Date of Trip: May 2006
What do you do when you are down to the last of your vacation days, spent or committed the vacation budget and need to get away?
A Little Background
Almost mid 50’s couple (I have been told that the almost is quite important) who have spent a good deal of the last five years vacations on cruises. April comes along and we realize that we need a break. Personnel changes at work have increased the number of hours that I am working each week and I am burning out rapidly. Next scheduled cruise is March of 2007, and we are looking at one in May of 2007 so realize that whatever we do cannot wipe out the budget moving forward. Last cruise was in January and DH loudly announced that he really needed a land vacation yet again! This has been the refrain after the last couple of cruises, so I am beginning to think that he really is serious!
Sitting at my desk one evening in April and taking a break from the work I brought home, I started looking to see if there were any cruise deals out there. No matter his insistence on a land vacation, I know that if I find a good enough deal, he will buy off on it. As I wander through the Internet travel sites, Dawn Princess jumps out at me. We have been on this ship several times and it is DH is all time favorite. She is moving from the Mexican Riviera in May to Alaska and has a three-day repositioning from San Francisco to Vancouver then a one-day to Seattle where she will start the Alaska season. Now bells really start ringing! The only time we have been in San Francisco was a layover to Hawaii and we never made it out of the airport due to a late arriving flight. We have always meant to go back but have never found the time. Add that we have always wanted to go to Seattle and there is a potential vacation plan here. This can work so time to hand it over to DH and see what he can do with it. I have planned the last six vacations so it had already been determined that it is his turn to plan.
Let’s Get the Snags Out of the Way
First snag that we hit was the fact that the Jones Act/PSA would not allow us to take the three-day cruise followed by the one-day cruise even if we disembarked and then re-embarked to a different cabin. We thought that it only affected us as U.S. citizens but later found that the Princess computer would not allow the Canadians to do it either. We had already spent four days in Vancouver after an Alaskan cruise on Dawn so we were really committed to spending time in Seattle this time so decided on taking a shuttle from the port to SEATAC on disembarkation.
The proverbial second snag was the airlines yet again. Hundreds of thousands of Frequent Flyer miles on multiple airlines did no good for the dates that we were looking for. Hours of playing with itineraries failed to make it look any better. The cruise was in the middle of the whole trip so any moves in the start, end date affected how long we spent in either of our destinations, and we were unwilling to give up time in either San Francisco to Seattle. We live mid-way between O’Hare and Milwaukee airports but could not find a reasonable direct flight out of either. It was time to pull out our Southwest reward ticket. Midway (Southwest territory) is 80 miles each way and is definitely our third choice but it was worth a try. We hit paydirt. Southwest had great times for direct flights to OAK and from SEA at $99 each way. If flying out of MKE, we stay at a park and fly hotel the night before, if flying out of ORD, we do an inexpensive one-way car rental each way, if flying out of MDW, we need a new game plan. When we fly MDW in the winter, it is limo all the way. However, that is a very expensive option and not necessary on a Saturday afternoon in the summer. Internet research came up with the solution. We booked Midway “Park, Ride, Fly” for $8.50 a day online and took our older and more gas efficient vehicle. This company has concessions at many airports throughout the country. Parking is in a fenced lot, and shuttle to the airport is included in the cost. They pick you up at your car (in their lot) and drop you off right behind your car. The service was fantastic with the shuttle bus being there before we were ready for them both times.
This is the “budget” airline. As times have changed with the “premium” lines, we find that Southwest is actually a little better than most of our “premium” flights of late. Trick: Southwest is open seating using A – B – C codes for who gets to board first. The first 45 who check in are “A.” We checked in online the night before each flight and were “A” on both flights. This open seating arrangement does mean that passengers line up early to board the plane to get the best seats. We were at the back of the A line on both flights and still got great seats and managed to get a row of three for the two of us on both flights. With the extra legroom on Southwest planes and the quite comfortable leather seats, we were quite happy with our choice. The snack provided was a cute little box with a pack of Ritz cheese and crackers, a pack of Oreo 100’s, a pack of dried fruit and a pack of peanuts. Definitely not premium but better than what we received on our last three flights on other airlines. Eat first if you are going on a long flight or bring food onboard with you!
