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botbien

What to Do with 2 Days in Vancouver

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Hello all,

 

We are a family of 4 with 2 teenage children. We want to hear your recommendations on what to do during 2 days (post cruise) in Vancouver. 
 

Our cruise ship docks at Vancouver at 7:30 am on Wednesday. We have full day Wednesday and Thursday to explore Vancouver and will fly back home (Houston) at noon Friday. I have read several trip reports and watched several YouTube videos about Vancouvers and Victoria.

 

We want to spend a day in Victoria (taking the BC Ferries).  Since the ferry ride is 90 minutes one way, I think we will go to Victoria on Thursday. 
 

Could you please share your thoughts what we should do in Victoria and Vancouver?  Also, should we visit Victoria at all or just spend the whole time to explore Vancouver?  Both places are so beautiful, but we are torn since the ferry ride will take 3 hours commute time (round trip). 
 

Thank you very much in advance for your inputs. 

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8 hours ago, botbien said:

Hello all,

 

We are a family of 4 with 2 teenage children. We want to hear your recommendations on what to do during 2 days (post cruise) in Vancouver. 
 

Our cruise ship docks at Vancouver at 7:30 am on Wednesday. We have full day Wednesday and Thursday to explore Vancouver and will fly back home (Houston) at noon Friday. I have read several trip reports and watched several YouTube videos about Vancouvers and Victoria.

 

We want to spend a day in Victoria (taking the BC Ferries).  Since the ferry ride is 90 minutes one way, I think we will go to Victoria on Thursday. 
 

Could you please share your thoughts what we should do in Victoria and Vancouver?  Also, should we visit Victoria at all or just spend the whole time to explore Vancouver?  Both places are so beautiful, but we are torn since the ferry ride will take 3 hours commute time (round trip). 
 

Thank you very much in advance for your inputs. 

 

Just understand that Victoria will be an all-day affair.  While the boat trip is actually 95 minutes, the Tsawwassen ferry terminal is 45 minutes south of Vancouver, and the Swartz Bay terminal is 30 minutes north of Victoria. I believe the downtown to downtown bus is scheduled at 4hrs, and it's about 4h15 if you use the Skytrain/bus to Tsawwassen and the bus from Swartz Bay to Victoria.  It's not 3 hrs round trip, it's between 8 and 9 hours once you factor in getting to/from the ferry terminal and waiting for the next ferry.

 

If you haven't booked your air yet, you can always fly home from YYJ/Victoria (YYJ-SEA-IAH, YYJ-YYC-IAH, YYJ-YVR-IAH) rarely is it much more than flying from Vancouver, and that would save you one of the sailings. 

 

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I agree with Scott - personally unless you're in Vancouver for a week or more (or Butchart is on your bucket list and you foresee no chance of returning to this neck of the woods) I never recommend Victoria, it's an awful lot of time for very little gain. Even if seeing Butchart is something you want to do, be aware that Vancouver offers more and better gardens in toto - the best thing about Butchart is the convenience of having several different types of gardens all in the same place, but the time required to get there (especially if you repeat the trip again backwards the same day) makes it rather silly. Basically ask yourself if you were in London (UK) for two days, would you spend one of them taking Eurostar over to Brussels? That's the sort of time and hassle you're looking at.

 

And frankly for a couple of teens... unless they're extremely odd kids, they'll be much more likely to be bored in Victoria than Vancouver! Victoria is a fogey town - which has it's value, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of chillaxing with a nice beer or visiting museums - but the most common thing I hear from folks who spent their high school years there is 'OMG it was sooooooooo boring, I had to get out of there!!!'

 

If you do check with the whole family and everyone is mad keen on Victoria - do what Scott suggested and check out flights from YYJ. You may be giving up a nonstop (IIRC there are direct flights to Houston from Vancouver), but if you are already having to transfer somewhere en route then you should be able to find a one-stop from YYJ. As to getting there - a rental car on the ferry would be your best bet for 4 people with luggage. Flights would be a fortune, the V2V 'luxury ferry' costs almost as much as a flight and is basically just as slow as the regular ferry plus driving on each end. Returning to Vancouver again... unless you have enough budget to pay for flights both ways, it's a ridiculously long day trip (12-14 hours if you book a coach trip) and unless you have visited us before, every hours spend away from Vancouver means missing out on stuff here...

