Gate 52 at YVR was decorated with care as face painters, entertainers, Disney princesses and a magician wandered through the crowd. Children beamed and a few parents let a tear trickle down their face before wiping it away and smiling broadly at their kids. This day was about joy, not illness.
This Sunday, September 20th is Rediscover Nature Day! As school revs up and life becomes more structured, we all need to be reminded to stay connected with nature. Our challenge for you is to get outside for at least an hour with your family on Sunday
The luxury travel company andBeyond is expanding it’s operations to South America. The company would like to positively impact the region through their commitment to sustainable travel, conservation and community empowerment . Following success in South Asia, the company has decided to explore the vast landscapes, pristine wildlife areas and magnificent views of South America. Their first South American office will be rooted in Santiago, Chile and will open on July 15, 2015. The office will provide luxury tour operating and destination management company (DMC) services to guests travelling in Chile.
Home to some of the continent’s top sites, including Iguazu Falls, Easter Island, the wine regions of Santiago, Atacama, Buenos Aires, and Patagonia, Chile is a must-see on a trip through the continent. By the middle of August, similar services will be available to those travelling to Argentina and by mid-2016, the company will expand to Peru and Ecuador. Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon can easily be explored with the help of andBeyond’s new worldly expansions. The Managing Director Pedro Barraza has 25 years experience in the travel industry, plenty of which spent in top management roles. Your trip planning and management is in good hands! If you’ve always wanted to go to South America, this is your chance to travel the continent with a company committed to the development and sustainability of the land on which it works.
For more information, visit www.andBeyond.com
“Passported” – Seamless Vacation Planning
Feather+Flip, a family travel resource, has acquired itinerary planning company Bon Voyaging to create “Passported”. The new resource combines the itinerary planning technology of Bon Voyage with the family content of Feather+Flip. According to CEO Henley Vazquez, “Passported celebrates kid-friendly travel for grown-ups. We highlight the places your junior entourage will love in destinations you’re excited to visit. Family travel can be sophisticated, cool, and fun for the whole family.”
“Passported” allows families to view parent-reccomended restaurants, hotels, activities and sites, for vacation spots around the world, while creating a seamless vacation itinerary. Mapping capabilities are also available in unison with the technology. In addition to streamlined booking services, travellers booking with the new technology have access to special perks such as free breakfast, spa credits and late check out.
The philosophy of the company is that family travel can be sophisticated, cool, and fun for the whole family.
The first thing my kids do when checking into a new hotel (after saying hello to everyone in the lobby, fighting over who presses the inside button in the elevator and insisting on opening the door themselves) is jump on the beds. We not only do we have lift-off, but we have 150% approval for Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos, British Columbia.
Amenities range from fully equipped gourmet kitchens (the grocery and liquor stores are right next door) and washer and dryer in the suites, to poolside grilling stations for easy dinners (if you can pass up the restaurant.)
This Okanagan lakefront resort offers huge tapas plates in the Watermark Restaurant, wine tastings in the lobby, a waterslide in the outdoor pool, two hot tubs, yoga and pilates classes and the Illumination Spa and Salon.
If the kids tire of the waterslide (funny joke), the lake is adjacent to the property and features a three-sided dock to keep little ones safe yet allows the older ones to practice their cannonball form in deeper water. The Osoyoos Yacht Club is a short walk down the beach and we were able to hitch a catamaran ride and then test our salmon fishing skills, which were excellent incidentally. (Even though it was a banner year for salmon and the government actually increased the limits…).
When the boys and I were by the pool, we ordered to-die-for grilled cheese and homemade mac and cheese for lunch. I actually managed to tear them away from the waterslide for 6 minutes in order to eat!
For dinner, the family went to Watermark’s tapas-style restaurant run by terroir-inspired Chef Adair Scott. It also boasts it’s own wine label and to-die-for views.
They have made the small kitchen into an advantage by creating grilled dishes such as arctic char, chicken confit, local steaks and tapas-style fare (spicy prawns, tenderloin carpaccio or quinoa cauliflower salad, anyone?) presented artfully and cooked skillfully.
