You board the V2V Empress right in downtown Vancouver, amid the waterfront’s buzzing seaplanes and swooping seabirds, and quickly realize that your trip today will be about the journey as you’ll while away seven on this passenger vessel – the only one that takes you from downtown to downtown (starting in either city) on Canada’s West Coast.
On a glorious March morning, all golden sunshine and glittering wavelets, the white twin-hulled catamaran (or “clipper”) couldn’t look fresher or more inviting. The crisp red, white and black orca design on its hull comes from ‘Namgis First Nation Chief William Cook, an artist renowned for his silver and gold jewelry and cedar carvings.
Inside, aqua and bright red leather seats and the water’s reflection contribute to the marine ambiance. But you’ll want to climb up to the top deck to experience cruising underneath the Lions Gate Bridge.
In royal class, on the upper deck, tables with glass-covered wooden topographic cutouts of the waters you’ll be sailing, their depths marked, invite you to sit and mull them over. Boat builder and artist Jerry Kool is responsible for the handsome route maps, which trace your passage through Active Pass and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
We’ve cleverly started our day (and will end it in) Vancouver’s Coal Harbour. The boat will spill us out at Victoria’s dainty feet, in the Inner Harbour, at the Steamship Building. We’ll disembark across the street from the newly refurbished Fairmont Empress Hotel and the BC Legislature building.
Soon after departure, we enjoy a scrumptious three-course breakfast from Victoria’s Truffles Catering, beginning with delectable scones, proceeding to our choice of warm egg dish – quiche or frittata with a drizzle of red pepper sauce – and winding up with bowls of mascarpone-topped berries. Those with allergies or dietary restrictions can request, in advance, more suitable options, and there are gluten-free and vegetarian dishes already on the menu. (On the main deck, travelers can purchase their food and drinks á la carte.)
Our host recommends a glass of Salt Spring Island rosé and we toast our good luck in being two of the 242 foot-passengers who can fit on this vessel, whose 2 2800bhp diesel engines achieve cruising speed at a brisk 26 knots.
On the way home, later this afternoon, as “royal” guests will be able to savour a local cider, beer or glass of wine as we mull over our light lunch selections. A glass of BC bubbly leads into a small, fresh Greek salad and then mezzes, or open-faced sandwiches, one bearing smoked salmon with cream cheese and the other tender ribbons of ham, with the crunchy surprise of fried capers. A quartet of truffles, made daily, caps off the indulgences.
The savvy traveler will have planned ahead and booked a tour for the afternoon (or a hotel for the night). During the summer, the day-trip stopover is five hours, giving you time to visit the Butchart Gardens, take a carriage ride through 155-acre Beacon Hill Park, do a hop-on, hop-off city bus tour, explore the nearby BC Royal Museum, trot around in a horse-drawn carriage or tour the area’s breweries and distilleries by bike. V2V can set these up for you (at an additional charge) with your reservation.
You might choose the Culinary Walking Tour, which must be booked at least a day ahead, for a minimum of two people. At 1:15, you’ll meet one of its guides at Sticky Wicket Pub, the first pub to serve alcohol in Victoria. A local beer paired with the chef’s bite of the day launches two hours of walking, stopping in at five or so eateries for savouries and sweets and tales about “the Garden City.”
Clearly, there’s more to the BC capital’s food scene than the traditional tea at the Empress. Fish ‘n chips on the waterfront is another Victoria classic, with Barb’s Fish & Chips and the less traditional Red Fish Blue Fish, located in an upcycled cargo container, both highly rated. The Steamship Grill & Bar, in the historic Steamship Terminal Building, offers a patio, craft beer and lots of BCwines on its list.
Other nearby eateries include Nourish Kitchen & Cafe, a charming restaurant with a small patio in a 150-year-old heritage home. The restaurant grows its herbs, peas and salad greens and even uses its own cherry blossoms in its cocktail syrups.
You might treat yourself to a memorable meal at the Magnolia Hotel’s elegantly modern Courtney Room, named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants in 2018 by enRoute magazine. Even if you’re just stopping in for a snack, try the Potatoes Courtney – squares of melt-in-yourmouth potato fried in duck fat, served with an onion dipping sauce.
Remember, though — on the return trip, you’ll be served that three-course lunch. A little rigorous exploring by bike or on foot might help you work up an appetite.
For more information, visit www.v2vvacations.com/day-trips/
Kate Zimmerman was a guest of V2V and the Courtney Room, neither of which read or approved this article.