Our cruise tour to Alaska was departing from Vancouver, Having heard such accolades about Victoria, we spent four nights there pre-cruise
by Cantin2 on June 15, 2008
This historic ivy covered hotel celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008. It's in the premier location in town - across from Inner Harbor, within walking distance to most everything you may want to do in Victoria.As you approach the hotel, you can feel the elegance, first in the manicured lawns, lovely planted gardens and hanging baskets. The balconied reception area with views of the water is very welcoming. You do sense that this is a convention hotel though - busses, luggage, people milling around - inside and out - and an agenda of meetings posted by the bell staff desk.Since this is such an old building, there are many different configuration of rooms - 92 floor plans for the 400 or so guest rooms. No A/C - but they do have ceiling fans and portable fans are in the closest. It does get cool at night though - an open window was all that we needed in August. All rooms have 12 foot ceilings and long narrow windows covered in heavy floral drapes over black-out curtains, and underneath it all - opaque sheer drapes. Furniture is dark wood - the armoire hides a small old fashioned TV,a refrigerator with overfrosted freezer bin, stem glasses, wine opener and ice bucket. Lighting is fair - the desk has a lamp with electrical outlets in it's base - easy access for phone charger, iron or internet (#13.95/day-but free if you are a President's Club member). Seating is on a choice of sofa or 2 chairs. Bedding is extremely comfortable - down pillows, down coverlet and luxury linens.The marble bathrooms all have tubs, strong hot showers, robes, lighted make-up mirrors and decent hair dryers. A coffee maker plus an electric tea pot is appreciated by tea drinkers. The pool area was somewhat dark and uninviting. It did have lovely windows framed in ivy but the area is below groound level, contributing to it's darkness. A heavy chlorine odor also did not make it pleasant. The gym was being renovated.I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this hotel, especially for it's location on Inner Harbor, but there are newer hotels nearby, such as the Marriott, Delta and Grand Pacific whose rooms may be air conditioned, larger and brighter but they are not quite in this superb location. I don't like to complain about "little things", but at Fairmont, I did not expect ice machines to be "out of order", no safe in the room and the small knobs on the lamp to be missing.Victoria is beautiful, and if the Empress has a "special"...do give it a try.
by Cantin2 on June 16, 2008
This small bistro is located in the Swan Hotel within walking distance of the Inner Harbor. After a day of travel we were looking for a quiet atmospere for a leisurely dinner - Wild Saffron Bistro was perfect. We had read about a few restaurants in the touristy brocures provided by the hotel at check-in. We were attracted to this particular bistro by the picture in the ad - an artful presentation of an appetizer...Outside the restaurant was a board advertising a three course menu for $28....that appealed to us and a flat screen TV let us peek in on two chefs at work in the kitchen - interesting. Without reservations, we were fortunate to be seated at an available table by the window. The sun was just setting, Frank Sinatra singing in the background above the buzz of quiet conversation. This would be relaxing...Most tables on both levels of the restaurant are for two's and fours. The upper level having a banquette against the wall, enabling the two-tops to be pushed together for a larger grooup. I'm sure you'd need advance reservations - we saw two groups of eight being turned away. The light wood table are set with a single flower - ours was an orchid sprig. good quality wine glasses, linen napkins and dim lighting gave the "bistro" a romantic atmosphere. The open kitchen at the far end of the restaurant and 2 TV screens allowed you to divert your attention to the food preparation, if so desired.The mousse liver pate was smooth and full of flavor, accompanied by a few greens and toasted baguette round. Duck Breast with Plum Sauce was tender and cooked medium rare as requested - this was served with truffle mashed potato. The Shrimp and Scallop dish was prepared with a slightly spicy rub and served with lime sauce over jade rice. Both dishes were strewn with edible flowers and two sprigs of herb. Time for dessert.....White Chocolate Creme Brulee with fresh seasonal fruit....what a treat. Take a look at their "MENU".We sipped the remainder of our wine and hated to leave - what a pleasant evening....so....we ordered "Special Coffees" - one with Grand Marnier and Kahlua and the other with Brandy and Kahlua - both topped with fresh whipped cream. If you care to extend the evening, you can walk down the hall to their Brew Pub. It's a neat place - exposed brick walls, glass overlooking a patio and the street beyond, there is live music every night with dancing if the crowd is willing.....and no cover.We enjoyed a quiet, romantic stroll back to our hotel....The view of the Parliament Building all lit up overlooking the Inner Harbor is memorable - as was our evening.
