Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids: Is it worth it?

A newlywed wish comes true: Our family of four rides the FRS Clipper from Seattle to Victoria, BC, and back again

On the calm September morning, the first rays of the rising late-summer Friday sun touched the green, tree-shrouded islands to the west. The tang of salty air brightened our eyes as we looked out at the dark blue waters of Puget Sound. Behind us, the drowsy lights of Seattle and the calm, deep scoop of Elliott Bay receded. To the north, the curved line of Whidbey Island, part of the San Juan Islands, near the US-Canada maritime border, pointed us onward. On the Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids, our excitement built as our family of four sailed toward Canada, the first country we would all visit together.

36 hours of sailing and the city

Our ship? The FRS Clipper is a two-deck, enclosed catamaran, whose wide design helps keep a smooth, steady path in many conditions. With three classes of travel, comfortable seating, and large viewing windows throughout, Clipper passengers have about a 2-hour, 45-minute sailing where they can relax, chat, or, like us, get a few work and school tasks done.

The deep waters of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound and the Salish Sea are your sailing companions, along with the islands that are popular summer destinations. The wild beauty of these natural expanses at the northwestern corner of the contiguous US relaxes you. After crossing the open waters of the Salish Sea, you catch your first glimpse of your destination, and your heart rate picks up: Before you, the stately skyline and genteel streets of Victoria, British Columbia are waiting to greet you.

If you’ve wondered about taking the Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids, here’s what we did on our family of four’s ferry adventure and overnight trip to Victoria, BC.

We want to thank FRS Clipper for sponsoring our visit. Our opinions, however, are our own.

All aboard for our family of four’s first trip on the FRS Clipper and to Victoria BC

Breezy? Sure. But the views of the water and islands more than make up for it.
Breezy? Sure. But the views of the water and islands more than make up for it.

Our family’s sailing dream was long in the making and finally came true

You know how sometimes you go somewhere, encounter something you can’t do that time around, and put it on your “someday list?” We know how that goes, too: Those bucket list items have a way of staying dreams you might make come true. You know, someday.

For us, the seed for our Clipper sailing was planted in 2010, during our honeymoon in Vancouver, Victoria, and Canada’s Southern Gulf Islands. While in Victoria, we first learned about the Clipper and its daily sailings between Seattle and Victoria. However, the Clipper didn’t fit in with this particular trip. So we newlyweds squeezed hands, gazed into each other’s eyes, and told each other that we would make our way back here at some point, with our someday two children, and we would ride the Clipper from Seattle to Victoria and back again.

Fast forward 12 years, and our family of four was in Seattle, embarking on at least a year of full-time family travel.

And it just happened that we could squeeze in a wee overnight trip to Victoria. On board the Clipper.

That trip on our someday list could move to our “today” list. We would make our newlywed wish come true.

Why should a family take the FRS Clipper from Seattle to Victoria?

From popup camping road trips throughout California to flying to Japan with a toddler, our family loves to travel. However, we have never traveled together by boat. The kids made it rather clear that we had darn well better get on that.

Sailing on the Clipper puts the sea in scenic route. Traveling by water, you see lighthouses, towns on the islands, and sometimes even orcas in the waters between Seattle and Victoria. Every class of the Clipper is full of comfort—not to mention incredible views from the large viewing windows. The back deck is open for passengers who want some fresh air.

Squeamish tummies can be a consideration with any mode of travel. However, the Clipper’s design helps smooth out the ride. If you or your kids can be prone to travel sickness, take whatever measures you might normally take. But unless the day just happens to have rough weather, odds are you’re in for a nice ride.

Plus, once you land in Victoria, you are right in downtown. The small city has you minutes from accommodations, neighborhoods, and attractions—everything you need to immediately get rolling on your adventures in Victoria and beyond.

Our family’s experience sailing on board the FRS Clipper Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids

At the front of the upper deck’s enclosed Comfort VIP section, the first thing that made Anthony smile was the wraparound windows—followed, on this early morning, by the espresso machine. As his freshly pulled americano steamed in the growing morning light, the Clipper smoothly pulled out of Elliott Bay, and we picked out some other snacks and beverages to tide us over until brunch in Victoria.

Passing islands and the mainland, we went out back to stand on the deck together and feel the early sun start to take the cool edge out of the morning air. The breeze from the Clipper’s passage blew the children’s hair, making it look like flags flapping in the wind. Back inside, we settled back into our soft leather seats for a little family reading. During our travels, we aim to have a family read-aloud book. As the day brightened, Anthony sat between Connor and Aster, sipping his coffee while he read a few chapters of the classic children’s story about rabbits, quests, and friendship, Watership Down.