 

Assuming that you stay in Vancouver for the two full days, you can put a reasonable dent in our massive list of attractions - but you still need to prioritize a lot, so I'm loathe to choose for you. Much better to have everyone (kids included) read TripAdvisor 'top ranked' lists, choose their personal top 5 things, and then compare lists - anything that everyone wants to do, do it. Also consider splitting up - even without a Canadian data/phone plan, the free citywide WiFi network means anyone with a tablet or phone can keep in touch without spending a penny, and also use online mapping to find your way around.

 

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Something you can do in Vancouver is go to the Aquarium,

Go to False creek an take a walk by water( The North side is a lot nicer)

Stanley Park,    If you venture in too far, it can a long time to get out.

Walk by Victoria Harbor

Take a cool boat ride  through The Fjords ,Indian Arm  ( when I went it was very rough for  a few minutes until the boat went  in the harbor then it was fine.

 

You can see the Chinese Gardens, (The one in downtown only)

 

 

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Thank you Scottbee, Martincath and Iceman for your thoughtful suggestion and advice.  We have changed our plans based on your feedback.  We'll save Victoria for another visit to Vancouver.

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I'm similar in that I'll have about 1.5 days in Vancouver pre cruise, and it's just me.  I also thought about Buchart but discarded the idea due to time.  Things that I'm thinking about right how:  Gastown mostly to see the clock, Granville Island, Capilano suspension bridge, art museum (b/c I'm a museum curator).  I might try to find a tour that would knock out some of those without my having to get transport.  Of course I know I should probably see some of Stanley Park as well.  The size of that seems a bit overwhelming--I'd probably only see a small part.  I might do at least one of the gardens in Vancouver but they don't wow me as much as Buchart. 

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4 hours ago, Kitty Ellas Mom said:

I'm similar in that I'll have about 1.5 days in Vancouver pre cruise, and it's just me.  I also thought about Buchart but discarded the idea due to time.  Things that I'm thinking about right how:  Gastown mostly to see the clock, Granville Island, Capilano suspension bridge, art museum (b/c I'm a museum curator).  I might try to find a tour that would knock out some of those without my having to get transport.  Of course I know I should probably see some of Stanley Park as well.  The size of that seems a bit overwhelming--I'd probably only see a small part.  I might do at least one of the gardens in Vancouver but they don't wow me as much as Buchart. 

I'd suggest MOA and the MOV in terms of scratching your 'professional curiosity' itch locally - especially MOA, which is just enormous in scope. Even if you curate art and want to focus on things of primarily aesthetic rather than historic value, you'll find plenty at MOA - it has one of the largest collections of indigenous art on the planet. The Bill Reid Gallery downtown is focused entirely on First Nations art, mostly very local. MOV is the most locally-focused of our various museums, and does a pretty decent job across the board from First Nations through modern Vancouver (did you know we were once the neon capital of the world, with more lights than Vegas?)

 

You can't beat Butchart's range of course - they've got such a large and varied site, of very high quality, that it would be silly not to visit if you were going to be in Victoria - but we do have types of gardens here that they don't have, or which are even better than the equivalent component at Butchart, as well as others that are pretty durn good even if not quite so nice as Butchart:

 

The Japanese garden out at UBC, Nitobe, is very close to MOA and is hands-down better than the Japanese garden part of Butchart (it's ranked as one of the top 5 in the world - whereas Butchart's isn't even the oldest, largest, or best one in the Victoria area... the same designer laid out the garden in Esquimault first, then Butchart, then the biggest and best one at Hatley Castle, as well as a few smaller personal gardens during his time in the city). If you are out at MOA, the small rose garden on top of the car park has possibly the second-best views from any garden in this part of the world (click on their Virtual Tour of their Vancouver campus here and the opening shot is from the rose garden), and UBC also has a Botanic garden which has a tree walk that's bigger than the one at Capilano, much less busy, and WAY cheaper.

 

Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Scholars garden in Chinatown is literally the single best example of its type anywhere in the world outside Suzhou, China - every component was shipped over from China and assembled on-site by a team of experts from Suzhou, there is not a single thing that is not 100% authentic (and since it just finished being renovated less than 2 years ago, it's looking extra-shiny).

