If your Alaskan cruise itinerary includes Vancouver, spend a few days exploring one of the world’s greenest cities.
Photos: Mary Ann and Tony DeSantis and provided by Tourism Vancouver, Fairmont Waterfront
Vancouver, British Columbia, is the port city where some cruise lines—including Holland, Disney and Celebrity—either originate or finish their Alaskan itineraries. Unfortunately, many ship passengers go to and from the airport with only a passing glance at Vancouver.
If you are in the planning stages for a 2020 cruise to Alaska, consider adding some time to visit this vibrant city on Canada’s Pacific Coast. Chances are you will want to return for a longer visit, because it’s one of the most picturesque cities on the North American continent as well as a nature-lover’s paradise.
Greener than green
When I heard that Vancouver was the second-greenest city in the world (behind Oslo, Norway), I assumed it was because of the many green spaces, including more than 200 parks and numerous rooftop gardens. The largest of those green spaces is the mammoth Stanley Park, which is the first site visitors notice whether arriving by land, air or sea. Cathedral-like Douglas firs dominate the hills on the west side of the iconic Lions Gate Bridge, which connects Stanley Park to North Vancouver.
Being green extends beyond nature for Vancouverites. The city is world-renowned for its commitment to the environment, according to Christies International Real Estate, which ranked the world’s greenest cities just prior to Earth Day 2019.
“It’s a city where nature is at the forefront of everything,” says Amanda Gregory-Jones, who guided me through the rooftop garden at the Fairmont Waterfront, where she is the marketing coordinator. “Vancouver hopes to take the number one spot as the world’s greenest city next year.”
Of course, being on the Pacific Ocean and at the foot of the mountains gives Vancouver a leg up when it comes to clean air, but its use of renewable energies and hydropower means it has even less pollution than similar-size cities.
If you are going to spend only a day or two in Vancouver, the most convenient area to stay is near the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal, located downtown near restaurants, shopping, attractions and the historic Gastown district. You can walk, ride the electric trolley bus that began in 1948 or catch the newer Skytrain at Waterfront Station. Best of all, you can walk or bike on the almost 14-mile-long seawall that begins near the cruise terminal.
Deep inside the park
Founded in September 1888, Stanley Park is a free city park that is open 24 hours a day. At 1,001 acres, the park is one-fifth larger than New York City’s Central Park and is one of the largest urban green spaces on the North American continent. A 5.5-mile portion of Vancouver’s seawall circles the park and is a favorite hangout for walkers, joggers and bicyclists. The dramatic forest and ocean views, especially from the seawall perimeter, created my most memorable Vancouver scenes. Walk the entire circle in two-to-three hours or cycle around it in about an hour. But you may want to stop along the way and visit the Vancouver Aquarium, located in the heart of the park and home to more than 50,000 creatures.
Trekking around the seawall loop in Stanley Park is a must-do experience, but the real magic happens deep inside the park. The paths and trails go in different directions, revealing sections of the park that most tourists do not see unless they book a special-interest Talaysay Tour.
“My goal is to tell stories, to get you to walk through the forest and know what you are looking at,” says Tyrone Mayes, my guide for the Talking Trees tour organized by Talaysay.
The tour company is the brainchild of Candace Campo, an anthropologist and a member of the Shíshálh (Sechelt) First Nation, the indigenous people of southern British Columbia. All of the tour guides, also called cultural ambassadors, are members of First Nation tribes. They share authentic stories and facts about the native peoples who first inhabited the area.
Abuzz on the rooftops
As part of its goal to be one of the world’s cleanest cities, Vancouver encourages urban beekeeping and it’s not unusual to find beehives on many downtown buildings. The rooftop apiary at the Fairmont Waterfront is open to the public for free tours at 2pm from May through September. In partnership with Hives for Humanity, the luxury hotel strives to educate travelers about the critical role bees play in the ecosystem.
Tucked away from the pool area, the Fairmont’s apiary contains 250,000 bees that produce more than 200 pounds of honey annually, much of which is sold onsite or used in the restaurant and bar. The rooftop garden also supplies herbs and some vegetables for the hotel.
A whirlwind tour
By staying at the Fairmont Waterfront across the street from the cruise terminal, my husband and I were able to walk to the Gastown district, the town’s original site. Lined with shops and restaurants, Gastown’s biggest draw is the famous steam clock where crowds gather to watch the steam-tooting whistle every 15 minutes. Vancouver is one of Canada’s craft beer capitals, and delicious local brews are available in all of the Gastown eateries.
The fastest way to get to Granville Island, site of Vancouver’s largest public market, is by the 12-seat ferries operated by False Creek Ferries. Sitting low in the water, the mini-ferries are a bit quirky and feel almost like an amusement park ride. Granville Island is a good place to visit early in your trip if you are staying at an Airbnb and will need snacks. Otherwise, you’ll find a variety of restaurants, including Granville Island Brewing where a craft beer and gourmet burger keep you going for more sightseeing.
And sightseeing can go on for days in Vancouver. Other can’t-miss attractions include the Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown and the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. If rushing around to see everything is not your idea of fun, though, it’s OK just to take a deep breath of clean air and enjoy Vancouver’s beauty.