One of the things I want to do in retirement is to travel a bit.
I don’t want to live out of a suitcase or to be gone for a couple months at a time (I like my routines at home too much for that) but there are some places I want to visit.
As I do get out and see the world I’ll be sharing my experiences with you — what we did, how we liked it, the costs, tips, etc.
We haven’t traveled much so far during retirement but that’s about to change — some trips are coming up so be ready!
For today, we’ll begin with a fun trip I took this spring.
And BTW, all the photos in this post are mine.
Senior Trip to Seattle and Portland
We started a tradition when my son graduated high school.
We would pay for the kids to take a senior trip to wherever they wanted to go (within reason) as part of their graduation present (we also give them cash).
My son chose to go back to Michigan to see his friends and spent a week causing all sorts of trouble in our old home state.
My daughter graduated this year and wanted to go to Seattle. She likes the cloudy/rainy days that Seattle often has (they remind her of Michigan) and thinks she might like to live there one day. And while we were so close, she wanted to check out Portland as well.
I was selected as her guide (no one had to twist my arm) and the planning began this past spring.
Before you knew it, she had graduated and we were off to Seattle.
This post will provide highlights of our trip.
Getting to Seattle and Our Accommodations
Our trip was set as follows:
- June 20 — Fly to Seattle
- June 21-24 — See Seattle
- June 25 — Drive to Portland
- June 26 — See Portland
- June 27 — Drive back to Seattle and fly home
The first thing we secured were our flights. After looking at all the options we got what I thought was a decent deal — $165 round trip tickets each on Delta. We each had one personal item (backpack) and carry on item (small suitcase) so we avoided any baggage fees.
When I looked at places to stay, I started by looking at Hilton hotels. I have been a Hilton Honors member for years and like their hotels (unfortunately I have allocated all my points for a room during my daughter’s college drop-off.)
When I looked at the hotel prices they were sky high ($300-$400 a night) and required a ton of points if I had them to use.
Non-Hilton hotel chains had the same costs. What did I expect any way when going during the height of tourist season?
So I went a different route and began to look for options on Homeaway, VRBO, etc.
We eventually found this one bedroom apartment on Homeaway (the color scheme wasn’t what’s pictured but it was similar). It was just over $300 per night (all fees included) but was MUCH nicer than a hotel. Plus since we were in the heart of everything, we skipped the need for a rental car while in Seattle.
We booked it and were set to go.
We did a lot of research before we went to help us decide what we wanted to see.
I have been to Seattle a few times, plus we got some travel books from the library, searched the web, and emailed a few friends who lived or had lived in Seattle.
From there we narrowed down our list to the things we were most excited about.
Since many of the places on our list were included, we bought two Seattle City Passes and then planned some additional visits as well.
Flight to Seattle
Let me say that the flights are always my least-favorite part of any trip. Oh for the old days when air travel was at least somewhat of a “treat”.
We flew out of Denver and when we arrived, the airport was packed. The flight next to us was over-booked by 20 people! Twenty people!!! How does that happen?
The airline offered $600 vouchers for people to volunteer to take a later flight but it looked like they weren’t getting many volunteers. Our gate was changed so we moved and never did see how it played out.
Our flight was packed as well, but everyone got on. Then they came on the intercom and said we had weight restrictions because of the temperature (hot) and altitude. They needed five people to get off.
They offered $1,000 vouchers and within a minute there were enough volunteers. I would have considered it if we weren’t on an early evening flight (I didn’t want to risk spending the night in Denver).
The flight was fine. Seattle was nice and cool (60 degrees) after the hot 90 degrees in Denver.
We took a cab to our place downtown, tossed our bags in the room, and set out to see what was going on. It was already 8:30 pm so things were getting quiet.
We were hungry and hit a local pizza place for dinner, then walked back home, unpacked, and got ready for the next few days.
Instead of giving you a day-by-day listing of what we did, I’m simply going to list all the things we saw over the course of five days. I’ll give my thoughts on them as well. Here goes:
- Pike Place Market — Everyone who’s ever gone to Seattle has gone to the Market, right? 🙂 We were there several times during our visit. One day we spent a few hours going from shop to shop to see what they had. I didn’t buy much (couple t-shirts) and my daughter got tons of stickers. It’s a must-see IMO just for the people-watching and all the various products available.
- Seattle Aquarium (part of the City Pass) — One of my favorite places on the trip. I’m generally not a big aquarium fan, but this one was very nice — small, easy to see, and animals were easy to view. They had otters too which I’m a sucker for. We went when it opened and had the place virtually to ourselves. When we left a couple hours later we could hardly get out (and this was a Wednesday). This tip held true during our entire time: get there early and the crowds will be very light.
