Today’s countdown – 138 days! Our last port stop for the cruise is Victoria (nicknamed the Garden City), the capital of British Columbia and one of the oldest cities in Pacific Northwest (the British settled here in 1843).
We’ll be in town from 6pm to midnight, a short 6 hours. We’re scheduled to be berthed at the North B berth at Ogden Point. In town with us will be the Norwegian Pearl (dogging our heels as usual with their 2,394 passengers) and the Emerald Princess (3,114 passengers).
Some of the things I enjoy doing and seeing in Victoria won’t be open or would take longer than the few hours we have available, but there’s still be plenty to do.
If you’re just interested in getting off the ship to stretch your legs for a bit, the Ogden Point Terminal Breakwater (https://www.victoriatrails.com/trails/ogden-point-breakwater/) is on the outside of the South Berth. It’s a narrow and lovely (though usually windy and chilly walk) along the top of the breakwater with a lighthouse at the end, and a metal gate you can go through and down to the water. Be careful if you do this, because it’ll be slippery. Up and back, it’s almost exactly a mile long. You’ll get some great photos of the busy harbor. Don’t worry, it now has railings, though my sister and I have walked it a few times before the railings were installed. It was a bit … nerve-wracking … on really windy days!
If you’ve never been to Victoria, do go to the Butchart Gardens. It’s about 14 miles north of Victoria, so you’ll need transportation. This 55-acre garden (once a barren rock quarry) has it all – flowers, shrubs, trees, fountains, footbridges, music and outdoor entertainment, and it’s enchantingly beautiful lit up at night. And if you’re missing whales, Victoria has some great whale watch excursions.
It’s about a mile and half walk to the city center along the Inner Harbor (a bit longer if you do the whole Inner Harbor), but there are plenty of taxis, horse-drawn carriages, pedi-cabs, a city bus and a shuttle bus (though I’d suggest skipping the shuttle bus as it’s a bit pricey). The Inner Harbor has dozens of things to see, do, photograph and eat. Watch the seaplanes land in the harbor; walk though Fisherman’s Wharf and look at the unusual houseboats (and feed the seals that hang out there); buskers, musicians and local artisans; walk around the Parliament Building (we’ll be in town too late to take a tour), the Fairmont Empress Hotel, or check out the Royal BC Museum – not sure of their summer hours this year, but in previous visits, they’ve been open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays; have grab a bite (though you’ll have to hurry to grab something from the casual Red Fish Blue Fish, a walk-up fun take on the old fish-n- chips). At night the government building and a few surrounding buildings are dramatically lit and the reflections will make you whip out your camera.
At the far end of the Inner Harbor is Bastion Square which sits on the site of old Fort Victoria. The square looks out on the Inner Harbor, and has some great restaurants, pubs, and cafes. We’ll be in town too late to catch the summer seasonal artisan market, but it’s still worth a visit. It’s also said to be haunted. The jailhouse once located there (it’s no longer standing) was the site of many executions.
Of course, you can just relax aboard and get a jump start on your packing … nah, who’d want to do that when Victoria in all her finery is just a short walk away.
Another sunny day — we’ve been so lucky this cruise, as the weather forecast was rain, rain and more rain. But other than the first sea day and Juneau, it’s been dry and often sunny. Hardly warm (mid 50s to low 60s) but that suits us Pacific Northwesterners … we start melting when it approaches 80. 🙂 So it was perfect day to sit in the cabana, have a Bloody Mary and pizza for lunch and just take in the sun.
Karin went to a matinee performance of the Lincoln Center Stage playing only classical music (Brahms) while I simply read on the veranda, sipping coffee and sweets from the Neptune Lounge.
Karin did her initial packing, and then off to a final evening of cocktails and dinner as we sailed into Victoria.
Rather than open seating for dinner (there is no fixed seating since we arrived in Victoria at 6:00 pm), we opted for another meal at the Tamarind, where the food is delicious and the views outstanding.
Getting back to our cabin, one more good piece of news – I’m now a 4-star Mariner.
I threw my clothes into the suitcase and Karin wheeled our bags out to the hallway, where we’ll be reunited with them in Seattle. (Speaking of Seattle, disembarkation was a mess. With both the Eurodam and the Ruby Princess offloading passengers, there were 5,100 passengers milling through Pier 91. To top it all off, the escalator was out of order, so it was either stairs or elevator. So the elevator got a thorough workout … and by the time I finally got downstairs about 10 minutes later (I was tempted to throw the rollator over the railing and take the stairs, but figured that was probably akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face), the lines to clear customs were huge. There was an officer from the Eurodam with 4 stripes on his sleeve (Karin says possibly the Hotel Director) in the midst of the mayhem looking rather grim and barking into his comm unit. I’m thinking the pier officials may be getting an earful!
