Saturday, February 25, 2017

Skiing at Chicopee - Kitchener, Ontario

When I was a kid my class went on an overnight winter trip where we were supposed to build a quinzhee, do orienteering activities, and best of all, go skiing.  Well, I was apparently so excited about skiing that I had a vivid dream about it and sleepwalked right off the top bunk bed and broke my arm.  So no skiing for me.  By the way, my quinzhee was also a disaster and I got lost during the orienteering activity so not my best showing all around.
Not my quinzhee!  Fun fact: the word quinzhee only entered the English language in 1984. 
Not long before my fateful ski trip.

Anyhoo!  For various reasons I never attempted skiing (while awake) again until I took my kids skiing at Chicopee Ski Hill.  Let's just say I am slightly more successful while awake than while asleep but only just.  No broken bones!  My kids on the other hand, were naturals, which seemed to be true of all the kids there. 

Me and a bunch of children learning to ski.
 Chicoppe offers lift tickets but also packages that include a lesson and the rental of all of your equipment so we went with that option.  They have different rates for different times and days so check the website before you go.  We went on a Monday when the lift ticket, rental, and lesson is $29 which seemed pretty reasonable to me. 

Attempting to master "the pizza".
A word of warning: watching your kids hurtle down a snowy mountain at breakneck speed is terrifying!  My advice is to look away.  My kids, like the other kids there, were not the least bit intimidated or scared of the hills but they did find the ski lifts a little scary at first.  It cracks me up that there are 37 safety checks and seatbelts on the swan ride at Canada's Wonderland but with a ski lift they're just like "hop on, it'll be fine!"

They have 11 hills or at Chicopee ranging from a mild slope (which is about as far as I got) all the way to what looked like imposing mountains when I was waiting anxiously at the bottom for my children, so there should be something for everyone in your party.

My kids loved skiing.  It was probably their favourite activity that we have done in ages.  So I highly recommend giving it a try if you have kids over the age of 7 or so. 

Things to keep in mind:
  • They have a licenced restaurant.  Alcohol and skiing sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me but what do I know?
  • They also have a snack bar where you can get things like French fries and hamburgers.  There are also vending machines.
  • You can bring your own food and they have water bottle filling stations.
  • You need to know exactly what you want when you get to the front counter.  Despite the fact that they have deals and offers on all the time the staff will not volunteer that information.  If you show up on a Monday night and say "3 people for skiing" they will charge you whatever the regular rate is for 3 people for a lift ticket and rental which is about twice what the Discover package is.  So be prepared to say "3 people for the Monday Night Discovery Package) or whatever offer you are taking advantage of.  The Discovery packages also only include a learning centre lift ticket so if your kids want to go on the bigger hills you have to pay an extra $3.  Again, no one will volunteer this information to you, your kid will just be stopped at a ski lift and told they don't have the right lift ticket.  If you don't get the upgrade when you first get there you will have to take the kids back inside to get new tickets.  Go to the lift ticket line up instead of the regular lineup since it will be much shorter.  My advice is just pay the extra $3 from the get go to avoid the hassle.
  • You need to pay a $250 deposit for each person skiing.  It is cleared as soon as you return your equipment.
  • Most of the deals start at 5:00 p.m. and they don't start selling tickets for those until 4:45 so if you show up at 4:30 you will have to wait around for 15 minutes before you can buy tickets.  This creates a weird situation where you have families hanging around wanting to buy tickets and plenty of staff on hand to sell them tickets but no tickets actually being sold.  I don't understand why they don't just sell the tickets but make them not usable until 5:00 since this would also cut down on lineups.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Whale Watching - Cape Breton, Nova Scotoa

The Zodiac boat at Captain Mark's.
When your kid has a favourite marine biologist you pretty much have to go whale watching when you are in the Maritimes.   We went with Captain Mark's out of Pleasant Bay in Cape Breton and it was great. I wasn't sure what to expect and I prepared the kids that the weather or conditions might mean that we wouldn't see any whales and would maybe have to settle for a nice boat ride but it turns out I shouldn't have worried because we saw dozens of whales. Some of them almost close enough to touch.   If you are lucky you will see Humpbacks but even on a not great day you will see tons of Pilot whales which will be enough to satisfy most kids. 
I took this picture with a little point and shoot camera. The whale was probably about 20 feet away from our boat.
I highly recommend going for the Zodiac option. It is a small boat that looks like a giant life raft that holds about 12 people or so and it allows you to get very close to the whales and dolphins. Captain Mark will also make it jump the waves for you if you are so inclined (my kids were!)  The whole two hour tour was filled with the sounds of my kids gasping in wonder, shouting "there's one!", and laughing at the antics of whales and seals. We saw big whales, little whales, groups of whales. You name it.  We also saw lots of seals on our whale watching trip which was a big hit with the kids.
Cpt. Mark pulled up a lobster trap for us to check out. My daughter isn't too
sure what to make of this lobster.
The tours aren't cheap - $55 for an adult and $35 for a kid but they were worth every penny for my family.

