Hey, y’all! Valerie here. I’m so excited to share that I’ve partnered with Vancouver local Taryn from Happiest Outdoors to help you pick your Alaska cruise excursions in Vancouver. I only accept guest posts from local experts on topics I know my readers care about.
You’ve booked and it’s confirmed: your Alaska cruise visits Vancouver, Canada. Amazing! I know you’ll love it here. But with so many things to do in this beautiful city, it can be hard to know what to prioritize. No matter whether your Alaska cruise starts or ends in Vancouver, or just passes through, there are lots of Vancouver shore excursions to choose from.
As a life-long Vancouverite, I have to admit, I’m pretty lucky to live in such a gorgeous place year-round. Vancouver is a beautiful city, sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean with plenty of multicultural charm on every street. So I know it can be SO hard to choose which Vancouver cruise excursions to include in your trip.
Don’t stress: I got you! I’ve looked through all the cruise companies offering excursions in Vancouver and have hand-picked the best ones for you. I’m a pretty outdoorsy gal, living in a pretty outdoorsy city, so it shouldn’t be surprising that many of these Vancouver cruise excursions involve a visit to nature. But don’t worry: all of these tours take you to viewpoints via bus or gondola or involve just a bit of light walking so they’re accessible to most visitors.
I’ve picked tours that ensure you see the highlights of my stunning hometown, even if you just have a short time to visit. I’ve also thrown in a few options that are favorites with locals, so you know you’re getting the authentic Vancouver experience.
Here are my picks for the best Vancouver cruise excursions. From a quick-highlights bus tour to a mountain top experience, there’s something here for every visitor.
While I personally do not support the mega-ship cruise industry due to its negative impact on local economies, damage caused to the environment, and evasive tax practices, I created this resource to allow you to make your own choice. Please consider booking a small-ship cruise instead, carbon offsetting, and buying local souvenirs to help reduce the negative impact of your Alaska cruise.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Coast Salish, Hul’qumi’num, səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō), Stz’uminus, and šxʷməθkʷəy̓əmaɁɬ təməxʷ (Musqueam) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in March 2020, and was updated in December 2021 for the coming cruise season.
The Best Cruise Excursions in Vancouver
As a local, trying to recommend just one Vancouver cruise excursion is a bit like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I think you should see it all! But I know that’s not possible. So here are my six top picks (plus a bonus non-cruise excursion).
I’ve weighed the options and consider these nine to be the best Vancouver cruise excursions. Here’s how I calculated the scores:
- I went through all of the Vancouver shore excursions and chose the ones I think are worth doing (the V factor 😂)
- I looked at the number of cruise companies offering that excursion in 2022.
- I force ranked the excursions by uniqueness. (That means each excursion gets its own number, no ties)
- I gave each excursion a boost or deduction for being a good value based on the “Money-to-Time” Math.
- Finally, I added up the metrics to come up with a final score.
- To break ties, I used top Uniqueness score, since I want to encourage you to try new things on your Alaska cruise!
Here’s my list of the best Vancouver excursions:
|Tour Name||# of Cruises (2022)||Uniqueness||Value||Score|
|1||Northwest Exploration & Suspension Bridge||5||6||1||12|
|2||Sea to Sky Gondola & Shannon Falls||4||5||1||10|
|3||Vancouver Highlights Tour||6||2||1||9|
|5||Craft Brewery Tour||1||4||1||6|
|6||Vancouver Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour||4||1||1||6|
Read on to discover more about each of these Vancouver shore excursions, which cruise lines offer them, and what makes them worth doing during your day before or after your Alaska cruise.
1. Northwest Exploration & Suspension Bridge
Who Offers This Excursion? You can take a Vancouver cruise excursion to Capilano Suspension Bridge with Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Oceania, and Princess. Some of the tours also include airport transfers.
Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver is one of the area’s most popular and highly rated tourist attractions. This spectacular bridge is suspended 230 feet (70m) over the deep canyon of the Capilano River. In addition to the huge suspension bridge, there are also elevated walkways through the treetops that give you a squirrel’s eye view of the temperate rainforest.
If you book a trip to Capilano Suspension Bridge as part of a Vancouver cruise excursion, you’ll also drive through scenic Gastown and Chinatown on the way there and enjoy a quick photo stop on beautiful Stanley Park.
If you’re looking to experience Vancouver’s spectacular natural scenery in a less commercialized setting, I recommend the Lynn Canyon Suspension bridge in North Vancouver. It’s in a public park and is completely free! You can get there on public transit and the short hike across the suspension bridge and along the rim of the canyon.
2. Sea to Sky Gondola & Shannon Falls
If you love nature, add a trip to the Sea to Sky Gondola and Shannon Falls to your Vancouver bucket list. These two jaw-droppingly beautiful attractions are just an hour north of Vancouver in the town of Squamish. It’s a popular day trip for locals too.
To get there, you’ll drive the Sea to Sky Highway, a famously scenic road that undulates along the shores of Howe Sound fjord all the way to Squamish before climbing up into the mountains to the ski town of Whistler. If you have more time in Vancouver, I highly recommend spending a day or two on a Sea to Sky Highway road trip since there are lots of other beautiful things to see in this area.
Shannon Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in British Columbia. A short walk takes you to two viewing platforms at the base of the falls. If you get close to the railing, prepare to get wet! The thundering falls produce a lot of mist.
