Travel | Beautiful & Scenic Victoria
Every year we travel to Seattle for several weeks to visit family and escape the heat in Phoenix, but it had been years since I’d been to Victoria, British Columbia. I decided to take Christina up on the Victoria Clipper to see the beautiful city and stay at the Fairmont Empress, which presides regally over Victoria Harbor. Known for its history and world-famous high tea, staying at the Empress has been on my bucket list for years. Plus, we have relatives in the area, so it was a terrific opportunity for some quality family time. All in all, we had a wonderful, memorable trip and can’t wait to go back!
Leaving out of Downtown Seattle from Pier 69, it only takes the Clipper about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there. I purchased a travel package through the Clipper that included the hotel stay and high tea at the Empress, plus a trip to Butchart Gardens, which is absolutely beautiful and a must-see!!
THINGS TO DO IN VICTORIA:
Butchart Gardens. Nothing short of breathtaking. You’ll want to spend at least two hours walking around, snapping photos and taking in the beauty. We went to the Gardens right when we arrived in the city, but if you are staying the night, consider going in the morning. During the afternoon, the Gardens were very busy and it was rather warm. I’m sure it would have been a little quieter in the morning, and the light was probably better for photos as well. There are SO many stunning backdrops and locations… it is an Instagrammer’s dream!
The secret garden was probably our favorite place. You walk on a short path through some woods, round a corner…. and bam! In front of you is this jaw-dropping, colorful scene (below).
Fairmont Empress Hotel & High Tea. The iconic Empress is located front and center as you pull into the harbor in Victoria. The views are spectacular and it is just a 10-minute walk to the Clipper. You can easily walk to a number of places around downtown, from the BC Royal Museum and parliament buildings to shops and bakeries. It’s the ideal place to stay — centrally located and the accommodations are top-notch. Naturally, we booked high tea at the Empress and it did not disappoint. The tea and food were both delicious and the service was excellent. We were a little disappointed that people weren’t dressed up more for the occasion, but sadly, isn’t that the way it is these days?
BC Royal Museum. Across from the Empress, the museum is definitely worth a visit. There was a Mayan exhibit while we were there, plus they have an extensive First Nations collection (indigenous people), an old-time pioneer town, natural history collection and more.
Beacon Hill Park & Children’s Farm. The kids will love it! There were a ton of baby goats and other animals to see and pet on the farm. The park itself, with its large grassy areas, shade trees and small lake, was the perfect place for a picnic lunch.
Scenic Beaches. We spent an afternoon with my cousin and her daughter driving a little ways up the Vancouver Island coast and stopping at the beaches… so beautiful. Several spots around the island feature artist-painted pianos that you can play. Nothing like taking in a gorgeous view while listening to a little Beethoven. We hiked out on one of the rocky points at a beach I remember going to as a child with my cousin. It was special to be back there with our kids enjoying the day and the rugged coastline and spectacular scenery.
In the evenings, the sunset in front of the Empress was not to be missed. Stunning!
The ride on the Clipper. We had a gorgeous day for crossing over to Vancouver Island. However, depending on the water and weather the day you go or if you tend to get motion sickness, you may want to take an anti-nausea medication like Dramamine. The Clipper staff will provide some if you ask for it at the beginning of the trip.
Arriving for the Clipper. Definitely plan to arrive at the terminal in Seattle an hour ahead of sailing to give yourself time to check in and board, especially if you have luggage you need to check. In Canada, you have two different lines you need to wait in — one to check your luggage, the other for boarding check-in. Also, I recommend booking seats on the upper deck for the improved view — it’s worth the extra money.
Your luggage. We are not light packers… however, if you are, you can pack what you need in a carry-on, as those of us with checked luggage were the last to get off the boat. Here’s what you can carry on.
Don’t forget your ID. If you have an enhanced driver’s License that will work or of course a passport. Children need to show proof of citizenship too. All the details here.
Be prepared for customs. Going into Canada, if you’re taking your kid(s) and both parents aren’t there, you need a signed letter from the other parent stating you have permission to take the kids out of the country. The agents do ask to see it. Also, be aware of how much you can buy and bring back into the U.S. without paying a duty.
Using your cell phone. Don’t forget to check with your mobile carrier about using your phone in Canada, and if you should pay small fee in advance for a special plan to avoid huge charges.
Ask ahead about dietary accommodations for high tea. The Clipper travel agent was extremely helpful with this question and even contacted the hotel about Christina’s dietary restrictions. The hotel can accommodate gluten, nut and dairy-free requests, which is terrific.
Getting around the city. Be forewarned — Vancouver Island does not have Uber or Lyft yet! Uber is reportedly coming, but for now taxis seem to be the best option. If you take the Clipper, they will have a double-decker tour waiting to take you to Butchart Gardens, then the same bus will take you back when you’re done.