Vancouver’s Pre-and Post Cruise Itinerary
If you’re going on an Alaskan cruise and it leaves from Vancouver, you’re definitely going to want to spend time in Canada’s third largest city either before or after your cruise. Ideally, you’ll want more than a couple of days to spend there; it’s a major city that has something of interest for people of all ages. However, if you only have a couple of days at your disposal, then stick with the itinerary below.
As Vancouver is located on the West Coast of Canada, if you’re coming from the United States (or Europe for that matter), you probably won’t arrive in Vancouver until early afternoon or later. You have numerous options to get from Vancouver’s airport to the city center. The cheapest via the Canada Line (through the city’s public transportation, the Skytrain) will cost you less than $10CAN. It will have you in downtown Vancouver in about 30 minutes.
There’s also the option of a taxi but keep in mind there are no highways going through the downtown which means traffic via a vehicle can be problematic at certain times of the day. You’ll either be sitting in traffic or having to contend with a lot of stop and go traffic thanks to the abundance of traffic lights every block. Thankfully, there is a flat rate when traveling from the airport to a downtown location. (Note: airport hotels do not fall under the flat rate, so plan accordingly where the meter is concerned if traveling to or from an airport hotel to the downtown.) With a tip a taxi ride will come out to about $40CAN.
Hopefully you’ve picked a hotel right in the downtown area although it would be best to stay at least a few blocks away from the madness that is Canada Place. Why, you ask? Well, it’s also home to the city’s cruise terminal which during the months of May to September sees thousands of people passing through ’round the clock (most days of the week) which translates to mobs of people, noise, and massive traffic congestion, especially during cruise embarkation and debarkation periods.
Fight the jet lag and head out to explore your new (temporary) environs. You must be famished by now so head to one of the city’s most iconic culinary hotspots, not to mention one you can’t miss because of its mobile trucks just about everywhere you look.
Japadog is just like it sounds-Japanese style hot dogs. It’s cheap, unpretentious, and delicious fare. Menu selections range from Terimayo, Japadog’s signature treat which features a hot dog topped with teriyaki sauce, mayo, and seaweed, to Yakisoba, a combination featuring Japanese noodles and arabiki sausage, to Ebi Tempura, Japadog’s first tempura dog featuring shrimp tempura on rice, to many more. Their “shaked” fries are very popular, but when in Canada, order the poutine.
Observation towers are usually one of the most touristy things you can do, not to mention typically expensive, and yet in the case of Vancouver Lookout, if it’s a nice day and there’s good visibility, it’s worth it. The added bonus is that your ticket is valid all day so you have the option of visiting in the morning but then returning in the evening for those nighttime shots without incurring additional costs.
The observation deck is 553 feet above Vancouver and offers 360 degree views of the city. You’ll find attentive and engaging staff ready to answer any questions you may have but there is also a plethora of signage letting you know the areas and particular buildings you’re looking at. The best views are those of the water and the stunning mountains off in the distance (don’t forget the 2010 Winter Olympics took place in Vancouver and nearby Whistler).
Okay, call it a night. You’ve packed in a lot but be sure to get your rest since you have a ton to see and do on your full day in this beautiful gem of British Columbia.
Even though the downtown is a bit dead on the weekends, coffee shops like Cafe Artigiano on Granville Street are open and while it may be a chain, it’s infinitely better than Starbucks any day. Enjoy some coffee art and be sure to get a fresh pastry or two to accompany it.
Okay, I’ll admit, it’s another uber touristy attraction and yet super fun. Fly Over Canada is going to cost a hefty arm and a leg for less than 10 minutes of “action” but it’s easy to see why it’s the most popular tourist attraction in the city. It’s a ride where you hang suspended (feet dangling and all!) before a 20-meter spherical screen while you watch a film that showcases the beauty of Canada from east to west. The coolest part will be the special effects, like being misted when you go over a body of water or the smells of fresh grain or trees when flying over the prairie and wilderness. You can buy these tickets in advance which you’ll want to do since it saves you from having to stand in line. Just remember that they’re timed tickets, you choose when you go, so don’t forget!
