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Destination of the Week: Vancouver

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To celebrate Canada Day (that’s July 1 for all you hosers), we had a new TPG contributor named Melanie Wynne guide us north for today’s Destination of the Week and take a look at one of Canada’s (and North America’s) coolest cities: Vancouver. Gorgeous scenery, fantastic cuisine and a slew of top-notch hotels all make this Pacific Northwest city a premier destination.

WHAT TO DO
Considered one of the world’s most livable cities for its cultural offerings and green spaces, Vancouver provides an exciting blend of urban and outdoor adventures.

This metropolitan forest of high-rise towers is a foodie’s paradise of global cuisines, and a magnet for art, theater and music. Bordered by four bodies of water (the Fraser River, Burrard Inlet, English Bay, and False Creek) and a handful of beaches, surrounded by a temperate rainforest and the soaring North Shore Mountains, Vancouver allows you to start your day in the wilds of British Columbia and end it with a gorgeous meal and an evening of stellar entertainment.

Even though Vancouver is huge, renting a car is neither necessary nor especially convenient; parking tends to be expensive and in many cases, hard to find. Most neighborhoods are both walkable and safe, the SkyTrain, Bus and SeaBus are inexpensive, well-connected forms of public transit, and bike rentals are available all over town.

Downtown 
Vancouver grew up around Victorian-era Gastown, a touristy warren of cobblestone streets hung with fluffy flower baskets and chock-full of galleries and gastropubs, as well as independent boutiques featuring Canadian clothing designers. Take a sightseeing pause by the historic Steam Clock, or wander down to the harbor’s edge.

The historic Gastown Steam Clock.

Many of Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadians have moved from Chinatown to the suburbs, taking the city’s best dim sum restaurants with them. These days, Chinatown is most popular for nightlife options like head-bobbing to the world’s priciest sound system at Fortune Sound Club or drinking hand-crafted cocktails at the speakeasy-style Keefer Bar. During the day, recover from your evening excess at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden.

A graceful Beaux-Arts building in the center of Downtown, the Vancouver Art Gallery‘s 10,000 works provide a comprehensive study of the Western Canadian art scene from the mid 1800s through today. Nearby, the Civic Theatres - the gilded, historic Orpheum, the modern Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and the intimate Vancouver Playhouse – offer a wide range of musical performances, stand-up comedy, independently produced plays and Broadway shows.

West End
In this leafy neighborhood (home to most of the city’s few remaining Victorian houses), patio-hop your way along a summertime pub crawl on Robson Street, keeping your stomach full with a continent’s worth of Asian food. To work off your indulgence, stroll, bike or skate the peaceful Coal Harbour Waterfront and enjoy some of the city’s best views of the mountains.

Part of the scenic Coal Harbour Waterfront.

Adjacent to the Waterfront, explore the enormous, woodsy sprawl of Stanley Park, wending your way past huge duck ponds, through boggy groves of cedars, and over arched stone bridges. From June through August, this 1,001-acre park fairly explodes with color, its azaleas and rhododendrons in full bloom.

Just south of Stanley Park, English Bay Beach and Sunset Beach are the most popular stretches of sand in Vancouver, and especially crowded on July weekends.

South Vancouver
One of the Vancouver’s most popular attractions is Granville Island, a former industrial port that creative city planners reconfigured as a 50,000 square-foot commercial complex. Set beside False Creek, Granville features boutique shops full of local crafts, and a sprawling food market featuring handmade donuts, sustainably harvested seafood, small-production wines found only in the province, and much more. Market tours are available from area chefs employed by Edible Canada, who have their own on-site booth and bistro.

The food market at Granville Island is one of the city’s most popular tourist haunts.

To the east of Granville Island rise the glittering spires of Yaletown, a former train yard beside the Fraser River that is now the fastest-growing apartment zone in Vancouver. In summer, the favored activity here is patio-side cocktail drinking at hip hotspots like the Cactus Club Cafe, Section (3) and the Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar.

Just west of Granville Island, three museums clustered together allow you to explore the sea, the stars, and both the future and past of the city: the Vancouver Maritime MuseumPacific Space Centre, and Museum of Vancouver. A few minutes north, the VanDusen Botanical Garden has just debuted a new high-concept, eco-friendly visitors’ center; July at the garden brings waterlilies, fuchsias, roses and a blooming meadow.

The Grouse Mountain Skyride ferries guests to the peak high above the city.

North Vancouver
The Skyride, North America’s largest aerial tramway, makes the 1.2-mile climb to Vancouver’s highest peak, Grouse Mountain, every 15 minutes. Up on Grouse, you can enjoy shows of lumberjack strength and skill, go hiking, and visit orphaned grizzly cubs at the mountain’s wildlife refuge.

While the Capilano Suspension Bridge is more widely known, it’s not the city’s only option for walking through the treetops. The Lynn Canyon Park & Suspension Bridge is a 617-acre park with several hiking trails and a 50-foot-high rope-edged bridge that allows you to stroll above a forest canyon. In summer, bring your bathing suit to take advantage of the park’s various swimming holes.

The Sewell’s Marina Sea Safari boat takes guests on a tour of the harbor’s sights.

Just over the Lions Gate Bridge, zip yourself into an integrity suit and let Sewell’s Marina Sea Safari zoom you out on the cold waters of Howe Sound in a rubber-sided Zodiac boat to see misty mountains, lavish mansions and frolicking sea lions. To warm up and dry off after this exciting excursion, linger over summery drinks on The BoatHouse Restaurant‘s deck and watch boats and seabirds come and go.

YOUR EXPERIENCES
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

GETTING THERE
A large hub that over 40 carriers that connects directly to 22 U.S. cities and 17 international destinations, Vancouver (YVR) has one of the most beautiful airports in North America, with First Nations’ tribal motifs and wood carvings, as well as a tree-lined indoor river that flows downstream towards baggage claim.

Alliance carriers here include Air Canada and United (Star Alliance)American Airlines (OneWorld); and Delta (SkyTeam). Alaska and WestJet also fly from several western U.S. destinations to Vancouver.

You can opt to catch the North America portion of a major international connection, like Cathay Pacific’s JFK-Vancouver-Hong Kong route (as Brian did recently), or Air Canada’s flight from Toronto-YVR-SYD, so that even on a short or mid-haul, you’re using your points for international business class instead of old-school domestic.

Note: Passport lines at YVR can feel endless, especially between the high-traffic hours of 10am – 3pm. However, if you purchase a Nexus card (which costs $50 US and is valid for 5 years), you can skip these lines altogether. On the reverse when leaving YVR, it is a U.S. pre-clearance city, so you clear customs and immigration in Vancouver so when arriving back to the U.S., it’s treated like a regular domestic flight. There are also Global Entry kiosks at YVR when leaving potentially making immigration even faster.

HOTELS
Most of the major chains are represented in this enormous city, so we’ve chosen a few properties from each to highlight.

A standard guest room at the Park Inn & Suites.

Carlson
Park Inn Hotel & Suites on Broadway:  Set downtown near Granville Island, the new Broadway City Hall SkyTrain station, the Vancouver Convention Centre and the Cruise Terminal, this hotel has 117 guest rooms, many with views of the city and surrounding mountains. The Park Inn has a fitness room as well as the casual Market Cafe (serving three meals a day) and Fairview Pub, where you can listen to some live music amidst a bustling local scene. Rates in July begin at $134 a night or 38,000 Gold Points.

Fairmont
All Fairmonts in Vancouver feature Fairmont Gold floors, which have their own reception desks and private lounges, breakfast buffet, afternoon canapés, an honor bar, in-room high-speed Wi-Fi and more.

The elegant Fairmont Vancouver is one of the chain’s flagship properties.

The Fairmont Vancouver: One of the hotel chain’s flagship properties, this one is located in the heart of the city. It has 556 guestrooms starting at 300 square feet. The hotel has a fitness center, which was renovated in 2010, and an indoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi. There is also an on-site spa called Absolute Spa. Be sure to check out the traditional afternoon high tea at the 900 West Lounge. All-day dining is served in the main restaurant with an open kitchen, Griffins. Rates in July start at $289 a night; rooms are redeemable for 25,000 Fairmont Rewards points, junior suites for 30,000 and Fairmont Gold rooms/suites for 35,000.


The Fairmont Vancouver Airport has great views of the runways.

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport: Located within YVR, this luxury hotel offers a full-service spa, health club and pool, as well as a signature restaurant, Globe at YVR, serving three meals a day plus afternoon tea,  and featuring wines from the nearby Okanagan Valley. Some of the hotel’s 392 guest rooms (including two lavish suites) include views of the airport runways, as well as Bose sound systems, Nikon spotting scopes, and Millar & Harris amenities. Hypo-allergenic rooms are available, as well as quiet zone and day-use rooms for those on long layovers. Rates in July start at $299 a night; rooms are redeemable for 25,000 Fairmont Rewards points, junior suites for 30,000 and Fairmont Gold rooms/suites for 35,000.

