It's not hard to understand why Vancouver is so appealing. This vibrant metropolis caters to all age groups and interests; it's particularly friendly to pedestrians and bikers, and even the most navigationally challenged visitors can find their way around with ease.
The area has been occupied by the Coast Salish people, claimed by the Spanish, and was visited for exactly one day by British Captain George Vancouver. In 1827, Hudson's Bay Company built a trading post on the Fraser River, and the company is still around today -- though now as a department store. After that, the fur traders, gold miners and lumber workers arrived and, eventually, the railroad.
Before Vancouver was Vancouver, it was known as Gastown, built out of the need for a bar to serve thirsty lumber mill workers. In 1867, an enterprising man called Gassy Jack supplied a barrel of booze and poured drinks for the men who built him a saloon in a day. A community built up around the bar and, a few years later, incorporated as the town of Granville. In 1886, the town had a population of 1,000 and was renamed Vancouver -- then burned to the ground. The legacy of post-fire reconstruction is the lovely old brick buildings of the original Gastown neighborhood.
Today, Vancouver is an ethnic melting pot, with 35 percent of the 2.3 million metro-region residents being foreign born. It's been consistently rated as one of the most livable cities in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit, with a large population inhabiting high-rises in the city center. The 2010 Winter Olympic Games gave the city a chance to shine in the world spotlight; the Olympic cauldron still stands near the port, at Coal Harbour.
Arriving in Vancouver by air or sea gives visitors a sampling of what to expect from this Canadian seaport. Ships seem to barely clear the underside of the Lions Gate Bridge as they make their way past the massive green space of Stanley Park on the way to Vancouver Harbor (and in fact, the bridge's height restricts the largest cruise ships from entering). The park dominates the west side of the downtown area, and visitors and residents alike can be found walking or cycling on its seawall perimeter or paddling a kayak in the surrounding waters. Just 12 blocks east of the park, the Canada Place cruise ship terminal has its own distinct character. It was built to resemble a ship with its motif of five large sails on top of the pier.
It's easy to explore Vancouver from Canada Place because the city's most popular attractions are located within a two-square-mile area referred to as the downtown peninsula. A unique selection of harbor ferries, hop-on-hop-off buses and light-rail transit (the SkyTrain) makes its easy to get around. Farther-flung attractions even offer free shuttles parked alongside the plaza.
On the north side of the peninsula, Gastown lies just a 10-minute walk east of the terminal building, encouraging history-minded travelers to discover Vancouver's roots. An additional few blocks east will put you in Chinatown, North America's second-largest after San Francisco's. The southwest portion of the peninsula borders False Creek, where the hip and fashionable can check out the ultra-trendy ambience of Yaletown. And across the creek, everyone from foodies to art-lovers to maritime buffs can browse Granville Island's public market, artisan studios and nautical shops. From Granville Island, you can take a harbor ferry west to Vanier Park, located in Kitsilano, or to the east end of False Creek, where Science World sits. Wherever you roam, there are interesting restaurants -- from fresh seafood or dim sum to trendy eateries.
With the coastal mountains as its backdrop, and just 24 miles north of the Washington state border, Vancouver serves as the leading gateway to Alaska, a reputation that has lasted for the past 30 years. Cruise passengers can take advantage of a city with world-class accommodations, international dining, varied attractions, easy accessibility and the notoriously friendly and contagious Canadian attitude.