on Alaskan Way which is within walking distance from many hotels or waterfront attractions. But if you are driving, note that there is no parking in the area on Alaskan Way. The closest parking garages are near the corner of Seneca Street and Western Avenue, about one to two blocks from the pier. Be aware that prices paid at the door are very expensive. Your best bet is to find some heavily discounted prepaid parking through some apps like Spot Hero.
On board the Spirit of Seattle, I found the boat spacious, comfortable, and well maintained. It is also equipped with clean restrooms. A full bar is located in the middle deck, and it sells a wide range of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages as well as snacks and popcorn. Servers are present on all three decks to take your order and deliver the food and drinks right to your seat. Note that the entire operation is cashless and accepts credit or debit cards only.
The vessel has three decks, and the two lower decks are good for any weather. On a beautiful day from spring through fall, the open-air upper deck is the way to go. Note that you are not confined to your original seat that you chose and are free to move between decks and to different areas of the boat to get the best views or to snap that Instagram worthy picture.
Moments after departure from Pier 55, you will see the first of many points of interest – the Great Wheel at Pier 57. You get to be up close and personal with the Ferris wheel and enjoy its unobstructed view at an angle only possible from the water.
As your journey continues, the guide will explain why there is no Pier 58 (it has collapsed) and point out that Pier 59 is the famed Seattle Aquarium. Pier 62 (pictured above) is the new Waterfront Park that features a family friendly community space, which is also a venue for social events and concerts. If you are strolling along the waterfront, it is a good place to take a break and clean public restrooms are available there.
Pier 66 is one of the city’s two cruise terminals. This particular terminal can only dock one ship, and it serves primarily the Norwegian and Oceania Lines.
Later in the trip you will see Pier 91, aka the Smith Cove Terminal, which serves all the other cruise lines.
Pier 67 is the iconic Edgewater Hotel which opened its door in 1962. It quickly rose to fame when the Beatles stayed there in 1964 during their World Tour. Pictures of the Fab 4 fishing from the window at their hotel room quickly circulated international media.
Across from Pier 70 is the Olympic Sculpture Park which exhibits 20 sculptures in its nine acres of green space. The red sculpture that you see from the picture above is the iconic “Eagle”. Here is also where you get one of the best views of the Space Needle and snap a clean and unobstructed picture.
As your journey on the Puget Sound goes further, Mount Rainier will appear on the left-hand side of the boat. Let me give you a tip: The boat will soon turn around and the majestic mountain will then be on your right, so both sides of the aisle get a great view. Again, as I said earlier, you are not confined to your seat and are free to move around.
It is hard to get a clear shot of the famed volcano, and even on a clear day it can appear quite hazy. On a clear day, you can get a good view of the Olympic Mountains, though.
The next major point of interest is Harbor Island, and just before we turn to enter the container terminals, we’ll get one of the most panoramic views of Seattle’s skyline and waterfront.
This is the largest man-made island in the United States and is part of the city’s container terminals. The port performs a critical role in handling the container cargo to and from the rest of the World. Since the majority of all inbound cargo from Asia that is handled by the port is bound for the Midwest or East Coast, Harbor Island is a vital gateway for international trade in the US.
Since this is a very busy port, when the boat passes by the terminal during the day, chances are that you will be able to see lots of actions taking place. The most interesting and intriguing part for me is to observe how the longshoremen load and unload those huge containers each weighing up to 60,000 pounds to or from a ship using those super long armed cranes.
On the Way Back
The final leg of this journey starts when we exit the container terminals and travel back to the waterfront. One of the greatest sights that you cannot easily see on land is a clean shot of Lumen Field (Seahawks and Sounders, above left) and T-Mobile Park (Mariners, above right) side by side and unobstructed. The guide will also fill you in with details about the constructions, special features, and interesting tidbits of each stadium.
The final leg of your cruise takes you back to the Waterfront piers. On its final approach to the dock, it is your last opportunity to adore Seattle’s breathtaking skyline and to capture that picture-perfect moment on your camera. An hour passes by so quickly when you are having fun!
I highly recommend the Seattle harbor Cruise to both visitors and locals alike as you will see a lot of the different faces of the city that you cannot observe on land. The ocean breeze in summer is wonderful. My wife and I went there on a hot summer day in the 90’s, but once we set sail, it was cool and very comfortable. I think it could be somewhat chilly in the fall or winter, but you could always stay warm on the lower decks.
Not only is this a great sightseeing tour, I also find the entire experience fun and relaxing. I could even imagine it being somewhat romantic during dusk or in the evening. This excursion is also entertaining as well as educational. I could certainly appreciate the best classroom environment to learn everything about Seattle – on the sun deck of a harbor cruise while sipping cocktails. The entire journey is about an hour long and I assure you that you will enjoy every moment of it.