Vancouver hotel advice

Old Mar 19th, 2023, 09:09 AM
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Vancouver hotel advice

We are planning a trip to Vancouver at the end of May. We fly to Seattle from Atlanta, will spend 1 night, then use Amtrak to travel to Vancouver. We'll spend 4 nights in Vancouver, then travel Amtrak again to Seattle, where we'll stay 3 nights before departing on a 7 day Alaska cruise.
I'm looking for hotel suggestions based on location convenience for the following things we will be doing:
arrival and departure on Amtrak
Granville Island Market(probably 2 visits)
strolling Gastown
visiting Chinatown for Dr. Sun Yat Sen and Gardens
Dining in Chinatown
Harbor boatride or ferry for views
Queen Elizabeth Park
Vancouver Art Museum

We are frequent travelers, used to public transit, but also willing to take cabs or Uber.
We're seniors(73 and 87), so not as much stamina for walking long distances, but looking forward to seeing Vancouver.
Hotel suggestions welcome recognizing this is not a budget city. Location matters most.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 03:44 PM
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Hi Barb,

It sounds like you have a fantastic plan ahead of you!

First, four nights is the perfect amount to properly get to experience Vancouver for a first visit.

If you're savvy public transit users, you'll find Vancouver's public transit a breeze. Each of you can use your own credit card to tap into buses and on/off the SeaBus and on/off the Sktytrain and Canada Line (the two rapid transit trains). Or you can use one credit card to buy two senior's rate day-passes from a ticketing machine outside the main Skytrain stations and use that day pass on buses and trains and the SeaBus. Plus, so much of Vancouver is walkable, with many waterfront walking paths and water taxis connecting different restaurants and shopping districts together. It's not only easy but in many cases more convenient to get around Vancouver without a car. I rarely use Uber or taxis in town, but they are around should you want one.

I will follow up with your itinerary in a subsequent post. I have ideas but also want to raise a few red flags that I currently see.

For hotels, in general, anywhere on the downtown peninsula is going to be central for your purposes. Fortunately, this is where most of the hotels are located, so most hotels are going to be fine for your travel style and for where you want to go.

My number one rule for being downtown Vancouver is to always prioritize the waterfront and the seawall whenever possible. That's where it's most magical in Vancouver in the summer. You can never go wrong with waterfront hotels (i.e. Fairmont Pacific Rim, the Pan Pacific Vancouver, etc.), though the closer the hotel is to Canada Place (the cruise ship terminal), the more expensive it is. And as a local, I find the area around Canada Place, while scenic, really unnecessary to stay there.

While Canada Place is super busy and central and popular for cruise ship passengers, I personally think the nicest parts of Vancouver are further west around the Coal Harbour seawall and English Bay seawall within a short walking distance to Stanley Park. So I’d consider hotels like the Westin Bayshore (on the waterfront), the Times Square Suites (on the corner of Robson/Denman), the Rosellen Suites (tucked away on a residential side street), or the historic Sylvia Hotel (overlooking English Bay) would be good places to start. I'm a big fan of the Westin Bayshore - it feels like you're on holiday there. The Sylvia Hotel is special if you're okay with smaller, older rooms in a heritage hotel - it's right on the beach and Denman Street (home to dozens of casual restaurants of all types of cuisine) is outside, and the sunsets from English Bay are postcard-worthy. There is where you want to be in the evening in Vancouver, not in Chinatown.

Alternatively, any of the hotels on Robson Street (a major retail shopping and dining street, famous for its diversity of cuisine, especially authentic Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants) or any hotels on Georgia Street (a major thoroughfare that parallels Robson, with big hotel towers, bank towers, the art gallery, the downtown shopping malls, etc.) would also work, like the Blue Horizon, the Listel, the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, the Sutton Place Hotel or the hotels down the side streets nearby this area like L’Hermitage, the YWCA Hotel, the Hotel Le Soleil, or the Wedgewood Hotel. All these hotels are surrounded by hundreds of restaurants you can walk to, cafes, shops, grocery stores,and public transit.

Yaletown (the southeast corner of downtown) is another option for a central, walkable, happening restaurant district with bustling patios steps away from the seawall and water taxis to Granville Island. The only hotel there is the Opus Hotel. However, the Opus is in the heart of it all and has a Canada Line station across the street so you can rapidly whisk yourself over to the cruise ship terminal in 5 minutes, or to the shopping/restaurants at Georgia/Granville and Robson Street in 2 minutes. I used to live a few streets over from the Opus, including for several years without a car. It's so, so convenient.

Another consideration is to stay at the Pinnacle Hotel on the Pier in North Vancouver, a 10-minute SeaBus ride across the harbour from Canada Place. That whole area is known as the Shipyards District, and it's bustling, scenic waterfront area with a beautiful contemporary photography gallery (the Polygon Gallery), a food market (Lonsdale Quay), bustling pubs and restaurants with waterfront views, craft breweries and shops. For a few nights each weekend all summer, they host a massive night market with food trucks, beer gardens, live music, and artisan markets. I've done a staycation at this hotel and it was terrific.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 06:39 PM
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Fairmont Pacific Rim or F. Waterfront or Shangri-La?

