BC Water Parks and Water Slides

Boomerang Ride at Cultus Lake Water Park, BC with kids

Boomerang Ride at Cultus Lake Water Park, BC

Cultus Lake Water Park, Fraser Valley, BC.

This waterpark offers a two new rides in 2013. The Boomerang takes up to four passengers in a raft  in a double-figure-eight slide, down 60 feet before diving to the ‘boomerang’ landing canal below. The Bazooka Bowls dares the daredevil — it takes riders through a black-hole flume, into a 30-foot bowl slide where they’ll rotate before dropping into a 9-foot bowl below. Too scary? There’s a spray “Pirate’s cove” that’s very cute and suited for younger children. OK to bring in your own food, and great discounts on the Cultus Water Park’s website.

Bridal Falls Waterpark, near Chilliwack, BC.

This BC water park is pretty straightforward — heated water (up to 80F) pours through four advanced slides, two intermediate, one tube and three kiddie slides under the shadow of looming mountains, along with a giant hot tub for the grownups. OK to bring in your own food. Near Harrison Hot Springs.

Harrison Water Park, Harrison Lake, BC

A summer water park actually located in a lake, Harrison Water Park functions like a freshwater playground. Scramble, bounce and slide on the inflatable equipment in the middle of Harrison Lake. It’s for ages 6 and up only; kids need to be at least 10 years old to be here unsupervised.

Splashdown Park, Tsawwassen, BC.

Just a short drive from metro Vancouver (and near the ferry to Vancouver Island), this park serves up a ramp slide, river run, body slide, five children’s slides and a big outdoor pool to splash in — a nice collection of water slides for the BC summer.  Look for the $8 off coupon on the park’s website.

Variety Kids Water Park,  Vancouver BC.

This free Stanley Park water playground or “sprayground” brings on the sprinklers, cannons and streams to create Vancouver’s largest outdoor spray park. On Granville Island, kids can play in the Granville Island WaterPark, which offers one slide along with a “spray park” area for toddlers and big kids. There’s also an outdoor spray park at Vancouver Aquatic Centre.

Atlantis Waterslides, Vernon BC.

In the hot, sunny BC interior, this water park keeps kids cool with 10 water slides, including the bumpy “River Riot,” three fast flumes and two gentle slides suited for preschoolers or toddlers. About 45 minutes away, young kids will like the colorful municipal Kelowna waterparks. (Check out this photo of Ben Lee Waterpark).

Camping Reservations with Kids in Washington, Oregon and BC

How long in advance should you make camping reservations? Now is the time to reserve your camping spot for many Pacific Northwest locations. Don’t wait until late spring or summer, if you want a prime, secluded tent site or one of the much-desired yurts, cabins or fire lookouts. Here’s a quick guide and how-to.

Camping Reservations in Oregon

Half of Oregon´s state park campgrounds accept campsite reservations; the other half are first-come, first-served. Whether you call or go online, you may make reservations 2 days to 9 months in advance of your first night´s stay. “Nine months in advance” counts back to the nearest business day.

You can make Oregon campsite, yurt, cabin and teepee reservations with a Visa or MasterCard through ReserveAmerica’s Oregon page. You can make reservations for national forests, like Mt. Hood National Forest and Siuslaw National Forest at Recreation.gov, but there aren’t many listed.

Read more about Oregon Campground Reservations.

Camping Reservations in Washington

At the campgrounds that accept reservations, you can reserve Washington campsites, yurts, cabins and houses through the Washington State website. Right now, they’re accepting reservations about 10 months in advance – so they’re taking reservations up until the first week of October. You can use a Visa or Mastercard to reserve.

You can make reservations for over 100 National Park Service and US Forest Services destinations, like Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest at Recreation.gov.

Or make Washington State camping reservations at Reserve America, which includes listings from KOA, Thousand Trails, USDA Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

The county parks system is more challenging to navigate — you’ll need to research the specific county you want to stay in. Popular camping destinations in Washington State include San Juan County Parks, Salt Creek Recreation Area and Dungeness Recreation Area in Clallam County, Snohomish County Parks and Recreation and Wenatchee River County Park.

Camping Reservations in British Columbia 

Frontcountry reservations open at 7:00 am (PST) on March 15. Reservations for family campsites can be made up to three months in advance of your arrival date, and you can make up to three reservations per transaction. Book your tent site at the BC Parks website, read about backcountry camping at Recreation Sites and Trails,  and about Western camping destinations at Parks Canada. Here’s a quick rundown comparing all the BC camping options.

