Join Laurie Bearce as she recounts her amazing Study Tour to beautiful British Columbia.
As a Virtuoso travel adviser and a Vancouver specialist I had the pleasure of attending what we call a Study Tour. I was hosted by Tourism Whistler and Tourism Vancouver. For 5 glorious days in May they showered our group with luxurious accommodations, delectable cuisine and remarkable experiences. Continue reading as I expound upon the delightful possibilities for your next adventure in Whistler and Vancouver, BC.
Day 1: We were greeted at the Vancouver airport by a well-dressed and cheerful gentleman holding a sign with our individual names on it. Star Limousine Service has been serving Vancouver, the Vancouver International Airport, Whistler, Seattle and Victoria since 1980. Star Limousine Service offers an extensive selection of vehicles including: Luxury Sedans, Stretch Limousines, SUV's, Stretch SUV's, Vans, Mini Buses and Luxury Limo Buses. Their stated customer service goal is to provide you with quality limousine service, professional chauffeurs, and a wide selection of vehicles for your travel requirements between Vancouver, Whistler, and Victoria. They certainly achieved their goal. We were transported to Whistler in air-conditioned comfort and black SUV style.
Our beautiful arrival hotel and hose was the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Nestled at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler's landmark ski-in ski-out hotel defines mountain luxury. With mountainside ski-in ski-out convenience and an on-site golf course, the classic elegance of this award-winning Whistler hotel offers a modern alpine setting featuring exceptional dining, full resort amenities, a Vida Spa and Fairmont Gold - Fairmont's exclusive lifestyle hotel experience. Our group was directed to the dedicated Gold Level concierge where we enjoyed expedited check-in and an invitation to the Gold lounge, a secluded lounge located on the same floor for Gold level guests.
I wasn't alone on this tour. We had a total of nine fellow advisers in our group. Several of them earlier than I, so had time to enjoy The Scandinave Spa Whistler. They all returned from the spa looking refreshed and ready to explore! The Scandinave Spa is set within a peaceful spruce and cedar forest and overlooks Whistler's mountain vistas. This 20,000 square foot outdoor day spa is a Nordic-inspired oasis of calm which offers the experience of hydrotherapy in the heart of nature. Allow a few hours to follow the cycle to soothe tired muscles, eliminate toxins and improve circulation. Warm your body in the eucalyptus steam room, hot baths or wood-burning Finnish sauna and then cool down in the refreshing Nordic waterfalls, cold plunges or outdoor shower. Finally, relax in the solariums, hammocks, on a terrace or beside an outdoor fireplace to unwind completely. An age-old Scandinavian tradition, this cycle promotes the release of endorphins, cleanses the skin, stimulates the immune system and creates a sense of increased wellness and relaxation.
After a champagne welcome reception in true Fairmont style we concluded the evening with a private dinner at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler's Grill Room.
I retired to my room quite satisfied. As I was marveling at the comfort of my room, complete with a fireplace, I noticed a generously appointed and specially prepared personal platter of divine chocolate treats! Thank you Fairmont Chateau Whistler for a warm welcome!
Day 2: The Fairmont Gold lounge serves a beautiful breakfast, snacks all day, and boasts a daily cocktail hour too. You barely need to leave the Gold floor! Of course you don't want to miss the fantastic culinary offerings in the hotel restaurants so you do end up leaving the Gold floor after all.
