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Cruise Views

Vancouver Woos Ships to Alaska

August 23, 1987|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers

VANCOUVER, Canada — If the energetic folks of British Columbia have their way, what people call the Alaska cruise may soon become the Canada and Alaska cruise.

For starters, there is Canada Place, the magnificent harbor-front pavilion built for Expo '86 that is now serving as Vancouver's strikingly handsome cruise ship port.

Instead of arriving in an industrial port or at a warehouse-like pier miles from the center of town, Vancouver's lucky passengers embark and disembark right in the heart of the city, under spectacular white fabric sails reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, set against the burgeoning Vancouver skyline.

Adjoining Canada Place, the curving Art Deco lines and luminous glass-and-chrome-colored walls of the Pan Pacific Hotel rise dramatically above the sails like a classic ocean liner facing the sea. Within the same building complex are the World Trade Centre and the city's new Convention Centre.

Colorful Gastown's saloons, shops and restaurants are only a short walk away, and the new Lonsdale Quay Market with its pubs, boutiques and cafes is a 12-minute sea-bus ride across the harbor.

Los Angeles Changes

Most cruise passengers who arrive by air in a port face a wait of several hours before their cabins are ready and they can go aboard. In the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro, for instance, there's little to do except settle patiently into a folding metal chair and wait.

By the end of the year, however, according to port spokesperson Julia Nagano, work should be complete on two of the three all-passenger terminals (the third is still in the design stage), when shops and restaurants will be available on the passenger concourse.

The Port of Los Angeles processed 488,000 cruise vacationers during the 1986 fiscal year and has 25 ships from 12 cruise lines that call regularly, so it's about time for some passenger services besides the canteen truck.

San Francisco passengers, at least those sailing with Sitmar Cruises, are a little luckier, because they can check their hand baggage into a convenient center beside the embarkation area and take a free shuttle bus provided by the cruise line to the shops and restaurants on Pier 39. Or they may go for a walk along the famous Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf if the weather is good.

But the Vancouver-boarding passenger, rain or shine, can check his hand baggage and stroll in comfort around the shops and international food boutiques of the World Trade Centre, and take in the IMAX film, "The Dream Is Alive," the big hit at last year's Expo, for only $5 Canadian (about $3.50 U.S.). Or perhaps sip British Columbian wines or Moosehead beer and nibble on delectable freshly-made dim sum in the Pan Pacific's Cafe Pacifica with a splendid view of the ships--and all of it under one roof at the cruise port.

During Vancouver's record summer season of 1986, about 325,000 passengers were processed through the port for 23 cruise ships representing 14 lines, according to Peter Fraser, managing director of the 10-month-old Cruise Industry Assn. of British Columbia.

On a rainy Saturday in early July, with four cruise ships tied up around the Canada Place promontory, Bill Reid, British Columbia's minister of tourism, was optimistic about the province's cruise future, not only as a port but also as ports of call. Reid works closely with CIABC to promote more stops in Western Canada for ships en route to Alaska.

Deer, Bear and Whales

"We're talking now to four more cruise lines and hope to have them for the '89 season," Reid said. "By stopping in only one area, say, in the Queen Charlotte Islands, visitors could see deer, bear, killer whales and sometimes big gray whales."

Several ships already stop at lesser-known British Columbia ports, including Cunard/NAC's Sagafjord, which anchors off tiny Cormorant Island to visit the village of Alert Bay, and Sitmar's Fairsky, which calls at Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

Friendly Port Hardy residents organize softball games with the Fairsky's crew and passengers, and provide optional shore excursions for helicopter flight-seeing, a copper-mine tour, deep-sea fishing charters and a harbor cruise.

Shore options at Alert Bay, the ancestral home of the Nimpkish tribe of Kwakiutl Indians, include an excellent museum devoted to the potlatch, the traditional gift-giving ceremonies of the coastal Indians; the world's tallest totem pole, and a hillside cemetery filled with dozens of elaborately carved totems.

Exploration's luxurious Exploration Starship sails from a Prince Rupert base on alternate weeks this summer during its maiden season in the north.

Other potential British Columbia ports of call being considered by cruise lines include Nanaimo on Vancouver Island--a fishing, boating and water-skiing center that is known primarily as the starting point for the annual July "bathtub races" across Georgia Strait to Vancouver.

Only a few miles away are Chemainus, famous for its historical murals painted on the outside of almost every building in town, and Duncan, home of numerous totem poles and the historic steam-powered logging trains that chug through the woodlands of the British Columbia Forest Museum.

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