How to plan an awesome family vacation in BC, Washington or Oregon

I’m in the midst of trip-planning right now. Honestly, I love the research and time investment in planning a great trip, from picking the best kid-friendly hotel to finding out which museums are open on the days we’re in town. Yeah, I’m a travel-research geek. I cull information from a number of sites to plan a great trip for my family. They’re sort of spoiled now, though, and if I mess up — I hear about it!

One thing I’ve learned: Never rely too heavily on one site (even this one!), one friend or one guidebook. Planning a great trip takes intensive Internet time up-front, but it’s better than driving around a suburb at 7 p.m., looking for an open restaurant. And with the right amount of work, your partner and children will think you’re a travel genius.

(unless you chose the fly-in-my-soup restaurant, but we’ll talk about that another time)

Here are online sites I use to plan summer vacations, spring breaks and travel-research trips:

TripAdvisor: I use the TripAdvisor.com to dig up quality hotels in smaller towns outside of Vancouver, Seattle, Victoria and Portland, although the site works for big cities as well. I like Tripadvisor specifically because so many of the site’s participants go the independent-travel route rather than prepackaged lodging-dining-activity plans culled from a guidebook. The boards can be helpful if you have a question, and most reviews are interesting. I tend to read – but not necessarily believe – the best reviews (could’ve been written by hotel owner’s friends) and the worst reviews (written by a competing hotelier?) and then try to find the average. Generally, deal-killers for me include reports of poor soundproofing, bad neighborhoods and of course, bedbugs. (shiver)

Tripadvisor Tip: The best aspects of Tripadvisor are the hotel reviews and forums; Crowdsourcing from the vacation rental reviews or restaurant picks doesn’t work for me.

Chowhound: I love the Chowhound.com message boards. Those of us with pickier palates appreciate this site’s gourmet reviews. Not that every restaurant recommendation is expensive – you’re as apt to find a glowing review of a hole-in-the-wall burger joint as a upscale bistro. People on this board just love food, in all guises and pricepoints. It’s also a great way to find child-friendly restaurants at your out-of-the-way destination, if you want to ask a question on the message board.

Chowhound Tip: It’s not easy to find relevant Chowhound threads using Chowhound’s search tool. I use Google and enter “site:chowhound.chow.com” and then my term – “Olympia restaurants kids.” Or browse by destination on the board. Example: Greater Seattle Chowhound recommendations and reviews. Remember that not everyone has the same tastes, and this is an anonymous message board. Take everything with a grain of salt and a sprig of rosemary.

Priceline: If I’m headed into a big city for just a few days or an overnight, I use Priceline.com to pick up my room. Priceline is a cheap way to get a stunning hotel room (particularly in Seattle and Vancouver), so we have more money for eating out.

Priceline Tip: Use my Priceline process to book your Seattle, Vancouver or Portland Priceline stay. I would not use Priceline for a two-star hotel in any city. There’s just too much variance in quality.

Slow Travel: What is Slow Travel? According to the Slowtravel.com site’s founder, it’s about slowing down your itinerary, finding a “home base” for your vacation and just enjoying your destination without pressure. Slow travel is the perfect way to travel with kids. Most of the Slow Travel forum and site participants are Europhiles with plans for the summer in Tuscany; However, you’ll also find a North America section where you can read vacation-rental reviews , trip reports and other destination-ready suggestions. Or if you’re a local, maybe you can make a few suggestions to visitors.

Slow Travel Tip: View reviews of WashingtonOregon and British Columbia vacation rental homes and apartments before booking your next hotel stay; your kids will thank you.

Google Maps: I use Google Maps to map out my drive and stops along the way (I do recommend stopping at least every two hours with kids, just so don’t drive one another crazy). I find the site’s directions fairly accurate, although it’s always good to double-check directions and suggestions with a real, live human (that road may be under construction or the bus route may not operate on Sundays).

Google Maps Tip: Use Google Street View to check out a hotel or rental’s exterior and surrounding neighborhood. Is the hotel in a dodgy part of town, or is the rental right on the highway? Good to know before you show up. However this visual information, like all information, can rapidly go out of date — make sure the construction cranes are still there before you break up with your hotel reservation.

VRBO or HomeAway.com: If I can’t find an apartment or house review on Slow Travel, I will browse VRBO or HomeAway for a family-friendly Washington, Oregon or BC rental option, particularly if I’m staying for more than three nights. I hate tiny, cramped hotel rooms as much as the next traveler, and I find that cooking in the room makes more sense, financially.

VRBO.com Tip: Read this CascadiaKids.com article on finding a child-friendly or family vacation rental in Seattle, British Columbia or Washington State.

