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Jul 07

Seattle Space Needle From Chihuly Garden and Glass
Seattle Space Needle From The Chihuly Garden and Glass

Touring inside corporates offices of giant tech firms is a rare adventure. Receive a behind the scenes tour with access to Microsoft’s mobile division, a few top executives and technology roadmaps. I was selected as a top brand advocate for a personal tour to bring you the latest about what’s next in mobile. Microsoft’s main campus is located in Redmond, Washington, about a 45-minute drive away from Downtown Seattle.

Southwest Airlines Mt Rainier
Mt Rainier from my Southwest Airlines airplane window.

As I flew into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I noticed several volcanoes from my Southwest Airlines airplane window. I made sure to get a window seat on this flight as I had missed photo opportunities on my recent trip to the Verizon Innovation Center West in San Francisco.

Sea-Tac is organized like most of the other international airports that I have flown into, with a few twists. One of those twists is the Central Link light rail that is both inexpensive and highly convenient. My Warwick Hotel Concierge, Derek, recommended that I take the Link light rail to the Westlake stop. The hotel was located a few blocks away, which gave me the opportunity to see a little bit of Downtown on foot.

Space Needle Downtown Seattle
Space Needle Downtown Seattle

I still remember the moment where I first spotted the Space Needle. I seem to visit cities with very tall towers like Toronto’s CN Tower, San Francisco’s TransAmerica Pyramid and New York’s Freedom Tower. Living in Las Vegas affords me the chance to see the Stratosphere Tower continually.

Link light rail Downtown Seattle
Link light rail trip to Downtown Seattle.

Seattle instantly became a comfortable place for me to visit. Riding through many of the communities towards Downtown gave me a basis for where to go on future visits.

Warwick Seattle Hotel
Warwick Seattle Hotel

The first day and evening in Seattle was not sleepless. The group arrived to the Warwick Hotel, a nicely renovated place to stay a few blocks away from Pike Place Market, the original Starbucks and the waterfront. This was my first visit to Seattle. It immediately reminded me of a laid back San Francisco, each with its own identity of course.

Warwick Seattle Hotel Lobby
Warwick Seattle Hotel Lobby

The Warwick Seattle Hotel located on 401 Lenora Street has a nice lobby. The space it lacks there is made up with a large parking garage in back. That helps visitors with rented cars or small vans that want to park onsite.

Uber is currently available in Downtown Seattle and is nice when you want a quick ride to see the sights. I took a few photos from my corner downtown facing room and got ready for the group dinner at Poppy. My referral code link gets you $30 towards your next ride.

Poppy Restaurant Seattle
Poppy Restaurant In Seattle

Poppy, located about 8 minutes away from the Warwick Hotel at 622 Broadway East is on the trendier side. Their prices for appetizers and main entrees are a little higher than what travelers on a budget might be willing to pay, but the taste is top notch.

Poppy Restaurant Cheese Plate
Cheese Plate at Poppy Restaurant

If you are looking for a locally grown, organic and sustainable dinner, then Poppy is the restaurant to visit. Their entrées, called thalis, combine several small cups of food that surround the main dish. I enjoyed their smoked trout appetizer and several slices of Brie cheese. My thali or main course consisted of locally caught salmon. Dessert included small bites of shared dishes including mint ice cream that was made from mint grown in Poppy’s garden and nutter-butter squares.

Poppy Restaurant Smoked Trout
Smoked Trout at Poppy Restaurant

Poppy Restaurant Salmon
Salmon at Poppy Restaurant

Poppy Restaurant Thali
Thali at Poppy Restaurant

Dinner on the first night of any group trip is a great way to meet the other attendees and listen to their stories about being a brand ambassador, influencer and sometimes advocate. My group had several of each, a few traditional journalists and an actor from North Carolina. It was a young group who all enjoyed utilizing mobile technology from Nokia to help accentuate their story via blogging and social media.

Poppy Restaurant Dessert
Dessert at Poppy Restaurant

Evenings are fun in new cities and I wanted to explore a little more. The leader of the group asked if anyone wanted to go and get a few drinks at family owned The Pike Pub. Since Uber is so convenient, our small group took one by ordering it from a Lumia Smartphone via their mobile website.

Pike Place Pub Beers
Beers at The Pike Pub

The Pike Pub is located on 1st Ave downstairs from street level and looks like it has been around for many years. This is a good place for groups to visit for drinks, as there are plenty of booths near the bar. Lots of local photos and sporting goods adorned the walls.

The selection of beers was extensive and I opted to try one that my group leader recommended. About an hour later, the bar tender announced it was last call. This is not something that I’m used to coming from Las Vegas, but something that travelers should be aware of if you are in town entertaining people.

