Family Travel: A Trip to Washington DC

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.  

National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum

It is impossible to see everything that Washington DC has to offer in one, two or even three trips. The number of museums and historical monuments is simply overwhelming. Our family recently took a trip to DC and here are a few of our tips and highlights to maximize your time.

The best way to get around DC is by metro or bus. The first thing you will want to do is buy a SmarTrip card which you can load up for rides on the Metro or bus. A great way to get around the national mall is by city bus known as the DC circulator. For one dollar, the bus will take you to most of the major sites including the Smithsonian museums and monuments.

For a more in-depth visit to the city, our family would recommend taking the BigBus Washington DC It is a hop-on hop-off bus service that has three routes. We took all three routes and felt we had a much better appreciation of the city. The bus routes are enhanced by audio guides that give an explanation of the sites.

National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum

Most people visit DC for all the great museums. All of the Smithsonian museums are free and most do not need any advance reservations. We made it to the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History. Both museums could warrant an entire day on their own.

We decided to also visit two museums that had an admission fee since they looked so interesting. We started at the Spy Museum which aptly covers all things about spies. The museum presented the material in a fun and hands-on manner making it accessible for all ages. By the end of the visit, I didn’t know who might be watching me!

The second museum we checked out was the Newseum. As you might imagine, the Newseum is all about all things news and how the news is reported. Outside the museum, a visitor is greeted by cover stories from newspapers around the United States and the world. We started our visit by checking out the Berlin Wall display. The exhibit has the largest unaltered portion of the wall outside of Germany. It was a great introduction for our son, David, to history before he was born.

Photo of Berlin Wall at Newseum

Photo of Berlin Wall at Newseum

We then moved on to the terrace that gave a stunning view of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capital building. The day we visited, there was a vibrant bbq festival taking place on the Avenue reminding us that DC is a city outside of just museums and politics.

Terrace at Newseum

Terrace at Newseum

Other highlights of the Newseum included the Pulitizer Prize Photographs Gallery and the News Corporation News History gallery that gave a chronological overview of how we have collected and shared the news through the centuries.

I would recommend the museum for adults and older children who are interested in current events. David is interested in history and politics thus the Newseum was a perfect fit.

One last tip I will share is eating in the U.S. capital. Near the national mall and the Smithsonian museums, it can be difficult to find an abundance of restaurants. Most museums do have food options but we did not try any. We really liked going to Union Station which is a completely remodelled train station. It has many food and shopping choices plus, it has the splendour of a turn-of-the-century train station.

A great place to start any trip-planning for Washington DC is at Destination DC: www.washington.org

David received assistance from Destination DC for the purpose of this article; all views are his own.

A Surprise Staycation at Bookstreet Hotel

The last-minute planning for a staycation started when a pre-planned long weekend trip to Washington was cancelled and my entire family was disappointed. All of us were looking forward to getting away.

My husband and I scoured the internet for ideas on what we could do that were not too far away and that wouldn’t cost a lot of money (we’re still counting on a trip away-away sometime soon!). I then remembered the Brookstreet Hotel. Located in Kanata North, my daughter had taken swim lessons there through Aqua Life Swim Academy and absolutely adores the place (especially the outdoor musical instruments located outside the hotel’s front door). So, I went online and took a look at what they had to offer.

Brookstreet Hotel

Without hesitation, I booked the “Summer Family Package” – the perfect family getaway package!

We didn’t tell my daughter what we were doing. Instead, my husband and I secretly packed our overnight bags (including our swimsuits!) and late Friday afternoon, I told her she and I had to run out and pick something up for her dad at the Brookstreet Hotel. As I mentioned, she adores the place and was eager to go back, even if it was just to pick up a package for her dad. When we got there, I told her we had to go to a certain floor to get the package. When we arrived at the room, my husband was already there and left the door a bit ajar, so I just walked in and said, “Hi! How are you?” My daughter was confused and initially did not want to leave the hallway, but then slowly made her way in when she heard her dad’s voice.

She was still confused, but then noticed the suitcase and a Brookstreet backpack on a bed and excitedly asked, “Are we staying here? REALLY?! YAY!” And then jumped up on her bed to take a look at her complimentary backpack that included a Brookstreet water bottle (which is valid for free soft drinks when dining in Options, Perspectives or Ironstone Grill) and tokens for the hotel’s Zone 525 Games Room. The games room features an interactive floor game, arcade games, video games and a movie theatre!

Golf course view

My daughter could hardly wait to change into her swimsuit and head to the Brookstreet’s outdoor AND indoor salt water pools. We spent a long-time swimming that evening – the water in both the indoor and outdoor pools is so warm, you won’t want to leave!

Brookstreet Hotel Pools

Once we were done swimming, we headed back to our room, but not before my daughter was greeted by Buzz, the hotel’s mascot. At nine, she was trying not to be excited, but she had a hard time not smiling when she saw him. Buzz can be found buzzing around between the hotel’s lobby and the Flex Fitness Studio a few times during weekends, which is a fun addition to any family’s stay!

Brookstreet Hotel Indoor Pool

After a quiet and comfortable night’s sleep we enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet at Perspectives. This breakfast is not your typical hotel breakfast – think smoked salmon, waffles, fresh fruit salad, gourmet cheeses, yogurts, pastries, bagels, and so, so much more!

After breakfast we headed to Blackbird Falls Mini Putt for a fun 18-hole game. My daughter liked this course because it looks easy, but it is actually challenging (she also loves that there is so many ‘water holes’).  

Black Falls Mini Putt Brookstreet

We then went to the games room where my daughter used her tokens to play the “grabby thingy” and won three stuffies – much to my chagrin. Afterward, we headed back to the pools, well, I sat in the whirlpool tubs… and then in the sauna.

