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Tuesday 24 July 2012

Not So Subtle Seattle

Proposed upgrades to Seattle waterfront

Port update by Roderick Eime

I last visited Seattle in May 2009 when the city was on the verge of a major overhaul and it was interesting to see one of the world’s Top 50 most livable cities transform in this short time.

The new light rail was under test along the waterfront ahead of its official opening last December and I had the chance to test it on my trip to Hotel Five on Fifth Ave near the Seattle Center. Up until 2005, historic ex-Melbourne trams ran along the waterfront but plans for their return are unclear.

The biggest news from the home of Starbucks is the demolition of the unsightly Alaskan Way, a 60-year-old overpass that rang along the waterfront much like Sydney’s Cahill Expressway. The heavy machinery moved in last October and reduced the quake damaged roadway to rubble to make way for a massive rejuvenation project along the waterfront from Century Link Stadium, past the aquarium and Pike Place to the Bell Harbour cruise terminal.

According to the developers,, the waterfront program will include ‘continuous’ and ‘event-based’ activities. Strolling, jogging, biking, driving, and parking are supported along the entire length of the waterfront, whereas event-based programs will happen in strategic locations to maximize synergies with existing destinations. Pier 62/63 will be the focus of much activity including rollerskating, sun bathing, concerts, ice skating, swimming, events, market and views to the bay. See the website for comprehensive details of the development.

All this refurbishment will hold the city in good stead as it continues to win more business from its nearby rival port, Vancouver, across the border.

Brad Jones, director of tourism development for SCVB, tells me Seattle now has more sailings than its Canadian rival and has essentially captured the market for Alaskan cruise departures. This is due, Jones says, because of the perception that it is easier for US citizens to use a domestic port and the relative cost of airfares to Seattle.

This year, the Port of Seattle expects in excess of 200 ship visits delivering more than 430,000 passengers, a number that seems set to rise. This year and next, new and returning ships to include Seattle in their itineraries are Celebrity Cruises' 2850-passenger Solstice, Oceania’s 684-passenger Regatta, Norwegian Cruise Line adds a third vessel while Disney returns to Seattle after two seasons in Vancouver. The famous Rocky Mountaineer railroad also begins routes to Seattle in 2013.

Port of Seattle spokesman, Peter McGraw, added that “because the Port of Seattle also includes Sea-Tac International Airport, we are able to provide the added convenience of boarding passes for passengers disembarking from cruise vessels along with handling their baggage. Furthermore airfares into Sea-Tac (SEA) tend to be lower than at our competitor’s closest airports.”

Australians wishing to reach Seattle will need to fly into either Vancouver (eg Air Canada), San Francisco (eg United) or LAX (eg Virgin, Air NZ or Qantas) then connect with a local airline, probably Alaskan, which hubs out of Seattle.

Seattle, I’ve found, is an Aussie-friendly city with familiar transport systems, like-minded and enriching tourism attractions in, or close to the city centre and excellent quality accommodation at reasonable prices.

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