Ferries / Ships / Boats, Seattle
The Water Taxi travels between West Seattle and the downtown waterfront of Seattle. You can use it to visit West Seattle if you're staying downtown. There are beaches. We used to get to downtown. A waiter in a café in Auburn told us about free parking at Seacrest Park and the water taxi across Elliott Bay.
It's a great way to approach Seattle, by water as did many coming in from the Pacific. Before 10, parking was simple and the ride before and after pleasant. Approaching from the water, we could see the harbor and the skyline. Returning, it was a chance to sit for 20 minutes after walking all day in town.
It leaves every half hour. From Seattle it's on the hour and half hour. From West Seattle, it's on the 15 and 45 of the hour. It's $4.75 per person, senior (over 65) are $3.00. If you have an ORCA card, that also works.
I have written another tip on Washington State Ferries as recreational travel, where I focus on it as a thing to do in Seattle as they are the cheapest way to see the water and provide views of the surrounding area that other modes don't.
However, there is also the practical side of the ferries, which is also their primary reason to exist in the first place: to move people and highway traffic across the water.
The busiest terminal in the Seattle area is Coleman Dock, which is located at Pier 52 on the downtown waterfront. This is approximately 801 Alaskan Way. There can be very long lines to wait for the ferry, and frequently it is required that you wait in the queue area on Alaskan Way. Ferries from this dock go to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, with less traffic headed to Bremerton. Capacity of the ferries is limited by auto traffic, so if you can travel as a walk-on passenger I highly recommend this as it will require much less waiting in the auto queue. As of this writing, reservations for vehicles is not available on these ferry routes (they are available on some of the other routes).
Several construction projects have altered, and continue to alter on a regular basis, so it is best to check the Washington State Ferries web site for the current best approach to the ferries. There are signs posted in various locations giving directions to the pier. These have an image of a car driving onto a boat.
When your car is in position inside the queue inside Coleman Dock there is little chance of you being asked to move your vehicle. Indeed, you will be surrounded by other vehicles and likely hemmed in so that you can't move until the boat starts to load. Therefore, you will notice that many people will wander around the staging area, get a cup of coffee inside the building, explore the view of the water from the walkways, etc. This is because there is no point in just sitting there as there is no point in doing that. It won't be until the next boat is loading that people will start to move. You will see the boat approaching so you will have lots of warning when it does appear.
The street queue area is a different story, and it may be required that you move at random times as they shuffle cars around.
Once on the boat and fully parked you are free to wander around, go up to the passenger deck or decks, and get something to eat from a vending machine, restaurant, or snack bar. Virtually all the ferries, and all of the ferries used on the Bainbridge Island and Bremerton ferry routes, have elevators between the decks, and if you ask when you pay your auto fare those with a wheelchair placard may be able to be situated with their vehicle close to the elevator.
You will be asked to return to your vehicle about 5 minutes before the ferry arrives at the other end. Especially keep this in mind on the Bainbridge Island Route, as that is a much shorter trip than Bremerton.
On the busy ferry routes, walk-on passengers board using elevated walkways to access the passenger deck directly. See the photos of the walkway boarding. Some of the less crowded routes, such as most places in the San Juan Islands and Fauntleroy in southern Seattle, will board the passengers on the auto level before the auto traffic moves.
Both Bremerton and Bainbridge Island routes are popular ways to get to the Olympic Peninsula, but they provide different access points. Bremerton is a bit further south while Bainbridge Island is a more angled approach to the northern part of the peninsula. So, the route to take depends a lot on where you plan to go and what you want to see. However, keep in mind this is a popular weekend destination so Friday evenings and Saturday mornings may be busy here. However, these routes are not as overcrowded in the summer months as the Edmonds-Kingston route further north.
Keep in mind that these boats are utilitarian. They are not some luxury cruise liner. They are designed to be economical transportation for people and goods to get across the water. Therefore, don't expect the restaurant choices to be spectacular or there to be lounge chairs on the deck. There are benches in places depending on the boat, and there are restaurant or snack bar choices depending on the time of year and the time of day (sometimes the restaurants are closed). Coleman Dock has several restaurants in it, including World Wraps and a coffee stand, and a few other choices.
