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martincath

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About martincath

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  • Location
    YVR & PDX
  • Interests
    Travel, eating, eating while traveling;-)
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    NCL
  • Favorite Cruise Destination Or Port of Call
    Alaska

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  1. The hill I'm referring to is simply the difference between the ferry dock and the top of the east side of the river valley that Levis sits on (you don't *have* to climb it at all - just looking back from the ferry itself gives you a very good view! - but there are some nice historic areas of Levis, and the higher up you go the better the view of the Chateau Frontenac). Link to ferry (in English) for schedule and fares, and a Google walking route up to the semi-official viewpoint at the top of the 'red stairs' here. This involves a climb of approx. a hundred feet - if you do spend a bit more time over in Levis then you could go higher (the fort is about a hundred metres up from the river side, or ~ 350 feet, and you could take a bus rather than walk the couple of miles which also avoids the hills), there are many spots you get good views across the river from. No funicular on the Levis side unfortunately - that's the way to avoid climbing any steep streets on the Quebec city side, and it very conveniently links the most touristy bit of the upper town (right in front of Ch. Frontenac) with the pretty-much-pier-adjacent part of the lower town (most ships go for 22, very close, but on multi-ship days you may end up with an extra half mile or so walk to 30 or a shuttle bus along to 103 if it's really busy and your ship has the short straw). Map of the cruise piers here. You'd have to ask your line when boarding starts, but hopefully it will be around noonish (IIRC the ~9am train on weekdays has a baggage car, so that's ideal for typical cruise luggage and puts you into Quebec City around noon; link to VIA rail website so you can check options on your exact date).
  2. I'd agree with pretty much everything above right down to hotels; Springhill we used on almost all of our roadtrips to Montreal, Lower Town Quebec City has some bargain hotels too (BW+ City Centre used to be our go-to there), and a nonstop flight to Montreal for a couple of nights followed by the train then another couple of nights in Quebec City is the way to do it. Many cruises seem to have an overnight in QC - so if yours does you should consider 3 hotel nights Montreal and 1 hotel night in QC, as Montreal is the larger city with more stuff in general and definitely a more vibrant resto scene. For me the one definite must-do that many tourists seem unaware of is the commuter ferry across to the other side of the river - the only way to get the 'postcard' view of Old Quebec with the Fairmont 'castle' is from the Levis side! It's cheap, and even if you walk up the hill you could still get over and back in well under two hours (but consider staying over for dinner - tends to run a bit cheaper than the touristy side - and getting some sunset/nightime snaps as well as in full daylight).
  3. martincath

    Getting from Seattle ro Vancouver

    I just plugged in 30 April 2019 (you seem to be cruising May 1st) for a one-way, one-day, rental SEA to YVR on Costco's car rental page and both Avis and Budget are showing availability of virtually all car categories (Avis for drops at all downtown as well as YVR airport branch, Budget just airport right now). $200+ at the moment as they're still padding rates a LOT this far out. If you were trying for a one-way with a drop at the pier, that may explain zero results - the pier is a temporary rental location and the franchisee(s) operating changes occasionally. Until closer to cruise season it's very possible that no bookings will be taken to or from the pier. and the rates and availability across different companies will definitely vary - in general they get cheaper and cheaper though. You may also have chosen a drop time too late for the downtown branches - in spring it's pretty rare to have a car rental office open beyond 6pm, so if you were planning to leave Seattle in the afternoon and drop the car on arrival in the evening that could be problematic (choosing a still <24 hr rental period but with return next morning should alleviate that problem, then drop the car early with a 'keys in the slot and walk away' return rather than pay for overnight parking at a hotel). The train is always a possibility too, unless your flight arrives too late for it the day before your cruise (and even then, Amtrak virtually never runs late enough to risk a cruise when you take it morning of; the rolling stock is sitting in Seattle waiting to go for the morning train, no dependencies on other Amtrak routes so only catastrophic issues with the line are a realistic factor).
  4. OP flew in 2017... way too late to offer them any help! I believe Transat's Carry-On max size does remain the same these days but they've altered their Checked baggage policy at least once since 2016, with another change coming in 2019, so some of the info above is also no longer relevant...
  5. martincath