To San Francisco
There are many transportation choices from either SFO or OAK to the San Francisco downtown area. We arranged a town car pick up prior to leaving and were quite happy with the results. Our driver, John, was at the airport waiting for us and was full of helpful information even though part of the conversation was sidetracked to Boston (his original hometown). He was even nice enough to drop DH off at Powell and Market to pick up our three-day transportation pass and circle to pick him before dropping us at our hotel.
San Francisco Hotel
As stated in the beginning, this was a budget trip. We have had good luck using Priceline in the past and decided to use it for both hotels on this trip. An important part of using Priceline is doing your research and knowing what you are bidding for. We used both biddingfortravel.com and betterbidding.com to determine what zone we would bid and what price. We decided to bid the three-star in the financial district of SFO since we felt the three-star in Union Square had a property that we would not like. We got the Courtyard by Marriott in the Financial District and were more than happy with the results (more later).
Before we got to San Francisco, we both had concerns that this property might be too far out of the mainstream. Those concerns were put to rest as soon as we got there. A short three-block walk put us on Market and in the mainstream. The #15 bus brought us back to the hotel and stopped at the opposite corner on Folsom and 2nd Street. To take the #15 down to the pier area was a one block walk to Folsom and 3rd Street. A Starbucks with limited hours was located in the lobby and the rooms were very nice with the most comfortable (pillow top) bed to date. The only negatives were the lack of a room safe (we took our documentation down to the desk and used a safety deposit box there. Note: there is a $250 charge if the box key is lost.) and the limited Starbuck’s hours but they appeared to be every other block so easily made up for.
Seeing San Francisco
One of the first things we realized was that the core of this city is much tighter than it appears on maps. This is a walking/public transportation city. It would totally be a walking city except for the hills (think mountains at times). Our three-day passport ($18) gave us access to unlimited use of above ground transportation for the time we were there. For us this meant numerous trips on cable cars (main station at Powell and Market), trolleys and buses. A one-way trip on the cable car is $5; a one-day pass for the cable cars is $10. The three-day pass quickly becomes a deal since we traveled extensively around the city.
Overall, beautiful! The rainy season appears to have ended before we arrived. First night found us having dinner at Pier 39. We had made advance reservations at Swiss Louis, where we had an excellent dinner and wonderful views. Recommended by friends, this was our splurge dinner in SFO and it lived up to expectations. However, now for the weather part, I was wearing a light jacket and DH was in a long sleeve shirt. We walked out of the restaurant just as it was getting dark and it was cold. We walked into a shop a couple of doors down and bought SFO jackets for less than $20 each. This was the best deal of the trip. They are reversible with one side furry and the other waterproof. They also got a lot of use until we reached Seattle. Someone said that SFO has six microclimates and I have to believe them. Depending on where we were, we want from hot to cold in a matter of seconds. During our stay, we went back to the hotel so I could change jackets several times.
Cable Car Museum — We took the Powell/Hyde line up Nob Hill then walked down to the Ferry Building at the port. First stop on our walk was the Cable Car Museum. Yes, this is a museum with a lot of the history of the cable cars in San Francisco posted in very nice displays; however, this is also the heart of the current cable car system with full view of the working system that provides power and keeps the cars moving. This is free and fascinating even for those of us who are not mechanically inclined. Also has a nice little gift shop with very helpful employees.
Chinatown — Continuing our wandering down to port and we were in Chinatown. This is a working Chinatown. Yes, there are many tourist shops but there are also markets and stores that support the local Chinese population and they are there en-mass. This is the second largest Chinatown outside of Asia and is a definite must see.
Fisherman’s Wharf — we somehow managed to wind up at this definitely touristy location at least once a day. This is not a surprise since we both love being on or near the water and automatically gravitate towards it. The wharf area is filled with restaurants, shops and small stands selling food including whole Dungeness crabs cooked when you order it. Must see at this location is Boudin’s Bakery and Café (reputed by a good friend to have the best clam chowder in SFO but take the bowl with the roll on the side since you get more soup). We went in after stopping at Ghirardelli’s for chocolate sundaes and just the smell made us hungry again.
Pier 39 is a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. Stop and see the sea lions who have taken over a good portion of the boat docking area. They put on a show continuously. San Francisco was not too happy when they decided to make the slippage their home, but have resigned themselves to live with it and have posted the history of this group and pertinent information about them. Live entertainment, restaurants, shops and bars are the order of the day here. Great spot for people watch with lots of locals enjoying the sights along with the tourists on weekends.
