Cruise from Vancouver – the essential guide

Not only did we love downtown Vancouver, we booked a tour out to Capilano Suspension Bridge and walked through the rain forest. We also did the Grouse Mountain Skyride. It was an unforgettable few days, just amazing. We want to go back!

When you cruise from Vancouver, we recommend you spend at least a few days here to enjoy this stunning city before climbing aboard your cruise ship. Vancouver is considered one of the best cities in the world and is the most visited city in Canada by foreign tourists. It’s easy to see why.

The seaport city of Vancouver, in the province of British Columbia, is easy to explore on foot and by using the excellent local transport system, the SkyTrain. Further afield, the city’s surroundings offer breathtaking scenery, wildlife, and adventure activities. What is there not to love?

And it doesn’t stop there. See this fantastic city seen from the water and enjoy the best of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer – whale watching, sea safaris to see killer whales, porpoises, dolphins, and humpback whales. There is also a great deal of island exploration to be done.

We have a 3-day guide to make your visit memorable before your cruise from Vancouver. Most cruises depart from the Port of Vancouver cruise terminal, only about a 5-minute walk from the train station, Waterfront Station. Check your cruise ticket to be sure this is your port of departure, and find more details of how to get to the port at the end of this article. 

We recommend that you live as centrally as possible in Vancouver. It will be more convenient, so you have time to enjoy all the main tourist sights during your visit. 

Focus on the city center for the first two days, then get out into the surrounding landscape to see more of this beautiful region of Canada.

Transport options from Vancouver International Airport to the city center

Vancouver International Airport is located 15km south of the city. Home to Air Canada, a member of the One World alliance of airlines which includes, amongst others, British Airways, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific, it is a central airport hub in the Pacific Northwest. You can find our expert tips on booking your flights here.

Here are the transport options from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to your city center hotel.

Airport Train

Take the Skytrain from the airport to downtown Vancouver using the Canada Line, which is part of the Skytrain system. The station is a short walk from the international or domestic arrival terminals. Follow the signs marked “Canada Line” and purchase a ticket at the machine after you have exited baggage claim. The train will take you to downtown Vancouver, or one more stop will get you to Waterfront station, right by the cruise terminal.

The train journey is around 30 minutes, and tickets for a one-way trip cost around CAD$10.

The Compass Pass is the reloadable fare card that works on the transit system in Vancouver. Most tourists purchase a day pass which allow you to use the transit system during your visit. Purchase your compass pass at the machine at the airport. Then register your card online to purchase your day pass or for as many days as you want.  You save much of each trip you make. You can use this compass card on the Skytrain, buses and the seabus.

Shuttle Bus

Many hotels located in downtown Vancouver offer shuttle bus services. Shuttle buses are located outside the international arrivals terminal on level 3. Arrange your shuttle bus transfer with your hotel before you leave home.

Taxi

There are plenty of licensed taxi cab companies operating at the airport. Most taxis are metered. The airport is 15km from downtown Vancouver, and a taxi journey should cost around CAD$30-40 depending on the time of day or evening you travel.

Follow the taxi signs at the airport to get to the taxi rank. They are on level 2 of the arrivals terminal. This way, you will know you are getting into an approved licensed taxi.

Where to stay in Vancouver

We have a good selection of recommended hotels that are firm favorites for cruise passengers and ourselves when visiting the city. They are centrally located, have great service, and offer an excellent breakfast. The rooms are comfortable and modern, and the prices are fair for the city. These are ideal hotels to stay in before your cruise from Vancouver.

Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel

This iconic hotel is located at Canada Place, where you see the famous white sails. Stay here, and you are right next to the cruise terminal. And the Pan Pacific will even take your luggage to the ship for you. This is one of the most-booked pre-cruise hotels due to its proximity to the cruise terminal. Become a member of their Discovery program (free) and get instant perks. Read on if you want a hotel to suit a smaller budget!

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

The elegant Fairmont is right in the heart of downtown, within walking distance to the waterfront, and is lovely in every way. As with the Pan Pacific, you will pay a premium for staying in this location, but it is an excellent choice if your budget stretches.

