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For those of you traveling on the Alaska Cruise the August Lifestyle Swingers Cruise, we highly recommend that you take an extra two to three days to spend time visiting Vancouver.  Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the top cities in the world for livability, scenery, food, and urban lifestyle.  For those of you whose idea of a city is downtown Houston, or downtown Los Angeles, you’ll be surprised.  In fact, you may even be shocked.

The official Couples Cruise hotel is the Delta Suites Hotel (Address: 550 West Hastings Street Phone:  1-888-890-3222), located right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, and only minutes away from Canada Place, the signature five-sailed structure that encompasses the International Cruise Ship Terminal, the Vancouver Convention Centre, hotels, offices and other amenities.  If you don’t stay at the Delta Suites, make sure stay downtown.  If you are booking your hotel through Priceline or HotWire, be careful. Sometimes these “bid” travel sites will put you close to downtown.  In other cities, that might not matter.  In Vancouver, you want to be right downtown.

What makes Vancouver special? First on the list is its walkability.
You won’t need to rent a car.  Just make sure you have comfortable walking shoes, because you will want to spend a lot of time walking, taking short cab rides, or taking public transportation (Yes! Public transportation.  We’ll talk more about that later.) 

There is so much to see and do in Vancouver that it is important you spend your time experiencing the culture, not the scenery.  On the Alaska Cruise you’ll have plenty of time to see some spectacular scenery, so when you’re in Vancouver don’t bother with Whistler, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, or Grouse Mountain.  These are all great places, but if you’ve only got a couple of days, we recommend bypassing these scenic tourist attractions. (Although if you are the early morning jogger type, Stanley Park, the 1,000 acre park connected to downtown Vancouver, is a great place to put your legs to the test).

So what should you do when you’re in Vancouver? Well, first, let’s get the lay of the land.  Downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park sit on a peninsula surrounded by False Creek to the south, and Burrard Inlet, to the north and west.  Vancouver ranks as one of the highest density cities in North America, choosing a system of urban redevelopment, rather than urban sprawl typical of many US cities.  Most people in the downtown areas live in apartments and condos. There are no freeways in Vancouver.  Both freeways reaching the city stop at the city borders.

To compensate for housing half a million residence in apartments and condos, the city has adopted a policy of providing for lots of open spaces, places to walk, public transportation, and places to congregate, including parks, restaurants, coffee houses and public markets.   As a result, rush hour in downtown Vancouver is relatively mild, compared to the gridlock we see in places like Los Angeles.  Why?  It’s because tens of thousands of workers in the downtown core walk to work.  The city is further enhanced by its ethnic diversity, with large Chinese and Indian populations.

To appreciate how Vancouverites have molded their urban lifestyle, you need to begin, and probably end, with the food.  From your downtown hotel walk to Yaletown for breakfast at Urban Fare (177 Davie Street).   Yaletown is a trendy area on False Creek, with sleek high rises, open spaces, and rows of fabulous restaurants.  Urban Fare combines both a gourmet grocery store featuring food from around the world, with an emphasis on freshness and taste, and an on-premises restaurant. You’ll find locals having omelets and lattes here while reading the morning paper. 

After breakfast walk towards False Creek and catch the water taxi from the foot of Davie over to Monks Landing. From Monks, you’ll be able to walk west along the south shore of False Creek to Granville Island.  Granville Island is home to one of the largest urban public markets, as well as a multitude of art galleries and restaurants.  Take in the art galleries, then stroll through the public market.  Stop for coffee, or if enough time has elapsed since breakfast, by some food.  You can eat at the tables in the market, or if the weather cooperates, find a spot outside.  You’ll be amazed at the selection of produce, baked goods, meat, fish, cheeses, and other delights to be found in this public market.   If you want something more sit-down, have lunch at Bridges, a popular Granville Island eatery with an outdoor patio overlooking the harbor.  At the other end of the market is a restaurant called the Sand Bar.  This perennial Vancouver favorite features great food, and a bar that sees a lot of action at night from a decidedly older crowd.  

Right outside of the market you can again catch the water taxi to take you back across False Creek to Yaletown, or you can go a little further and get off the water taxi close to BC Place Stadium, where the Canadian Football League team, the BC Lions, play.  Right next door is Rogers Arena, home of the Vancouver Canucks.  Either way, you now want to walk north or west to Robson Street.  Robson Street starts right at the west entrance to BC Place Stadium, and ends at Stanley Park, and is perhaps one of the best known streets in Vancouver.  Walk east along Robson Street towards the park.  In some fifteen blocks you will find a plethora of bars, restaurants and specialty and brand name shops. 

You’ll pass the Pacific Centre Mall, three blocks of underground shops. Next you’ll pass Granville Street.  Traffic is blocked off of much of this street and at night it’s the happening place for the younger crowd.  Continuing up Robson, at Thurlow, you’ll find two Starbucks across the street from each other.  These are two of the earliest Starbucks outside of Seattle.  A few steps to the north on Thurlow is Joe Fortes, a Vancouver landmark and a place you might want to consider for dinner one night when you’re in town. A little further along is the Pacific Palisades Hotel, a popular spot amongst the Hollywood crowd.  At the end of Robson you’ll hit Stanley Park and Lost Lagoon.  Lost Lagoon is a quiet little lake at the edge of the park popular for feeding ducks.  Take a stroll around the lake before heading back to your hotel. 

