Highlights of a Memorable 3-Day Trip to Western Canada
We arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada via the Victoria Clipper on a late Monday morning in early May. We returned to Seattle from Vancouver via Amtrak on a late Thursday morning. Our time was brief, yet we’d gladly return. A passport is required to enter Canada and the country’s currency differs from the USA. Click here for more information on Canadian money.
British Columbia is the westernmost province in Canada. Click here to find out more about British Columbia and to plan your own visit.
Vancouver is the largest city, but the capital of British Columbia, Canada is Victoria on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
We immediately boarded a tour bus to see Victoria before heading to world-famous Butchart Gardens. Research the Gardens ahead of time to maximize your enjoyment. Their website is very easy to use and the images represent the property accurately. Knowing the layout allows you to spend more time in the areas most appealing to you. We ate lunch in the Blue Poppy Restaurant and it was not great. The food was pricey and staff less than hospitable. The seafood chowder was watery with limited seafood. It’s a cafeteria style setting. Next time, we’ll choose another dining option on site.
The Sunken Garden, closely followed by the Japanese Garden, was my favorite area. In all fairness, the roses were not blooming while there. One can only imagine how fantastic they’d be in full bloom. Tour groups keep you on a schedule and we’ d have certainly appreciated another hour or two here.
If one believes in soul mates, Victoria and I are just that. Right after checking in at the Harbour Towers Hotel & Suites, we headed for the water, less than two blocks away. The views reminded us of our former hometown, Charleston, SC. This is a real working harbour. It buzzes with activity: water taxis, ferries, cruise ships and sea planes. Along the seawall, buskers perform, vendors sell food and drink, and visitors view the scenery, nap or read. The information center, whale watching company and restaurants can be found on the Inner Harbour. A landscaped welcome message is a nice touch. We found ourselves at the Inner Harbour often. Late each afternoon we’d watch passengers disembark from the ferry while seaplanes loaded with business professionals departed. Restaurants filled with after-work crowds. The Harbour was always active and inviting. We loved it.
Flying Otter Grill
We enjoyed a glass of wine and early dinner at The The Flying Otter Grill-one of my favorite dining experiences on the seven-day adventure. The space is quite comfortable. Staff greets patrons and serves guests with an efficient charm, usually seen in more formal settings. The restaurant clearly appreciates both locals and visitors, and serves both with equal finesse.
We maximized our 40 hours in Victoria by rising early and walking all over the city. Victoria’s Chinatown underwhelmed us. Promoted as the oldest in Canada and second oldest in North America after San Francisco, it is quite small and quiet. We were three of few visitors in the area. After walking through Fan Tan Alley, we were the first to arrive for lunch at one of the many Chinese restaurants. The Gate of Harmonious Interest at Government and Fisgard Streets is the most impressive aspect of the area. Apparently the stone lions keep evil spirits away. Joe, our city tour guide, suggested that if an honest politician ever passed between the lions, they’d roar. According to him, no one’s heard them make a sound.
Though we briefly visited many stores, including Canada’s own Hudson’s Bay, each of us preferred our extended visit at Munro’s Books. Remarkably, this store has existed for 50+ years and consistently lands on lists for the world’s most beautiful bookstores, for good reason. We lingered and admired the historical surroundings and excellent selection of reading choices.
Other than the incredible natural surroundings, our visit to Parliament tops my list of trip highlights. Watching the Canadian legislative process was fascinating and humbling, especially since I’d worked on and around Capitol Hill for years. Watching, I felt a bit ashamed of how legislative business is conducted in the USA. I long for the return of this sort of pageantry and civility in Washington, D.C.
It is very easy and comfortable walking around Victoria. We did pop in at The Fairmont Empress Hotel to see many enjoying afternoon tea. The property was undergoing major renovations during our May 2016 visit, thus our stay at the Harbour Towers Hotel & Suites. The bus station, where we boarded for our commute to Vancouver, was quite close to the hotel. Thus, this made an early morning departure more appealing. Leaving Victoria was a bit hard. It was a new city to us with a former home city feel. We created new memories and recalled past ones.
The Vancouver Area is densely populated, ethnically diverse and richly urban. More than 2.4 million citizens call the area ‘home.’ Approaching aboard the BC Ferry, it was obvious why it’s one of the “Best Cities to Live In.” It’s surrounded by the natural beauty of the Pacific Ocean and Coast Mountains. Awesome views abound.
