Printer Friendly

Pacific Northwest: outstanding scenery plus intriguing ports-of-call add up to a first-class cruise region, conveniently close to home.

Sometimes the best vacations are enjoyed right in your own backyard. This became all the more evident to me last fall as I tooled around the Pacific Northwest on a short sailing out of Seattle aboard Celebrity Cruises' Mercury.

This corner of the North American continent--roughly defined by Northern California in the south and Prince Rupert, BC, in the north--is becoming a hot new cruising ground for the major cruise lines. And so it should, for many obvious reasons--but so often we overlook the obvious.

Consider that this coastal area includes some of the most beautiful cities on the continent (San Francisco, Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver), a host of charming port towns (Astoria, Oregon, and Nanaimo, British Columbia, to name two) and outstanding scenery (such as Oregon's famous coast and the Inside Passage). Combine all this with the convenience of staying close to home, and you've got one terrific region for a cruise vacation.

Cruise lines are offering more and more itineraries in this compact area as they realize its potential as a new destination with a lot to offer, all of it accessible by sea. Pacific Northwest cruises originally began as fillers between the summer Alaska season and the winter tropical season. By mid April. demand for warm-weather cruises wanes, while it's still too cold to head for Glacier Bay. The same is true in fall with mid-September and October weather too chilly for Alaska cruises, yet not cold enough to drive sun-worshippers south.

The solution was to fill these shoulder seasons with one- and two-night "try me" cruises out of the big cities of the Pacific Northwest. This is an important strategy for coaxing first-time cruisers aboard since the cruise lines know, as do readers of Cruise Travel, that most people who sample cruising become hooked on it Those quickie trips are still offered, but in the past few years the Pacific Northwest has begun to mature as a cruise region in its own right, and now you can find longer cruises of up to one week dedicated to the area. My own voyage was five nights in length, roundtrip from Seattle aboard the Mercury. A few days post-cruise n this, my favorite American city, made for an eight-day vacation packed with delights.

They say it rains a lot in Seattle, but the September day the Mercury set sail from Pier 66 was one of those warm, sun-flooded autumn days that make everything look like a picture-postcard. The Emerald City skyline gleamed, Elliott Bay glistened and I stayed ondeck all through a glorious sunset over Puget Sound. Nightfall found Holland America's Oosterdam cruising close beside us, all her lights a-blaze, a spectacular sight in its own right.

Early the next morning, during a sumptuous breakfast in the Mercury's palatial dining room. the shadow of a massive bridge passed the tall stern windows as the ship eased into Astoria, Oregon. Astoria is regarded as the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies--it's the site of Fort Clatsop, the winter camp built by the Lewis & Clark expedition after reaching the Pacific. It is also one of the prettiest towns on the Pacific coast, one of those discoveries that make you want to sell everything and head west.

With a population of only 10,000, this village of ornate Victorian homes can be pleasantly toured on foot, although the streets do climb vertically up a steep headland, like a miniature San Francisco. Crowning the town is the Astoria Column, a 125-foot-tall tower atop a hill that offers spectacular views over the bay, ocean, surrounding mountains, and the Columbia River valley. I walked to it, a physical challenge that left my legs feeling like rubber and which was perfectly avoidable: On cruise-ship days, a $5 shuttle bus runs a continuous circuit of local sights, including the column, allowing tourists to get on and off at will.

Local excursions took passengers on history tours that included noted sights and museums in town, as well as Fort Clatsop, several miles away. An all-day expedition is offered to Mt. St. Helens, and an easier tour heads south to Cannon Beach, a nine-mile stretch of sand, dunes, and offshore rock pillars that is classic Oregon. Here Haystack Rock stands 235 feet above the beach and is fully exposed at low tide. Cannon Beach is an artist community, and the pretty village is thick with galleries showcasing locally produced paintings, sculptures, and crafts.

It's just a 40-minute drive to Cannon Beach from Astoria, so I planned to rent a car and meander the scenic coast at my leisure. However, we'd arrived on a Sunday, and the rental agencies were closed. A local guide assured me that if I'd booked a car in advance with Hertz or Enterprise, the car would have been waiting for me dockside. Lesson learned. Meandering the waterfront, I found the sparkling new Columbia River Maritime Museum, complete with an entire vessel on display: the Columbia lightship, the last of her kind to serve on the Pacific coast.