You’ll want to get back to your hotel and relax a little.
Maybe even grab a snooze.  Because Vancouver is a city that comes to life at night, so you don’t want to be too tired to enjoy the evening.  For dinner, consider picking one of the restaurants in Yaletown.  Remember, you had breakfast in Yaletown.  You can walk there, or grab a cab.  You’ll want to focus on that section of Yaletown along Hamilton and Mainland Streets between Drake and Nelson.  You can make reservations beforehand (you’ll probably need them for the restaurants mentioned here), but it’s worth a walk up and down Mainland and Hamilton looking at the options.  A cocktail at Elixir in the Opus Hotel is a good way to start the evening.  For dinner consider the Blue Water Café for seafood and for steaks try the very Vancouver Keg Steakhouse.  For Italian it’s Ciopino’s Mediterranean Grill.  You won’t find any better.

After dinner you’ll find that Vancouver social life revolves around the many pubs, bars and coffee houses. Don’t be surprised to see coffee houses packed at midnight or one in the morning.  Stroll back off to Granville Street or Robson Street.  Some of the stores will still be open. The weather should be good in August so find one of those street front pubs or coffee houses, grab a seat and a drink, and watch the people of the night.  Vancouver is a very safe city for walking in the evening.  Also, check the local city guide for entertainment.  Downtown Vancouver has many little bars that feature live music, from jazz to rock to standards.  And if you get hungry on the way to back to your hotel after a night out, Vancouver has plenty of late night eateries where you can get a midnight snack.

Consider starting day two in Vancouver by visiting Gastown.
Gastown is the location of the original city of Vancouver, and it has been restored to its cobble stone and brick building heritage.  It is close to the cruise ship terminal so you will find those cheesy tourist shops (we’ll you’ll probably want a couple of t-shirts or souvenirs anyway).  But you’ll also find restaurants, art galleries and other shops with Native American handicrafts.  At the west end of Gastown you’ll find the SkyTrain station and the Seabus.  You’ve now got three options, and w e recommend all three.  First option is to catch the Seabus over to Lonsdale Quay (pronounced ‘Key”).  In a city that refused to build any more bridges across the inlet, the answer is a Seabus.  You’ll get some great views of the harbor and the Vancouver skyline, and Lonsdale Quay feature a public market, shops, and restaurants. 

The second option is to grab the SkyTrain. SkyTrain is Vancouver’s train system, much of it elevated.  The Millennium line is a great way to see Vancouver and its suburbs, Burnaby and New Westminster.  The line head southeast through Burnaby to New Westminster, then heads north along the Fraser River, and finally back west again, making it a perfect loop.  You can stop along the way at MetroTown, Waterfront Station in New Westminster, Lougheed Town Centre or Brentwood Town Centre in Burnaby.   Unlike Los Angeles where train stops tend to be desolate places in the middle of junk yards and warehouses, train stops in Vancouver are communities.  Most train stops are surrounded by a unique mix of shops, restaurants, and residential buildings.  Or just ride the train in one big circle. As the train is elevated once you leave downtown, you’ll get a great view of how Vancouver has managed urban development.

The third option, and the one you have to do, is to take the Canada Line to Richmond. Richmond, once a sleeping farming community, is now home to one of the largest Chinese populations outside of China.  Take the Canada Line to Aberdeen Station.  Aberdeen Station is located in close proximity to numerous Asian-themed shopping centres along Richmond's Golden Village, including (from north to south) Yaohan Centre, President Plaza, Aberdeen Centre, and Parker Place.   If you ever dreamed of going to Hong Kong or Singapore you come pretty close to that in the Golden Village.  You’ll find hundred of Asian shops, markets and restaurants.   Alexandra Road, a few blocks south of the SkyTrain station, is known as food street with a huge variety of Asian style restaurants.  Remember, try to take at least another couple with you.  Asian food is always best served family style, where everyone gets to share.  This is a great place to have lunch.

Then it’s back to your hotel for a late afternoon nap so you can get ready for dinner again.
If you want to continue the ethnic theme, try Indian.  Vancouver boasts a large Indian population and some of the best Indian restaurants in the world.  Consider Vij’s, a modern Indian restaurant that serves some of the finest Indian food we’ve ever eaten, and also has a great wine list.  Or head back to Granville Island to the Sand Bar.  Enjoy fine seafood and then hang out in the bar area for drinks and a little dancing.  For that after dinner cocktail consider Market on Georgia (upscale), Steamworks in Gastown (a classic Vancouver pub and eatery—Gastown also features a number of pubs if you want to do a little pub crawl), Subeez on Homer (eclectic and charming), the bar at the Wedgewood Hotel (crooners on piano) or The Alibi Club (a favorite with the film crowd).  One thing you’ll find is that many lounges and bars are open until the wee hours, and if those midnight hungers pains arrive, chances are you’ll be able to order some food.

We think Vancouver is one of the best cities you’ll ever visit. The people are friendly, the food it top notch, the bars and pubs are wonderful, and best of all, you’ll never have to get in to your car.  Remember, though, it is Vancouver.  Carry and umbrella and where shoes that won’t leak if you step into a puddle.  Enjoy Vancouver and your Alaska cruise.

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