A Wilson Transportation (like Greyhound) bus dropped us off in downtown Vancouver, Canada. We grabbed a bite to eat and wheeled our luggage to Delta Vancouver Suites.This property was our favorite hotel on the 7-day trip. Marriott recently purchased the hotel right across the street from Vancouver’s tallest and most iconic landmark: The Harbour Centre.
After checking in, we grabbed a cab and headed to one of the most popular destinations in Vancouver-Stanley Park.
Plan your visit to the park ahead of time, which we didn’t do. Prioritize what you want to see; 400 hectares can take days to cover. We enjoyed visiting the well-manicured gardens, walking along the seawall and viewing the art and totem poles. The misty, cloudy day did not deter our enjoyment, nor that of hundreds of others.
We did not ride up to the top of the Harbour Centre; we could nearly touch it from our hotel balcony. Our room location was ideal because it provided expansive views of both the city and the natural surroundings. We watched port activity from our window, once again, recalling similar activity on Charleston’s waterfront.
The ferry ride to Vancouver and the Amtrak ride back to Seattle provide priceless views. Even if we’d not spent the night in Vancouver, we’d do it the same way again. We’d take the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Victoria and the bus and BC Ferry to Vancouver before heading back on Amtrak.
If you’re looking for a place to visit with relative ease and awesome scenery, check out these fabulous cities and sites in Western Canada. Hope the links, pictures and tips provide a bit of help in your planning.
Share this with those seeking a vacation destination that will leave a lifetime favorable impression. Start by contacting Clipper Vacations in Seattle. We did. Read more about the Pacific Northwest under the “Travel” tab.
10 Travel Lessons Learned While Roaming the Pacific Northwest
Plan Ahead for Best Outcome
We held our annual family vacation meeting. Again, I was outvoted. Happens often. I’m the only woman in the Thomason Trio consisting of husband, Ken, and son, Alex. A sunny tropical destination always tops my list. Ironic since I was born in North Dakota. The men in my house enjoy beaches too, but “needed a break.” They lobbied for the Pacific Northwest, initially suggesting we visit Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, and Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada all in a matter of five full days.
The more they talked, the more intrigued I became. I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively but never to the Pacific Northwest. Had the Thomason men looked at a map and realized the distances between these points? Probably not. We decided to use Seattle as our hub and firm up travel logistics later. Much to our delight, when we booked airline tickets in January, each was only $200 per person. A real bargain. Was this to be a trend for the entire trip? Unexpected savings and surprises? We hoped so.
Details Confirmed by Researching & Communicating
We’d talk of our pending trip often and understood that “we” needed to sit down and sketch out what our great Pacific Northwest trip included. I put we in quotes because it’s apparently my nickname. Many times I ask for clarification in my house as to what the pronoun “we” means. Many get that. Someone needs to take the lead, and in our house, “we” is translated to “me.” I have gotten pretty good at family travel planning. Over time, I’ve learned what the Trio’s preferences are and what makes us return home saying, “that was a great vacation.” This time, however, I insisted Ken join me in mapping out trip logistics and sights to see. Afterall, he really led the charge to make this our destination.
We sat elbow-to-elbow in my office and went over the list of trip findings I’d gathered from Internet research. I’d bullet pointed traveler’s favorite things to do and places to see from Trip Advisor and other sites. Not knowing the area, I came to this planning meeting with both a sense of adventure and a feeling of being overwhelmed. I’d line-itemed projected costs associated with the trip and reported that the expense was tremendously greater than expected. For instance, after renting a car at the airport, we’d also have to park it downtown Seattle, our preferred location. Did Ken know parking was $39/day? “Little details” like this add up to huge expenses. We prefer to have an awareness before boarding and a strong preference for a trip to be paid in full before departing.
Travel logistics was another barrier I’d wanted to overcome at this initial planning meeting. I dread having to ride shotgun and map out directions when I’m in a new location. I want to see my surroundings. This curiosity conflicts with Ken’s, the driver, need to know where to exit, etc.
Having voiced all concerns, we decided to trim the trip and forego Portland to another time, perhaps accompanied with northern California. I was relieved. Questions about cost containment and ease of traveling around the area still lingered. Much like the surprise discovery of affordable airline tickets, we found solutions to all of our concerns in one Sunday afternoon phone call.
10 Valuable Lessons Learned Traveling 2 Countries With 3 People in 7 Days
Travel Agents Know What They’re Doing
Browsing the Internet to learn about Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the company name, Clipper Vacations kept appearing.