After the falls, you’ll board a gondola to ascend nearly 3000 feet above sea level. At the top, you can explore several short trails that lead to gorgeous viewpoints of the surrounding mountains and ocean far below. Don’t miss the suspension bridge and its incredible mountain views. Be sure to leave time to relax on the huge patio with a cold beer or glass of wine.
You can also book a trip to the Sea to Sky Gondola independently using their shuttle service. It leaves from Canada Place next to the cruise port, which is really convenient.
3. Vancouver Highlights Tour
Who Offers This Excursion? You can book this Vancouver cruise excursion with Celebrity, Holland America, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, and Royal Caribbean. Some companies also combine this tour with airport or hotel transfers, making it an ideal activity for the day you begin or end your cruise.
If you only have a few hours in Vancouver, the “Vancouver Highlights Tour” covers the must-see attractions in the city’s downtown core. Depending on which company you cruise with, there are a few different names for this tour including “Vancouver Sightseeing,” “Easy Vancouver,” or “Discover Vancouver.”
Despite the name variations, these excursions all offer a similar experience that hits key spots via bus in a 2-3 hour tour. You will drive through the heart of Vancouver including the historic Gastown neighborhood with its narrow cobbled streets and the unique Chinatown area, which is over 150 years old. The standout experience is a stop in spectacular Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America. Be sure to pack your camera for photo ops with the First Nations Totem poles.
4. Grouse Mountain
Vancouver is lucky enough to have a string of mountains on its northern boundary. Several of them have ski resorts, but Grouse Mountain is a year-round destination. I would describe it as a bit of a mountain top Disneyland.
To get there, you ride a passenger tram 4000 feet up the mountain. Enjoy the views at the top, then check out all kinds of nature-based activities. Adventurous travelers can ride a zipline, balance on a ropes course, or trek up to nearby Thunderbird Ridge, one of Vancouver’s best easy hikes.
There are also lots of options for less adrenaline-focused travelers. Don’t miss the famous lumberjack show or the spectacular birds of prey demonstration. (The owls are too cute!) And be sure to take a walk over the grizzly bear enclosure. It houses two huge grizzly bears, rescued as orphaned cubs. On hot days you can find them splashing in their pond.
It’s also possible to get to Grouse Mountain on your own. You can take their shuttle bus from Canada Place near the cruise terminal. Or for a more scenic option go via public transit. Your trip starts with a cruise on the SeaBus ferry. Then transfer to a bus that drops you off at the foot of the tram.
5. Vancouver Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour
Who Offers This Excursion? Book the Vancouver Hop-On, Hop-Off cruise excursion with Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, or Royal Caribbean. It’s also possible to combine this tour with an airport transfer and luggage storage with some cruise companies.
Want to explore Vancouver on your own but still visit all the best spots? Book a Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour. This popular Vancouver cruise excursion uses open-topped buses so you can get unobstructed photos as you cruise around the city. (But don’t worry, they close the roof on rainy days.)
Your 24-hour pass lets you get on and off the bus as many times as you like. The tour runs in a loop that begins and ends at the cruise terminal. It hits key destinations like Stanley Park, Coal Harbour waterfront, Granville Island market, historic Chinatown, and beaches. And you’ll learn about the city as you drive between stops with commentary available via headphones in English, French, Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese, and Mandarin.
If you’re looking for a budget version of this tour, I recommend buying a day pass for public transit from Translink, then using local bus routes to get around. However, navigating the various bus lines can be a bit complicated so this option is best for adventurous visitors.
6. Craft Brewery Tour
Who Offers This Excursion? The only cruise company that offers a brewery tour is Princess. I’m really surprised that none of the cruise companies offer any other food and drink-based tours in Vancouver. It’s definitely a foodie city with a huge international influence on the cuisine.
If you want to experience the Vancouver that locals know, take a Brewery Tour as your cruise excursion in Vancouver. The city has a vibrant craft beer scene with dozens of tiny microbreweries in trendy neighborhoods.
This small group van tour visits three separate breweries. At each, you’ll sample the beers and get a behind-the-scenes tour from the brewmaster. Your guide will also help you learn more about the neighborhoods you are visiting as you drive between stops.
If you’re looking for a food tour, you can’t go wrong with this highly-rated Granville Island tasting tour. Tour participants get to taste local cheese, charcuterie, seafood, baked goods, artisan chocolate, and produce.
Bonus! One Non-Cruise Vancouver Excursion Worth Booking
When I have visitors in town, my favorite way to show them the beauty of Vancouver is to bike around the Stanley Park seawall. The easy 10km (6.2 miles) path runs all around the park, right next to the ocean. It takes an hour or two to bike and is a great outing for people who don’t bike regularly since it’s away from traffic and completely flat. There are lots of places to stop along the way for incredible photos of the city, the mountains, the totem poles at Brockton Point, and the ocean.
You can book a guided bike tour that includes the seawall. Or if you want a DIY version, it’s a short walk from the cruise terminal to the bike rental shops near the corner of Davie and Georgia Streets. They will set you up with a bike, a helmet (required by law here), and a map of the Stanley Park seawall bike trails.
So now that you’ve read through my picks for the best cruise excursions in Vancouver, I hope you’re even more excited about your visit.
Have questions or need advice choosing your Vancouver excursion? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
Keep Planning Your Alaska Cruise!
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