SEATTLE — Big or small? Luxury cruise ship or plucky coastal freight boat?
The choice is yours for cruising around the Pacific Northwest.
Sail away for a night this fall or next spring between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., on a world-class cruise ship. Or clamber onto a little coastal freighter, with just a few dozen passengers, to cruise the wild west side of Vancouver Island. A roundup:
If you're tight on time or money, or a first-timer wanting to check out cruising, take a one-night cruise between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. Such sailings are offered in fall and spring before or after the Alaska cruise season.
Think of a one-night cruise as a floating hotel — or a very pleasant, slow-going way between Seattle and Vancouver. You're only aboard from midafternoon until early the next morning. But you can belly up to the buffet and bars; stroll the deck to enjoy the scenery; watch big-screen movies or other entertainment; or loll in the hot tub and pool.
Seattle-based Holland America offers a Seattle-Vancouver cruise Sept. 24 aboard the 1,916-passenger Westerdam. Get a stateroom with your own private veranda starting at $99 per person, based on double occupancy, including meals (taxes and fees raise the price to about $131 per person). Or sleep for less in an inside stateroom or splurge on a fancier suite (prices can change depending on availability).
"It's mostly locals on these one-night cruises. And it can be turned into a getaway with an extra day in a city," said Erik Elvejord, a spokesman for Holland America. (The cruise line also has three one-night sailings next spring from Vancouver to Seattle on May 5, 11 and 17.)
Princess Cruises also offers Seattle-Vancouver one-night cruises this fall. Frolic aboard the Sapphire Princess, departing Sept. 18 for a budget-friendly $69 per person (based on double occupancy for an inside stateroom; $101.75 per person with taxes and fees). Or sail away for a stylish night on the 2,600-passenger Golden Princess from Seattle to Vancouver on Sept. 24.
—Vancouver Island coastal cruises
For something completely different, take a trip aboard the MV Uchuck III on the wild west side of 280-mile-long Vancouver Island.
Only a few roads punch through mountains and tangled forests to the island's wave-pounded Pacific coast. But the Uchuck, a 136-foot coastal freighter/passenger boat, sails year-round from the little town of Gold River to isolated logging camps, fish farms and fishing villages.
Delivering freight and ferrying locals, the Uchuck also carries sightseers along the fjordlike Nootka Sound on day trips (roughly $75 per person) and out into the open Pacific on overnight adventure tours (about $465 for one person, $695 for two).
The Uchuck, a converted World War II minesweeper, sails weekly in summer to Yuquot, or Friendly Cove, a remote First Nations site where Captain James Cook landed in 1778.
Once a bustling Indian fishing village, it now has just a few caretakers, a historic church, lighthouse and lovely, lonely beaches.
Visitors could stay in basic cabins (propane lamps, no plumbing) at Friendly Cove (www.yuquot.ca/cabins.html) or backpack for days on the coastal Nootka Trail.
An easier way to get a taste of Vancouver Island's wild side is to sign up for the Uchuck's "Kyuquot Adventure."
On the two-day trip, the Uchuck chugs out of the protected inlets and heads north along the open, rugged coast to the fishing village of Kyuquot. Passengers stay the night ashore in B&Bs.
Home to about 400 people and tucked into the forest around a protected cove, Kyuquot is reached only by boat or floatplane.
Your evening entertainment? Stroll the boardwalk. Watch the sun set. Talk to a local.
Really hardy sightseers could sail away in winter when storms batter the coast since the Uchuck goes to Kyuquot year-round.
"We do get some thrill-seekers aboard," said Uchuck co-owner Alberto Girotto. "We'll go in three- to four-meter seas (about 10 to 13 feet). It's a good bump."
—Port Alberni cruising
Farther south on Vancouver Island, at the easier-to-reach town of Port Alberni, another small ship carries sightseers on daylong trips amid the natural wonder of Vancouver Island.
The 128-foot MV Frances Barkley carries some cargo and up to 100 passengers along the 25-mile-long Alberni Inlet (its sister ship was the venerable, and retired, Lady Rose).
Take an all-day round-trip cruise (about $75) along the inlet and out into Barkley Sound where the Broken Islands, a maze of small wilderness islands, are a kayaking mecca.
This fall a big ship — Holland America's 1,380-passenger Amsterdam — also will cruise Alberni Inlet. In a three-night round-trip from Seattle, it will sail to Victoria, B.C., and along the narrow inlet to Port Alberni, a logging and mill town that's trying hard to build tourism and outdoor recreation.
But you'll have to wait another year to sail through the backwoods in such luxury; the unusual Sept. 23 cruise hit it right with Northwesterners and sold out rapidly.
IF YOU GO:
MAJOR CRUISE LINES
Pacific Northwest cruises can be booked through a travel agent or directly with cruise lines. For a schedule of ships departing from Seattle, see the Port of Seattle website, http://www.portseattle.org/seaport/cruise/. For links to major cruises lines' websites, see http://www.cruising.org/vacation/cruise-lines-ships
—MV Uchuck III
The small coastal freighter/passenger boat is run by Nootka Sound Service out of the town of Gold River, B.C. http://www.getwest.ca or 877-824-8253.
—MV Frances Barkley
Run by Lady Rose Marine Services in Port Alberni, B.C. http://www.ladyrosemarine.com or 250- 723-8313 (toll-free line for summer season, 800-663-7192).
SMALL SHIP CRUISES
Many small boats, from converted fishing boats to restored tugboats, offer cruises in Washington, British Columbia and to Southeast Alaska. Some carry as few as six people and go to places that bigger ships never could reach. Find some listings at http://www.smallshipcruises.com/destinations/uswestcoast.shtml
DISNEY TO SET SAIL FROM SEATTLE
A new cruise line will sail from Seattle to Alaska next year — the 2,700-passenger Disney Wonder. Disney Cruise Line based the ship in Vancouver, B.C., this summer for Alaska cruises but is switching to Seattle in 2012 for weekly sailings.
LONGER WEST COAST CRUISES
At the start and end of the Alaska cruising season, ships sail along the West Coast as they reposition and offer short cruises (often three or four nights) between Vancouver, B.C., and California ports such as Los Angeles and San Diego. Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line are among those offering such cruises; Celebrity Cruises offers longer wine-themed cruises.
Ask a travel agent or look on cruise lines' websites for Pacific coastal cruises (or "coastals").