Alcatraz — “The Rock” is in view of the port area but deserves a trip. Blue and Gold holds the concession to the prison tours until the end of May, 2006 so by the time this is read; it may be handled by another vendor. We ordered our tickets for the Sunday evening tour prior to our trip and went to one of the computer stations at their dock to print our tickets early on the day of the tour. All that the computer needed was the charge card that we used to place the order and it printed the tickets without having to wait in any lines. The ferry ride over is rather chilly so dress accordingly. The climb up to Alcatraz once on the island is somewhat steep but it appears that they do have transportation for handicapped. An audio presentation allows you to take the tour inside Alcatraz at your own pace. The only disappointment was that we hoped to return as the lights of the city were going on for some great pictures but it was still too light out for that to work.
Golden Gate — This is an absolute must though we did bypass the land portion since we would be sailing under it. It has been reported by a reliable source, that the best hot chocolate in San Francisco can be found at a little stand at the entrance to the bridge.
Cable Car — All routes but especially from the port area to Powell and Market. We took it in this direction on the last evening and got a whole new perspective of the HILLS of San Francisco as we looked down at the city center (think almost straight down). The view equaled any roller coaster ride.
Only One Day in Port
For those who have only one day, this is a tough city to see but a lot can be done by taking the one day transportation pass which can be purchased online before you go or at specific locations when you arrive. Additional info and choices for transportation can be found at sfmuni.com If you have not done it before, the cable cars are an absolute must and utilizing them will allow you to see more of San Francisco. Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf are a natural with several small gourmet groceries for anything that you might want to pick up before returning to the ship. Food
San Francisco is a city and has city restaurant prices so budget accordingly. We did not find any $3.99 Grand Slam breakfast deals! Food costs were in line with what we pay in the Chicago Metro area and many of the choices were the same. We did, find coupons on the internet that we used at several locations including Lori’s diner. Local specialties that are must try are crab and sourdough breads.
Coupons from the internet and on the local tourist maps were a fun way to save a bit.
Walgreens (found all over the city) saved a considerable amount on water and other quick snack items).
Municipal passports kept transportation costs down.
Three days was not enough to see San Francisco and we will have to go back for more. It was a fun filled hectic three days and we were a bit disappointed when it was time to pack up for the cab ride to pier 27 but it was time.
San Francisco Cruise Ship Facilities
Pier 35 is the primary cruise ship facility in San Francisco. It would be natural to assume that since we were boarding a cruise ship, we would be going to Pier 35. I am a member of several cruise line forums and was alerted the day before we left that Dawn Princess would be at Pier 27 (which is an overflow pier) and would start at 1 p.m. This was actually closer to our hotel and lowered the cost of the cab ride considerably since most of the cab cost in this area is due to congestion and the slow movement of traffic. We exited the cab in front of the terminal with a bill of $8 plus tip at 12:20. What we did not realize was that the cab could have pulled right into the dock area about a half block down and dropped us off. However, that half block was very slow moving so we did save a couple of dollars and had a short walk. We handed over our checked bags to dock personnel and entered the terminal where we needed to show ID and our cruise tickets. We had filled out immigration on-line so only needed to fill out a statement that said that we were not sick (caused by the re-occurring incidences of Noro viruses on cruise ships). We then proceeded to the registration area to be faced be huge lines winding through the queue.
However, we are Platinum on Princess so we continued to walk and bypass the queue to the Platinum and Elite registration queue and no line. We stood for 30 seconds before we proceeded up to register and were onboard in less than 10 minutes. The entire process from cab drop off to walking on the ship took less than 25 minutes and we were dropping our carry on luggage in our cabin at 12:45. When we booked, the only thing available was a category j inside cabin and we were assigned cabin D735, an aft inside cabin directly down the hall from the casino and La Scala (the Italian Restaurant). I have a standing request on the Princess website for the beds put together and robes in the cabin. Other than those requests not being met, the cabin was in perfect shape including the requested fruit on the desk. A quick call to our cabin steward (Maria) identified that the laundry was in process and she would fix the bed and provide robes as soon as she received them. The only other cabin issue was a trick remote. It was universal and Maria needed to fix it for us twice when DH managed to un-program it.
