Five Reasons Why We Love Pacific Coastal Cruises

Every fall and spring, one of cruising’s best values takes place on the West Coast. We’re talking, of course, about Pacific Coastal Cruises that typically sail between Vancouver, Canada and Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, or reverse during the spring.

Passengers say goodbye to Vancouver's Canada Place from the deck of Holland America's Zuiderdam. Many Pacific Coastal Cruises start or end in the Canadian city.  Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders
Passengers say goodbye to Vancouver’s Canada Place from the deck of Holland America’s Zuiderdam. Many Pacific Coastal Cruises start or end in the Canadian city. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Of course, you won’t want to fly across the country for one of these, just as those of us who reside on the West Coast aren’t likely to fly to Florida just for a three-day jaunt to the Bahamas. But for those who are close, or who are planning a longer trip to the Pacific Northwest, there’s a lot to like about these special, unique and shockingly affordable voyages.

As a resident of Vancouver, I’ve been taking Pacific Coastal cruises for a decade now. In fact, my very first voyage back in 2005 was a three-day departure from Vancouver to Seattle aboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam that I liked so much that I got home and immediately booked a five-night voyage aboard Veendam to Los Angeles for that fall.

Here are five things I like most about these twice-yearly Pacific Coastal cruises:

1. Pacific Coastal Cruises Are Quick

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Pearl sails out of Seattle.  Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl sails out of Seattle. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Pacific Coastal cruises, by definition, are typically shorter than one week (though weeklong repositioning voyages do exist). The average length of a Pacific Coastal cruise is between one and four days, with plenty of two and three day options in between. Some leave on a weekend, while others depart mid-week. They’re a great way to rest up and feel like you’ve been somewhere (on a cruise, no less!) without having to give up your precious vacation days. And it also doesn’t hurt that …

2. Pacific Coastal Cruises Are Inexpensive

Royal Princess will feature 40 suites with private balconies. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Have you always wanted to try a suite? Pacific Coastal cruises can let you – without breaking the bank. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

It’s like they’re giving them away. Per night, a Pacific Coastal voyage on a nice mainstream ship can set you back less than a night in the not-so-good hotel. You know the one I mean: the grubby one, out by the airport, next to that place that got raided. That kind of hotel.

Because of the reduced price of these voyages (pricing depends, of course, on the cruise line and the number of days), these can be a great way to get that “cruise fix” without spending a ton of cash. But we also know people that see it as a great way to splurge for a special occasion. Always wanted to book the Penthouse Suite onboard your favorite ship? Do it for a night or two – at a fraction of the cost.

Some lines, however, are still able to charge a premium, even for these short sailings. Disney Cruise Line, for example, charges as much for a four-day sailing down to California as most cruise lines do for a week in Alaska. It’s all about supply and demand.

3. They’re a Great Way to Try a New Line

Have you always wanted to try Princess Cruises? Now's your chance: they have short Pacific Coastal voyages running from Vancouver until December this year; the longest cruise season in the city on record.  Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders
Have you always wanted to try Princess Cruises? Now’s your chance: they have short Pacific Coastal voyages running from Vancouver until December this year; the longest cruise season in the city on record. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Have you always been curious to try Line X but didn’t want to shell out a lot of money – or time – on something you weren’t sure you were going to like? Take a quick Pacific Coastal cruise. It can be as short as a single day, or as long as a full week depending on the ship and the itinerary it’s doing.

In the spring, one-night cruises routinely run between Vancouver, Canada and Seattle as ships reposition south to the States to begin their Alaskan seasons. A piece of U.S. legislation called the Jones Act prohibits a ship from sailing from one U.S. port to another without an intermediary call at a “distant foreign port,” which is why ships must reposition up to Canada, then back down again. It’s a piece of arcane legislation that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but cruisers benefit from it.

In the fall, from September to October, these one-night sailings are reversed, travelling from Seattle up to Vancouver to satisfy the same strange piece of legal boilerplate.

Although one-night voyages tend to be a bit of a booze-cruise and can’t really be used to gauge the overall cruise experience, they are a great way to test the waters on a new ship or to see (loosely) what a particular cruise line is all about.

4. They Visit Unusual Destinations

Many Pacific Coastal cruises call on the pretty town of Astoria, Oregon.  Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Many Pacific Coastal cruises call on the pretty town of Astoria, Oregon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Because Pacific Coastal cruises are essentially repositioning cruises, many will just go directly from Point A to Point B with a handful of sea days in between. But a closer look can reveal cruises that go to some off-the-beaten-path locations.

Many cruises will stop in Victoria, the friendly and picturesque capital of the Canadian province of British Columbia. Victoria is no stranger to cruise ship calls (its Ogden Point Cruise Terminal receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually from Seattle-based ships bound for Alaska), but chances are that you’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about this pretty city. And, unlike most cruises to Alaska, Pacific Coastal voyages tend to spend the entire day here, not just a few hours in the evening.

Another popular port of call on the Pacific is Astoria, Oregon. Founded by interests representing American tycoon John Jacob Astor in 1811, you might recognize Astoria from the movies The Goonies, Kindergarten Cop and The Ring 2. Nestled at the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria is also the location of Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1805.

Big ships dock just outside of downtown Astoria, on the western side of the bright-green Astoria-Megler Bridge, but small ships can tie up right next to the fantastic Maritime Museum of the Pacific. So ride the trolley, grab a locally-brewed beer and a bowl of freshly-made clam chowder and enjoy all that Astoria has to offer.

Other ports of call can include Santa Barbara, California; San Francisco, and Catalina Island.

5. Pacific Coastal Cruises Can Act As Transportation

Departing Vancouver aboard the Rotterdam, bound for the Inside Passage. Photo © Aaron Saunders
Departing Vancouver aboard Holland America Line’s Rotterdam, bound for Seattle. Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Now, obviously this final point of distinction doesn’t apply to everyone. But for those who reside in the Pacific Northwest, a Pacific Coastal repositioning cruise could actually be used as a legitimate form of transportation to a larger holiday or vacation. In fact, numerous travel agencies tend to sell voyages to or from Vancouver paired with a multi-night stay in Anaheim (for Disneyland), while some even go so far as to package coastal cruises with a getaway to Las Vegas.

For those continuing on to the Mexican Riviera or Hawaii from Los Angeles, a repositioning cruise is a nice way to extend your entire vacation or even eliminate the need for air travel in one direction. People routinely use them as a way to extend vacations to and from Alaska, which can be a great option for United States residents who prefer to drive to and from their port of embarkation.

Even more to the point, the quickie one-night sailings between Vancouver and Seattle can be used in place of flights, train travel, or renting a car for a weekend getaway in either city.

Although they’re offered only twice per year, Pacific Coastal Cruises are versatile, numerous, and above all else – a heck of a lot of fun for not a lot of money.

Also see Avid Cruiser Voyages: Pacific Coastal Cruises.

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