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!

A cruise from Vancouver means that you can enjoy this stunning city before you climb aboard your cruise ship. We highly recommend that you spend at least a few days here. 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 and wildlife, and all sorts of 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 detailed 3 day guide to make your visit memorable before you 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 2 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 include, amongst others, British Airways, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Qantas and Cathay Pacific, it is major airport hub in the Pacific Northwest. You can find our expert tips on booking your flights here.

Here are the transport options you have to get 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 arrivals terminals. Follow the signs marked “Canada Line” and purchase a ticket at the machine after you have exit baggage claim. The train will take you to downtown Vancouver, or one more stop gets you to Waterfront station, right by the cruise terminal.

The train journey time is around 30 minutes and tickets for a one way journey 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 you around CAD$30-40 depending upon the time of day or evening you travel.

Follow the taxi signs at the airport to get to the taxi rank. They are located 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 an extensive selection of recommend hotels that are firm favorites for cruise passengers and for ourselves when visiting the city. They are centrally located, have great service and offer an excellent breakfast. Rooms are comfortable and modern and the prices are fair for the city. These are ideal hotels to stay in before you cruise from Vancouver.

Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel

This iconic hotel is located at Canada Place and is 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 it’s close proximity to the cruise terminal. It’s a first-rate hotel. Become a member of their Discovery program (free) and get instant perks. If you are looking for a hotel to suit a smaller budget read on!

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

The elegant Fairmont is right in the heart of downtown, 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 really great, modern hotel just 10 minutes walking distance of the cruise port at Canada Place and often a slightly less expensive option compare to the Fairmont or Pan Pacific. What we love about this hotel is the restaurant and lounge – great service and great food every time!

Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront

Another harbourside hotel which offers wonderful 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

This is one of our favorite hotel in downtown Vancouver. We love the warm and friendly service, spacious family rooms and the slight European-style furnishings. You are right on Burrard Street with excellent shopping close by.

Blue Horizon Hotel

Located on Robson Street, and a 20 minute walk from the port at Canada Place (5 minutes with 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 surrounding by a great choice of restaurants and cafes.

St Regis Hotel

The St Regis Hotel is a small, privately owned boutqiue 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 in 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 bistro 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. If you are looking for value for money, the facilities to do self-catering in a well-equipped kitchen in your own suites, then this is a good choice.

Hyatt Regency

The Hyatt is located on Burrard Street and just a short taxi ride from the cruise terminal. Burrard Street is the central throughfare 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 in Vancouver, about 5 minutes by taxi from Canada Place cruise port. It’s a first class elegant hotel, excellent for families who need extra beds for children in large, bright and modern rooms and suites.

Wedgewood Hotel & Spa

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

How to spend 3 days before you cruise from Vancouver

A perfect 3-day stay in Vancouver, in our opinion, includes the city and the surrounding nature. It’s a squeeze but 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 family, and your budget.

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

Start you first day by visiting Sun Yat-Sen, the classic Chinese Garden on the outskirts of Vancouver’s vibrant Chinatown district. This harmonious place included a reconstruction of a typical Ming garden from the 14th century. From it’s easy to explore Chinatown before making your way 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 a great place for a light lunch or brunch.

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 travel.

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

For dinner and drinks 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 that has been converted into a trendy area for dining and 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 brew pub with an excellent menu for the whole family.

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

If you are set on doing a whale watching tour in Vancouver, then the season runs from March to October. 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 off Vancouver island, in the Salish Sea, there are 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 disappoint. The price tag can be quite 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 just how Vancouver and the islands all fit together over this beautiful pacific region that 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 are looking to get over to Vancouver Island, then consider a 30-minute ride in a float plane which can get you there.

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

Our favorite thing to do if visiting in the summer 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 absolutely the best day out, and if you are travelling with children they are going to 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 in advance and select the trail 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 visit 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 nature 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 it’s iconic white sail design. This is where the 5-star Pan Pacific Hotel is located, and also the thrilling rides offered by FlyOver Canada. Canada Place is located only a 15 minute walk from the city center. And depending 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 that as you will have all your bags and packing for your cruise with you, you book a taxi from your hotel. Ask your concierge to arrange one for you on your morning of departure. It really 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 Vancouer, the address is 999 Canada Place. As always, check and double check your cruise ticket for instructions about your departure port and your 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 offical tourism website.

Baggage Storage After Your Cruise

Upon disembarkation at Canada Place after your cruise, there is baggage storage available for cruise customers. 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 in your bags. Bags cannot be stored overnight and you will be given a collection time for 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 direct to Vancouver International Airport.

Need more tips on cruising? We’re here to help!

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Meet the Author

Mattias has nearly 2 decades of travel industry expertise, working with cruise lines, tour operators, airlines, IT providers, hospitality suppliers and everything else in between that makes the travel industry tick. more..