This day was not just Victoria, lovely city that it is, but also it’s immediate surroundings – water, whales, lighthouses, and food.
After the windy last couple of days, the morning was calm and clear as we rounded Vancouver Island and entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With Canada on our port side and Washington State on our starboard side, we passed Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point in the continental U.S., about 10:30 a.m.
With all the whales we’ve seen this cruise, I didn’t figure we’d be lucky enough to see more, but we did. At least 7 different ones as headed down the Strait to Victoria. Needless to say, we sat out at the aft Seaview pool. With my camera in hand, several of the other passengers happily took over the role of spotter, and I could just relax and watch the land slip by on either side of us until I heard the call of “Whale!” sweep across the deck.
We made Victoria and were cleared to disembark around 3, not bad considering we had to fight the wind pretty much all the way down the coast. There was a seemingly endless stream of whale-watching boats heading out of Victoria’s harbor as we headed in. Apparently I have ducks on the brain this trip, because they sure remind me of ducklings following along behind mama.
We met up with Garth of EV Tours (sure did wish that Victoria had a little golf cart running back and forth to ferry the slow and gimpy among us – by which I mean I really hated to slow our group down, not that anyone minded). This was another perfect tour, geared toward us and what we wanted to do. Which was first a stop at Hatley Castle built in 1908 (which I hadn’t heard of before). It was built by James Dunsmuir, the son of Robert Dunsmuir, who built the better-known Craigdarroch Castle. Apparently a thing for castles ran in the family.
Then on to Esquimalt Harbour (tip for the day – it’s pronounced Es-kweye-malt so I’ve been pronouncing it wrong for years), home to the Canadian Navy’s Pacific fleet.
It was in Esquimalt Harbour that the British and US commissioners met for the first time to try to resolve a dispute over the US/Canada border that led to The Pig War which lasted from 1859-1872 (no shots were exchanged and no-one died except the pig). I do love slightly odd bits of history!
Like this one — as we headed to Oak Bay, we stopped at the Chinese Cemetery, established in 1903 because the main cemetery in Victoria, Ross Bay Cemetery, did not have good feng shui (and didn’t really approve of Chinese being buried there anyway). The twin columns in the background are used for burning joss sticks and for offerings of food.
Then past the Trial Islands (called because this is where British naval ships were sent for a trial run out to the island and back after they were refitted at Esquimalt Harbour) and its lighthouse.
Before stopping for dinner at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. And in a trip filled with good eats, this was a spectacular standout. The view was only outdone by the food. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
And if you want to drool over the menu, here you go.
Then back to the ship for our last night aboard.
Monday morning – Karin got up in time to snap this lovely sunrise in Seattle.
We waved so-long to the Maasdam and a terrific cruise – a perfect confluence of (mostly) sunny weather, tasty food, lovely scenery and good friends.
Got up early this morning, even before the rooster – thank goodness Clare had the coffee all set up and ready to go, even down to travel cups – to catch the Black Ball Ferry for a day trip to Victoria. We had to be there at 7 a.m. – which made for some interesting morning light. A few morning scavengers too.
This ferry (m/v Coho, 341 feet long – smaller than most of the WA State ferries) is a perfect way to get from Port Angeles to Victoria. A couple of caveats – the cars are packed into the ferry, so make a quick exit from the car or you might find yourself blocked in (you can’t stay in your car). Secondly, as someone who’s been on many a Washington State ferry, this boat rocked – and by that I mean swayed side to side quite a bit. It’s as old as Karin – which means it’s older than I am 😛
Watching Port Angeles shrink behind us, we were entertained by some ukulele musicians headed to Victoria for a busker’s convention (who knew they had conventions?).
After 90 minutes, we reached Victoria’s Inner harbor, with a welcome procession of Canada geese (of course).
I wanted to see if you can still feed the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf, so a quick five minute drive got us there. And yes, yes you can still feed the seals. The enterprising fish ‘n chips places there sell you the heads/tails/assorted unusable fish parts to feed them. But be wary of dive-bombing sea gulls. The lady next to us had one snatched from her hand – she shrieked and ducked, but didn’t lose any fingers. The seal popped his head up every time someone came near the edge, and rolled over once he got a treat, almost like a dog wanting his belly scratched.
We took the scenic route to Oak Bay, for tea at the White Heather Tea Room. It looks like absolutely nothing from the outside, a small sign in a row of retail businesses, but Karin and I try not to miss it whenever we get to Victoria. The four-course Big Muckle Tea is why.
