If You Like Vacation Slides…
My old high school buddies (Cynthia and Daniel) came to visit us in Seattle. Since Cynthia and my birthday landed right next to each other, we decided to make a grander plan to celebrate the entire week. All I wanted to do was eat but they wanted to do the touristy stuff. I obliged to go with. Price and value was another big factor since we were checking out Seattle at a frugal price point. We opted for the Seattle CityPass and tried it out.
The CityPASS is a good deal if you wanted to do 2 or more things on their list of attractions. If you’re ambient about 3 or more of the selection, not interested in gift shops, then I would say skip on the pass.
Buying and picking up the CityPASS is really easy. You can buy the pass at any destination on the list. There wasn’t any lines or crowds during our visit on a July weekday. Don’t rip out any pass tickets, only the clerks can do that, otherwise, they become void!
Boy, are tourist things are so expensive. I thought Seattle’s CityPass at $90 was expensive and that was supposed to be a 47% discount already from the regular admission price.
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If you want cashback on your CityPASS purchase, use BeFrugal (a cashback website) and search for Expedia then go through BeFrugal to Expedia to buy (any city) CityPASS tickets.
Since we were entertaining out-of-town friends too, this is a mix of vacation and “staycation” for us. My point of view is that of a current Seattle resident so I’m probably more ho-hum about things that would be interesting to out of towners.
The Seattle CityPASS
If you wanted to play tourist, this CityPASS is one of the things you can get to make it quickly through the lines and pay less than the regular admission price.
For Seattle, the CityPASS is worth it if you do 2 or more of the 5 activities on the pass list.
The official CityPASS admission includes:
1. Seattle Aquarium
2. Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour
3. Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) – OR – Woodland Park Zoo
4. Chihuly Garden and Glass – OR – Pacific Science Center
5. Space Needle
(Bonus: CityPASS gives small discounts on each individual attractions’ gift shops and souvenirs.)
The CityPass isn’t just limited to Seattle, they host a lot of other cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, NYC, Orlando, Philadephia, San Fran, Southern California, Tampa Bay and even Toronto in Canada! If you don’t know your destination yet, check out Wallet Hacks’ CityPass review of all CityPasses offerings.
1. Seattle Aquarium – $29.95 (Reg. Price)
OK, I was expecting something like Monterey Bay Aquarium. It ain’t that, so expect a little less. We saw everything in just under 2 hours.
As an adult, I had a pretty fun time. It’s more fun for children so to me, it’s not worth paying the regular admission price as an adult. I would pay $20 tops for the good 90 minutes we were entertained.
For $30, it’s overpriced to see some fishes in glass windows and the “touch pool” was underwhelming. I wish they had more staff to overlook and give interesting explanations of what in the world we were touching. The place was crowded with little kids and field trippers.
These otter guys were interesting. They were cleaning their butts and that required them to be in ball form which meant they had to roll in the water. It was just an endless cycle of rolling and licking their butts. We couldn’t stop laughing hahaha.
Me and Cynthia!
The sea otters, seals, and octopus were super adorable. They were the main and biggest highlights even though their enclosure was boring. Not much decor in the outdoor tanks.
I think the aquarium is a worthy deal and worth a visit only if you get a CityPASS. Plus, the CityPASS gives you 15% off your purchase total in the Seattle Aquarium gift shop. The gift shop was fun. Everything was adorable. It was full of silly fish puns. The merch and kid toys were scientific and entertaining.
Caught them at feeding time, it was entertaining when they dropped in baskets of fish and the seals were like “ommgggg fishhh” and goes headfirst into the baskets.
Summary: Is it worth a visit full price? Mediummm? It depends. It’s not a banger experience for pure $30 (without the CityPASS) to call for that price since you can do and see everything in under 2 hours. But if you have kids, bring a kid, they’ll love it.
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2. Argosy 1-Hour Harbor Tour – $30.50 (Reg. Price)
We did this right after the Seattle Aquarium because the Argosy port was just a street away. After almost 2 hours of walking around the aquarium, sitting around relaxing and sailing around was a great way to end the day. Since it’s just sitting and looking, make sure your well exhausted since it will give you a pleasant break for the day.