Pike Place Public Market Downtown Seattle
Pike Place Public Market

We decided to walk back to the hotel after we finished our last drink. It had been in the mid 70’s that day and a walk in cooler weather was nice. I made a note of where Pike Place Market was located so as to make sure to see it again in the daytime before I left Seattle.

I took a few photos of the skyline and prepared for the next day back in my room. It was a quiet first night in Seattle, even though a major street was located next to the hotel. Rooms facing opposite from where I was have an excellent view of the Space Needle. Ask your Concierge about the view before booking a stay.

Oddfellows Cafe Downtown Seattle
Oddfellows Cafe Downtown Seattle

Everyone gathered in the lobby early the next morning. The first order of business was to find a place to enjoy breakfast with the group. We went to a local place called Oddfellows Café. The restaurant is located on 10th Ave inside of an old red brick building with high ceilings. Minutes after we arrived, the entire restaurant was full of people sipping gourmet coffee and working on their computers.

Oddfellows Cafe Menu
Oddfellows Cafe Menu

Oddfellows Café offers free WiFi with a code. Patios in front and back are both cool places to people watch and take a few photos.

Oddfellows Cafe Giant French Toast
Giant French Toast at Oddfellows Cafe

Ordering from their menu was easy with their expert wait staff. I found a brioche French toast topped with mascarpone and fruit compote. The size of the French toast was larger than anything I have had before. It was so popular that it sold out that morning.

Oddfellows Cafe Coffee Lumia Smartphone
Lumia Smartphone and coffee at Oddfellows Cafe

I needed to have some protein to enjoy a long day properly, so I opted to order a side of warm ham. It arrived sliced thin with a slight smoky flavor. After taking multiple photos of the food on the table, it was time to visit Microsoft Corporate Headquarters.

Microsoft Welcome Sign
Welcome Sign at Microsoft Headquarters Visitors Center

Along the way across Lake Washington to Redmond, where the Microsoft HQ is located, we could see a small part of Bill Gate’s home in Medina. We collected our various name badges and proceeded to the presentation room.

Chris Weber CVP Microsoft Mobile Device Sales Talks About Nokia Branding By @MarkGuim on Twitter

Microsoft CVP Chris Weber Mobile Device Sales Surface Pro 3
Chris Weber CVP Microsoft Mobile Device Sales and Surface Pro 3

Our first presenter was Chris Weber, CVP of Mobile Device Sales, at Microsoft. He discussed where the mobile brand of Lumia smartphones is headed and teased a preview of the Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Microsoft Cortana Voice Assistant Demo
Cortana Voice Assistant Demo at Microsoft

Several people from Microsoft demoed Cortana, their personal voice assistant and Siri in iOS 8 beta from Apple. Cortana in its current form under the developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1 is able to contextually understand commands about people and locations while Siri didn’t and returned search results from the web.

Marcus Ash Talks About Cortana On Other Platforms By @MarkGuim on Twitter

Microsoft Marcus Ash Cloud Computing
Marcus Ash at Microsoft Discusses Cloud Computing

Marcus Ash Talks About The Creation Of Cortana By @MarkGuim on Twitter

Finally, Marcus Ash, Group Program Manager for Cortana, talked about the personal voice assistant and how it might appear on other mobile platforms. I’m hoping to see Microsoft create apps for Android and iOS for use with Cortana. Mr Ash mentioned that the Lumia 521 is capable of running Cortana in Windows Phone 8.1 because the processing is done in the cloud.

iOS 8’s widgets and Android’s open APIs may be able to handle requests from a Cortana app that could create location activated reminders and triggers related to address book entries.

Microsoft Lake Bill
Lake Bill at Microsoft

The group’s time at Microsoft included a guided tour around and through several of their original buildings, commons, commissary, maker’s room, library, a piece of the Berlin wall and the company store. We stopped to see the Koi pond, also known as Lake Bill, in between the first two buildings at Microsoft.

Lake Bill was a gathering spot for when new software was released every few years. Now software is released everyday and the large Koi pond is a place to relax on breaks or reflect on projects.

Microsoft Experimental Offices Coke Machines
Coke Machines In The Microsoft Experimental Offices

Microsoft is experimenting with a new type of office design in one building where people plug into the network from any available seat and is helpful so that groups can be formed to complete projects across different competencies simultaneously. Hot desking was thought to be the future of office design layouts but it has its downsides too. It turns out that some people enjoy a cubicle experience.

Microsoft Library
Library at Microsoft

Microsoft Library Tablet Digicove
Digicove Of Tablets In The Microsoft Library

A visit to the Microsoft Library found several rows of physical computer related books and an incredible amount of digital books available. They have a demo table of tablets and smartphones to test from multiple vendors near the entrance.

