by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Picturesque. Calm. Serene.
If you're interested in any or all of the above, then Victoria Island is for you. In just under three hours aboard the Victoria Clipper - a passenger-only ferry service with year-round daily departures to Victoria, B.C., from a pier in downtown Seattle - you're able to take a quick or extended weekend trip to one of the most luxurious, yet welcoming islands in the Pacific Northwest. From afternoon tea at a century-old hotel to drinking a pint in one of Old Victoria's pubs, there's a little something for everyone.
Since 1986, Clipper Vacations has provided transportation, tours, and accommodation packages for more than 7 million customers. Clipper Vacations offers opportunities to experience picturesque and popular destinations such as Victoria.
Clipper Navigation, Inc. - the company that gets you there - has a fleet that consists of two high-speed catamarans used for passenger service to Victoria, B.C., from Seattle. Once aboard the Victoria Clipper or Victoria Clipper IV, you will find comfortable, roomy seats, tables for enjoying breakfast or an early evening snack, and an open deck space for getting a breath of fresh air, taking photos, or enjoying the sights. The Victoria Clipper IV reaches speeds of up to 30 knots, making it the fastest ship in the fleet and among the fastest passenger vessels in the western hemisphere.
Tickets for 2012-2013 passenger-only ferry fares are available for one way or round trip. Prices vary due to seasonal travel and age of passenger (children and seniors get a discount), but average $130 per round trip. For more information on schedules, tickets, and Clipper Vacations, visit www.clippervacations.com.
Victoria is situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Established in the late eighteenth century by British settlers, the city maintains its rich sense of history and culture, showcasing beautiful Victorian architecture, tree-lined streets, and old British charm. Surrounded by natural beauty and offering several great sightseeing opportunities year-round, it has become one of the premier tourist spots in the Pacific Northwest.
WHERE TO STAY
Victoria has many great hotels to choose from when planning your visit. Stay at the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel or add a touch of romance to your stay at the Inn at Laurel Point. If it is four-diamond service and style you are looking for, The Magnolia Hotel & Spa (www.magnoliahotel.com) is for you.
Just steps from Victoria's picturesque Inner Harbour, The Magnolia Hotel & Spa boasts an unbeatable location and provides the highest standard of service. The award-winning hotel, voted one of the top hotels in Canada by Condé Nast Traveler readers and recognized as one of the Top 10 Luxury Hotels in Canada by TripAdvisor's 2011 Travelers' Choice awards, is one block from the harbor and the city's best restaurants, shops, and entertainment - exactly where you want to be during your Victoria stay.
The Magnolia Hotel & Spa's 64 luxurious European-inspired accommodations prove that classic style never loses its allure. Crown molding accentuates lofty ceilings. Two-poster beds are dressed in deluxe duvets and feather pillows. Opulent bathrooms feature marble floors, glass walk-in showers, and delightfully deep soaker tubs. Business travelers will appreciate the large desks and two-line phones with private voicemail. The spacious rooms are bathed in natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook downtown Victoria and the harbor, and nightly turndown service with chocolates is a sweet surprise.
Find calm and balance at the newly expanded Spa Magnolia, adjacent to the lobby of The Magnolia Hotel & Spa. Recently doubled in size, the seven treatment rooms and spacious lounge are among downtown's most alluring places for a spa retreat during your Victoria stay. Magnolia Spa has proudly partnered with Comfort Zone and Aveda to include products derived from nature and backed by advanced scientific research. Spa treatments are available for singles and couples - and remember, this is progressive Canada where a same-sex couple booking a couple's massage will be greeted with a smile instead of a sneer. Let your stress melt away and your marriage equality dreams run wild as you relax at the hands of a professional masseuse at Spa Magnolia.
Whether this downtown Victoria hotel is your corporate hotel, spa retreat destination, or weekend getaway enclave, The Magnolia Hotel & Spa serves as the perfect accommodation for any LGBT tourist.
MUST-SEE AND MUST-DO
The island may be small, but it's jam-packed with things to do. Be sure to visit the Royal BC Museum, enjoy afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel (keep in mind that it includes food service, so skip lunch), stroll through the world-famous Butchart Gardens, or take a whale-watching cruise. You'll find plenty of opportunities for unique shopping, dining, and live entertainment all around town.
A great resource for planning your trip is Tourism Victoria (www.toursimvictoria.com). Tourism Victoria (Greater Victoria Visitors' and Convention Bureau) is a not-for-profit industry association responsible for the development and promotion of tourism in Victoria. A representative can help you plan everything from the smallest museum excursion involving one person to a group tour involving 10 or more.
Whenever I visit a city, I like to check out what the locals tell me about. During my stay in early February, it was all about the Ghostly Walks, Miniature Museum, and Bug Zoo. Although it might sound odd to see these attractions with the backdrop of the historic Victoria skyline, it was a welcome step in the right direction. After you've had your tea and walked the island, there's so much more to see.
Ghostly Walks and Chinatown Walks are scheduled tours year-round with information found at www.discoverthepast.com/gwalks.htm. Why is Victoria the most haunted place in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest? Over 5,000 years of native history and a lively parade of events and characters since Fort Victoria was founded in 1843 are good reasons to start with. Bastion Square, Old Town, Chinatown, St. Ann's Academy, and the historic waterfront have more hauntings than any other parts of the city. Join John Adams and his team of professional guides on Victoria's famous ghost tours that explore the narrow alleys, historic courtyards, and other spooky places where the echoes of hangings, murders, and other colorful events can still be heard and where ghosts can make their presence known at any time of the day or night.
For a creepy-crawly adventure, visit the Victoria Bug Zoo (www.bugzoo.bc.ca) where you will be invited into the amazing world of insects and spiders. This must-see zoo offers visitors an excellent opportunity to view and experience multi-legged creatures from around the world in a safe, fun, and friendly atmosphere. Get up close and personal with live giant walkingsticks, alien-eyed praying mantids, hairy tarantulas, and glow-in-the-dark scorpions, to name a few. Discover more than 40 fascinating species, including the residents of Canada's largest ant farm. The knowledgeable 'bug guides' will reveal the exotic secrets of this hidden kingdom and provide a safe animal handling experience for the more adventurous. Imagine holding a tickling 400-leg millipede that stretches the length of your forearm! Bring your camera. It's an unforgettable hands-on adventure. While in Victoria be sure to crawl, fly, or wriggle your way to the Bug Zoo.
For a truly unique view of the past and present, check out Miniature World (www.miniatureworld.com), the greatest little show on earth. With more than 80 exciting miniature dioramas, Miniature World is one of the most popular tourist attractions in downtown Victoria.
Victoria doesn't have any real Gay scene to speak of. But don't fret, because it simply doesn't need one. The city is very progressive, and no matter where my partner and I went to have a drink, nobody seemed to care if we kissed or held hands. But, if you absolutely must go to a Gay bar, there are two to choose from.
Paparazzi Nightclub is Victoria's only Gay dance club. They boast some of the best DJs in the city and, according to their website (www.paparazzinightclub.com) they offer 'unparalleled customer service.'
If it is a strong drink and conversation you crave, then the Ledge Lounge inside the Bedford Regency Hotel is for you! The Ledge Lounge is a comfortable upstairs location for drinks, pool, and TV. The music never competes with conversation and the staff and customers are friendly.
Victoria, B.C., is a pub culture. People get off work and go to the pub. There are a large number of pubs, lounges, and bars that pepper the island; however, few compare to the absolute splendor of the Bon Rouge Bistro & Lounge (www.bonrouge.ca). Hip and relaxed, Bon Rouge offers an authentic bistro experience and French-inspired comfort food showcasing fresh, local in-season produce, seafood, game, cheese, wine, and microbrews along with Old World décor and ambience. If there is only one bar and restaurant you visit in Victoria, Bon Rouge ought to be it!
The Prime Steakhouse, conveniently located in The Magnolia Hotel & Spa, is a knockout of taste and style. The only Victoria restaurant on the list of 'Canada's Best New Restaurant of 2010' as chosen by the editors of Where Magazine, Prime Steakhouse offers six cuts of aged beef. Prime is a steak lover's paradise. Fresh seafood, lamb, poultry, and pasta round out the menu, featuring seasonal specials that change weekly and incorporate the freshest of local ingredients. It's all impeccably complemented by an extensive wine and liquor selection and exceptional service.
Zambri's (www.zambris.ca) is an Italian cuisine adventure. The décor of the fairly new restaurant is beautiful and inviting while the menu has everything Italy - with a twist. The service is good, the food is delicious, and the location is unbeatable.
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