CNHI News Service

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December 4, 2012

TRAVEL: There are many ways to view Seattle

— During a recent visit to Seattle, I got a good look at this bustling Pacific Rim city from a number of different vantage points. Let’s start with from the water.

I got my  feet wet, metaphorically speaking, by taking an Argosy Locks cruise, a 2-1/2 hour narrated experience that starts with a ride through Puget Sound from Pier 56 near the city’s iconic Pike Street Market, past the Seattle’s impressive cluster of skyscrapers, around West Point and into the Chittenden Locks.

It’s slow going through the locks and the Lake Washington Shipping Canal as the boat makes its way from salt water to fresh, but the narrator and passing scenery make the ride interesting and enjoyable. Things get even better when you enter Lake Union, home to several fishing communities and the floating houseboat "villages" made famous by the film "Sleepless in Seattle." After docking on Seattle’s north shore, the rest of the trip back to the starting point is by motorcoach.

Another splashy way (literally) to see Seattle is by a Ride the Ducks tour on board open air amphibious landing craft developed by the U.S. during World War Two. "It’s party time," yelled out our driver, part comedian, part tour guide, revving up. Everyone gets a duck whistle, and the passengers quack their way through downtown, seeing many of the major sights, intermittent pop music blaring between narrations and jokes. Then it’s into the drink at Lake Union for a look at Glassworks Park and a rear view look at the city’s impressive skyline.

Reminiscent of London’s Great Wheel, Seattle’s own version of a high-tech Ferris wheel opened this past summer at the end of Pier 57, a long-anticipated dream of restaurateur Hal Griffith. Passengers board one of 42 glass-enclosed gondolas, which can seat eight, then rotate up 175-feet to the top. Each of the gondolas are air-conditioned and heated, and one VIP gondola has four leather bucket seats and a glass floor for better downward visibility.

The view from the top is exhilarating, and each rider enjoys a minimum of three revolutions, plus stops along the way, including the very top. Be sure to take your camera.

An even loftier vantage point, the landmark Space Needle has been around since the 1962 World’s Fair but still feels new despite its golden anniversary status in 2012. It takes 41 seconds to reach the observation deck 520 feet above ground level via one of the elevators, which rise and descend at the rate of 10 m.p.h.

At the top visitors get a 360-degree panoramic look of everything from Mt. Rainier to the south to the Cascades in the east to the Olympics to the West. Awesome is the word the first comes to mind.

If you’d like to get even higher, the Kenmore Air seaplane tour of the city and beyond may last only 20-minutes, but it was 20-minutes I’ll never forget. After a gentle ascent from the water at Lake Union, we were airborne in seconds, flying high over the University of Washington campus, out over Puget Sound for a look at the islands and climaxing with an upclose look at the Space Needle.

Kenmore Air, the largest full-service seaplane service in the world, has a fleet of 25 planes which log an annual total of more than two million miles and carry more than two million passengers.

From ultra-high, I next headed low beneath the streets of the Pioneer Square neighborhood on a 90-minute guided Underground tour. Like many other cities, Seattle experienced a great fire (in 1889) which destroyed much of the then wooden city. Reconstruction with brick and mortar topped the ruined infrastructure, still accessible beneath the existing streets.

Guides try their best to be informative, entertaining and anecdotal, but they have to compete with the eerie, subterranean detritus that gives the tours a unique, if macabre flavor.

While you’re in the area, stop in for a look around Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park, a free museum that explains Seattle’s role as a gateway during the 1890s gold rush for some 70,000 prospectors. Interestingly, the second half of the museum is located all the way north in Ketchikan, Alaska.

---

Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at owlscribe@yahoo.com.

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