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Victoria or Whistler? See Both? Skip both?

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Hi,
we are planning a big road trip (starting in Lake Tahoe, CA) to BC this summer (starting mid-july). We plan to take it fairly slow, because we have 3 and 6 year old girls.
Our first Canadian destination is the sunshine coast, where we'll be staying for 5 nights in a cottage. After that, we have reserved 3 nights in Vancouver. Originally, we had planned to return to the US and slowly make our way back after this (via Seattle, Mt. Rainier or Mt St. Helen, and the Southern OR coast). But now we are thinking, since we already drove so far north, maybe we should try to see more of BC.
We are thinking of either Victoria or Whistler, for a 2-3 night visit.
My husband is more drawn to Whistler, because of the mountain scenery, the gondolas, the hiking and so forth.
I am a little torn - I like the idea of the ferry ride over to Vancouver island, and the Butchart gardens and the museum in Victoria sound nice (although I think neither the castle nor the hotel would be our cup of tea), plus we have the option to explore one other area such as the West Coast (if we stay 3nights).
My questions are: Since we are already staying on the sunshine coast (and planning to visit beaches in that area), will Vancouver island be more of the same?
And since we are starting from Tahoe (or Squaw Valley, to be exact), will Whistler just be a larger version of that? In other words, is the scenery comparable to the high Sierras in California? Is Mt. Rainier possibly an equally good destination for a little hiking and alpine setting (even though we'd like to do some major hikes, the kids will prevent us from doing much of that).
Lastly, I am obviously open to other suggestions!
thanks,
elke

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    I recommend taking the ferry to Victoria - the Museum is world class and the kids would love it - lots of hands on exhibits. Butchart Gardens are gorgeous. There is lots happening during the summer right in the Inner harbour of Victoria to keep everyone entertained. Since you are thinking of doing the Oregon Coast you could take the Coho Ferry to Port Angeles and see the Olympic Peninsula and carry on down the Oregon Coast. I know people are going to recommend the West Coast of Vancouver Island but the Oregon coast is spectacular.

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    Fair concerns, and fair thoughts... and well articulated...

    BeCAUSE you were so clear with many of your parameters, I am inclined to go against the grain of my usual stance (which tends to be "because you have made such a long trip, go and see what you can WHILE you can")

    In your case, the strain on the young girls is going to be quite a lot, and the value in taking it slow on the return may be immeasurable by the time you are halfway into the trip.

    To begin with, BC is 133% the size of Texas, so even if you make an added effort, it would be relatively insignificant on the grand scale. The ferry ride to Vancouver Island is long and tiresome, as might be the waits at the ferry dock. (and if you hate the aggravation on the way there... well then you're stuck on an island!)

    Coming from Tahoe, you can take a Crater Lake-ish path north, and return via the coast later, if you want... (which is a vote for your slow return trip)

    I myself would spend an extra night in Vancouver (making it 4)... and MAYBE do a day trip up to Whistler, although I would personally prefer the gondola ride up Grouse Mountain from just minutes away from downtown Vancouver. www.grousemountain.com

    Mountain Scenery - check
    Gondola - check
    Hiking - check


    Later, if you've allowed plenty of time for your return trip through Washington and Oregon, you would have options that might lead you east of the Cascade Mountains, or to the coast, or straight down I-5.

    I think your whole trip would be made more diverse and comfortable if you left some unscheduled TIME for improvisation and a less-hectic trip home.

    FYI - I live about 80 miles from Victoria and haven't been there in 25 years!

    PS - I 'caught' that (likely unintended) part about the (Empress) Hotel not being your "cup of tea".

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    Thanks for all the input and suggestions so far!
    (I was hoping to hear from NorthwestMale, so thanks for writing in!)
    I think we are more and more inclined to leave out Vancouver island, because of the added time and expense, and because I am thinking our sunshine coast time will be somewhat similarly spent (minus the city, obviously).
    Unfortunately, our 3 nights in Vancouver are reserved with a vacation rental that doesn't have more days open - although we have the option, I suppose, to spend 4 days if we leave late on our last day there.
    Husband is very taken still with Whistler, but I am still wondering if it will be a larger version of Squaw Valley (which I hear is modeled after Whistler's village).
    On our way up, we are going to via Mt. Shasta (2nights), Portland (2 nights), one night close or just across the border (maybe Bellingham, not sure yet), then to the Sunshine Coast. On our way down, once we are back in the States, we plan one night in/near Seattle (hoping to meet a friend there), then head down possibly to Mt. Rainier or Mt. St. Helens (2 nights), then on toward the Southern OR coast (somewhere between Bandon and Brookings for 2 nights), then probably one night in/near Ashland before our return leg home to the CA central valley.
    This should make hopefully for a fairly relaxed journey home, although we'll obviously have some longer driving days (I find it hard to come up with an itinerary with almost equidistant drive times every 2 days that still places us in great spots).
    Anyway, if there are any more opinions and suggestions out there, I'd be happy to hear them!
    thanks,
    elke

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    Whistler - the village - isn't the attraction, in my opinion... it's the whole package of the drive up from Vancouver along a fjord. Once in Whistler, taking the gondola to the top contrasts greatly from the faux-Europe feel of the village below because of its lack of development and the feel of being in the alpine. In mid-July you might even get some alpine flowers blooming (the purple lupines and yellow daisies are pretty incredible).

    Victoria has that British colonial quaintness that completely lacks in modern Vancouver, but it also has a real overwhelming touristy vibe in the summer. Saying that, there's a lot to pack into one day if you end up in Victoria. The Royal BC Museum is definitely worthwhile - eats up 3 hours easily, and then some. The downtown is tiny but it's fun to meander...

