Seattle: No shortage of gems in the Emerald city
There's something really comforting about being looked after by your own. From the Cead Mile Failte, to the Lyons tea and Bewley's coffee - you just can't beat Aer Lingus for that personal touch.
It's all the more appreciated when passengers are negotiating the Atlantic all the way to the West Coast of America, as I found on the inaugural flight to Seattle in May.
Business class, if you can afford it, is one of life's little luxuries and made the eight-and-a-half hour journey an absolute pleasure. The tender fillet steak, baby potatoes and steamed seasonal veg were a welcome added bonus, as was the unrivalled service.
For the folk from the Emerald Isle about to embark on a journey to the Emerald City, the adventure couldn't get any greener. Being the birthplace of Starbucks and Microsoft, and home to no fewer than 800,000 ex-pats, the climate is also very similar with plenty of drizzle - so remember to pack a raincoat.
Dublin Airport's unique visa pre-clearance means entry to the Pacific north west is effortless. On arrival at Sea-Tac terminal, the 13th busiest in the US, we stopped off at Cedarbrook Lodge - a country retreat just 15 minutes from the airport. Surrounded by 18 acres of plush gardens, it's hard to believe just how close we are to downtown Seattle.
This four-star family-focused hotel is best described as a hidden gem - especially for foodies who will absolutely relish the local cuisine.
Signature dishes include the mouth-watering Lummi Island Blue Foot Chicken or the luxurious Washu Beef, and don't get me started about the White Chocolate Pistachio Tart.
But in order to really tap into the lifeblood of the city, you are better advised to stay in the heart of this magnificent metropolis.
Located on 4th Avenue, the Kimpton Monaco Hotel is perfectly located as a base to soak up all the atmosphere and culture of this thriving and modern city.
To get you in the mood, a visit to the Pike Place Market on the waterfront is highly recommended. Established in the late 1960s, it's one of the oldest markets in the US with more than 200 vendors over six floors, selling fresh produce from vegetables to meat, fish, herbs, spices and flowers.
Steeped in history, you can get a real flavour of the locals and their unique trading rules which gave birth to the aforementioned, now world-famous, coffee brand.
Get lost in the tastes and aromas of the district with a must-do food tour with Savour Seattle Food Tours. Where better to begin than Indi Chocolate Cafe & Factory (home of the most wicked confections - all made with 72pc dark chocolate on-site).
As well as the famous local produce (wild Alaskan salmon and the highly entertaining fishmongers who have become legendary by throwing whole fish around their stalls), there's a true international feel as the surrounding streets are peppered with little cafes and bistros displaying an array of wonderful treats. Among our favourites were the Turkish pide - flatbreads covered with spinach, red/green peppers, tomatoes and smothered in feta cheese - at Miss Cafe, or the delectable salmon burgers from none other than the Rub With Love Shack.
And what better way to walk off those extra calories than the 15-minute stroll to the iconic Space Needle to drink in the panoramic views of the city skyline. Built in 1962, for the Seattle World Fair, the rotation sphere rises 605ft and rivals that of the Top of the Rock or the Empire State with spectacular views here of Elliott Bay and snow-capped Mount Rainier.
Right next door is the Chihuly Garden and Glass collection - a spectacular exhibition of the work of world renowned artist Dale Chihuly. Wander through the halls and marvel at the explosion of colour magnificently captured in his glass creations hanging from the ceilings or perfectly camouflaged in the immaculately manicured gardens.
Stop and grab a bite to eat in the quirky Collections cafe where a vast array of accordions swoop from the roof while Chihuly's early works adorn the walls.
Just around the corner is the Museum of Popular Culture or MoPOP - housed in what have to be the funkiest buildings on earth. Inside it's just as colourful and pays homage to the arts from music to sci-fi and movies, with props from horror and fantasy.
The Jimi Hendrix tour is fascinating, as is the hall dedicated to Nirvana and its late frontman Kurt Cobain, which is jam-packed with priceless memorabilia. (A must for grunge fans like the very kind lady in the US Embassy in Ballsbridge who longs to visit).