A Signature King room at the Fairmont Waterfront.

The Fairmont Waterfront: Set in the heart of Downtown, over 300 of this hotel’s 489 rooms offer views of Coal Harbour and the North Shore Mountains. The Royal Suite once accommodated Queen Elizabeth II,  and one- and two-bedroom family suites are available; all rooms have in-room recycling boxes and Le Labo bath amenities. The ground-floor restaurant, Herons, features locally-sourced cuisine, and its bar, Sip + Savour, specializes in B.C.-specific wine and cheese pairings, as well as hand-crafted cocktails which use herbs from the hotel’s third-floor garden. Rates in July start at $329 a night; rooms are redeemable for 35,000 Fairmont Rewards points, junior suites for 40,000 and Fairmont Gold rooms/suites for 45,000. This hotel is also a member of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, so Amex Platinum cardholders enjoy perks like room upgrades upon availability, early check-in, late check-out, daily continental breakfast, and $100 in food and beverage credit per stay.

The Fairmont Pacific Rim’s beautiful outdoor pool deck.

Fairmont Pacific Rim: This glittering 5-star hotel, which opened beside Coal Harbour just before the 2010 Winter Olympics, offers 377 guest rooms with views of the harbor, mountains and Stanley Park. The elegant ORU Restaurant specializes in Pacific Rim cuisine, and the  Lobby Lounge hosts live music six nights a week. Giovane Cafe features a crayon-bright Vespa scooter, espresso drinks, a casual lunch menu and a mouthwatering bakery case. The fitness center has a full-service spa, outdoor terrace with Jacuzzis, infrared sauna and meditation pods, and a rooftop pool with private cabanas and fire pits. Rates in July start at $429 a night; rooms are redeemable for 45,000 Fairmont Rewards points, junior suites for 50,000 and Fairmont Gold rooms/suites for 55,000. This hotel is also a member of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, so Amex Platinum cardholders enjoy perks like room upgrades upon availability, early check-in, late check-out, daily continental breakfast, and $100 in spa credit per stay.

A double guest room at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown.

Hilton
Hilton Vancouver Metrotown: The largest shopping and entertainment complex in British Columbia, Metrotown is located in the nearby city of Burnaby; Downtown Vancouver is a few minutes away via the adjacent SkyTrain. This Hilton offers Hilton Serenity Beds and 250-thread count sheets in all 283 of its rooms and suites. Executive Rooms provide access to a private Executive Lounge, and in addition to a 24-hour business center, there is complimentary Internet access throughout the hotel. The fully-equipped fitness center features an outdoor pool and whirlpool, and Reflect Social Dining + Lounge provides a casual indoor-outdoor space to have daily breakfast, Sunday brunch, or evening cocktails. Rates in July begin at $95 a night or 40,000 Hilton Honors Points.

The Hampton Inn & Suites downtown.

Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Vancouver: Surrounded by the city’s entertainment district, this 132-room hotel provides free high-speed Wi-Fi and bottled water, and every bed is from the Cloud Nine Collection. In addition to an on-site cafe, hair salon and gift shop, this Hampton Inn features an indoor, rooftop whirlpool with a skyline view. On-site parking is limited, but the hotel offers complimentary bike rentals and daily Downtown shuttle bus service from 7 am-7 pm. Rates in July begin at $211 a night or 40,000 Hilton Honors Points.

A newly renovated guest room at the Hyatt Regency.

Hyatt
Hyatt Regency Vancouver: All 644 rooms and suites at this eco-friendly, 100% smoke-free Downtown hotel offer views of the mountains, skyline or Stanley Park, and feature Hyatt Grand Beds, iPod docking stations, and Portico bath amenities. In-room Wi-Fi is available, as well as a 24-hour business center. The casual Mosaic Bar & Grille serves three meals daily, as well as a varied bar menu. The full-service fitness center has a whirlpool and an outdoor heated pool. Rates in July begin at $327 a night or 12,000 Hyatt Gold Points for a standard room, 15,000 for Regency/Club and 18,000 for a suite.

A suite at the soon-to-open Residence Inn.

Marriott
There are three Marriott properties in Vancouver, including the Residence Inn Vancouver Downtown which is scheduled to open in July 2012. This is slated to be a Category 5 property, but currently is not selling any rooms for July. The other two hotels hug the Coal Harbour Waterfront and feature private Concierge Lounges, eco-friendly and smoke-free policies, high-speed Wi-Fi access, Bath & Body Works amenities, and views of mountains, the harbor or the Downtown skyline.