We also took a look at the outdoor ping pong table, outdoor chess and chequers tables near the outdoor pool area, as well as the kids play rockers. Needless to say, a family with kids of all ages could easily spend a weekend – if not more at the Brookstreet Hotel.

Families can also look into various activities that take place during the weekend. The weekend we stayed, there was a movie night being hosted on Friday night in Zone 525 (the games room) as well as an ice cream inspired “B Creative” craft Saturday morning. The hotel also offers complimentary bicycles, helmets, locks and cycling trail maps for all guests!

Zone 525 Brookstreet


The Summer Family Hotel Package includes so much, it is truly unlike any other hotel I have stayed at and it really felt like we got away – even if we live just minutes down the road. The package includes:

  • One night’s accommodation
  • Family Pass for Blackbird Falls Mini Putt
  • A ‘Brookstreet Backpack’ for each child including:
    • A Water Bottle (Free soft drinks when dining in Options, Perspectives or Ironstone Grill)
    • A Surprise Kids Activity
    • Tokens for the Zone 525 Games Room
    • 15% discount in in Perspectives Restaurant, Options Jazz Lounge or Ironstone Grill (a voucher is given at check in that can be used throughout your stay)
    • A Freezie or Popsicle for each child (a voucher is given at check in to pick up the treat from the B café)
  • Access to their indoor and outdoor saltwater pools, including a kid’s wading pool
  • High-speed WiFi
  • Parking in their secure underground garage

We will definitely return to the Brookstreet for another staycation – my husband and I are also looking into indulging in the Couples Getaway package!

Have you stayed at the Brookstreet Hotel before? What was your favourite part?  

Marshes Golf Course BrookStreet Hotel

10 things to do with kids in Ottawa this summer

Summer vacation is rolling out the welcome mat for kids all across the Nation’s Capital. And if your kids are like mine, then they are ready to run off some energy and have some fun! Every summer my family and I make a “bucket list” of things we must see and do as a family to make summer awesome! This year our list is a little longer than 10, but here are our top 10 things to do as a family in Ottawa this summer:

10 things to do with kids in Ottawa this summer

1) Visit the new Canada-themed park at Mooney’s Bay

If you haven’t been to the new Canada-themed park at Mooney’s Bay with the family yet, pack a picnic lunch and plan a day or even a few hours to take in the play structures, slides and swings that each represent a different province or territory. The park is located next to Mooney’s Bay Beach—a great spot to cool off on a hot summer’s day!

2) Check out the new Canada Goose Arctic Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature

The  Arctic Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature just opened June 21st and is filled with interactive activities, games, interesting facts and educational fun for the entire family. This new permanent gallery is full of unique ways to celebrate Canada's Arctic!

3) See the Northern Lights Sound and Light bilingual show on Parliament Hill

The Sounds and Lights show is always impressive, but with Canada 150 it’s a must-see summer event this year! Grab some snacks and a picnic blanket and head down to Parliament Hill in the late evening from July 11th to September 16th to enjoy Northern Lights, a show about the foundations of our nation and so much more. For tips on how to make the evening a memorable one, check out our tips here.

4) Check out MosaiCanada 150

MosaiCanada 150 is a FREE horticultural event featuring paintings, sculptures, artistic works, as well as 40 impressive horticulture arrangements (some larger than life!). MosaiCanada 150 is held at Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau from June 30th to October 15th and is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. This unique horticultural event is a part of the ongoing activities celebrating Canada 150.

5)  Watch an outdoor movie

Every year we try to watch an outdoor movie and this year we not only plan on returning to the Port Elmsley Drive-In, but also grabbing a lawn chair and going to one of the more urban outdoor movies. Capital Pop-Up Cinema runs local outdoor movies that look like a lot of fun– here’s their schedule: https://www.capitalpopupcinema.com/2016-schedule.

6) Be wowed by La Machine at the end of July

I keep seeing the La Machine event pop up in my Facebook newsfeed and every time I see it, I can’t get over how impressive it looks. From July 27 to the 30th these big machines – including the dragon, LongMa, which according to the event website, stands 12 metres high, 5 metres high and weighs 45 tons, will be roaming the downtown streets of Ottawa. This incredible weekend is a part of the ongoing celebrations for Canada 150.

7) Visit a summer fair

Cotton candy, demolition derbies, carousels, concerts, live entertainment, and more, Ottawa offers many local summer fairs including these:
July 14-16: Almonte Fair 
July 28-30: Beachburg Fair
August 10-13: Navan Fair
August 17-20: Arnprior Fair
August 18-27: The Capital Fair 
August 25-27: Chesterville Fair 
September 7-10: Russell Fair 
September 14-17: Richmond Fair 
September 21-24: Carp Fair 
September 28-October 1: Metcalfe Fair 

8) Pretend we’re pirates at Pirate Adventures Ottawa

If you have ever wanted to bring out your inner Jack Sparrow or Jake the Neverland Pirate then this 75-minute interactive pirate-theatre cruise may be for you! Located at Mooney’s Bay this pirate ship adventure includes costumes, face painting, treasure maps, and much more!

9) Actually make it through the Mile Maze at Saunders Farm

Jumping pillows, an amazing play structure, and of courses mazes! Saunders Farm is a lot of fun and one of these days I WILL make it through the mile maze without having to ask complete strangers if they can help me find my way out. ;)

10) Connect with nature at Eco-Odysee

Beautiful scenery, water maze adventures, exploring and puzzle solving – Eco Odysee in the Outaouais is a great way to spend a summer’s day outside and in nature.

So, what’s on your must-do summer list this year? Share by leaving a comment! Happy Summer

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?