Afternoon tea, served daily from noon to 5PM, is a memorable experience at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria. Reservations are definitely required. It is served in the elegant Tea Lobby in the older part of the hotel overlooking the Inner Harbor.Tables for two line the windows and larger tables are set further back. Many groups are seen here and multigenerational families all seem to enjoy socializing and relaxing while the soft piano music is heard in the background. Everyone is smartly dressed and quite a few men are seen in sport jackets.Your experience begins with the serving of seasonal fruit - we had fresh sweet strawberries with whipped cream. Two silver pots of tea - one black and one green - are placed on your table. Champagne and wine are also available at an additional charge.A Royal Doulton china serving tier is then presented - five tea sandwiches on the lower tier- thinly sliced cucumber on white bread, carrot and cream cheese on grain, a pinwheel of smoked salmon and cream cheese, egg salad on a toasted crouton and my favorite - curried chicken on whole wheat.The second tier holds melt in your mouth scones with strawberry preserves and clotted cream. Ready for dessert?? Four small selections of pastries created by the in house award winning pastry chef - a puff filled with white chocolate, a short-bread butter cookie to dip in tea, pound cake with dried fruit and plum topping and a rich Valronah chocolate cup.This room exudes a true feeling of elegance. It is a substantial presentation that served us well for lunch. Follow this by a walk along the Inner Harbor just across the street where you can wander along to peruse the craft market or find a bench in the shade and enjoy the ongoing street performers and musicians. Even the boat traffic, ferries and float planes will keep your attention for hours. The price is dear - $58 per person not including wine or champagne - but the memory is forever.....A not to be missed experience.
Our cruise tour was departing Vancouver, a city we reallly love - but we had heard and read such accolades about Victoria.....what were the logistics of getting there - especially after a long day of travel from NY?? My research encouraged me to plan four nights there pre-cruise.We arrived in Vancouver at 10:30AM - went through immigration and customs, collected our luggage and as soon as we exited there was a Pacific Coach Desk with a big red sign for Victoria. A representative directed us to the bus depot area so that we could purchase our tickets for an 11:40AM departure.....Perfect !!Pacific Coach has large buses that leave from the airport, cruise port and also picks up from hotels in downtown Vancouver. The $43 per person fee from the airport to downtown Victoria includes transport for two pieces of luggage. Your luggage is checked and once on board it is a 20 mile or so ride to Tswassar, the ferry port.Lots of trucks, buses, cars and many walk-ons are boarding the six deck ferry. The bus with passengers aboard drives on to the ferry - you can leave personal belongings on your seat since the bus is locked during the voyage. During the cruise you spend your time on Decks 5 and 6 - It is a lovely, large ferry.There is indoor seating - theatre style to watch large screen TV, work stations with power for computers, a buffet, restaurant, vending machines with sodas and pre-made salads and sandwiches, and a cafeteria style restaurant serving sandwiches, grilled foods and simple meals. The gift shop sells jewelry, clothing, books and small gifts. A game room appeals to teens or dads with younger kids. Want a quiet trip - a private lounge charges $10 per person - sort of comparable to an airline lounge - seating areas with sofas and tables, coffee, tea, juices and light snacks are included.The outdoor aft deck is popular - great for viewing and picture taking with seating provided at tables and on benches. On select cruises during the summer, a naturalist is on board to give a 40 minute presentation. We found it interesting.The ferry arrives in Swartz Bay about 20 miles north of downtown Victoria. You reboard the bus - It makes a few stops along the way to drop off passengers and one half hour later the trip ends at the Inner Harbor bus station behind the Fairmont Empress Hotel. An easy pleasant trip. Once daily there is a direct bus to Canada Place in Vancouver for cruise ship passengers. With a reservation, Pacific Coach Lines will pick you up at a designated Vancouver hotel. The cost is $43 per person each way from the airport or cruise pier or $37 from downtown hotels. This is their website for additional info. Best of all - your luggage, once on the bus, is delivered directly to your stateroom and the drivers and pleasant and helpful
by Cantin2 on June 18, 2008