For additional photos and information see also the Washington State Ferries web site below, or:
My Washington State Ferries as Recreational Travel tip (with an emphasis on Seattle)
My Bainbridge Island Ferry tip
My Bremerton Ferry Tip
Photos from Bainbridge Island Ferry in May of 2009
Photos from Bremerton Ferry on 14 May 2010
Photos from Bremerton Ferry in August of 2009
There are a number of ferries that depart from various piers to the islands in Puget Sound. At pier 52 you can go to Bremerton or Bainbridge Islands. It's located very close to Ivar's and easy to find. Parking near this area is very, very expensive. It could cost you $26 for a day. Consider bringing your car onto the ferry, the cost is $13 for the round trip. To walk onto the ferry is $7.50 per adult for your round trip ticket. The ferry ride over is quite scenic as you pass other islands. You can see seals sleeping on the buoys. The ferry ride to Bremerton was about 40-50 minutes. There wasn't much to see on Bremerton. We did enjoy checking out the USS Turner, a retired military ship turned into museum. That was quite interesting as we climbed up and down to various parts of the ship.
801 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98104
Almost since the beginning of Seattle there has been a boat connection between Seattle and West Seattle, as the community known as Alki on the tip of the peninsula West Seattle sits on was actually the first non-Native settlement in the area. After some unfortunate incidents the local tribe had mercy on the settlers and they moved to what is now Seattle. Decades later, the beaches of west Seattle became popular tourist attractions (there being no beaches left in Seattle due to development of the waterfront port complex), and there also developed commuter suburb traffic for those deciding that living away from downtown was the place to be.
Today, the West Seattle to downtown Seattle service is one of a handful of "Passenger Only" or "Foot Ferry" or "Water Taxi" services operating in Puget Sound - the sheer number of such routes operating in decades past were so numerous they were once called "The Mosquito Fleet". For quite some years this was referred to as the "King County Water Taxi" but today King County Water Taxi has expanded to also serve the downtown Seattle to Vashion Island service. This tip only relates to the older route operated in this fashion: downtown Seattle to West Seattle.
The water taxi route offers the closest view of the Port of Seattle and on a clear day it is possible to see Mount Rainier poking out above the various port cranes, container ships, and other port machinery and industrial structures. The view of downtown Seattle is also quite good, and this is the cheapest water trip out of downtown Seattle you will be able to find.
For the 2010 season, much has changed with the King County Water Taxi service between West Seattle and downtown Seattle. These changes are covered here, because if you ask about the King County Water Taxi some of the information you may get will be outdated, as it refers to the service as it existed in 2009 or before.
The most important change since last year is that the decision has been made to accommodate the King County Water Taxi departures at Pier 50, at the far southern end of the Seattle waterfront. This means that both passenger-only services are now accommodated at pier 50. It also means that to find the King County Water Taxi information, you no longer have to sort through the various and sundry signs that are located at the Argosy Cruises Pier 56 location, which is where the West Seattle route departed in 2009.
Please see my Seattle Pier 50 tip for information on that departure location:
There has also been a significant change in equipment used on both the Vashon Island Route and the West Seattle Route. Both routes now use catamaran craft with engines between the hulls, which supposedly causes less degradation of the area around where the ferries operate due to the reduced and better propeller currents and wake. The boat interior, however, does not offer drink and snack sales like the former equipment did. See my King County Water Taxi 2009 tip to see what the service was like then, but this tip covers what is currently the situation (which may change in the future). In reality, this is probably no great loss, since the trip is very short in length and there are places to purchase snacks and drinks at the Seattle waterfront. There is also a small restaurant and gift shop in Seacrest Park very close to the ferry terminal there, and it is possible to get certain drinks and snacks there as well.
The fares are somewhat higher this year. In 2009, the fare was a straight $3 ticket price, while in 2010 the price is $3.50 cash fare. As of March 1, 2012 the fare will become $4. The fare is $0.50 lower if the rider uses an ORCA card (which most tourists would NOT want to use due to it being a $5 card purchase fee - it is really designed for those who regularly use transit in and around Seattle).
Another change has been a significant rebuilding of the ferry pier in Seacrest Park at the west end of the route, which now includes quite a bit better access, and no longer has trouble meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements at low tide.
About the only thing that remains the same between my 2009 trip on the Water Taxi and the service now offered in 2010 is that it still connects downtown Seattle with West Seattle.
