Michelle and Stephen Jones recently travelled to Canada for a memorable family summer holiday which encompassed a stay in Vancouver and a cruise to Alaska with Holland America. They had a fantastic time. Read on to find Michelle’s account of their trip.
“Thanks to Andy at Ultimate Destinations for arranging our recent summer holiday to Vancouver and Alaska.
We flew with Air Transat: such a refreshing experience when compared to Singapore Airlines and British Airways. The stewardesses greeted us by our names. Mei Tse especially took the trouble to know us better and asked if we had a return journey, which we did and she told us that it was on her shift. When we boarded the flight back from Vancouver, we heard Mei greeting us, “Mr and Mrs Jones, welcome. How lovely to see you again?!” The choice of in-flight films was very good and the food served was delicious. Airplane food is often much maligned, but believe you me, the food served was delicious. If we flew to Canada again, Air Transat would be our choice of airlines. We admit that we did fly business, but I have flown business on SIA and BA and never had this level of service.
After landing in Vancouver and checking in at the Pan Pacific Hotel which is uniquely located atop Canada Place at the heart of Vancouver’s downtown waterfront. we made our way to Kerrisdale Cameras. Located on 2170 W 41 Ave at Yew St, we picked up a couple of Canon cameras, polarising filters and lenses which we had ordered via email and telephone in the UK before we flew. Our contact was Denny who had all our equipment waiting for us. More importantly, the prices of the cameras and lenses were roughly 65% of the prices in the UK mainly because of the strength of the pound. Denny was extremely knowledgable and courteous, he offered his advice which we were delighted to accept.
We then hopped on to a free shuttle on Canada Place outside the Pan Pacific Hotel to take us to Capilano Bridge. We traversed the bridge and stood over the Capilano River, explored the rain forest on the ground and up on the tree top walks; we walked the very edge of the cliffs. One of our children completed a local quiz with our help.
The Hop-on, Hop-off bus also stops at Canada Place and it was a very good way for us to see the sights of Vancouver. We decided to stop at the totem poles in Stanley Park. I always wanted to see a real life totem pole – I “saw” in my mind Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck whooping around a totem pole, wearing their head dress, carrying a tomahawk or a bow and arrow! It was a humbling experience for me to realise that these totem poles are story poles preserving the legends of the people of the First Nations in red cedar. They are magnificent and extremely beautiful. I now “see” the story of a proud and welcoming race unfold. We purchased poignant mementos at the shop in Stanley Park: I am now a proud owner of a bison messenger bag (beautifully made in Canada) which is low maintenance requiring no treatment and is water resistant. Shu has told me that she would take that bag when it needs to find a new owner. Steve and David are proud owners of buffalo skin wallets, also beautifully made in Canada.
Whilst in Vancouver, we dined at:
- The Five Sails, sitting at a table with a magnificent view of the bay and the mountains. I ate sturgeon caviar for the first time. It was delicious. David had to order the caviar when we dined at the Five Sails again on the last night of our holiday.
- AnnaLena, which served the most electric combinations of food. My favourite was the pork over porridge and the family’s was the lamb.
- Salmon and Bannock, the only First Nations restaurant in Vancouver. The bison steak was delicious. The salmon was beautiful.
All the chefs at the restaurants we ate at were clearly aware of the quality of the produce they and let their produce “stand out” for themselves.
The Pacific Shopping Centre is the biggest shopping centre in Vancouver and is within walking distance from the Pan Pacific. We bought Apple products and Sketchers shoes, paying a as low as 75% of the price in the UK. Again the strength of the pound was the cause.
The Pan Pacific Hotel served the fluffiest buttermilk pancakes and lightest, cheesy omelettes a la carte for breakfast. We had a portion of pancakes every morning for breakfast!
Our Alaskan cruise with Holland America exceeded all our expectations. The view was simply beautiful. It was so stunning that one morning I worked out on the cross trainer in the gym whilst admiring it for a whole two hours while we sailed into Alaska! The rugged landscape is as I had imagined from the books I had read and pictures I had seen; only this time, I was seeing the landscape with my own eyes and we took the pictures. Our guide, Andy, on the Whale watching and photo safari tour in Jeneau was very knowledgable and provided us with plenty of tips so that we could take the “best” possible picture of the whales diving and of the landscape.
We flew on a float plan to the Prince of Wales Island to see the Black Bears. I was extremely lucky to be able to take a picture of a bear as it caught a salmon! (I do wonder how Indiana Jones climbed out of the float plane so elegantly – we did not manage it). A helicopter ride to a glacier for a husky sled dog ride was cancelled at the last minute because of the cloud cover. While we were disappointed that we could not ride a sled pulled by a team of huskies, we are glad that the tour companies take safety very seriously. Our ship was small enough to sail close to the glaciers in Glacier Bay. We sailed amongst leaping salmon (leaping to rearrange the eggs in their bodies), swimming porpoises, orcas, humpback whales and seals.
The food onboard was good, but not as good as the excellent three restaurants in Vancouver. The buffet meant that we could see the food behind clear barriers, point at something and someone served the portion size we wanted. The plates and bowls were big enough for us to go back for seconds without feeling bloated. There was a laundry onboard ship which we used, but there was also a Can$49 for the whole cruise washing. We only spotted the latter on the last day. The laundry took only quarters and cost $2 for a wash and $1 for the tumble drier. Rolls of quarters can be purchased at the Front Desk of the ship. We left the cruise with suitcases full of cleaned clothes without breaking the bank.
Vancouver and Alaska took our breath away. We knew that this would be a good holiday, but it was more than a good holiday. Vancouver is a temperate Singapore, it is cosmopolitan with a high percentage of Chinese and Japanese. The people who live in Vancouver are friendly and helpful and were interested to know more about us. The scenery in Vancouver fluctuated from the ruggedness of the mountains and the crystalline shiny of downtown Vancouver. But, we note that Vancouver did not sacrifice air quality for buildings – we saw beehives in gardens on skyscrapers. Alaska is magnificent with landscapes when converted to black and white look like Chinese brush paintings. Andy – we are really grateful for your help in planning this holiday with us”.