- Harbor Cruise (part of the City Pass) — This one was a mixed bag. If we were able to sit outside on the top deck, it would have been much better. But we got there late and had to sit underneath. We also picked the wrong side of the ship (left). So my tips here are to get there early to get an outside seat and sit on the right side of the boat for the best city views. That said, the views were good even where we sat and the tour overall was fine enough.
- Space Needle (part of the City Pass) — We got there at opening time and maybe 50 people total were up there, so that was nice. This is one of those things you have to see (it’s Seattle’s most-popular attraction) if you visit, but it’s really not that great IMO. I get it — it’s a high view of the city. Ok, but that’s it. You can only spend so much time looking at the city and can only take so many pictures. Now that I’ve done it I don’t need to go back.
- Museum of Pop Culture (part of the City Pass) — The City Pass got us in but they charged us an extra fee to see their special “Muppet” exhibit. It was only $5 each, but still. We did it anyway as we were there to see everything. I liked the museum, especially the Star Trek exhibit and the horror movies section. There was also a cool playground outside that had tons of kids. My daughter climbed to the top twice.
- Pacific Science Center (part of the City Pass) — They had an extra fee to see the Terracotta Warriors but we didn’t find out about it until we got to the exhibit. I would have paid it ($15 extra each) but we would have had to go back to the gate and we were done with the museum by then. Overall, the Center was “ok” but not great. Nothing spectacular (other than the giant chess board we played) and no real reason to go back.
- Wings over Washington — We killed ourselves the first two days and saw the six places listed above, so we added some things from our “maybe” list. This was one of them. If you’ve done the Soarin’ ride at Epcot you know exactly what this is. The reviews of it were spot on: great ride, expensive ($39 for two of us once all taxes and fees were included), and way too short (maybe five minutes long?) especially for the price. FYI, the site will say the “entire experience is 15 to 18 minutes” but this includes a childish holding area video before you get on the ride which takes about 10 minutes.
- Seattle Great Wheel — Views from here were great and we were on rather easily even though it was on Saturday (got there early). We went around 3-4 times at a slow pace which was more than enough. It was worth doing once but I wouldn’t do it again.
In addition to these more touristy places, we hit tons of other spots including:
- Various places to eat — We ate at local places as much as we could
- Various stores for shopping including chains (REI, Neiman, Columbia, etc.) and local spots
- Seattle Waterfront — Lots going on down there, it’s just fun to walk around
- The Market Theater Gum Wall — Yep. Disgustingly interesting.
- Ye Olde Curiosity Shop — This was mentioned in several guide books so their marketing person is doing a great job — it’s basically a large tourist trap full of stuff you don’t need.
- Downtown Regal Cinema — Awesome, comfy lounge chairs where we saw Wonder Woman and Pirates of the Caribbean (two separate nights).
Here are some places we considered going but eventually passed on:
- Seattle Zoo — This was on the City Pass as a choice between the zoo and the Museum of Pop Culture. My daughter doesn’t like zoos and I’ve seen enough of them. After seeing the Museum of Pop Culture I think we made the right decision.
- Chihuly Garden and Glass — This was on the City Pass as a choice between here and Pacific Science Center. We didn’t go here since we had seen a Chihuly exhibit when we lived in Grand Rapids. But after going to the Pacific Science Center, I think we made the wrong choice.
- Seattle Underground Tour — We considered this but after reading the reviews it sounded like more talking and less actual sightseeing. My daughter was less than impressed with that option so we decided to pass.
By the way, we happened to hit a sunny/hot several days in Seattle. I loved it but my daughter wanted the cool, rainy weather she’d heard so much about. 🙂
On Sunday morning we took a cab to the airport, got a car, and drove to Portland. It was 103 degrees there when we arrived in the late afternoon.
We stayed at The Duniway Hotel, a swanky Hilton property that I splurged for since we were there for only two nights and wanted to be where the action was.
Turns out Portland doesn’t have much action — at least not compared to Seattle.
It was much smaller than Seattle and had much less going on, though the homeless population seemed larger.
We spent most of our time shopping the day and a half we were in Portland. Some highlights: Nike, Neiman Marcus, Powell’s Books (a monster of a store), downtown mall, and the candy store.
We walked the entire downtown what seemed like several times.
On Monday we had lunch with JD Roth from Money Boss and my daughter tolerated us while we chatted about money and blogging. 🙂
We watched two movies at the hotel (one each night — Lego Batman and Get Out) in our room on a nice 60-inch TV they had just installed.
Tuesday we got back in the car, drove to the Seattle airport, and caught a flight home.
We were offered $600 to wait for the next flight which seems to happen on almost every flight these days. I wonder if you could make money buying $250 tickets and cashing them in for $600 to $1,000 vouchers.
We arrived in Denver around 5 pm and my wife picked us up.
We were exhausted but had a blast.
Any thoughts from you more-experienced travelers on Seattle or Portland?