Christmas has a bad rap.
It’s the one day most envision as the priciest, the most time consuming and stressful day of the year to travel.
But while I completely dismissed travel at Christmas (opting instead to travel in the first two weeks of December when flight costs to Europe get especially low) this year I discovered a few things that challenged my thinking. As a result, I spent Christmas (and New Years Eve) this year in Vancouver.
Now that the holiday is almost over, I thought I’d take a look back to assess two things. 1. Is traveling during Christmas even a good idea? and 2. Is Vancouver a worthy option for Christmas time?
We can start by assessing question one by looking at the four common notions that surround Christmas travel.
Notion #1: Isn’t it expensive to fly on Christmas?
Well… yes? I don’t have an objective answer to this, but that’s my subjective answer after making conscious travel plans in the first two weeks of December for the past three years. Every year I would look up flight costs in and around December. Every year I would think ’oh wouldn’t it be nice to spend Christmas in country x?’ and every year I would nope right over to the first week of December flight date after reviewing Christmas flight costs.
So what challenged my thinking this year? Well enter Black Friday
Although I had seen Black Friday sales posted for flights I never took them seriously. Especially if they were sales for Air Canada (I’m sorry but 15% off the regular price is NOT a sale, it’s tax-free regular flights). But I was shocked to see that this year, their flight sales were actually….good?
I used up Aeroplan points to pay for the first leg of the trip (and paid for taxes plus some additional to cover my shortfall in miles). For the second leg of the trip, I hopped on a seat sale and further discounted the trip using miles from my new credit card. The result was two roundtrip tickets from YYZ to YVR for $706. Total. Not each, but altogether for two. It’s a great price for a trip that often averages $1000 roundtrip per person (and is the reason why I had not been out west on my own dime – I could fly to Europe for far less than that!)
And with the booked flight we found ourselves flying out on Christmas day, with our flight returning on New Years Day.
Notion #2: The airport must be a zoo
Now I still believe this to be true… and my experience is extremely skewed in that I was dealing with a domestic flight this time around instead of an international one. So take my surprise with a grain of salt. I will say that as I made my way to the domestic zone security, I did notice that the Air Canada check-ins (which take care of both domestic and international departures) were surprisingly sparse. And the posted times for security on Pearson’s website were all roughly timed at 5-10 minutes even for international departures.
But shockingly, we managed to get through security in about 5 minutes and got to our gate only about 10 minutes after arriving at our terminal.
I think that won the record for the quickest journey through security to get to my flight…
Which I find rather shocking because ultimately our flight was booked solid. I don’t know where everyone was, but considering we arrived at our gate super early, I suppose they only went through security quite close to boarding time and still arrived on time.
Notion #3: It’s stressful
Let me tell you, I was surprised to find that I had a wonderful holiday. We were packed up the night before and made the hour-plus trip out to my parents for Christmas. We cooked together, ate together, played games together, opened presents together and I even managed to sneak in an hour nap to sleep off that turkey before we had to leave. It really helped that my dad offered to drive us to the airport (we were planning to take GO and then the UP).
So somehow, I managed to have a wonderful Christmas all before my flight, breeze through security, have an easy flight and get into my Airbnb without breaking a sweat. I’ve had way harder travel days than this!
Notion #4: Is it even a good idea to travel at this time of year?
Now, this particular notion isn’t really busted per se. But I think the idea behind it will differ depending on what type of traveler you are. What are your expectations around the holiday season? Are you looking for a new environment that will foster togetherness and relaxation? Are you looking for a cool new place to party? Or are you looking for the usual types of activities you are after every time you travel?
Depending on what you are looking for out of your Christmas vacation, you may find that this will either culminate in the best time of year to travel or the absolute worst.
So if you’re like me, a traveler who loves looking at interesting buildings, learning the history, indulging in great food and checking out free cultural and art activities, is traveling to Vancouver during the Christmas season worth it?
Reasons why it’s WORTH IT
- It’s beautiful
As a city girl, I have never seen such a beautiful juxtaposition of nature and man-made structures.
The air is always crisp and fresh. It brings with it, this reinvigorating feeling that makes you crazy enough to think hell yeah I could climb that mountain! And who wouldn’t want to climb a mountain? Or take a hike through the vibrant and lush forests?
You get a chance to feel so small and awed by nature, but you feel safe knowing that you can quickly head to a brick and mortar building for a taste of something to make you feel at home.
If for nothing else, go for nature. Climb the hills to get a view of the city, climb a mountain, hike a trail, walk through a forest. If there’s anything you do in Vancouver, do at least this.
Reasons why it’s NOT WORTH IT
- Why is everything closed?
