Cruising Alaska, day eleven: Victoria, British Columbia on Star Princess

Victoria is known as “The City of Gardens.” It sits at the southern tip of Vancouver Island and it’s the western most point in Canada. Established as a trading post in 1843 in honor of England’s Queen Victoria, it’s the oldest city in western Canada. Locals are fond of saying they are “more British than the Brits.” Indeed the city does have a very British aesthetic. Victoria’s metro population is 80,000, with 350,000 residents in the surrounding area. Thirteen different municipalities have 13 separate mayors. As our tour guide bus driver said, “We believe everyone should have their own identity and so those provinces are unique with unique leadership.” Oh, Canada. I love you.

The Star Princess was only docked for a short time and so we rushed off for a quick half day ashore. Had we been here longer, we would have explored more highlights; such as Butchart Gardens, high tea at The Empress Hotel, Craigdarroch Castle, Beacon Hill Park, and I’m still interested to see inside the stately Legislative Buildings. As it was, we only had time for a bus tour and quick walkabout.

Victoria's vibrant waterfront, with the Legislative Buildings in the background on the left.

We booked our Victoria shore excursion through Princess, as we did the other excursions. However, unlike the excursions we’ve enjoyed in every other port, we cannot recommend this booking. We thought we booked the bright red, double decker, open-air, hop-on-hop-off narrated bus tours you’ve likely seen in cities all over the world. Those buses were actually on the pier when we arrived, but we were loaded into a closed-top double decker bus. We were later told by our tour guide, our ride is known as “Big Bertha” and has been in operation since the 1970s. One of the primary reasons we booked what we thought was an open-air bus was so we could take advantage of unique photography opportunities. We could not do that very well on this bus. An issue over which any tour company would have no control is the fact that Victoria was hosting a giant bicycle race of some sort today. Half the downtown area was closed to road traffic and a series of detours made the normal tour route difficult, or most times impossible, to navigate. The driver did what he could to take us to points of interest and simply talk to us about the rest of what we wouldn’t be seeing, but it was not time or money well spent.

We dedicated some of our walkabout time to researching the best way to take the tour we’d wanted. Victoria is beautiful and it’s big. It’s worth seeing the city on a bus tour like this. Here’s how you can do it successfully:

Summary: Skip the Princess booking. Find these buses and ride them about town.

The Star Princess docks in Ogden Port. A $10 shuttle takes passengers to and from The Empress Hotel and Ogden Port. You can take the shuttle back and forth as many times as you want, but that seems silly for such a short time in port. If you chose to walk, it’s 45 brisk minutes along the waterfront. When you disembark the shuttle in downtown Victoria, you’re right in front of The Empress Hotel and right next to a kiosk for the Gray Line tour company. That is what you want. It costs $32 (significantly cheaper than the Princess-booked excursion) for a 24-hour hop-on-hop-off pass. If you want to add entrance to Butchart Gardens, it’s $80. If you ride the bus on a full roundtrip loop, it takes 90-minutes. Within the 24 hours that your ticket is valid, you can get off and explore any of the 14 stops and get right back on to keep riding or to head to the next stop.

Live and learn. Now we know what this particular shore excursion is and is not. Hopefully our research is helpful to you if an adventure like this interests you.

Washington's San Juan Islands as seen from the shore of Vancouver Island.

Clan houses and totem poles in downtown Victoria, because we are still in the Northwest, after all. 

Tomorrow is a full day at sea on Star Princess as we make our way back to San Francisco. I plan to spend time reflecting on our itinerary as a whole and post a final wrap-up article. I can already sense that it’s likely to be a love letter to Alaska.

I hope you’re enjoying your virtual vacation. You can follow along on each day of the adventure through my Live Voyage Report landing page. If you're interested in following other Live Voyage Reports, visit The Avid Cruiser website to see where the team is exploring now!

Bon voyage…and love,

This article was originally published on the Avid Cruiser Live Voyage Report website. 

A Love Letter to Alaska

Cruising Alaska, day ten: Sailing Toward Canada on Star Princess