Every city has its one attraction that causes people to behave like quasi-silly, quasi -obnoxious tourists (i.e. taking photos, taking selfies, hogging said space with their photo taking), and for Vancouver it would be the Steam Clock. Although it may look like it’s from the Victorian era, it actually was built in 1977. It’s powdered by steam and whistles to tell the time and if you happen to be in the area where it’s located (Gastown), you’ll hear the Westminster Chimes being played every 15 minutes.
The clock is nice but it’s the neighborhood that the clock is in that’s the real treat. Gastown will get more crowded and congested as the day wears on so be sure to get in a walk along Water Street during the morning hours when you can best appreciate its classic beauty and historic origins (it’s the oldest neighborhood in the city).
Don’t miss out on the beautiful memorial statue to Canada’s fallen from the two world wars. Especially for the first World War, the country suffered huge losses since at that time it was closely tied to its former imperial mother, Great Britain.
Vancouver is an extremely multicultural city and nowhere is this more evident than in its Chinatown, the largest in Canada. It’s a fun and interesting area to explore between the various shops and ethnic eateries. Just use common sense and caution if walking to Chinatown after dark, as the area between Gastown and Chinatown is a bit rough.
Most people come to Chinatown to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It was the first Chinese or “scholars” garden built outside of China. Vancouver’s climate is similar to that of the Chinese city of Suzhou so many of the plants found in the Vancouver garden space are also found in Suzhou and were chosen according to their blossom schedules in order to emphasize seasonal changes. They also provide color through all four seasons, something you don’t always see in Western gardens.
Classical Chinese gardens employ philosophical principles of Feng shui and Taoism, aiming to achieve harmony and a balance of opposites. These will be present in just about every space and detail of the garden. Tours are offered as part of your admission price, although you can also walk through at your leisure. There’s probably no place more serene and chill than here.
Since your time is limited, it’s probably not a bad idea to go on a food tour. You’ll get to sample some of a city’s best of the best eateries without having to pick that one spot and then asking yourself, “did I make the right choice?” Although you had already passed through it earlier, Gastown is a great spot for a food tour, and one that is easy to get to as well.
If you decide against a food tour, then make sure you grab a beer from one of the city’s most famous and popular breweries, Steamworks. Vancouver is known for its craft beer scene so you won’t have any problems finding some good brews to try out.
Food wise, you’ll have to ask yourself what you are in the mood for. It it’s finger lickin’ bbq, then head to Peckinpah. Asian fusion? Bao Down’s your place. Good ol’ pub-style food that just aims to please? Then 131 Water Kitchen and Bar is where you want to go.
As for desserts, well, it’s okay if you have more than one. There’s the famous cheesecake at Trees Organic Coffee. Or organic soft serve ice cream at Soft Peaks Ice Cream. Or if you have a maple craze, then buy some goodies to eat now and plenty more to take home with you at Canadian Maple Delights.
Your feet are probably blistering by now with all the walking you’ve done. You should probably call it a night.
Okay, so today’s the day you board your cruise (or alternatively, return home), but there’s still time for a little more fun and exploring. Since you missed out on it previously, head back over to Canada Place and check out the Olympic Cauldron. It’s probably the largest Olympic torch you’ll ever see but its unique design definitely makes it memorable. It’s only lit for special occasions so you’ll have to imagine what it must look like then (or Google it).
Before you head back to collect your luggage, be sure to take a moment (or five) to simply gaze and admire the beautiful sea views before you. Once you board your ship, you’ll undoubtedly be too excited and keyed up about your cruise having officially started, so just soak it in when you can.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Vancouver on a pristine day weather wise, you won’t find views more spectacular than this. It’s a city that maybe you never had a lot of interest in visiting until your cruise came about, but now that you’ve been here, you’re probably already charting your return trip.
Note: If you end up doing the above itinerary post-cruise, you’ll obviously have a lot more time since cruise ships require all passengers to be off the ship mid-morning. So other ideas include visiting Granville Island and Stanley Park. If your flight isn’t until the late evening, you can also make the trek to the nearby Capilano Suspension Bridge; there’s free round-trip transportation from Canada Place. And if you even have more time at your disposal, then spending a couple of days in the nearby Okanagan Valley visiting the best wineries in Kelowna should be on your list as well!