Robyn--Wow, thanks for such a comprehensive reply! I've decided to use my American Express points, and all 3 of the above are offering some attractive redemption and incentives.
I'm leaning toward Fairmont Pacific Rim, but I'd love to hear your input with pros/cons.
Thanks so much in advance!
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 08:48 PM
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It's my pleasure!

I'm a fan of the Fairmont Pacific Rim out of the three too, but many folks rave about the service at the Fairmont Waterfront. To be honest, you can't go wrong. I'd put the Shangri-La last, not because it's a bad property, but because the location is more generic downtown on a busy intersection, though it's on a block of luxury brand-name retail stores (i.e. Burberry, Prada, Tiffany, etc.), if you're into that.

The Fairmont Pacific Rim is newer, sexier, sleek, contemporary, and fashionble. It's slighter higher end. It feels like an A-lister Hollywood hotel with a bit more pizzazz than the other Fairmonts. It feels super swanky, like an "it" spot. It also has an excellent cocktail bar in the lobby (sometimes with live music) and is in a slighty nicer and quieter location, but across the street from the Vancouver Convention Centre - a building that has a green roof and doesn't feel like a concrete jungle. There is a massive plaza with waterfront pubs out front the door of the hotel, and the seawall begins there, so it really has a leisurely feel to it, like you're on holiday somewhere.

The Fairmont Waterfront is the older property, has a bit more of generic look and feel, but you can't fault it. Both Fairmonts are central locations and you can walk between the two in 3 minutes so location-wise, they're the same place. The difference is in the details. The Fairmont Waterfront is literally across the street from Canada Place (the cruise ship terminal and the old part of the convention centre with the iconic white "sails"). It's also across the street from the Pan Pacific Hotel (which blocks the waterfront views of the Fairmont Waterfront). The street immediately out front is used as a loading bay as the pick-up and drop-off point for all the tour bus companies and taxis, so it's a very busy area with a lot of traffic coming and going, and hundreds of tourists and convention goers wandering around snapping pictures. There are often traffic cops directing pedestrians and traffic, too. So it has a bit more chaotic energy immediately outside. And Waterfront Station is around the corner from the Fairmont Waterfront, and that's the terminus station for our public transit Skytrain line, Canada Line, the SeaBus over to Lonsdale Quay, and several bus stops are all there. So it's just a very busy area. The Fairmont Pacific Rim will be a tad less hectic.

Ultimately, none of the choices are wrong, so just go with the one that appeals to you the most.

Last edited by BC_Robyn; Mar 20th, 2023 at 09:20 PM.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 10:38 PM
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I mentioned earlier about some ideas I had and some red flags.

Granville Island Market(probably 2 visits) - An excellent idea. I highly recommend taking an Aquabus or False Creek Ferries (the two water taxi companies) there from the Yaletown docks. There are other docks, but from Yaletown, you at least get 10 minutes in the boat to get there. The other docks give you a one minute boat ride. Granville Island is a morning and afternoon destination but the markets and shops closes there by 5pm (with exception to some small theaters and restaurants), so you'll want to get there earlier in the day to make the best of both trips. Bring a healthy appetite, bring a reusable bag to stock up on snacks at the public market (excellent charcuterie options), and be sure to check out the gift shops in the Net Loft and the artisan studios along Railspur Alley. The Sandbar does excellent seafood if you want a proper sit-down restaurant meal.

strolling Gastown - This is a very small historic district so you probably don't really need much time to see it, maybe a half hour tops to walk up and down Water Street. I wouldn't make it a specific destination, but somewhere you can include in your overall explorations of downtown Vancouver. Zip up and down Water Street an be off to somewhere else, like Yaletown or Robson Street or Stanley Park. It's one of the grungier parts of downtown these days due to the homeless/drug addicts/vagrants who live on the streets nearby, who are generally harmless, but may ask you for money or can be found sitting on the sidewalks. Stick to Water Street only. Do not walk to Chinatown from Gastown, even though it's a 5 minute walk, or prepare to walk through a massive homeless encampment of Vancouver's most vulnerable living in tents and shopping carts on the sidewalk on E Hastings. Again, nothing to fear, but not what you want to see on your holiday. Gastown does have some nice boutiques that are open in the afternoon, and some excellent restaurants and bars, but it doesn't show off the best of Vancouver. Shopping's best there in the afternoon, and dining/drinks is best at dinner when all the restaurants are open. But I warn you to set your expectations about the vibe.

