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Vancouver as a Port Stop

I am a Canadian who lived in the Vancouver area for several years. I also visit either Vancouver or Victoria on a regular basis for work or to see family so I know the province well. In this blog, I will focus solely on Vancouver as a port stop as I will be covering Victoria in a future article.

Usually, I begin with the history of a port but in this case I want to start with a quick comment regarding my experience with how Vancouver handles cruise ship boardings. My love of the province and the city does not extend to the cruise port of Vancouver. I have found that if two or more passenger cruise ships are boarding at the same time from Canada Place, and there is another event going on, it does not handle the process well.

For the purposes of full disclosure, my last boarding event at this port was in September 2022 and that experience vies for top spot as the worst boarding experience I have encountered. Considering I have been to ports all over the world, that is quite the accomplishment.

What happened in September of 2022?  I was departing Vancouver on a Celebrity sailing destined for Hawaii. I was doing back-to-back sailings and originally had booked a trip from Hawaii to Sydney Australia. I booked the Vancouver to Hawaii portion thinking it would be a great add on and I love visiting BC. For months prior to our sailing, I spoke with pride about the beauty of BC (and specifically Vancouver), and how I was confident that  people would enjoy a few days pre cruise stay. I described the city as picturesque and entertaining and bragged how there is always something to see and do whether you engage in urban nightlife or enjoy nature's beauty.

The three days I spent in Vancouver prior to our sail date did not disappoint. The weather was exceptional and the city entertaining and at its best. However, on departure day, it suddenly took a turn for the worse. The boarding experience was slow and crowded with passengers from two different cruise ships all vying to pass through security and board. To add to the problems, there was some type of event taking place in the venue which restricted access to certain areas and caused considerable congestion.

It started when all the cruise ship passengers were fed into an underground luggage check-in location with acceptance zones marked for different cruise lines. Passengers were then asked to enter through one door and take an elevator up to the next level. For some reason we could not take the stairs so we had to line up to take the elevator. This was the first point of congestion and although we only had to wait for about four elevator loads, there was a lineup that quickly formed behind us and friends who arrived ten minutes after us had a much longer wait.

Once on the next level, as I was standing in a seemingly endless line up comprised of passengers from both ships, I wondered if it was always this bad and if so, what would happen if there were three passenger cruise ships in port all trying to board during the same time frame.

Having spent a considerable amount of time in one seemingly endless line up snaking its way around a crowded and noisy room, I found that the process did not get any easier as more line ups awaited in different areas of the terminal. People, who had mobility issues or who had problems standing for long periods of time, experienced difficulty and the process was less than ideal. I was embarrassed that this was a Canadian cruise ship port with such a poorly executed boarding process. The best description I can give is that boarding was slow, crowded, seemingly disorganized and confusing.

I could offer up a myriad of excuses, such as cruise ship travel was opening up again after covid shutdowns etc. but the bottom line was, the process was not smooth and not user friendly. I hoped it would get better for future sailings but I subsequently heard more horror stories. I will be boarding at this port again for an Alaskan cruise in June 2024 so I shall update this blog at that time as to what my experience is this year. For now, I want to focus on the city and the local offerings.


Vancouver is located on the south-west coast of British Columbia and is a collection of various cities that combine to make the greater Vancouver area (also known as the metropolitan area). This is the most densely populated region of British Columbia and houses the largest airport in the province (located in Richmond). There are several universities and a number of colleges, various museums along with numerous shopping areas. The approximate square milage is 1,111 (2,880 kilometers) so this is a very large, expansive area featuring a mix of urban city and outstanding natural views.  It is also Canada’s third largest city.

The area was initially settled by the first nations Salish peoples: the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh. The land is acknowledged to be unceded coastal Salish territory. The first Europeans to arrive in the area were Spanish.  Captain José María Narváez explored and charted the area in 1791.  The British naval Captain George Vancouver made an appearance in 1792. He explored and charted the waters for four years and his surveys of the areas were used for coastal navigation during the next century and yes, the city is named after him.

By 1827, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up a trading post near the mouth of the Fraser River in what is now known as New Westminster (a place I lived some many years later). For those who are unfamiliar with the Hudson’s Bay Company, it was heavily involved in the fur trade and various settlements throughout Canada started life as a Hudson’s Bay outposts. The company has morphed from trading posts to a modern-day department store with locations across Canada and an online shopping presence[1].

