|Off-season Vancouver B.C.|
Looking for an excuse to plan a getaway to Canada this year? How does 30 percent off EVERYTHING sound?
The Canadian dollar is the lowest it's been against the U.S. dollar in 13 years, due mainly to falling oil prices. It takes just 71 cents to buy $1 worth of anything in Canada. That means that a hotel room priced at $100 Canadian costs just $70.56 U.S. A $50 meal is just $35.60. A $108 lift ticket at Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort is $76.21. How long will this last? Who knows, but while it lasts, I'm planning more travel to Canada.
Most years, my husband I alternate between spending a winter weekend in either Victoria or Vancouver, British Columbia, using off-season packages offered by Clipper Vacations or the Back Ball Ferry Line to visit Victoria, and taking Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver.
This year, we took the train to Vancouver ($128 for two) where the deals at the annual Dine Out Vancouver Festival (Jan. 15-31) were enticing. Offering three-course menus for $20, $30 or $40 Canadian ($14, $21 and $28 U.S.) were 288 restaurants. Narrowing the choices to a few was tough. As it turned out, our favorite new dining find was Nuba, a Lebanese restaurant that wasn't participating in Dine Out, which means we can revisit again and again for the same great prices.
Nuba has three locations (Gastown, Kitsalano and Yaletown), with more to come. The emphasis is on healthy, flavorful takes on Middle-Eastern favorites. It was easy to see why the cozy Gastown location, underground in a historic building on West Hastings, was nearly filled by 6 p.m. on a Saturday. A vegetarian would be in heaven here. We started with Macedonian feta, the Najib’s Special, crispy cauliflower tossed with lemon and sea salt, served with tahini; and Mjadra, organic green lentils and rice with onions and jalapeño, served with avocado and caramelized onions. The portions were so ample (the cauliflower was our favorite), we decided to split the roasted eggplant with a tomato and red pepper stuffing, topped with feta dressing and toasted walnuts. That dish was a bit underdone, and when we mentioned it, the waitress offered to replace it AND take it off the bill. With our "30 percent discount,'' the total was a bargain $34 U.S. including a beer, glass of wine, tax and a generous tip.
Getting around using Vancouver's interconnected TransLink transportation system is a breeze. There's a SkyTrain station directly across from Vancouver's Pacific Central train Station with a quick connection into downtown. It was raining so we bought a one-day pass ($6.92 U.S.) good for the buses as well as the SkyTrain. We used it to zip from our bed and breakfast to Stanley Park (Bus 19), then directly to Nuba and finally back to our hotel.
|Nuba in Gastown|
Normally we bid for a four-star hotel on Priceline and snag the Hyatt, Westin or Marriott for around $90. Given off-season prices and the favorable exchange rate, we splurged instead on a top-of-the-line bed and breakfast, the O Canada House, a historic Victorian in the heart of downtown where the $162 Canadian rate was an affordable $114 U.S., including taxes, a gourmet breakfast and evening sherry before the fire. January and February are normally the slowest months, but the owners reported business has been brisk this year with many Americans booking rooms.
|The O Canada House|
The bargains don't stop with hotels and restaurants. More affordable are normally expensive attractions, such the excellent Vancouver Aquarium ($31C/$22 U.S.), and the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park ($38C/$27 U.S.), an outdoor Disneyland in North Vancouver (with a free shuttle bus from downtown). Stretching 450 feet across and 230 feet above Capilano River, the bridge has always been the main attraction. But there's much more to explore here, including an attraction called Treetops Adventure, seven suspended footbridges offering views 100 feet above the forest floor; and a new cliff walk that follows a granite precipice along river.
|Capilano Suspension Bridge|
Many of you were interested in what I had to say in an earlier post about international airfares being so much lower for flights out of Vancouver International Airport compared to Seattle-Tacoma International. This has little or anything to do with currency fluctuations, but rather market factors (Delta's increasing dominance of the Seattle market, highly-paid tech workers willing to pay more etc.).
Is the savings worth the hassle of getting to and from Vancouver from Seattle? Let me walk you through our thinking recently when shopping for tickets into Rome and out of Berlin for spring travel.
Delta's round-trip fare into Rome from Seattle and out of Berlin back to Seattle was $1,467 per person. Its fare into Rome from Vancouver, 150 miles north, and out of Berlin back to Vancouver, was $758 (quoted on its website at $1,074 Canadian dollars). Adding on a $60 round-trip ticket on Amtrak to get to and from Vancouver, the total price came to $818, a savings of $649 per person. Worth it? You bet.
A few tips should you decide to do this:
* Whatever type of transportation you use to get to and from Vancouver (QuickCoach Shuttle, BoltBus, Amtrak or Park and Fly), make sure it will get you there three hours ahead of your scheduled departure. The QuickCoach Shuttle that runs between Seattle and Vancouver no longer stops at the airport, but rather at the nearby River Rock Casino. It's a short Skytrain or taxi ride from there to Vancouver International, but best to factor in an extra 30 minutes.
Check out the transportation options before booking your flight. If the timing is not right, consider spending a night in Vancouver. Factor that into the total cost to see if the savings still pencil out.
*Airline websites quote prices in Canadian dollars for travel originating in Canada. That means you'll pay in Canadian dollars. Be sure to use a credit card that carries no international transaction fee. Otherwise you'll pay an extra 1-3 percent.
*Book directly with hotels and other accommodations when possible in order to pay in Canadian dollars and take advantage of exchange rates moving in favor of the U.S. dollar. Pre-priced package deals may not be the bargain they seem to be. Online booking sites such as Airbnb and Clipper Vacations (which for some odd reason still includes a $16 round-trip fuel surcharge in its prices) quote prices and process payments in U.S. dollars.