It really shouldn’t be called tapas. The dishes are huge – and you will want to finish it all. Much of the organic produce comes from Covert Farms, and the herbs are all grown a few feet away in the resort’s garden.
My son was transfixed one day watching a wedding underneath our balcony and it was all I could do not to ‘shhh’ loudly when he asked questions about the ceremony. There are learning opportunities even while on a beach vacation!
While in Osoyoos we made many a kid-friendly excursion, including the Miniature Train Museum and Rattlesnake Canyon Amusement Park – you can see our Osoyoos Top 10 list HERE). But one of the best ‘excursions’? Home Hardware. Just up the street from Watermark is an amusement park in itself. You will want to set aside about an hour. We picked up swim goggles, a cooler for the 75 pounds of salmon we were bringing home and garden décor.
From now on, Osoyoos will be on my summer hitlist – not only for the fresh salmon and organic fruit, but as an excuse to make memories with my family at Watermark Beach Resort.
Disclosure: Watermark Beach Resort has been awarded the Tripadvisor Hall of Fame for the past five years. We were hosted for a weekend and loved it so much we stayed an extra night. All opinions are my own.
It’s easy to entertain children on a dime in Vancouver, so save your money for a rainy day (not that Vancouver has any of those) and check out these 10 things to do in Vancouver for those on a budget. Here are our top 10 affordable Vancouver family activities – feel free to add to the list in the comments!
There’s something for everyone at this popular Vancouver tourist attraction, from the food and flower market to feeding the pigeons on the wharf. Kids play for free at the indoor playground in the Kids Market, and the outdoor water park if the sun is shining. On weekends, buskers entertain crowds of people and the atmosphere is more carnival than quiet.
Beaches and kids go together like pie and ice cream, so take yours to one of Vancouver’s several sandy beaches. Go to Spanish Banks for incredible city views, Kitsilano Beach to catch some basketball or volleyball pick-up games, Third Beach in Stanley Park for a calmer setting and sunsets, or Ambleside Beach to catch some waves if they’re breaking. Beached logs double as chair backs, just bring a blanket and a shovel and a desire to get your feet wet.
It’s not Vancouver’s most popular tourist attraction for nothing. In Stanley Park, the largest urban park in North America, you can bike around the seawall, play in the water park or playground, smell the roses in the rose garden, check out the Totem poles, ride the miniature train (for minimal cost), and watch the float planes take off and land in the harbour. If you want to get up close and personal with Douglas Firs, there are also well-marked hiking trails to explore.
Similar to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, only without the price tag, the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge located in Lynn Canyon Park is the most thrilling adventure you can have for free in North Vancouver. Suspended fifty meters above water, the bridge will bounce and sway as you walk across it, thus earning its nickname, the shaky bridge. Bring a picnic or purchase snacks at the cafe in the nearby Ecology Centre, which is also worth a visit and free of charge.
Head east of downtown Vancouver and you will hit the third largest Chinatown in North America. From the ornate gated entrance to the narrowest building in the world, Vancouver’s Chinatown is a vibrant, historical part of the city, loved by young and old. If they like Chinatown they’ll love the Richmond Night Markets for cheap thrills and sampling Asian cuisine, on May 15-Oct 12.
For minimal cost, get a tour of Vancouver’s False Creek in one of these cruisers. Choose one of their eight docks to start from and enjoy a twenty-five minute boat ride around the bay, children ride for $4. The Aquabus is stroller-friendly and the best-kept commuter secret in Vancouver, with boats leaving every fifteen minutes.
May 2015 marked the 138th anniversary of the first train arriving in Vancouver, and you can check it out for free at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre in Vancouver’s Yaletown. CPR Engine 374 is on display, and volunteers will give you a tour—their knowledge of rail history will impress Thomas the Tank Engine aficionados.
We mean this in a good way. Vancouver is home to the finest hiking east of the Rockies, many of which are possible for little legs. Pack water and snacks and head to Deep Cove, the Quarry Rock hike is part of the popular Baden Powell trail, and takes about an hour and a half round trip. The reward is a stunning vista of Indian Arm and mountains surrounding Belcarra. For flatter terrain and less view try Rice Lake, a three kilometre loop in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.