 

Queen Elizabeth Park has 2 quarry gardens - the larger one is still a lot smaller than Butchart's so not quite as impressive, but the waterfall section looks even better than any part of Butcharts main garden (the only problem is trying to get photos without a queue of wedding parties getting their photos taken there in summer!!!) The small quarry garden is right under the Seasons restaurant deck and the main public viewing area, looking north across Vancouver to the mountains - possibly the finest view from any garden in this part of the world. There's also the tropical plants (and many birds) of the Bloedel Conservatory (the only paid part of the park). VanDusen Botanic Garden is just a few blocks away from QEP, so a lot of folks visit both on the same day - this is a ticketed garden, with a pretty varied collection, and the near-unique-on-the-continent hedge maze is very popular even if you're not smoking weed while visiting it like Seth Rogen 😉

 

Stanley Park's Rose Garden is half again as big as Butchart's - along with the Totem Pole area it's probably the most popular stop for folks to get on and off HOHOs if you're prioritizing which bits of Stanley to hit, and both are fairly near the entrance so you don't have to commit to walking the entire 5 mile Seawall loop to visit either!

 

Lastly, the Steamclock is broken again - it doesn't chime at the moment. It was supposed to have been repaired after the last major breakdown, but since the original designer nearly killed himself falling last year maintenance has been left to a partly-trained apprentice - last Friday it was still steaming, but the clock mechanism was not actually moving or making any of the entertaining sounds it usually does on the quarter hours. Hopefully it'll be fixed again before cruise season starts! It's a nifty clock, but in terms of historicalness it's a scam - went up in 1977 when the whole of Water Street was 'Ye Olde-ified' with cast iron and cobbles for tourists, and wasn't even steam powered to begin with! I wouldn't worry about prioritizing it or Gassy Jack's statue unless you're looking to kill a little time close to embarkation, as this is the ideal location to be safely within a short walk to the pier right before boarding.

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Wow, thank you MartinCath!  That's really useful info.  My hotel (at the moment, but I'll probably keep it) is the Pan Pacific so I'll probably do the steam clock and the garden that is the closest (I think that was the Chinese one).  The rose garden at Stanley Park sounds great as well.  Of course, this depends on weather too, b/c if it's pouring I'd just go to the two museums you mentioned instead of choosing one.  Everything sounds really fun!  I've only ever been on the Pacific coast to go to LA so everything in Vancouver and Alaska will be completely new to me.  I really don't know yet when I'll arrive but it could easily be around 5 pm or even later, so it might be more like a 1.2 days in Vancouver instead of 1.5.  I will probably not try to do anything the morning of my cruise but it  depends on how comfortable I feel about the area and the process.  It's my first cruise so the embarkation process is pretty foreign to me too.

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17 hours ago, Kitty Ellas Mom said:

Wow, thank you MartinCath!  That's really useful info.  My hotel (at the moment, but I'll probably keep it) is the Pan Pacific so I'll probably do the steam clock and the garden that is the closest (I think that was the Chinese one).  The rose garden at Stanley Park sounds great as well.  Of course, this depends on weather too, b/c if it's pouring I'd just go to the two museums you mentioned instead of choosing one.  Everything sounds really fun!  I've only ever been on the Pacific coast to go to LA so everything in Vancouver and Alaska will be completely new to me.  I really don't know yet when I'll arrive but it could easily be around 5 pm or even later, so it might be more like a 1.2 days in Vancouver instead of 1.5.  I will probably not try to do anything the morning of my cruise but it  depends on how comfortable I feel about the area and the process.  It's my first cruise so the embarkation process is pretty foreign to me too.

No problem. Embarkation you really have two sane options, and then the unfortunately-far-too-common 'nobody warned me and I did no research myself' option that by default most folks end up doing, which is why we have so many complaints about what a nightmare boarding in Vancouver is...

 

Option 1 - or "I am so excited about cruising that I want to be onboard as soon as I possibly can" - is to show up early doors, long before any official cruiseline or port recommendation (~10am or earlier). Advantage for all is that this means you're among the first, so even though you are guaranteed to sit around for at least an hour before boarding even starts, you'll sail through short queues and be on board before noon, so you can get a real sit-down lunch in the dining room and  go exploring before the ship gets busy. As a first-time cruiser, this may be enticing! Since you're at the PP, you can hand your bags off to bell staff right in your room... if you did not book an actual cruise package, this may require a bribe - or 'preemptive tip' to colour it more acceptably 😉

 

Option 2 - or "I hate queues and I want to spend as little time as possible in them" - is to show up as late as you safely can. Check what time your ship is leaving, deduct 2 hours, show up then - you still have 30mins padding before the passenger manifest is to be handed in, so you can shave it even closer if you're sensible and ensure that you are close by the pier and walking - i.e. no traffic issue is going to make you late! Advantage here is that for most Vancouver departures, you're looking at gaining at least 5-6 extra hours of access to ticketed attractions (which rarely open before 9am even in summer), and another 3+ on top of that of daylight to explore parks, Seawall etc. that don't need tickets. Again, since you're in the PP, you can still make use of the bellstaff to get rid of your suitcases before you head out.

