Family Travel: Visiting Kingston, Ontario

KITC would like to welcome back, guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival.  During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


Thanksgiving weekend has always been a chance for our family to obviously give thanks.  It has also been an opportunity to take a road trip. This year, we decided to visit Kingston, Ontario.   

We started our trip in Kingston picking up a kpass.  It is a great option if you are looking to visit a lot of destinations in Kingston including Fort Henry and the Kingston Pen tour.  Some tours and experiences need to be booked ahead of time so check the website.

For our first experience,  we decided to try out Improbable Escapes.  We had never tried out an escape room so the staff patiently explained what to expect.  We chose a room that had an elementary school theme which was appropriate for our son, David, who is ten years old.  

We were locked up in the room and had a series of challenges to solve, both physical and mental in order to escape.  I quickly found that problem-solving may not be my strong suit. My wife, Sandy and David solved most of the puzzles. I was very proud when I discovered a key hanging on a hook near the top of the room (that was more luck than skill!).  As part of the game, we were given two chances to call our guide for assistance. Each time, she provided useful advice without giving the game away.

We had one hour to escape from the room. At the fifty minute mark, our chances were not looking good. Finally, David figured out the way to crawl from one room to what we thought was freedom. We had only solved half of the puzzle and found a second chamber! Our guide was nice and gave us an extra fifteen minutes. We solved a couple more puzzles but did not ultimately escape. Fear not, our guide did let us out of the room.

Escape Room, Kingston Ontario

We really enjoyed it for our first time and are looking forward to trying escape rooms in Ottawa.  It is a great way for a family to work together and also encourage non-linear thinking. I also now know how to open a multitude of locks.

All of this thinking had worked up an appetite so we headed to our favourite restaurant in Kingston, Ali Baba Kabab. Three hearty plates of the shawarma mix and mint tea rejuvenated our energy.  

It is getting near Halloween so we decided to check out the Kingston Ghost and Mystery Trolley Tour.  Our first stop was appropriately a graveyard where we visited the gravesite of the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald. Our guide told us about the history of the gravesite and a few potential spirits that may be haunting the graveyard.

The tour certainly does not advertise itself as a family attraction and parents with young kids might choose the regular day tour. On our tour, there were children younger than David. The guide was good at keeping the content age appropriate. She also had a good sense of humour making the atmosphere fun.  

We also visited Queen’s University and downtown Kingston. I did not realize the city was such a historic and potentially haunted place.

We ended our day by checking into the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre.  The Ambassador has been our go-to place since we started visiting Kingston after David was born. David took his first ride down a waterslide alone at the Ambassador when he was five even though mom and dad were white-knuckling it the whole time.   

To relive old times and relax after our busy day, we hit the pool and hot tub. David wanted to give the waterslide a go. We were much more relaxed seeing ten year old David go down than five year old David.

The next morning, we felt refreshed from a good sleep. We were also fortunate to have a room with a kitchenette and fridge. We had stocked up on eggs the night before and prepared a delicious breakfast.   

The plan for the day was to go on a boat cruise aboard the Island Queen. We started our cruise leaving the Kingston harbour going past Fort Henry and Wolfe Island. The scenery made me appreciate what a picturesque city Kingston truly is.

Kingston Ontario boat tours

Once out on the water,  the staff served up a delectable Thanksgiving lunch buffet including turkey and pumpkin pie. We were also kept entertained by a keyboardist who could play and sing almost any tune you threw at him.  He said he knew over 10,000 songs and I could believe him.

The highlight of the trip occurred once we hit the Thousand Islands near Gananoque. It was amazing to consider that there could be homes on some islands that seemed little more than rocky outcrops in the Saint Lawrence. The taped audio guide also gave us a lot of useful information about the Islands. We spent about forty minutes cruising around and then headed back.   

Boat Tour St-Lawrence River

Our man of 10,000 songs kept us entertained with everything from Elton John to the Beatles. Soon enough, we were back in port.