The big growth in Vancouver of both industry and population, occurred during the gold rush in the 1860’s. Businesses flourished, and new industry opened up. A large sawmill set up operation in Burrard Inlet and a sugar refinery was built. In addition to being a stepping point for those who wished to try their luck in the gold fields, the moderate temperatures made Vancouver a more attractive settlement area to those immigrating from the United States and the British Isles. Consequently, there was a large Scottish settlement in the area.

The city was incorporated in 1886 just after the trans-Canada railway was opened. Although the driving of the ceremonial “Last Spike” took place some 534.8 km away in Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7, 1885, the rail line from Vancouver had been completed the previous year and just needed to be connected to the line from the east making its way through the mountains. Many of the men who had been brought to Canada from China as cheap labour, decided to settle in the Vancouver area and they were joined by their families seeking a better life. There still is a vibrant Chinese community in Vancouver.

A few months after the city was incorporated, there was a massive fire that destroyed many of the buildings in the downtown core area. The city was rebuilt and some of the new structures were constructed of stone which offered employment opportunities for Scottish stone masons. Consequently, there was increased migration from Scotland.

By now you are probably wondering when I will cover the development of the port of Vancouver to what it is today. Aside from its growth when it became a supply and passenger hub for the northern gold field migration, it also developed into an important port for the transportation of trade goods such as lumber and fish. It’s ability to export products such as grain and dairy increased when it became financially viable with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. The shorter canal route for the goods to travel, opened up major trade options and the presence of the railway meant that wheat and other goods could easily be shipped by rail to the port in Vancouver from the other provinces.

Today, the Port of Vancouver is the largest port in Canada and the fourth largest in North America.  In addition to cargo, there is a vibrant cruise line business servicing cruises departing for the coastal Canada and USA destinations, and Pacific crossings.

Canada Harbour Place Corporation (now known as Canada Place Corporation) opened Canada Place in 1986 and it serves as the home port for Vancouver-Alaska cruises and trans-Pacific voyages. It also houses the Vancouver Convention Centre East and the Pan Pacific Hotel. Canada Place is owned and now operated by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Things to Do in Vancouver

Go to a scenic location such as Grouse Mountain or Whistler.

I will start with Whistler which is a resort located about 125 km north of Vancouver. It has everything including the largest ski resort in North America, shops, restaurants and loads of character.  There are shuttle buses from Vancouver daily and cost about $45 return.

Grouse Mountain is located in North Vancouver and in addition to its various scenic points, it has outdoor adventures, zip lining, paragliding, lumberjack shows and a wildlife refuge. You can enjoy dining and shopping at the top.  There is a free shuttle from Canada Place to Grouse mountain during the summer.

Stanley Park is a 405-hectare public park, that is located in the northwestern half of Vancouver's Downtown peninsula. Picturesque, it is surrounded by waters of Burrard Inlet and English Bay and offers up some lovely walking paths and photo ops.

Visit the Sea Wall. The City of Vancouver describes the sea wall as the following:[2]

Vancouver has the world's longest uninterrupted waterfront path. The 28 km Seaside Greenway is an uninterrupted pathway, including the Stanley Park Seawall, that extends from the Vancouver Convention Centre to Spanish Banks Park. Perfect for a walk, cycle, or jog, it is the most popular recreational spot in the city.

The Seawall is divided in to two clearly marked sections - one for walkers and joggers (closest to the water), and one for cyclists and inline skaters (inside path).

From a strictly visitors point of view, I have walked along the sea wall at sunset and enjoyed some outstanding views. A photographers delight.


Shopping in Vancouver is fairly easy and you can find a large number of stores within a 15-minute walk of the port. The most popular shopping street is Robson and you will find all the big brand retailers there as well as assorted souvenir shops, drug and gift stores. There are also some local fashion chains, beauty outlets and gift stores.

The CF Pacific Center Shopping Mall is located at 701 West Georgia Street, which is about a seven-minute walk from the port. You will find the usual mall retailers located there, sit-down restaurants and a food court.

