An October 2002 trip
to Seattle by smmmarti guide
Quote: Last year, I was one of the millions whose hopes for celebrating a special birthday collapsed with the towers in New York. This year my husband was determined to make it up to me and surreptitiously invited a friend to join me on an Autumn cruise in the Pacific Northwest.
Equally appealing was a day spent at sea cruising Johnstone Straits and the Straits of Georgia famous as the home for pods of Orca, dolphins, seals, and eagles. This has been a favorite area since I first visited it a few years back and though I had already taken a cruise of the Inside Passage and Alaska earlier this summer, I had no issues with revisiting the area in the glow of Autumn.
The cruise line we choose, Holland America Zaandam, was based more on timing and itinerary than anything. My travel agent friends assured me that HAL was considered a premium cruise line and would not disappoint with their service, accommodations and food. I knew the destinations were most agreeable and for this tour, that was enough.
Most obvious was our preferred boarding status. No sooner had we shown our ticket and we were whisked on board like royalty. The next welcome surprise was the reception from the entire crew. They obviously already had us in their sights before we even boarded. The door of the cabin had hardly closed when the ship’s hotel manager rang our musical door chime and offered "anything at all," a refrain that would be echoed by everyone from the bartenders to the maitre d' in the Marco Polo, to the art dealer. The only staff members who didn’t fairly swoon over us were the casino dealers and cage personnel. They remained typically aloof and distant. If they are trained to spot "whales," they wrote me off immediately. Appropriately!
Not having to schlepp bags or worry about planes, trains, or ferry schedules while enjoying a number of ports is the great benefit of cruising. A short, off-season cruise is advantageous by providing an opportunity to test the waters or enjoy the high life in a swanky suite when it is relatively inexpensive. Although suites for the four-night cruise were available for as low as on this itinerary, staying in the best suite was less than we would have paid for four nights in a five-star hotel. Add the butler service, free dry cleaning, bar drinks, champagne, transportation, entertainment, food, snacks, towers of fresh fruit, the CD/DVD library, and all that is all-inclusive onboard the HAL regardless of cabin category, and you might even call it a bargain.
Hotel | "The Suite Life on the Zaandam"
Location and Service
Every village has its own prestigous addresses and the Zaandam is no exception. Though the staff seem to know who has exclusive keys to the kingdom, they'll never tell! Discretion is as much a part of the specialized service as the free dry cleaning; an essential touch when attempting to maintain an unruffled appearance.
Staff perspicacity is evident the moment you step inside the sumptuous quarters and find the door to the right that hides a natty little butlers pantry. Stocked with teas, snacks, stainless steel prep counters, a refrigerator and wine cooler, a secret second door allows the butler to prepare and deliver food without intruding. Morning breakfast, afternoon hors d'oeuvres and/or tea service, midnight snacks, and other special requests, are considered routine. Should you decide to venture forth into the common areas you'll never wait for breakfast or lunch among the mere mortals, for suite guests have access to the exclusive King’s Room, adjacent to the main dining room.
Décor and Furnishings
Now, come out of the closet, Cinderella, and take a look at your kingdom. As would befit a manor home, the stateroom is complete with marble carvings, gilded mirrors, dark wood paneling, works of art, Waterford crystal, and Rosenthal china. A silver service overflows with artfully arranged, flawless fruits, replenished stealthily whenever the room is vacated. Champagne waits on the chill in case the proper humor strikes. Full-sized sliding glass doors open to the teak veranda furnished with cushioned lounge chairs and large table for dining al fresco. Rare is the guest who is not enchanted.
A separate living room with sectional seating and floor to ceiling windows affords a constant view of the scenery and sea. Dimmer switches control the extensive mood lighting throughout the suite and a full inventory of CDs and DVDs are at hand in the built-in entertainment center to allow subtle alterations in disposition. You may want to shift from merely happy to elated, for instance, or from simply relaxed to completely tranquil.
The Relaxation Chamber
It wouldn’t be right to call the bathroom anything else. An enormous whirlpool tub sports a lionhead waterfall and a glass shower stall is equipped with myriad sprays, jets, foot massagers, and steam. A separate toilet/bidet has its own private sink and storage for essentials. That’s in addition to the dual vanities with under-the-sink and medicine chest storage and lighting selections for any tasks involved in the comprehensive beautification a princess may require. Adjacent to the "Chamber" is a walk-in closet with enough room for multiple steamer trunks of ball gowns and dancing shoes.