We drove back from tea with a box of leftovers (yes the Big Muckle Tea is big!). Parking the car, we took a carriage ride with Tally-Ho Carriage Tours, who gave us a custom tour, picking us up from the Inn at Laurel Point. We drove around James Bay, the oldest West Coast residential area north of San Francisco (James Bay forms part of the Inner Harbor but its tidal flats no longer exist as they were covered with a stone causeway atop which sits the Empress Hotel) to see the historic houses, including one that has 37 different colors on it – colored paint was a sign of wealth. Thank goodness there wasn’t a homeowner’s association back then. And the Emily Carr house, where the artist spent her childhood.
While waiting to catch the Coho back to Port Angeles, we had an intermezzo (otherwise known as happy hour) at Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio, at Inn at Laurel Point. This is a must-eat place if you’re in Victoria – a great view of the Inner Harbor, and fantastic food.
We took the last ferry back to Port Angeles, full and happy as we left the Inner Harbor. We got a good view of the three cruise ships in town (Norwegian Pearl, Ruby Princess and HAL Amsterdam – which looks rather tiny compared to the other two). And a lovely sunset, diffused by the rising fog as we approached Port Angeles. What a fantastic day – so looking forward to our next visit to Victoria on September 11, the last stop on our upcoming cruise.
Today was a lovely, lazy finale to what Karin and I have decided to call our Lazy Cruise. In retrospect, this cruise seems to mostly about eating, drinking, and recovering from same! We blame it on the weather – calm seas, calm days, warm sun (on all but one day), all conspired to make us more indolent on this cruise than on any other. And it was GREAT!
Karin, having too many Mariner Stars, went to the elite Mariner reception (poor little ole me wasn’t invited). Held in the Explorer’s Lounge, with background music by Adagio Duo, it was a nice mix of wine, cocktails, canapes and smoozing with the captain, hotel director and cruise director. Several passengers were awarded their copper and gold medallions (no silver one awarded, but Karin’s working on that).
I took myself off to the Louder Chowder demo, where the two guest chefs, Seis and Jeff, each cooked their version of chowder. One a thai inspired version, and the other a more classic take on clam chowder. Both were amazing, though I’d have to give the slight edge to Jeff – purely on personal preference (I like a more traditional clam chowder).
Rather than go to the Mariner Brunch, we went to the Brew Master Lunch, part of the Sip-Savor-Sail program. And again, like all the Sip-Savor-Sail programs, it was outstanding. Held in the Pinnacle Grill, it was a four course food and beer pairing. Even Karin, who hasn’t had a beer in decades enjoyed it. Presented by Steve Gamba of the Alaskan Brewing Company headquartered in Juneau.
I took myself to the verandah to recuperate, but Karin, hardcore that she is, went to the premium wine tasting. Bob and the cellarmaster Ingo were quite the duo. Karin said she was getting so much info, she needed both her ears. Showing some of Chateau St. Michelle’s best vintages, it was a wine enthusiast’s delight. There were some very intelligent questions from the passengers.
Having a few hours to walk around the deck and recover, including watching the docking procedure in Victoria before we had to steel ourselves for our last dinner aboard. We opted not to go ashore in Victoria… Seattle is so nearby that we’ve both been up here several times; it’s hard to do much in the 5 hours we have in port. The Noordam was supposed to be in town with us, but wasn’t there when we arrived. Since the Golden Princess is blocking our view of the other ships, I’m not sure when she made it in, but she was there when we left Victoria at 11:45.
Sadly enough, our final meal, at the Pinnacle Grill, was the one culinary disappointment of the cruise. We’ve decided it’s our last visit to the PG for dinner on any HAL ship. While they do a nice lunch, dinner is hit and miss, and the upcharge just isn’t worth the gamble. The lobster bisque was unbelievably salty, the filet mignon was a bit dry, my bearnaise sauce had broken and no longer had the velvety texture that makes a sauce. Everything was on the salty, overseasoned side. And the two glasses of wine we ordered, a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, seemed have been the dregs of a bottle that had been sitting open too long. It was like drinking acidic raisins. Not wanting to end our cruise on a sour note (the wine took care of that), we decided not to mention it to the pleasant staff in the Pinnacle Grill.
Another stroll around the Promenade Deck, and then back to the cabin. Our bags are packed and outside the door. Karin and I have concluded that 7 days is just too short – the next will have to be another Sip-Savor-Sail but for 14 days.
When I get home, I’ll do a recap — after I’ve kissed my hubby, petted my dog and, horrors upon horrors, fixed my own supper.