To wrap up our time in Kingston, we checked out some virtual reality at the VR Hut. David and I both chose Google Earth VR as we both love to travel. A person truly felt like they were walking in Hong Kong or New York City.   

VR Hut Kingston, Ontario

I also thought it was a perfect way to wrap up our trip.  Exploring a cutting edge technology that was physically located in a limestone heritage building. To me, that totally sums up Kingston.

The best place to start any planning for a trip to Kingston is by visiting, www.visitkingston.ca. As mentioned,  we always have a great stay at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre www.ambassadorhotel.com.


Disclosure: Stephen and his family were provided with the Kpass by Tourism Kingston but as always, all views are his own. 

Family Travel: The CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

VIA Train Ride to Toronto

This summer my family and I decided to take trips closer to home, so on the August long weekend we took the train to Toronto, Ontario. It was my daughter’s first time on the train and between the comfortable seats and free WiFi, she is already asking when we can take the train again!

Although we had driven through Toronto several times, we had never spent quality time there.  My daughter had heard about the CN Tower and has asked many times when she could see it. She had also heard a lot about Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and has wanted to see it for “years!” So, needless to say - she was excited for our trip to Toronto.

So, off we went. Our first must-see stop was the CN Tower. We went in the evening, which is a quieter time to go if you are trying to avoid lineups. They are open until 11 pm most nights, so later in the evening is a great time to watch the sun set and to admire the lights over the city of Toronto. The line ups during the day can be extremely long – and the line you see from the front doors is the security line (so have your bags, etc. ready to be checked).

CN Tower Toronto

Then there is another line once you purchase your Tower Experience tickets. This line can be up to another two hours, but you can purchase Timed General Admission for the Look Out Level, which gives you a specific date and time for an expedited trip up. I highly recommend this purchase – especially if you are travelling with young kids. You can purchase tickets online ahead of time as well, which is a great time saver.

We did not visit the SkyPod, but it definitely has the best views of the city as it is the highest observation level; however the floor to ceiling windows on the Look Out Level satisfied our ten year old’s curiosity level. The glass floor on the Look Out level was the biggest highlight for my daughter. She loved walking on it, sitting on it and kneeling on it - trying to make out what she was seeing below. She also thought it was cool to see the sharks that circle the roof of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

IMG_5516.jpg
Glass Floor CN Tower Toronto

If you plan on visiting both the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, take a look at the “Sea to Sky” pass – it covers admission to both attractions at a lower price than paying for them separately.

View from the CN Tower Look Out

View from the CN Tower Look Out

We went to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada first thing on a Saturday morning. If you go on a weekend or during a peak period, such as summer or March Break, I recommend going when doors open or in the evenings for a less crowded experience. The busiest hours are 11 am to 4 pm during peak dates, but even then, you will be in awe of this aquarium’s galleries and programming.

Jelly Fish - Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Although it may look small from the outside, this aquarium features sea life from all across the globe including Canadian waters. My daughter, who enjoys fishing, loved seeing a big bass swimming about in the Canadian Waters gallery. Between the Rainbow Reef gallery, which is filled with colourful tropical fish we had previously only seen in Disney movies, and the Dangerous Lagoon filled with a wide array of sharks, turtles and sting rays, this aquarium is a feast for the eyes! The moving floor in the Dangerous Lagoon moves you through a glass tunnel where visitors can watch ocean life in motion. You will feel like you’re truly underwater. We loved it so much we did the Dangerous Lagoon twice!

My daughter was curious as to why the sharks in the Dangerous Lagoon didn’t eat the other sea life. We asked a staff member who told us that the sharks are lazy and in the wild don’t eat very often, and because these sharks are in captivity they know they will be fed, so don’t feel a need to exert energy hunting when they know where their meals are coming from.

Dangerous Lagoon - Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

The aquarium experience comes with many educational facts, displays and an interesting “Life Support Systems” gallery that teaches visitors how they keep the tanks clean and the fish and other creatures healthy.