A king-sized heavenly cradle, down pillows, built-in vanity, touch-pad bedside lighting controls, and chocolate on the pillow induce immediate swooning. The movement of the ship provides gentle rocking. There should be nothing in the way of ideal comfort here.
In fact, if any needs have go unrealized, it is only because guests have failed to make them known.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 5, 2002
Holland America Zaandam
Immediately after boarding, we introduced ourselves to the Maitre ‘d. He had been waiting for us, so he said. Reviewing the menu and finding carpaccio, insalate caprese, veal chops, and pasta pescatore, I realized it would take four nights to try them all and booked a table for each evening.
Our first visit proved superior. The portions were reasonable, the preparation first-rate, the flavors authentic, and the service outstanding. We felt as though we were patrons of a small but superior neighborhood establishment. The décor included low-lighting, plush booths, and bistro sized tables. Tuscany inspired art and fabrics added to the authentic Italian ambiance. Cordial and attentive waiters swiftly learned our preferences, such as cheese rather than sweets for dessert and Italian rather than California wine - by the glass.
On the second day of the cruise a sign was posted in front of the MP stating, "regretfully, we are booked for the duration of the cruise." I felt badly knowing that some passengers would miss out on this opportunity and offered my table; but the staff would not hear of it.
Yet, after eating at the Pink Door during our port day in Seattle, we thought we’d try something different for dinner and took our assigned table in the main dining room, giving another deserving couple an opportunity to experience Marco Polo.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
It wasn’t that the main dining room was bad, it was just that we had become effectively spoiled by our good friends and the chef at the Marco Polo. Caesar Salad was a different concoction under the pseudo-star twinkling ceiling of the Rotterdam Dining Room. Service was rushed and haphazard and the food decent, but not memorable. I felt a little sorry for our dining companions at the table for six as they reported no one had yet joined them to dine! The other couple assigned to this table were reportedly honeymooners who hadn’t left their cabin for dinner.
In spite of a minor wrestle of conscience, my sense of noblesse oblige abated. We couldn’t let our servers down at the Marco Polo, after all, and returned to them for the balance of the cruise. There, I thoroughly enjoyed my Caesar Salad and exquisitely grilled lobster tail. On the last night I ordered not a glass, but a bottle of Italian white called, appropriately, Principessa.
If the shoe fits…
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 5, 2002
Marco Polo Restaurant
204 Lincoln Ave - Mukilteo
Seattle, Washington 98275
We followed directions and when no evidence of the restaurant appeared we simply tracked with our noses toward the sublime scents emanating from a kitchen somewhere. We hoped they were coming from our destination, but if they weren’t we were about to change course and eat at the source of the aromas instead.
"I think it’s coming from in here," I noted to my friend and started toward the entrance. Turning the handle I observed the door was indeed Pink.
"Hey, I think this is it!"
There is no sign on the Pink Door, which is the first indication of its status as a hip/cool place. Enter from the back into an elevated staircase in full view of everyone dining below, and experience a moment of panic. Suppose you have made an embarrassing mistake and stepped into a private affair!
"Is this the Pink Door?" we asked, feeling suddenly sheepish, "there’s no sign."
Somewhere between bored and amused the hostess replied, "hasn’t been for twenty years, either. But you found it."
The décor is a strange hodge-podge delight, as if Salvador Dali decorated your daughter’s dorm room. Amidst a collection of jesters and angels, antiques chests, a flower draped replica of Michelangelo’s David, balloons, baubles, and a suspicious swing mounted on the ceiling in the center of the large room where waitresses are rumored to sing the menu opera style when provoked, we might have succumbed to the same sensory overload that we sought to escape from the Market were it not for the spacious and cozy overall feel of the room. Funky patterned oilcloths topped each table and the china was a garage sale mix that further emphasized the "hidden find" atmosphere that the owner intentionally conjures.
The menu is a moderately priced, a well-prepared collection of trattoria style items that make good use of the produce and ultra-fresh fish sold right across the street. I chose an impressive mixed green salad with roasted gold and red beets before diving into a wood-oven style pizza - the special of the day - while my friend lunched on pasta and shellfish.
But the food is not everything at the Pink Door and that’s they way the owner, Jacquie Roberts, apparently wants it. She has a skilled chef and menu, but her clandestine location, spirited waiters, copious decor, jazz musicians, and unsurpassed view overlooking Seattle’s sound, are the obvious secrets to Pink Door‘s success.
