It’s a holiday fantasia, staged on the high seas. At dusk all throughout December, dozens of ships sail out of Vancouver’s harbor. Carrying thousands of passengers and decorated with hundreds of thousands of brightly colored lights, the festive boats embark on a slow procession along the city’s shoreline.
Christmas carols echo from inside, glasses clink with toasts to the season and lavish meals are served: all part of the cherished Vancouver tradition known as the Carol Ships Parade of Lights.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the parade, which depart nightly at approximately 7 p.m. through Dec. 23. Each evening the regatta of ships sets off for a different part of the city’s coast. Some nights, passengers are taken along the beautiful inner harbor and beneath the iconic Lion’s Gate Bridge. Other nights, the ships sail downtown’s False Creek, flanked by towering high rises, or else motor deep into the Burrard Inlet, where forested mountains meet the waterline.
Activities on board vary but generally include caroling, a holiday feast and live entertainment and dancing. For the kids, there are chances to meet Santa, while parents have access to a full bar on board. Most cruises last from two to four hours, with prices ranging from $50-$80 per person.
A little tip for travelers thinking about taking a cruise: Throughout the holiday season, visitors to Vancouver who book a two-night stay at participating hotels will receive a free $125 gift card redeemable for hundreds of shows and activities in the city, including carol cruises aboard the Accent Cruises and Harbour Cruises lines.
Any carol ship regulars out there? Who offers the best cruises and what’s the best day to go?