If you’re planning to take a cruise this year, you’ve probably already been advised to get to the city where you’re embarking a day or two early. If you haven’t, consider this that advice. You do not want to have to chase down your cruise ship because of the flight delays or cancellations that seem to have defined travel this summer.
Luckily, there are additional perks to this plan, as well, especially if you’re embarking in Vancouver – which you’re likely to do if you’re cruising to Alaska.
Vancouver is a beautiful, vibrant city with so much to see and do, you’ll be glad to have an excuse to spend some extra time there. In any city, I always recommend starting off with a ride on the Hop On Hop Off bus to get a good, overall feel for where things are and where you’d like to spend more time. If you’ve never visited Vancouver before, you’ll definitely want to check out Stanley Park, the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Granville Island.
Two of the cruises I went on this summer embarked in Vancouver and I was eager to return for the first time since the pandemic. I decided to do things a little differently since I’d already done so much there. Instead of running around, I used the two Fairmont hotels at Canada Place – where the cruise ships dock and almost one million passengers visit annually – as my home base and, honestly, I would have been happy even if I never left the hotels.
To me, Fairmont is Canada and I can’t imagine visiting the country and staying anywhere else. For my first cruise, I booked Fairmont Waterfront, where I had a view of the ship from my room. I upgraded to Fairmont Gold to have access to their amazing concierge-level lounge, which includes food and drinks pretty much all day along with rooftop spaces offering ocean views and places to just relax and enjoy them.
Because I arrived early in the day, I dropped off my bag, went for my required pre-cruise COVID test (which you can conveniently get in the hotel) and headed to Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, a short walk from the port, for the Express Lunch at Notch8. This quick, three course meal features a Caesar salad, fish and chips and bread and butter pudding, and it’s delicious. Plus, the design of the lobby restaurant is inspired by the romance of 1930s rail travel and has a cozy, welcoming feel. As always, I had to stop at the front desk to give a quick pet to the canine ambassadors – one of my favorite things about staying at a Fairmont hotel.
After lunch, I walked over to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment, a collection of more than 200 works of art that tell a century-old story of female creativity in Canada. The history is fascinating, the work is stunning and I would have treated myself to the exhibition catalog if I had brought a checked bag instead of a carry-on. But I had just filled the last bit of remaining space with a sweater I picked up at Roots, a great Canadian lifestyle store, so I opted for earrings – my go-to souvenir because I can toss them in my wallet – from the museum gift shop, which is a treasure in itself.
On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at FlyOver Canada (also conveniently located at Canada Place) to take in their latest ride, Windborne: Call of the Canadian Rockies. I love the FlyOver rides and this one was as exhilarating and breathtaking as the original – which I went back to see the next morning. Trust me, this is a must-do.
Since I wasn’t going to be eating dinner for a little while, I headed to the Gold lounge at the Fairmont for complimentary appetizers, including sushi that could easily have been my entire meal. Because it was so good, I ate way too much and decided to go light on dinner at ARC Restaurant, opting for the Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup – comfort food at its best – from the lunch menu. Next time, I will go there hungry so I can try the Olive Oil Poached Halibut and Garden to Glass cocktails that use fresh ingredients from the hotel’s rooftop apiary.
The next day, I had a full, included breakfast in the lounge before walking across the street to embark on my cruise ship. I felt like I had already had a nice little vacation.
When I returned to Vancouver a few weeks later for another cruise, I booked a room at Fairmont Pacific Rim, a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel, which is right across the street from the port and Fairmont Waterfront. The Gold rooms were completely sold out, which was fine because it gave me an excuse to grab donuts for breakfast at Tim Hortons – basically the Canadian Dunkin’ – the next morning.
Between a delayed flight and long lines at the airport, I ended up getting to the hotel late in the afternoon and, thanks to lobby manager, Mitchell, was lucky enough to score a much-needed deep tissue massage at the hotel’s highly acclaimed Willow Stream Spa.
The treatment was so nurturing, immediately loosening my tight shoulders and quieting my stressed-out mind, that I think I may make a massage my new post-flight travel ritual. Afterwards, I spent some time blissfully taking in the views from the outdoor terrace and indulging in a steam before pulling up a seat at Botanist Bar for a light but scrumptious dinner.
Botanist, with its innovative menu depicting the best of the Pacific Northwest, is all about sustainability and abundance, and every dish is a work of art. I ate at the bar so I could talk to the bartenders and my fellow diners, all of whom were enthusiastic about the unique dishes and cocktails they were enjoying.
I had a gorgeous homemade burrata salad with smoked carrots, candied beets and roasted sunchokes, accompanied by my own personal loaf of bread. I finished it off with a chocolatey concoction that sent me off to sleep with the sweetest dreams.
Next time, I want to try the hotel’s new Omakase experience at the sushi counter in The RawBar at The Lobby Lounge. With award-winning sushi chef Masayoshi Baba at the helm, it sounds amazing. I also want to spend some time browsing the shelves of Fairmont Pacific Rim’s TASCHEN Library, consisting of more than 275 books from the publisher of “the most beautiful books on the planet.”
Although I don’t have any more cruises starting in Vancouver on my schedule, I’m thinking of just planning a trip back to do (and eat) the things I didn’t have time for on my pre-cruise visits. I’ll pack even lighter so I can spend a day on Granville Island and support the local artists. The most challenging part will be deciding which Fairmont to call home for a few days.