Vacationing on a Seattle Houseboat Rental with Kids

Seattle mom Leah Adams recently took an exciting and unusual staycation. She slept for two nights on a Seattle houseboat with her husband, daughter (10) and son (8). Leah took advantage of a weekend-only special (the houseboat usually rents by the month) and found that a houseboat serves up a rockin’ (and rollin’) family vacation.

Q: What did you enjoy about the Seattle houseboat?

I loved the cedar paneling (smelled just like I imagined a houseboat would). The efficiency of being in a small space appealed to me. There’s something so lovely about being totally satisfied in a small space, leaving all the extraneous stuff in our house behind. The Lake Union location, near Fremont, was fantastic. Fremont deserves the designation as “Center of the Universe.”

seattle with kids
Leah's son enjoying typical Seattle shorts-and-t-shirt weather

I loved being able to walk everywhere. The small conversations that happen when you’re walking past someone’s garden (and peeking in their windows! ha!) really bond a family.

The resident momma mallard and her three ducklings enchanted my son; it seemed every time we looked out the window, there they were, swimming in circles right in front of our houseboat.

Everything you would expect in an efficiency kitchen was there - coffee maker, toaster oven, stove, full size fridge and freezer, dishes, cups, utensils. Plenty of towels and linens. We brought our own pillows, only because three of us are very picky. Checking it out first before packing gave me a good idea of what to bring.

Q: What did you do with kids while staying on the “Molly Brown” Seattle houseboat?

On Saturday night, we walked to dinner at Blue Moon Burgers, had Royal Grinders gelato with Lenin, walked to the troll where we posed with lots of other tourists (seems our kids had never officially visited before), then walked home.

Sunday morning, we walked up to the Varsity Inn for a mediocre diner breakfast. We should have walked further into Fremont, even to the Essential Baking Company, but I wasn’t sure it was open.

As we walked back from breakfast discovered an amazing mosaic on the Wallingford steps. Then we visited Gas Works Park, running to the top of the hill, down to the terrace, through the painted refinery room (kinda gross), bushwacked a bit through the park, discovered a shortcut back to the marina. I was worried about surprising people in the bushes, but we didn’t see (or even smell) anything foul.

gas works park, seattle with kids
View from Gas Works Park.

Sunday afternoon, we took the bus from 35th to Northwest Folklife Festival, and back home around 5 p.m.

Monday morning, Lance and my son walked to the Essential Baking Company for breakfast coffee, while my daughter and I lounged around, reading and rocking. Lance chatted for ages with the neighbors, who were transplants from Bothell, about life in the marina. They glowed about the amount of community there is at the marina compared to their neighborhood in Bothell.

Q: Could you cook in your houseboat?

There was a full kitchen, though not a ton of counter space. I would call it a very efficient kitchen. You could definitely have frozen pizza, burritos or any prepared food from the Fremont PCC frozen foods/deli case heated up to eat on houseboat.

The kitchen table is small, and that’s where the television sits, so I wouldn’t want to eat too many meals there. The marina is so close to the park, I would probably choose to picnic most of the meals besides breakfast.

Q: Would a houseboat be difficult with a toddler or preschooler?

I guess it would depend on your particular toddler or preschooler, but it really wasn’t a challenge at all. There are no railings on the dock, so I suppose if your child was impetuous and couldn’t tell the difference between the dock and water, you might have a problem.

Q: Any challenges involved with a houseboat vacation for four family members?

This houseboat had a tiny little pump-action toilet, but there was a ‘cabana’ with a full bathroom and shower for the use of the residents. It was just a short walk down to the dock.

The shower was lovely, but once we found out that the entire marina pumps all of their grey water into Lake Union, I started thinking differently about how much conditioner I used in my hair. The neighbors said their 40-gallon septic tank gets pumped once every two weeks, and that is even with using the toilets in the cabana most of the time. I guess you would just make a point of stopping in the cabana every time you left the property. Time to take a potty break everyone!

My husband’s perception of the experience was very different than mine. He can’t put his finger on exactly what bothered him, but he said he wouldn’t do it again. I loved everything about it, and he wouldn’t go again. Go figure. He couldn’t wait to pack up Monday morning, and I really wanted to stay there all day, lounging around, reading and listening to the rain.

Q: So, would you suggest a Seattle houseboat stay as a family-friendly vacation?

I do think staying on a houseboat is a family-friendly vacation, especially if the kids are 5 and up. We could have rented kayaks from Agua Verde Cafe or the Northwest Outdoor Center for additional fun around Lake Union. How cool would it be to kayak up to your front door?

We didn’t bring our bikes with us, but the Burke Gilman Trail goes right past the marina. If we had planned a little further in advance, we would have biked from the houseboat to the Seattle Center for Folklife.

Thanks, Leah. Find out more about the boat Leah stayed on (Molly Brown) at And you can find more houseboat rentals on Lake Union.

Would you stay on a houseboat?

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.

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