Things to keep in mind:

  • There is also a Whale Interpretive Centre (i.e. a museum) right by Captain Mark's. It has bathrooms and computers that are free to use.  They also have a great gift shop with all sorts of whale and dolphin stuff.  
  • There are no restaurants or anything near by so bring snacks and a drink. 
  • There is plenty of free parking.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blue Jays - Toronto

I am not a terribly sporty person, other than during the Olympics when I suddenly become intensely interested in every sport up to and including the two man luge.  One of the few sports I actually like watching is baseball.  I grew up in Toronto and Mississauga so I am a lifelong Blue Jays fan so I was pretty excited to take my kids to their first game a couple years ago.  Since then we have been a few more times and I have learned a few tricks along the way.
The view from the cheap seats
I actually like the cheap seats the best.  Partly because they are cheap I admit, but also because it tends to be not quite so crowded up there and I swear you can actually see better than you can in some of the higher priced seats.  In the 100 level seats if someone is standing in front of your kid they can't see a thing.  The last time we went we had seats along the first base line, row 9 but we also had people getting up and down every 12 seconds in the rows and seats around us.   In the cheap seats it doesn't matter much if people are getting up since you can see over them better.  By the way, that is true even if the person standing is a kid so please don't be like the dad a couple rows ahead of us who let his kid stand the whole game thus blocking the view of the all the kids behind him.  Even an adult sitting in front of a kid will block their view at the 100 level but you can get a booster seat from guest services to help with that. Tickets start around $15 for the cheapest ones up in the 500 level.
 A definite upside to sitting on the 100 level is you will probably get to see Ace the mascot.
You can bring food in.   So long as it is packaged so it won't spill or leak and you can fit it under your seat.  Personally I firmly believe that ice cream tastes better in little tiny plastic helmets and I am willing to pay whatever price they demand for that delicacy but I can certainly see how one might balk at the $5.50 water bottles. You can get all of the standards like peanuts, popcorn, foot long hotdogs but no cracker jacks!  Not all concession stands sell the same things so if you want a foot long hotdog (like me!) you have to find the stand that sells them. I now fully understand why peanuts are a staple of baseball games.  It is the only time and place where you sit still for long enough to actually be able to eat more than two and you are outside so you can just drop the shells.  They do have a nut reduced area if you happen to be going with someone with a nut allergy.

By the way the line ups for the concession stand get longer as the game goes on.  I would recommend getting your food early.  You can buy drinks from a vendor in the stands during the game.
I found this picture, along with a ton more when I googled "ice cream in a Blue Jays helmet" so I am obviously not the only one who loves them.
Little kids don't have the attention span to sit through a game.  Baseball games are long and not as action packed as some other sports so I really can't see any kid, even an avid sports fan, under the age of about 6 actually enjoying the game.  If your kid can't sit through a game then neither can you since it isn't like you can send them off to entertain themselves while you watch so I would highly recommend either waiting until kids are old enough to actually enjoy it or leave them at home and go without them.
When you have a baseball mad daughter you pretty much have to go to see the Blue Jays play live!
If it is your kid's first game or their birthday you can let the Blue Jays know and someone will come by during the game and give them a little certificate which my kids got a kick out of.  I would get your request in early because they sometimes shut down the program part way through the season.  You can also get a message put up on the jumbotron but it costs $100 and if you happen to be at the concession stand when it shows up well so much for that!

You can print off some activity and fact sheet pages for kids before the game.

My kids love everything about the Blue Jays games including the Seventh Inning Stretch, the Tu-Lo chant, the wave, and the music they play when each batter comes up to the plate.   You name it, they love it.  By the way, Chris Colabello wins on the music selection.  Return of the Mack indeed!