After breakfast this morning we had very good reason to venture out. Headline Mountain Holidays and Blackcomb Helicopters took us all for the experience of a lifetime!! After lift off from Whistler in their A-star helicopter we flew over Canada's largest, southernmost ice cap to explore an evolving world of ice and snow. Enchanting natural ice sculptures, ice flows and gentle slides would transport us from one grand hall to the next. Our guide led us through a labyrinth of chambers of brilliant blue magnificence where we sat in awe of the natural blue ambient light. This fully guided Ice Cap interpretive tour left me wanting more as our experienced guide explained glacier dynamics and introduced us to their latest project, the "Ice Cap Research Initiative" and how Head-Line is working to better understand and impart knowledge of these ice fields to the broader community. I came back from this experience changed. I am still in awe of what I saw there. The excitement of the helicopter ride and stunning beauty of the surroundings kept me from any fear, not to mention the obvious expertise of our guides and pilot. Everyone at Head Line and Blackcomb were true professionals. They were also terrific hosts. They served us lunch on the ice cap! They set up a table and chairs for us. Lunch was catered by Portobello Restaurant of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. I can't forget the most impressive part. Three bottles of Prosecco were chilled in the snow and served to us in glass (not plastic) champagne glasses. Now that's classy! It's hard to come down from that experience!
However, it was a pleasure to meet the co-owner of Whistler Photo Safaris in the lobby of the Fairmont and relax a bit while enjoying a bear viewing safari from the safety of a shiny new Jeep! Whistler Photo Safaris was established by a local husband and wife team and offers bear viewing in an environment that is safe for both bears and humans. From award winning photographers to ecologists and even a wildlife veterinarian, Whistler Photo Safaris has attracted top guides from all over the world each season. They offer exclusive 4x4 wildlife viewing adventures in the 2010 Whistler Olympic Park venue. Operating May through to October, this excursion takes guests outside of Whistler village on an intimate Jeep tour focusing on the park's resident black bear as well as the famed Olympic venue itself. With after-hours access to the Olympic Park and exclusive permission to drive on the cross-country ski Legacy Trail network where the tours are conducted, guests experience amazing private lookouts, lakes, waterfalls, bear dens and a breathtaking view from the top of the Olympic ski jumps. They helped us with our photography when needed and provided us with high powered binoculars when the bears were far away.
A lovely dinner at SIDECUT in the beautiful Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler is the perfect way to end the day. The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler offers scenic splendor wrapped in Four Seasons comfort and intuitive personal care. With easy access to the vast slopes of Whistler Blackcomb, site of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, plus a superb spa, mountainside dining and wilderness adventures year-round. The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler is Canada's only AAA rated 5 diamond resort.
Day 3: Whistler Village is a wonderful little town with great shopping, dining and entertainment of all sorts. It hosts a number of adventure tour companies. One of them is Ziptrek Ecotours. We were checked-in for our "Bear" Tour with Ziptrek and then loaded into their van for a quick and informational ride to the site of our first zipline. We experienced the exhilaration of flying as we glided across Ziptrek's network of ziplines suspended high above the Fitzsimmons Creek that divides Whistler and Blackcomb mountains 365 days/year. Ziptrek offers an entertaining combination of high-wire adventure and ecological exploration on a choice of 4 guided zipline tours. For those that like a light adventure, Tree Trek Canopy Walk offers a guided interpretive adventure across a stunning network of suspended stairways, boardwalks and ground-based trails, with no zipping required. For those that like extreme adventure (from June to October), the Sasquatch offers the newest zipline spanning from Blackcomb to Whistler Mountain +2kms, making it the longest zipline in Canada and the USA!
After our adrenaline rush we enjoyed the 2 hour drive to Vancouver via the Sea to Sky Highway in a luxurious coach driven by Landsea Tours & Adventures. They are a Canadian family owned and operated company, offering a variety of half-day and full-day sightseeing excursions around Vancouver, Sea to Sky, Victoria, Whistler and Vancouver's North Shore. You can select from a variety of optional add-on adventure activities to customize their mini-coach tour experience. Landsea's two pre-cruise tours have complimentary luggage pick-up and drop off. Their drivers are exceptionally pleasant and knowledgeable about the area.
Upon arrival to Vancouver we were afforded time to explore the amazing Granville Island Public Market. The public market houses a diverse array of vendors that include butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cheese specialists, chocolatiers and more. Local artists have set up shop just outside, alongside a wine shop, micro-roaster of organic coffee and Canada's only sake distillery. With more than 50 permanent vendors and a constantly rotating roster of farmers and culinary artisans, Granville Island is a true cook's treasure and a browser's heaven!
