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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cruise Port Overview: Vancouver



Clean and Green, Must be Seen

by Roderick Eime in Vancouver

September in British Columbia is just divine. While the locals keep asking “How a-boot this weather, eh?” I get the feeling glorious warm, sunny days are pretty normal around this time of year. From my window of the Fairmont Waterfront (www.fairmont.com) Hotel, I can see all across the bay to Stanley Park and beyond to the mountains where the last traces of the bumper snow season are stubbornly disappearing. A regular stream of floatplanes taxi out onto the bay taking off for parts unknown while strollers, joggers, cyclists and skaters traverse the waterfront precinct cafe-hopping and just relaxing in the afternoon glow.

It's too much to resist, and I pop down for a look myself, mingling with the dawdling traffic. Disney Wonder is pulling out of her home berth with a trademark blast of her horn playing, you guessed it, “When you wish upon a star” and it seems the perfect maritime destination. With many international air links, a slightly more relaxed customs and immigration procedure and a pally 'Commonwealth' kinship, Canada is a natural destination for vacationing Australians and the telltale Aussie twang soon becomes a familiar sound in the coffee shops, museums and hotel lobbies.

Vancouver spent the last few years at the top of the 'world's most liveable cities' list (just recently pipped by Melbourne) and it's easy to see why. There's a relaxed lifestyle with a pronounced ecologically responsible and sustainable living focus. It feels safe and the folks are welcoming and helpful with clear signage and many familiar brands and logos. For entertaining shopping, there's groovy Granville Island with artisan stores and wholesome produce led by the Edible Canada brand. Harbour cruises on the dinky Aqua-Bus service makes sightseeing and transport a fun doddle.

While there is some stiff competition with neighbouring Seattle, the financially-strapped US city is luring some vessels away with discount port fees. Disney Wonder will move there in 2012, but the Sapphire Princess will quickly fill the void, maintaining annual cruise visitors at a healthy 650-660,000. True, both green-leaning ports offer excellent visitor amenities for cruise visitors, but the Canadians will argue their city offers greater potential for pre- and post-cruise extensions and from what I've seen in my short stay, it is a persuasive argument. Imagine throwing snowballs and swimming in a cool mountain lake on the same day, I did.

I'm writing this week's piece from the observation car of the magnificent Rocky Mountaineer, a railway tour that also hubs out of Vancouver. Given the demographic overlap, it is easy to see many of my fellow passengers enjoying an Alaskan cruise as part of their Pacific Northwest summer holiday and I'm told with some authority that 40 per cent of RM guests also cruise. Seizing on this synergy, RM is partnering with HAL to launch a series of special 'First Passage' fortnight-ish itineraries in 2013 with satisfying dollops of both cruise and rail experience. Railstops at scenic towns such as Jasper, Banff and Whistler [www.tourismwhistler.com], with their own enormous range of summer activities, will make this, I predict, a hot-seller.

Make a beeline for your ICCA cruise specialist [www.cruising.org.au] and pester them about Vancouver cruises. For details on the 'First Passage' cruise/rail package, see www.rockymountaineer.com

Roderick Eime is visiting Vancouver [www.tourismvancouver.com] as a guest of Rocky Mountaineer [www.rockymountaineer.com] and Tourism BC [www.hellobc.com]

Friday, February 18, 2011

London: Capital of Cool

Tower Bridge
There is no other place in the world that has showcases human history like London. Its heritage is not only confined in museums, but in architecture, art, fashion and culture. Yes, through thick and thin this marvelous city has seen it all. If streets and buildings could talk, there would be so much that they would say. With its colourful history on display – from its classic palaces to ultra chic new hangouts, London is indeed the city where only the coolest survive.

For me travelling to international travel hubs like London is not only an opportunity to become immersed in another culture but to throw yourself into a lot of great shopping.

Seeing London’s Carnaby Street is like visiting the birthplace of cool with designer fashion labels and exclusive boutiques lining the streets. But if the constantly changing exchange rate gets you down, then try Oxford Circus for a taste of the great British high-street that will leave you struggling to close your suitcase. For high class luxury without having to walk too far, then the Harrods department store is a place that you must see.

Now I understand that shopping can cause lot of stress on your bank account but have no fear because London has many more activities and sites that you can visit.

For an easy overview of the city, I highly recommend going on one of the many guided boat tours that cruise along the Thames River. As you make your way down, you will surely be able to spot the iconic Tower Bridge that breaks the horizon. However, if you are looking for a more personal exploration of the city, then get your map, walking shoes, London Pass and Oyster Card ready.

One of the many tourist attractions within walking distance of each other is Buckingham Palace and Westminster. You’ll find that it’s easier to spot Big Ben from outside Buckingham Palace than it is to find Wally with a magnifying glass.
Being one of the oldest urban cities in the UK, London’s rich culture and history can be found at every turn with double decker buses, the London Tube complex, their small taxis, architectural marvels such as St Paul’s Cathedral as well as historical centres like the British Museum and the Tate Modern art gallery. London is indeed the place where the delicate mix of the classical and modern is fit for a king or queen.
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