Other sites worth a mention:

Nwcheapsleeps.org. On her blog, Lauren blogs about various bed and breakfasts and fabulous destinations throughout the Pacific Northwest. Great if you’d prefer to go the B&B route (with kids, or without!). The Cheapsleeps Finder makes searching easy.

Yelp.com for restaurants at my destination. The site provides random reviews — more like a restaurant snapshot than a panoramic perspective. It also doesn’t work well for some cities; Spokane stands out in my mind as an example of a city where you do not want to take Yelp reviews into account. I found that out the hard way.

AAA of Washington for finding and booking hotels that accept my AAA card (10%off).

Fodors.com and Frommer’s forums; ehhh, sometimes they work for me. Sometimes not.

Local mom blogs for my destination, particularly if I trust the blogger’s taste in dining. I always try to leave a blog comment if I visit and get a great local-travel tip from a blogger!

I know I’ve forgotten many more important sites. Do you have favorite trip-planning site for your Northwest trip? Tell me all about it in the comments below (comments moderated, please wait for your message to post).

Family Travel: Manning Resort, BC with kids

In winter, many of Washington, Oregon and BC’s ski resorts become overwhelmed with hordes of weekend ski bums (yes, that description includes my own family). For a change of pace, smart families — like Bellingham-based travel writer Joanna Nesbit‘s family — head for the quieter ski resorts. No, the resorts aren’t filled with flash ‘n’ cash, but they’re perfect for a low-key, snow-filled getaway. We chat with Joanna to find out what she loves about Manning Park Resort, set in British Columbia’s lovely Skagit Valley Provincial Park.

Cross-country skiing at Manning Park Resort

Located a mere 2. 5 hours northeast of Bellingham (Sumas/Abbotsford border crossing) and two hours from Vancouver, BC, the area is a fine option for a long weekend or a winter break.

Who went? How long did you stay? How did you hear about Manning Resort?

Over President’s Day weekend, we took our family of four plus a friend (Curt, Joanna, Leah, 13, Ty, 11, and friend Emma, 13) to Manning Park Resort in British Columbia’s Manning Provincial Park for a weekend of alpine and cross-country skiing and snowplay.

We’ve been visiting Manning for some 15 years, and one year by accident we discovered that many families from our neighborhood make the trek for President’s Day weekend. This holiday weekend — also a 4-day school break — has turned into a Manning tradition for many Bellingham families.

Manning Park Resort has a lodge and cabins, and all visitors stay at the resort because there are no other lodgings nearby. The resort is 45 minutes from Hope to the west and Princeton to the east.

Besides offering a friendly ski scene, the resort is compact enough that you can let your kids wander fairly freely (depending on your comfort level), which is what we love about the place. Manning has a pool/hot tub facility (the Blue Lagoon), a sledding hill, and an ice rink. Kids need adult accompaniment to the pool, but the sledding hill is close, and snow play is right there. You can rent ice skates for the rink, where you’ll often encounter a rousing game of hockey. There’s also a game room in the basement, but it can be underwhelming. When we were there, they were out of functioning ping-pong balls because of rowdy ping-pong players.

Kids ice-skating at the resort

Ice-skating at the resort

Compared to other ski resorts, Manning is nothing fancy, but it’s the low-key vibe and compact size that we especially love. The staff is always friendly, and the guests happily engage in casual conversations with each other. Many guests have been going to Manning for years, if not decades.

What types of activities did your family enoy, while at Manning Resort? Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, sledding, anything else?

Manning offers alpine skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing at Gibson Ski Hill, 6 miles from the lodge, and miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. The kids ice skated first, and then over the next two days, they hit the downhill slopes for skiing and snowboarding, while I x-country skied. My husband skied with Ty at Gibson Hill, and then x-country skied with me the next day. We met up at the hot tub.

What we like about Manning is how it accommodates all interests, and Gibson is a small enough ski hill that you can’t lose your child in the crowds, but still big enough to be fun for skilled skiers. The ski hill is never crowded, and no one waits more than a few minutes to get on the chair (there are two), even on a busy weekend. For beginners, it’s especially friendly with a low-intimidation factor (no fashion contest either). The bunny hill offers a graduated experience, with a rope tow on the upper, flatter portion, and a T-bar on the lower, steeper portion. It’s a great place to take lessons.

Any great restaurants in the Manning Resort area?

The resort only offers one restaurant, as well as a pub, and a tiny store that tends to be understocked and overpriced. The restaurant is good for a meal or two. The burgers are great, but service can be slow (I recommend a 5:30pm arrival to beat the rush).

