Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens Review
Highlights: Explore two of the most popular attractions in Victoria with our Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens Review. See the world famous Butchart Gardens with its amazing floral display. Then, learn more as you get up close and personal with 75 species of butterflies in a climate controlled environment of the Butterfly Gardens. Both stops are a photographer’s dream.
Biggest Disappointment: On the Celebrity Solstice, we had a late day stop in Victoria. Sailing late in the Alaskan cruise season (September), our tour was cut short by the setting sun. The gardens are over a half-hour drive from the cruise pier, so by the time we got to Butchart Gardens, we had barely an hour of sunlight to try to see everything. While the gardens are lit up at night, they lose much of the wonder and beauty as well as the photo capturing opportunities. Likewise, by the time we got to the Butterfly Gardens, the butterflies were sleeping! If you are thinking of seeing these attractions, do them during the daylight hours for maximum enjoyment and experience.
Main Takeaway: The Butchart Gardens are amazing. You could spend hours roaming the gardens, learning about the different displays and plants, and of course, taking pictures. Most tours give you about 90 minutes, which seemed a bit rushed. The Butterfly Garden habitat is rather small, and being climate controlled, it is warm and humid. During our visit, most butterflies were asleep so we only spent about 25 minutes walking through the garden. If it were earlier in the day, we would have rather had that time to spend back at Butchart Gardens and skip the Butterfly Garden all together. Fortunately, we had a great tour guide who drove us back to the ship via the inner harbor, so we could get pictures of the Fairmont Empress Hotel and Parliament Buildings glowing in lights! Continue reading to see our complete Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens Review.
Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens Review – Picking our Excursion
Of all the stops on our first Alaskan cruise, Victoria, British Columbia was the stop for which we did not set high expectations. Of course, Victoria is a beautiful city with some grand architecture and rich history. Ou ship didn’t dock until 6:00pm, and from what we had read on various message boards, many of the shops and attractions would be closed while we were in port. Likewise, Victoria has an ordinance that requires most of the ship’s public spaces to also remain closed in port. What were we to do?
Contemplating our options, we opted to do a combo tour of the Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens, the most popular attractions that would still be open during our evening stop.
Finishing an early open seating of dinner, we were off the boat a little after 6:00pm. Upon exiting the pier, we were greeted with several guides and signs for various tours. We followed the signs to the meeting area for our excursion where we were directed to our bus and met our tour guide Pete. He only had a slight Canadian accent as he was not originally from Canada. Throughout the tour, Pete would provide random facts and tidbits about Victoria’s history as well as modern day Canada. Did you know that Canadian lottery winners pay no income tax on their their winnings?
There were a few buses for this excursion, so once ours was filled, we were off on our 40 minute ride to the Butchart Gardens. While it was still daylight, we could see that the sun was beginning to set. This was going to be a race against the clock to see how much we could see before darkness set.
Going through the city, we could see the mix of modern day buildings as well as the colonial, historic cityscapes. The city looked like a great place to get out and explore, but we could only view these attractions from the comfort of our bus. Pete did advise us that if we were done early, he would bring us back through the inner harbor to see the Chinatown as well as the Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress.
Our tour was scheduled to stop at the Butchart Gardens first for 90 minutes and then head 5 minutes down the road to the Butterfly Garden for a 45 minute viewing.
Quick, We are at The Gardens
Once at the Butchart Gardens, we were advised of our bus number and time to return. 90 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but once you enter the 54+ acre estate, you realize how massive the gardens truly are. Pete advised that we should try to see the Sunken Gardens while there was still sunlight, as he thought that was the best area of the estate.
As soon as you enter the gardens, you are overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and diversity of the plants and flowers. This was definitely not like our mulch beds at home! There were bottlenecks right when we entered, as one would expect with everyone taking pictures, but once we progressed through the walkway toward the Sunken Gardens, the crowds began to disperse.
The Sunken Garden is the original site of the limestone quarry which was the inspiration for the entire garden. We were able to get some great pictures from the lookout point. Again, this staircase gets crowed with everyone trying to score a great photo-op. Luckily, we were able to find a couple to take a picture of the Princess and I with the entire Sunken Garden in the background. It was not our most photogenic showing of the trip, but with the sunlight waning, it was going to have to do.
As we strolled through the garden, we made sure to grab some shots of the large Willow trees as well as the water fountain. We made our way through this area and back up a natural incline toward the next section of the gardens. We wanted to take in everything that this garden had to offer, but we were also conscience of time.