Libraries aren’t just for bookworms. Head to your local library for story times, author talks, LEGO parties, movie showings, pajama parties, board games, puppet shows and singing, all for free. The summer reading club will be starting soon, sign your children up and inspire them to read more, and game less this year.
While the Vancouver Aquarium and Science World are popular destinations, they aren’t inexpensive, especially for families. Alternatives are the Vancouver Art Gallery, $6 for children and by donation Tuesday evenings, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre with an $8 evening rate for children, and The Vancouver Maritime Museum with entrance by donation Thursday evenings. Culture doesn’t have to be costly.
Face it, there’s nothing to keep you inside in Vancouver – not even the rain.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/footloosiety/
We arrived and my son was crying. Hard. His precious toy camera had been left on the beach the day before and we just discovered it had been swept away by the tide. I was torn between trying to teach a lesson in responsibility and wanting to comfort him. Colin the bellman saw the tears and took over with ease. Grateful, I was so distracted with the trauma of the tears as well as the transferring of the luggage that I hardly remembered to apologize to the valet about the broken lego and stale Cheerios strewn about the car. Colin was phenomenal. He took a loonie (a tip from a previous guest) and gave it to my son. He engaged the 2 boys with a visual magic trick using the coin. He gave them each a coin to keep, which each boy still keeps in a special place. Wow. I wish I could nab Colin away from the hotel to calm the kids all the time!
Our next adventure on the ‘Kids in the City’ program was the kitchen tour. Both of the boys love to set up tea parties and make elaborate dishes for the stuffed animals.
We met Executive Chef Craig Dryhurst, who went over some culinary principles and helped the kids dip organic strawberries in chocolate and adorn them with even better accoutrements – like candied pineapple, white chocolate and berries. My Jr. Chefs were given ‘power cookies’ from chef Ned Bell, an avid cyclist with a keen interest in sustainability. I’m sure he was the force behind the huge urban cultivator in the kitchen that provides fresh microgreens like kale and watercress to patrons of Yew restaurant.
The room made me laugh in a great way. One son is used to my hotel shenanigans, filming and photographing before anyone is allowed to touch a thing. When I ‘released the hounds’ they both made for the soft beds, and jumped, exclaiming ‘This is first class Mom!!’
The Playzone was a favourite of the kids, and not only did we play together as a family, but I gently encouraged the boys to ask the concierge desk for various controllers by themselves. Typically shy, they overcame the emotion and practiced their manners. We played fussball, guitar hero, ping pong, air hockey, wii and genesis. There was a movie area suitable for toddlers to teens, as well as books and a nap nook.
Dinner at Yew is always an experience, but never so much as when your kids don suits and ties. Megan, our server, paid close attention to the needs of the boys, and the food was spectacular. The Moscow Mule (discovered via the iPad menu on the table) has become our signature drink at the Four Seasons Vancouver, and I am still attempting to replicate the salmon crab fishcake served with mango salsa that we devoured to begin. A fruit and bunny-shaped cheese plate delighted the boys. At every stage of the meal, they were treated as special guests. The kids had buttermilk fried chicken, fish and chips (translated into gourmet terms as Cloud 9 gluten-free crispy halibut, kennebec fries, lime caper and scallion dip). My dish was perhaps the most interesting and special. No vegan dish has ever tasted so good. The gemelli pasta was mixed with sambal roasted cashews, chili, herbs, and woodland mushrooms to produce a creamy, earthy treasure of a meal. We finished with a block of neapolitan homemade ice cream, a twist on 1960’s ice cream parlor culture.
Full and happy, we ignored the special critters left in room for story time and headed to the pool area. Part of ‘Kids in the City’, the patio area looked like a high-end carnival. White towels and bottled water sat on lounge chairs with red cushions and traditional red and white-striped popcorn was served to each guest while we watched ‘Despicable Me’ with popcorn in hand. The boys wore their ‘tiny robes’ with the hotel’s signature tree logo, feeling very special.
Lauren runs the childrens’ programs and mentioned that the pool and spa area design are advantageous to parents, who can work out while watching kids in pool.
