Port cities like Vancouver, British Columbia, are often overlooked, though they offer much more than just a random docking location. For the price of a few shore excursions on your Alaskan cruise, you can stay a couple of extra nights in spectacular Vancouver, set against a backdrop of mountains and sea.
Getting there: In Vancouver's International Airport is a SkyTrain stop ( www.translink.ca), and the rapid-transit system is world renowned for wide cars and wide aisles. It’s easy to get around the city with personal belongings and just a 23-minute (and $8 U.S.) jaunt downtown directly from the airport.
Where to stay: Book at the Opus Hotel ( http://vancouver.opushotel.com) Located in the fashionable Yaletown district, this Forbes-rated 4 Star boutique hotel is within walking distance of quaint shops, unlimited spas and top-tier restaurants. The Opus has 96 unique and comfortable rooms, and instead of the usual chocolates on the mattress, they leave fun candies like Pop-Rocks or Charms Blow Pops.
Where to eat: The West Oak Restaurant ( www.westoakrestaurant.com) is a chic bistro that draws younger diners who crave an upbeat, energetic, casual yet elegant dining experience. The menu is seasonally adjusted and the kitchen uses locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. And try a cocktail in their stylish bar.
There is always a wait for brunch at Café Medina ( www.medinacafe.com), and with good reason: The menu is innovative and the fare is hearty, smart and prepared beyond anyone’s expectations. With trademark dishes like Saumon Fumé – a fried egg with smoked wild salmon and cream cheese over arugula – the restaurant lives up to the hype, and then some.
What to do: Spend an afternoon at one of Vancouver’s most well-liked draws, Granville Island ( www.granvilleisland.com). It’s fun getting there, too – little Aquabus ferries set sail every five minutes from the West End of downtown Vancouver to the island, which is packed full of craft studios, boutique shops and pubs.
Best known for its festive atmosphere and amazing souvenir bargains, Gastown ( www.gastown.org) is one Vancouver’s oldest neighborhoods. This popular historic borough blends elegance with cobblestone streets. It’s easily walkable, with open-air shopping kiosks that also feature food carts and street entertainment.
Plan on trying Vancouver next summer? June through September, the Bard on the Beach professional Shakespeare festival ( www.bardonthebeach.org) conjures up the enchantment of the playwright’s great works. The festival performs Shakespeare in two open-ended performance tents on the scenic waterfront in Vancouver’s Vanier Park.