    Lodging in Vancouver

    You're welcome - with 12 people to consider who may have wildly-different ideas about the best thing to see/do the best thing I can suggest is to get them all to look at Tripadvisor! Skim the 'top 10' lists of sites, tours etc. independently and flag say each person's own top three. Compare lists and see if there's a natural breakdown where you split into two or three groups and do different things at the same time. If there's something on which you all agree, do it first (no issues waiting if some folks are delayed en route since you'll all go together) or last (if everyone meets up at site X at Y o'clock, then it becomes easy to corral everyone straight to dinner afterward). The most uniquely-Vancouvery things are almost certainly the 'easy to combine into one walk' Stanley Park and the Seawall. The latter rings the entire park as well as a bunch of the rest of the city, but is way too long to walk or ride all of on a short visit; the former is also enormous and you could spend days inside to see it all, but the most popular parts tend to be close to the Seawall (e.g. totem poles) or overlooking it (Prospect Point) so they're a very logical combo. But don't get caught up in 'everybody must do X' planning, especially with a big group! Figure out what's the best choice for your specific bunch, be willing to split up (even if you don't all have cellphones with plans that work cheap in Canada, we have a free Wifi network downtown that makes even kid's tablets without phone features into perfectly feasible comms devices to stay in touch with each other - look for the #VanWiFi hotspots). I'd say that your biggest problem will be finding dinner for twelve if you all want to dine together. Beyond the issue of finding one menu that will fit all palates, as someone who has regularly booked big group night outs for Meetup and the like, many Vancouver restos absolutely detest large group dining - to the extend most of the good independent mid-range Western spots flat-out refuse to take bookings except on quiet nights (Mon/Tue/Wed are usually doable, but Thu-Sun are a nightmare) unless you book the whole resto. Super-pricey places have private dining rooms and will customize menus - so if you can throw money at the problem, no worries - but for more affordable options you face looooooong waits or a really short list of viable bookings. Personally I'd suggest the more tolerable chain restos - e.g. Milestone's which has a couple of downtown branches and a very broad menu - if you need 'normal' food, but if everyone is up for Chinese seafood then 12 people would be ideal for arranging another unique-to-Vancouver thing to do, an Alaskan King Crab feast! In general large Chinese restaurants are an excellent choice for big groups - they have big round tables for 8 or more, usually various sliding wall 'private' rooms can be made too, and assorted group menus with prepackaged lists of options at various price-points cuts down on how many choices you need to make. Out near your hotel in Richmond are several restos who offer this (Richmond is the main Chinese-dining area in the region) but there are also some downtown. Sun Sui Wah started the whole thing off and still do it well - they have a Vancouver and a Richmond branch - but a bit of Googling and reading some local food blogs may suggest a specific other resto that's doing something interesting you all like the sound of, e.g. Dynasty Seafood and Red Star have both innovated a bit on how they prepare the crab over the years. Sun Sui Wah is always who I recommend to first-timers though as they not only do the crabs well, but their house specialty of Squab (pigeon) is available to add on to any menu and is delicious - roasted to a dark caramel & crispy-skinned, and they come out whole with their heads on. That does put many people off, but each bird is small compared to a chicken so even just adding one for the entire table is enough for a little taste (they'll cut it up for you too). Even if all your folks won't be happy with a heavily-seafood focused meal, with 12 you can easily handle combining a crab feast with a 'regular' prix fixe menu for some of the group. King Crabs are rarely under 10lbs, and the regular rule of thumb is a pound of crab per person since about 75% of the weight is shell. It's brought alive to your table for display, then served up as part of a 5+ course extravaganza where the crab is used at least 3 different ways: always (the best!) with the legs split, stuffed with garlic, then roasted; some kind of house fried rice dish served up inside the crab's body shell with more meat mixed in; and then varying other possibilities like a soup, deep-fried crab knuckles etc. There's always a selection of non-crab starters to eat while waiting for the first crab dish, a dessert to finish off, and of course you can add additional courses for extra cash to the whole experience. Absolute minimum price for the simplest crab feast will run you at least $40 a pound without adding extra courses or alcohol - so it's a pricey meal for small groups, but becomes very affordable for a big group as adding extra portions of the 'filler' dishes is minimal. Plus, unlike even the fanciest of Alaskan restos, the crabs are always served fresh here not frozen - they live year-round in huge tanks so the extremely narrow fishing seasons are only a factor in price not availability - which means not only a better texture but that for example the garlic-stuffed legs actually have a chance for the flavours to infuse the flesh, whereas the typical steamed and frozen legs can only have a sauce poured on the outside.
  6. martincath

