Last weekend my wife and I took a quick trip to Victoria for our anniversary. We’ve lived in Seattle for about 10 years and talked often about going there, but we finally made it happen this summer. I didn’t particularly care about the destination (that was more her thing). Instead I was interested in the opportunity for my first trip in a seaplane. Kenmore Air operates several daily flights from South Lake Union, which is centrally located in downtown Seattle.
I took the bus from my apartment to the airport, where I checked in early and waited for my wife to arrive from her office downtown. There are parking lots for overnight travelers. However, I think you’ll be better off using public transportation and not worrying about the cost or limited availability.
Check-in was very casual. I presented my passport, confirmed my weight, and placed my bag on the scale. Passengers are permitted one bag up to 25 lbs., and my standard Tumi Alpha international carryon was well within these limits. Baggage is stored in the pontoons and were returned with just a little dampness after the flight (perhaps some spray got in during landing). I wasn’t worried and left my computer in the bag. But keep in mind there is almost no storage for bags at your seat. One passenger was even asked to put her purse in the pontoon because it was too large.
Once checked in there is not much to do at the South Lake Union seaport. There’s a Starbucks next door, and you could wander over to the park. I preferred to sit outside on the balcony watching the planes arrive and board.
To actually see the planes land on the lake you will probably want to head over to the park since any boats docked at the marina will block your view. But the lounge was shady and had free WiFi. More passengers were waiting inside, including a wedding party waiting for their charter.
Three planes were heading up to Victoria at our scheduled departure time. We waited for our tail number to be called before handing in our boarding cards and giving our luggage to the pilot, who loaded it into the pontoon of our de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. (The DHC-3 Otter is a larger 10-person plane that they seemed to be using for scenic tour flights that day.) Then he looked us up and down and decided where everyone was going to sit.
The co-pilot’s seat and the two-passenger bench in the back are probably the most comfortable. Megan and I were squeezed in with a third passenger on the middle bench. While I think my starboard window seat was fine, the port side probably offers better views.
We got a rapid fire safety briefing that was probably too fast for me to follow, especially since I completely overlooked the fact that there are earplugs in the seat pocket. (A reader shared this fact with me after we landed.) Small aircraft can be very noisy without the insulation you’re used to on a larger plane. Every time Megan wanted to say something she was basically yelling in my ear. But the flight was under an hour, so I eventually got used to it.
There’s an actual in-flight magazine in the pocket if you want something to read, as well as a map of the Puget Sound so you can follow along during your journey. You can even use your phone throughout the trip as long as you don’t make any phone calls. (Texting and internet browsing are fine.) The pilot didn’t really gain altitude until we reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca, so there was a weak cell signal and plenty of good views for most of the journey.
Eventually we reached Victoria, spun around the cruise port at the edge of the harbor, and came in to land. The landing was much rougher than takeoff, but otherwise you could hardly tell that we were in a seaplane. It reminded me a lot of my father’s Comanche, and he took us on a similar sightseeing trip as far as Port Townsend last August.
Victoria gets a lot more seaplane traffic than Seattle does and has multiple operators, so it’s not surprising that their facilities are nicer. They have a fairly new terminal building with a larger waiting area and a restaurant nearby. But we didn’t spend long. After grabbing our suitcases, we followed the captain to immigration and walked to our hotel within minutes.
Because we booked this trip at the last minute, we paid about $160 per person for one-way tickets. Our one-way return journey on the Victoria Clipper, a non-stop ferry, cost $110 per person. I’ll review the Victoria Clipper soon but will say up front that I thought Kenmore Air was by far the superior option. There were almost no lines, few crowds, and plenty of scenery on the quick trip to Victoria. Ultimately traveling in a seaplane was not very different from the other small aircraft I’m used to, but it may still be a thrill for people used to larger commercial and regional jets.