Pickle boats and Useless Bay

After reading and then exploring the ship some more, we returned to our seats. Throughout the cabin, monitors near the ceiling charted the Clipper’s progress. Little did we know that it was also going to show us a bit of comedy.

The names of places can be such unexpected, curious sources of hilarity. As we examined the monitor, we kept an eye out for interesting features. Soon our laughter accompanied our passage, as the Clipper made its way past Skunk Bay and, our favorite, Useless Bay.

Ready to settle into our seats for a while, we replenished our beverages, then got out computers and workbooks to tackle some business and school tasks for the remainder of the journey. Before we knew it, we had entered Victoria’s harbor. Green or yellow water taxis crossed from Fisherman’s Wharf toward Old Town. (We learned later that people call the green ones pickle boats, which had us wondering if the yellow ones are called banana boats.)

As the Clipper docked, we realized how smoothly the past three hours had passed. Along with the beauty of land and sea, plus some calm time to take care of a few things, we had spent the time simply with the calm joy of being in each other’s company.

Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids: Day one in Victoria

The narrowest alley in Canada.
The narrowest alley in Canada.

When you arrive in Victoria on the Clipper from Seattle, a full day beckons. After stashing our luggage in the Clipper terminal (we’d pick it up later, on our way to check into our hotel), we wandered up the street for some travel-fueling brunch.

Brunch and bus

At nearby Nourish Kitchen & Café, a plant-centered breakfast reenergized us for the day ahead. It had been twelve years since our honeymoon visit, and we wanted to pass through sights familiar and new. Since the children had never been to Victoria before, we also wanted to give them a broad overview of the city, and see if they thought Victoria might be the sort of town we’d want to visit on a longer stay than the overnight we’d planned this time around.

With hop on, hop off Gray Line bus tour tickets, we could also give Aster and Connor their first taste of something they’d long been telling us they wanted to try: Ride on top of a double-decker bus.

Leaving from and returning to the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, a full Gray Line circuit of Victoria takes about an hour and a half. Plus, your Gray Line pass is good for 24 hours. We could ride today and even hop on throughout the following day. As we rode, the kids talked with us about attractions and activities that caught their attention, such as:

Old Town evening

Naturally, no family can see everything in one day in a place as full of family friendly options as Victoria (and we know better than to try). Checking into our room at the Best Western Plus Carlton Plaza Hotel later in the day, the kids made it clear that they wanted to come back to Victoria for a longer visit. We talked through our priorities for the evening and the following day, and we talked through what would be better kept in reserve for a subsequent trip (like that carriage ride).

As evening fell and the city brightened under its lights, we wandered Old Town, dined on fresh pizza at Famoso, and people-watched as folks passed by. Even as night came over Victoria, the welcoming, calm quality of the city continued to make itself felt wherever we wandered.

Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids: Day two in Victoria

Serene sailing for kids and cozy friends.
Serene sailing for kids and cozy friends.

So far, our plan was working. We had managed to return to Victoria and fulfill a wish we’d made when we were newlyweds. Even better, the kids were finding Victoria enthralling, and we were all making notes on what we wanted to do on a longer trip here.

Since it was the children’s first time in Victoria, we opted to introduce them to Tim Hortons. After all, on a Saturday morning, why not treat ourselves to some breakfast sandwiches and donuts (plus some Tim Horton’s coffee for us adults)?

One of the perks of riding the Clipper is timing. Arriving into Victoria yesterday at mid-morning, we still had most of the day to explore the city and settle in. Now, as we finished up breakfast, we stowed our bags with the hotel’s front desk staff. Making our way out into the city, we had virtually the entire day to enjoy more of Victoria before heading back to Seattle on the Clipper’s 5 p.m. sailing.

Can a seven-year-old touch the walls in Canada’s narrowest alley?

From the Best Western Plus Carlton Plaza Hotel, Victoria’s Chinatown is only a few minutes away. People wandered in and out of Old Town’s shops and restaurants, making their way on the warm Saturday morning. Passing the sumptuous teas at Silk Road Tea Store, we stopped at The Gate of Harmonious Interest and its companion stone lions. Aster and Connor looked at the fans, clothes, and produce at nearby shops, while we parents thought back to the tea tasting we had done at Silk Road during our honeymoon.

Inside Fan Tan Alley, the kids giggled as we reached out our arms in the alley, known as the narrowest in Canada at about three feet, six inches. Aster stretched hard, straightening her arms until her fingertips touched both walls. Once the site of gambling dens, today’s Fan Tan Alley is warm and bright, with yoga studios, a chocolate shop, clothing and home design stories, and even a store dedicated to umbrellas (it’s still the Pacific NorthWET, after all).

Heading back out from Fan Tan, we wandered more of Chinatown on the way to the Gray Line’s pickup and drop-off point in the area. Though first we had to take a little family photo opp.

