Frequently voted among the world’s most pleasant and liveable cities, Vancouver stands out as a jewel in the North American landscape for many reasons. Contemporary in its cultural outlook, youthful in its approach to new technologies yet also deeply reverent and respectful toward its heritage and First Nations ancestry, plus boasting relatively mild weather year-round (even in winter). You’ll be hard pressed to find fault with Canada’s west coast capital.
In summer, you’ll find locals soaking up the rays by surprisingly spacious and comfortable beaches just a few minutes from the CBD, while both autumn and spring entices crowds into seaside activity. For those with the means, winter draws large crowds into the Rocky Mountains a few hours drive away for some of the world’s best ski action. The city prides itself also on one of the most packed event and festival calendars covering topics from music and film, sports events and all in between.
How can I get to Vancouver?
From Australia, by far the easiest way is on a direct flight from both Sydney and Brisbane. Air Canada links both cities with Vancouver and Toronto every day. If you’re coming from another part of Australia, a domestic connection to either of the two state capital cities will link you with these services. Both are extremely reliable, frequently on time and have in recent times seen upgrades to the aircraft used on these services, meaning you’ll be enjoying the latest and newest Air Canada service all the way to Vancouver.
Another perk of the Air Canada routes is that you won’t need to worry about changing planes or clearing customs in the USA. Customs in Canada is a straightforward process, Vancouver Airport being extremely organised in how it moves passengers to their final destinations or onward to their hotel or cruise ship. However, if passing through the USA is no concern, you can reach Vancouver with one stop in either Los Angeles or San Francisco, but this means you will need to pass through two different sets of customs officers.
Where can I cruise from here?
Vancouver is one of four major departure points for the annual cruising season into Alaska – the other three being Seattle, San Francisco and the state’s capital Anchorage itself.
The Alaska cruise season, at least when it comes to the bigger ships and the major cruise lines, usually kicks off in late April or early May as the final throes of winter are shaken off. But when the starter’s gun is fired, stand back and watch as a flotilla of ships carrying the flags of all of the world’s biggest cruise brands sail into town to load up with guests. When it comes to Vancouver, as many as four ships per day can squeeze into the port.
While the occasional ship might make its first stop on Vancouver Island and the towns of Nanaimo or Victoria, most ships begin by cruising the Inside Passage and Tracy Arm Inlet, or stopping in ports such as Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Seward (Anchorage) and the Glacier Bay National Park. Notable highlights include the Hubbard Glacier and College Fjord.
Alaska is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to cruising from Vancouver. If you’re paying close attention, you might find the occasional voyage heading south along the US West Coast or even to the Hawaiian Islands. These are not frequent, but they do exist.
Where should I stay before or after my cruise?
Hotel rooms in major cities, particularly around tourist hotspots, can sometimes lack a sense of character, but if you look deeper, you’re likely to stumble across a hidden gem or two. In Vancouver, one such standout is Skwachays Lodge – a boutique property located a few blocks back from the Gastown tourist zone.
This property pays tribute to the Indigenous First Nations Canadians and features hotel rooms built above a museum and art gallery dedicated to this theme. It’s small, with only 18 suites, each with a unique theme reflecting an elemental part of the indigenous way of life. These include the Hummingbird Suite, Forest Spirits Suite or King Salmon Suite. Reception doubles as the welcome desk to the art gallery itself and hotel guests can enjoy an included continental breakfast in a communal room available until 10am each morning.
Even with its focus on Indigenous First Nations Canadians and living in harmony with the earth, the rooms themselves are supremely comfortable and feature plenty of storage space, a mini-refrigerator & modern technology, including a hair dryer in the bathroom. The only negative is that there is no desk in the room, so if you’re travelling for business and hoping to get some work done, you’ll need to set your laptop up on the bed, the lounge or your lap.
Skwachays Lodge is located across the road from a shopping centre and borders Vancouver’s Chinatown district, so there’s no shortage of good restaurants and cafes. While still well located in the CBD, staying out of the central part of town can allow you to develop a closer affinity with the city as you will be able to find other pleasant nooks and crannies as you explore central Vancouver each day.
What can I see and do before setting sail?
Every corner of Vancouver is loaded with innovative and exciting tourist attractions. Some of those outside of the CBD itself include the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a great way to get amongst nature and immerse yourself in a natural rainforest right on the edge of the city, particularly as Vancouver has the smallest carbon footprint of any major North American city.
A little further up the road is Grouse Mountain, where you can soar high above the city for a great view and enjoy a number of quintessentially Canadian wildlife activities such as axe throwing as part of a lumberjack demonstration, toten pole climbing and of course a chance to safely see two enormous grizzly bears in their natural habitat.
Right in the CBD, you’ll want to check out FlyOver Canada – one of the city’s new attractions. The interactive cinema sees guests strapped into seats and raised high for a short film showcasing the scenic landscapes across Canada. If you get queasy at heights, even simulated ones, you may wish to give this a wide berth but if you’re a fan of scenery, Canada has plenty of it and you’ll get to see much of it during this short ride across the countryside.
If you’re a foodie or a fan of breweries, Vancouver also offers a bunch of activities and tours which take you right into the city’s culinary culture. There are also a plethora of things to do for fans of hiking, golf, shopping, cycling and much more. On arrival, make sure you pick up a copy of the latest Official Visitors Guide to Vancouver or see www.tourismvancouver.com.
What should I expect in the cruise terminal itself?
As stated, on some days during the peak Vancouver cruise season, the terminal can handle as many as four big ocean cruising ships in one day, but this can in turn lead to equally huge crowds. This is where paying close attention to the embarkation information provided by your cruise line will lead to a reasonably stress-free experience.
In the morning, much of the crowd will be those disembarking from their cruise and heading into the city or to the airport, making for a huge line at the taxi queue. At the other end of the day, those boarding their ship will find plenty of signage directing them to the right decks for check-in, security and immigration. It can be a slow process, but it is orderly for the most part and you will get through reasonably quickly. If you or somebody in your travelling party is a little less ambulatory, there are wheelchairs available to assist in this process.
The terminal itself is extremely large with good crowd management protocols in place, as people are guided through the various steps and onto the right ship. Again, paying attention to what time your cruise line tells you to turn up will be critical to ensuring this happens.