If I ever left my heart in a city, it would have to be Vancouver. Like my wife, Dawn, Vancouver for me was love at first sight. This beautiful Canadian city has been the backdrop for some of my most cherished life moments and I anticipate many visits and meaningful experiences there in the future.
On our vacation this year, my family sailed from Whittier to Vancouver aboard Diamond Princess. It was somewhat sentimental for me as it took me back to when I first joined Princess Cruises as a seafarer, when I signed up for an Alaska season to work aboard the original Royal Princess for what I thought would be a brief six-month escape from my life in the UK. It’s now 24 years later (to the month) and I’m still happily working for Princess.
This recent voyage not only took me back to my first week at sea, but also reminded me of when I first fell in love with Vancouver. Standing on the top deck sailing under the Lionsgate Bridge past Stanley Park, I harkened back to a somewhat fresh but clear Saturday morning on August 8, 1987 when I first sailed into Vancouver on Royal Princess.
Little did I realize then how much the city would capture such a special part of my life and eventually become part of me, particularly because it’s the hometown of my wife, Dawn. We got married in Vancouver and now we travel there frequently with our kids Jordan (4) and Jenna (11 months). You could say, it’s our second home.
I’d always been intrigued by the amazing friendliness and warm hospitality of the Canadians. After completing that first tour of duty, I took local leave and explored Canada from the West Coast to the East Coast using a student rail pass. It was in Vancouver that I met some local chaps who helped me map out my Canadian journey, giving me insider tips and must-see sights. After my amazing six-week trip, I knew one thing for certain–I wanted to go back to Vancouver. I felt so at home and connected to the people.
On our most recent trip, we made sure to experience a grand entrance into Vancouver, an amazing event in itself. Granted, it’s a very early morning for those who want to watch the ship’s final approach into Canada Place, but armed with a cup of coffee it’s really worth the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. Vancouver easily rates as one of the world’s most scenic ports and sailing into the city reminds me of a fellow Englishman, Captain George Vancouver, who on June 13, 1792, was exploring the same Burrard Inlet just before his 35th birthday.
Admittedly Captain Vancouver’s two-year voyage from England took a little longer, as he had to take the scenic route via Capetown, New Zealand, Tahiti, and China. The city adopted his name in 1886.
Today, it’s the fourth largest port in North America and major film production studios have now turned Vancouver into the third largest film production location in North America, after Los Angeles and New York. The city certainly lives up to its many accolades and has frequently been recognized as one of the top cities in the world in which to live.
As with many other West Coast locations, Vancouver experiences spectacular sunsets. One of the best spots for enjoying a scenic evening is at English Bay, in a restaurant or bar, or simply sitting on the beach. If you’ve really timed it right, make sure you’re there for the annual International Fireworks Competition, which is held in July and August.
That’s what we did in 2004 when, together with 100 of our closest family and friends….and a priest, I hired a boat to tie the knot with my amazing wife. After the ceremony we were all treated to dinner and a perfect view of the fireworks competition — a truly enchanting and memorable evening topped off with a rare blue moon. It was perfect!
Now that Dawn and I have kids, with family and friends in Vancouver I’ve discovered there is plenty to keep all ages intrigued while exploring the city. Stanley Park, one of North America’s biggest urban parks, has six miles of sea wall that, regardless of the weather, is frequented by Vancouverites and visitors alike enjoying walking, jogging, biking, and skating. The park offers numerous choices of transport — a horse-drawn tour will drive you comfortably around the park, or you can walk it in three hours.
In the middle of the park we like to visit the Vancouver Aquarium and the Stanley Park Miniature Steam Railway — a particular favorite of Jordan’s, since as a typical lad he simply loves anything to do with trains. Whilst on the east side of the park, it’s always nice to sit on a bench and take a moment to enjoy the sights of Coal Harbour with its busy float planes or cruise ships gracefully entering and leaving the port. Following tradition, at noon every day the Heritage Horns sing out the first four notes of “O Canada” (Canada’s National Anthem), while at nine o’clock each evening the Stanley Park Gun (first fired in 1898) is sounded from the cannon perched on the sea wall.
Just around the corner from Stanley Park are English Bay and False Creek, home of a favorite of our kids…Granville Island! The fun starts with a foot-ferry ride from False Creek to get to the Island. Once we’ve landed, the kids go wild at the Kids Market and Water Park & Adventure Playground, while parents can enjoy the market, a selection of stores, restaurants…or (my favorite) simply sit back and relax with a coffee as you are entertained by performances of the local street artists, or watch the water traffic sail by.
To enjoy a bird’s eye view of Vancouver, my favorite vantage point is Grouse Mountain. Located just 15 minutes from downtown, this peak offers spectacular views in summer or the snow of winter. It’s easy to get up to the summit by cable car, and at the top visitors can not only take in the scenery but can enjoy a great meal. Of course, if it’s winter…don’t forget your skis!!
It’s been 24 years since I first caught sight of Vancouver from the deck of a cruise ship. Today, as I think of all the city has given me and what it means to my family, I can’t think of a better place to stop and stay a while.