After two and a half years of being closed to cruise ships, the Vancouver cruise terminal reopened and welcomed the first vessel, the Holland America Koningsdam, on April 10, 2022. Cruise passengers around the world have been anticipating the event and wondering if Canada would extend the port closure.
With Alaska expecting a booming 2022 cruise season, cruise lines and the Canadian government have implemented changes to prevent cases of Covid. Guests still have easy access to the port from the airport.
If you’re booked on an Alaska cruise, here are some vital tips. By planning ahead, you’ll know what to expect in Vancouver and during your inside passage cruise.
1. Download the ArriveCan App
Regardless of where you’re traveling from, you’ll need to download the ArriveCan app. Smartphone users can find the app on Google Play or the Apple Store. The ArriveCan is free and provides a secure platform to upload your Covid vaccinations and details of travel.
If you’re traveling from another country, the government of Canada requires that you complete your travel details within 72 hours before arriving in Canada. All cruise passengers must also complete the ArriveCan within 72 hours before embarkation day.
If you’re traveling with family or others, you can add people to your submission. Once you complete the ArriveCan, airline carriers and cruise port authorities will ask to see your receipt.
At the end of your cruise and before disembarking in Vancouver, you will need to show your QR code.
[UPDATE] You no longer need to use the ArriveCan to enter or leave Canada.
2 You May Need An ESTA
If you’re traveling on a passport from a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, you must complete an ESTA to board your vessel. The ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization is a lengthy online form that asks for details about where you’re going and how long you’ll be away.
A completed ESTA lasts two years or until your passport expires and requires a fee of USD 14. Don’t wait until you’re at the port to complete this online form. Due to its length takes the average person 23 minutes to fill in all the required fields.
3. It May Be Slow Checking In
The Vancouver cruise port has not operated in more than two years. So, as the terminal reopens, boarding a cruise ship may be slow. Be patient, as the port may have new staff who are grasping new procedures or previous staff learning to do things a different way.
If multiple ships are in port, all passengers funnel through the same security and immigration line before separating to board their individual vessels. This process also slows down embarkation.
To speed things up, make sure you have all necessary documents and they are ready in hand. With Covid, cruise lines require passengers to pick an arrival time. So, make sure you get to the port during your time slot.
4. You Can Get Tested Near The Port
Currently, most cruise lines require cruise passengers to be fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid to cruise. Since things are constantly changing, it’s best to check with your cruise line about their specific policies.
While the procedures vary between lines, it’s important to note that the government of Canada has its own policies which override other guidelines. To board a cruise ship, passengers require either a Covid-19 molecular test, taken within 72 hours of departure, or an antigen test, taken within two days of boarding.
Recently, the rules of traveling to Canada changed. Now, fully vaccinated travelers no longer need a test to return to Vancouver at the end of their cruise.
The pop-up clinic offers molecular tests and rapid antigen tests. To find the clinic, walk directly across the street from Canada Place, walk into the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, turn left in the lobby, and take the escalator to the lower level.
If you’re staying at the Fairmont Waterfront before embarkation or Pan Pacific Hotel across the street, you’ll have easy access to pre-cruise testing.
The Covid testing clinic strongly recommends making an appointment but walk-ins are welcome. In-person, tests cost CAD 130 for a rapid antigen and CAD 250 for a molecular. Virtual testing is slightly cheaper at CAD 100 for the rapid antigen and CAD 200 for the molecular.
While passengers may find the tests costly, there are no inexpensive options in British Columbia. Passengers can expect to get their antigen test results in 15 minutes, and 40 mins for a rapid PCR test.
Alternatively, CVM Medical has a clinic at 20-1055 Canada Place Way. They charge CAD 79 for a rapid antigen test and CAD 129 for a PCR test. For those needing a post-cruise test to fly, CVM also has a testing clinic at the Vancouver International Airport.
Travelers flying into Vancouver International Airport (YVR) can get less expensive testing at the airport. CVM Medical, Whitecap RSC Medical, Ultima Vancouver Airport Medical, Bon Voyage Medical, and LifeLabs all offer tests for travel. Rapid antigen tests start at CAD 60.
[Update] You no longer need a pre-cruise test.
5. Alaska Ports Will Be Busy
With pent-up demand for Alaska cruise season, expect crowds in specific ports. Juneau, the capital, sees the most ships, with three to four docking most days.
However, looking over the 2022 season, I was astonished to learn that Juneau is scheduled to receive seven cruise ships on select days. These dates are June 28, July 3, August 2, and August 14.
During the peak weeks, expect six ships in port some days. Since only four vessels can dock in Juneau, the others will need to tender. Checking the port schedule will let you know how many other ships are in port. The plan also indicates which dock your ship will use.
If you haven’t yet booked your Alaska cruise, you may want to look at the cruise port chart. It may play a factor in when you sail and who you cruise with. Should you need to tender in any ports, you may want to allow extra time to get off for booking shore excursions.
6. Expect Some Excursions To Sell Out
Four months before my 10-day cruise with Cunard, I noticed some excursions were sold out. For many, going to Alaska will be their first post-pandemic cruise.
Since many towns are tiny, they rely on seasonal staff from the lower 48 states. Excursions could be limited as operators struggle to find staff to work and provide the tours that were commonly offered pre-pandemic.
While I rarely planned my shore excursions on previous Alaska cruises, I might have to do so in 2024. One word of advice, if you have your heart set on dog sledding in Alaska, or taking a flightseeing tour, book it before it sells out.
If there are five to seven ships in port, tours will fill up fast. Don’t wait too long to decide on excursions or you might be left disappointed.
7. You Don’t Need A Covid Test To Disembark In Vancouver
Until recently, travelers arriving in Canada by air, car, or sea required a negative Covid test. While some cruise lines provide such tests on board, others don’t.
Imagine the logistical nightmare of thousands of passengers trying to do a virtual test with the ship’s WiFi before disembarkation day.
However, recently the Canadian government dropped the need for such a test. Now, fully vaccinated passengers arriving in Vancouver by cruise ship only need to complete the ArriveCan, making things much easier.
8. Expect Higher Prices.
Expect to see higher prices on cruises, shore excursions, and hotels with supply and demand. While there have been some Alaska cruise deals in April and May, the peak months generally command higher prices. So, if you’re cruising to Alaska on a budget, plan to sail in the shoulder season or choose an older vessel.
With over 300 cruise ships expected to dock in Vancouver in 2023, expect crowds in ports, excursions, and downtown Vancouver. During my first post-pandemic cruise, my vessel sailed at 68% capacity, but Alaska cruises could be sailing close to capacity.
As the Vancouver terminal reopens, be aware that regulations and restrictions are constantly changing. So, it’s best to keep in contact with your cruise line to stay current. As the port continues to operate, the requirements to board a cruise ship in Vancouver may change before your sailing date.
Happy travels ~ Karen