Sleeping in Seattle

Planning

After my second honeymoon last September I didn’t expect that I’d be travelling for a while. My mileage balance was low and my remaining 2for1 voucher was likely to expire unused. But one day on the train to work I got a text from Schofs to say that BA were offering a massive 50% of mileage redemptions and 2for1 vouchers would still be valid!

For the rest of the journey I was trying to remember how many miles I had and to work out where I could go and who I could go with.

When I got to work I found that I had about 90,000 miles and a 2for1 that would expire in April. By this time I’d decided that it’d be good to do a trip with my father so I mailed him with a number of options with North America looking like the best value (usually 300,000 miles for two people in F brought down to just 75,000 with the 2for1 and this special offer). He selected Vancouver as the preferred destination and so I went to book…

Before sending him the options I’d carefully checked the availability of flights and Vancouver looked good. However by the time I went to book it appeared that I wasn’t the only one to have this idea and availability in both Club and First was pretty restricted. However vague memories of Frasier and a quick look at Google Earth gave me the idea of booking a return to Seattle instead. Availability was wide open so we have no problem securing two First class returns.

London Heathrow – Seattle in BA First Class

The 14:20 departure meant that there was no rush in the morning. In fact my father and I even had time to make a trip to the local tip before getting changed to await our car to the airport.

Andrew (of Platinum Cars) was once again right on time and keen to demonstrate the features of his latest car. With the seat position and temperature set to our liking we were on our way to Heathrow.

Once at Heathrow we were dropped at the South end of terminal 5 and made our way inside to the First class check in area. Now I’ve written before about the lacklustre ‘welcome’ that I’ve received in the past but on this occasion it was very pleasant. After entering War and Peace into the computer the check in guy handed over our boarding passes.

As usual the ‘fast’ track security wasn’t anything of the sort but once clear we presented ourselves at the ‘secret’ door to the Concorde room and made our way inside.

The room was fairly quiet, I noticed David Walliams sat in the corner before we headed to the dining area. The service here was very prompt and we were soon enjoying a glass of champagne and a very strong G&T. I had the sausage & mash which was perfectly acceptable and my dad enjoyed a Caesar salad.

Boarding was from a B gate so we left plenty of time for the short transit over to the B terminal.

We were the first F passengers on board and were quickly seated in row 4. The flight was very good, service was attentive and we each got a personal welcome for the purser. Amusingly they assumed that my dad was the gold card holder so he got the full ‘welcome to gold’ speech before directing the purser over to me! :-) On board we met up with another FTer who was on an epic mileage burning effort including a flight on the new A380.

We landed perfectly on time in Seattle, immigration took a fair time so I’m glad we were first in the queue. Our bags took a while to arrive and after clearing customs and a transit to the main terminal building we were in a taxi into Seattle.

Seattle

We checked in at the Seattle Sheraton at around 5pm. I’d booked a room on points and a lack of status with Starwood meant no upgrades but the room was nicely finished and a good size. After so many meals in the last 12 hours we weren’t particularly hungry so we went for a short walk to get our bearings.

We then retired to the hotel bar for some local beer and snacks. We noticed in the lobby that Microsoft had some demonstration models of their ‘surface’ technology and they seemed very popular.

The next morning we decided to head to the bay and try to find some breakfast. Unfortunately at 7am on a Sunday we struggled. Having walked down to Pike Place Market and then down to the water and finding everything closed we decided to keep walking. At this point it started to rain and so we considered making a retreat back to the hotel but decided that we were sure to find something if we kept going and so made our way to the Olympic Sculpture park.

As we walked along we couldn‚Äôt help but wonder who decided that what the city’s waterfront needed was a concrete, double-elevated freeway (highway 99). This freeway seems to run the length of the bay and is a considerable eye-sore. We later read in the local paper that this was a topic of much discussion with various options for its replacement being considered.

The sculpture park was nice but not hugely impressive as it’s quite small. At this point we could see the Space needle and so headed Northeast to the Seattle Centre.


This too was deserted and not well served by cafes and so we waited for the monorail to open before taking it back to our hotel.


We spent the rest of the day taking in the very impressive Seattle Art Museum and the Aquarium before heading back to the hotel to ask for a dinner recommendation.

With a booking made and directions in hand we headed to the Buenos Aires Grill. Here we had two problems. Firstly the directions were about 50 yards out and so we couldn’t find the place. The other problem was vagrants. Now obviously there are complex social issues behind this but ultimately it isn’t good for visitors to a city to be hassled for money at every corner. This was compounded by us having to walk back to the hotel, collect more accurate directions and then return back to the restaurant. In approximately 30 mins of walking we were probably approached about 10 times. How the locals put up with it I have no idea.

Once we found the restaurant we had a really nice meal, the meats and wines were excellent and I’d certainly go back (in a taxi).

Seattle to Vancouver (AmTrak Cascades)

The next morning was an early start, we had a reservation on the 07:40 AmTrak Cascades train from Seattle to Vancouver. This infrequent service takes around 4 hours mostly follows the coast up into Canada. I’d booked us business class seats but an equipment change meant that all seats would be coach. The very friendly check-in clerk organised me a refund and selected us two seats on the left hand side of the train to ensure the best view.


I needn’t have worried about the seats because there was plenty of room. After a coffee and freshly microwaved muffin we relaxed and watched the world go by.
Upon our arrival at Vancouver we had to pass immigration. Usually this is a mere formality, especially when entering a member of the commonwealth. However we were selected for extra screening for some reason which took about 30 mins. We had repeated questions about what we were planning to do and why. They were partially puzzled that we were staying in North America for such a short time and trying to explain the BA Airmiles redemption system only confused matters.

Fortunately we avoided having to call the Queen to ask for her assistance and we were allowed into Canada.