There are also still two free shuttle buses that connect with the water taxi in West Seattle and offer connections to the rest of West Seattle and the Alki Peninsula.
However, the fact is that the King County Water Taxi is handled by a contract boat operator. The West Seattle to downtown Seattle operation could, in future years, look much like it did in 2009 as it does in 2010 should the contract, funding, equipment operator, or equipment availability change. Therefore, I have left my old King County Water Taxi to West Seattle tip in place, so that it is possible to see what the service looked like in 2009, should things abruptly change in some future year to the former situation.
Since so much of the Seattle area consists of islands, there is quite a bit of ferry traffic. Some of the ferries carry cars to and from the islands and serve commuters.
I took three ferries - two of them were up to Victoria. The third one was this one that went to Tillicum Island. We went by the seals resting on the buoys in the harbor and got a good view of Seattle from the water.
This, like the Seattle waterfront trolley, is a Grey Lines tour. 2011 Rates & Schedule
Note: Schedule subject to change on major holidays.
Your 4-hour event includes: A Narrated Cruise to Blake Island, Steamed Clam Appetizers upon arrival, a Salmon Buffet, a Native American-inspired Dance Show, Exploration Time on the island and a Return Cruise
Adults Seniors Kids
$79.95 $72.95 $30.00
Please note: A variable fuel surcharge of 50 cents per adult is in effect beginning May 1, 2011
Take a mini0cruise ($3.00 each way) across beautiful Elliott Bay from downtown's Pier 55 to West Seattle. Ride the connecting FREE shuttle van service (route 773) to explore West Seattle and Alki Beach. May-September. For informatin on all Metro service go to http://transit.metrokc.gov.
The Elliot Bay Water Taxis travel from Seacrest Park on the far side of the Bay to Pier 55 on Alaskan Way. They are relatively cheap ($3 each way for adults; kids under five are free) so if you want to take a boat ride or just check out the shoreline from the Bay it's a good option. They are also a fast way to get across the Bay without driving.
Cars are not allowed on the water taxis but bicycles are. See the website for a schedule.
The Elliott Bay Water Taxi operates during the summer, and it is a great and cheap way to see Seattle from the water and to go to Alki Point for a walk.
The water taxi departs near the Gray Line dock near Pier 54 along Seattle's Waterfront just about every half hour and zips you across Elliott Bay to West Seattle. From the West Seattle landing, you can walk two miles along a well paved and level trail to the restaurants and shops along Alki Beach.
The Victoria Clipper departs from Seattle to take you to Victoria, Canada, which is a very delightful trip. I have done this as a day trip and overnight, and I highly advise at least one night. You will not have a chance to see much of Victoria in just one day. Arrive early for check-in, as hard as this is to do, to get toward the head of the line and to get the best seats. Pack light and don't check a bag. People checking bags are the last to get off the boat (both ways). Take seasick medication if you are prone and if the seas are a bit rough. I'm not prone, but my daughter is, and she definitely felt the effects. Bring your own food if you want to eat something enroute - the food at the snack bar is pretty hideous.
Located at the far southern end of the public access part of the Seattle Waterfront, pier 50 is currently being used exclusively by the King County Water Taxi. This service currently operates weekday trips from Pier 50 to Vashon Island, and daily service from downtown Seattle to West Seattle. This is a change from the 2009 season, when the two services were operated by two completely different agencies.
The second section of this tip describes some of the changes between 2009 and 2010. This should give you some idea as to how severe the changes have been, and make you aware that things could just as easily change again in a fairly severe fashion.
Pier 50 is located just south of the intersection of Alaskan Way and Yesler Way. There is a traffic light here for crossing Alaskan Way. This can be an easy intersection to cross, and it can also be a very busy intersection to cross. It all depends on how much traffic to and from the ferries there is. If a ferry has just arrived, there will be long streams of traffic coming out of the Washington State Ferry Terminal.
There is a single archway entrance with a number of signs that tell what boat services operate out of Pier 50. If the service you want is not listed on those signs, it may be that the service is not operating (the West Seattle Route is only seasonal, but there has been a long term effort to make it all year) or has been taken over by a different subcontractor and moved to a different pier (such as 2009, when the West Seattle service operated out of pier 56).