From Granville Island we headed to our host hotels in Vancouver. I stayed at the fabulous Fairmont Waterfront. I'm pretty sure I got the best room on the Gold level because upon entering my room I was greeting with a floor to ceiling view of the Canada Place Harbor. I watched as the magnificent cruise ships docked and then departed for their next journey!
Nestled on Vancouver's harbor and offering stunning water-views of Stanley Park, coastal mountains and sparkling city skyline, Fairmont Waterfront truly embodies relaxed West Coast Luxury. This 4 diamond urban retreat features spacious and renovated guest rooms and suites including an exclusive concierge level from which you will not want to go back to anything less. I enjoyed the convenient central location steps from Canada Place Cruise ship Terminal, Stanley Park Seawall, historic Gastown and Canada Line skytrain with quaint shops, galleries, and trendy eateries nearby. This hotel boasts a unique rooftop herb garden and honeybee apiary! They also personalized my amenities. Ahem! Now that's personalized service!
One more stop before the day is done. Following it debut in the Roaring 20's, the legendary Hotel Georgia came to be known as Vancouver's most historic and elegant retreat. When it first welcomed guests in 1927, the hotel brought unheard of luxuries to the young city of Vancouver and Canada's West Coast. When it was unveiled in 2011 as Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the fully restored Georgian Revival property was returned to its former grandeur with additional elegance afforded by extensive amenities and the impeccable service of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. The hotel reflects timeless elegance, with luxurious guestrooms and suites, a spa, fitness center, indoor saltwater lap pool, 1927 lobby lounge and Hawksworth Restaurant. This hotel is stunning! History oozes from its pores! It also boasts a hidden speakeasy that will take you back to the roaring 20's for sure...just look for the green light! Our resplendent hostess treated us to a lovely cocktail hour where we watched Vancouver's A-list mingle.
Day 4: Landsea Tours transported us this morning to North Vancouver and Grouse Mountain. We rode the Sky Ride Surf Adventure atop the Grouse Mountain aerial tramway to the top where I think I tasted the best salmon of my life as part of Breakfast with the Bears. Grouse mountain is an all-season attraction with some of the best views of the city and is located only 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver. It has 6 dining options, a lumberjack show, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, sleigh rides, helicopter tours, paragliding, falconry demonstrations and much more. You can even experience the jaw-dropping 360 degree views from The Eye Of The Wind, the world's first wind turbine with a view - POD accessible by elevator. There's a 5-line zipline up there too! But the best things you'll see atop Grouse Mountain are two giant orphaned grizzly bears in a 5-acre Wildlife Refuge. Grinder and Coola are both boys and are so playful and lazy and furry and cute...and behind an electric fence so they don't eat you. I learned a lot about bears and their habits. I may adopt the hibernation habit myself this winter.
From breakfast with the bears we came back down the mountain to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Breathtakingly suspended 70 meters across Capilano River, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is Vancouver's oldest attraction. Located in the temperate rainforest on Vancouver's North shore the park features the world-famous Suspension Bridge. Treetops Adventure, a series of seven mini-suspension bridges suspended high in the tree tops, and the newest addition, Cliffwalk, a cliff-side journey through rainforest vegetation above the Capilano River. We enjoyed a guided eco-walk and history tour.
From Capilano we rode back to Canada Place through Stanley Park. Beautiful Stanley Park is a 1000 acre evergreen oasis voted best park in the world by Trip Advisor. It features a 9 km seawall path and the Vancouver Aquarium and so much more! At Canada Place we were treated to a birds eye view of all of Canada at FlyOver Canada. It's a flight simulation ride like no other! You really feel like you're flying over Canada!
By this time I was hungry. Delightfully, the next order of "business" was the Gastronomic Gastown Tour with Vancouver Foodie Tours. The earliest origins of Vancouver can still be seen here in preserved Victorian buildings and cobblestone streets. Officially designated a historic area, Gastown began as a bawdy frontier town named after "Gassy" Jack Deighton (a riverboat captain turned saloon proprietor). I know why he was known as "gassy" because I have been on the tour. It's privileged information so if you want to know - you'll have to go. Today, this renovated district is adorned with antique street lamps, shops, restaurants and the Gastown Steam Clock, the world's first steam-operated clock.
