Cruisers will be delighted if they give Vancouver a try By Andrew Compart / January 11, 2008 Share 1 -- Growing and vibrant, Vancouver is so much more than just a beginning or end point for Alaska cruises. It's a shame that a lot of cruisers miss it. "I hear from a lot of people who say, 'I wish I would have known more about the city; I'd have stayed longer,' " said Jill Killeen, director of public relations for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Vancouver.The Fairmont Waterfront and the Fairmont Vancouver Airport welcome a lot of pre- and post-cruise travelers.Cruisers also often stay at the Pan Pacific Vancouver, a luxury hotel that shares space with the cruise ship terminal. From some rooms, guests can look down on the ship they'll be boarding that day. They might even be able to decipher onboard chatter from the hotel pool.Hotel guests also can get some great views of the city and natural landscape from their rooms at the Pan Pacific, but most of them aren't exploring what they see."Too many come in, board the ship and leave," said Kevin Oake, the hotel's director of sales. "They're buying Alaska. They aren't even thinking about Vancouver."They're missing some hidden gems, such as a 450-foot suspension bridge that hangs 230 feet above the Capilano River and the rock-balancing artist in Stanley Park.Since Alaska cruises are long, most U.S. visitors probably can't take an extra week, but there's plenty they can do even if they stay just a few days.It's easy to spend a full day in Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre city park that includes rain forest, beaches, water playgrounds, a totem pole display, a pitch-and-putt golf course, the Vancouver Aquarium, restaurants and snack bars.A free shuttle bus circles Stanley Park from mid-June to mid-September, and there are horse-drawn tours from March to October. Pedestrians, in-line skaters and bicyclists can use numerous routes in the park or the 5.5-mile seawall that goes all the way around it.I rented a bike and toured the park that way, stopping often because there was much to see, experience and photograph. One of my last stops, in the English Bay area, was to stop and admire Kent Avery, an artist who balances rocks atop each other in seemingly impossible ways.I can't guarantee visitors will see him, but I've read that he's there regularly on Sundays in the summer.Suspended disbeliefThe Capilano Suspension Bridge is just a 10-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. It's also accessible by bus.I'm of two minds when it comes to the attraction. Walking across the bridge is an experience, and once across, visitors can walk along seven tree-connecting suspension bridges as high as 100 feet above the rain forest floor.On the other hand, the attraction is pricey, at more than $25 per adult. And there's a cheesy, commercial air to it, with performers in period costumes telling stories about the site's history, playing music and posing for photos. That makes it kid-friendly, but it might be too much for some adult tastes.For a free, noncommercial experience, tourists can head to the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. This isn't the marvel that the Capilano Bridge is, since it's much shorter and not as high. But it's still 20 stories above Lynn Creek, with a nice view of a small waterfall below as you cross over.The bridge leads to hiking trails in the rain forest. A 10-minute walk upstream brings you to 30 Foot Pool, a popular spot for a dip, and a 20-minute walk downstream brings you to a wooden bridge that crosses over the creek at Twin Falls.One operator that offers guided tours here is Rockwood Adventures, a boutique tour company owned by Manfred Scholermann, who led me here and had another relatively hidden Vancouver treasure to share: Lighthouse Park.Trees were never logged there because the lighthouse needed a dark background. The 185-acre park is not heavily promoted (Scholermann said Vancouver officials think too much tourism would ruin it), but Scholermann said it contains some of the oldest and largest Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock trees in the Lower Mainland. The lighthouse, built in 1914, sits on its granite shoreline.One of the forest's most striking features is its reliance on "nurse logs" for new growth, as the granite does not leave much room for fertile soil.Nurse logs are created when a tree falls and the dead tree begins to decompose quickly in the moist environment. The log begins to sprout mosses and plants, and over time even the seeds of forest trees will begin to germinate.That means visitors will see trees growing out of some of the fallen logs. Over time, some of the roots spread around the nurse log and into the soil. That can leave an odd sight when the nurse log finally decomposes completely: a tree with roots extending into the soil from above the ground.Here's another reason to take Scholermann's walking tour: a gourmet picnic. Scholermann is a trained chef who was a member of the 1972 Canadian Culinary Olympic Team and executive chef at the Calgary Petroleum Club and Vancouver's Terminal City Club. I can attest that this pays off in lunch served on the tour.Another attraction close to the city is Grouse Mountain, where visitors can take a one-mile cable car ride to the summit, which is 3,700 feet above sea level. There is some entertainment and a restaurant at the top, but be aware that the trip on the tramway will cost you about $30 per adult and about $11 per child.The reward is a great view of the city, especially when the sky is clear, and the surrounding scenery."I don't know of any other city with such close proximity to the wilderness from the urban area," Scholermann said.Neighborhood attractionThe urban area has plenty to offer, too. Vancouver has been booming, with a multicultural populace reflected in the diversity and liveliness of its neighborhoods.This is no sleepy town: I found plenty of people at the restaurants on weekdays and lines of young people at clubs.Vancouver tourism officials identify seven distinct neighborhoods within downtown Vancouver and several just outside of it, with names such as Gastown, Chinatown, Yaletown, West End and Granville Island.Granville Street is Vancouver's main entertainment district, filled with restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Robson Street is its leading shopping thoroughfare, with designer stores and specialty boutiques. Gastown, where Vancouver was founded in the 1860s, has preserved Victorian buildings, cobblestone streets and an oft-photographed, steam-operated clock.The densely populated West End includes sidewalk cafes, English Bay Beach, a vibrant nightlife and the core of Vancouver's gay community. Yaletown has a thriving restaurant-and-bar scene and old warehouses converted into home furnishing stores, galleries and apparel shops. The Kitsilano neighborhood has a street lined with more than 300 shops and restaurants.But one of my favorite spots was Granville Island, which is actually a pedestrian-friendly peninsula that has a public market with fresh food and produce and more than 45 artist studios, galleries and workshops.Many of the neighborhoods are sufficiently small and close together so that you can visit several in a single day by car, foot, trolley, bus, bicycle or other means (such as the ferries to Granville Island). Take note: The cruise ship pier is downtown, so the neighborhoods are not far from there, either.To contact Rockwood Adventures, call (888) 236-6606 or visit www.rockwoodadventures.com. For more information on Vancouver sites and activities, check out www.tourismvancouver.com.To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.