The lady was right; we loved it.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 6, 2002
1919 Post Alley
Seattle, Washington 98101
+1 206 443 3241
Like so many other memorable places I’ve encountered in my travels, places that end up being a city’s main tourist attraction (think Savannah’s Squares, Chicago’s Grove), Pike Place Market was once within a shadow of the demolition ball. Were it not for a dedicated group of local citizens who managed to save the day back in 1971, this historic and fascinating place, the country‘s oldest continuously operating public market, would have been gone for good. Had that happened it would have totally ruined my day, because during our one-port day in Seattle the city stayed true to its reputation and was overcast and drizzling.
Luckily for us Pike Place Market emphatically endures and was the first stop in our walking tour from port. Stopping in for only a few photos and curiosities on our way to Pioneer Square, we stayed at the market the entire day! There is so much to experience that it is worthwhile to take the Market Heritage Tour sponsored by the Market Foundation, which also supports the many social service programs that take place within the Market’s nine acre facility--including Medical Services and Low-Income Housing for Seniors. During the tour you will learn about the value of Rachel, the Market mascot, where to spot an Emu egg, where all the gorgeous produce and flowers come from, and how to find the rummage sales and Aroma Row (hint: just follow your nose).
Besides the local specialties and flying fish you will find import shops that bring you face to face with exotic Afghanistan handiwork, beaded necklaces from Africa, Guatemalan tunics, and Indian saris. I bought authentic voile hand-embroidered peasant blouses for $12 and four stunning prints from Christina Nichols, an acrylic artist. My friend bought a collection of hand-made baby gear for her soon-to-arrive niece. It’s gratifying to find unique outlets that are not conglomerate businesses for retail giants. It is more fun to deal person-to-person with the creators (or importers) of the goods.
Pike Place Market is not only about shopping and dining. Musicians and entertainers keep spirits high as anyone with a permit can claim one of fourteen "notes" painted on the floor and begin to seranade. There are also some very quirky distractions for the shop-a-phobic and weary, including the giant shoe museum, interactive exhibits at the Heritage Museum and fortune tellers in the lower level mazes.
It’s obvious why 9 million people annually hike through Pike’s stalls and underground shops. It’s really like no place else and a grand entertainment oasis in rain-soaked Seattle.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 6, 2002
Pike Place Market
85 Pike Street
Seattle, Washington 98101
This charming city is often referred to as being "more British than Britain." One explanation for this is that when early settlers arrived during the rough and ready days of exploration and gold rush fever, they were intent on retaining their elegant manners and lifestyle in spite of being surrounded by wilderness. So effective were they that while Britain swayed to the modern era and relaxed many of its social mores and standards, Victoria remained sheltered in an emulation of the times of the queen for whom she is named.
So it is most fitting that the grand Empress Hoteltakes a regal seat at the mouth of the harbor and sets the stage for the entire area.Horse drawn carriages and double-decked busses shepherd tourists and lovers through the picturesque downtown with its Victorian facades and pubs with names like Sticky Wicket and shops selling all manner of specialties from the British Isles.
Victoria is perhaps more beloved as the starting place for great wilderness adventure. Who can come to Vancouver Island and not take advantage of its place on the sea by exploring the islands of the San Juan and Gulf? Any number of charter boat services are available to visitors who wish to explore the natural beauty and wildlife, including the famous Southern residents, three pods of killer whales who make these waters their home.
For those more prone to ethereal adventures of the imagination, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia has some impressive exhibits of the early days of naval history including the journeys of Captain Cook and Joshua Slokum, who just may be the first person to have circumnavigated the globe, (and not in any particular direct route). The Royal BC Museum offers first-rate exhibits paying homage to the many facets that influence life in BC from the original First Nation residents to the great explorers and the British Royalty, while the Craigdarrock Castle allows visitors a glimpse into the grand life of the wealthy coal baron, Robert Dunsmuir, at the turn of the century.
But do not miss the most simple and genial of all pleasures here, a stroll along the harbor front where artists, buskers, and tourists compete for your attention in the golden glowing sunshine of Victoria.
Town Of Victoria
Attraction | "No Boredom Once Onboard"
This seems to be the greatest fear expressed by non-cruisers and the obvious give-away that someone has never experienced cruising. Instead of clinging to an out-dated notion, imagine a day at sea spent doing the things described below. Isn't this just what you dream of doing on your day off? Now add a fabulous view that changes every second...
Water, water everywhere and bubbling hot tubs, too! The Zaandam has two pools; an indoor pool with a retractable roof, and an outdoor pool open to the elements. Though the weather on sea days was decidedly nippy, even the outdoor pool on the aft (back) deck hosted a number of brave souls. As steam surged from the heated waters--it was especially inviting with the beautiful scenery of the Straits of Georgia forming the backdrop.
