Taking a cruise around Burrard Inlet is a fantastic way to see the downtown skyline, Vancouver's working port docks, and marine wildlife like harbor seals. Harbour Cruises has been operating on the west coast for over a century -- a rarity in a city that was only incorporated in 1886.
Best for: Get a quick, one-hour introduction to Vancouver by water. The tour is really best on a sunny day, when you can mill about on the open-air decks and take plenty of photos.
Where, When, and How Much:
Season: Late April to late September
Price-range: $30 adults
Reservations: Not accepted
Tips: Most of the action happens on the right, or starboard, side of the boat. Try to snag a seat on that side.
- Old-fashioned paddlewheeler boat, the MPV Constitution
- Reasonably priced one-hour tour
- Tours operate four times daily in peak season
- Spot wildlife, floatplanes, boats, and landmarks from the decks
- Get a water-side perspective of Vancouver, plus great vacation photos
- Bar serves coffee and other beverages
- Guide reads from a script
- When there is background noise, narration can be hard to hear outside
- Only vending-machine-type snacks available
This Vancouver harbor tour gets under way when the red paddles of the MPV Constitution start turning. I boarded the 11 a.m. harbor tour in August, 2012, taking advantage of the hot sunny summer weather for a boat trip.
The staff at Harbour Cruises ushered the passengers onto the boat, which left exactly as scheduled. The vessel backed out of its berth at Coal Harbour Marina, and proceeded on a counter-clockwise route around Burrard Inlet (the body of water between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver).
Right away, a tour guide located on the lower deck started pointing out sights. Most of the passengers gathered on the open-air rooftop deck, where a sound-system kept us informed. Although the guide read from a script, the commentary covered good historical and local information. For example, the guide pointed out the vessel of a famous Vancouver billionaire, major downtown towers, and prominent outdoor sculptures like Douglas Coupland's Digital Orca. As the boat traveled along the waterfront, the guide expanded on the city's history and development.
The route passed downtown Vancouver and the cruise ships at Canada Place, before moving on to the large container port located just east. You'll see cranes busy at work in the port, loading and unloading containers.
The route then cut across Burrard Inlet to the North Shore. I found this section of the tour most interesting, as it covered a lesser-visited area of the waterfront. Our guide pointed out the rail yards, talked about Seaspan's dry docks, and introduced us to the eight or so harbor seals that were sunning themselves on floating logs.
About 45 minutes after leaving the dock, the MV Constitution started to head back towards the marina in Coal Harbour, passing the bright yellow sulphur piles, Stanley Park's Brockton Point Lighthouse, and the floating Chevron gas station.
The guide ended the hour-long tour with a brief history of Harbour Cruises -- which started running a Fraser River ferry in 1911.
The MPV Constitution:
The MPV Constitution is a photogenic paddlewheeler, complete with bright red paddles, gilt moldings, and white railings. The vessel has a fantastic old-fashioned feel, but was launched in 1983.