Coast Coal Harbour Vancouver Hotel

This is a great, modern hotel just 10 minutes walking distance of the cruise port at Canada Place and often a slightly less expensive option than the Fairmont or Pan Pacific. What we love about this hotel is the restaurant and lounge – excellent service and great food every time!

Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront

The Pinnacle is another harborside hotel that offers beautiful rooms with a view. There is a large indoor pool which is perfect if visiting in the height of summer, and bikes available to borrow so you can explore downtown easily.

The Sutton Place Hotel Vancouver

The Sutton Place Hotel is one of our favorite hotels in downtown Vancouver. We love the warm, friendly service, spacious family rooms, and European-style furnishings. You are right on Burrard Street with excellent shopping nearby.

Blue Horizon Hotel

Located on Robson Street and a 20-minute walk from the port at Canada Place (5 minutes by taxi), the Blue Horizon hotel offers bright and airy rooms with a view over the bay towards the mountains. You are just a 15-minute walk from Stanley Park and surrounded by a great choice of restaurants and cafes.

St Regis Hotel

The St Regis Hotel is a small, privately owned boutique hotel that is popular – so book early! You can be sure of first-class hospitality and an excellent breakfast!

Sylvia Hotel

Located close to the beach in the West End neighborhood and the middle of great shopping and restaurants, we love this beautiful old hotel. It is close to Stanley Park and a short taxi ride to the cruise terminal. There is an excellent restaurant well worth trying!

Lord Stanley Suites

Lord Stanley Suites is also located in the West End neighborhood, just a few minutes from downtown and close to Stanley Park. This is a good choice if you are looking for value-for-money and a self-catering option, as suites include a well-equipped kitchen.

Hyatt Regency

The Hyatt is located on Burrard Street, just a short taxi ride from the cruise terminal. Burrard Street is the central thoroughfare in downtown Vancouver. And at the intersection of Burrard Street and Robson Street is the main shopping area. You are right in the heart of it all with a stay at the Hyatt Regency.

Westin Bayshore

The Westin Bayshore is a Marriott hotel right on the waterfront, about 5 minutes by taxi from Canada Place cruise port. It’s an elegant first-class hotel that is excellent for families needing extra children’s beds in large, bright, modern rooms and suites.

Wedgewood Hotel & Spa

This Wedgewood is a short taxi ride from the cruise terminal. It’s a fabulous hotel. If you want a luxury stay at a small boutique hotel, then the Wedgewood is the one for you.

How to spend 3 days before your cruise from Vancouver

A perfect 3-day stay in Vancouver includes spending time in the city and the surrounding nature. With good planning, you can fit a lot in and have a spectacular pre-cruise experience here. Pick and choose from the following depending on what you want to see and do and what suits your budget.

Day 1- Downtown, Gastown, Chinatown, Stanley Park & Yaletown

Start your first day by visiting Sun Yat-Sen, the classic Chinese Garden on the outskirts of Vancouver’s vibrant Chinatown district. This beautiful place included a reconstruction of a typical Ming garden from the 14th century. From here, it’s easy to explore Chinatown before going to Maple Tree Square for great shopping and continue along busy Water Street into historic Gastown.

As you enter cobblestoned Gastown, you are in the center of historic old Vancouver. It’s packed full of quaint shopping and small cafes. Stop by the Water St. Café, located in a beautiful historic building. It’s an excellent place for a light lunch.

After lunch, head to the Harbour Centre and take the 40-second glass elevator ride to the Vancouver Lookout for the best views of downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour, and North Vancouver. The Vancouver Lookout is located on West Hastings Street, between Gastown and Canada Place. Check their website for opening times before you visit.

At this point, we would recommend you spend the rest of the afternoon visiting the fantastic Stanley Park. It’s about a 40-minute walk from downtown. Alternatively, you can hop in a taxi for the 10-minute ride. The park has excellent walking trails. Alternatively, you can rent a bike and spend your time cycling the dedicated bike lanes along the 9 km path.