Warm autumn sunshine followed the Mercury through a day at sea en route to the north end of Vancouver Island. We would sail south through British Columbia's Inside Passage, a dramatically scenic area that Alaska cruises invariably pass during the night. Alas, we rounded the top of the large island and turned into the passage just as the sun was setting. So, while the sunset was indeed spectacular, we also found ourselves navigating narrow channels in darkness that I'm sure would have been breathtaking in daylight.

However, we would linger in the passage all the next day, with a stop at the small Canadian city of Nanaimo, midway up the east coast of Vancouver lsland. Another delightful discovery, Nanaimo is a town recognized as "one of most desirable, livable, small cities in North America." It draws retiring Canadians, and also serves as a bedroom community to Vancouver, across the strait; the harbor is abuzz with ferries and floatplanes that make the regular commute.

This is a tender stop, with the boats tying up at a busy marina where waterfront cafes and a small shopping plaza overlook the harbor. A waterside boardwalk curves past bays, parks and sandy beaches, and the historic downtown area is also easy to tour on foot.

For a nice outing, take the pedestrian ferry to park-like Newcastle Island and walk the five-mile encircling footpath. There you'll find rain forest, beaches, and wildlife--such as white-tailed deer and bald eagles. It makes for a perfect fall day.

In the evening, as the ship set sail for Victoria, yet another stunning sunset gilded the magical panoramas that slipped past: forested mountains and lonely lighthouses perched upon rocky isles. Again, I fantasized about relocating west.

We still had Victoria to explore, as well as the numerous attractions of the Mercury herself. I found the Navigator Club, the voluminous, glass-walled lounge atop the bridge, to be a nice spot to cap the day as the scenery faded into dusk. I would have gladly joined the themed dance parties here each night, as well, had I not walked my feet to exhaustion each day.

Victoria is an impossibly charming place, always worth a visit. There was a passenger stampede to partake of English-style high tea in the venerable Empress Hotel, and several smart passengers opted for whale-watching tours that practically guarantee sightings of killer whales, but I went walking, yet again. My circuit through the historic Victorian buildings of the compact downtown ended with a visit to the superb Royal B.C. Museum, where 15 imaginative galleries bring the history of British Columbia to vivid life, and its adjacent Thunderbird Park displays some of the best examples of native totem poles. (For more on Victoria, see "Port of the Month," Cruise Travel, April 2004.)

Heading once again into Puget Sound, I felt regret that the cruise was almost over, and couldn't quite believe I'd seen so much in such a short time. But there was more. The attractions of Seattle lay ahead.

PACIFIC NORTHWEST CRUISES: AT A GLANCE

At presstime, the following Pacific Northwest itineraries were available in spring and fall of 2006. For more information, contact your travel agent or the individual lines.

AMERICAN SAFARI CRUISES

Safari Spirit, Sept. 24, Oct. 1, 8--7 nights: Depart Friday Harbor, Sidney, Harmony Islands, Princess Luisa Inlet, Vancouver, Roche Harbor, Jones lsland, Friday Harbor (end).

CELEBRITY CRUISES

Infinity, June 1--3 nights: Depart San Francisco, at sea, Victoria, Vancouver (end).

Mercury, Sept. 15, 22, 29, Oct. 6--3 nights: Depart Seattle, Victoria, Campbell River, Seattle (end); Sept. 18, 25, Oct. 2, 9--4 nights: Depart Seattle, Campbell River, Prince Rupert, at sea, Seattle (end); Oct. 13--7 nights: Depart Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Astoria, at sea, San Francisco, at sea, Ensenada (end).

CLIPPER CRUISE LINE

Yorktown Clipper, Sept. 20, 27, Oct. 4--7 nights: Depart Seattle, Sucia lsland, Matia lsland, Friday Harbor, Victoria, Squamish, Vancouver (end).

CRUISE WEST

Spirit of Endeavour, Apr. 8, 15, 22, Sept. 24, Oct. 1, 8, 15--7 nights: Depart Seattle, Vancouver, Granville lsland, Princess Louisa Inlet, Nanaimo, Sidney, Friday Harbor, Port Townsend, Seattle (end).

