Visiting Blake Island offers many experiences in Seattle.
You can see the downtown skyline and the waterfront as you come and go from Pier 55.
You sail through the waters of Elliott Bay, passing the Alki Point Lighthouse into Puget Sound.
You dine on an alder-smoked salmon barbecue in the village of Tillicum, while native dancers and storytellers from the Coast Salish tribes perform.
And you can relax on an island where the only resident is the person who runs it as a state park.
You get it all when you sail with Argosy Cruises.
Launched as a tourist attraction in 1962, the year Seattle held its World’s Fair, the Tillicum Village Tour saw more than a million dollar improvements before last season.
The routine had become a bit stale, with barely a change since 1993, the year President Bill Clinton convened a meeting of 13 Asia-Pacific heads of state at the island’s Indigenous-style longhouse. .
Attendance has dropped over the years, from a peak of 100,000 in the late 1970s to around 50,000 in 2010. It picked up again last year.
To breathe new life into it, the show was revamped to feature more traditions from the native tribes, and the buffet was upgraded with an emphasis on local and healthier foods.
Goodness knows the Tillicum Village tour has ample competition for Seattle tourism dollars. There’s a lot of competition in the same business, with Argosy’s other three boat tours of Seattle’s harbor, locks and lakes.
Being a relatively expensive way ($80 or so) for tourists to spend part of the day, the Tillicum Village tour had better be good. And it’s!
If you hit it when the sun is shining, like I did, there might not be a better way to spend a day in Seattle.
Arriving on the downtown Seattle waterfront just after the morning commute, I easily found surface parking a short walk down the Alaskan Way from Pier 55. I was lucky enough to to get a seat on the upper deck of the Goodtime II cruise ship, then even luckier when four Japanese tourists arranged their chairs so no one could walk past and block the view.
It was pure bliss to watch the skyline recede, state ferries plying the inland waters, pleasure boats spreading their sails, and the Olympic Mountains pushing up on the western horizon. Mount Rainier dominated the southern view.
After 45 minutes, we docked on
where development is restricted to the village site of Tillicum. One cast member greeted us by beating on a drum, while others greeted us with mugs filled with steamed clams. After sucking up the meat, we added to a catwalk that was already covered in crushed clam shells.
The lunch buffet included chinook salmon cooked over an alder wood fire, wild rice, fresh fruit, Northwest stew and more. Diners settled in with a berry cobbler and coffee as the 23-minute show began.
The new program uses more special effects and narration than the old show. The holograms projected on stage are so authentic that it is difficult to know if a person is real or projected. The finale is a dance by three men wearing 60-pound cedar masks.
As the crowds marched by, many stopped to have their photos taken with the masked dancers in the lobby. The laughter counter shot the dial
(see the video).
Before boarding the boat, there was time for a brief tour of the island. Nestled between the much larger islands of Bainbridge and Vashon, Blake Island is a popular cruising and kayaking destination, with three small state park campgrounds and stunning views of the distant horizon, mountains and the water.
If you are going to:
Argosy Cruises’ tour of Tillicum Village on Blake Island in Puget Sound departs from Pier 55 on the Seattle waterfront March through October (weekends only after Labor Day). Information at 206-623-1445,