Vancouver Foodie Tours was voted Trip Advisor's #1 tour in Vancouver and I can understand why. On this fabulous tour they offered us one-of-a-kind dishes that define Vancouver's culinary scene. We indulged in a feast for the eyes, belly and mind, tasting signature dishes at award-winning institutions while being led by a local knowledgeable guide.
Day 5: Breakfast at the Fairmont Pacific Rim started this day off right! Their fresh squeezed orange juice tasted like sunshine in a glass! This property is for artists! Everywhere you look the eye is tantalized by modern art. After breakfast we had the pleasure of a sight-seeing tour via zodiac with Sea Vancouver.
Sea Vancouver provides adventurers, whether first-timers or seasoned veterans, a guaranteed blast! Launching from the Westin Bayshore hotel, their fleet of open-air purpose built, zodiac style vessels are Vancouver's fastest and safest way to view the city from the sea. Adventures begin cruising along Vancouver's inner harbour, then soaring up to 55 mph as we cross the Burrard Inlet. Along the way our experienced, qualified and passionate skipper provided a fascinating array of information, highlighting the sights of Coal Harbour, Northshore, English Bay, False Creek and Stanley Park. Each adventure can be tailored to your specific interests.
Lunch at the stunning Relais & Chateau Wedgewood Hotel & Spa in the heart of downtown Vancouver amidst gardens and waterfalls of Robson Square combined the luxury of a great hotel with timeless European elegance and personal, unobtrusive service. We were surrounded by an abundance of flowers, fine antiques and original works of art. This hotel boasts many awards including Conde Nast Traveler's 2013 Reader's Choice "Best in The World" Award. They serve a fabulous afternoon tea with an elegant European ambiance.
I highly recommend, if possible, that you enjoy a tour of Vancouver from the water and the air in the same day. Harbour Air delighted us with a tour of Vancouver from the air! Harbour Air Seaplanes is the world's largest all seaplane airline offering daily scheduled flights to Vancouver, Richmond, Victoria, Comox, Sechelt, Nanaimo, Pitt Meadows, the Gulf Islands and Whistler (seasonally). Scenic flight tours as well as private charters for any size group are also available. With a strong commitment to safety, service, and comfort, Harbour Air works hard to ensure that every passenger experience is beyond their expectations and absolutely unforgettable. Sightseeing tours include the Panoramic Classic, Fly N' Dine Horseshoe Bay and Taste of the West Coast. Visitors can also fly with the locals on the Mail Run from Vancouver's Harbour to quaint villages on the Gulf Islands. All flight services are completely carbon neutral and include high quality carbon offsets to mitigate future greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia.
A spectacular dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver rounded out our last full day in this beautiful city. This sublime hotel occupies the first 15 floors of Vancouver's tallest 62 story landmark building. It embraces the group's unique philosophy of providing Asian hospitality with cutting-edge architectural design. It is conveniently located near all shops, restaurants, theaters, the Convention Center, Stanley Park and one block from Robson Street shopping. I highly recommend the spa!
Day 6: As Virtuoso advisers we were treated to the utmost in luxurious travel. Breakfast at the Fairmont Waterfront was no exception. True to Fairmont form we had expert service, amazing ambiance and their culinary craft were on display at ARC restaurant for us once again.
I admit it was hard to say good-bye to this amazing experience. However, I wouldn't want a vacation that wasn't hard to leave. Vacations should be treasured! I certainly appreciated mine...luxury travel will do that to you. Thank you for everything Virtuoso and Critics Choice Vacations!
We are all Vancouver experts at Critics Choice Vacations and know the area well. Feel free to contact any of our agents to create and craft an amazing trip like this one. Nothing is out of reach and everything is possible in British Columbia.