It’s simply a 1-hour ride around Seattle’s waterfront. The ride was smooth, the popcorn was pretty good. But the narration we got was boring, devoid of personality, and told me nothing truly interesting about Seattle history at all when I know there are some damn good stories here.
There is no food being served beside alcohol and overpriced popcorn so bring your own snacks (like we did.) Get an upstairs window seat booth inside or grab an outdoor seat. Go a little earlier from boarding time to get first pick.
The decor on the boats is a little grungy and outdated. Nothing luxurious here.
The skyline with cranes and cruise ships.
I would have tried to opt in for the $60 upgrade to the 4 hours + buffet meal Tillicum Excursion since CityPASS allows you to get upgrades. The food around and in Pike Market gets pricey so a buffet meal on an excursion where you can rest your feet after a long day sounds more strategic after the aquarium.
CityPASS will give you a few dollars off (25% off) your souvenir photos.
Summary: For the very basic 1-hour ride…it worth a visit at full price? No. It’s basically just 1-hour sitting on a boat and making a small loop around the bay. The biggest and few positive was being able to sit, relax, and watch the blue waters.
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3. Woodland Park Zoo – $20.95 (Reg. Price)
HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I LOVE THIS PLACE. (Also, how legendary is this shot we took?!)
We were there zooming and racing around for well over 6 hours constantly and we still couldn’t see everything.
I recommend making a 2-day event to explore just this zoo. It’s our only zoo in Seattle proper and it is a wonderful gem. My feet were pretty much dead at the end of a 6-hour waltz but I still had a ton of fun.
The animals get ample room and their enclosures are full of interesting things beautifully set out with care and detail. Most of Woodland Park is more fun than the San Francisco Zoo in my opinion.
Seriously, I’m in love with this place 🙂 My husband’s employer is holding a company picnic at the zoo tomorrow (!!!) so I get to go back.
It is a BEAUTIFUL park, I think we might end up getting their annual membership just because it’s close to our house and it’s packed full of stuff to see and do.
Peek at me in an African style house!
They had a mini African village and it was SOOOO cute. It looks pretty accurate to me (besides the wall speakers haha).
Cynthia at the petting zoo with the goat that wanted to be pet by her. We barely made it to the petting zoo and then the zoo announced they’re closing for the day. Most of the farm animals were done for the day. I really wanted to pet some animals 🙁
The only small con is they need more places to eat and more gift shops. 🙂 There is one gift shop in front of the park and one at the end of the park, but darn it I want some stuff stands! Take advantage of impulse buyers as a business! Amazing zoo! But they don’t monetize enough haha. The gift shop in the San Francisco zoo has cuter merchandise. I think the Woodland Park Zoo really should crank up the functionality and utility of their merch.
I was ready with my wallet open because I adored the place, but I didn’t see anything I liked that much sadly.
(And yes you get a discount off the zoo’s gift shop with your CityPASS too.)
Summary: Is it worth the price? YES. Even I’m willing to split it out for 2-day visits and just PAY IT TWICE, YESSSSSSS. Or get the basic membership if you’re going for 2 or more days a year. It will pay for itself in about 2 visits already. Higher level memberships means you get to help support conservation and wildlife.
I will write a follow-up adventure post/review of this place separately because it’s worthy of the attention and another day visit for sure.
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4. Chihuly Garden and Glass – $29 (Reg. Price)
The entire exhibit is made up of about 8 to 11 rooms filled with huge, life-size glass pieces of art that spans 4,500 square feet of indoor space and a separate outdoor garden. Chihuly is a 10 out of 10 in terms of eye candy. The uniqueness of this exhibit makes it a solid addition for me.
I mean, lots of places have aquariums, cruises, etc. but there’s nothing like a see-thru ceiling made of glass flowers.
It’s visually epic. If I was a photographer, I would have gone bonkers.
This is the place where artists, photographers, and anyone obsessed with Instagram-able moments should go. Besides remembering to take your best quality camera, the garden itself is astoundingly beautiful.