Built — 1997 Class — Sun Class Gross Tonnage — 77,441 Tonnes Passenger Capacity — 2,050 Crew — 870
It had been three and a half years since we had been on Dawn Princess. I was amazed at what wonderful condition she is in. Our normal first stop when boarding Dawn is La Scala but it was closed during this boarding so we headed up to Horizon Court (buffet) for lunch. Hand sanitizers were very evident as well as crew politely requesting that they be used if someone attempted to walk past. Food is still self-service which some of the other lines have taken away. There are no trays but the oblong plates are large and rather easy to fit a beverage on to keep things under control. Food was excellent as usual and seating was plentiful. We had beautiful weather and while a bit cool it was still beautiful when we boarded so the next order of business was wandering the outside decks then finding a place to sit in the sun until muster. We returned to our cabin shortly before muster was scheduled and had enough time to unpack our luggage before the drill, which was quick and painless. We returned the life jackets to the cabin and then headed up for sail away and our trip under the Golden Gate Bridge. I grabbed my San Francisco jacket but DH decided his golf shirt was just fine. We headed up to the front of the ship above Horizon Court and DH along with many others froze as we sailed under the bridge. Most toughed it out for the photo opportunity and an experience that is unforgettable. More wandering then pc dining and a show completed our first day on board. We found out at dinner that the cruise was offered up as a special deal to airline personnel and there were many onboard who had taken it. These short repositioning cruises can be somewhat difficult to sell because it is not cost effective to travel to the port of embarkation and back from the port of disembarkation for such a short vacation. Many of the Canadians on the prior Mexican Riviera cruise stayed on and quite a few passengers that only needed one-way air were on board. This still left a rather large ship to fill and it appears that airline personnel filled quite a bit of it. We met UPS, Southwest, Delta and Skyway personnel who said they had met others from virtually every airline.
I had been warned that, (by many before) what we were embarking on was generally one of the roughest stretches of water to sail. The Pacific between San Francisco and Seattle is notorious for providing a wild ride and it did not fail this time. Dh believes the wilder the better and I rarely get seasick but I have been known to so came prepared. I put the patch on prior to sail away and am very grateful that I did. Wednesday was a sea day and we were in rough seas with gale force winds. Temperature made it all the way up to 52 with an overcast sky.
Wednesday — Sea Day
For us, this was laundry day then finding a protected spot on Riviera deck to listen to the band and watch the sea go by. Laundry rooms are located on each deck. The last time we were on Dawn, the machines were free but you paid for soap and fabric softener. Those machines have been changed and it is now $.75 ea to wash and dry. Met and talked to others who were doing laundry and using the iron and ironing board provided in the laundry room. All were having a great time! Finished the laundry and made it out to deck. A few diehards were dancing to the band while wrapped in red/black wool blankets provided by Princess in place of pool towels. The afternoon Bingo game was fun even though we lost. While wandering, we checked the dinner menu for the dining room and decided that we would go to La Scala for dinner since nothing held great appeal to us that evening. This was also formal night and we were going to be dressed semi-formal at best since we did not feel dragging formalwear with on this trip was worth it. La Scala proved to be an excellent choice and our waiter was so good that we gave him a cash tip. I had thought that Sterling Steakhouse (additional charge on Princess ships) had the best Caesar salad only to be proved wrong by the one in La Scala. Entrees were excellent and the Tiramisu for dessert could compete with the best of them. Some casino time and then wandering the different entertainment venues followed.
Thursday — Victoria
The rough seas and head wind that we had been fighting since we left San Francisco changed our 8 am docking to 10:30 in Victoria. We have been to Victoria before and done Bouchard Gardens and the whale watching tour so we were looking forward to a leisurely tour of the inner harbor area. Since we were walking to town, this schedule change had no impact on us but it did mess up timing for some who had scheduled local tours. We had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room while we watched the docking and I had the special of the day, which turned out to be excellent Egg’s Benedict. We finished before disembarkation so went up to Horizon Court to enjoy the coffee at leisure and wait for the disembarkation rush to end. Overcast and cool when we left the ship, we followed the map provided by the ship and the signs to downtown Victoria. This was about a half hour leisurely walk from the ship with lots of stops to snap pictures. It did start to rain about half way through but stopped by the time we made our first stop (Starbucks) on Government Street. We leisurely wandered through shops then stopped at an Irish Pub for a taste of the local beer. A little souvenir shopping and we headed back to the ship reversing our prior route and stopped at a local coffee shop along the harbor for a specialty coffee. Due to our late arrival, sail away was moved an hour to 6:00 PM so we had a leisurely lunch including an excellent burger from the pool grill and watched as others returned.
