Travel: Seattle, gateway to a Pacific cruise

Swimming pools, sun loungers and a flume on board the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship
Swimming pools, sun loungers and a flume on board the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship
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After hitting the highlights of the city, float away on the Norwegian Bliss

It’s a skyline I know so well from repeat viewings of the sitcom, Frasier, and it’s therefore no small thrill to find myself at the top of Seattle’s famous Space Needle, looking out from the observation deck towards jutting skyscrapers and tranquil, sky blue waters.

Norwegian Bliss with its hull designed by marine wildlife artist Wyland

Norwegian Bliss with its hull designed by marine wildlife artist Wyland

And it’s possible to see down to the pier where we will set sail on a preview voyage aboard Norwegian Bliss, a newly launched cruise ship that can accommodate more than 4,000 passengers.

While cruises were once dismissed as the preserve of “newlyweds and nearly deads”, their popularity is surging as they modernise their image and adapt their offering to a younger audience. The addition of a city break ahead of setting sail is an option I can highly recommend, with the injection of sometimes gritty local culture and history providing an effective balance to the opulent luxury on board.

A particular highlight on land for me is the Museum of Pop Culture – or MoPOP – housed in a building designed by Frank Gehry to reference Seattle son Jimi Hendrix’s exploding guitar. It includes exhibitions devoted to fellow homegrown rock legends Nirvana, including items from their iconic MTV Unplugged set, a look at the fascinating history of Marvel, and a display featuring Dorothy’s dress from The Wizard Of Oz.

That film famously features the Emerald City, which is also the nickname for Seattle, where our other stop-offs include the brief but thrilling “flying theatre”, Wings Over Washington, which gives a high-tech, virtual look at the state’s best places to visit in rollercoaster-style seating. Barely have our feet touched the ground when we head to the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour, getting a peek at the enormous factory half an hour outside the city where we see twin-aisle aircraft including 787 Dreamliners being assembled by busy workers rendered ant-sized in comparison.

The Seattle skyline

The Seattle skyline

But the time has come to board Norwegian Bliss, and I’m intrigued as to how I’ll enjoy my first cruise. My initial impression is that the ship is pristine, decked out like an epic five-star hotel, stretching nearly 1,100 feet from bow to stern with almost 2,000 crew.

I make my way along its lengthy corridors to my “stateroom” lodgings, which are pretty spacious, with TV, double bed and sofa, decorated in marine blue and white, and offering a balcony with seating, where on several occasions I step outside and watch the scenery gradually drift past.

An exploratory wander through the vessel – aptly dubbed a “floating resort” – barely scratches the surface of what’s on offer, but I walk through high-end shops, a casino area and past a plethora of bars and restaurants as well as a vast sparkling chandelier suspended over a spiral staircase.

Over the course of the trip we eat in the likes of high-end Italian restaurant La Cucina, ending my meal with a slab of rich tiramisu; the more relaxed Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Sea, where we climb a mountain of nachos; and the embarrassment of riches that is a lunchtime seafood buffet, where I pile my plate high with crab claws, oysters and the rest.

Among the many concessions are a Starbucks, a patisserie and ice cream shop, and my favourite, Coco’s, an elegant café and chocolatier where you can order photogenic shakes decorated with multicoloured jelly sweets.

Combined with several places to order various takes on mojitos and craft beers, it’s no wonder that passengers are expected to gain a pound a day on a luxury cruise.

That said, there’s a running track and a huge gym plus exercise classes including yoga for seafarers with more willpower than I, as well as the Mandara Spa, where I try a salt scrub treatment, providing my skin with some much-needed and fragrant reinvigoration.

Staffed by an army of beauticians, the spa also houses a Thermal Suite where you can visit, say, the Salt Room and Snow Room, and admire the scenery from one of the loungers.

Although our cruise is a curtailed version of the full journey – we don’t make it as far as the liner’s eventual destination of Alaska – the 180-degree Observation Lounge, promises excellent views of glaciers, whales, bald eagles and more in the 49th state.

We do, however, complete one of the route’s stop-offs, disembarking in Victoria in Canada’s British Columbia, where we head to Butchart Gardens, 55 immaculately maintained acres that include a tranquil Japanese Garden.

Back on board, there are further activities to sample, from Jacuzzis and waterslides ranging from relaxing to blood-curdling, to laser tag and the longest competitive go-kart track at sea, located on the top deck. While the tight bends cause one driver (not me, ahem) to briefly lose control, it’s thrilling to speed round in the fresh air as the sun sets.

My preconceptions of cheesy cruise ship entertainment are blown out of the water with a visit to see an exemplary Beatles tribute band performing in a reconstructed version of the Cavern Club. We also watch the first production at sea of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys based on the life of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

While the cruise may offer decadence, you can indulge as much or as little as you want, with dining options, for example, ranging from laidback to luxurious. It would suit all kinds of passengers, from solo travellers – with studio rooms designed for this type of guest – to families and groups.

I’m reluctant to pack up and head for dry land, although numbing the pain is 
a stop-off at Seattle’s renowned Pike Place food market, home to brightly coloured flower stalls and the first ever Starbucks.

Goodnight Seattle, as Frasier famously said. I hope to return.

FACTFILE

Norwegian Bliss departs on a seven-day Alaska Highlights from Seattle throughout 2018. Travels Seattle (Washington); Ketchikan (Alaska); Juneau (Alaska); Cruise Sawyer Glacier; Skagway (Alaska); Victoria (British Columbia); Seattle (Washington). Premium All Inclusive is priced from £949 per person based on two people sharing an inside stateroom, £1,259 per person based on two people sharing a Balcony room, or £4,739 based on two people sharing a suite at The Haven. To book, visit www.ncl.co.uk or call a travel professional on 0333 2412319.