Shark at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Visitors of all ages will love Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. There is so much to see, do and learn while there. It’s definitely an attraction I can see myself returning to!

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

When was the last time you took a trip up the CN Tower? Have you visited the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada recently? Share some of your favourite memories from two of Toronto’s biggest tourist attractions with us – we’d love to know!  

**Special thanks to CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium for their hospitality and assistance in writing this post. Views are my own. 

 

Prince Edward Island: Canada’s Family Vacation Hotspot

Confederation bridge

Confederation bridge

My husband and I fell in love with Prince Edward Island long before we said our matrimonial “I dos” in Brackley Beach twelve years ago. When we visited the island as a couple, we would read all day long on the many picturesque beaches and take in as many lobster suppers as we could. Now that we are parents, and St. Ann’s Lobster Suppers is no longer in operation, our trips to Prince Edward Island have changed to become more family oriented.

If you are planning on taking a family vacation to Prince Edward Island, I promise that you will instantly fall in love with the rolling hills, friendly locals and of course, the red sand and red dirt. Every one who visits the island has their own unique experience. For my family it is in a quiet, private cottage overlooking the sand dunes of Brackley Beach and includes a lot time on the beach and eating a lot of fresh seafood (so, maybe not that much has changed over the years). ;)

Based on my most recent trip to the island, here are some tips on where to eat, where to play and where to take pictures while in Prince Edward Island:

Where to Eat in PEI (in the summer)

Many restaurants on Prince Edward Island are seasonal (only open during tourist season), meaning their food is fresh and full of local flair!

I am a huge fan of Richard’s Fresh Seafood located in Stanhope within Prince Edward Island National Park. Their lobster roll is good, but so is their scallop burger and fish sandwich! And if you like local PEI potatoes – well, you get a lot of homemade fries with every order.

But if you are looking for mussels, I highly suggest the Blue Mussel Café in North Rustico. Their mussels are cooked to perfection! And their appetizers are delicious – especially their Seafood Chowder Poutine.

Our favourite lunch spot is the PEI Preserve Company in New Glasgow. Their homemade preserves and scones are second to none. Top that with a cute view of the Gardens of Hope and River Clyde and you will instantly fall into vacation mode. They also have 40 types of tea from all over the world – perfect if you’re a tea drinker.

Top left - me sipping beer from PEI brewing company at the blue mussel cafe; from bottom left to top right: pei preserve company, dorion's fisheries; olde village bakery in north rustico; richard's fresh seafood and a wall in blue mussel cafe.

Top left - me sipping beer from PEI brewing company at the blue mussel cafe; from bottom left to top right: pei preserve company, dorion's fisheries; olde village bakery in north rustico; richard's fresh seafood and a wall in blue mussel cafe.

While in New Glasgow, make a reservation (no really, MAKE A RESERVATION) for supper at The Mill in New Glasgow. The chef, Emily Wells, is award winning and her dishes are sure to thrill your palate – in particular the must-try Lobster Pad Thai. My daughter loved the views from this place as it too over looks the River Clyde.

You’re probably wondering when I am going to mention lobster suppers. I’m not. As I mentioned, my favourite was St. Ann’s Suppers, which was lobster supper served in the basement of a Catholic Church with incredible mile-high pie for dessert, but they have since closed up shop and while New Glasgow Lobster Suppers are popular, they are not for us.

Cooking lobster

Cooking lobster

Instead, I highly recommend heading to Doiron Fisheries in North Rustico and buying fresh lobster and cooking it yourself! It’s fun for the whole family! Or if cooking lobster is not for you, Doiron’s also sells it cooked. They also sell fresh fish, scallops and mussels.

