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Originally published July 28, 2012 at 7:00 PM | Page modified June 21, 2013 at 12:18 PM

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"Shades of Grey" tourism in Seattle, Portland

Portland's Heathman Hotel welcomes "Fifty Shades of Grey" fans who have been dropping in to look around, snap photos and book rooms.

Seattle Times travel writer

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Shades of Grey? You're kidding me. That overwrought, ridiculously silly, junvenile... MORE
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Could the erotic best-seller "Fifty Shades of Grey" do for Portland and Seattle what the "Twilight" series of books and movies did for the sleepy town of Forks on Washington's Olympic Peninsula?

Tourism promoters hope so. Many of the steamiest scenes take place in Seattle and Portland, and there are plans to turn the novel into a movie. "We're getting people making dinner reservations, people in the bar, people just coming in to look around because a friend told them, or they read the book," says Chris Erickson, general manager of Portland's Heathman Hotel. "It's more than I expected, and it's been a lot of fun."

Mention of the Heathman pops up 18 times in the book, as young Anastasia Steele and her billionaire boyfriend Christian Grey meet in elevator No. 3 and have dinner in a second-floor private dining room.

Erickson says he has no plans yet for public tours, but says he welcomes tourists who have been dropping in to look around, ride the elevator, snap photos and book rooms.

For those who want to create their own fantasy, hotels in Seattle and Portland have come up with elaborate packages.

Seattle's Hotel Max offers a $1,669 two-night package that includes a skippered-sunset cruise, inspired by the Puget Sound sail enjoyed by the book's characters.

Bigger spenders looking to recreate Steele's birthday party can opt for the Heathman's $2,750 "Charlie Tango No Limits" package, including appetizers, wine, dinner and a helicopter ride over Portland for six; roses and limo transfers. Rooms are extra.

Guests soon may be able to check out the "Shades" books for bedtime reading. That is if British author E.L. James responds to an invitation to spend the night, a requirement for any author whose book is on display in the Heathman's library.

Erickson says he skimmed the book, the first in a trilogy, after a guest put a copy on his desk last September. Now, like millions of others, he's curious to learn more.

"If I ever get a day off, I'm going to dive into those books cover to cover."

Cheaper flights

from Bellingham

Looking for cheaper airfares to popular West Coast destinations? Consider flying out of Washington's Bellingham International Airport.

With an expanding number of flights, the Bellingham airport once again made it into the top 10 of 101 U.S. airports ranked by Cheapflights.com on airfare affordability.

Twenty-five miles south of the Canadian border — and drawing travelers from the Vancouver, B.C., area as well as Northwest Washington — Bellingham ranked No. 10 for the second year in a row. The survey measured average fares found when searching Cheapflights for domestic and international flights in June.

Cheapflights customers paid an average $342 for a round-trip ticket in and out of Bellingham compared to $221 at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., which ranked No. 1 as most affordable and $964 at Anchorage International, ranked last.

Bellingham ranked No. 1 three years ago when Cheapflights began its survey. The results then and now seem a little skewed given that larger airports such as Sea-Tac Airport (No. 91 with an average fare of $626) and Portland (No. 86, $599) have flights going everywhere, including internationally, while only three airlines — Alaska, Frontier and low-cost Allegiant — fly out of Bellingham.

Still, with lower airport fees and competition for Canadian passengers who might otherwise use Vancouver International, airlines using Bellingham have incentives to keep fares lower.

Hawaii is a good example. Alaska, which flies nonstop between Bellingham and Honolulu, kicks off flights to Maui in November. Allegiant begins twice-weekly nonstops between Bellingham and Honolulu and Maui around the same time.

A recent search for a round-trip Maui flight in late January turned up a midweek fare of $377 on Alaska out of Bellingham vs. $477 for a Maui/Seattle flight. And that was for a red-eye return. The fare jumped to $531 for an early-afternoon departure to Seattle.

Allegiant's flights were sold out or unavailable on the dates I checked, but the airline showed availability on another pair of January dates for a round-trip price of $388.

Have a travel question? Contact Carol Pucci at cpucci@ seattletimes.com. On Twitter @carolpucci.

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