    Lodging in Vancouver

    SkyTrain is definitely worth considering from the Hampton - it's walkable (~7mins on foot, level) to Bridgeport Station and no AddFare so your cost to go downtown will be very low (Seniors/kids/time of day makes a difference; CVU's link above gives the exact fares and you're looking at the 2 Zone pricing for daytime travel Mon-Fri, 1 Zone for evenings and weekends, so somewhere in the $25-50 range total spend for 12 peeps depending on age and day of travel). The hotel shuttle will almost certainly be willing to drop you right at SkyTrain too (especially if tips are offered!) Cabs direct from the hotel will be metered, ballpark $35-40 per cab and realistically you'd have to take 4 (in theory all cabs seat 4+, but since most are Prius with modest trunk space 4 people may fit but their luggage will not... minivans are usually set up for wheelchair pax so still only have 4 seats but have plenty of luggage space, but they are <20% of local fleets so waiting for three of these could take hours). Taking the hotel shuttle back to YVR gets you fixed-price cabs, definitely $35 each to the pier, but adds a lot of time for a pretty minimal saving - if pennies are tight, SkyTrain is definitely what you want to do. NB: if you are staying precruise to do some sightseeing, you'll also have to budget the time (~1 hour) and cost (as above) for coming downtown every day, as there really isn't anything around the Hampton for tourists (well, the Night Market is walkable on summer evenings for an interesting dinner/shopping experience). A non-refundable bargain booking at a 3* hotel downtown, a good bid on Priceline or Hotwire, or just booking the YWCA hotel downtown will likely all be a better deal than the Hampton airport in terms of your total spend as you can walk to all the attractions. For just an overnight stay then heading to the pier though, it'll do you just fine - head down early to drop your bags at the pier then do some sightseeing before boarding!
  7. martincath

    Alaska Whale Watchilng

    Both Juneau and Hoonah are equally good for Humpbacks with 100% success rates (it's the same feeding sites that tours from both ports visit). You may also get lucky and see some other whales that summer in the area, and have a slim but not zero chance of seeing Orcas. It's utterly irrelevant who you go with in terms of whether you see whales - every boat on every trip from these ports finds whales! But there are different sizes and styles of boat that make photography and the overall experience slightly different - some folks like a big boat (e.g. Allen Marine, used by most cruiselines, have 75-150pax catamarans with 2 or 3 decks). Higher up = can see further and also gives a different angle for photos, plus you get better facilities on board like regular toilets and wheelchair accessible areas instead of tiny emergency-only loos that involve clambering through hatches to access. The downside of big boats like this is the lack of opening windows so photos only really work on deck, and limited rail space per passenger so getting a good view without being jostled can be a challenger - especially if folks are running from side to side when whales are seen! Small boats aren't allowed to be any closer to the whales, but you FEEL closer. Personally I try to find dedicated boats like Gastineau Guiding use - 14-22pax and built from the ground up as whalewatching craft, outdoor spaces available but sldo every pair of seats has a huge window that opens all the way so no glass obscuring your shots, and built on an RHIB hull to provide both speed and stability. The really small boats ('six packs') used by most independent operators can be any old design, with good and bad seating areas, and while they generally all take 6 passengers they can vary enormously in size and shape and stability. Vancouver/Victoria are your best bet for Orcas, with over 90% success reported by local companies most years due to the resident Orca pods in the Salish Sea - they are generally much more exciting to watch than the big fat filter feeders, greater chance of seeing interesting behaviours. We have also had some of the migrating Greys and Humpbacks hanging around in recent years - local herring population has been greatly increasing, making it feasible for the big whales to get enough food to not have to swim all the way up to Alaskan waters. Sometimes the local Orca pods roam too far from port to be reached as their range is wide - so unlike with Juneau and Hoonah, who you tour with really DOES make a difference. Faster boat = greater range traveled in the tour duration, so we would recommend the tour operators who use Zodiacs - but be aware it can be a bumpy ride, so folks with bad backs or who are pregnant are best advised to skip. Extra time on the water is more difficult - almost everyone does the same 3-ish hour tour length with multiple trips per day. The only exception I'm aware of is also one of the most convenient locations - Wild Whales who launch from Granville Island in Vancouver. They only use each boat once, and will stay out for at least 3 hours but up to 7 if whales haven't been spotted yet - so if you want one single trip with the best possible chance of seeing Orcas, they're the one to take. Everyone down here offers a 'free trips for life if you do not see a whale' guarantee which is great for locals and repeat visitors, but if you're only here once is of no value!
  8. Since you're obviously able to create and use an account here on CC, Google Maps (or Bing, or OpenStreetMap, or many others) should be even easier to use and will save you time (no need to wait for someone to respond on here) as well as improving the quality of your data (looking up exact locations and directions on a map removes the risk that I and other posters have fallible memories about where hotel X is in relation to the port/attraction Y/restaurant Z). I find the only advantage to CC for questions about hotels is in comparison between multiple possible hotels you have already found using TripAdvisor/Expedia type ratings and pricing info and Google or other maps to confirm location: locals and cruise-focused visitors who have stayed in them can tell you tidbits of info about the hotel, surrounding neighbourhood etc. that might be impossible to pick up from general reviews and maps. Asking for folks on here to give you 'first cut' recommendations though is a losing proposition - you are severely restricting your potential information sources. Much better to cast the widest possible net - TripAdvisor is a good bet - for initial research (e.g. the ACTUAL cost per room info on your dates!) then come back here with really specific questions like "between hotels X, Y, and Z which is best for 2 nights pre-cruise assuming we want to walk to sites including A, B, and C locations - are there dodgy neighbourhoods to worry about, or footpaths which locals know about but Google has not mapped yet?" JMHO!
  9. Odds are very high that the ship will be berthed in the heart of the city, so downtown hotels which are good for pre-cruise touring are also good for getting to the ship quickly and easily. Many hotels you may be able to walk from if you can handle your bags. As already asked, budget is probably the biggest factor - if money is no object, the Fairmont is an iconic property in the upper city. If cash is tighter or you have points to burn, there are downtown branches of Marriott, Hilton, Best Western etc. We've generally been in QC only on business for several years now so it's been the swankier end of things for us as already paid for, but when we lived within road-tripping distance we found the BW+ City Centre consistently offered a low price. The St Roch 'hood that it's in has some great restos & bars as well as being quite walkable to Upper and Lower historic areas when you aren't schlepping luggage (and not much over a mile from the port, so a cheap cab or Uber ride).
  10. Since it's at least an hour each way from an airport hotel to downtown using transit (LINK light rail, with hotel shuttle to/from the nearest station or SEATAC) staying downtown is definitely more convenient. While cabs would be faster if you avoid rush hour, the cost of cabs into town and back would mean you should have just spent cab fare + airport hotel room on a downtown hotel instead! We like Seattle Center - it has several 'high value' attractions itself (Space Needle, Science Center, some museums, Chihuly) and is very walkable to the downtown core things like Pike Place, SAM etc. if you can handle a mile or so on foot. You also avoid most of the steep slopes walking in from here. The Mediterranean Inn has become our preferred off-season choice (no AC means no summer visits for us, but if you're more tolerant of warm weather you may find it good all year round). Big roof deck with views, plenty restos around.
  11. martincath

    Bay of Fundy Reversing Rapids with Limited Mobility

    You can see it just fine from a city street - it's even conveniently called Fallsview Avenue! Parking spots for plenty of cars and a few bus bays for HOHO/coaches. Google Streetview is here. It should open with you looking from the parking spots directly across to the rapids (they're right next to the Pulp Mill). NB: check the tide timetables carefully! The best way to appreciate the full thing is to see them in full flow each way and during the actual reversing stage of course, but unless you have a looonnng port stop that's not feasible (and honestly, we were underwhelmed by the whole experience - but that was when they advertised it as a waterfall rather than rapids which is a much fairer description without the assumption of a nonexistent big plunge of water!)
  12. martincath

    Vancouver - Night Ops?