Once you have your fresh PEI lobster, go to the Olde Village Bakery in North Rustico and pick up some homemade potato salad and buns (and pie) and then go back to your cottage and enjoy your own lobster supper in comfort. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

What to do

From golfing to kayaking, there is something for everyone in PEI, including spending a lot of time at the beaches (of course). Besides the beach, are a few family favourites:

Hiking or Biking

robinson's island, PEI

robinson's island, PEI

This year my family and I brought our mountain bikes with us. Every morning we ventured to the trails around the island’s National Park. Our absolute favourite is Robinson’s Island. A 5 km loop, there are moguls and obstacles for the young (and the young at heart) as well as gorgeous views of great blue herons, bald eagles, foxes and more! You can also walk or bike the old road that leads straight to the beach on Robinson’s Island where you may find big seashells and washed up treasures like buoys, seaglass and driftwood.

Green Gables

Anne of green gables

Anne of green gables

If this is your first trip to PEI then you have to visit the house at Green Gables. You just do. It’s full of history and of course everything Anne, but it’s also fun for the kids – especially because they may get to meet Anne herself!

Because it’s owned by the National Parks there is often fun programming taking place. This year when we visited they had a bilingual scavenger hunt for kids, which was a fun, interactive way to encourage the kids to read and learn about L.M. Montgomery and the island. When they are done the scavenger hunt, kids can hand in their books and receive a free memento from their time at Green Gables.

In addition to the house there are also trails to walk and explore. A perfect way to spend a good part of a day!

Shining Waters & Sandspit Amusement Park

If you are on the island for more than a couple of days invest in a weekly pass to Shining Waters and Sandspit. Shining Waters is the island’s water park and although it’s not as big as some of the monstrosities elsewhere in Canada, it is perfect for a fun filled day or even a couple of hours of cooling off and having fun. There is a roller coaster and rides for kids of all ages (although I would say 12 and under would probably have the most fun). The water slides are fast and guaranteed to make even the most over-tired of child smile (believe me, I know).

Sandspit is the island’s amusement park. There is a Ferris wheel, roller coaster and other fun rides. We spent a lot of evenings there just so my daughter and her friend could run around and eat cotton candy without getting sand in it.

You can purchase a weekly pass that covers both of these parks, which makes spending an hour or two there every day feasible, and believe me your kids will love it! After all, family vacations are about the kids having fun and making memories!

From top left: roller coaster at SandSPIT, BRACKley beach, brackley drive-in theatre and the ferris wheel at sandspit

From top left: roller coaster at SandSPIT, BRACKley beach, brackley drive-in theatre and the ferris wheel at sandspit

Brackley Drive-In

The Brackley Drive-In is the island’s only drive-in theatre, and it is a great one! It’s clean, well taken care of, and is easy to get in and out of.

Drive to the town of Brackley Beach and get ready to see some classic 1950s cars, listen to some classic 1950s tunes before the show and then get ready for one or two in-theatre movies! There is a playground at the theatre to occupy kids until the movie starts and of course there is a canteen on site as well – and treat prices are very reasonable! Gates open at 8 p.m. and there is a $1 off coupon on their website, oh and ticket prices include a soft drink! This is seriously my favourite drive-in theatre in Canada.

Where to take pictures

Beaches

Island crab

All of them, but if you’re looking for red cliffs try the Argyle Shore (south side of the island) or Cavendish on the north shore (go in the evening or first thing in the morning for pictures without people).

If you’re looking for sand dunes, try Brackley Beach near the Covehead Lighthouse or Greenwich Beach.

If you’re looking for waves crashing against sand, try Basin Head in Eastern PEI, en route to the town of Souris.

Scenary

The best road in PEI for taking pictures of the rolling hills is between the towns of Wheatley River and New Glasgow. If you are there the right time of year there are endless opportunities for fabulous pictures of potato fields in full bloom pretty much anywhere on the island. And if you’re there mid to late June – get ready for some amazing pictures of lupins!

Lighthouses

Covehead Lighthouse

My family’s favourite lighthouse is West Point because of the stripes, but Point Prim is the island’s oldest and is one of the few lighthouses made of brick constructed in Canada.

Covehead is the most photographed lighthouse on the island (pictured here with my daughter in a photo that was featured in the island’s tourism guide last year). It’s located in Stanhope.

