HAL packages Pacific Northwest in short order

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The Amsterdams late-September itinerary took me a little by surprise when I looked it up in the Holland America Line brochure.

I was booked on a four-day Pacific Northwest voyage, roundtrip from Seattle. The cruise was wedged into the Amsterdams schedule between the Alaska cruise season and its South America voyages.

Seattle is a seven-day-cruise town, since most of the voyages from there head north to Alaska. But for all intents and purposes, HAL owns the short-cruise niche in Seattle.

The line will offer four short voyages from the city next September: the Amsterdam will do a two-day cruise; the Oosterdam will sail a three-day cruise and the four-day itinerary the Amsterdam offered this year; and the Ryndam will offer a three-day cruise.

Its a good introductory experience for clients in the Pacific Northwest who might not want to fly six hours to Florida for a three-day beginners cruise.

Also, I learned that these are great little itineraries.

True, the vessels dont go to Alaska, so if clients are looking for glaciers and scenic train rides to Denali, this wont be the cruise they choose.

A view from the top: Holland America LineBut our four-day cruise included four worthy ports in four days, assuming clients get a chance to spend the first afternoon in Seattle.

The Amsterdam called in Astoria, Ore., and Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. Theres plenty of tall firs and scenery and, at least on our trip, wonderfully crisp air and sunny skies.

And theres a bonus for cruisers who prefer casual attire: HAL doesnt schedule formal nights on these cruises.

You know its the end of the Alaska season when Gray Line quits running its shuttle from the airport to the cruise piers, which it did a week earlier.

A couple I met at the airport (and first-timers, to boot) decided to arrive at the Amsterdam in style by calling a stretch limo from the airport, which costs $30.

Astoria, a jewel of a call

The departure from Seattle occurred after the gray veil of clouds finally lifted from the city to reveal clear, blue waters and gleaming skyscrapers set against the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

The seas around that area arent always calm, which passengers discovered just at the close of dinner on the first and second nights on our way to and from Astoria.

Astoria wasnt high on my original list of places to see, but it turned out to be a jewel of a call, just at the end of the Lewis and Clark trail.

The explorers lived near Astoria during the winter of 1805. The town is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.

Astoria today, meanwhile, is a throwback to a time when towns had main streets (Commerce Street, in this case) with brick facades and mom-and-pop shops.

HAL passengers who want to travel beyond Astoria can take a seven-hour excursion to Mount St. Helens. An in-town excursion called Historic Astoria and Fort Clatsop visits a replica of the fort built by Lewis and Clark and their team in 1805.

While a colleague of mine found time to hike in the woods, I hurried into town. The transfer couldnt have been easier, although it wasnt free: a $2 all-day pass allowed passengers to ride shuttles between the pier where the Amsterdam and the Statendam tied up, downtown Astoria and the Norwegian Sun anchored nearby.

Astoria that day was bustling with people wearing green stickers indicating they had bought their $2 bus pass.

I popped into several stores to chat with proprietors, including a flower shop, a java joint (one of several -- this is the Pacific Northwest, after all) and an art gallery that quirky filmmaker Tim Burton might love.

Vendors also set up wares at a street fair just outside the HAL ships, so everyone who was on their way to or from Astoria passed by jewelry, food, soaps and homemade trinkets on display.

Tea and beer in Victoria

Cruise passengers may be more familiar with Victoria, the oldest city on the Canadian west coast.

It has Native American influences and a British feel, right down to the afternoon tea, which HAL mentioned in its Victoria port brochure as a hallowed ritual that is enjoyed and observed without fail throughout the community.

Several of HALs port excursions picked up on the theme, including the City Drive, Craigdarroch Castle and Empress High Tea tour, which includes a visit to Craigdarroch, a 20,000-square-foot mansion, and the Empress Hotel.

Drinkers in search of a more potent brew can sign up for a pub crawl (Victoria Ale and Trail Pub Tour), which features stops at three different pubs for Canadian beer and food.

As in Astoria, passengers can ride an inexpensive bus shuttle from the ship to downtown Victoria. HALs port brochure provided a few tips, such as stopping to smell the roses at the Butchart Gardens or visiting the Parliament buildings.

The Amsterdam didnt leave Victoria until 11 p.m. The dining room seemed fairly empty that evening, as many diners were out enjoying Victorias restaurants.

Its a fairly short trip from Victoria to Vancouver. Since Vancouver is better known as an embarkation city than a port call, its nice to be able to take in the sights without worrying about catching a flight.

For the excursion-bound, HAL offers a tour of Vancouver, a shuttle to Grandville Island and a Grouse Mountain and Capilano Bridge tour.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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