Monday, July 6, 2009

Destination Wedding Locations: Victoria/Vancouver

We haven't travelled much in Canada, but we were impressed with a weekend visit to Vancouver and Victoria on the west coast of British Columbia. From the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver to the quaint village of Victoria, this destination offers a taste of European charm without the transatlantic airfare and sky-high hotel rates.

Wedding Logistics
British Columbia is one of the easier foreign spots to tie the knot. No blood test or medical exam is needed. The license is $60. The biggest hitch: you need two witnesses over 16 years old. Other than that, it's a snap.

Best Time to Go
The weather varies greatly from the coasts to the interior of the province. We visited in late March and while we found Vancouver to be comfortable, Victoria was damp and cold. The coastal breezes keep summer temperatures moderate.

The best time to visit is April to September, with August being one of the drier months. Pack a sweater even in the summer months, as the temperatures can dip at night.

What Makes it Special
What we liked most about Vancouver was its international flair: about one-third of the city is British, another third is Asian, and the balance is a mix of other nationalities. The place has quite a walking culture, with most of the restaurants, hotels, and shops clustered together on a narrow peninsula that encompasses downtown. Near downtown is Stanley Park with its numerous walking and hiking trails.

Vancouver is Canada's largest seaport, making it a prime spot for salmon fishing and other water sports. The city is also close to many other outdoor activities, like skiing.

A short ferry ride from the city of Vancouver is the island of Vancouver (this is a bit confusing). On the southern tip of the island is the quaint village of Victoria. At the hub of the town stands the classy Empress Hotel, which looks onto the inner harbor. Experiencing "high tea" at the Empress will be a highlight of your trip.

We enjoyed walking around Victoria—its narrow streets, fascinating little shops and unmistakable British ambiance makes it hard to believe you're only a short distance from the United States. Another standout: Butchart Gardens (just outside Victoria) is a fascinating arboretum.

Insider Travel Tips
If you drive from Seattie, expect major delays at the border crossing points. In both directions, we encountered one-hour traffic jams.

While you'll find lots of interesting shops in Vancouver and Victoria, our shopping enthusiasm was dampened by Canada's high value-added tax. When you factor in the exchange rate and the big tax, most items were rather pricey.

Since British Columbia requires a two-day waiting period, you may want to spend a couple days in Vancouver prior to tying the knot in Victoria (or vice versa).

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Prices for hotel or bed-and-breakfast accommodations in Canada are moderate to expensive. For example, the Four Seasons Vancouver (800-332-3442 or 604-689-9333) has a three-night package that includes a suite room and one breakfast in bed at $900. This rate is good for January through April.

On Victoria, Abigail's Hotel (604-388-5363) has a "romantic fireplace room with goose down comforter, Jacuzzi, champagne, flowers, and breakfast in bed." This small European-style hotel offers a three-night package for $525 per couple. The best deals on airfare may be to fly to Seattie, rent a car and then drive to Vancouver (or take a ferry from Seattle to Victoria). At press time, Reno Air, Mark Air, and America West have a fare war going to Seattle. Sample fares: $180 from Denver and $160 from Los Angeles or San Diego. Those are round-tripl Wow! The drive from Seattle takes about two hours and is rather scenic itself.

A rental car is probably not necessary if you plan to just visit-Victoria. However, sightseeing in and around Vancouver may require one. You can actually drive your car onto the ferry that takes you to Victoria.

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