For a complete list of PEI lighthouses, check out the Tourism PEI website.

Lighthouse at victoria by-the-sea

Lighthouse at victoria by-the-sea

My husband and I have noticed an increase in traffic during the summer months in PEI and even witnessed a traffic backup as we drove through Cavendish this year, but as busy as the island gets there is always a peaceful, welcoming place for every visitor to the island. I look forward to returning… again and again.

Have you been to Prince Edward Island? What are your favourite things to do as a family there?

Weekend Road Trip to London, Ontario

Gibbons Park, London, Ontario

Gibbons Park, London, Ontario

London, Ontario may not be an ideal weekend road trip destination from Ottawa (after all it’s about six hours away by car and that is providing Toronto traffic is light), but when you have in-laws and a new baby niece to visit, it becomes the perfect road trip. :)

I enjoy our visits to London, Ontario and there are certain spots we make a point of visiting with the kids; so I thought I would share them in case you ever find yourself in this delightful Southern Ontario city.

Gibbons Park

If you brought your bikes make your way to Gibbons Park to enjoy the paved paths along the scenic Thames river. The trail system goes to other parks, including Harris Park and all the way to the larger Springbank Park. In addition to the paths there is also a playground, public pool, mature trees and a splash pad. There is also plenty of parking and shade-covered spots for picnicking. If you love wide-open parks with mature trees then you will love this park! There is always something going on: kids flying kites, a soccer game or just lots of families enjoying the area's natural beauty.

Storybook Gardens

Jumping Pillow at Storybook Gardens

Jumping Pillow at Storybook Gardens

Storybook Gardens has been a family attraction in London for decades (since 1958), but they recently renovated and improved the park by removing the animals and zoo and replacing it with an amazing playground, large splash pad and fun playhouses. Storybook Gardens centers around popular fairytales and nursery rhymes and there are traces of those around the park, but more so there are rides, slides and a giant jumping pillow that is perfect for kids preschool aged and up. My daughter loves the giant slides and playground. It’s a fun-filled way to spend a day in London!

Playhouses at Storybook Gardens

Playhouses at Storybook Gardens

London’s Children’s Museum

For over three decades, the London Children’s Museum has been a popular destination for children. They have interactive exhibits and encourage children to learn by playing and touching. Admittedly some of the displays are worn out, but there is still plenty to see and do – especially on those rainy days when the kids are itching to run and get some energy out.

Fanshawe Pioneer Village

If you have ever gone to Upper Canada Village with your family and had a good time, then you will probably enjoy Fanshawe Pioneer Village as well. There is always interesting period-related activities going on in the historic buildings as well as throughout the village grounds. As with most pioneer villages, this interactive museum tells the story of rural communities, this one related to London and nearby counties from 1820 to 1920. It’s a great way for children to experience life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Victoria Park

Turtle in Springbank Park, London

Turtle in Springbank Park, London

Located in the heart of the city, Victoria Park is usually the hub of activity with festivals and musical entertainment. If there is an event going on in the City of London – it will be at this park. It’s also full of history and there is a memorial to the Boer War, which may be interesting if you are travelling with a history buff.

Above all, I recommend visiting the many scenic parks in London. The massive mature trees are stunning and the wide-open space is perfect to let little ones run free (especially after a six hour drive).

Have you travelled to London, Ontario? Where is your favourite spot to visit with the family?

Parc Omega

When you have three kids spanning three age groups finding a family activity that does not inspire groans from at least one moody member is a huge coup...and we have found one.

Parc Omega

Located about an hour from Ottawa, and an hour and a half drive from my neck of the woods, Long Sault, Parc Omega is a little bit of wilderness in our back yard, minutes from quaint downtown Montebello. It is a terrific stop if you are on your way to Mont Tremblant.

The parc is comprised of 1500 acres, offering a 10 kilometer driving path through meadows, lakes, forests and rocky hills harboring a virtual pot pourri of exciting wildlife.

