My family just returned from a 7-night Alaskan cruise aboard the Disney Wonder with 5 nights in Vancouver tacked on to the beginning of our vacation. The only way to keep me from being sad about our trip being over is to write about it in detail to re-live the memories. In case you missed the first installment, see Texans in Alaska: Vancouver Part 1 (Arrival, Stanley Park, Sea to Sky Tour).
Saturday, June 10, 2017
My husband and oldest son arrived in Vancouver the night before, so now we were five again. And we had a busy day ahead of us!
We were all awake by 7:00 a.m. (at least we’re sleeping in later now!). My husband ran next door to get us breakfast at Tim Horton’s to eat in the room so that we could catch our bus downstairs at 8:35 a.m.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Our first stop of the day was Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. I had read that due to crowds, it’s best to go to Capilano either first thing in the morning or after 5:00 p.m. We made it on the first shuttle of the day, and we were at the park by 9:00 a.m.
I had pre-purchased tickets online so we could skip the line at the park and go right to the gate. The kids posed for photos at the totem poles near the entrance:
We decided to cross the main suspension bridge first. I was really nervous about this based on my experience on the wobbly suspension bridge on top of the Sea to Sky Gondola from two days prior. However, I was relieved to see that I felt much safer on this suspension bridge.
There were no gaps on the floor or on the sides. It just felt sturdier to me. Although I still crossed it quickly and did not stop in the middle to take photos, it was much easier on me. It didn’t bother the rest of my family at all. I’m the only chicken, I guess.
On the other side of the bridge, we headed to the Treetop Adventure. This is a series of shorter suspension bridges and platforms on the trees.
This was my favorite part of Capilano. It reminded me of our recent treehouse adventure in Texas. The bridges were a lot shorter than the big bridge, and it wasn’t crowded at all. My kids picked up a scavenger hunt sheet and started looking for stuff to earn a badge.
On the same side of the park, we also walked the Living Forest trail. It was ground-level and took us past waterfalls and ponds. One of the rangers fed the fish while we were walking by, and we could see them jumping and splashing around the pond.
Funny thing is, on this walk we noticed an apartment building that backed up to the park. I envisioned Capilano far away from civilization, but neighborhoods go right up to it.
The next big thing was the Cliff Walk. This is the park’s newest attraction, a series of narrow walkways on the side of a cliff. The good news is, the walkways were not wobbly.
The bad news is, I chickened out. I started walking on it, but my oldest son was teasing me about my fear of heights. I just couldn’t take it anymore, my palms were sweaty and I wasn’t enjoying myself. So, I let my family do it without me. I did get a few good photos of them from above!
Some of the platforms were just grates with glass edges. No, thanks!
We were at the park a little over two hours, from 9:00-11:00ish on a Saturday. Crowds were not an issue at all during this time. The park is beautiful, and it was money well-spent!
After Capilano, we took a taxi (2 taxis, actually) to Grouse Mountain. It’s just up the same road.
We arrived at the ticket office at the bottom of the mountain where there was just a short line. We made it onto the next gondola.
The gondolas are huge and fit at least 40 people!
The weather was very cloudy at Grouse Mountain, so we only got a glimpse of Vancouver in the distance before it disappeared under the clouds.
At the top, we checked out the main building to get our bearings. It had two restaurants and a movie theater. We ate lunch at Altitudes Bistro and tried the famous Grouse Mountain nachos. They were huge!
After lunch, we started to walk around the summit. Tree carvings lined the main pathway.
The top still had a ton of snow. Of course, my kids wanted to play in it! They didn’t care that it was dirty and crunchy. We haven’t gotten much snow where we live in Texas for the past three years, so playing in snow was a real treat.
Unfortunately, it then started to rain, and my kids were soaking wet from rolling around in the snow. That made them even colder.
While the kids were playing in the snow, my husband and I were watching the two rescued grizzly bears with fascination. We watched a movie in the main building about their rescue and how scientists are studying their hibernation habits in the winter.
We were excited to watch the lumberjack show, even though it was raining and my kids were freezing! The excitement of the show made my kids forget how cold they were.
The show lasted around 30 minutes and was quite entertaining and funny. Many people see a lumberjack show in Ketchikan, but we had other plans for that port, so I was glad we were able to see the show on Grouse Mountain.
By the end of the show, we were completely fogged in. Originally I had planned to see the Eye of the Wind, but I don’t think today was a good day for that due to the clouds. The kids were too cold to hang around for the Birds in Motion show, so we decided to take the gondola back to the bottom of the mountain.
As we descended the mountain, we could see that it was actually sunny in Vancouver below the clouds!
We took Grouse Mountain’s free shuttle back to Canada Place, and then walked a few blocks to our hotel.
For dinner that night, I had made a reservation at the Cactus Club Café on the waterfront. The place has great reviews, so I thought we would splurge.
All of the waitresses wore identical dresses. It reminded me of that gameshow with Howie Mandell and the briefcases, Deal or No Deal. Does anyone remember that show?
