I was there last year and we tookthe city bus. Just outside the gate area and to the left is the bus stop. You must change buses in the city then you are straight to the gardens. When we returned we stopped again in the city and walked back to the ship. Make sure you have some change for the bus. The people are most helpful there.
We were wondering about other transportation too. We will be there in the evening on HAL's Noordam, 6-11:59p.m. port times. We thought we could probably get out there okay but coming back might be a problem. Don't want to miss the ship if we don't use HAL's shore excursion. Also how far from the ship are the gardens? (time and miles) Thanks.
The Gardens are about 20 mins from downtown Victoria. There are lots of tour buses that go to the Gardens. You can pick them up from in front of the Empress Hotel at the Inner Harbour if you don't want to do a ship's tour. There should be shuttles from the ship to the Inner Harbour, if not it's about a 15-20 min. walk through residential streets.
The only thing I'm not sure of is how often the local tour buses leave from the Empress to go out to the Gardens. If you just miss one tour and have to wait for the next one, that might not be so good, especially if you have limited time here.
If you're here during daylight hours, there are probably more options for buses than in the afternoon/evening, so in that case I'd probably recommend you go with the ships tours.
I've taken the city bus to Butchart, but this is not doable with a 6pm arrival. The ship tours probably are the best option in this tight timeframe. If you take a cab- will also be costly and likely not much difference for 2 people vs the ship tour.
With all day in port, pick up the city bus on Douglas, behind the Empress and up the block and across from MacDonalds. Get some Ca. money.
We just got back from our cruise on the Noordam July 8th-15th, 2007.
The worse part of this whole trip, which was wonderful, was Victoria, Canada. We took the Butchart Garden tours booked thru the ship. No fireworks, no enchanting lighted gardens cause we left before it got dark and before the fireworks. The parking lot was packed with busses (big busses like ours was a greyhound). We walked in with a crowd of people and we couldn't get away from that crowd of people thru all the paths and all the stores. It was just packed with people. Very warm and miserable despite walking off the boat with a cool breeze blowing. There were two other large cruises ships in port besides Noordam. The only openness in the Garden was where a group was playing on a stage and people were sitting on a lawn looking area. This had the most room, but who had time to sit down (with no blanket - no one ever said you might need a blanket to sit on). We had 2 1/2 hours to see the gardens and get our souvenirs. Another tourist trap. We got a bottle of coke and a bottle of water for $6 (we were so thirsty after going down the paths). $42 for 3 shot glasses, 3 junky looking ink pens, and 2 keychains with a little fuzzy teddy bear on it. Junk for $42 eeeek. It was curious how that tour was not included in the dvd that showed about the cruise. Showed alot excursions, but not that one. Wonder why could it be because of the mess it was, the crowds of people walking down the paths? We got the dvd free since we booked 12 people at one time. I could have done without Victoria cause it marred my good feeling about the cruise and wonderful Alaska. We could see Seattle's lights when we left Victoria so why the rush to leave? Why couldn't they have stayed in port long enough for us to see the fireworks and the enchantment of the lighted garden after dark? We met in Vista lounge for all the excursions at 6 pm, we stayed in port till 11:59, but it wasn't enough time. Not sure I wanted to be in that crowd any longer, but they could have left the ship later and got us there and let us stay when it was dark. Basically stay away from this excursion if you want to keep you wonderful feelings about the cruise. We embarked and disembark very smoothly no herding around in crowds thumbs up to Noordam and Holland for the wonderful organization of those. The suitcases were grouped by the color you disembarked with. Yet this excursion we were herded around. The paths were so crowded just constantly bumping into people and loosing my husband & getting apart from the rest of our group.
I have learned a really hard lesson not to book thru the ship. I will be leery of excursions booked thru the ship. Study these boards and find out what is good and book your own, or go out on your own, anything but the ship's excursion. Beware of Butchart Garden!