Microsoft Library Maker Room 3D Printer
Maker Room In The Microsoft Library With 3D Printer

Then we traveled through a door to the Maker’s Room. Inside are several tables with programming tools, laser-etching machines, and soldiering stations. I like how a giant corporation is giving their employees multiple ways to learn and grow. Keeping creative helps to solve problems and engineer innovative solutions.

Microsoft Building 33
Building 33 at Microsoft

Microsoft Building 33 25 Years Glass Plaques
25 Year Glass Plaques In Building 33 At Microsoft

Building 33 on our campus tour included multiple rows of 25 year plus etched glass with names on them like Bill Gates 1975 and Steve Ballmer 1980. Those were the years they started with the company. Further down the hall is a section of the Berlin Wall. It was the first time I had seen such a complete piece.

Microsoft Building 33 Berlin Wall Section
Berlin Wall Section In Building 33 At Microsoft

Some wondered why a section of the Berlin Wall was brought to Microsoft. It may have to do with how if we learn about past hardships, we might be able to avoid them in the future. Upstairs from this building is a space where Microsoft courts their large corporate customers to continue their relationships and where they sign new deals.

Microsoft Xbox Building Halo Scene
Halo Scene At Xbox Building In Microsoft

Microsoft Xbox Building Star Trek Characters
Star Trek Characters In Xbox Building At Microsoft

Working our way back to the Microsoft conference center, we took a quick walk through the Xbox building. Several scenes from popular games like Halo were created in diorama form and were cool to see outside of CGI space. There were several characters of the original Star Trek TV show depicted by hundreds of hanging reflective elements as if they were beaming into the building.

Microsoft Company Store
Company Store at Microsoft

Our time at Microsoft was coming to end and that meant visiting their company store was next. Almost every type of branded product was available for purchase like pens, hoodies, hat, shirts and large coffee mugs. I look for deals and found a few things marked down. Most of us wanted to see the back room where the software was located. We were quickly informed that only MS employees are allowed in with a badge.

Microsoft Headquarters Sign Group Shot
Group Photo at Microsoft Headquarters

Moments before leaving the campus, our videographer Troy, asked if he could get a few video clips of the group with the Microsoft sign. I thought quickly and gave my Lumia Icon to him. He took a great shot of us. I began sharing it via the Tap & Send function. Through NFC and Bluetooth, I was able to share the photo to many in the group that wanted it. Tap & Share worked flawlessly, even to those running Windows Phone 8.1 beta.

Edgewater Hotel Seattle Lobby
Lobby At Edgewater Hotel In Seattle

We hopped into the van and drove back to the Warwick. It was necessary to check out and go to the next and final hotel of the trip. We arrived to the Edgewater Seattle on 2411 Alaskan Way and found ourselves in a very cool modern lodge setting that overlooks Puget Sound.

Edgewater Hotel In Seattle

Edgewater Hotel Seattle Room View
King Size Bed and Claw Foot Tub At Edgewater Hotel In Seattle

I was fortunate enough to score a Puget Sound facing room, complete with a fireplace, plush king size bed and a claw foot tub. The bathroom had a door that slid open to allow access to the excellent view.

Sitka and Spruce Salmon
Salmon At Sitka & Spruce

The dinner that night took us to Sitka & Spruce, located at 1531 Melrose Ave. Our group had a reserved upper dining room that fit 16. Being elevated allowed us to carry on conversations without interruption.

Several courses were brought out which included sliced meats, roasted chicken, locally sourced vegetables, salmon with small potatoes and a few wine flights. If you are looking for fresh ingredients incorporated in unique ways ranging from $15 to $30 per entree, this is the restaurant for you.

Dick’s Drive-In Seattle Burgers
Burgers at Dick’s Drive-In In Seattle

Some of us found out about a local burger joint and wanted to visit before departing Seattle, the next afternoon. Five of us went to the late night burger joint called Dick’s Drive-In. It has a retro orange sign, affordable prices and is popular with the college crowd.

Open since 1954 they make sure to get your order out quickly. I found my Dick’s Deluxe burger to be tasty. I can see why they are busy day and night.

Edgewater Hotel Seattle Moscow Mules
Moscow Mules From The Edgewater Hotel Seattle

Back to the Edgewater Hotel for a nightcap. To my surprise, some of their Moscow Mules are served in stamped copper cups. They made for a cool photo.

Edgewater Hotel Seattle Puget Sound View
Puget Sound View From The Edgewater Hotel Seattle

Checking out of the Edgewater Hotel was difficult, as I wanted to experience more of their relaxing atmosphere next to Puget Sound. Our first stop that morning was for breakfast at the Collections Café in the Chihuly Garden and Glass. The restaurant is located directly beneath the Space Needle and next to the Experience Music Project at 305 Harrison St.

