If you are searching for a novel way to spend a few hours with your family, Argosy Cruises’ new Evergreen Excursion to Blake Island might be right for you. It offers enriching (kid-friendly but not kid-centric) activities, good food, guaranteed fresh air and more than 1,000 acres of wild land for nature-loving families to explore.
I hadn’t been on a boat since well before the pandemic, but I’d been informed that the company would be taking precautions. And I witnessed this firsthand. Social distancing spots are marked, masks are required for passengers and crew, the vessel is disinfected after each one-way trip, and the boat and island are cashless. Once I boarded the boat, I also learned that they were operating well below capacity, with around 50 people on a ship that can carry up to 400. And this was on a Saturday in good weather.
The vessel departed as scheduled from the Seattle waterfron. A guide narrated much of the 45-minute ride to Blake Island. He told passengers many historical, cultural and nautical facts about this area as we sailed, glancing out at Puget Sound and Elliott Bay. For example: Blake Island is likely the actual birthplace of Chief Seattle.
Welcome to Tillicum
When we arrived, we passed under the sign “Welcome to Tillicum” as we stepped foot on the island. Native American paintings decorate the longhouse ahead, flanked by tall totem poles. The staff greeted all of us warmly as we entered the longhouse for a live demonstration of traditionally cooked salmon.
Afterwards, staff directed us to the dining area for a plated meal, an experience which lasted about an hour. I had the vegetarian option, and it was delicious and healthy. There was also a vegan, gluten-free, and standard meal choice as well. Our servers were exceptionally kind and accommodating and everything from the salad to the dessert course was satisfying.
After lunch, we had the choice of kayaking (ages 10 and up), a culture tour, a history tour, or a nature walk. The company recommends reservations for the kayaking and the nature walk. But if there is room, people can join those the day of. The tours and walks provide a lot of information in a short time, and the culture tour even included an ancestral dance lesson. After people’s chosen activity (or if they didn’t want to do any of those), they had free time to explore the island at will or simply relax.
Choose your own island adventure
This trip is really what you make it. The landscape features five miles of saltwater shoreline, scattered with driftwood that allows for a peaceful stroll. There are open grassy areas that are ideal for a picnic, and a long but uncomplicated trail for an easy hike. On my walk, a deer crossed my path only a few yards from where I stood, observed me for a moment, and then continued on its way.
I hiked only part of the trail (the whole loop is 4 miles) but I saw beautiful views of the water and Seattle skyline and read about the island’s history and how First Nations communities used some of the area’s plants.
Those with a thirst for knowledge can choose self-guided tours, such as a beach or totem pole tour. You can request laminated maps that have QR codes printed on them to scan with your mobile device if you want more information about something on the tour (probably one of the few times you’ll want to take your phone out on the island).
Though the trip is worthwhile, there are some things to keep in mind. Wearing a mask for the five-hour journey is something that may take time to get accustomed to. And kids may get restless during some of the activities, especially the younger ones. (When I took the cultural tour, a two-year-old girl became cranky, but then fell asleep in her mother’s arms) So it might be a good idea to bring along a light stroller and some activities or a toy for toddlers, or skip activities altogether and just play on the beach.
If you forget something at home, the longhouse has a small gift shop with goodies such as books and stuffed animals.
Prices are $92 and $87 for adult and senior tickets, $38 for ages 4-12, and children 3 and under are free. For the rest of July, Washington residents get 25 per cent off reservations.