With cramped quarters, recirculated air and middle seats that lack a view, most modern trips have become something to be endured rather than enjoyed. These days, it’s rare to recount a vacation journey matching the fun and excitement of the final destination. The dreamy kind of trip that allows you to soak in the region’s rich geography and arrive relaxed and ready for adventure.
As Seattleites, we are lucky to have this type of scenic getaway at our fingertips. A quick escape from the city by air or sea that shows off the natural beauty of the area before landing us in the unparalleled destination of Victoria, BC. The close-knit community includes everything from historical landmarks, to trendy boutiques and restaurants, to fabulous hotels. All within a 20-minute stroll from the terminal, making the city perfect locale to explore sans wheels.
Adventure By Sea
Traveling on the passenger-only Victoria Clipper is about as easy and low stress as it gets. Simply pick the dates you want to travel, reserve your trip and show up an hour before your departure to board. Easy peasy. A word to the wise, the further in advance you book, the lower boarding number you get.
We drive down to the Clipper terminal, leave our car at the discounted parking garage a few blocks away and make the three minute walk over to the terminal at Pier 69. Having already checked-in online, it’s a quick breeze by the check-in counter with plenty of time to pick up a quick mocha (Caffé Vita coffee, yum!) and breakfast burrito at the neighboring Clipper Cafe. Adequately fueled up for our journey, we head into the boarding lobby before boarding.
We walk aboard the spacious vessel and wander between the two levels of the boat until finding the perfect spot by the window on the bottom level. A little insider tip, the seats with tables are great for families who need a little extra space to spread out, while the seats near the back of the boat allow for a quick exit in Victoria if you are eager to get off and explore.
Settling into our comfy seats, the engines of the sleek, high-speed catamaran fire up with a reverberating roar. The mooring lines are cast off and land with a soft thud against the deck as the vessel slowly eases out of downtown Seattle’s Pier 69. Even as locals familiar with the sights of the Pacific Northwest, we keep our noses practically pressed to the glass to watch the scenery as we zoom along on the three-hour voyage to Victoria.
As the journey begins, we pass a forest of masts at Shilshole Marina, the sandy beaches of Golden Gardens and the quaint town of Edmonds, with ferries crisscrossing the waters to Kingston. Continuing along the coast of Whidbey Island, snow-capped mountains loom in the distance, contrasting with the bluebird sky. On the right is the mighty Cascade Range, to the left, the equally impressive Olympic Mountains.
Our onboard attendant makes her way through the ship taking orders for snacks and my travel companion and I decide to indulge in a little bubbly paired with a cheese plate from the vessel’s on board menu to kick off our trip. Suddenly, not long after entering the Strait of Juan De Fuca, our boat comes to a crawl and then stops. Our eagle-eyed captain has spotted some spectacular ocean friends not too far off our port side. Our day of adventure now doubling as a whale watching trip as we observe two of our resident black and white orcas splash and play with their two babies.
Resuming our journey after spending 30 more minutes with the majestic creatures, the Clipper rounds the bend on the approach to Victoria’s Inner Harbour in what seems like only a matter of minutes. Holding court over the Inner Harbour, the stately and iconic Fairmont Empress and Parliament Buildings greet us as we glide into the calm, protected waters.
The boat pulls smoothly into the Belleville Street terminal, landing us in the heart of the city. From there it’s a quick, efficient trip through customs and my travel companion and I are out window-shopping on the streets before we know it. With our return trip on the ferry to Seattle not departing until the evening, there is ample time to discover the city’s can’t-miss shops and sights, mouthwatering meals and a seemingly endless number of stunning view points.
Adventure By Air
If you want to mix it up, allow your inner travel junkie to experience both of the Pacific Northwest’s unique forms of transportation. Catch a Kenmore floatplane ride up to Victoria in the morning and cruise back to Seattle in the evening on the Victoria Clipper ferry. It’s a bit of a splurge, but as one of the most fascinating ways to experience the region, this sea and sky adventure should be a must-do on every Seattleite’s list.
The waters of Lake Union make the perfect runway for Kenmore Air’s fleet of planes. On a separate trip to Victoria, we approach the Kenmore airport terminal where our classic, white-bodied, yellow-striped DCH-2 Beaver seaplane bobs gently in the water next to the floating dock. Making our way down the jetway, we clamber up the steps to the floatplane and settle into the roomy, wood-trimmed cabin.
My companion scores the passenger seat in the cockpit and gets a first-hand view as the pilot goes through his pre-flight checklist. The instrument panel is full of dials to watch, switches to flip, and knobs to turn, push or pull (no worries, if you get this coveted seat, you are a designated observer only).
Ignition! The plane engine comes to life and the single, nose propeller whirs faster and faster until the individual blades become a continuous blur. The water sprays to the sides as we pick up momentum and suddenly we are up and airborne.
Magical, breathtaking views begin the moment we take flight. As we depart, the plan banks left soaring over Lake Union as we stare down at the iconic Space Needle and downtown skyscrapers, their windows glinting in the early morning sun. This bird’s-eye-view gives us a completely new and awesome perspective of Seattle.
Our journey continues over the waters of the Salish Sea, where we are greeted with more incredible 360 degree views. The waves sparkling like sapphires below and the San Juan Islands appearing as deep, emerald green gems scattered in a huge pond. No matter how you slice it, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest never ceases to amaze and surprise me.
The plane makes a final arch in the air and though it’s been a mere 45-minutes since lift off, we begin making our descent. The aircraft’s pontoons once again skim on the surface of the water and glide to a stop in downtown Victoria’s Inner Harbour. This may be the only airplane flight I have been on that’s left me wishing it lasted a little longer.
Unlike a normal trip to the airport, there no long hallway-clogging security lines, no TSA agents, pat downs and no hassle. With a just a few other passengers from the plane, we clear Canadian customs when we step off the plane and are strolling the streets in heart of downtown Victoria in under 10 minutes.
After a day of exploring, the less than three-hour ride back to Seattle on the Victoria Clipper provides the perfect respite for weary feet. We cozy up with a cocktail from the ship galley’s bar, reflect on a day’s worth of adventures and then wander out to the back deck to watch the sun as it sinks below the horizon.