We took a chance and called them on a Sunday afternoon and what a great move that was. They were staffed and led us in the right direction for travel in both countries.
The longer we chatted, the better both Ken and I felt about our agent’s suggestions. It was clear he was an expert in the region. I sensed my shoulders lowering from beneath my ear lobes and knew we’d just found a solution to trip-planning stress. The agent knew how to move us around the region without breaking the bank or having me be the navigator. In addition, when he emailed the proposed trip itinerary that day, it included an 11-hour sightseeing trip to Mt. Rainier. His bottom line was at least $1400 less than when I’d costed it out; my itinerary didn’t include a Mt. Rainier journey either. Bonus!
Good travel agencies negotiate group rates for their clients. They are travel experts. We are not. Leave the trip planning to the experts. Call a travel agency.
2. Pack Lightly and in Layers
We spent 7 nights away from home and checked one bag total. We carried one piece of wheeled luggage and two backpacks onto the airplane. [Next time I’d eliminate ½ of this.] Schlepping luggage becomes a burden when moving between multiple locations without a car. Knowing this, the Thomason Trio chose multi-purpose clothing. In addition, I’d called the downtown Seattle hotel, where we’d again spend two nights upon our return from Canada, and they agreed to let us leave luggage in their storage room while we traveled to Canada. We took one suitcase and a backpack for three nights in Canada.
It’s amazing how very little one really needs.
Take Public & Group Transportation
I easily used subways and buses while living in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Yet, somehow, after relocating back to the Midwest, I was intimidated by the concept of it in foreign locations. Our travel professional advised us not to rent a vehicle, and we agreed. Instead, we used 7 forms of transportation, plus our feet, on this adventure.
After landing and collecting our suitcase, we headed to the Light Rail Station at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and bought 3 tickets ($9.00 total) to downtown Seattle’s Westlake Station. It was a bit crowded on a Saturday afternoon, but each found a seat and space for luggage. It was a great way to initially see the city. We felt safe, and ever so urban.
There always is an initial bit of confusion coming off a train wondering which train station exit to use. We randomly chose one and took the escalator up one floor. Once on the street, we used Alex’s phone’s GPS to roll our suitcases a few blocks to our hotel. Sturdy wheels on luggage are essential to moving around smoothly. Investing in good luggage for trips like this is well worth it.
We rolled our suitcase to Pier 69 and boarded the Victoria Ferry from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. The three hour trip was amazingly calm and scenic. We enjoyed breakfast aboard (purchased) and passed the time by playing cards, reading and taking in the magnificent views from deck. Jackets and rain gear are recommended for outdoor viewing. None of us experienced motion sickness or took motion tablets, though staff provided them, if needed.
After clearing customs in Victoria, Canada (Yes, a passport is required.), we boarded a charter bus with our luggage underneath and were driven to Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia. The driver doubled as the tour guide and even delivered us to our Victoria lodging afterwards. Sweet!
Greyhound Bus & Ferry
After two days in Victoria, we boarded a bus and headed to a port where the tour bus was the first vehicle to drive on to the BC Ferry for Vancouver. As an aside, this ferry ride was a surprise to us. Had we looked at the geography a bit closer, we’d have known we needed to take a ferry to get to Vancouver. The vessel was cruise-ship like and included multiple dining options, an arcade, a private meeting room, etc. on its six decks. The views were, once again, priceless.
We treated ourselves to 3 taxi cab rides in Vancouver-one to and from our Vancouver hotel to Stanley Park and one to the Vancouver Amtrak Station the next day. After 4 days of walking and rolling luggage, a taxi wasn’t a luxury but a necessity.
The three hour train ride back to Seattle transplanted us into a different time when train travel was seen as glamorous. Of all the different modes of transportation we took, this was the unanimous favorite. We sat in a grouping for 3, read the newspaper, when not clipping along a waterway, and ate breakfast in the dining car. Once again, being able to get up and freely move about the train was appealing, as it was on both ferries. The fact that this trip was narrated was a bonus, as we could place the scenery in context. We also were able to keep our luggage near us, making getting off the train in Seattle quite efficient.
Back in Seattle we, once again, took the light rail from the King Station next to the Amtrak Station to the downtown Westlake Station near our hotel. By now we had a sense of confidence regarding the light rail and felt more like natives, not tourists. We also relied on the light rail on departure day to commute to the Sea-Tac airport.
In total, we spent under $25.00 moving around Seattle, less than one night’s parking fee at our downtown hotel. It was so easy, clean and safe.
