Float plane makes island trip a unique adventure
Every once in a while you need to come up with an extra special getaway – a short trip to "wow" your Significant Other and prove that the spark is still there. In the Pacific Northwest there are many options, but one of the most unique getaways combines two distinctly Northwest experiences: a visit to Victoria, British Columbia and a ride to Victoria on one of Kenmore Air's float planes.
The city of Victoria is one of the most interesting in the Northwest – and one of the easiest to see because hotels, shopping and attractions are all clustered around the Inner Harbour. You can get to Victoria by car ferry, by passenger ferry, by high-speed catamaran, by commercial air to Victoria's international airport and – our absolute favorite – by Kenmore Air float plane.
We parked our car at Kenmore's Lake Union terminal and checked into their small lobby area about a half hour early. Traveling by float plane does require one little inconvenience – you have to tell them how much you weigh. With just a few passengers in each plane, the airline needs to be careful not to load too much weight, whether people or luggage. But that's the only painful part of this trip, and the rest of your adventure will likely have you raving to friends about your unforgettable experience.
Kenmore Air has been flying float planes from its Seattle-area base since 1946 and today has 20 planes that carry between six and 10 passengers each. It's not uncommon to see a Kenmore plane in a movie filmed in Seattle, or on a football game telecast from the region. It's a Northwest company with a Northwest flavor – an icon every bit as familiar as Ivar's or the Space Needle. This wasn't our first trip on Kenmore and, in fact, we've enjoyed many trips to more remote locations such as Big Bay or other island fishing areas along the British Columbia coast. Flying with Kenmore is always a special treat.
The trip to Victoria took just a little over a half-hour as the plane climbed out of Lake Union and flew just a couple thousand feet above the city and Puget Sound, traveling a scenic route that gives passengers a birds-eye view of many popular islands and tourist destinations scattered through the sound. It's fascinating to see how many houses are built in secluded spots only visible from the air. It's fun to look down on the Victoria Clipper or other boat traffic plying the waters in this gorgeous part of Washington State.
The last few minutes are spent crossing the 20-mile-wide Strait of Juan de Fuca – the closest thing Puget Sound has to open sea, and the pathway for major shipping leaving Seattle for Asia and other ports of call around the world. Soon we were swooping down toward the Inner Harbour where our pilot skillfully found an open stretch of water for a quick and smooth landing. After a short taxi to the dock, we had arrived smack in the middle of the city's vibrant tourist center where we quickly observed postcard views of the Empress Hotel, Parliament, double-decker buses, flower displays and charming historic buildings that all combine to give Victoria the feel of a far-off visit to Great Britain.
The hotels are so close to the Inner Harbour that it seemed silly to get a taxi, so we walked the four or five blocks to our hotel, dragging our suitcases along the wide sidewalks. In just a few minutes we arrived at the Dalton Hotel and Suites, our choice for this getaway because of its historic charm. The Dalton, you see, is the oldest hotel in British Columbia and retains much of the original architecture. After a recent management change, there has been a major effort to put money into the hotel to brighten its interior while, at the same time, retain the character that you only find with authentic historic buildings. Even more improvements are said to be coming.
The Dalton was built in 1867 in a location close to the harbour. The brick exterior of the building is as the building was when it was first built. Entering the hotel, visitors notice that the lobby features oak paneling, brass and marble that combine for a rich historic texture that you might see in an old downtown San Francisco hotel, or one of the other cities of the Old West.
Our large suite at the Dalton also retained the historical charm of its 19th Century origins. The suite had walls of rich oak paneling and patterned wallpaper, a couch and living room area with an ornate fireplace, a wet bar, refrigerator and oak shelving to give guests plenty of space to prepare drinks, coffee or light snacks. The separate bedroom area, with its desk and work area, had a French country décor with a valance-style headboard treatment for the king-size bed. Double French doors looked out on an inner courtyard, while our bedroom view was of the historic St. Andrews Cathedral. The overall unit felt updated, yet still retaining a lot of historic charm.
One thing we particularly liked about he Dalton was that the hotel treats guests to breakfast as part of your stay – in this case big fresh-made waffles, cereals, muffins and fruit. It's a great way to start the day.
If you're doing a quick up-and-back as we did, you'll likely arrive in Victoria mid-day and leave for Seattle mid-day the next day. That 24-hour period in Victoria will give you a good taste of the many tourist attractions the city has to offer. We've enjoyed many trips to Victoria and still rate the Royal BC Museum as our favorite tourist attraction, with its elaborate re-construction of street and historical scenes and its easy-to-follow story of British Columbia history.
We also enjoy strolling through the historic Empress Hotel, which is today a Fairmont property. Visitors enjoy taking high tea at the Empress, a truly British experience. But there is also excellent shopping in the hotel – and, of course, throughout the several blocks near the Inner Harbour. Dining options are plentiful in this part of Victoria and it's like Christmas for anyone who likes to sample a variety of cuisines, all within a short walk of your hotel.
Just like the flight up to Victoria, the flight back to Seattle was quick and easy and offers 30 to 45 minutes to just decompress and savor the time you just had with your Significant Other. We'll bet nobody else at your Monday morning office cooler has a float plane trip to Victoria to talk about.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Victoria, B.C. is about 85 miles from Seattle but, because of Puget Sound, the most direct ways to get from Seattle to Victoria are by boat or plane. It's also possible to drive to Victoria by taking a ferry from Port Angeles, WA or Vancouver B.C. but most attractions are within easy walking distance and a vehicle may be a needless extra expense.
WHAT: Victoria, B.C. is a taste of Great Britain because of its British culture, traditions and architecture. Over the years, many tourist attractions have been added to the Inner Harbour area that offer excellent options for kids as well as adults. It's also one of the most scenic cities in all of British Columbia.
WHEN: A visit to Victoria, B.C. is possible anytime of year as most attractions are indoor and year-round. There is a distinct difference in the weather, however – a summer visit to Victoria is likely to be drenched with sunshine; a winter visit can be gray with chilly winds – but also is likely to cost less because of seasonal rate adjustments. But even in winter, Victoria offers a temperate climate with virtually no snow and a better chance of sunshine than Seattle.
WHY: A float plane trip to Victoria, B.C. is the ultimate adventure for someone who loves new experiences, great scenery and a lot of convenience. While it will cost more than travel by boat, the float plane experience is completely unique and eliminates considerable hassle in getting to and from Victoria.
HOW: For more information on a float plane visit to Victoria B.C., contact Kenmore Air at 425-486-1257 or visit www.kenmoreair.com. For information on the Dalton Hotel, call 1-888-830-3420 or visit www.daltonhotel.ca. For information on Victoria attractions, phone 800-663-3883 or visit www.tourismvictoria.com.
Photos, from top: arriving in Victoria Harbour; British Columbia Parliament; a view from inside the Kenmore Air Beaver; historic Dalton Hotel
Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway