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Seattle to Victoria to Vancouver

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     Need advice here please. We are a family of 5 cruising the inside passage RT from Vancouver in July 2022. This is our 2nd Alaskan cruise. I would like to fly in to Seattle a few days early and rent a car.   Is it feasible to drive to Victoria from Seattle then drop the car off in Vancouver? Should we plan on spending the night in Victoria?

     We want to return to Butchert Gardens and see the highlights of Victoria before our cruise. Then on the return we will  pick up another rental car , tour Vancouver before heading back to Seattle and dropping off the car for our trip home. This way, we get to see many new and beautiful sites.  Family ranges in age from 9 to 70  -all in relatively good health. 

      Oh, btw, this will be our first time to visit Seattle as well. Your suggestions are greatly appreciated.

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Apologies in advance for the very long response - I'm a waffler, and very out of practise at re-editing myself given how little traffic there's been on Cruise Critic this last year!


Assuming we go back to open borders/all mentioned businesses remain open/other Covid-caveats - then it's absolutely possible... but it's not going to be particularly cheap or quick, so unless the journey itself is a thing you want to do there are going to be more efficient options. Compared to flying taking the ferries is slower, far less frequent, and even the price might end up being higher.


To specifically address what I think you're considering - doing Seattle to Vancouver via Victoria in a single day by car? In short - that's a terrible idea. You might make the driving and ferry logistics work, but you'd have very little time to actually go Do Stuff despite a very long day! Day trips to Victoria from Vancouver run 13-14 hours by bus & ferry - and your dinner break is on the ferry back to Vancouver, not exactly a stellar dining option. To do Butchart justice alone you really want to have 3+ hours on-site, the Royal BC Museum can suck up at least that long too, there are also various historic buildings, fake castles, other gardens... if you have the time it is ALWAYS worth overnighting in Victoria, no question about it!


Driving logistics - basically, if you rent a car and plan to take it by ship to Victoria you can't take the Clipper from downtown, as that's pax-only. If you already planned to visit the Olympic Peninsula and/or some of the islands near the border, this isn't a problem - the Black Ball line runs from Port Angeles to Victoria and it's a lot cheaper. Getting a car on this ferry isn't much pricier than our local BC ferries to the Island - I think the car fare of ~US$70 includes the driver and other pax are <US$20, and BC Ferry one-way ride is ballpark US$15pp for all pax including driver, and US$40 for the car.


If you just really want to do the urban centres, the Clipper is an awful lot more convenient than Black Ball - but not cheap. In theory you can find fares close to $100pp in shoulder, but in July any time I've checked available prices are more likely to be over US$150pp (even more for fancy seating). That's pretty much always going to be pricier than flying.


Personally, unless actually taking a boat over the border is thing you want to do as an experience and are happy to pay for the privilege thereof, I'd adjust flight routing instead - adding on a hop to YYJ from SEA will be your fastest and almost certainly lowest-cost option. By simply shifting all your Seattle stuff until AFTER the cruise, you cut out the ferry leg entirely. Or the other way around - fly to SEA, tour about there then drive up to Vancouver pre-cruise, and after the cruise head over to Victoria and fly YYJ-SEA-home airport.


Getting a one-way car rental either direction Vancouver-Seattle is simple - the only real unknown is the cost, as that always varied wildly from literally free to vastly overpriced (pre-season the rental companies often price very high, and/or add on a drop fee, hoping folks will be silly and book a non-refundable rate or just forget to check pricing and rebook later - but as bookings come in and they figure out the ballpark balance between directions the prices drop). Rule of thumb is that the closer to the day you need to travel the cheaper they get as rental cars do need to get back to their country of registration, so when the number of pax renting North and South don't match a US car ends up stuck in Canada or vice versa - get real lucky and you can move the car for no cost, or at least score a real bargain rate.


Pre-Covid, I've never failed to find a regular size car available for a hundred bucks or less on any search for a one-day to Seattle - if you have at least two adult drivers, so 2 smaller cars would work for you rather than restricting yourselves to an SUV/minivan that will hold five plus luggage comfortably, you'll have more flexibility to grab bargains. If you insist on a single vehicle, especially the rarer ones like a minivan, the lowest price could be 3x higher than getting a couple of 'any size will do' cars. Do price-compare across all fleets, pier pickup vs. airport vs downtown, to ensure you see all the available price options.


If car rental works out to more than about $50pp for the best-priced option on your dates, consider bus or train instead - or even a cruise transfer, as often you can get bused nonstop to SEA by the cruiselines for $60pp or less. Since you mentioned touring Vancouver, the evening Amtrak same day is possible if you only want to hit a few highlights - if you plan to overnight in Vancouver, then I'd take the morning train instead (it's more reliably on-time, as it sits overnight locally - no risk whatsoever of connections elsewhere making it late leaving). Hands-down Amtrak is the most pleasant way to cross the border - prescreened here before boarding, so no border delays, and since it stays closer to the water than the highway there are lots of nice views. With seniors and kids, the fares are also insanely good value - regular adult fare US$34pp booked in advance on a Saver ticket, but some of your party could be paying half that rate - and since stations are downtown, getting to/from hotels is a cheap cab ride.


Lastly, any car rentals will require appropriate car seats for your 9 year old at least - if you took the kiddo to AK last time you cruised, you may already be familiar but just in case, here in BC 'professional drivers' are allowed to transport kids without a car seat (that means possessing a Taxi, Limo, or Bus license and driving such a vehicle for pay - not an Uber/Lyft person driving on a regular car licence or even a limo guy driving his own kids around for free), but of course even if that's legal you may not be comfortable with it!


What to do when you're touring? Not knowing you & yours, best advice is not to say what I like to do but to point you at a broader source of opinion - TripAdvisor is a great starting point. Yes, fake reviews and all - but for popular sites with hundreds or thousands of reviews you can implicitly trust that the relative ranking is reliable when it comes to Joe Q Public. Start with the top ten items, read up on them, see which float your boat - given the disparate ages I'd recommend getting everyone to make their own list of what they want to do and then compare them.


Anything that appears on all the lists? Do it! A split opinion? Split the party! As long as there's a responsible adult in each group, with a cellphone, it's not hard to go different places then meet for lunch/dinner again after - even if you don't have free roaming, you can use Vancouver's totally-free municipal WiFi to message each other, and bonus even a kids tablet can connect to those, only WiFi needed no SIM card.


Hope that helps!


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  • 4 weeks later...

wow!  Great information!  I have been doing more research, so Now I see what issues arise with this plan. Fortunately, I am going to take your advice and change things around. I really appreciate your help!

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