Through the archway, there is a walkway that goes out to the area where you actually board the boat. Be sure to follow the signs and directions given on the signs. The current procedure is that there is a middle walkway for those
Currently, what used to serve as the covered waiting room and ticket booth has been closed off. It is no longer possible to purchase tickets before boarding, and the system operates much as you would expect a bus: exact fare, no change given, and pay when entering. The passenger waiting area is currently a tent-like structure that appears to be semi-temporary, but at least it is covered.
Rest room facilities for passengers are two portable toilets, and those inside the building are now entirely closed off from use by passenges.
If the weather is good, you can go out to the boats past the waiting area. Be sure to follow the instructions on the signs. The current process is there is a center area for passengers leaving the ship, the left side of the walkway is reserved for passengers heading for West Seattle, and the right side of the walkway is reserved for those heading for Vashon Island.
Wait to board until the crew on the boat says that it is safe to do so. You pay the fare as you board, just as you would on a bus or streetcar line.
Until September of 2009, Pier 50 was used exclusively by the Washington State Ferries passenger only service, but Washington State Ferries has now exited that market. At that time, the King county Water Taxi departed from the Argossy Cruises pier (Pier 56).
However, King county Water Taxi is currently operated by a sub-contractor, and it should be noted that the boats formerly used on the Vashon Island route are for sale.
Therefore, the entire situation with the passenger only ferries could change from one year to the next, depending on the operator, the equipment being used, and the source of funding.
This tip only reflects the situation of things as they were in August of 2010.
Photo 1: This is how the entrance to Pier 50 looks from the south side. Most people will actually come at this from the north, as that is where most of the transportation and tourist attractions are. However, as you can see, the traffic in the background was very heavy and there was no way to get a photo from the north side.
Photo 2: The structure on the right is the waiting room, which is currently a tent-like annex to the old ticket booth. The old waiting room structure is currently completely closed to the public.
Photo 3: Boats operated by the King County Water Taxi, which currently serve both West Seattle and Vashon Island, depart from the far end of Pier 50.
Photo 4.: Middle section of walkway is for passengers disembarking, left side is for waiting to board for West Seattle, and the right section is for those waiting for Vashon Island. When you see the ship approaching off in the distance, it is time to start waiting in line at the entrance to the docking area.
Photo 5: There are dozens of signs giving all sorts of information and instructions, and it is up to you to follow them.
My Travelogue of the Seattle to Vashon Island Ferry route in 2009 has a photo of Pier 50 from straight on, so the different angle may be helpful in seeing the pier.
My Travelogue of the Seattle to Vashon Island Route in 2010 shows the route in better lighting and better weather.
Vashon Island Ferry goes from Seattle to Vashon Island from Pier 50, as of 2010.
We took the ferry to Bremerton as we were heading to Astoria. Blessed with glorious weather - blue skies and sunshine - it was a lovely way to leave the city avoided the hassles of traffic. Probably about an hour to cross - time not important on our vacation - with lovely views of the city skyline and the islands plus wildlife basking on the buoys and a great opportunity to pass the time chatting to locals.
The Argossy Cruises offer dining cruises. The ship goes to the nearest islands and around the Puget Sound. It also goes to Bainbridge Island.
There are different times of cruises-depending on the season.
The Argossy Cruises can also be rented for birthday parties. They offer food and entertainment.
We walked on the ferry on a Saturday afternoon. The tickets were $6.50USD for a roundtrip ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. The entire trip took a little over an hour with gorgeous views of downtown Seattle, Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains.
Several cruise lines depart from Seattle en route to Alaska. Some lines including Holland America utilize Terminal 30. Terminal 30 is a little off the beaten path. It is a bit far from amenities and a bit in the boondocks. Those spending time in Seattle before their cruise would be advised to take a taxi to the pier. After the ships return, a battalion of taxis will line the streets to take people to their destinations.
A wide variety of ships ply Elliott Bay each day, many of the larger ones auto and passenger ferries or cargo ships with their destination the Port of Seattle.
Ferries run from downtown Seattle to Bremerton, Vashon Island, and Bainbridge Island. These routes are part of the state government's Washington State Ferries which operates 28 Puget Sound ferry boats on 14 routes.
The Port of Seattle actually includes the seaport and the SeaTac airport. The port organization was created in 1912 and controls cargo facilities, cruise ship terminals, a marina, and more around Elliott Bay and Harbor Island.