1.Arrive in Vancouver at least one day prior to your cruise departure. I may of course be slightly biased, but Vancouver will be one of your main ports of call on this cruise. So often I have seen cruisers fly to Vancouver on the day of their cruise departure and completely miss this wonderful city. Plus, the added stress level of making your ship on time isn’t a way to start your vacation if all doesn’t go according to plan. All it takes is a missed air link, a mechanical difficulty, a border problem or bad weather and the whole vacation could be ruined. Believe me, the ship will not wait for you in Vancouver if you are late, and you are solely responsible for getting to the ship on time. Not only that, but the tides and currents that set sail from Vancouver mean that the Captain in many cases must leave on time, or run the risk of being held in port for hours until it is safe to leave again. There are amazing tours and sightseeing options in Vancouver and if you can pass the time it’s definitely worth it. The same goes for the day of your departure: why end a perfectly good cruise vacation by pointing out whether or not you can get off the ship in time to make that incredibly early return flight?
2. Get to the ship. There are several ways to do this depending on whether or not you will totally ignore tip number one and try to go directly to the ship, or whether you are going directly to your hotel. 2015 marks the first season in a long time where only Canada Place will be used for cruise departures and thank God for that! Those of you who may have sailed from the “other” pier known as Ballantyne Pier in the past will certainly agree with me that it was a disappointing start to your cruise to say the least. Ballantyne Pier is poorly located outside the city center and far from most of the hotels in the city. Luckily for you, Canada Place is where the ship’s departure destination will almost certainly be this year. The cruise terminal is located in Canada Place, very close to a multitude of hotels, taxis and the Canada Line; Fully Automated Vancouver Rapid Transit Railway. Some cruise lines offer bus transfers to the ship or hotel, however my recommendation is to do the math first. A taxi from Vancouver Airport to Canada Place with a 15% tip will cost you around $ 35 to $ 45 Canadian dollars and takes about 30 minutes. Most bus transfers purchased from the ship will cost you about the same per person, so they may not be the best deal unless you are traveling alone. If you don’t mind lugging all your bags around and walking a few blocks, the Canada Line train costs just under $ 10 per person and takes about 30 minutes to the dock – not bad if you have a backpack, but with luggage I ‘ I recommend it against. After getting off the train, you have to walk to the ship which is about ten minutes from the train to the ship’s baggage drop-off point. My first choice would be to arrange a pick up from a pre cruise tour company or perhaps a private sedan to take you to your hotel. There are many luxury tours and trips available online or at the airport and you should arrange them before boarding the plane. A private sedan or limo will usually cost you around Canadian $ 60- $ 80 plus tips. If you arrive early, please note that most hotels check in between 3pm and 4pm, however any decent hotel will try to accommodate you early or at least offer to leave your luggage on arrival until the your room will not be ready.
3. What is the best time to arrive at the ship? Well, if you like to sit, queue or wait at immigration, go first thing in the morning. If you are like me and would rather spend the day enjoying Vancouver or getting some sleep you should think carefully about what time you arrive at the Canada Place cruise terminal to board your ship. The time it takes to board the ship before being dropped off at the dock can range from 20 minutes to 4 hours depending on when you arrive and how many ships are in port. Keep in mind that the ship is more than likely to carry a few thousand guests who have just completed their cruise. It usually takes at least 10am to clear the ship of departing guests and another hour for new arriving guests to begin the check-in process. If your first port of call is a Canadian port like Victoria or Prince Rupert, you will likely be spared from US immigration at Canada Place Pier. If your cruise is still like most Alaska cruises and your first port is in Alaska, you will most likely go through the US immigration inspection just before the ships check in at Canada Place, reason so you must have your handy passport. The procedure is usually done in this order; baggage drop-off, security checks, US immigration processing, cruise line check-in, and then, the moment you’ve waited all this time for boarding the ship! Even if you are the first person to board the ship at 11am, most of the ship, including the cabins, will not be accessible until around 1pm, when the ship’s staff have finished cleaning and preparing everything for you. This means that the first two or three hours of check-in you will be seated or standing in a huge line, and then when you board, if it is before 1pm you will be forced to wait in a public area for the dispatch with the your hand luggage until they announce that your rooms are ready on the ship’s PA. My advice is to enjoy Vancouver and show up a little later in the early afternoon for check-in instead of trying to get to Canada Place at 9am so you can stand in line with 2,000 other guests. That said, of course, make sure you check your departure time and don’t leave it at the last minute either. You should be at the dock at least 90 minutes before departure time at the latest as the check-in process is usually closed at least one hour before departure.
So that’s it, the first of many tips for this year’s Alaska cruise season. Don’t miss the next time I tell you what to expect on your first day on board, from how to get room upgrades, to what needs to be done on the first day of your cruise and what can wait until the second day. Until then, thanks for reading and Bon Voyage!