She was running kids activities the next morning, assisting little ones in playing with water balloons, painting Canadian flags on smooth rocks and instructing kids at shuffleboard. We were leaving the area on completion of the crafts, and all of a sudden my son ran back. He had forgotten his rock like he had done with the camera just one day before.
Perhaps precious family bonding time, along with a few magic tricks and learning how to politely ask for contollers or dessert had taught a much better lesson than any scolding I could have done. The city can teach many lessons, especially with the Four Seasons at the helm.
‘Kids in the City’ runs each summer and during the winter holidays at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver.
Disclosure: We were hosted for a night at the hotel in order to complete our story and experience the magic.
When Crystal Symphony got a makeover, we knew it would be spectacular. We were given the chance to tour Crystal Cruises‘ new $15 million renovation of the Symphony and we were blown away. Crystal offers an all-inclusive experience, helping guests to be able to truly relax without worrying about tips and beverage charges. The recipient of the Conde Nast award for best cruise line 20 years in a row, Crystal has adapted to changing demographics and passenger needs (the average passenger age is 47) by relaxing the dress code, though you will still see loads of tuxes. Menus have also undergone a fresh makeover, with modern cuisine left side of and the traditional on the right. The only luxury cruise line to offer children and teen areas, I found the design of these spaces fresh and innovative.
Onboard there are 2 specialty restaurants – the Silk Road Sushi bar and Italian and guests can reserve these spaces twice per trip. The gym has been refit with new equipment by techno gym (the same machines that World Cup teams use to train.)
Edie Rodriguez, President and CEO of Crystal Cruises, started with the company in 2013 but loved ships so much that she came aboard a cruise anonymously prior to her tenure. The staff wowed her with their memory of guest names and their attention to her unique breakfast desires. In time she heard stories of one staff member ordering a recliner for a guest to fulfil a need, and many crew members who have accompanied passengers ashore for medical treatment. Aspiring to be across the globe, Rodriguez has big plans for the company, adding a third ship in 2018 and gearing up to celebrate Crystal’s anniversary in July.
The unique tours for late risers, bespoke adventures and voluntourism opportunities while aboard were very exciting and it was clear that innovation with a perfect balance of tradition flood from every Crystal experience.
Computer University @ Sea began 20 years ago and allows passengers to create websites, hone their computer skills and share details of their journey with loved ones back home. Every computer can run a PC or Mac interface. They also offer iPad and iMovie classes.
The “teens only” hang-out Waves features new Casalina chairs and Marimekko-patterned Fatboy bean bags, and Fantasia has been redesigned for younger kids. All enjoy Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, Kinect, wide-screen TVs, and supervised age-specific activities.
I certainly would love to cruise with my family on this ship – perhaps my son can use the gym equipment and fulfill his dream of being in a World Cup one day!
It’s taken me an awfully long time to write about Half Moon Resort, Jamaica. It’s like part of me wanted to hold it inside because once it’s out there, it’s gone. This property is by far the most wonderful family destination I had ever had the honour to visit. A private dolphin cove, a kids club with villas specializing in certain skills, an equestrian centre and countless pools, I was shocked that I’d been invited to a place where British royalty has stayed.
In my own ocean-side villa, one memory replays in my head. After long days that one experiences on press trips that garner little sympathy from friends watching on facebook, I dropped my camera, laptop and bags on my doorstep, followed by my clothes. I did have a bikini on, but I would have done the same without. I ran into the warm ocean while the sun nodded into the water and I am not sure I have ever been so relaxed in my life. Going back into my room I smiled at the furniture made on property, covered in rich upholstery and called my kids from the sitting room. The bedroom smelled of jasmine and fresh Blue Mountain coffee that the resort had left as a gift. Could tomorrow be more magical?
Well, yes. Because after a day of touring I was writing by the bar and happened to meet Rohan Marley. Son of Bob. And owner of Marley coffee. We chatted. I was in awe. Spitting image-awe.
The next morning I experienced the spa. Yes, you may hate me. Gentle, skilled esthiticians recognized what I needed and even gifted me a bag of leaves to take home. The leaves were a tea for a foot bath that would drain out the toxins. I bought ergonomic flip flops and wanted never to leave.
