For being a traveler, I really don’t like planes or boats, and it took me several years to get comfortable traveling on trains. Ever since I was a child, I have struggled with motion sickness – I was that kid on the playground who couldn’t use the swing set because I would be dizzy and nauseous when I stopped swinging.
Therefore, the thought of loading myself into a small plane for a 20-minute aerial sightseeing tour of Seattle was a bit terrifying, even though I put it on my ‘Seattle Bucket List,’ and had won the flight passes from a recent event I attended. I often feel unwell even on big, commercial jets; I’ve ridden enough small planes to know it gets worse the smaller they are.
When the skies turned a brilliant sapphire blue last week though, I had to get over it. That blue was calling to me, and I had to answer the call.
Actually, Kenmore Air had to answer the call, because they only allow phone reservations, so in addition to the thought of loading myself into a small plane, I also had to get over my small fear of using the phone (sorry, Mom, all those calls I made selling Girl Scout cookies didn’t help!).
Luckily, the reservations agents were some of the nicest people I’ve spoken to on the phone in a while, and we got a booking squared away for the best day of weather so far this year.
The weather was so nice that Mr. Valise and I walked to the Kenmore Air office/departure point, nestled on the southern shores of Lake Union. We had walked or ran by the office many times since we live in the general area. Inside, we were greeted and spent a few minutes waiting before boarding our plane.
Our fellow passengers were three ladies from England, snapping selfies and shots on their iPads and laughing the whole while. For my part, I couldn’t really hear them – as soon as the captain hopped into the cockpit, he instructed us to put on sexy, gigantic headphones. Sneak a peak at dapper Mr. Valise sporting them and looking right at home on board the plane.
These headphones not only blocked out the noise from the engine (I took a sneak listen and it was quite loud) but also provided us with an audio narrated tour of our flight. I learned things about Seattle I had never known, and the audio definitely enhanced my experience.
We took off from Lake Union in our trusty de Havilland DHC-3 Otter seaplane. The 10-passenger aircraft is equipped with floats that made our takeoff and landing smooth but still riveting – we’re floating in a plane! I shot so many videos and photos that my poor little phone was completely overheated in the 30-minute time we were on board the plane.
After takeoff, we curved to the left over the interstate (center) and along the Montlake Cut (left; a body of water connecting Lake Union (right) to next door Lake Washington).
We then flew south along Lake Washington, learning about the geography of Seattle and of course, unmissable Mount Rainier to the south – bright white in the blazing sun.
We then turned north, flew back up over Lake Washington and turned west toward Puget Sound. Here, I was treated to views of North Seattle, including Fremont, Gasworks Park, Green Lake (a little aquamarine gem surrounded by verdant trees and houses), and Ballard.
Flying out over Puget Sound and turning south to parallel the Olympic Mountains, the audio narration talked more about the wider region surrounding Seattle, the history and significance of the space for Native tribes in the area, and the first settlers to Seattle.
By this point, I’ll admit it: I was not feeling my hottest. We hid a few small bumps – seriously, so small that most passengers probably didn’t notice them, and the air was getting stuffy (can we crack a window in this thing?!), so my stomach began to slowly churn. A few steadying breaths helped, but all I really wanted was to stick my head out the window – noise and sexy headphones be damned! Mr. Valise caught me in that moment of discomfort, but I’ll spare you the full size version.
Luckily, just a few short minutes later, we turned east and flew over the city in a graceful arc before coming in to land on South Lake Union again. During this time, Mr. Valise took one of my favorite photos of the Space Needle yet – and that’s saying something, as I take photos of it almost every day!
A few more smooth turns of the plane, and we slid down onto the water with a few small jostles from the waves, we pulled up to the dock, the captain threw open the hatch, and I breathed beautiful, clear, cool air again – thank goodness!
I couldn’t have asked for a better day for a flight-seeing tour of Seattle: the skies were pristine, the air and water were calm, and the views were spectacular. Knowing I’m leaving Seattle soon for several months of travel, I’ve tried to embrace the impermanence of the city as I’ve known her. Every day, new high-rise buildings are built, new companies are formed, new tunnels are drilled, and by the time we return, Mr. Valise and I will have to rediscover all the things we love about the city.
From a professional perspective, there are a few notes about the flight with Kenmore Air that future guests may consider:
- Having watched Kenmore take off from South Lake Union for over a year (from my perch in my apartment where I take all those Space Needle photos), I am not sure the route is the same every time, but no matter which side of the plane you sit on, you’re going to have an amazing view. In our case, Mr. Valise had early city views and saw the Space Needle, whereas I had great views of the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges as well as Mount Rainier and North Seattle.
- The price tag of $99 per person might be uncomfortable for a 20-minute flight (30-minute excursion including boarding and deplaning), but there are few other way to get this experience. If you want to take a seaplane tour of Seattle that is easily accessed from the city, Kenmore Air is a great choice.
- Try to be flexible for the date you take the tour, so you can try and optimize for the best weather. Mr. Valise and I called only one day before our tour, and luckily they had plenty of space; there have been some beautiful days since then, but nothing beat seeing the city sparkling below us on the first truly sunny, warm day of the year.
So I did it – I ticked ‘A Kenmore Air Float Plane Tour from South Lake Union’ off my list before our departure, thanks to a little luck and the generosity of Kenmore Air themselves. I didn’t throw up, and was only woozy for a few hours afterward. I saw the city spread out below me, as well as the wider region I’ve called home for the past two+ years. It has partly helped me say goodbye and look forward to new cityscapes to enjoy – and partly made leaving harder than ever.
Not to be cheesy, but I’m pretty sure a sightseeing flight of Seattle will make you feel the same.
Sight-seeing flights with Kenmore Air are available for two destinations: a 20-minute flight of Seattle ($99 per person) or a two-hour flight of the San Juan Islands ($211 per person). Learn more on the Kenmore Air website, or learn about the San Juan Islands here on my blog. This post was not sponsored or endorsed by Kenmore Air in any way, other than that I received free passes in a raffle! #OpinionsAreMyOwn