    Hmmm - Canada Place can, and has, berthed four ships (that was the main purpose of the renovations of ~ 3 years back when Ballantyne was shut down for cruising - last year saw two 4 ship days early on and another August day where the East berth had two ships even though there was nobody at the North berth). There should not be any need for tendering - the East side is set up with two vessels nose to tail, one each on West and North in my experience. I'm not familiar with Viking Ocean so it's possible that it is too large to fit alongside the other vessels in any combination and they will tender, but if so that will be a first. Assuming it's the same size as the other VO vessels (228m) then there is room on the East berth for either Mariner or Noordam plus Orion - but right now Eclipse is allocated East and it's too big to allow Orion to fit too. Best guess is that Eclipse will be bumped to West which is big enough for it, Noordam moved to East, and Orion then fits. As to 'night operations' I've only heard it in the literal sense that it describes when a port's activities continue overnight; no idea how that is relevant if Orion is on a typical 'in and out same day' schedule! Occam's Razor suggests a mistake by whoever made the draft schedule.
  13. martincath

    Expert brain picking required

    You've given a couple of indicators of YOUR idea of 'best' right there; more info like this, so that us total strangers who don't know you from Adam, have an idea of which of the many options are most likely to be good for YOU rather than US will get you more specific (in both volume and accuracy) replies. e.g. you mentioned wildlife in your first post - do you care about seeing whales? Eagles? Bears? Is one more important than the others? If seeing bears would be your biggest priority for example that cuts down on the timeframe, whereas whales are around for the whole the AK cruise season (and eagles in Alaska are like Seagulls or Pigeons in the UK - you'd really have to try hard not to see them!) What about other vehicles than cruise ships? Are you good on small boats? Small planes? If you're scared of taking a small plane for example, then Misty Fjords and several bear-viewing locations will be much harder to visit - so again if bears were a priority for you there would be a further restriction of your viable cruise options if you aren't willing to fly to them (offhand I think Prince Rupert, a much less visited cruise port in BC, would be the best bet for a boat-based bear viewing for example - Khutzeymateen has a huge concentration on grizzlies - while Icy Strait Point, a much more frequently visited port in AK, offers land-based bear viewing but with different peak times to do so). So as you can see, just because you haven't been to Alaska yet does not mean you can't give us more data to work with! Any aspect of your preferences that you DO know will help - whether it's cruise-specific info like you prefer ships with many resto options, or general vacation preferences like you would rather visit sites of cultural significance than pretty mountains, and how mobile/physically-capable you and your traveling companions are (no point suggesting an excursion that requires hiking if you cannot/do not want to walk about on rough terrain). A preference for a >7 day cruise-only vacation already helps narrow things down - you can combine B2B North & Southbound 7 day trips on pretty much all the mainstream lines, but that HAL 14 day RT is the only mainstream one I can think of offhand that doesn't repeat ports. More luxury/niche cruises tend to be the ones who offer 10 day RTs, but you can also find mainstream lines doing an 'almost RT' at the beginning and end of the season so that they can legally bring their ships up to Seattle from elsewhere in the US, e.g. my fave cruise was our NCL May Vancouver-Seattle one, as it added a couple of extra days and ports to the typical Juneau/Skagway/Ketchikan trio that most 7 day cruises visit - this was also my first visit to Sitka, which is by far the most interesting AK port of call (for me, since I really enjoyed the cultural/historic stuff related to the Russians which you don't get in the other ports - your mileage will of course vary...)
  14. martincath

    New York, City

    You could have a look at the NYC Cruise timetable - which lists calls at both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Looks like it only runs to the end of 2018 right now, but should be updated well before your cruise next June.
  15. martincath

    ESTA question (Non-US citizen)

    My experience crossing US land border with relatives (UK passport holders) was the same as the 'roach posted - $6 each and the old paper I-94W form. We were even told by the CBP officer at the booth outside that if they had got their ESTAs in advance he'd have been able to swipe their passports then and there, we would not even have needed to go inside for processing which was a surprise - so personally I'd get an ESTA anyway, as the minimal extra cost may save you a big chunk of wait time...
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