visiting Chinatown for Dr. Sun Yat Sen and Gardens
Dining in Chinatown

Chinatown's not the fun and vibrant Chinese restaurant district you may be picturing in your head. In fact, the restaurant scene has gentrified and there are almost no Chinese restaurants in Chinatown anymore. There are maybe 3 Chinese restaurants, but none are worth travelling out of your way to eat at. Chinatown BBQ is the exception. While Vancouver's Chinatown is full of historic architecture, traditional Chinese businesses (i.e. herbal medicine stores) and Vancouver Chinese history, it's fairly run down area these days covered in graffiti, a lot of sketchy-looking characters strolling the streets, and many shops look run down, have dirty awnings, with entrances locked up behind padlocked shutters. There's vandalism and occasionally human excrement on the sidewalks and just a general grossness you might not be anticipating. I'd really reset your expectations or rethink this entirely. It's an area down on its luck, suffering tremendously. Chinatown, under no fault of its own, has sadly become a victim of Vancouver's social problems. And tourists who go there and weren't warned, often leave horrified reviews.

If you really want to see Chinatown and the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens, wander in from Pender Street and go around noon. I would encourage you to go with an organized tour like "A Wok Around Chinatown", to ensure you get the best experience of a sad situation. They'll take you through Chinatown, they take you to the gardens, and food is also a major component. The man who runs those tours is a legend. And the reviews for his tours are all consistenly excellent.

So that's the reality check. Vancouver's Chinatown of today is not the vibrant bustling Chinatown of 40+ years ago. However, since the 1980s there are now literally hundreds of Chinese restaurants elsewhere in the city. The "local secret" is that you don't go to Chinatown seeking Chinese food - you actually go to Richmond! Richmond is a predominantly Chinese suburb south of Vancouver where there are entire blocks and streets of Chinese restaurants, Asian shopping malls and strip malls with all sorts of Asian grocery stores, Asian food courts, bakeries, businesses, etc. It's more similar to contemporary Shanghai or Hong Kong than Vancouver's Chinatown, which is more of a historic district. If you wanted to visit Richmond, the Canada Line can get you there in 25 minutes. That is where all the Chinese restaurants are located.

Harbor boatride or ferry for views Be sure to take the water taxis each time you visit Granville Island. For a longer boat ride, you could consider the Harbour Cruises sunset dinner cruise: If whale watching is a consideration at all, that's another way to experience the water from a boat.

Queen Elizabeth Park - I love Queen Elizabeth Park so great choice for a place to visit outside of downtown Vancouver. Definitely have a meal, or even drinks, at Season's in the Park restaurant. It's a classic Vancouver experience and overlooks the park and distant mountains.

Or, a short walk/drive to the east of QE Park is Main Street, an excellent shopping and dining district in Vancouver (including many casual restaurants that made Vancouver's Michelin Guide). Main Street (from about E 33rd all the way down to E 5th) is more of a neighbourhood with local flavor - small businesses, home decor shops, neighbourhood cafes, craft breweries, locally owned clothing boutiques, record stores, book stores, and so on. It's an artsy area.

Vancouver Art Museum - The Vancouver Art Gallery is good, although the exhibits are always changing, and sometimes you can be there when they have entire floors closed due to installations. If you get a chance, you should also visit the Bill Reid Gallery a short walk away on Hornby Street. It's tiny but worthwhile:

Finally, there are about 5 additional ideas to put on your radar that you've missed:

1. Stanley Park - you need to go to Stanley Park. This is the number one must-see in Vancouver. And somewhere you can visit time and time again. It's 1000 acres of rainforest wilderness, gardens, beaches, and really shows off what makes Vancouver special. You can take a horse-drawn carriage tour of part of it if you're concerned about walking. But a trip to Vancouver without going to Stanley Park is illegal.

2. VanDusen Botanical Garden - VanDusen is the most impressive botanical garden in Vancouver, in my opinion. As a fellow garden lover, I'd spend two hours here at least. It's just a beautiful massive sprawling garden with all sorts of nooks and crannies. Lots of benches for sitting, and a nice restaurant, Shaughnessy's.

3. Shipyards District - Ride the SeaBus north 10 minutes from Waterfront Station. It's a nice, beautiful waterfront district and beautiful by evening - lots of restaurants, a long pier to admire the city skyline with.

4. Capilano Suspension Bridge - It's perhaps more on the touristy side, but they've done it so well. If you're up for something unique to Vancouver, it's a fun and scenic experience. There's more than just the suspension bridge, it's a mini park with various walkways. I appreciate that if you're not nimble on your feet, it may not be ideal, but it's safe and secure. I brought my parents there (your age) a few years ago - we all loved it. There's also a free shuttle that they operate from outside Canada Place.

5. Grouse Mountain - Like Capilano, Grouse is touristy, but on a clear day in the summer, the view from the top of Grouse can't be beat.

Last edited by BC_Robyn; Mar 20th, 2023 at 10:54 PM.
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