Review: Seattle Harbor Cruise

Review of the Seattle Harbor Cruise features engaging tourists on the open-air sun deck as the boat turns to face the Ferris wheel.

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 the 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 Seattle cruise departs from Pier 55 on Alaskan Way (map) 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.

The Vessel

A large triple deck cruise boat with an open-air upper deck. The two lower decks have large windows.

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 directly to your seat. This is a great service as I really do not want to leave my seat and miss any part of the breathtaking scenery or the opportunity to snap that Instagram-worthy picture.

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.

The Waterfront

A large Ferris wheel is seen from the water with the skyline of Seattle in the background.

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.

A community space is seen on a pier extending out to the water. The top of the Space Needle can be seen in the background.

As your boat tour continues, the guide will explain why there is no Pier 58 (it has collapsed) and point out that Pier 59 is the famed aquarium which boasts a massive 120,000-gallon habitat. 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.

A cruise ship with three decks of balcony cabins above the lifeboats has Norwegian logos painted near the front.

Pier 66 is one of Seattle’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 lines.

A large four-story building is built entirely over water and supported by foundation pillars extending into the sea floor.

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.

A park with plenty of green space has an iconic red sculpture sitting on a sandy area. The Space Needle can be seen clearly in the background.

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.

The waterfront and skyline of Seattle with the Space Needle to the left and the piers in the middle as viewed from the waters.

After passing all the piers, the boat is about ready to turn around. Up to this point, you might have tried to snap that perfect and complete view of the city’s waterfront and skyline but without much success. Now, here is your chance! The best and the widest panoramic view comes shortly after the turn when the entire city’s shoreline is on your left.

The Mountains

The volcano Mount Rainier can be seen in a hazy blue sky with the container ship terminal in the foreground.

As your cruise 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.

Harbor Island

Tourists on the open-air deck of a boat are taking pictures with their phones as the boat passes by a container ship at the terminal with cranes on top.

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

Two stadiums are seen side by side. The left has an open dome while the right has a closed dome.

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.

A panoramic view of Seattle's waterfront, the piers, and the skyline of its skyscrapers.

The conclusion of your journey takes you back to the Waterfront piers. On its final approach to the dock, it is your last opportunity to adore the Emerald city’s breathtaking skyline and to capture that picture-perfect moment on your camera. An hour passes by so quickly when you are having fun!


Engaging tourists on the sun deck of the boat are taking pictures with their cell phones, with Seattle's skyline in the background.

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. The guide that we had delivered his commentary in an interactive, fun, and humorous manner. 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.

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