    ... and NorthwestMale, I agree... Vancouver is amazing, but if you haven't been to Victoria in 25 years, I'd say you're well overdue for a visit. Surprisingly, it has actually changed for the better. Sure, there are the tacky touristy elements, but many great restaurants, boutiques, and businesses have opened up shop making it a hell of a lot more interesting than you're probably giving it credit for.

    Sure, if you're seeking a an exciting cosmopolitan city for dining and nightlife, Vancouver takes the cake, but for a "let's get out of town and try something different" - give Victoria a chance. This is coming from a girl who used to feel the same way as you. ;)

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    Butchart Gardens are indeed gorgeous, but I think a 3-year-old would get bored pretty quickly (and a 6-year-old not long after). That said, they do have a really neat free (with admission) fireworks display on Saturday evenings (I believe - double-check to be sure).

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    I agree that Whistler the village itself isn't really that special. The drive up the highway has some nice viewpoints and scenery, and the gondola at Whistler is expensive but offers spectacular views as well.

    Victoria would probably be more fun for the kids, with a ferry ride and the museum in the city. I agree the Gardens could be dull for children.

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    I rather like the leisurely path on which you've scheduled the trip to and from BC. What you've listed in your latest post seems quite comfortable.

    (spends more time than is appropriate dwelling upon a potential night spent in/near Bellingham)

    My idea of a 4th night in Vancouver wasn't that important, but were it me, I don't think I'd have trouble filling it with activities.

    For clarity, much of the appeal to "Whistler" is the round-trip path up there and back ("The Sea to Sky Highway" has a ring to it). Mid-July will have more than an hour of extra daylight in Vancouver as compared to Lake Tahoe.

    Personal tip: BE SURE you have LOTS of gas as you set sail from central Vancouver toward Whistler. It's only 90 miles, but don't make the mistake of thinking: "ugh, gas is more expensive in the center of town, and I'll probably find something cheaper on the side of a road up ahead".

    I let myself think that way and then spent some fearful moments on steep hills, and idling at 'road work' locations with nary a gas station in sight. (it's only 90 miles up there, and sooner or later you DO find stations along the way - Laugh)


    Hmmmmmmmph... leaving Portland, and going north...

    Either you get up and go early... covering lots of ground on that full day of travel, OR you stick around to gain a bit more from central Portland, and leave later in the day toward the north.

    From The Columbia River, just north of Portland, it is 275 miles to the Canada border. I wish I could name the PERFECT game plan to juggle a bit more of Portland in the morning... and getting you plenty far toward your eventual Vancouver destination later.

    My criteria would be dodging rush-hour in either Portland or Seattle... eventually getting across the border at a reasonably fast pace. (CLARITY: only during 'peak' times do you need to fear border waits going NORTH INTO Canada... where it can take an HOUR OR TWO coming BACK into the USA during wide portions of the day) (I always advise spending time IN Vancouver proper until fairly LATE in the evening, and only then driving the 30 minutes toward the border and across... with 110 fast freeway miles between the border and Seattle).

    Now where in the world (along I-5) would I spend the night???

    Geez, I just don't know: The obvious first consideration would be central Seattle, BUT, as you're just passing through on that path, it may be silly to endure the hassle of a downtown hotel, AND the absurd nightly PARKING charges they have.

    I wish the neighborhood near the Space Needle was a bit more reputable, but I did just like the image of 3- and 6-year-old girls seeing The Space Needle so high overhead, from a place near a hotel/motel nearby.

    There is a McDonald's near to the area I'm thinking about... and it isn't a terribly unsafe area... just... a little bit bland and unappealing. (There are numerous hotel/motels around, so they have to keep it reasonable for tourists)

    Consider that you don't need a 'station' for a long while... but would probably like something convenient both distance-wise between Seattle and Vancouver (Space Needle = roughly 168 miles from the Columbia River, and 147-ish from central Vancouver).

    One could hope that the parking fees in that area are significantly less than they would be in mid-town Seattle... AND you'd be conveniently stationed in the event that some Seattle attraction beckons spontaneously in the evening or in the morning.

    Furthermore, you'd be just north of mid-town upon awakening, and the morning rush hour wouldn't impact you as it could if you stayed south of the city.

    So, using this list of Seattle-area hotels... I think you should at least consider booking a room at one of those listed under: "Seattle Center - Space Needle"

    http://biddingfortravel.yuku.com/topic/42567/SEATTLE-HOTEL-LIST

    (whether or not you use Priceline.com to do so)

    (the only thing I advise against is getting out as a family and walking around the immediate hotel area after dark) (were "dad" to walk alone to McDonald's to get food for all, that wouldn't likely be a concern)

    (going to the car, and driving off to somewhere - again, NOT a concern)

    (this concern relates mainly to the hotels between the Space Needle and "Aurora Avenue")


    So, more concisely...

    Leave Portland @ 11:30am or noon... (perhaps one stop along the way???) ... approaching Seattle at 3pm-ish (slightly 'against the grain of rush hour')

    You can stop and sightsee if traffic becomes a problem.

    The Space Needle would be a beacon for the hotel/motel choices I suggested.

    You'd have an evening in/around Seattle, when sunset happens at about 9pm.

    In the morning you'd try to delay your departure toward the north until after rush hour... and would then have 110 freeway miles to the border... and 30-ish more to central Vancouver.

    I just think the kids might like the Space Needle at close proximity... and you may even be inspired to go up there. (the location would be convenient to many other whimsical thoughts... perhaps even that Seattle-area 'friend' you mentioned).

    (plus, you could find ideas for things to do upon your return)

    (yawn)

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