For younger visitors there is a Marvel Super Heroes event, but my personal favourite is the space section - especially the hall dedicated to Star Trek. Transport yourself back 40 years to the bridge of the Enterprise where Captain James T Kirk, Spock and Lt Uhura took command. Uniforms, props (including the flip top communicator) and weapons (the lethal phaser gun) take pride of place, as do replicas of the entire Star Fleet.
The terrifying reptilian mask of the Gorn (who managed to out-ham William Shatner in the 1967 episode 'Arena') is definitely one of the more quirky items and well worth a selfie.
Real Hollywood buffs will be mesmerised by Dorothy's blue gingham dress or the Lion's outfit from the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz.
One absolute top tip when visiting the city's attractions (which also includes the Aquarium and Harbour tour) is to buy a multi-ticket booklet called City PASS - saving you up to 50pc and more importantly, precious time from queueing.
Also the wacky Ride the Ducks tour which is the best introduction and guide to the city with lots of history and multiple corny jokes thrown in - should be done on arrival to get a feel for the place.
Just outside MoPOP is the landmark Monorail which will bring you back downtown (it has only one stop) to the multi-storey mall, Westlake Center, which is a shoppers' paradise and includes none other than the lavish Saks Off 5th.
A two-block stroll will take you to another American icon - Macy's - where you can pick up designer clothes such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein for the price of an M&S shirt.
This fashionista picked up a snazzy pair of Levis for just €48 (about €110 at home). Those not watching the pennies need to check out Nordstrom, where you can stock up on Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Valentino and more.
Being a city surrounded by water, mountains and evergreen forests, and which contains thousands of acres of parkland, Seattle is perfect for those longing to be at one with nature.
Whale watching in the Salish Sea is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list dream come true and only a two-hour boat ride from the busy port.
Hop on one of the many ferries heading for the stunningly beautiful San Juan Island and if the weather is right (remember the rain?), you should catch these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat. Orcas (killer whales) adorn all the posters, but we watched in wonderment as a pod of grey whales frolicked and fed in the crystal-clear blue waters.
We were also gifted the sighting of a gam of porpoises, a school of seals and on the shoreline, a majestic bald eagle swooping for salmon.
The scenery approaching Friday Harbor which is nestled between Vancouver, Seattle and Victoria is simply breathtaking, as is the island itself.
There you can visit the Whale Museum (really child-friendly) or just take in the natural beauty of the resort which is now home to a host of A-list celebrities.
En-route to our rustic lodgings at Lakedale Resort, we got up close with a young fawn who seemed more interested in the peculiar tourists than his own safety, spotted a rare black fox and her cubs hunting on the plains and marvelled at a nest of eagle chicks.
The Pelindaba Lavender Farm, sitting on 20 acres, is a must for all fragrance fans with oils, perfumes and dried flowers all manufactured on-site.
San Juan Island is also home to a vineyard and winery where connoisseurs can sit on the deck of the farm and sip award-wining reds and whites. We sampled a bottle or two at McMillin's Restaurant in Roche Harbor - once the largest lime and cement areas west of the Mississippi - now a popular spot for sailing.
As much as I like boating, flying is my thing and the return journey on a seaplane (a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter) was undoubtedly the most exhilarating 40 minutes of my life.
At an altitude of just 800ft, it is here that the true beauty of Seattle begins to sink in as I watch tugboats haul lumber, fishermen cast nets and the unforgettable view of a family of Minke whales. Awesome.
And that's even before the flight home.
Two to try
Lose yourself in the Museum of Pop Culture, located next door to the Space Needle. It features exhibits from Marvel to Star Trek, to movie props, and musical tributes to Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain.
Whale of a time
Take the ferry to Friday Harbor and stop along the way to marvel at the stunning wildlife in the crystal-clear waters of the Salish Sea, including killer whales, grey whales, porpoises, seals and even the odd bald eagle.
Aer Lingus, Ireland’s only four-star airline, currently operates four times a week non-stop from Dublin to Seattle.
Pre-clearing US Immigration before stepping on board saves lengthy queues upon arrival into the US.
Each-way fares from Dublin to Seattle start from €219 and until August 22, Aer Lingus has a business class offer to Seattle from €949 each way, including taxes and charges.
For further information, visit aerlingus.com.
For more information about Seattle, visit Seattle-WashingtonState.co.uk