This was packing night so we headed back to the cabin after sail away and packed the bags that we were putting out in the hall. The first two bags were tagged and placed out for pick up prior to going to the dining room. The last bag was put out shortly after another excellent dinner. We changed shoes and jackets to what we would be wearing for disembarkation and headed out to wander and enjoy the entertainment throughout the ship along with a little leisurely shopping.
Duty Free Shopping note: You can shop for duty free cigarettes and alcohol at any point during the cruise but both will be held and delivered to your cabin on the last night. Princess does offer a limited list of alcohols and mixers for cabin consumption along with beer and wine packages through room service. Cigarettes can be purchased at any bar on the ship throughout the cruise for around $3.50/pack.
Casino note: We received notification in the Wednesday Patter that the casino would not be open on Thursday night after leaving Victoria. Many missed this and were disappointed after waiting for it to open.
The art auction is alive and well.
The spa services were really being pushed.
Coke card for fountain soda was available for $13.63. This entitled the purchaser to unlimited fountain soda for the entire cruise.
The Hagen Daz concession was open for limited hours and was surprisingly popular with it as cold as it was.
Fresh Brewed coffee and specialties coffees were available through bar service.
There was a drink of the day selection each day along with a martini of the day in Crooner’s Club.
We had scheduled Quick Shuttle for our transfer to SEA where we would pick up our rental car for our stay in Seattle. The time choice for pick up at Canada Place was 9:15 (express service) and 10:50. We decided on the 10:50 (even though it made multiple stops) since we did not want to be rushed to disembark. We stalled after breakfast and finally headed down to disembark at 9:30 with the thought that they probably added something to do in Canada Place since the last time we were there and that we would have to kill an hour before we boarded the shuttle. All was quiet when we left Dawn and then we turned a corner into total mayhem at customs. It took over half an hour to get through and out of customs, which cut our time pre-boarding the shuttle down and then took another 10 minutes to find our scattered luggage and 10 minutes to find the shuttle and sign in. This shuttle was crowded when we left Canada Place and was packed by the time we left downtown Vancouver. We had thought that the shuttle would take less time with the border crossing but found that was not the case. All passengers were required to bring all their belongings with them when they went through. Those passengers that did not disembark from Dawn were also required to collect their luggage and bring that through too. We decided that we would definitely reconsider this option if we were to do this again even though a one-way rental car is rather expensive.
Rental Car Pickup
We did get to SEA at 3:30 and did the paperwork for our Thrifty rental car then hopped on their shuttle to pick up it up. The shuttle to the Thrifty rental car took 5 minutes and we were within site of our hotel.
Another five minutes and we were checking in to the Doubletree SEATAC. This property has had mixed reviews over time but we got it for an excellent bid, It has been going through renovations for a rather long period of time and those renovations are still being done. Desk personnel gave us the directions to our room which was in building four that would involve winding through a lot of buildings and a rather long walk with luggage so we opted to drive over to building 4 and had no problem finding a parking space. This property consists of a tower and a number of low-rise out buildings. Our room (4112) was a short walk from the secure entryway and was our next surprise. We did not notice as we exited the car that this particular building was different but the difference was apparent as soon as we walked out on the small concrete balcony (all rooms have them including tower room. The outbuildings balconies did not have furniture but not sure about the tower rooms). Our building was built on stilts over a large pond. Spectacular view with the Marriott Airport in the distance. This was more like being at a resort than at an airport hotel. Please note that the odd number rooms, while having identical balconies, had a view of the parking lot. Buildings 4, 5 and 6 have this water view though some of the lower rooms are obstructed with greenery. I was on the balcony and turned around when I heard “Wow!”. We had another pillow top mattress that was unbelievably comfortable. The overall room was one that had gone through renovations and was very attractive. The only detraction that we could find was the lack of a safe but that was not a major issue to us. I cannot say enough good things about the staff at this property. They went out of their way to make us happy! The final and probably best example: We returned to the hotel late on Sunday evening and realized that we had completely forgotten about doing online check in with Southwest. DH grabbed the paperwork and headed down to the lobby. The computer center was closed but one of the desk staff (actually, one of the employees that was helping the desk staff as they were overrun by check ins) did the check in for us and gave him five chocolate chip cookies to take back to the room when she was done.