When in Old Town and Chinatown, keep an eye out for the Bright Pearl. The large stainless steel globe floats on a layer of water. Despite the globe’s size and mass, even a child can turn it. Setting the camera on a timer, we all circled our hands over Victoria for a family selfie in the first country we were all visiting together.

Lunch and play at Fisherman’s Wharf

Picking up the Gray Line again, we rode through Old Town and more of Chinatown. After our romps and wanders, we were ready for lunch. Alighting at Fisherman’s Wharf, we made our way down the ramp onto a floating fascination of restaurants, harbor taxis, shops, and even a residential neighborhood of floating houses.

Ice cream, pizza, Mexican food and more are available from restaurants up and down the wharf area, but fish and chips seemed the most fitting (and filling). While our fish was fried, we wandered up and down the docks.

“We could rent kayaks!” called Aster, reminding us parents of a morning on our honeymoon, when we did just that, and paddled up the harbor.

After lunch, we crossed the road to Fisherman’s Wharf Park. The Fisherman’s Wharf Adventure Play park gave the children a chance to climb, slide, and get deep into some make-believe play with other kids at the park. (We’re not entirely sure what was afoot, but it sounded like a grand, elaborate rescue mission at sea.)

Exploring stories and First Nations cultures at Thunderbird Park

Returning to downtown just as our Gray Line pass was nearing its 24-hour expiration, we knew that the museum would have to wait. However, right next to the museum, the free Thunderbird Park helped us expand our perspective.

Throughout this green expanse, a dozen totem poles reflect the rich storytelling and woodcraft of First Nations Peoples from throughout this region. We speculated on why there were figures who looked like they were hanging upside down, or the symbolism of the Raven. Gazing at the intricate details and fine carving, we talked about the skill, long labor, and dedication it took for the craftspeople of these cultures to create these messages in wood, paint, and culture.

A class all its own: Returning to Seattle on the Clipper

It’s exciting to watch the Victoria skyline and harbor draw closer as you arrive on the Clipper, but it’s just as hard to see them recede behind you when you leave. Still, our time in Canada was over for now, and it was time to catch the Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids and head back to the USA.

After settling in, Anthony and the kids took a wander (though procuring chocolate chunk cookies from the galley may have been an objective). Throughout each of the Clipper’s three classes, passengers enjoyed the journey in comfort and camaraderie. Downstairs, a family feasted on a picnic they had brought, along with a bottle of wine purchased on board. Upstairs, passengers at the galley counter picked up treats while they chatted with one another, or made their way to the rear deck.

Watching the sun set over the Olympic Peninsula always makes us feel like we’re looking into a different world. The Olympic Mountains got their current name because, it is said, their jagged tops looked like the sort of place where you might find Mount Olympus, the mythological home of the Greek gods. Seeing them from the waters of Puget Sound, the mountains looked hazy, solid yet indistinct, as if sunset was letting us glimpse into a world not quite our own.

The FRS Clipper is a unique way to experience a unique region

Near Chinatown, Bright Pearl honors immigrants, citizens, and visitors to Victoria, and it's a great spot for a family selfie.
Near Chinatown, Bright Pearl honors immigrants, citizens, and visitors to Victoria, and it’s a great spot for a family selfie.

Take the Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids

Whether Victoria or Seattle, water defines this part of the Pacific Northwest. Traveling between these two iconic cities by ship is an experience you don’t get in many places. The FRS Clipper took us by the islands, lighthouses, small towns, sea life, and more of the Puget Sound and Juan de Fuca Strait area (not to mention, of course, Skunk Bay and Useless Bay).

The Clipper gave us those sights and memories in calm comfort, just what our busy family needed in the midst of some hectic travel days back on the mainland. Our sailing also gave the children a delectable first taste of Victoria.

We are already planning our longer return trip, so we can dive in deep to all the things the kids said they wanted to do next time. It turns out that our original “someday trip” had not only finally come to pass. It had inspired another, and one the children are having fun planning. (Something tells us this next someday trip won’t need a dozen years to come to pass though.)

The lights of Seattle’s skyline greeted us, dispelling the darkness and adding a touch of whimsy to our hearts as the Clipper docked. We disembarked, blinking as if stepping back into our normal world after a little jaunt into another. And in a way, we had. Riding the Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids, we had fulfilled a newlywed wish that had been in the making for a dozen years. As a family, we had gotten a taste of visiting our first country together, parents and kids, and come back ready for more.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

2 thoughts on “Victoria to Seattle ferry with kids: Is it worth it?”

  1. Sounds like a great overnight adventure!

    Reply
    • Victoria’s such an amazing city. And taking the Clipper was such a fun way to get there and back 🙂

      Reply

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