General Info on Yukon TourWe spent three nights in Victoria prior to embarking on a thirteen night Holland America Cruise-Tour of the Yukon. Cruise-Tour #3 can be viewed here. The Cruise: The Zuiderdam was enjoyable – good service, many balconies (ours even had a tub), food better than I expected in the dining room. Meal times were very short. We missed lunch the first day because we didn’t pay attention to our daily schedule. The pool grill or room service then become your only options. The buffet food was typical – mass prepared early and kept warm but there were lots of choices, including their renowned Bread Pudding that it served at every lunch. The room service menu was quite limited and took about ½ hour to arrive. Since this ship cruises Alaska, the main pool had a retractable dome and all pools were heated. I found the dress very casual on the Alaska cruise. On formal night very few gowns or tuxedos were seen – cocktail dresses and sport jackets were the norm.A disappointment was the quiet nights – hardly and gamblers, no one danced anywhere, the shows were mediocre and the musicians and singers in the small rooms took lots of breaks and for more than a few minutes – a half hour at a time - usually causing the few guests to slowly dissipate. This was probably due to the early morning arrival in ports with so much to do. Excursions started at 7AM and on cruising at sea days, one wanted to be on deck at 5AM to see the whales feeding – so I guess that means "early to bed".The Tour:The Yukon is a vast territory – distances between towns are long – translating into lots of time on coaches. Our tour guide and driver guides were young, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, well trained, informative and best of all – entertaining. We learned about bears, eagles, forest fires, glaciers, saw a Gold Rush movie, were entertained with jokes, juggling, singing and poetry – all excellent…..Guess I was really impressed !!...It did make the trip go by quickly. The driver guides do a commentary whenever we travel past something of interest – Ours happened to have a major in theatre Arts – Such an actor – Added enjoyment for sure.The Holland America coaches are new for 2007 – very comfortable. First of all they are decorated with paintings of animals – moose, bear or eagle in shades of blue, green or yellow. It’s easy to pick out which coach is yours when at a tourist stop. All have leather reclining seats with footrest, drink holder and head phones. Unobstructed views for everyone through large windows. They are equipped with "new technology" see-through shades to filter the sun or to shade the reflection especially welcomed when watching the drop down TV’s and bathrooms are appreciated on trips as long as these. Frequent stops are made every couple of hours to stretch your legs, have a snack or lunch, Kodak moments and even for the "compulsory" gift shop stops.Hotels:These were somewhat of a surprise to me…..Not that I hadn’t read about it….It’s right in the brochures – "we will provide the best accommodations possible in the areas that we visit"…….In Anchorage and Fairbanks we had lovely hotels – Marriotts – that were located in the center of town, walking distance to all that you needed, but in the smaller towns like Tok, Skagway and Dawson City, they were really motels in need of updated décor. You had all that you need – coffee maker, alarm clock, TV, Safe, iron and board and they were clean, but the look was 50’s……Dark carpeting, heavy draperies and flowered spreads – even if they were brand new as in Dawson City. We have become accustomed to clean duvet covers for each new guest. Even in Denali Park, the resort is beautiful, but we were accommodated in the older section of the resort which needs renovations. The new buildings are lovely. Food:As mentioned previously, food aboard the Zuiderdam was better than expected. Once the tour starts, you have a choice of a meal plan – not recommended, even by Holland America - (surprised me) – unless you are one that needs "peace of mind" to know where you will be dining each night – on this plan you will be eating in the hotel every night. The meal plan included breakfast and dinner daily. We always chose to eat in town, rather than at the hotel. There were always choices within walking distance. In the smaller towns, dining is very casual. You’ll be hard pressed to find tablecloths, candlelight or flowers – It’ll be more like formica tables, forever lasting flowers and home cooked food. The larger cities have the more formal dining options. Do I recommend it??? Yes…There is so much to be appreciated about the stamina of the people at that time – and the desperation to get a piece of that "gold". No travelers complained about anything – even when we had meals that were not so appetizing – see picture…. The scenery is beyond belief and the tour well organized. There are so many different transportation experiences - Cruise ship, Narrow gauge rail, Catamaran, luxury coaches, school bus in Denali Park and luxury domed trains. We went to Follies Show, panned for gold, Visited old fashioned towns, the Denali Park excursion and so much more and all is included in the Cruise Tour price. There is no way that one could do it so economically or well planned on their own. Early July is probably the best time to go – We went on August third and it was already starting to get cooler – Colors were starting to change – which was great…and they even predicted snow one night – but it didn’t happen. Princess Cruise Tours also followed us to wherever we went – they are certainly comparable – their hotel in Denali is nicer. I’d choose whichever one was the better value.
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