This became a non-smoking property upon renovation with a small smoking area set up outside of the main lobby and smoking allowed on balconies. This is probably not a problem in good weather but potential issue if the weather is bad.
We unpacked and then wandered around in the general direction of the lobby with our final stop at the Concierge Desk.
Cruise Passenger Note: Princess is using this property as one of their hotels and has a desk on site.
Friday evening in Seattle
It was 5:30 at this point and we decided that it was too late to head into downtown Seattle, so we asked about a local casino. It appears that there are two types, so we opted for information on the full casino. We were given directions to Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, which was about a 25-minute drive. We have generally found (in our travels) that large casinos have excellent buffets, and this is where we were heading with a little side trip to a grocery store for a bottle of wine and a quick stop to check out a mall (ATM). Since it was Friday night, the casino was quite lively. We wandered about for a bit losing $20 in the nickel slots (also had penny’s along with a full range of slots and a full complement of table games) then wandered into the line for the Pisces Seafood Buffet which was priced at $19.50 a person (more details can be found at Muckleshootcasino.com). This buffet was well worth the money, and I hit gold with Dungeness crab and huge cocktail shrimp. DH also felt he got is money’s worth even though he does not eat seafood and went back twice for the prime rib. This is not an extremely elaborate buffet or a fancy dining room but everything we tried was excellent. We headed back to the hotel after dinner so we could get plenty of rest in preparation for a busy Saturday in Seattle.
Saturday in Seattle
Another sunny day in Seattle and a relatively late start. We drove into Seattle Downtown proper. We started off looking for Pikes Market but managed to miss it so decided to take our planned tour first. We were very fortunate to find a parking lot with a weekend special rate of $3.50/day about a half block from our ultimate destination of the start of the Underground Tour located at First and Yesler Way. We did not realize quite how lucky until we looked around at rates at other lots. Tours are $11/person and run every hour (more information at undergroundtour.com). With tickets in hand, we headed across the street for our first Starbucks in Seattle. The reviews of this tour were great and it lived up to expectations. As the tour completed, we found out that we could get on a free bus on the corner and take it to Pike’s Market. Several stops down and we were now at the entrance to the market. Blocks long, catering to tourists and locals alike, the sights and sounds were fascinating. Wine shops next to fish mongers putting on a show of throwing whole fish back and forth. Full shops and small booths intermixed. This is not a place that you run through under normal circumstances and the Saturday crowds means a very leisurely stroll. We wandered to the end and back. Made it past the donut vendor on the way in but could not manage to pass it up on the way back out. It suddenly dawned on us that we had somehow managed to skip breakfast and it was well past lunchtime so a little snack was well deserved. We shared a dozen hot mini donuts and it was the perfect snack.
Decision time and what to do next. We had gone past the Space Needle four times already but weren’t sure whether we really wanted to do that (I fully admit that I hate heights and spent the entire time at the top of Sears Tower in Chicago in the gift shop). As we are wandering about, conversations just seem to crop up with other wanderers and locals and someone has mentioned the Ferries that run to the islands in Puget Sound. This sounds like a much better option for us but we are not sure where to catch it. We do know the general direction so back on the bus and strike up a conversation with a local who is heading home from work on the Ferry so just follow him off. The person who suggested the Ferry originally mentioned that Bainbridge was a rather quaint island and a short tip along with being inexpensive, $6.50 per person roundtrip, so off we went. Added bonus on the trip over was the chance to watch Dawn Princess and a HAL ship pull out of port and an NCL ship pull in. Short ride later and we were on Bainbridge for a leisurely walk in the area around the Ferry Pier. We were late enough that shops were starting to close but wandered through the grocer (lots of gourmet foods) and the drugstore before returning to the dock to cross back to Seattle on the 6:30 ferry. A short walk to the car and off to our next destination. We talked to one of the security guards at Muckleshoot the night before and he mentioned that the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma was as nice as or nicer than Muckleshoot so that was our goal for dinner. It did not take long to get there but parking was a nightmare and we finally gave up and took valet parking since the place was absolutely packed. The line for the buffet was longer than the one the night before with lots of locals waiting. Nicer dining room and we hit the surf and turf buffet, which added a lot more items than the night before including King Crab Legs, which were by far the most popular item and were continually replenished. Price was just slightly higher than the Friday night buffet and well worth the difference. A bit of wandering and it was time to head back to the hotel.