Anyway…our view of the waterfront wasn’t that great from our table. Our food was good, but the restaurant didn’t have a kids’ menu, and our bill for the five of us before tip with no alcohol was $150 Canadian. Ouch! I’m not sure it was worth the splurge.
After dinner, the kids insisted on going to the hotel pool. We met a few families at the pool tonight that would be on our Disney cruise. In fact, my son became friends with two boys that he hung out with consistently during our cruise and even at the Vancouver airport while waiting for our flight home.
Sunday, June 12, 2017: Vancouver Whale Watch
We decided to book a whale watching trip out of Vancouver for two reasons: 1) We weren’t going whale watching in Juneau and 2) Most whale watching cruises near Vancouver spot orcas, which we have all wanted to see in the wild.
After reading many reviews, I booked us on a trip with Vancouver Whale Watch. We had to walk about two blocks from our hotel to be picked up by the bus to drive us to the port in Steveston. Our kids amused themselves while waiting by playing this giant chess set in front of the mall:
The bus picked us up, and every seat was taken. Our driver narrated as we drove through downtown Vancouver and past the airport to Steveston.
Steveston is actually a really cute town, and I would have loved to explore it if we had more time. It’s where the show Once Upon a Time is filmed. We checked into the office, and then headed across the street to the boat dock.
Due to my daughter’s age, we could not book the open-air zodiac boat (minimum age is 8). We rode on a covered boat with windows that opened on the side. The boat also had an open upper-deck.
Shortly after leaving the pier, we saw bald eagles on the seawall. Several of them!
We also saw many sea lions near a cargo ship not far away:
After that, we took off across the Strait of Georgia to head to the San Juan Islands to look for whales. We did see some seals on a sand bar:
Once we started going between the islands, the scenery was beautiful!
Ok, I have to confess that this is when things started to go downhill with my kids. I made a few mistakes on this excursion, so if we were to ever do it again, I’d do things a little differently.
First of all, I told them they couldn’t bring any toys with them on the excursion. I didn’t want to have to keep track of their stuff, and I wanted them to really focus on the nature we would be seeing. BIG MISTAKE. We were on the boat for 5 hours, and with the shuttle to/from Vancouver we were gone over 7 hours. Many of the adults fell asleep during parts of the day, so there was definitely some downtime.
Secondly, I didn’t bring any food with us. Why? The company provided granola bars and water, plus I pre-ordered box lunches for the cruise. I figured that would be enough. WRONG AGAIN! The kids (and the parents) were starving! None of us loved the sandwiches in the boxed lunch that much, and we were never so glad to get that included granola bar. My kids were constantly asking me for food. There was no extra food for purchase on the boat, but my kids somehow thought that I could just materialize food out of nowhere.
We did end up seeing a pair of humpback whales. We stayed with them for over an hour. It was neat to see them, but if you’ve ever been on a long whale watching trip before, you might know how frustrating it can be at the same time. You never know which direction the whales will head. They will pop up every few minutes, then disappear, and come up again some place where you’re not looking. My kids were fascinated for about the first 15 minutes, but then they became exhausted.
Here is how my youngest two kids looked while everyone was gawking at the moving whales:
I was disappointed we didn’t see any orcas. I’ve seen humpbacks on other trips, and they are magnificent. I was just hoping for something different. (People on our Disney cruise went on this same whale watching cruise in Vancouver after getting back from Alaska, and they saw orcas.)
After we got back from the dock, we had about 20 minutes before we had to board the shuttle for Vancouver. I bought some mini-donuts from a shop below the office, and they were magnificent (that, or we were all just really starving!)
We enjoyed parts of this whale watching cruise. Vancouver Whale Watch did a great job with narration and navigation. The entire day was just a little too long for us. If you have kids, bring food and toys!
Last night in Vancouver
After we got back to Vancouver, we decided to eat dinner at Tap and Barrel on the waterfront. We liked it better than our dinner the night before at Cactus Club Café, and it wasn’t as expensive.
We stopped to take a photo with the Digital Orca before we walked back to the Hyatt to swim.
On our way back to our hotel, we decided to stop at this ice cream shop. For our entire stay, the line had wrapped around the corner. It was Sunday night, and the line was the shortest I had seen it.
We still had to wait 30 minutes for the ice cream. Was it worth it? I’m not sure. It was good for sure, but that’s a long time to wait for ice cream.
I’m very glad we got to spend time in Vancouver before our cruise. There is so much to do in the city and in the nearby towns. I know that many people choose to spend time in Seattle before the cruise and go up to Vancouver the night before, but I’m sure we will have another chance to experience Seattle on a different trip.
Even if you’re not going on a cruise out of Vancouver, I still recommend it as a vacation spot for adventurous families.
Based on our experiences during our trip, this is how I rank the attractions:
1—Sea to Sky Tour with LandSea Tours
2—Capilano/Grouse Mountain (easy to do in one day due to location)
3—Stanley Park (Of course, if it wasn’t raining, we may have ranked this differently)
4—Whale Watching Tour
We had a great time in Vancouver! But, we were ready for the main attraction—Disney Cruise to Alaska!
Up next: Boarding the Disney Wonder to Alaska
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Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.