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Originally published July 3, 2013 at 3:58 PM | Page modified July 4, 2013 at 12:44 PM

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Cocktails and cruising on Lake Washington

Aboard a Lake Washington happy-hour cruise the view is spectacular, the drinks not so much.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The motor gurgles as we back out of the Kirkland Marina, and the muffled static of the PA system comes on. We hear an avuncular Don the Captain welcoming a group of Aussies onboard.

There’s a couple smearing on SPF 30 and clinking their margaritas as if on a boat bound for Puerto Vallarta. There are pretty girls in shades and sun dresses slurping blue cocktails through straws and smiling for Facebook.

Our summer barhopping this time took us beyond the waterfront bars and straight onto the good ship Emerald Star from Waterways Cruises and Events — a 90-minute spin around Lake Washington, complete with an all-you-can-eat taco buffet included in the $44 deal. Drinks, of course, not included.

So the food and cocktails are a notch below your average strip mall Tex-Mex haunt. Does it really matter? Have you seen the view out here?

The tour, dubbed “Happy Hour Cruise,” is part natural wonder, part map to the stars’ homes.

We head across the lake to Meydenbauer Bay under the 520 bridge, with a dreamy skyline and the squat ice-cream cone Mount Rainier in the distance. There’s Bill Gates’ home on the shore of Medina. A T-Rex skeleton is visible within the tinted-glass mansion of Nathan Myhrvold (of Microsoft and “Modernist Cuisine” fame). Here and there are the unfinished palaces of the techno rich.

Below deck, a taco bar awaits: A tortilla-chip spread with black-bean dip, salsa and a grim guacamole; mushy cheese enchiladas only made edible with a slathering of a hot sauce called “100 percent Pure Evil;” and decent blackened tilapia tacos topped with a tangy cabbage slaw.

Cocktails range from watery to sweet: stick to beer and wine.

The food is decent enough to fortify us in between rounds of IPAs while we navigated the deck, staring out at the greenways and mountains that suggest weekend hikes and sunset beach walks for weeks to come.

Waterways Cruises departs from the South Lake Union Park on Fridays and from the Kirkland Marina Park on Saturdays at 4:30 p.m., with boarding starting at 4 p.m. Tickets are $44 and include the taco bar. Tickets don’t include drinks. $8-$9 cocktails, $6.50-$11 wine, $5-$6 beer. You can order two drinks (wine or beer) for $11 in advance, which is cheaper than ordering after boarding. Tips, sales tax and port charges are additional. Cruises run through Sept. 28 (206-223-2060 or www.waterwayscruises.com).

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com.

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