Beyond the call, exploring Vancouver

By Nadine Godwin
Vancouver False CreekLast June, tourism organizations in British Columbia sponsored fam trips to Vancouver and Whistler for delegates to Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld and Home Based Agent Show in Seattle.

Officials said at the time they wanted to make clear that Vancouver is worth more than an overnight stop for visitors en route to a cruise or other tour.

I took the point and added two days to a recent Vancouver visit, days that preceded a land trip.

Similarly, thousands of cruisers begin or end sailings at Vancouver, which is well known as a particularly attractive destination for tourists.

A portion of the nearly 670,000 Vancouver cruise passengers will have added time in the city to a cruise trip this year, but the potential is growing; Vancouver expects to see 830,000 cruisers next year.

Unless too many ships call on the same day, cruise vessels dock downtown within walking distance of Vancouver's historical Gastown and Chinatown and a leg-stretching distance from Granville Island and Stanley Park.

For those who prefer a lift, hop-on, hop-off tours are popular, and several companies operate them. All of them pick up passengers a few yards from the cruise ship terminal.

The high life at Shangri-La

Before seeing the city, a travel companion and I settled into a very tall oasis of luxury, the city's Shangri-La Hotel, in the heart of downtown. The hotel occupies the first 15 floors of a 61-story building, Vancouver's tallest.

Our spacious room boasted all the amenities one would expect of a Shangri-La — including the potentially useful iron, ironing board and umbrella — but the knock-me-over touch was a small TV screen in the bathroom mirror.

The property's featured restaurant is Market by Jean-Georges, one of several eateries created by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The Market serves the hotel's breakfasts as well as lunch, dinner and weekend brunches. The same kitchen staff serves the hotel's Xi Shi Lounge.

The Shangri-La is only a few blocks from another to-die-for restaurant, CinCin, serving Italian specialties and recommended by the hotel's concierge. After our dinner there, we asked for and received a CinCin recipe.

About town

We launched our sightseeing from the Shangri-La, walking to or from Granville Island, Stanley Park plus the waterfront and Gastown. However, sometimes we succumbed to the convenience of motorized transport, occasionally of the hop-on, hop-off variety, to work in a harbor cruise and undertake initial explorations of Stanley Park.

We focused on the city itself, so we skipped some of the typical must-see, must-do attractions, notably the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Many cruisers love the 450-foot walk across this bridge, suspended 230 feet above the Capilano River, as well as the option to continue their excursion up Grouse Mountain for sweeping city views. A free shuttle to the bridge operates from near the cruise terminal.

For our short two days, we opened with a walk from the Shangri-La to Granville Island. From atop the Granville Street Bridge, we reaped an unexpected bonus: Views were fantastic of marinas, the nearby Burrard Street Bridge and the Vancouver skyline as it appears from an inlet aptly called False Creek.

The island (really a peninsula) felt like a seafarer's village and resort town combined. It was a delightful collection of fresh-food and flower markets, eateries, shops for clothes and artifacts and places to rent anything from kayaks to yachts. Seagulls like it, too.

In a unique touch, brightly painted decorative pipes, designed to recall the area's industrial past, wind their way across Granville.

We also walked to Gastown, literally minutes from the cruise ship terminal. Known as Vancouver's birthplace, its first business was an 1867 saloon.

Today Gastown is an edgy neighborhood that has attracted restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and other investors in its rejuvenation. We visited twice. In the early morning, there were more panhandlers than tourists; in the late afternoon, the place was jumping with diners, shoppers and tourists in sightseeing vehicles.

Every visitor stops for the steam clock, which sounds the time each quarter hour, by emitting steam from its whistles.

Stanley Park is a thousand-acre green space adjacent to downtown and almost completely surrounded by water.

It's the site of the Vancouver Aquarium. Visitors can book a whale-watching tour, but the aquarium offers another way to see the large marine mammals.

Many visitors walk, jog or cycle the 5.5-mile length of the park's seawall. My companion and I chose a section of the wall to walk, for the views and urban tranquility, then focused on First Nations exhibits.

Totem poles are decorative elements around the city, but the poles here are clustered for an impressive display of a unique tradition.
Cruisers may regard a harbor cruise as redundant, but it isn't the same as traversing the harbor on a large vessel.

Harbour Cruises' narrated one-hour tour aboard a paddlewheeler showed off Vancouver's downtown skyline, the mountains that overlook the city from the north, still more marinas, wildlife (seals and cormorants) and two big cruise ships.

The most amusing sight, though, was a floating Chevron gas station. Boats need to fill up, too.
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