Cruise from Seattle – the essential guide

Much more than just a departure point, this major city in the Pacific Northwest is worth exploring. Cruise from Seattle and get to know this great place!

Located in the state of Washington, Seattle is synonymous with Starbucks, Seahawks, the tech industry, and the great outdoors. And the port of Seattle has been a gateway for cruise travelers exploring Alaska for many years. Alaska cruises depart primarily from this busy port, and the cruise industry contributes considerably to the regional economy around Seattle.

The surrounding area of this coastal city offers superb hiking, biking, and trails far from the beaten path in the evergreen hills and mountains. But Seattle is best known for its life on the water. The Puget Sound region is fantastic to experience by boat or kayak. 

And the sprawl of the city surrounded by hills and mountains can be viewed from the most famous landmark of Seattle, the Space Needle.

Cruise from Seattle, the Emerald City

Currently, seven major cruise lines offer cruises starting in the Port of Seattle. Check your cruise ticket to ensure you know which of the two terminals your cruise ship uses, as they are in two different parts of the city. See below for more information on getting to your cruise port and finding the correct terminal.

A cruise from Seattle means that you can take the opportunity to enjoy the city before you start your vacation. A cruise guest’s average time in Seattle before a cruise is just three nights and two full days. But you can see and do a lot within this time. So pack your walking shoes and a rain jacket (you’ve heard about the weather) and follow our suggested 2-day guide below.

Seattle – the gem of the Pacific Northwest

Your most challenging job will be deciding which parts of the city and surrounding area you want to see in the time you have. Perhaps you want to see more of the popular touristy spots or if you are a returning visitor, find the tucked-way local favorites. Or even stay in the city but spend days discovering the nature around you.

Surrounded by water, there are plenty of islands around Seattle to see. Some are accessible by bridges, others only by ferry. One of the most popular to visit is beautiful Bainbridge island, and if you have time, head over to the island from the Seattle Ferry Terminal in downtown Seattle. The boat ride over takes around 35 minutes. Start your visit at Waterfront Park, popular with tourists and locals alike. Restaurants and shopping are all within walking distance from here.

Transport to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown Seattle

Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is 22km/14 miles south of the city. Depending on traffic and the location of your hotel, transfer time by taxi or uber is around 25 minutes.

Rail

A great way to travel from the airport to downtown Seattle, the light rail takes about 40 minutes.

The rail connection is cheap, fast, and easy to navigate. You can connect to Link Light Rail directly from the arrivals terminal. After collecting your luggage, follow the “Link Light Rail signs.” 

You will go up the escalator and across the Sky Bridge. Buy your ticket at the ticket machines and head up the escalator towards the platform. Once there, the signs above you will say “Seattle and the University of Washington.” If you are staying at a hotel downtown, you will most likely need to get off at Westlake station. Check with your hotel which station is closest.  

Taxi

Exit the terminal on the 3rd floor where you’ll find taxis – either metered or those offering a flat rate. Check the price with the driver before climbing in. You can pay by card or cash.

Lyft, Uber, and Wingz

Download the app and use your favorite transport service, all serviced at the airport.

Bus

Sound Transit provides regular bus schedules into the city. Follow the signs in the arrivals lounge to the bus station. Remember that while this method of transportation from the airport may be the cheapest, it is also the slowest due to the number of stops you’ll make and possible traffic congestion. We recommend the Light Rail option, which is only a few dollars per person and a much quicker and smoother way to get to the city.

Where to stay before your cruise from Seattle

As you can imagine, this major city has hundreds of hotels to choose from. And it all depends on what kind of cruise customer you are. Here are the hotels we recommend, read on to find out why and what these areas offer, then pick the one that suits you best.

Hotels close to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport 

Many cruise travelers want a place to stay at the airport, especially if the flight arrives late or they have visited Seattle before and are just interested in a place to stay and then transfer directly to the port, ready for the cruise. It is also a way to keep your costs down – airport hotels are less expensive than those in the city. The Link Rail will give you easy access to and from the city for sightseeing.

Our recommendations for hotels close to the airport are;

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Seattle-Sea-Tac Airport

This is a basic 3-star hotel with 171 rooms. Expect a comfortable bed and tea and coffee-making facilities in your room. Breakfast is complimentary, as is wifi throughout the hotel. There is a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel (approx 1 mile/1.6 km). If you want to get to downtown Seattle, you are just a short walk from Angle Lake Station Light Rail, where you can hop on the train downtown.

The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle to Westfield Mall, where there are plenty of eateries, and they partner with National Town Car to provide guests with a shuttle service to pier 66 and 91 cruise terminals. The shuttle to the dock costs $15 per person, and you need to make a reservation. Just talk to the reception staff when you check in.

Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center

The Hilton Seattle is a good value airport hotel, and if you are a member of the Hilton Honors Rewards program, you may also get a better rate. What we like about the Hilton is that you can walk directly from the airport across the Sky Bridge to the hotel. There is a good restaurant, coffee shop, and free wifi, and the hotel is just a short walk to the light rail station.

Hotels in downtown Seattle popular with cruise guests

Many like to stay downtown for obvious reasons. If you are only in town for a few days, you want to fit in as much as possible, which means having the major sights on your doorstep. 

Many travelers and residents will advise against staying around Pike Place, the areas between 1st and 2nd avenue, and Pioneer Square due to the dangers of walking in the evening. So make a wise choice by researching and staying where you feel most comfortable.

Downtown hotels in Belltown

The following recommended hotels are in the downtown area of Belltown, within walking distance of each other:

Warwick Hotel

An excellent hotel just 15 minutes walk from the Space Needle. Ask for a room on a high floor to get sweeping city views.

Mayflower Park Hotel

Located not far from the Warwick Hotel, the Mayflower Park Hotel is next to the Seattle Light Rail and the Seattle Monorail at Westlake, which connects you directly with the Space Needle if you do not want the 15-minute walk. The next-door Westlake Center offers a great shopping center with all your favorite high street brands on your doorstep.

The Sound Hotel Seattle Belltown

This is a Hilton hotel in a good location. The rooms and clean and rather basic, but the front desk service is excellent. There is a restaurant on-site for breakfast.

Downtown hotels near the Seattle Center and Space Needle

The Seattle Center is a huge event and entertainment center in the city. Find out more about what’s happening during your stay on their website here. The most popular hotels in this area for cruise guests are:

Hyatt House

This 3-star hotel is the closest hotel to Seattle’s Space Needle, and with breakfast included, it’s an excellent value-for-money option in a good area.

The Mediterranean Inn

The hotel has a lovely rooftop patio and a free shuttle to the port. And if you are traveling in a group, they offer discounted group rates. They also will arrange an airport pickup and a transfer from the hotel to your cruise terminal for a fee. Note there is no breakfast at the hotel, but many cafes around the hotel offer breakfast.

Staying close to the Port of Seattle 

If you are content to take local transport or hop into an uber to get into the downtown area, then you could be the type of cruise guest that prefers to stay close to the port.

And for this, you need to know which port your cruise ship uses. Always check this with the cruise line to ensure that information can change or be updated.

There are two cruise port terminals in Seattle:

Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66 – 2225 Alaskan Way, Seattle 98121

Stay at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront or the Edgewater Hotel, both close by. Pier 66 is within walking distance from Pike Place market. Kimpton Monaco is also a good hotel if you don’t mind staying downtown. It is a 5-minute taxi ride from Pier 66.

The Bell Street Cruise Terminal is 50 minutes transfer time from the airport.
Bell Street Cruise Terminal services Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises from Seattle.

Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 – – 2001 West Garfield Street, Seattle 98119

The Smith Cove cruise terminal is 15 minutes by taxi north of downtown Seattle.
Smith Cover Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 services Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Princess Cruises.

There are no hotels within walking distance of this port, so we recommend you stay in uptown Seattle, around the Seattle Center and The Needle, if your cruise ship departs from this pier. But really, any choice hotel in the city will be an Uber or taxi ride to this pier, so choose your favorite hotel that suits you best and arrange a transfer to the port. Your concierge can help you.

Switch the buzz of downtown for a stay at peaceful Lake Union

As a more relaxed alternative to staying in downtown Seattle, opt to stay on the shores of Lake Union instead. It’s still within easy reach of the city. Try the following recommended hotels for cruise guests:

  • Silver Cloud Inn Lake Union
  • Courtyard by Marriott Lake Union
  • Residence Inn Seattle Lake Union

How to get around the city

We recommend buying the Seattle City Pass if you stay a few days. This covers all your public transport in the city and gives you a discount on entrance fees to the major attractions. Check out the website for more information, what’s included, and prices.

An elevated monorail runs along 5th avenue in downtown Seattle. It runs between the Westlake Center and the Seattle Center without stops and will save you the 1.4km walk between them.

Uber and taxis are readily available around the city.

2 great ways to see the best of Seattle before boarding your cruise ship

Two days in Seattle will allow you to explore the city one day and venture further afield to visit the surrounding area. In particular, we recommend Mount Rainier, National Park. 

