As I sail beneath the Lions Gate Bridge, I feel giddy. Usually, boat passengers enjoying the perspective of the steel girders and vaulting suspension cables of Vancouver’s landmark crossing are headed on a multi-day adventure aboard a massive cruise ship. I was on a yacht venturing on a 3.5-hour journey to downtown Victoria. It was whimsical to voyage in a way I had not done in the dozens of previous times I travelled between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island.
I walked 15 minutes from my apartment to the docks behind Canada Place and boarded the V2V Empress, a 242-seat luxury catamaran yacht that is in its second full season sailing passengers between the province’s two most attractive cities. The boat belongs to V2V Vacations, which has managed to achieve a rarity these days. It has found an unserved market in a crowded tourism world. As it refines its product offerings there are certain to be many who will be keen to come on board. For those who live in British Columbia, just the idea of getting directly from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria (or vice-versa) is reason for excitement.
Prior to V2V, options between the two cities were limited to sea planes that leave from one downtown harbour and fly about 30 minutes to the other, or a short flight from one international airport located in a suburb to the next. Both of those options can cost more than $200 for a one-way flight. Traditionally, the most popular transportation choice has been driving (or taking a bus) 35 minutes to catch a BC Ferries sailing that carries hundreds of passengers and their vehicles across the Strait of Georgia. In peak season, wait times for passengers travelling in cars can be painfully long, often stretching hours. Drivers can reserve a spot on their desired sailing for a fee. For a solo driver, the cost of a BC Ferries’ one-way ride includes a passenger fee ($17.20), a vehicle fee ($57.50) and potentially a reservation fee ($10 if booked seven days in advance), plus gas. In total, the V2V Vacations’ fare (starting from $110 one way for an adult) is comparable, and the convenience and experience easily makes up for any additional cost.
V2V Vacations makes it clear they aren’t a commuter boat or strictly a passenger ferry. As such, the company’s market leans towards travellers visiting from out of province. The vacation experiences the company sells encourages day trips or short overnight stays. The boat, which shares its name with Victoria’s most famous hotel, leaves Vancouver, sailing across the Strait of Georgia and through Active Pass — a channel known for sightings of orca and humpback whales. The V2V Empress passes the same islands as the BC Ferries’ boats and will follow those much larger vessels through the Southern Gulf Islands.
While sailings on BC Ferries dock at smaller islands or, most often, in Sidney, the main terminal on Vancouver Island that’s 35 minutes by car from downtown Victoria, V2V continues on to the heart of the provincial capital. While on board, passengers are divided into Premium Class and Royal Class. In both cases, passengers are allowed to bring one suitcase and one carry-on bag at no additional cost, and have access to WiFi. Royal Class includes table service and a three-course meal with one alcoholic beverage and unlimited non-alcoholic beverages. Its passengers sit on the second deck of the boat with a panoramic view of the ocean.
As the journey ends, the yacht enters the glorious Inner Harbour and docks within steps of the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the British Columbia Parliament buildings. Once departed, passengers who purchased a tour experience venture off on activities such as a sampling of the city’s food and drink scene, or a shuttle to Butchart Gardens for a walk around one of the world’s most acclaimed floral and horticultural attractions.
Following the chosen excursion, each passenger can board the Empress again for the 4:30 pm sailing back to Vancouver, or choose to book a hotel until the boat arrives on another day. Sailings occur once per day from each city. Plans are in the works to increase the frequency and also to partner with hotels for overnight stays in Victoria that can be purchased through V2V Vacations. The company also has a partnership with Harbour Air that allows travellers to sail to one city and fly back to the other (or vice-versa).
Those passengers who sail to Vancouver, arrive at 8 p.m. and will need to stay at least one night. For someone in Victoria wanting to see a concert or sports event, V2V is tempting because it takes you directly to downtown, avoiding the traffic and construction on the city’s roadways.
For me, the venture to Victoria was joyful for the ease of travel and the convenience of the V2V Empress, which created an experience that will appeal to first-time travellers to BC as well as long-time citizens.
MORE ABOUT V2V VACATIONS
Cost: Adults: starting fare is $110 for one way ($220 round-trip) in Premium Service; $165 in Royal Service ($370 round-trip). Day-trip costs vary depending on the activity. There are many options to choose from.
Tips: For someone who has not visited Victoria before, the Butchart Gardens’ experience is a must (starting at $290 per person with V2V, including round-trip travel and entry to the gardens). Another terrific option this summer is the Royal BC Museum package (starting at $245 per person). The museum, noted for its large IMAX theatre, is featuring a special exhibition on the Maya that was curated in conjunction with the government of Guatemala.
Notable: The ocean currents can cause rocky sailing and because the V2V Empress is far smaller than the BC Ferries boats passengers are more likely to feel the effects. On my sailing, the journey had a stretch where the boat was tossed from side to side by the waves for about 20 minutes. The crew kept the passengers aware of what to expect, and when the discomfort would end. If you are prone to seasickness, taking precautions before you board is important. The crew also provides complimentary herbal seasickness tablets if necessary. The Empress travels at around 26 knots (roughly 50 kilometres per hour).