 

Option 3 - or "OMG, Van Couver is teh suxx0rs!' - involves showing up in the middle of boarding time, either because arriving about noon is fine & dandy in other ports or because you came up from Seattle on Amtrak to save a few bucks flying to YVR, or because your cruiseline very kindly decided to imply that your deck MUST board at noon, 1pm etc. and you believed them. This gives you all the delights of joining the longest possible queues for check-in, security, and CBP preclearance - and of course after the fact blaming the port for all of your woes despite them being almost entirely caused by a combination of your own lack of research and the US government's decision that it was cheaper to stick CBP officers in Canada than to hire more and staff up all their own ports and airport sufficiently 😉

 

NB: there is some stuff that the port is to blame for, albeit mostly indirectly - the seasonal nature of Alaska cruising means each April/May there are a bunch of newbies being trained up, so things do take longer at every stage the port actually controls (Check-in and Security). Then there's also the lack of willingness to force cruiselines to spread out their cruises more equably over the week - so weekends almost always have more ships in port than weekdays (to be fair, that's far more down to cruisers than the lines, there's always more demand for Sat/Sun departures so fewer days off work are needed). Combine these two, and a weekend in May can see new staff trying to handle four ships worth of pax... and loooooooooong queues result all over the place! Unfortunately we cannot simply hire more bodies - there's only so much space that can be allocated to each part of the operations, so there's a limit to how many staff can efficiently work.

 

So to wrap this back around to your first Vancouver cruising experience - you do NOT want to be in group 3 above! So try to weight up, as much as you can without having either cruised or visited here before, which is your priority - getting onboard first or seeing as much stuff in port as possible. IIRC from your other posts, you're on the Royal in June? That does bring in one other possible complication - the Royal did a lot of slightly early departures last year, trying to get away from the port by 4pm instead of the more usual 4:30-6pm, as well as at least one very late departure. Key issue was the lack of advance warning - so I would definitely lean toward not making any firm plans, i.e. don't book anything for embarkation day you may have to cancel if it happens again this year.

 

If you're a nervous traveler, I'd err toward showing up early - but even then you've got the possibility of an early-morning walk down into Gastown to see the clock and Gassy Jack, followed by riding Fly Over Canada when it opens at 9am (the entire program, preshow and ride, is only about 30mins so even if there's a bit of queuing you can easily be done in 45mins and walk the couple of hundred yards down to check-in by 10am easily).

 

Two other tidbits - first, since you're a solo, check if you can book the PP through Princess. Cruiselines price per person, not per room, and this works to your advantage as a solo! Even if you have to include an overpriced transfer from the airport to book the hotel, you might still win on price from booking it independently due to your solo status. Second, and I hope this isn't insulting, since it's your first time cruising be sure to keep all your ID & important documents on you before handing in your bags to the bellhop or at the bag drop downstairs! Treat it the same as you would a flight - keep your ID and a printout of your cruise details on you at all times until after boarding (and then again in all the ports - you may have to show ID to get back into the pier, though AK ports usually just want to see your cruise card, and if anything goes wrong having the contact info for the ship and the local port agent on you is always a good idea - the daily patter usually lists port agent phone on port days).

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MartinCath, thank you again so much for your good advice!  I am tending to think I'll want to board ASAP and would do the show up early option, but I will keep late departure in mind in case I come up with so many things to do in Vancouver that I want the extra time.  I will wait and decide after I book flights, which I won't do for awhile.  Since I've never been on a cruise ship before I like the idea of maximizing my time there.  

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Sounds sensible - unless you actually book anything, you can play it by ear right up until the day... arrive late, run out of time to see things, or just plain too pooped to get out and about? Go for later embarkation and open up that morning for sightseeing.

 

An awful lot of folks claim that Alaskan cruising will be a 'one and done' - then come back over & over! Unless you spent a week just in Vancouver there's no way you're seeing it all, so pick your personal 'big hits' and then wait until you come back to check off the lower-priority stuff.

 

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