And I mean exciting. Especially if you happen to be in the possession of carrots.

Why? Because the wildlife that calls Parc Omega home loves their carrots.

What kind of wildlife? Wapiti, black bears, buffalo, red deer, white tail deer, caribou, beavers, the fallow, arctic wolves and timberwolves. And the boars. Oh, the little piggy boars!

With the exception of the wolves and the black bears, the collection of animals at Parc Omega roam free and plentiful, jauntily approaching your vehicles for food.

And this is where the multigenerational family bonding begins...all my children were initially equally terrified of the huge noses probing their way into the truck, sniffing out the food they knew must be in there somewhere.

The tour at Parc Omega starts at the front gate, with imposing statues that got the kids excited right away ( okay, maybe not the teenager).

The park is open year round, offering different adventures for every season, and there is seasonal pricing.  The hours vary as well, so check before heading out.

The first stop is at the "House of Park", a log cabin housing a snack bar  ( the teenager got excited about this...fries...yum ), a gift shop ( all the kids dug this;)) and a lower area where nature exhibitions are held. When we visited in February, there was a spectacular nature photography exhibition, with huge prints taken within the park. There were also arctic wolf pups playing and nestling up against the windows of the building, in a fenced in area where the parc often places it's most vulnerable members - babies and recovering animals. These little guys were a huge hit with children and adults alike.

The most important thing to note about this stop are the carrots.

Carrots make the drive through the park more fun and they are available by the bag at the gift shop cash. You can bring your own ( carrots are the preferred food for the animals as they are sweet and safe for them ), but the park carrots are nice and long making feeding very easy for your children. There are rules around who to feed and not feed, depending on the season, and all this is explained to you upon entering the park. We were not allowed to feed the buffalos...and one look at them lumbering up to and rubbing against the truck explained why. They are huge.

Once on the road, you will be greeted almost immediately by large caribou who anticipate your carrot sharing. The drive through the park is slow going, with most cars making the most of the feeding opportunities. You do have to be mindful of fingers and staying inside the vehicle, but in 10 years of visits we have never had a bitten finger.

You are able to tune your radio to FM 88.1 in English or FM 90.1 in French to listen to a good narrative about the park, it's history, philosophy and the animals found within it's boundary...which sometimes includes wildlife from outside the boundaries...

There are three walking paths available to visitors, and often you are able to visit with and feed deer along these protected trails. We were lucky enough to catch the opening weekend of the "cabane a sucre", and enjoyed taffy on a stick and a short walk in the brisk sunny weather. This is a new feature at the park and it was busy and popular the day we were there. The maple trees are tapped right there.

So, with all these possibilities, what did my kids enjoy the most? The teen enjoyed the fries, the tween loved feeding the deer and caribou ( after her initial "squeeeeeeee" moment ) and the baby loved pointing out all the boars. Of which there are many. Too many, lol, and not very bright...I was worried about hitting them a few times.

I loved the flying wild turkeys and my husband was thrilled with the fact that the cranky caribou did not leave a permanent hoof print on the truck when he kicked the door when cut off from his carrot fix.

All of us were thrilled to see the black bears out of hibernation THAT DAY, enjoying the sun. That was really exciting as they were very close to the fence.

The whole tour took us an hour and a bit, and you are allowed to go around as many times as you wish. Many people, in the summer, bring picnics and enjoy lakeside dining on the patio at the  "House of the Park". There are statues for the kids to clamber over and inquire about and lots of place for them to run during and after the car ride. There are also bird of prey shows in July and August.

A side note...if you are hungry after leaving Parc Omega, there is a great greasy spoon/ casse croute in Montebello called "La Belle Bedaine". The poutine was too die for. Seriously worth the stop:).

Angela is mom to a teen, tween and toddler, wife of an intrepid businessman, master of two big dogs and she loves her camera-baby very much. She is a displaced montrealer living in Long Sault, Ontario. She blogs at

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