The Renaissance Vancouver’s lobby.

Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel: This 434-room, 8-suite hotel features two Concierge floors, as well as a fitness center with a whirlpool and heated indoor pool. The casual P2B Bistro & Bar offers Continental, seasonal, locally-sourced cuisine, and serves three daily meals, seven days a week. Rates in July begin at $219 a night or 30,000 Marriott Rewards points.

The Marriott Pinnacle in the heart of downtown.

Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel: The hotel has 432 rooms, 6 suites and 51 Concierge rooms, as well as a fitness center with a whirlpool, sauna, heated indoor pool and access to a personal trainer. The  Showcase Restaurant and Bar offers a Pacific Northwest-theme menu and sustainable seafood, and serves three daily meals, seven days a week. Rates in July begin at $249 a night or 30,000 Marriott Rewards points.

The Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre on Broadway is one of the 11 Priority Club properties in the area.

Priority Club
There are 11 Priority Club properties in the greater Vancouver area, including the Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre on Broadway. This 197-room, 2-suite hotel, which has pillow-top mattresses, a casual restaurant/lounge on-site and a Chinese restaurant next door, is currently undergoing minor renovations and will have a power outage from 10pm-10am on July 24th, 2012. Rates in July begin at $146 a night or 10,000 Priority Club Rewards points.

Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Vancouver Downtown: This hotel’s 245 rooms and 28 suites include complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, and on the two Executive Club levels, rooms have private balconies. The 24-hour fitness center features saunas and a heated indoor swimming pool, and there is an extensive business center. The restaurant, UnWind, combines a bar, lobby, coffee shop and patio to provide a variety of dining experiences. Rates in July begin at $146 a night or 10,000 Priority Club Rewards points.

The Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre is one of the city’s largest hotels, with 733 rooms.

Starwood Preferred Guest
Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre: The 733 guest rooms and suites here all have views of the harbor or skyline, and Club Rooms provide access to a private, 24-hour lounge with food, beverage and Wi-Fi-service. The 12,000-foot spa and health club complex features a lap pool, co-ed sauna, two whirlpool tubs and several massage and treatment rooms. Cafe One, the modern restaurant, serves lunch and dinner daily and highlights the work of a Canadian glass artist; Bar One has a full cocktail menu, including their own signature martinis. Rates in July begin at $187 a night, 10,000 Starpoints, or 4,000 Starpoints + $60.

The Westin Grand is an all-suite property.

The Westin Grand: This all-suite boutique hotel is set in trendy Yaletown, with both a rooftop pool and nearby beaches for catching some summer sun. Hidden Tasting Bar and Social Lounge specializes in small plates and cocktails in the evenings, but serves three meals daily. The full-service gym has a steam room, sauna and outdoor whirlpool, and the business center is open 24 hours a day; in-room Wi-Fi costs $14.95 CAD per day. Rates in July begin at $209 a night, 10,000 Starpoints, or 4,000 Starpoints + $60.

The Westin Bayshore is right on the waterfront.

The Westin Bayshore: Just beside Coal Harbour and Stanley Park, the views from this hotel’s 511 rooms and suites, as well as from the patio of its Seawall Bar & Grill, are some of the best in the city. All rooms feature Westin’s signature beds and bath amenities, but only the two-bedroom International Suite has a rooftop balcony. The health club has two swimming pools (indoor and outdoor) and a hot tub, the hotel has nine fully staffed yachts in the adjacent marina, and the on-site Currents restaurant features a dockside deck and a lavish, $45-a-head brunch buffet on the weekends. Rates in July begin at $199 a night, 10,000 Starpoints, or 4,000 Starpoints + $60.

The lobby of the Four Seasons, an Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts partner.

Other Options
The 307-room, 66-suite, Four Seasons Vancouver, surrounded by city views, is a member of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, so Amex Platinum cardholders enjoy perks like room upgrades upon availability, early check-in, late check-out, daily continental breakfast, and $100 in food and beverage credit per stay.. Vancouver’s only Rosewood property, the now-revamped 1927 Hotel Georgia, has 156 luxury rooms and suites and a full-service spa with an indoor saltwater lap pool. The Loden‘s 77 rooms and suites are set amidst a garden with river-rock streams and a waterfall, and this hip hotel’s on-site restaurant is a French bistro. Part of a small Canadian chain of luxury boutique hotels, Yaletown’s 96-room Opus Vancouver features one of the city’s most popular cocktail bars.

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