A short taxi ride saw us in the North Tower of the Vancouver Sheraton (Wall Centre). This very modern development was very impressive and our room on the 32nd floor commanded an impressive city view.

Our plan for the afternoon was to explore Stanley Park. We ended up doing the complete 5.5 mile circuit before returning to the hotel for a beer or two.


The concierge recommended an Asian restaurant called Azia for dinner and it was just yards from the hotel. We had a great pan-Asian meal before retiring.

The next day we had a hire car booked and we planned to go up to Whistler. However looking at various reports on the internet suggested that it might be tricky without snow tyres or chains but the Avis lady seemed pretty confident and so we planned to keep going until the snow got too deep. I tried to order a ‘full sized’ car but because we were dropping the car back in the USA we were limited to a ‘standard’ car which turned out to be this embarrassing thing:


I’m not 100% sure what it was but it was basically a PT Cruiser. That said with the rented TomTom secured to the screen and wonderful scenery outside we were more than happy.

The drive up to Whistler was about 80 miles through very scenic roads with many road works along the way. It was a very clear day with no hint of snow so we kept going. The town itself was very scenic with lots of skiers still enjoying the slopes. We soon found a café and spent a few hours people watching.


The drive home was equally pleasant and uneventful and by the time we got back to the hotel it was time for another couple of beers.

We wanted an Italian for dinner and the concierge recommended CinCin which turned out to be rather excellent. The food was fantastic and the service impeccable. So good in fact my dad vowed that when he returned to Vancouver he’d definitely eat there again.

Vancouver to Seattle by Car

Our penultimate day saw us loading up the Cruiser for the drive South. I decided to drive this section for two reasons, firstly the Amtrak service was a bus and secondly because we wanted to see the Boeing factory at Everett. We’d pre-booked a tour and when we were arrived we were two of a group of about ten.

Much was made of the need for security and that cameras and phones were not to be taken on the tour. A security guy mentioned some kind of scanner but that never materialised.

After a short video we were got on a bus towards the main building which is the largest enclosed space on Earth. We first visited the 747 production line and then the 777 and 757 lines. It was amazing to watch such huge machines slowly making their way down a production line.

After the tour we visited the future of flight exhibition which was pretty interesting although I found the references to Concorde strange and the plaques didn’t mention that Concorde was nothing to do with Boeing.

The drive back into Seattle was pleasant enough – we took some time to take a look at some of the lakes on the way and even went to look at a lakeside property development. Once in the city trying to find somewhere to park near our hotel (Westin Seattle) was a nightmare. Partly due to confusing one-way roads and partly because the satnav struggled to get a clear view of the sky and so was constantly 50 yards behind.

Eventually we managed to park about 100 yards from the hotel and I went to buy a ticket. I inserted $20 for an “all day ticket” only to get a ticket valid until 5am the following day (which would have only cost $6). My dad attempted to explain our situation to an attendant but the best he could get was “they like to tow cars here”. The result was that one of us (my dad in the end) would have to get up at 4:30 the next day to feed the meter.

As a finale to our trip I’d made reservations for dinner at the space needle restaurant at 7pm. However I was also keen to grab seats 1A and 1K for the return and so at T-24 hours (18:45) I was on the internet and into the check in system exactly on time and successfully reserved these seats.

We then got a taxi to the space needle and we were quickly into the lift for the 600 ish feet ride to the top.

The restaurant actually rotates and so it felt quite strange to stand in reception and see tables slowly pass by. There are two rings of seats, one by the window and one slightly raised on the inside. I was glad that we were able to get a window seat that allowed us to fully appreciate the views.

Given the venue I didn’t expect too much from the food and service but I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. A particular highlight for me was The Lunar Orbiter dessert which arrives in a fog of dry ice, great fun!


Eventually we made our way back down the glass elevator and into a waiting taxi back to the Westin.

Then next morning we were determined to find somewhere interesting for breakfast, a quick search on google revealed Lowell’s which looked perfect as was just yards from where we’d been walking only a few days before.

The place didn’t disappoint with a great breakfast selection and views across the bay. With an evening flight and only one remaining activity we took our time and enjoyed the bottomless coffee.

Eventually we loaded up the car and headed to our final tourist stop The Seattle Museum of Flight. All I can say is that if you make a visit make sure that you leave plenty of time as the place is huge! We must have spent an hour in the space section alone.

One of the main highlights of the tour was the outside section which included an old Air Force One jet, the first Boeing 747 and a Concorde.


Seattle – London Heathrow in BA First Class

We enjoyed the tour so much that we were stayed longer than expected and so had to get to the airport fairly quickly. Dropping the car back next to the main terminal was painless and we were soon at the dedicated First Class check in desk.


Once again we had to take a transit to the remote terminal and the First lounge. The lounge itself is quite small and the staff were very attentive and keen to help us get through the champagne. Business and First class passengers were invited to board last and so we made our way quickly through the air bridge and settled into our carefully pre-selected row 1 seats.

After dinner I watched Slumdog Millionaire before making up my bed and settling down to sleep.

I woke up about an hour outside London and just had time for a yogurt and a coffee before we landed. As we pulled up to the gate the captain announced “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London. I must apologise for our arrival time of 10 seconds ahead of schedule” which made me smile.

We got to immigration and I was surprised to learn that my dad had registered for Iris and so we were quickly through to baggage claim and the real world.

I met up with Andrew for the ride home and my dad went to kill some time in the arrivals lounge (something I have yet to try) before his train back up to Scotland.

Overall it was another very successful trip. Seattle has a lot to offer but really need to sort some details out before it can be a true holiday destination. Vancouver was wonderful as ever despite the grilling on arrival! My dad really enjoyed the break and has vowed to collect enough BA miles to return for a longer trip in the future. Praise indeed!