Meals at the resort were taken in the main restauraunt or on the patio just outside while overlooking the ocean. Breakfast could have simply been the exquisite natural juices from fruits I’d never heard of, but they insisted on bringing more and more food, both traditional and Jamaican-inspired.
One evening we meandered on the property and attended an outdoor dinner that showcased local fare. WOW! I spoke to locals about spices, customs and regional flavours, and couldn’t stop eating. (No bikini photos from this point on).
The Sugar Mill restaurant is the jewel of Half Moon. And if you can manage it at all, try to connect with David Barber over dinner – the General Manager who exudes passion for travel and a true love of Jamaica. The food was subtle yet bursting with taste, and I learned from another travel writer (Laura Manske of Parade) how to properly light dishes for photography using the flashlight of a cellphone.
You must go. You may spot a royal. Or you may just have a life-changing moment in the ocean with the property’s dolphins after meeting one of Bob Marley’s sons.
Disclosure: UrbanMommies was hosted by Half Moon Resort on a media trip to Jamaica.
It’s one of those things you strive to do as a vacation, and yet so elusive that few manage. Sailing for a week on a catamaran in Bocas del Toro Panama with four cabins, a captain and a first mate was the pinnacle of relaxation. If it sounds like a dream to you, you’re right.
We flew to Panama with only carry-on and grabbed a puddle-jumper operated by Nature Air into Bocas del Toro. The heat was thick and local kids entertained themselves with checkerboards on their laps in puddle-filled playgrounds. The town was more rustic than Ambergris Caye, Belize, but also more economical and diverse in cuisine. The boat is moored in Red Frog Marina on the island of Bastimentos, and many water taxi operators were jumping at the chance to take us for $10 each.
Tradewinds Cruise Club is an all-inclusive vacation ownership sailing fleet with boats across the globe. RCI members can exchange once every four years to experience the yachts or individuals can purchase weeks within Tradewinds Cruise Club. There is a maintenance fee to be paid yearly to maintain the boats as well as an all-inclusive fee per week for the charters.
Our first time using the boat, we were greeted warmly by the crew and the manager and we happily paid our all-inclusive fee which covered food, drink, snorkelling, scuba diving (for Tradewinds members), housekeeping, mooring fees and water sports.
We boarded Jade, a 42 foot catamaran, and I began to relax. The forward cabins are spacious and each of the four rooms has an ensuite. Our double bed offered storage beneath, and a closet and dresser created ample space for our belongings. Shoes are not needed on the boat, and swimsuits, a sarong and a few light dresses were all that we needed. Clothes can dry on the deck with the clothespins supplied and devices can be charged when the generator is active. Toilet paper cannot be flushed, but water is not an issue like on many boats as Jade is equipped with a water maker that turns seawater to fresh.
Though I had purchased a Panamanian SIM card, my phone didn’t always work on the remote islands. Which marked the first time since starting UrbanMommies in 2006 that I was truly unplugged and ‘forced’ to relax. And it was pure magic.
So I read a book while swinging on the hammock on deck. We slept on the trampoline one night. I held a monkey. I bartered in Spanish with a local fisherman who approached our boat in a dugout canoe with lobsters he’d caught free diving. (We purchased enough for the guests and crew for $3 each and the first mate was happy to cook the tails!) We saw a nurse shark while diving and seahorses and squid snorkeling.
We toured Green Acres Organic chocolate farm (whose chocolate was featured on the series Naked Dating, filmed on location) and hiked the jungle rainforest with poison dart frogs at our feet and howler monkeys overhead. I found a stash of sea urchins and coral washed up on a beach and was devastated by the amounts of garbage left on a tiny island by tourists who arrive daily by water taxi to enjoy its beauty. We talked global politics with the others on the boat. Together we represented Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Sweden. Sharing one’s culture and opinions in such a close setting was powerful.
The end of the week was bittersweet. Three gourmet meals had been prepared for us daily and somehow I adjusted to not doing the dishes. Every afternoon brought a new blender drink while we floated on noodles in the ocean.
I’d had a couple of showers, but swimming in seawater multiple times per day allowed me to cross that chore off my list quite frequently. I was more relaxed that I had been in years and I am counting the days until I can get back on a boat – but next time I hope to share the experience with my boys.