Leave the Heels Behind
Seattle is a walking city. Once again, our travel agent placed us in a perfect location for the sites we’d wanted to see. The hotel was centrally located, making walking times comfortable. He’d also warned us about hills and busy streets. Comfortable walking shoes and layered clothing are necessary for a successful visit to Seattle. The agent had advised us to pack rain gear and umbrellas. We were prepared but uncommonly never had to open an umbrella during the trip.
This applied to all methods of transportation. Ferries and buses don’t have assigned seating; therefore, if you have a seat preference, arrive early. Security guards at each location lined passengers up upon arrival. Read the fine print. Your seat can be given up, or you may not be able to board if you arrive after the listed time. We saw it happen on the bus and one of the ferries-guests were left behind.
Plan Downtime & Leave Time for Spontaneity
We would re-do this part of our adventure. The Thomason Trio overestimated the amount of energy it had. The first four days of our journey consisted of considerable walking. By the time we arrived in Vancouver, without openly admitting it, each of us was exhausted. Yes, the cab ride to and from Stanley Park helped, but we still had to walk while in the park. We used most of late Wednesday afternoon and night to rest and relax when we’d rather have been out exploring more of this great city.
One of my trip highlights was a spontaneous event. We sat in on a session of Parliament in Victoria, British Columbia. The evening before I approached a guard asking if visitors were allowed. The next day we timed our arrival perfectly as the afternoon session was about to begin. After going through three security check points, we watched the pageantry of the legislative assembly entrance and the civility of the verbal exchanges in awe, wishing USA government leaders would return our legislative process to one with such demeanor.
Leave room for such spontaneous experiences. We happened upon the annual library book sale. Another day, as we passed a Seattle theater, the Thomason men discovered a WWE event that evening. Yes, they got tickets and went. I watched a movie in my room. Both parties won.
Keep the Peace-Choose a Food Court
We have very different food tastes. While I prefer Mediterranean, Asian or interesting salads, the guys are red meat eaters and pizza connoisseurs. Whenever we found a food court, we chose it to keep peace at the dining table. While I enjoyed a bowl of lentil soup on Mother’s Day, Alex ate a hamburger and Ken a gyro. It’s worth it. Peace on a seven-day trip is a goal, always.
The last site we added to our trip was a guided tour to Mt. Rainier-an 11-hour day. We debated the value of this and also the timing-it was our last day in the Pacific Northwest. I pushed strongly for this outing because of my love of nature and outdoor photography. Afterwards, the guys cited this as one of the trip highlights. It was pricey, but worth the cost. The driver was entertaining, knowledgeable and got us there and back safely. When deciding what sites to see, ask yourself, “Will I regret not going, if I never get back here?”
Ask Nicely & You Shall Be Rewarded
24 hours before our trip, while checking in on-line, we learned United Airlines re-routed us. Instead of flying from Omaha to Denver to Seattle, we now were going to Chicago and then to Seattle. This extended our Saturday flight time significantly and changed our on-the-ground Saturday plans. United did the right thing and issued each of us a voucher for the inconvenience. They also upgraded us to Economy Comfort seats, much appreciated by the 6 foot plus Thomason men. At the Seattle hotel we were able to spend the first two nights there with a view of the Space Needle and the last two nights after returning from Canada with a city view with much less street noise. The same happened in Vancouver where we had an outstanding view just by nicely asking for a room with a view. The lesson is: Ask and most likely, if at all possible, you shall receive, if asking nicely.
Go Separate Ways
As noted above, we each engaged in our own thing, at times, on this trip. While togetherness is great, so is having some alone time on a trip of this length. We made the most of our time. In addition to a wrestling event, the guys attended a Seattle Sounders soccer match while I stayed back in the hotel room on the first night in town. One afternoon Ken and I rode the Great Wheel while Alex rested. Alex went to enjoy a slice of pizza while we sat on a deck at a Pike Place restaurant. One night Ken and I dined together and another he and Alex did. Separate, but still together, made for a great trip for all.
Back in Omaha, we’ve celebrated the ease of this trip, despite the complexity of it. Having the mindset that a trip like this is a travel adventure rather than vacation helps. Not being concerned about driving was a huge relief. Knowing we could reach out to our travel agency at any time if there was a problem was priceless. And, understanding that our days of traveling as The Thomason Trio are probably numbered made each of us appreciate one another, and this journey more.
7 Days, 2 Countries, 3 People, No Car-No problem!
Share with anyone planning an extended vacation, especially to the Pacific Northwest.
Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.