Each room has a loose theme.
This room has two boats filled with glass art.
This room has hanging stuff.
This looks like a blue mass of…I don’t know but it’s beautiful.
Absorb those colors, shapes, and structures in person before…well if that massive earthquake ever comes, I’m pretty sure Chihuly would be goners since…well everything is made of glass and then suspended in air?
The irony! The beauty!
Speaking of beauty, look at my beautiful husband. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome but gosh, who can resist his handsome puppy looks. 🙂
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5. Space Needle – $26 (Reg. Price)
From a non-tourist point of view, I can tell you the Seattle Space Needle is super overpriced for the regular admission price. I recommend skipping regular admission.
What you should do:
Make a reservation for brunch at the rotating Space Needle restaurant (SkyCity) as a treat instead. I emphasize brunch because their dinner menu is more pricey.
The brunch meal will cost twice as much as space needle admission but you get a great meal out of it and a place to sit with great views. The brunch is delicious, you get to sit and enjoy a nice multi-course meal while you spin and spin in Seattle for the full 360-degree view. It’s a lovely experience that definitely beats just going up and down.
I always thought it was pointless to go up to the Space Needle, take some photos, and come down. If you want the Space Needle view without the cost and the brunch doesn’t make it worth it to you – go to the Columbia Tower observation deck. It gives you an even better view of Seattle and going to the top deck will only cost you $10 to $15 dollars. You can get a perfect photo of the Space Needle and all of Seattle from the Columbia Tower whereas if you’re on the Space Needle…well you can’t because you’re on it. 😉
(SkyCity is under renovation right now but they will reopen in August 2018. Apparently, it’s renovating itself to be composed of only clear, see-thru, glass? I feel like that’s either going to be really cool or super terrifying.)
Summary: Get the brunch at SkyCity for $50 bucks and enjoy a nice meal with a sit down 360 view. Or go to the observation deck at the Columbia Tower for a just as cool view of Seattle for half price as the Space Needle. Or get a packaged deal with the Chihuly Garden and Space Needle for $44 altogther.
If you’re trying to make the Seattle CityPASS worth the $90 then it depends on how you will use it.
It’s about what is important to you on the trip and less about hitting as many targets as possible. A vacation that involves hurrying and rushing and planning to make arbitrary goals and sights is not a vacation to me.
The Space Needle is a given for a lot of tourists so that alone should tip you over to the “worth it” CityPASS side. Also, if you wanted a souvenir or photo the extra discounts given by the CityPASS makes it worth it too.
If you don’t care for the Space Needle or any souvenirs then I would skip the CityPASS.
I would then either do the Chihuly Garden + Space Needle combo and the Woodland Park Zoo (total $75) -OR- just the Zoo and Aquarium ($50) if I had school-age kids. The 1-hour boat cruise is fun if you want to rest your feet after a long day but it’s not worth the regular price, it’s more of a bonus if you’re right in between deciding if it’s worth it to push you over the line of getting the pass.
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Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
Nice summary! I used to live in Atlanta, GA and had friends come to visit. I’ve been to the aquarium there 3 times! lol It was all to take our friends places. They have city passes there too. I think it was $100-$140 back then.
$90 for a city pass to visit so many great places sounds like a good deal. I wish there was more food involved. The buffet sounds REALLY tempting!
There are a lot of free tourist attractions in DC, so I don’t think they even have a city pass. But we’ve also taken friends to DC proper so many times we’re now exploring other places. We’re planning to go to Chesapeake Bay this weekend!
That’s the post incoming!! There was too much food to fit in and I had to split them. I had to upload 200 pictures lolol!
freddy smidlap says
i took a one hour catamaran ride in s.f. bay once and that was just the right amount of time. those boats are fast! we don’t usually go for typical tourist sites when we travel nowadays but i used to. that’s a cool looking zoo.
Thanks Freddy, t’was cool!
Thanks for the comprehensive review! I will definitely get this when our little one is older! Looks like a great deal and a great way to ‘force’ yourself to see as much as you can see. Cute pics of otters!!