The indoor pool was also the setting for two sail-away parties which are typically well-attended events. Once everyone has made their way back on board after a day in port, the captain celebrates this feat with a cocktail toast before setting off to the next destination. Sailing away is a major pleasure, watching the port with a new awareness from a different vantage point. As the shoreline drops into the distance, inevitable conversations ensue with other passengers as they share tales of their day and experiences in the port of call. Everyone has something new in common.
On some ships there is fanfare in the way of sea-faring music, the theme from "Christopher Columbus" (very atmospheric) or Time to Say Goodbye by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli (which reduces me to tears for no good reason). Unfortunately, the Zaandam music selection was an out-of-place steel drum combo that must be still rehearsing before the ship’s foray into the Caribbean. That’s okay, sail-away was nevertheless memorable.
Movies and More
Watching the scenery on sea day is a wonderful pasttime, but when the sun sets, or if inclement weather strikes, there’s no better place to catch up on the film you missed than shipboard. The Zaandam has a digital sound large screen movie theater, the Wajang, where movie-style popcorn is available as you enter. Two different recently-released movies are shown twice during the day. Additionally, two movie channels run continuous showings in the staterooms. For suites guests, a DVD selection is also available.
Sports and Fitness
No time for sports and exercise? You’ll need to find a new excuse while cruising. Fitness centers are set on the top decks with open views of the sea and all the accoutrements of the best-equipped health clubs including TVs, headsets, and monitors. Classes in Pilates, Yoga, Aerobics and Mile-Deck-Walks are offered throughout the day. Sporting challenges such as basketball, free-throw competitions, team volleyball, ping-pong tourneys, putting contests, and the ubiquitous (and noisy!) shuffleboard matches are also available. Coveted prizes are offered to winners in many categories. Not everyone gets that unique Zaandam gimme cap, you know.
Holland America Zaandam (Cruise Boat)
Attraction | "Lunch with the Captain, Salmon Bake and Other Fun"
In the midst of this flitting, I respected my duties and accepted an invitation to the Captain’s Luncheon. All suite guests and HAL Cruise Club members were invited to attend and it would be considered rude to decline.
The Crow’s Nest Lounge at the top deck of the ship was the ideal place to gather mid-day with the wide bank of windows offering glorious views of the sound. A greeting from the ship’s officers and Cruise Director was followed by a formal introduction to the Captain. Not typically subject to the embarassment of hero worship, I was nevertheless impressed to meet the supreme commander of our floating city, recognizing the Captain's achievements and the depth of his responsibility and authority.
Champagne and hors d’oeuvres worthy of the esteemed host were passed by white-gloved waiters while the chef put the finishing touches on a buffet spread of delectable cold seafood, caviar, and salads. Beyond the ice sculpture were chafing dishes of Thai cuisine forming the balance of the unique meal.
I was seated with a delightful elderly couple who regaled me with tales of their adventurous life in the military while stationed in the South Pacific while I munched caviar ladden crackers and satay.
If it hadn’t been for the charm of this encounter, I might have felt cheated to have missed the special Northwest Barbeque that was held simultaneously on the Lido deck. Reports were that it was another of the cruise’s tastiest repasts. The scent of fresh Alaskan alderwood smoked salmon drifting into the upper decks verified the claim.
After lunch I tried to check my email at the Internet Café adjacent to the very well-visited library, but found there was no satellite connection in the Straits of Georgia. Instead, I followed the strains of classical music coming from across the deck and the Explorers Lounge. It seemed that no time had passed before afternoon tea was being served. Again, the white-gloved waiters appeared with their trays of snacks and sweets. But as it was my time to spa, not nosh, I moved upstairs to the spa steam and sauna.
Afterward, I relaxed in the chilly autumn air covered with the plaid ship’s blankets while watching for dolphins and Orcas. After sighting a few flippers, I reluctantly left the deck as night fell and prepared for our last dinner onboard.
After another fine meal, I stopped at the Sea View Piano Bar to bid adieu to the high-spirited chanteuse who had urged me earlier to listen to her newest compositions. Would we be at the Crow’s Nest Disco for the party later, she wondered? Not likely. This had been quite a full day, after all.
Attraction | "Games, Games, Games!"
Audience gives thumbs up sign.
"And here come to the two fat ladies, O-88!"