For dinner and drinks on your first evening, head down to Yaletown, our favorite neighborhood in Vancouver. Located just a 5-minute taxi ride from Canada Place cruise terminal, Yaletown is a former warehouse district converted into a trendy area for dining, shopping, or relaxing along the waterfront.

Here you will find a great choice of restaurants and bars popular with visitors and locals alike. Try the Yaletown brewing company, an award-winning brewpub with an excellent menu for the whole family.

Day 2 – A whale watching tour and an aerial view of Vancouver harbor and beyond.

The whale-watching season runs from March to October in Vancouver. And as many cruises out of Vancouver happen during the summer months, you will be there at an ideal time to have the best chance of seeing whales. Not only do whales migrate through the area of Vancouver Island, in the Salish Sea, but there are also pods of Orcas that live in the waters year-round.

There are many whale watching and wildlife tours that start in the marina in Vancouver. Book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. The price tag can be pretty high, so a half day with an early start is the most popular tour, and this will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Seaplane tour for a birds-eye view

What better way to appreciate how Vancouver and the islands fit together over this beautiful pacific region than to have a pilot fly you up for an aerial view of Vancouver? On a sunny day with blue skies, this is an unforgettable experience with one of the most breathtaking landscapes you will ever see – highly recommended, but not for the faint-hearted! It’s a thrilling flight! Book an early afternoon tour, which will last around 40 minutes.

Alternatively, if you want to get over to Vancouver Island, consider a 30-minute ride in a float plane that can get you there.

Day 3 – Grouse Mountain & Capilano Suspension Bridge with a guide

If visiting in the summer, our favorite thing is to head to North Vancouver, to Grouse Mountain. Take the Grouse Mountain Skyride, a tram that takes you up the mountain. Visit the wildlife refuge, do some ziplining, or experience a rope-climbing treetop adventure. It is the best day out; if you are traveling with children, they will love it.

There are all kinds of hiking trails here to suit all fitness levels. Bring some good hiking shoes, a backpack, and essentials such as water and snacks. Plan and select the route that suits you. We recommend booking with a guide. And be camera ready for unforgettable views. Find out more using Vancouver’s Northshore visitor’s website.

On the same day, it is possible to visit the landmark Capilano Suspension Bridge. You can buy a combination ticket in advance to see this and Grouse Mountain. Cross the bridge, experience the rain forest nature, and do the daring cliff walk above the Capilano River. This is an adventurous day out for the brave amidst beautiful wildlife and stunning scenery.

How to get to Canada Place Cruise Terminal for your Cruise from Vancouver

Vancouver’s cruise port is part of Canada Place. It’s a multi-purpose facility with its iconic white sail design. This is where the 5-star Pan Pacific Hotel and the thrilling rides FlyOver Canada offer. Canada Place is only a 15-minute walk from the city center. And depending on which hotel you choose, even closer. And just 30 minutes away by taxi from the airport.

If you are not staying next to Canada Place, we recommend you book a taxi from your hotel as you have all your bags and packing for your cruise. Ask your concierge to arrange one for you on your morning of departure. It is the quickest and most convenient way to get to the cruise port from your cruise from Vancouver.

There is just one cruise terminal in Vancouver. The address is 999 Canada Place. Check your cruise ticket for instructions about your departure port and allocated boarding time.

If you are using the Skytrain, the name of the nearest station to Canada Place is Waterfront Station. For maps and routes, visit Vancouver’s official tourism website.

Baggage Storage After Your Cruise

Upon disembarkation at Canada Place after your cruise, cruise customers can access baggage storage. If you have an evening flight and want to spend the day sightseeing, store your bags and collect them later in the day before heading to the airport. Visit the Ground Transportation Desk inside the cruise terminal to check your bags. You will be given a collection time for the latest pickup, which is often late afternoon.

After bag drop-off, you will find a hop-on/hop-off bus stop close by at the welcome center. So your sightseeing can start immediately! When you are ready to go to the airport for your flight home, pick up your bags and walk to Waterfront Station, adjacent to the cruise terminal. Buy a ticket at the machine and get on the Skytrain’s Canada Line, which takes you directly to Vancouver International Airport.

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Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..