On our last visit to Vancouver, we did some shopping along Pender and Hastings streets. There was a mixture of stores, some of which sold souvenirs. There was also a wine store and several drug stores. I am not going to name the wine store since we found they had charged us twice for a bottle of wine, something we did not notice until we returned to our hotel. We had bought a bottle of wine each to take on the ship and some gift bottles for friends, so the double charge was not noticed at the time of purchase.

The Steamworks Liquor Store is located at 375 Water Street, about a 10-minute walk from the port for those wanting to purchase something a bit stronger than wine.

The Granville Island Public Market is a market open seven days a week from 9am to 6pm. I decided to visit this market the last time we took a cruise that started from the port of Vancouver and I enjoyed shopping in the little boutique outlets and various stores. I bought an excellent pair of walking shoes that were a great price. They are, to this day, the most comfortable and durable walking shoes I have ever owned. We enjoyed lunch at one of the restaurants but be warned, on nice days, restaurants and the market are crowded.

We were staying near the port in the downtown core, and we took the local #50 bus to get within a block of the market entrance. Our friends took the 016 bus which also left from downtown. The cost is $4 per person. If you want to take a taxi, the cost is approximately $7 to $9 depending on which hotel you are staying at in the downtown core. We took an aqua bus back to the downtown area at a cost of $7.75. Both the city bus and the aqua bus were easy and economical to use.

Getting to the ship from the Airport

You can easily get to the cruise ship port or downtown from the airport via taxi, ride sharing program, bus or the sky train. Once in the arrivals area, follow the signs for taxi, buses or public area meeting point for the ride share.

I personally have tried all the options but prefer the sky train for ease in travel and cost. You can access the Skytrain by following the signs for it to the Link Building which is situated between the domestic and international terminals. Look for the signs that say “Canada Line” and proceed up the escalator (or elevator) to level 4 and follow the covered walkway to the Skytrain Station. The cost to go from the airport to downtown is $4.55. If you are staying in North Vancouver, the cost is also $4.55 but if you are staying in New Westminster, Coquitlam, Burnaby or Port Moody it will cost you $6.20 per person each way and involve a transfer.

Don’t forget to see if your hotel has a shuttle bus.

Other forms of Transportation in Vancouver

Taking a Sea Bus or a Sea taxi is another transportation option.

As mentioned, when we went to the Granville Island Public Market, we opted to return to the downtown area by aqua bus. It was easy to catch at a little dock at the market and fairly inexpensive. It was a lovely day so taking the boat ride was a pleasant way to return to the downtown core. We got off at False Creek Plaza of Nations and walked through Chinatown to Gastown. It was a long walk and frankly, the boat ride was great but the walk for the first 20 minutes was not that interesting from a sightseeing perspective.

The sea bus leaves for North Vancouver from the waterfront sea bus terminal beside Canada Place and will take you to the Lonsdale quay in North Vancouver and specifically, if you want a different place to shop, the Lonsdale Quay market. This market has a number of little shops and kiosks, and is another shopping option for those visiting the area.

Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery is located at 750 Hornby Street about 1.3 km from the cruise ship terminal. Admission is $30 for the day.

Hospital in the Downtown Area

St. Paul’s Hospital, located at 1081 Burrard Street states that it is an acute care, teaching and research hospital located in downtown Vancouver. It is home to many world-class medical and surgical programs. When I was researching my book on cruising (Sleeping in a Life Jacket), I asked for stories about injuries pre, post and on cruises. I received once story about a pre cruise injury and the individual talked about their experience at St. Paul’s hospital. They described their visit and care as excellent. Aside from this anecdotal information, I have no first hand experience.

Areas to Avoid

On several visits to Vancouver I encountered aggressive panhandlers and persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I recommend visitors avoid the areas around Hastings and Main streets which has a 50% higher crime rate.

Leaving Vancouver by Air

When Leaving Vancouver by air, you can use the YVR EXPRESS which will allow you to schedule a specific time to enter security screening and avoid waiting in line prior to moving through the screening process. Travellers within Canada and to the U.S. can schedule their time to enter security screening through YVR EXPRESS up to 72 hours ahead of their flight departure time.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this blog, please feel free to contact me at or provide your comments here.

[1] Check out my blog on Fort Carlton in Saskatchewan for another example of a Hudson’s Bay outpost.

 [2] Seawall in Vancouver | City of Vancouver accessed 19 February 2024.


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