Next on the path, we arrived at the Rose Carousel, which is across from a large, grassy area with an open amphitheater. This area is known as the fireworks lawn, but unfortunately there were no fireworks tonight. With no Fourth of July, when do Canadians actually light off fireworks?
The Setting Sun on the Gardens
By the time we passed the fireworks lawn, it was basically sunset, so we made our way back down to the Rose Garden. This circular area, in the middle of the gardens, contains a variety of different roses. For those who want to learn a bit more, all of the roses are marked with variety, name, and the year they were planted at the gardens. While I know nothing about roses, we passed most of the signs to continue on the photo journey. By this time, it was dark, so taking good pictures was getting difficult as the lighting of the gardens was playing havoc with our flash. Were the pictures coming out better with or without the flash? It was tough to decide.
What seemed to be one of the coolest areas, but the one we could literally see the least, was the Japanese Garden. This garden is the furthest away from the entrance and contains an intricate array of small ponds, streams, and bridges. Again, the lack of lighting here really detracted from our experience, as we could see nothing! If we were to return to the Gardens, I would be sure to see this area in the daylight. A tranquil feeling encompasses you while you are in this area, while the sharply manicured greenery transports you to another continent.
By the time we exited the Japanese Garden, we were in the home stretch. The last garden is the Italian Garden with Star Pond. This is probably the smallest of the gardens. To be honest, we did a quick walk through, grabbing a few photos of what was visible in this area.
The Gardens are basically a big ‘U’, so once we exited this garden, we were essentially back at the visitor center area. There is a small greenhouse area along the way that you cannot enter but can take pictures of from the walk way.
Back at the entrance, there is a restaurant, closed when we were visiting, and the gift shop. Of course, at the end of our self-guided tour, the Princess found a way for us to buy a few more souvenirs. After browsing the gift shop and purchasing our items, we made it back to the bus with only a few minutes to spare.
On to the Butterfly Gardens…Do We Have to?
Back on the bus, I was surprised that everyone was back in the allotted time. It was completely dark at this point, and I was actually starting to feel the effects of a week long cruise of eating, drinking, and Alaskan sightseeing. I was ready to call it a night, and it was only 8:30pm. But, it was on to the Butterfly Gardens.
At this time of night, these Gardens are closed to the public and only open to tour buses. I believe there were only a couple of buses from our excursion here at the time, so it did not seem crowded. Our driver, Pete, advised us that the butterflies would be sleeping, so if we wanted to see them in action, we should blow on them to wake them up. Yes, it sounds inhumane, but I will admit we did try on a few occasions to awaken some of the butterflies with success!
The Gardens are in an enclosed Greenhouse that is kept at a humid and warm climate, to resemble the tropical climates that these butterflies, moths, flamingos, and parrots call home. This meant we were way over dressed. As if we were not already sleepy.
We made the rounds in about 25 minutes. Pete did promise to take us to the inner harbor if we were able to get through the Butterfly Gardens in 30 minutes, instead of the 45 minutes we were allotted. I think our fellow cruisers were as tired or unimpressed by the sleeping butterflies as we were because we were all back onboard with time to spare.
I am sure this Garden is better during the day, but it was relatively inactive during our visit. Also, while they boast 75 varieties of butterflies, all of the butterflies looked the same to us, mostly the owl butterflies with big spots on their wings that resemble owl eyes.
Onto Inner Harbor
Back on the bus, we were on our way to Inner Harbor. En route, we drove through Chinatown, which behind San Francisco is the second oldest Chinatown in North America. Once in the inner harbor, Pete pulled the bus over and gave us five minutes to get off and take pictures of the Parliament buildings and The Fairmont Empress Hotel. This time, the Princess trusted me to grab photos of these two iconic Victoria landmarks—she just didn’t want to get off the bus.
Our pit stop was quick, and it is a short ride back to the cruise pier. The Solstice was the only ship docked. We exited the bus, thanked Pete for an excellent tour with a well-deserved gratuity, and headed to the back of the parking lot to grab a magnificent photo of the entire Celebrity Solstice all lit up in the evening backdrop.
Have you visited Victoria, B.C. on an Alaskan cruise? Have you had the opportunity to visit the Butchart Gardens? Drop us an anchor below to tell us about your experiences in this charming port of call and help fellow cruisers make the most of their time in Victoria.