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE

Oosterdam, Apr. 29--4 nights: Depart San Diego, at sea, San Francisco, at sea, Vancouver (end); May 3--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, Victoria, Astoria, Seattle (end); Oct. 3--4 nights: Depart Vancouver, Victoria, at sea 2 days, San Diego (end).

Ryndam, Apr. 30--3 nights: Depart San Diego, at sea 2 days, Vancouver (end); May 3--4 nights: Depart Vancouver, Port Angeles, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver (end).

Veendam, May 9--5 nights: Depart San Diego, at sea 2 days, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver (end); May 12--2 nights: Depart Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver (end); Sept. 24--1 night: Depart Vancouver, Seattle (end); Sept. 24---4 nights: Depart Vancouver, Seattle, at sea 2 days, Los Angeles (end).

Volendam, Apr. 18--3 nights: Depart Los Angeles, at sea 2 days, Vancouver (end); Apr. 21--1 night: Depart Vancouver, Seattle (end); Sept. 27--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, at sea 2 days, San Diego (end).

Westerdam, Sept. 24--1 night: Depart Seattle, Vancouver (end); Sept. 25--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, at sea 2 days, Los Angeles (end).

Zaandam, May 1--3 nights: Depart San Diego, at sea 2 days, Vancouver (end); May 4--1 night: Depart Vancouver, Seattle (end); May 10--3 nights: Depart San Francisco, at sea, Victoria, Vancouver (end); Sept. 30--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, at sea 2 days, San Diego (end).

Zuiderdam, Sept. 30--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, Astoria, at sea, San Francisco (end).

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Norwegian Star, May 4.--3 nights: Depart Los Angeles, at sea, Astoria, Vancouver (end); Sept. 24--1 night: Depart Seattle, Vancouver (end); Sept. 25.--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, Victoria, at sea, San Francisco (end).

Norwegian Sun, May 10--3 nights: Depart San Francisco, at sea, Victoria, Vancouver (end); Sept. 23--1 night: Depart Seattle, Vancouver (end); Sept. 24--4 nights: Depart Vancouver, Astoria, at sea, San Francisco, Los Angeles (end).

Norwegian Wind, Apr. 27.--3 nights: Depart San Francisco, at sea, Victoria, Vancouver (end).

PRINCESS CRUISES

Coral Princess, May 18--4 nights: Depart San Francisco, at sea, Astoria, Victoria, Vancouver (end); Sept. 25--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, at sea 2 days, Los Angeles (end).

Dawn Princess, May 9--3 nights: Depart San Francisco, at sea, Victoria, Vancouver (end); May 12--1 night: Depart Seattle, Vancouver (end); Sept. 23--1 night: Depart Seattle, Vancouver (end); Sept. 24--2 nights: Depart Vancouver, at sea, San Francisco (end).

Diamond Princess, May 11--2 nights: Depart San Francisco, at sea, Vancouver (end); Sept. 16--7 nights: Depart Vancouver, Victoria, Astoria, at sea, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles (end).

Island Princess, Sept. 18--3 nights: Depart Vancouver, at sea 2 days, Los Angeles (end).

Sapphire Princess, May 13--7 nights: Depart Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, at sea, Astoria, Victoria, Vancouver (end).

ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL

Radiance of the Seas, May 21--6 nights: Depart San Diego, at sea, San Francisco, at sea, Astoria, Victoria, Vancouver (end); Sept. 16--7 nights: Depart Vancouver, Nanaimo, Victoria, Astoria, at sea, San Francisco, Los Angeles (end).

Serenade of the Seas, May 21--7 nights: Depart San Diego, at sea, San Francisco, at sea, Astoria, Victoria, Nanaimo, Vancouver (end).

Vision of the Seas, May 7--5 nights: Depart Los Angeles, at sea, San Francisco, at sea, Victoria, Vancouver (end).
COPYRIGHT 2006 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:CRUISE ROUNDUP
Author:Petrie, Glen
Publication:Cruise Travel
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:2015
Previous Article:Semester At Sea moves to UVA.
Next Article:Portofino: picture-postcard-perfect playground in the Italian Riviera.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters