Victoria, British Columbia has long been one of my favorite stops on the Alaska cruise route. From great food, to weird buskers, to cool sights, Victoria pretty much has everything.
Recommendation #1: Just wander. When you head downtown by the waterfront, the streets are littered with buskers. From magic/juggling acts that reminded me a little too much of being at work on the ship to Darth Vadar playing the violin, there’s pretty much anything you can think of happening all along the water and down the main street. There’s also just about every kind of food you can imagine (one of the best places being The Keg, just off the main street, which has the most amazing cheesy bread I’ve had in my whole life).
Recommendation #2: Butchart Gardens is probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever wandered around. I’m not normally the wander around some plants type of person, but I thought that place was so cool. I loved the Japanese Garden section. Actually, I just loved all the different garden sections. There’s also a firework show in the evening and a carousel. Prices vary for admission depending of the season, with the highest rate being midsummer, about $30, and the lowest is around $16 in January.
Recommendation #3: Empress High Tea. The Empress is a ridiculously old and impressive hotel, with an old school posh high tea that they serve repeatedly through the day. It’s pretty much every little girl’s dream tea party. I lucked out and was able to escort a tour there through the ship, so I went for free, but by myself. I further lucked out when I was seated with another girl in her late 20’s who was traveling with her grandfather. Apparently, he had really wanted to see Alaska, so she agreed to go on this cruise with him and when he asked her what she really wanted to do, the one thing she was really excited about was high tea at the Empress. So her grandfather was totally game to do this one thing his granddaughter wanted to do, and he was so cute. He would pick up his tea cup and stick out his finger funny and say “so, we drink the tea like this, ladies?” He was so clearly out of his element it was hilarious and made me more than a little nostalgic for my grandfather – a tough old Marine drill sergeant who totally would’ve gone to high tea with me if it was the only thing I wanted to do on a week long cruise too. Anyway, charming company aside, the tea was terrific and I loved all the little sandwiches and treats. My inner five year old was totally wowed by this fancy afternoon tea. If you’ve always wanted to try the high tea experience, I would definitely recommend the Empress, the price is a bit steep (about $50) and you have to be sure to dress casually elegant (whatever that means exactly – I just imagined how I would dress for the Mad Hatter’s tea party), but it is a really cool experience.
Recommendation #4: Holland America’s Victoria Ale & Brewery excursion. Now, if it’s your first and only time in Victoria, I don’t recommend this as the way to spend your evening. Definitely try to make it to the Gardens or the Empress over this tour, but if you’ve been to Victoria repeatedly, this could be a great tour for you. To begin with, we drove around different areas of the city than the same like 6 you see over and over again. I don’t even really like beer, but I liked trying the different samples from the assorted local breweries and the appetizers were pretty tasty too – not to mention, however much you drink, you just have to make it back to the bus, and then the bus drops you off right at the ship, it’s about the safest environment, other than onboard the ship, to get slizzarded in anyway.
And now, the only total failure of an activity I’ve done in Victoria, the Ghostly Walks. At no point in time was this walk interesting. The stories did not remotely approach frightening – they weren’t even entertaining. The areas we visited were not the least bit scary. The tour guide was not engaging. The most chilling thing we did was stand outside in the cold. Save your $15 and do anything else.