Getting Pampered in Vancouver – The Sea, the Tea & the Spa

It was a day of firsts for this weary traveler:

  • my 1st visit to Canada (I know. I’m so sorrrry I never visited before!)
  • my 1st time being coated in maple butter
  • my 1st seaplane ride
  • my 1st glamorous afternoon tea
  • my 1st (and 2nd & 3rd) visit to a Fairmont hotel
  • the 1st time I’d ever flown coast-to-coast and felt…relaxed

I was in Vancouver primarily to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury train adventure touted as a “life-changing experience,” but before departing the coast for the Canadian Rockies onboard the iconic locomotive, I had a couple of days to explore one of the world’s most enviable cities to live in.

I very nearly rented a bicycle to explore Stanley Park, but who was I kidding? Since I’m actively trying to stay out of the hospital in the months leading up to my wedding, I decided instead to get into the Rocky Mountaineer luxury mindset with some pampering…

…you know, for research purposes.

Well hello there, Vancouver!


I don’t know about you, but the best way I’ve know how to fight the jet lag is with a little rejuvenating spa time, so I began my picture perfect day of luxuriant lounging at the sleek and modern Fairmont Pacific Rim, where the Willow Stream Spa overlooks the waterfront and the distant mountains from five stories up.

Living the luxe life in Vancouver
Living the luxe life in Vancouver

It was an idyllic spring day, sunny and in the mid-60s. I hear Vancouver isn’t always so balmy or dry, so I donned a fluffy bathrobe and soaked up the sun & the sea breeze in the cozy loungers on the spa’s terrace. Even though I was technically in the heart of busy downtown, something about observing it all from five stories high while snuggled with a book, a blanket and an outdoor fireplace made the hustle around me seem strangely serene.

Prepping for a treatment at the Willow Stream Spa
Prepping for a treatment at the Willow Stream Spa

In between hot tub dips and mini-naps in the sunshine, I had a Coastal Mountain Body Wrap — a massage with a very Canadian twist. First, the therapist coated me in thick, sweet maple butter before wrapping me in warm towels to bake like a Thanksgiving turkey. While I cooked, she massaged my scalp and shoulders until I was little more than a puddle of relaxation. She unwrapped me for a final full-body massage with maple lotion, and I left just as soft and sweet as a bottle of 100% Canadian syrup. (Minus the stickiness!)

Willow Stream Spa Fairmont Pacific Rim Vancouver
Panoramic views of the city from the outdoor deck


Surprisingly, all that napping and maple massaging at the Willow Stream worked up a hearty appetite, so a visit to the Fairmont Empress for fancy Afternoon Tea was in order.

The only problem? The property isn’t in Vancouver the city, it’s on Vancouver the island — which is confusingly not the same place at all.

Fancy that!

Hop onboard a Harbour Air seaplane for a quick flight to Vancouver Island

Just a few minutes’ walk from the Fairmont Pacific Rim is the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, home to Harbour Air Seaplanes. I’ve been on many small planes in my day, but never a seaplane – how exciting! We took our very snug seats and a friendly Canadian guy (I mean, obviously) gave me the window seat since I had three cameras in my lap, and we began our taxi out to the watery runway.

Minutes ticked by and we still weren’t taking off, and then we turned around and went back to the dock. The pilot announced there was a disconcerting rattle he didn’t like the sound of and after saying “soooorrrry” a few times, he hopped out to have a look.

After a minute of tinkering, he said, “I found the source of the rattle. Nothing I can’t fix with a flathead screwdriver. Sooooorrrry for the delay. I’ll be right back.”

He fixed us right up and in no time, we were soaring over the sparsely populated islands on the way to Victoria.

Harbour Air Sea Plane Vancouver

The view from the seaplane window

Even though it was a quick 30-minute flight, the hum of the seaplane’s engines lulled me right to sleep. I felt badly about it because the nice Canadian guy had given me the window seat so I could snap photos the whole time, and I was mostly using it to prop up my snoozing body. I kept one eye half-open, just in case I could spot whales below, but mostly I just hallucinated about maple butter.

Fairmont Empress Victoria


We landed safely at the seaplane terminal in Victoria’s inner harbor, and meandered over to the The Fairmont Empress Hotel, regarded by Travel + Leisure as one of the 500 Best Hotels of the World.

Afternoon tea begins with hotel-made honey
Afternoon tea begins with hotel-made honey

The property has been a local landmark since 1908, welcoming royalty like Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, the Queen of Siam, the Empress of Japan and now, little old me. (Think they’ll change the website to reflect my visit?) 

Feeling quite royal with Champagne & strawberries
Feeling quite royal with Champagne & strawberries

Afternoon Tea at the Empress is a beloved institution in Victoria, something you absolutely must do if you visit. For more than a century, the tea lobby has hosted celebrities, dignitaries and even bloggers, serving up 500,000 cups of tea annually as original portraits King George V and his wife Queen Mary preside over the stately room.

More sweets than you could ever eat
More sweets than you could ever eat

Antique tapestries, rugs and furnishings complement the space overlooking the harbor, but as you can imagine, the real star of the show is the generous spread of treats! Hand-made signature scones, strawberries and fresh whipped cream, pastries and sweets use local ingredients, including honey from the hotel’s own bee colony.

You can choose the original blend of Empress Tea or choose from others, like the Kea Lani Orange Pineapple tea – so delish, even if you’re not usually a tea sipper.

Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress Victoria
Champagne, vintage china and pastries galore

Some 5,000 delicious calories later, I took a slow meander around Victoria’s inner harbor, and then hopped back on the same seaplane for the quick zip back to the city.

The Fairmont Empress exterior is so regal!
The Fairmont Empress exterior is so regal!
Vancouver Seaplane
On the way back to Vancouver

Harbour View Seaplane Vancouver

There’s a saying in Canada, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a Fairmont Hotel.”

At least, I think it goes something like that. Which makes sense that I ended up sleeping at the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel, my 3rd Fairmont property of the day.

Where the Fairmont Pacific Rim is ultra-shiny and modern, the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel is known as the ‘Castle in the City,’ reflecting its historic stature in the center of Vancouver’s busiest shopping and commerce district. Let’s just say after flying across the country, dealing with the 90-minute long line at immigration and hopping from one Fairmont to another, I was ready to fall into bed and…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

My view from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
My view from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Given the perfect weather, gorgeous surroundings and elegant day of spa & tea adventures, my relationship with Canada was off to a very promising start!

Vancouver, I’ll be back!

Vancouver, I'll be back!
Vancouver, I’ll be back!

I was a guest of the Rocky Mountaineer and Fairmont Hotels on a recent media trip. All opinions are strictly my own.

9 thoughts on “Getting Pampered in Vancouver – The Sea, the Tea & the Spa”

  1. Well, how interesting…I’m off to Vancouver this summer and may need to do a little spa research myself! Thanks for the heads up…

  2. I would have needed another spa visit AFTER that puddle jumper experience! I’ll remember that if we’re working with an itinerary like this 🙂 Looks like a fantastic time!

  3. Oh Canada… I really haven’t done it justice despite quite a good many trips there. Looks like you’ve fared much better in just one. You go girl!

  4. Luxury to the MAX! Looks fabulous, but you missed so much of my beautiful city! If you’re ever back in town, you’ll have to wander the rainforests of the North Shore, sample your way around Granville Island, learn about our First Nations at the MOA, take a drive up the sea-to-sky and since you’re into spas, spoil yourself at Scandinave in Whistler 🙂

  5. Hello Angie,

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    Melissa Mike

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