The first Saturday in May of each year marks the opening day of Seattle’s boating season. The waters of Elliot Bay, Lake Union, and Lake Washington fill with vessels of every size as the residents of Seattle seek one of the city’s most prized amenities – views of the towering skyline and sparkling blue water from the deck of a boat. For those without their own boat who are still interested in partaking of a seafaring adventure, there are two main options: state-operated ferries or private cruises.
Driving your vehicle on board, allowing you the freedom to explore your destination on your own time, is the obvious advantage to a ferry. Ferries are also the less expensive option, even with your vehicle. However, the ferries offer very few amenities. Some have cafeterias on board, but you’re more likely to find vending machines. In contrast, several of the private cruises offer fine dining on white tablecloths, as well as expert tour guides to explain the sights and answer questions.
Washington State Ferries The State of Washington operates the nation’s largest ferry system, with nine routes serving 23 million riders each year. Most offer service to the numerous islands located in Puget Sound. The ferry is also the most direct and scenic way to get to the Olympic Peninsula, which is located on the western side of Puget Sound. The busiest ferry terminal in the system is in downtown Seattle, on Pier 52, which offers service to Bainbridge Island and the city of Bremerton. The other main terminals are located outside of Seattle. For example, if you’d like to go to the San Juan Islands, you have to drive to Anacortes, which is about 75 miles north of Seattle. For all the ferry routes, be aware that weekends, especially during the holidays and summer, typically see a horrendously long wait to get on board. Most of the boats are available on a first-come-first-served basis, so it’s wise to plan accordingly.
- Phone: 888-808-7977
- Website: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/
Argosy Cruises The largest private tour boat company in Seattle is the 60-year-old Argosy Cruises, which offers several cruises in Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Union. One of the most popular is the cruise to Tillicum Village, on Blake Island, where you can immerse yourself in the culture of the Northwest Coast Native Americans with a salmon dinner and dance performance. Other tours include the Ballard Locks, Lake Union, and Elliot Bay. These tours may include meal service and some even have live music and interactive themes. Argosy’s point of departure from downtown Seattle is Pier 55 and Pier 56.
- Location: 1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 55/56 Seattle, WA
- Phone: 888-623-1445
- Website: www.argosycruises.com
Waterways Cruises Waterways Cruises operates several tours around Lake Washington from its ports at the north end of Lake Union and on Lake Washington in the Seattle suburbs of Renton and Kirkland. Billed as Seattle’s “most upscale cruise and event company,” Waterways offers gourmet dinner, brunch, and happy hour cruises along with more traditional guided lake tours that don’t include meals. The company’s fleet of three yachts are also available for private events.
- Location: 2501 N. Northlake Way, Seattle, WA
- Phone: 206-223-2060
- Website: www.waterwayscruises.com
The Victoria Clipper Hopping on the Victoria Clipper and sailing to Victoria, British Columbia, is another popular getaway from Seattle. The Clipper, which departs from pier 69, offers passenger-only service aboard one of its high-speed catamarans to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, for day or overnight trips. During the summer, you can also take Clipper cruises to the San Juan Islands for a day-long whale-watching excursion. In fact, taking the Clipper is the only way to get directly from Seattle to the San Juan Islands, since the ferry departs from Anacortes. The Clipper vessels offer meals for an additional fee.
- Location: 2701 Alaskan Way, Pier 69, Seattle, WA
- Phone: 800-888-2535
- Website: www.clippervacations.com
Let’s Go Sailing If you’re interested in exploring Puget Sound on a sailboat, Let’s Go Sailing offers several daily hour-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hour sailing excursions departing from downtown Seattle’s waterfront. You can choose whether you want a hands-on experience, helping with some of the duties on board the vessel, or if you just want to sit back and relax. Let’s Go Sailing also charters private tours for larger groups.
- Phone: 206-624-3931
- Website: www.sailingseattle.com
The Electric Boat Company Located on the west side of Lake Union, the Electric Boat Company rents electric “Duffy” boats for self-guided excursions around Lake Union. These eco-friendly boats seat up to 10 comfortably, and can be open to the elements or completely enclosed, depending on your preference (and the weather). They also come with tables and cup holders for on-board dining, and a CD player.
- Phone: 206-223-7476
- Website: www.theelectricboatco.com