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
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
some hidden gems, such as a 450-foot suspension bridge that hangs
230 feet above the Capilano River and the rock-balancing artist in
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
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
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
I can't guarantee
visitors will see him, but I've read that he's there regularly on
Sundays in the summer.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"I don't know of
any other city with such close proximity to the wilderness from the
urban area," Scholermann said.
The urban area has
plenty to offer, too. Vancouver has been booming, with a
multicultural populace reflected in the diversity and liveliness of
This is no sleepy
town: I found plenty of people at the restaurants on weekdays and
lines of young people at clubs.
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
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,
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
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.
contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to [email protected].