Not quite a cruise, but my niece and I made a weekend dash for the border and, thanks to the Victoria Clipper, made it in 3 hours to …. (wait for it)… Victoria!
I was bound and determined to play tourist and armed myself with my camera and cell phone, as did my niece. The Clipper is a great way to travel, comfy seats, room to move around, and a small outside area at the stern of the ship (though a bit cluttered with containers holding suitcases). Except of course, when you’re seated next to a diva, who spent the 3 hours stretched across a couple of seats, effectively trapping you in your seat, with one hand on her brow and the other holding a white bag. She did not, thankfully, get sick, and she somehow managed to look glamorous the whole time.
We caught the first sailing, at 7:30 a.m. I love the Seattle skyline this early in the morning. Especially when the sun breaks through the clouds as we leave. And we move at a pretty good clip – 35 mph!
Arriving in Victoria, we were in the last group to disembark (those of us who check bags get that as a reward for not clogging the aisles), grabbed my suitcase and cleared customs. A sprinkling of rain convinced me to take a cab to our hotel, where we able to check in early, ditch our bags, and head out as the clouds moved out to sea, leaving us with sunshine and mid 70s.
We walked the mile back to the waterfront, with no particular plan in mind. We ducked into stores that caught our fancy, took pictures, laughed, and had a great late morning and early afternoon.
We took pictures of the waterfront, the boats, the Canadian geese (of course), checked out Market Square (fun and funky little shops – and an incongruous WannaWaffle place selling Belgian waffles ), Bastion Square Public Market (artisan and crafts booths – there was one gentleman selling framed dried and pressed seawood which was really pretty; almost got one but didn’t feel like carrying it around for the next several hours).
Getting hungry, a fortunate wrong turn took us past the 10 Acre Bistro and Bar where we stopped for a delicious lunch. After appetizers of pate and an olive tapenade with fresh bread, Jo had fish tacos (she gave them a big thumbs up), and I had the Thai green curry mussels. Jo ate one, but decided mussels were not her thing.
Refreshed, and well fed, we resumed our walking, and popped into Murchies Tea, Munro’s Books, and various Scottish linen stores.
Back to the hotel to rinse off our aching feet (okay, my aching feet, Jo did just fine in flip-flops) and then off to Chinatown for an evening of exploration and authentic Chinese food. It’s the second oldest Chinatown in North America (behind San Francisco), but it’s only a couple of blocks, which meant we wandered down narrow alleys, through hidden overgrown nooks, and over-flowing souvenir shops, and explored to our hearts content.
All before stopping at Don Mee‘s for dinner. Dim Sum appetizers and then house special fried rice and crackling skin chicken. More great food!
After breakfast, we attended one last cooking demonstration with Chef Nilton – the Best Ever Fish Tacos. I’m pretty sure they will make an appearance at our next family get-together. Even the hubby will like these!
We started the sad business of packing (well, Karin did anyway, I’m holding off until the last possible moment). We docked in Victoria about noon, and headed off the ship about 1:30 to be picked up by Sandra and John of Victoria’s London Taxi Tours – and rode around Victoria in a circa 1970 London cab. She talks, he drives – Perfect! I think we were a bit of a tourist attraction ourselves; a number of people were taking pictures of the cab. I really need to perfect my beauty pageant wave.
As we drove, John stopped frequently to let me hop out and take photos. We drove around the harbor, including Fisherman’s Wharf (floating homes and stores and restaurants), past the Parliament Building, the Empress Hotel, Chinatown, through Beacon Hill Park, and then to Government House, where we strolled through the gardens. Not as big as Butchart, but very lovely.
Saw Craigdarroch Castle, and eventually ended up at the White Heather Tea Room. Because, of course, we don’t get enough to eat aboard ship 😛 We had a fabulous tea with amazing baked from scratch goodies.
Back on the ship to drop off the few remaining goodies from our tea (we’re planning on a late night snack with a pot of tea), we walked along the sea wall. Well 2/3s of the way, as it was very windy (20 knots according to the captain’s report – about 25 mph). Since we didn’t feel like getting blown into either the harbor or the ocean, we turned back.
On the ship, I packed my bags and lined them up outside the cabin, where they wait forlornly in a row with everyone else’s.
Then our last supper, another excellent one. And then, not feeling quite ready to retire, we watched ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in the Queen’s Lounge. I think there were maybe 6 other people.
Breakfast is brutally early (the dining room is open from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m.) We’ll be home in less than 12 hours. It’ll be wonderful to see our families, but … we’ll be planning another cruise soon. 🙂