If the United States ever wanted to wage economic war on our neighbors to the north, a significant blow could be delivered with the repeal of one little worthless law. Thanks to an obscure piece of legislation, cruises which depart from the U.S. must visit at least one "foreign" port of call during their voyage. Obviously, the cruise lines are a fan of this because it keeps smaller companies from popping up offering weekend cruises from Boston to Baltimore or San Diego to San Francisco. The net effect for those cruising to Alaska from Seattle is that you're guaranteed to make a token stop in Victoria, British Columbia.
Like our visit to Juneau earlier in the cruise, MJ and I decided to wing the day in Victoria without booking any specific activities. The majority of shore excursions offered by Royal Caribbean either involved whale watching or a visit to Victoria's most popular attraction - Butchart Gardens. I wasn't too keen on the idea of dropping $100+ to see a few more whales or some pretty flowers, so we set foot into Canada for the first time without any plan.
The port in Victoria is a bit of a hike from downtown. It was a stunning day weather wise, so we bypassed all of the waiting taxis in favor of the well marked path which pointed the way. The signs led us to town by way of Victoria's Fisherman's Wharf, a charming village of houseboats that MJ decided was the place we should retire. I had to hand it to her, it sounded like a pretty great idea.
Soon we were welcomed to downtown by the impressive capitol building for British Columbia and a number of the town's official greeters, all of whom were dressed in Victorian-era attire. We paused to snap the obligatory photo, and it was clear that Victoria was beginning to work her charms on me.
Just across the way was the historic Empress Hotel - the only place I told MJ that we had to see while in Victoria. The grand dame is famous for its afternoon tea, which we opted to skip given we were sorely underdressed. Although, given how many cruise ship passengers were roaming the streets, I'm sure we were far from the only ones. The Empress was certainly impressive, but not exactly the kind of place I'd ever want to stay - far too overcrowded with tourists like yours truly roaming about.
By this time I was getting a little cranky, which usually means its time for lunch. We popped into a restaurant along the waterfront, where we enjoyed a little lunch alfresco as well as arguably the best fish & chips of my life.
As we finished our lunch MJ and I both kind of felt that we had "seen it" when it came to Victoria. This presented us with a choice: head back to the ship the way we came, or stop in to the visitor's bureau next door and ask for some suggestions. We opted for the latter which proved to be a wise decision.
It was suggested that we head back to ship by way of Beacon Hill Park, and it was here that the charms of Victoria turned into jealousy. The park was downright beautiful, and made me envious of all the locals that were either passing through or camped out on a bench with a good book. Victoria clearly puts a lot of resources into the upkeep of the city's public areas, something I wished they could rub off on more towns back home.
The other nice thing about Beacon Hill Park: Unlike all the tourists heading to Butchart, we got to enjoy beautiful gardens for absolutely free.
After meandering through the park for a while we decided to continue the trek back to the ship, but progress was soon halted when we came across the Beacon Hill Drive-In. You know when you think "I bet that place is really good" at the sight of a dive-looking restaurant in a new city? Well, that was the Beacon Hill Drive-In. Despite still being full from lunch, there was simply no way I was walking by this place without ordering at least something. That "something" turned out to be one heck of a chocolate shake.
The last leg of our journey took us along a stunning stretch of Victoria's waterfront. The scene was very reminiscent of Monterey, complete with the stray sea lion sunbathing on the rocks off shore. What made it even better, however, was we had this coastal path all to ourselves, with the exception of the stray jogger or two. I doubt very seriously that there was a better way to cap our time in Victoria, not to mention the last stop of our Alaskan cruise.
As I've done many times before, it turns out I may have misjudged Victoria. I treated the stop as an afterthought, one that wasn't deserving of any real planning or excitement. In the end, however, Victoria proved me wrong. I left the city completely smitten by its charms, and yes even considering MJ's half-joking suggestion of retiring to the Fisherman's Wharf. It didn't take long, but I fell in love with Victoria - something I'm pretty sure wouldn't have happened on the bus to Butchart Gardens.
Enjoy Your Stay