If you have a baseball nut in your family I suggest getting the Jr. Jays Club Kit.  They sell out though so get them early.  We did it last year (we missed out this year) and we got a Blue Jays cap, a wallet, a water bottle and a coupon book that was actually pretty good for $25 CAD.  The hat alone would have cost almost that so it was well worth it.  It also comes with a little membership card which entitles the bearer to certain perks like autograph sessions and the like.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Bingeman's Big Splash- Kitchener, Ontario

My kids call this one The Toilet.  How evocative!
I have lived in Kitchener for 17 years and yet somehow I had never been to Bingeman's Big Splash which is weird because it is an institution in Kitchener.  My kids had been several times for birthday parties and with friends and I had been to the indoor part but I had missed out on the waterpark.  So we decided an end of summer field trip was in order.
This is the Boomerango which hurls you down and then up and then down again.
One of the things I like about water parks is they are sort of the wild wild west of kid's fun.  I mean, you want to ride the tiny little airplanes that go 10 feet off the ground and are slower than my walking speed at an amusement park and there are height checks, safety harnasses, multiple safety checks every time.  Whereas at a water park they are basically like "have fun!" and off you go.  You want to hurl yourself face first down a huge dark tube into a pool of water?  No one will even ask if you can swim!  That is both hilarious and terrifying to me.  It probably goes without saying that my kids loved it.  I mean you can't go too far wrong with a water park.  There was something for everyone too which was nice.  My younger daughter liked the wave pool the best and my older daughter liked the The Cyclone and The Pipe the best.  I liked The Pipe the best too. If you have younger kids they even have a huge splash pad area.

See?  Here they are on the upswing
There are a couple of things that could have been improved and would have made the day even more fun though.  They have a weird system for their line ups.  For a couple of the slides you need a mat or a tube and you can't get them at the slides.  Why?  No idea!  You have to walk down the hill and wait in a line to get them.  There is a stack of tubes right there but you aren't allowed to grab one.  Why?  Again, no idea!  You have to wait for someone to get off the slide and hand you theirs.  What if that kid wants to ride again you ask?  Well too bad they have to wait in line for another tube and then walk up the hill to wait in line for the slide.  Why not just stack the tubes and mats where people use them?
I include this picture only because it shows the stack of tubes that no one is allowed to touch.
They also decided around 3:45 to absolutely blare country music over the PA system.  Why?  Yet again, no idea.  I mean seriously they literally doubled the volume from what it had been when it was playing Top 40 stuff previously.  I honestly wondered if they were trying to get rid of people since they have a cheaper twilight pass that starts at 4:00.  Maybe it gets too crowded unless they get some of the day pass people out?  I don't know but it worked on us, we left since we couldn't even hear each other without yelling.  They also only had 4 working bathrooms in the women's washrooms which meant there were line ups.  Seeing as there are hundreds if not thousands of people there every day I can see how some would take as an invitation to pee in the pool frankly.

The wave pool.  The tubes are actually clear these days.
Even with the caveats I mentioned above my kids loved it and so did I so I do recommend a trip there if you are in Kitchener.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you live in Kitchener you should consider the season's pass.  If you buy it really early you only have to go twice to more than pay for it.
  • They have lots of tables and chairs so you won't have any trouble finding somewhere to sit.
  • You can bring in your own food and drinks.  They do also have a concession stand that sells a few things and there is a Boston Pizza inside.
  • The indoor stuff like the indoor playground, bowling, and rock climbing is not included in the usual Big Splash day pass.  You can pay extra and get some activities added on though.
  • There are height restrictions for some of the rides so check before you go.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ovens - Nova Scotia

The "beach" right by the campground
A friend of a friend recommended we stay at The Ovens once they heard we were heading out to Nova Scotia so we figured we'd check it out.  We were glad we did and ended up staying an extra night.  We liked being right by the ocean,  We could stand on our campsite and look out at the ocean which was nice.  We could also walk down a flight of stairs and be on a great, rocky beach that was full of things to see and do.  You do pay more for the ocean front sites though so keep that in mind.
This one is called the Cannon because the sound of the waves is really loud.
My younger daughter was surprised by how loud it was.  
My kids also liked the Sea Cave Trail which takes you along the coast where you can check out a whole bunch of caves and tunnels and the like.  It only takes about an hour or so to do the hike but there are stairs so you do have to be able to handle those.
I don't know why they didn't name these tunnels Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Missed opportunity if you ask me.
The campground also has a restaurant and store on the premises although the store doesn't sell a ton of useful stuff, mostly snacks and souvenirs.  I was a little worried when we first arrived since the sign said there was live music at the restaurant every night until 11:00 and my kids usually go to bed around 9:00 but we were right by the restaurant and didn't hear any more noise than you would hear from having neighbours at a campsite.
The restaurant serves tea made in tea pots.  For that alone I will forever love them.
There is a playground, swimming pool, and small area with some goats (you can buy the goat food in the store) that was popular with the kids.
They do have showers and bathrooms.  No wifi or pay phones though.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The Ovens is in a pretty good location.  We were about 30 minutes from Lunenburg and Peggy's Cove and Halifax are about 90 minutes away.  Grand Pre is about the same in the other direction.  
  • You can pan for gold at The Ovens.  
  • You can rent kayaks if you want to see the sea caves up close and personal
  • They have live music most nights and host several music festivals. 
  • It is apparently called The Ovens because some of the caves resemble old timey ovens.  I was expecting something a little more exciting.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Joggins Fossil Cliffs - Joggins, Nova Scotia

