Crossing the U.S.-Canada border is generally a fairly routine experience -- but not if you sail across it on a high-speed catamaran from Seattle, Washington, to Victoria, British Columbia. The trip takes only 3 hours, just enough time for the kids to roam around the boat, get a bite to eat, and stare out the windows at the gorgeous northwest coast. Exciting as open water is, it soon gets monotonous for children; one of the glories of this trip for kids is that most of the ride is on glacier-carved Puget Sound, where land can be viewed on either side, the rugged conifer-mantled highlands of the Olympic Peninsula on one side and the rural Skagit Valley on the other.
You leave from Seattle's busy ferry port, Pier 69, with the futuristic Space Needle lifting its curious head over the downtown Seattle skyline and majestic Mount Rainier visible to the south, snowcapped even in summer. Working your way past the harbor's sailboat and kayak traffic, you'll enter convoluted Puget Sound, with the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula gradually rearing their peaks on your left. Coming out of Puget Sound near Port Townsend, you'll see the lovely San Juan Islands on the right (the same company runs ferries to the San Juans, including some whale-watching excursions). Then it's across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the first stretch of open water on your voyage so far.
On the far side of that strait lies Vancouver -- Vancouver Island, that is, which is not the same thing as the mainland city of Vancouver. What is on Vancouver Island is British Columbia's capital, Victoria, which is like a little slice of Victorian England served up on the northwest coast of North America. Ferry schedules are organized to make a day trip perfectly doable, with plenty of time to explore Victoria before heading back to Seattle. The mild Pacific climate is beautifully suited to horticulture, and Victoria's pride and joy is its rose gardens, particularly the spectacular Butchart Gardens, 800 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay (tel. 866/652-4422 or 250/652-4422; www.butchartgardens.com). If you can't sell your kids on visiting a garden, there's plenty to see around the charmingly restored Inner Harbour: Miniature World, in the Fairmont Empress Hotel, 649 Humboldt St. (tel. 250/385-9731; www.miniatureworld.com), with loads of small-scale dioramas from history and literature; the glass-enclosed views of harbor creatures in the Pacific Undersea Gardens, 490 Belleville St. (tel. 250/382-5717; www.pacificunderseagardens.com); and the Victoria Butterfly Gardens, 1461 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay (tel. 877/722-0272 or 250/652-3822; www.butterflygardens.com), which are exactly what the name says.
Nearest Airport: Seattle-Tacoma International/Victoria International.
Where to Stay: $$ Admiral Inn, 257 Belleville St., Victoria (tel. 888/823-6472 or 250/388-6267; www.admiral.bc.ca). $$$ The Edgewater, Pier 67, 2411 Alaskan Way, Seattle (tel. 800/624-0670 or 206/728-7000; www.edgewaterhotel.com.