While the cost and ease were a big factor in finally taking the time to see the beautiful city of Vancouver, I found myself a bit dissatisfied that I didn’t get my usual plethora of interesting and free cultural activities. I was lucky to have had a chance to visit Vancouver during the tail end of Summer a couple of years ago, but that was for work (which meant I couldn’t see as much of the city as I’d hoped).
I came into this vacation expecting the same level of activity over Christmas as I saw back in the summertime.
So, of course, I was surprised when some of my ‘must visit’ restaurants were closed for the entire holiday week. I could understand some restaurants closing for boxing day, but I wasn’t prepared for a few on my list to have an extended list of blackout dates. I probably should have been, considering it’s the holiday season, restaurants are run by human beings too, of course, those people want time off to enjoy the holiday.
But it didn’t stop there.
There were no free walking tours to join. They close for the winter season. “Winter” never stopped me from joining a walking tour, so it was a bit of a surprise to not get an orientation to the city in my favourite way. Especially since there was no snow on the ground and the temperature was above zero.
The Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen Park which was supposed to be open on boxing day was not, despite the website saying it would be.
The Christmas Market apparently only ran till Christmas (who knew?).
The free suspension bridge at Lynn Canyon Park was apparently closed till further notice. And we only knew that when we arrived after biking from downtown Vancouver (a fun but grueling hilly trip) and saw the signposted.
And the yearly free fireworks display and New Year Eve celebration at Canada Place decided to skip this year in favour of preparing for an even bigger celebration NYE of 2020.
It was disappointing to encounter a different closure of some sort almost every day of the trip. We had to constantly recalibrate our plans. I guess I’m just spoiled from living in a lively city like Toronto.
- It may not be winter but boy can the weather put a damper on things
When we first checked the weather, the forecast was rain the entire week. Luckily when we got here, it was mostly grey and chilly. Of the seven days, it really only rained for a bit less than half the days.
But there’s something about the grey skies, the constant drizzle and the chill that puts a damper on things. You may be able to tolerate it for one day and you push through your outdoor itinerary, but you very quickly start changing your plans in favour of indoor activities.
And while it’s not cold per se (4-7 degree average when we arrived) there is something about the rain that just gets into your bones and chills you from your core.
Winters in Vancouver apparently tend to be like this. It may be above zero and may not be as snowy but you can expect long stretches of rain and no sun. If you are someone who can handle the cold, but can’t handle damp coldness, I’d suggest picking another time of the year to travel here.
You can see the chill in the air
- Capitalism ruins EVERYTHING
Remember that beautiful nature I was talking about? Well, I was shocked to know that not all nature was free. I didn’t realize our capitalist society had found a way to get people to pay for mother nature.
I was looking forward to a nice hike up Grouse Mountain. Numerous websites touted the fun challenge it would be. But none of those websites dared to warn me that come winter, that free hike up the mountain was closed. Instead, it was turned into a snowshoe hike up the mountain which came at the cost of the day pass. I was shocked to find that that, and so many more activities could be available to me for a cool $50 per person for the day. For those of you who are avid skiers or outdoor enthusiasts, I’m sure this is a. to be expected and b. not bad a price. But for a city first girl like me, I was annoyed.
And it didn’t stop there.
Christmas markets? Sure you can enjoy a winter wonderland, but for a fee. As someone who spent December 2016 frequenting numerous European Christmas markets in three different European countries entirely for free, I do not attend these paid for inauthentic markets out of principal.
Museums? MAYBE a museum will have a donate what you can entry fee but expect to pay for each one you visit. As someone who used to live in London UK which has a whole district of amazing free museums, this is another big pet peeve of mine (I’m sensing a pattern here….)
Light displays? A lot of them were attached to regular attractions. So for a slightly higher entry fee, you got to see that attraction plus its light display (ie: Van Dusen Botanical Garden has a regular entry fee of $8-11 for one adult but when the light display is in, this entry cost jumps to $19-24) As we just didn’t have the budget for it, we opted to go for light displays that were entry by donation. It was certainly a more budget-friendly way to enjoy the lights while supporting a great cause!
Bright Nights at Stanley Park, an AWESOME light display that is by donation with proceeds going to BC Professional Fire Firefighters Burn Fund!
So upon reflection of my choices this winter, is Vancouver a great place to visit for the holidays?
CHECK OUT VANCOUVER DURING THE HOLIDAYS if you’re not budget conscious and would like to splurge on the plethora of activities and mountainous sites.
SKIP VANCOUVER DURING THE HOLIDAYS if you’re a budget-conscious traveler. There’s more to see and do for less in the summertime.