There’s no better way to ring in a new year than with an adventure! I’ve been really bad about keeping this blog updated with my adventures, and I’m going to try to be better about that. I have a backlog of entries dated in the past that I never finished writing about, not to mention my previous adventures from before I started this blog that I never completely ported over. My goal for 2018 is to get through that backlog and be better about posting shortly after – if not during – my travels.
The end of 2017 brought a new crew member into my life (henceforth referred to as The Mad Hatter), and after a handful of conversations that all neatly tied together, we decided to spend New Year’s Eve together in the beautiful city of Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. Victoria is only a short cruise away from Seattle, so we booked an overnight excursion with Clipper Vacations and away we went! We planned very little in advance beyond our departure and return time and the hotel we stayed in overnight, opting instead to freely explore the city without much of an itinerary.
Our stay began at the friendly Coast Victoria Hotel & Marina hotel, only a short walk from the cruise ship departure gate. Check-in was simple, the front desk staff was very courteous and helpful in providing a few local recommendations to visit during our stay, and our first Canadian hospitality experience was pleasantly delightful. I sneakily upgraded our room to a deluxe harbor view during booking, and having the beautiful view of the water and moored ships was well worth the minor additional cost.
After a brief rest in our room after a far too early morning — neither of us are morning types, so why oh why did I reserve an 8am departure?? — we made a quick jaunt over to the Fisherman’s Wharf to begin our exploration. Alas, most everything at the wharf was closed for the season, but the houseboats moored at the wharf were pretty to look at and a great introduction to the beauty of the Victoria harbor. If I ever make it back up here during the warmer months when the wharf is open, I definitely want to visit it again when everything is up and running.
After a short trip on the complementary hotel shuttle into downtown Victoria, we stopped by Irish Times for lunch and a few drinks. It’s New Year’s Eve, after all! I’d read online before arriving at the pub that there would be live traditional Irish music, but two different sources had two conflicting times. One said noon to 5pm, and another said 3pm to 7pm. Unfortunately, when we arrived at 1:30, we found the latter to be true. We left just before the live music started because we didn’t want to hold onto our table for any longer when the staff was clearly trying to clear it out to reserve tables for the festivities later in the evening. As for the quality of the pub itself, the beer selection was great and the food was delicious, but The Mad Hatter ordered a house special modified Irish coffee cocktail that left something to be desired. I felt it was rather weak and a little watery, but she enjoyed it. I ordered an Irish poutine, wonderfully blending Canadian and Irish flavors, while The Mad Hatter enjoyed a West Coast Chowder packed with all sorts of seafood.
We left the restaurant – noticing that we clearly picked the right time since we had no wait when we arrived, but there was now a quickly growing crowd of people at the door – and visited a few of the local shops on Government Street, notably Out of Ireland (to continue the strangely Irish theme of our afternoon in Canada), and Rocky Mountain Chocolates (which smelled absolutely tantalizing upon entry).
Neither of us are big shoppers, so we left the hustle and bustle of Government Street to see the Gingerbread Showcase that our front desk representative recommended when we checked in. The gingerbread houses were incredibly well-crafted, and some of them obviously took so much time and effort to build that I can’t even fathom how much of the builder’s spare time it ate up over the last month.
On our way back to Government Street for our shuttle pickup, we stopped in at Bartholomew’s Pub for another drink (first an Irish pub, then an English pub, because apparently that’s how we Canada). I enjoyed a “Spiced Electro Rootbeer” made with Sailor Jerry spiced rum and a locally craft brewed root beer, while The Mad Hatter sipped on a Hibiscus Spritz made from Prosecco with a locally sourced honey syrup, peach schnapps, and a real hibiscus flower waiting for her at the bottom of her glass. Both were thoroughly enjoyable just before we retired back to our hotel room to change our attire into something fancier to ring in the new year.
When I wrote earlier that we didn’t have much of an itinerary, that wasn’t entirely true. I was late in making reservations for any specific New Year’s Eve events, so by the time I called around, everything was sold out with waiting room only. The Mad Hatter and I both enjoy stand-up comedy, so when I came across Hecklers Bar and Grill and their stand-up special to ring in the new year, I was hopeful that we’d be able to get in. We were only the second people on the waitlist, and we showed up plenty early with optimism and hope that we’d be seated. After what felt like an eternal wait (despite it only being 30 minutes), we were seated by the manager in the corner of the venue. They weren’t the best seats, but we could still see the stage and hear the comedian, and it was frankly a wonder we were able to get in at all since the venue was packed full by the time the show started. The show featured Kyle Bottom and Kevin Banner, and was hosted by Ivan Decker (who recently appeared on Conan). The comedians were alright, though The Mad Hatter recognized some of the presented material and style from other comedian’s sets. We each had several drinks – her a “Dark Moon” (previously unknown to me, but made with cold brew coffee, coffee liquer, spiced rum, cola, and milk), a Red-Headed Slut, and a Cosmopolitan, and I two whiskey and cokes and a White Russian – and while The Mad Hatter was feeling the effects, I was completely unaffected and suspect the drinks were watered down. I’ve never had a double whiskey and coke that didn’t taste like whiskey at all, nor a White Russian that tasted like it was made with non-fat milk instead of cream.
The comedians finished their set by about 11:30, after which a DJ took over. The venue cleared out rather quickly and not many people stuck around until midnight; I heard rumors that there was another party happening right next door, but I didn’t want to chance leaving the venue and not getting into anywhere else by midnight. After the strike of midnight, we left the comedy club to return to our hotel. We debated attempting to get into Irish Times again, but opted to just get another drink at the hotel bar instead. Unfortunately, they were closed by the time we arrived, so we simply called it a night.
We slept in far later than we intended and went straight to our reservation for Tea at The Empress. It’s fairly expensive, but we booked it at a discount when we were aboard the Clipper, thinking it would be a fun experience, and it certainly was. We were both glad we decided not to have a snack earlier in the morning. The elderly man who served us was incredibly pleasant and friendly to talk to. He explained the whole process of high tea at The Empress – we each picked a tea, then they brought out a tower of foods for us to eat after it arrived. The teas were wonderful, and the foods were tasty and surprisingly filling. The experience was well worth the money, and I definitely recommend it.
Our final excursion after tea was a short carriage ride from Tally-Ho Carriage Tours; we initially booked for 15 minutes since it was all we had time for, but the scheduling worked out such that we were able to make a quick trip back to our hotel to pick up our bags before our carriage tour (instead of after), and we extended the tour to 30 minutes. The Mad Hatter was so delighted at the sight of the horses, especially “Spot”, a Clydesdale. To her even further delight, the schedule further worked out such that Spot would be the one leading our carriage! Our tour guide was enjoyable and told us Spot’s backstory: he was a prize-winning show horse, and when the owner attempted to breed him, it turned out that he’s a monogamous horse and only ever bred with one mare, refusing the company of any others. This didn’t work for the owner, so off he went to a horse brokerage where the carriage company discovered him.
Just look how happy she is with him!
With the carriage tour now over, so was our little mini vacation. I’m definitely hoping to repeat this experience again in the future, hopefully during a warmer month when more things are available to explore.