First off, yes I did feel the need to jog into the visitor's centre on arrival at Joggings Fossil Cliffs. And the post office and the fish and chips restaurant in town.  Sue me. 

Joggins Fossil Cliffs, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site,  is another place where you will want to check the tide charts before planning your visit.  If you have trouble parsing the charts you can always email them and they will tell you when you should come.  There is no point in showing up if the tide is at its highest because you won't be allowed to go down to the beach.
A budding paleontologist
My kids loved Joggins Fossil Cliffs and so did I so it really is fun for the whole family.  I loved seeing the ocean and learning about the fossils and finding neat rocks and sea glass.  My youngest daughter though turned out to be a future paleontologist in the making because she was in her glory.  She loved listening to our guide, Dana, tell us all about the fossils and the history of the place and she was the fossil diviner!  She would come up to me with a rock and I would be like "Neato!" and then she would show it to Dana and he would say "well, this here is a fine specimen of one of the earliest life forms on earth, the unpronounceable name".  Which is presumably why he is the guide and I am not.  Anyway, Dana told my daughter that one of her specimens, of some kind of ultra old timey worms, was going in "the collection".  That was pretty much the highlight of my daughter's life.  She is still talking about it.

Along with the actual cliffs, there is a pretty good interpretive centre with some fossil samples and microscopes and whatnot where you can kill time if you arrive between tours.  They also have a gift shop and a restaurant which was cooking something that smelled good when I was there.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Those tide charts!
  • You only need a half day at Joggins so you can check out some other attractions in the area such as Cape D'or Lighthouse or the Anne Murray Centre (hey why not?).  
  • They have computers near the restaurant that you can use for free if you need to check your email or anything.  
  • You don't have to go as part of a guided tour, you are free to wander down on your own but I strongly recommend going with a tour.  Otherwise you will probably think you are looking at a bunch of rocks and not realize the significance of what you are looking at.  I thought it was just me but I spoke to another mom and she said the same thing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hopewell Rocks - Alma, New Brunswick

The view from the stairs.  
Hopewell Rocks was one of our first stops once we got to New Brunswick.  We stayed at Fundy National Park so it was about 40 minutes down the road and we had heard so much about it that we figured we should check it out.  I am glad we did because it was great.  

When I told the girls that we would be walking on the ocean floor they didn't really get what I meant and seemed to think that they would be underwater walking around in scuba suits or something so I was worried they would be disappointed when they discovered that it was basically a muddy beach when the tide is out.  I shouldn't have worried.  They loved it.  My daughter can't wait to tell all her friends at school that she walked on the ocean floor.

The thing my kids liked the best was finding crabs in the little puddles that are left behind on the beach.  At first they were excited to find shells but then they noticed that the shells were moving and had occupants and they were over the moon.  I overheard a woman in the bathroom at Fundy National Park telling another mom that her kids looked for crabs for about an hour so it seems to be a hit with all kids.  
On the hunt for crabs in a puddle
You can't get too close to some of the cliffs and rock formations these days since some of them are unstable, but there is still plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.  My kids liked being able to get up close and personal with some of the big rocks to examine some of the plants that grow on them.  
Found one!
If you are in the area Hopewell Rocks are a must see!

Things to keep in mind:
  • You will get muddy.  Wear shoes that can be rinsed off.  They have a foot washing station at the top of the stairs.  
  • They do have restaurants and a gift shop.  Not much else though.  So you only need a half day at Hopewell Rocks.  
  • You should check the tide tables before planning your visit.  What you see will depend on whether it is high or low tide.  An admission is for 24 hours so you can go back and see both if you want.
  • They do have a shuttle from the entrance to the rocks but you will still need to do the stairs to get down to the beach.  It would be hard for anyone with mobility issues to handle the stairs or the beach for that matter since it is muddy and uneven.  The walk to the stairs isn't long and there are washrooms along the way.