Sunday in Seattle
The sun shines brightly yet again! We called prior to the trip and made reservations for the Spirit of Washington dinner train out of Renton so we will stick to the suburbs this day. We finally decide on the Museum of Flight thinking that we will be able to kill an hour or two. Bad move! We could have easily spent and entire day and were both disappointed when it was time to go back and change for dinner. A note on directions, when getting off I5 and going to this museum, it is one road past Airport Way (The airport access road). The museum is actually in three parts with one part an easy walk across the street to walk through a Concord and a retired Air Force 1. This is definitely another winning activity and if you have the least interest in planes and air travel then plan on a whole day.
Back to the hotel early to change, and we head out for the train. This was the most expensive activity on this part of the trip, and we were really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, we brought the map with that had us going for the train from Seattle so managed to get turned around and barely made it though they said they would hold it for us (make sure you bring the phone number). We boarded and it quickly decided that the sport coat was overkill. The company suggestion was to dress as if you were going out to a nice restaurant. Most of the passengers were dress quite casually. Dinner entrée was pre-ordered when making the train reservation. We paid the extra per person and opted for the super dome car (City of Renton originally built in 1952 for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. This also meant that we would be sharing a table for four since tables for two always book very early. Our tablemates were a nicer older couple who had moved from California to Washington a few years ago and were on their first train ride. Introductions completed and drinks ordered (my sour apple martini was quite tasty even served in a water glass), dinner was started shortly after we pulled out of the Renton station. Both the Prime Rib and the Chicken entrée were excellent. The train travels up to Woodinville along the shores of Lake Washington and over historic Wilburton Trestle (102 feet high and 975 feet long) before moving onto a spur to the Columbia Winery. This was a 45-minute stop with the choice of wine tasting, shopping or just wandering the beautiful grounds. Many shopped while we wandered and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Back on the train and back to Woodinville to return to the spur back to Renton with dessert served as we watched the scenery go by. The chocolate cake was excellent and reports were that the Apple dessert was also. We reached Renton just as it started to get dark and returned to our hotel tired but feeling like we had an excellent day.
One day in port
For those who have a limited amount of time as a port stop, Pikes Market (along with the original Starbucks) and the Underground Tour are both an easy distance from the ship and are probably good options. The Space Needle is a bit further but is on many “to do” lists. With additional time, the Museum of Flight is necessary see.
Monday — Start in Washington, End in Wisconsin
Our flight scheduled for 3:30 timed the rental car return and shuttle to the airport at about 1:30-2. We decided to head to Pikes Market since we wanted to actually go in the first Starbucks but finally gave up when we couldn’t find any reasonably close or reasonably priced parking for a brief (two hour) foray into the market. We packed and checked out before we left for downtown Seattle so we headed to Westfield Mall for lunch and a little wandering before we turned the car in and headed to the airport. This is a very nice very standard mall and impossible to tell where you are once you pull in the parking lot. Food court was large with many of the standard mall vendors found all over the country. It provided a nice lunch and a bit of a break then off to return the car and the five-minute ride to the airport. SeaTac is a very easy airport to get around with the normal assortment of shops and food offerings. We again made it to the back of the A line for the flight but again managed the coveted three seats for the two of us and enjoyed an uneventful flight back to Midway airport. The parking lot shuttle was sitting and waiting as we walked out with our luggage and took us directly to our car. The trip home was fast since we were well after rush hour and the following morning was back to work.
Did we get to do it all? Not a chance! Would we go back to do more? Definitely! With limited time in both cities, we purposely missed many things that we wanted to see and do in favors of others that we considered priorities for us. Would we do this type of trip again? Another definitely! The land portions were a tremendous amount of running to get to do as many things as we could possibly squeeze in so the cruise portion provided a relaxing break and gave us time to recharge.
Do your research and plan what you would like to do in these cities but leave some time to just go off in a different direction and enjoy. Schedules are for real life and work but should be only advisory on vacation. If you have any questions, email me at email@example.com and I will attempt to help when I can.