Chihuly Garden and Glass Collections Cafe
Collections Cafe at Chihuly Garden and Glass

They call it the Collections Café as it has smaller glass works from Chihuly inside of the tables. My breakfast started off with a fresh fruit plate and transitioned into Eggs Benedict over smoked salmon and English muffins with a side of fresh greens. Their prawns dish sounded equally delicious, so I ordered a side of those.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Collections Cafe Chilhuly Garden and Glass Breakfast
Eggs Benedict Over Salmon From Collections Cafe Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly is a popular glass artist that’s featured in Las Vegas, so I was somewhat familiar with his work. But his work in the exhibition was beyond anything I’ve ever seen anywhere internationally.

Chihuly Garden and Glass Entry
Entry At Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass Giant Glass Sculptures
Giant Glass Sculptures In The Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass Boats
Boats At Chihuly Garden and Glass

There were rooms of glass above a glass ceiling, chandelier pieces, boats filled with colored glass reflecting on a mirrored floor, giant green glass tree sculptures and super tall fixtures outside in the garden. I’m happy the group had time to see it.

Argosy Cruises Goodtime 2 Blake Island Adventure

Now we sailed away from the pier aboard the Argosy Cruises Goodtime II ship to Tillicum Village on Blake Island. The cruise director treated us to a brief history of the area during the trip.

Tillicum Village Cups Of Clams
Cups Of Clams At Tillicum Village

Tillicum Village Salmon Bake
Salmon Bake At Tillicum Village

Tillicum Village Native American Performer
Native American Performer At Tillicum Village

Once we arrived, visitors were immediately greeted with a cup of steamed clams caught locally. We were encouraged to crunch the clamshells on the pathway up to the main building. There we experienced some of Northwest’s tribal culture with a performance and a tasty native salmon bake.

Blake Island Tillicum Village Welcome Sign
Tillicum Village On Blake Island

Blake Island is a place anyone can visit via a short boat ride. They have spots to dock your boat and their cost to camp there is minimal. After the dinner and performance, I choose to take a brief trek in the forest nearest the beach to take photos with my Lumia Icon.

Blake Island Tweeting
Roy Choi Tweeting In The Forest On Blake Island

I spotted many friendly raccoons on the island and they like to pose for photos. I found that the wireless signal on the island was quite good. Sending Tweets and Instagram shots was easy. Here’s a funny shot I took while enjoying the greenery.

Tillicum Village On Blake Island
Tillicum Village On Blake Island

Tillicum Village Totem Pole With Chris
Tillicum Village On Blake Island

The gift shop was a popular spot on the tour and there were a few items made locally. I opted to spend more time near the beach and listen to our guide talk about Blake Island and its history. This was a good point during the trip to take a few parting shots and prepare to board the Goodtime II.

Several of us needed to get to the airport for an early departure, so those people took one van while the remainder rode over to Pike Place Market. I’m happy to have had about an hour to tour in and around many of the shops on the very busy afternoon.

Pike Place Market Flowers
Flowers From Pike Place Market

The smells of tasty food cooking, fresh fish and flowers filled the air. For about $10, you could get a nicely arranged bouquet of flowers. If you are looking to visit the original Starbucks, be sure to allocate an hour to wait in line. I found a nice deli with locally caught salmon and a spot to utilize WiFi.

Pike Place Market Original Starbucks
Original Starbucks At Pike Place Market

My smaller group finished touring around Pike Place Market and headed towards the airport. Be aware that I-5 highway can get very busy. Getting to the airport took some effort within the Downtown area, but the traffic cleared up a few miles outside of the city.

The trip back about equaled my ride into Downtown Seattle via the Link light rail, so it’s up to your preference whether you need a rental car. Returning a rental car at Sea-Tac is like what I’ve experienced at McCarran’s International Airport in Las Vegas. The rental car garage houses most of the companies with clean facilities and frequent complimentary buses back to the main airport.

SEA TAC Takeoff View
Takeoff From SEA-TAC via Southwest Airlines

Seeing major tourist spots and dining at several of Seattle’s trendy restaurants is exactly what I wanted to do on this trip. Getting to visit Microsoft and go on a guided tour is beyond what I’ve ever been able to do at Apple. Meeting several of their top people in the mobile and cloud space, which is a major focus for the company now, assured me that they will meet or exceed their near term goals for each.

Their openness and willingness to work with other companies like Apple and Google signals to me that a few of their projects could gain significant traction in the consumer space after release. Watch for Cortana, OneDrive and Office 365 to be integral on future product lines.

Seattle Space Needle
Space Needle In Seattle Sunset By Shannon Smith

Disclosure: My travel was provided by Microsoft. I am a Microsoft Mobile Brand Advocate. I did not receive compensation for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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