Day 1: Pike Place Market and Downton Seattle

Start your day at the heartbeat of downtown Seattle, the famed Pike Place Market. Pike Place Market is Seattle’s original food market, open since 1907. It may be one of the most diverse markets you will ever visit. Meet the locals, sample the fresh food and shop everything from food and drinks to arts and crafts.

Seattle is known for its seafood. Try some fresh oysters with a glass of Rose wine. Farm-to-table is common in Seattle, and there is no better example than right here at the market. Avoid the crowds and arrive early. It’s a huge market, so be prepared to spend a couple of hours here.

Close by is Starbucks – in fact, the world’s original Starbucks. Lines are long, so be warned and turn up early if you want a coffee from here! A popular alternative is Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Capitol Hill for a fantastic selection of coffees and coffee cocktails on their main menu.

Walk the central business district about 15 mins from Pike Place Market towards Pioneer Square. Along the way, you can call in at the Seattle Museum if you have time. Pioneer Square is full of coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries in buildings from the late 1800s. The Seattle Seahawks sports stadium, Lumen Field, is close by.

The Seattle Center and iconic Space Needle

Head north towards the Seattle Center, a prominent entertainment area and home to the Space Needle. Enjoy the art, culture, and urban life along the way as you walk along the avenues, which are fine during the day. In the evening we recommend a taxi. You are now walking the Belltown neighborhood and will most likely stay in this area.

It is worth buying a ticket and going up to the observation deck in the Space Needle. Walk the revolving glass floor and enjoy a cocktail with a world-class view. Book tickets online before you travel here.

Just beyond the Space Needle is the Queen Anne neighborhood. This is a fantastic, hip area that often has fewer tourists. You’ll find good bars and great shopping. 

A must-see is Dale Chihuly’s Garden and Glass exhibition. It’s a unique experience. View the Chihuly Garden and a stunning, permanent collection of Dale Chihuly’s glass art. See it to believe it!

As the sun sets, head up to Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill for photos of the Seattle skyline.

Day 2: Mount Rainier National Park & the wineries of Woodinville

If you love nature, take the opportunity while in Seattle to visit one of the most magnificent national parks in the USA – Mt Rainier National Park. 

Located nearly 2 hours south of Seattle, a day trip here is a full day, around 12 hours, and we highly recommend that you book a small group tour with transportation and a professional guide. Pack a rain jacket, good walking shoes, and a backpack, and head to this breathtaking region.

Alternatively, choose a half-day excursion and join a Woodinville tour to visit award-winning wineries. You can combine this tour with a visit to Snoqualmie Falls. Famous for its 147-meter waterfall, Snoqualmie Falls is outstanding in its natural beauty. Discover the history, significance, and cultural meaning of the Falls with your local guide.

How to get to the Port of Seattle

The Port of Seattle is the main cruise port for cruises to Alaska. The port is just footsteps away from downtown Seattle. Pier 66 is just 5 minutes walk from the Aquarium and a short walk from Pike Place Market.

One of the best services the port offers is the Port Valet. To encourage the cruise passenger to be able to visit Seattle before heading to the airport later in the day, the cruise port will transfer your luggage to your airline for you. For free.

Just place your luggage outside your cabin door, and you won’t see it again before you pick it up at the airport at your destination. You must register for this service before you cruise on their website and complete all details of your flight home so your luggage gets onto the same flight as you are! Sign up here.

There are two cruise terminals at the Port of Seattle:

1) Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66 – 2225 Alaskan Way, Seattle

Located at Seattle’s downtown waterfront. Forty minutes by taxi to the airport. If you are staying in downtown Seattle, we recommend a taxi or uber from your hotel for the short ride to the terminal.

If you are coming straight from the airport to the cruise port, you will need to get a taxi from the airport to the cruise port or take the Link Rail to Westlake Station in downtown Seattle to get a cab or Uber to the port.

Pier 66 is home to Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises.

2) Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 – 2001 West Garfield Street, Seattle

Smith Cove cruise terminal is on the northern end of Seattle’s waterfront.

If you are coming straight from the airport to the cruise port, you will need to get a taxi from the airport to the cruise port or take the Link Rail to Westlake Station in downtown Seattle to get a cab or uber to the seaport; about 20 minutes.

Pier 91 is home to Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean. 

Baggage service from port to airport

Port Valet offers a free transfer of your baggage from the ship to the airport. This is useful if you don’t want to be bothered with your luggage on departure day or if you want to spend your last day sightseeing in Seattle before heading to the airport for a later flight.

To use the service, you must sign up before you start your cruise on their website. Note that this service should resume again after the pandemic. Check out more on the website here.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.