Like many places, Seattle offers a ticket pack for its main tourist attractions, which works out cheaper if you hit enough of them (or at least encourages you to see one you might otherwise have skipped). The Seattle cityPASS gives you three fixed attractions, and then two pairs of choices. Three of the seven – including two of the mandatory sites – I’d visited back when I first came to Seattle, but that was sufficiently long ago that I was keen to repeat them. That said, the ones which were new to me were also the ones I enjoyed the most!
Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour
One of those was an activity rather than a specific attraction: a tour of the harbour courtesy of Argosy Cruises. The voucher included in the cityPASS is good for their standard one hour itinerary around Elliott Bay and the waterfront, but can also be used as part payment towards one of their lengthier experiences. We stuck with the standard offering, which took a counterclockwise route around the bay, up past the piers and parks before looping back around for the docks. As it was another outrageously hot day we sheltered inside in the main cabin after a brief stint on the open air deck. Fortunately there are large windows through which to enjoy the view, some of which open for better photography; you can also find a bar here! The tour is narrated throughout, striking a good balance of informative without being excessively detailed. But mostly it’s just pleasant to be out on the water on a sunny day.
Also at the harbourside is another of the ‘compulsory’ stops, and probably the weakest of the pack: the Aquarium. Whilst I generally enjoy these, Seattle’s is only a small setup and feels very limited compared to, say, Vancouver’s. It didn’t help that the otters seemed to be in hiding! Still, we’re not the target audience – it’s probably one of the best sites for families – and there are some nice features like the jellyfish arch and the hands-on tide pool exhibit.
Museum of Pop Culture
This is one of the choices, but it seemed the obvious pick over Woodland Park Zoo. When I visited before this was two attractions, the Experience Music Project and the Science Fiction Museum. They’ve since merged them and broadened the remit to all of popular culture, but those original themes remain the strongest influences. For instance, the fantasy section feels like a hasty addition to catch up on the popularity of Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, whereas the science fiction collection holds some genuinely notable items.
Our visit coincided with an enormous exhibition, Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes, for which MoPOP was the premiere location (presumably it will go on tour once its extended stint here ends in March 2019). Although we’ve never got into the comics, we’ve enjoyed plenty of the films in the Marvel cinematic universe over the decade or so that it’s been building up, and this exhibition recognised that this is where most people’s familiarity would come from, being packed with props from the films. Standard entrance didn’t cover this, but fortunately it was only an $8 upgrade from the cityPASS ticket, which I think was well worth the extra.
Seattle’s retro-futuristic icon kicked off my interest in the world exposition sites, and remains one of my favourite pieces of architecture. Thus it was somewhere I was particularly looking forward to revisiting – and thus particularly disappointed by… 2018 has seen a major refurbishment project, but it simply wasn’t finished when we were there, with sections inaccessible and others resembling a construction site with bare cables and chipboard walls. We nearly missed the glass floor level, since signage wasn’t yet in place!
Further, our visit was also marred by intolerable queues, and I have no way of knowing whether those were just a side effect of the works or par for the course in the summer. We’d sauntered over to the Seattle Center to head up around lunchtime, only to find that the first time slot we could book was 4pm. Rather than be constrained to the area, we chose instead to claim an evening visit, carefully timed for sunset. Alas, the ticket times are for when you can join the queue, and it took us a good 45 minutes simply to get to the elevators, watching sunset from the ground in the meantime. Whilst the nighttime views over the city are nice enough, overall we spent more time trying to get into the Needle than actually in it. Had I paid full price, I’d be very unimpressed with the experience – but I’d probably still try again on another day, and I doubt this account will (or should) dissuade anyone else from giving it a shot. Just manage your expectations…
Chihuly Garden and Glass
If the Space Needle underwhelmed, this one exceeded expectations. A friend had strongly recommended it to us, so we picked it over the alternative (Pacific Science Center, which is more obviously my cup of tea) despite some skepticism on my part – caused by some mediocre glassworks experiences as a kid.
My reluctance was ill-founded; Chihuly is clearly at the top of this game, and this exhibition presents his work in a series of fantastic galleries before opening out into a garden featuring even larger installations. For a photography geek, it’s a delight – although navigating this much fragile glass whilst framing shots is occasionally nerve-wracking! (This anxiety was not alleviated in what must be one of the world’s most expensive museum gift shops, either.) If you were pushed for time, I think this is the one attraction I’d now consider a must-see.