I expected some reaction to this last comment but the only thing I heard was, "Bingo!" from a reticent little fellow in the back.
Bingo is a big deal on many ships with some even hosting special Bingo cruises. Though I’d typically not indulge in such high-stakes gambling, while out at sea it is a ridiculously pleasant sort of endeavor. Jackpots often grow large by the end of the cruise when the black-out game is rolled-over. If you cover your card with the minimum number of calls, you win thousands. Why not try to win back the cost of your cruise and learn the inside lingo of bingo while you are at it?
- By the way, "eleven" represents a pair of legs, hence the whistle, "twenty-two" looks like two little ducks, hence the quack, and you can figure out the "eighty-eight" significance without help, I’m sure.
Liars and Trivia
Perhaps it is the long days at sea that make people crave the mental stimulation brought about by tests of trivia and memory. Whatever the reason, they are immensely popular on cruise ships. The Zaandam offered the Daily Quiz, the Liar’s Club, (where four people offer definitions to obscure words and you have to guess which one is telling the truth), Name That Tune, and Team Trivia.
The Casino is typically a major attraction on cruise ships. International laws allow gambling, of course, in open waters. As most people would need to travel to Monte Carlo, Reno, Vegas or the local reservation to try their hand with lady luck, the casinos onboard are inviting and tempting to non-gamblers and high-stakes players alike.
Some cruise lines offer great incentive and loosen up the machines just enough so that man on the street feels satisfied with a few token winnings. Word is that the Zaandam with its stately, elderly crowd are not really big gamblers. Since it’s a numbers game, and low number of players equals low number of paid winners, consequently my play usually ended in about five minutes. Twenty dollars just doesn’t go that far in this casino!
After the evening's meal and entertainment, crowds pour into the casino looking for stimulation. It is surprising how many people come only to observe. Of course there are always the die-hards, as the little granny posed like a fixture who I’d noticed already on the first night. Well-coiffed but always wearing dark glasses (the glare of those machines can get obnoxious after a few hours), she played as a pro with amazing staying power. As luck would have it, on the last night of the cruise I took a seat at the overcrowded row of slot machine when "granny shades" struck it rich winning $5,000 on a Wheel of Fortune machine. I then understood why she wouldn't leave her station for four days!
Restaurant | "Tea at the Empress Hotel"
It was with this plea in 1971 that the grand Empress hotel was spared proposed demolition and underwent a $4 million-dollar restoration instead. As another example of the power of local preservation efforts, Operation Teacup, a grass roots effort to save the esteemed but dowdy hotel was successful and has subsequently made the hotel a favorite for honeymooners and photographers alike with its elegant position overlooking the harbor.
But perhaps the ultimate advantage of the salvation of the Empress is found in the Tea Room. Here, on a daily basis more people take time for tea than they do in any hotel in London, England. Teatime, reportedly originated by the Duchess of Bedford to avoid "sinking spells" between breakfast and dinner, is a much anticipated light meal and divine opportunity to relax and visit with friends in the late afternoon. At the Empress this tradition has been elevated to an art
form and is so very popular for all the same reasons it has endured for over two centuries.
A number of equally important components combine to convince 900 daily visitors that $42.95 is not too much to pay for tea and a light snack. (The cost of tea for two is included in special packages with a two-night stay.) The most important of these elements is the striking ambiance. Step into the lobby tea room with its beautiful polished wood, tapestries--one of note having been bequeathed by the King of Siam--overstuffed furnishings, potted palms, and ceiling fans and you are transported to a more tranquil era. Take a seat at your tea table set delicately with Royal Dolton China, gleaming silver and starched linens and even before the specially blended Empress tea is steaming a definite move toward relaxation will have occurred.
If you are lucky to have Yohannas as your waiter, with the mega-watt smile and charm that precedes him by twenty paces, you will be enchanted even further as he presents you with flawless strawberries followed by a tower of scrumptious scones and clotted cream and finger sandwiches made from ideally balanced flavors including; delectable local smoked salmon, distinctive ginger and carrot, traditional egg salad and ultra-refreshing cucumber.
Through the arched windows I watched the traffic ‘round the harbor--not busy on the crisp October day in contrast to my earlier visit
high season when getting a reservation at any of the four daily seatings for tea was nearly impossible. Visit in autumn, and do as I did. Sit as long as you like and enjoy the tradition as it is meant to be; a restorative time with friends and a toast to tea, the epitome of civilized British behavior.
Fairmont Empress Hotel Restaurants
721 Government Street
Victoria, British Columbia