Because Manning is isolated, we take groceries with us, and shop for fruits and veggies in Hope (you can’t take these across the border).

What are the rooms/cabins like at Manning Resort?

The last few years, we’ve been staying in the main lodge in a “mini-suite.” The lodge offers three different room configurations, but the mini-suite works best for families, as it includes 2 Queens and a hide-a-bed, as well as a table, chairs, mini-fridge, sink, and microwave. The resort also offers cabins, from small to large, with full kitchens. Many families we know opt for cabins, sometimes sharing a cabin with a second family.

A family room at Manning Park Resort

A family room at Manning Park Resort.

We have stayed in cabins and in the lodge, and lately have opted for the lodge because it’s closer to the amenities like the pool. I recommend both types of lodging. However, for a mini suite, be sure to book very early for popular weekends, as the lodge only offers 8 of these rooms. Otherwise, book accommodation for a less popular weekend or opt for the smaller room (comes with 2 Queens, a mini fridge, and microwave; no table and chairs).

Did you have to chain up to get to Manning?

In all the years we’ve traveled to Manning, we’ve never had to chain up, but it’s always a possibility. Also, the highway conditions east of Hope can be sketchy, so always watch for potholes.

What else should we know about going to this British Columbia resort with kids?

Manning is a year-round resort, offering mountain biking and hiking in the summer (there are also several campgrounds nearby). The ski hill closes in early April, but keep an eye on snow conditions because the x-country skiing may be great and accommodation rates at this time of year drop significantly. Also, be sure to check the website for winter package deals.

Thanks for the report, Joanna! Readers, can you recommend any great family ski spots in Washington, Oregon or BC?

Free & Cheap Fun with Kids for Winter Holiday Break

What are you doing this week? Check out these lists of great cheap and free fun in our region — and maybe add a few more of your own. These lists were written in summer, so you’ll have to gloss over some suggestions and skip those fountains (brr). But you should find plenty of fantastic activities here. And if you’ve already done everything in your own city, plan a weekend getaway trip to a nearby city and take advantage of their fab freebies:

Best Kids’ Bookstores in Cascadia

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do with Kids in Vancouver, BC

10 Things to Do with Kids in Vancouver (Rainy Day Edition)

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Victoria, BC with Kids

Free Museums in Seattle and Tacoma

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do with Kids in Seattle

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do with Kids in Portland, Oregon

Portland Freebies: Free and Cheap Portland Attractions

Where to Go for U.S. Thanksgiving Getaways

Not everyone heads across the country (or county) to visit relatives at Thanksgiving. If you’re looking for a four-day getaway, here are a few ideas:

A four-star hotel Thanksgiving stay in Vancouver, BC:

The obvious benefit of traveling to Canada? Canadians don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving any more than they celebrate the Fourth of July. Which means schools are in session and hotel rooms are plentiful. You can breeze in and out of museums (like Science World) and attractions without fighting the hordes of summer or school’s-out masses.  I love Vancouver’s rainy day attractions and almost always get the perfect, upscale Priceline hotel for a great price (typically around $80/nt).

Don’t miss: Robson Street holiday shopping with kids is a fine idea, on the day after Thanksgiving.

A four-day stay in Victoria, BC:

All the bennies of Canada, but with more traditional small-town charm. Many Victoria shops have their Christmas décor up, and you can even do a little shopping without fighting crowds.  Attractions like Butchart Gardens offer discounted fall entrance fees and hotels are about half the price of a summer stay. Take the Clipper if you want a car-free Victoria vacation or bring the car (we typically do) if you want to stay completely dry. Don’t miss the Fairmont Empress’s Festival of Trees, which features dozens of beautiful and wacky decorated trees.

Don’t miss: Discovering 35 free and cheap things to do with kids in Victoria.

A tree that even a toddler can love, at the Festival of Trees

A pre-season Thanksgiving vacation in Whistler:

In December, the crowds descend upon Whistler. But this year, it’s already snowed several times in the village, and there’s plenty of fluffy stuff on top of the mountains. Village hotel prices are still reasonable, the kids’ ski clubs are open and the village is completely sane (vs. INSANE in peak season). The only downer: cross-country skiing is not open. We typically visit Whistler every year at Thanksgiving and find a decent deal through the Suite Secrets program.

Don’t miss: Taking the awesome Peak 2 Peak.

A discount Thanksgiving stay in Portland:

So, most shops will be closed in Portland on Thanksgiving and the shopping madness begins the day after (as typical in the U.S.). However, you should find a great three-night stay through Priceline, and Powell’s Books will be open for business – so you can take the kids and hang out in the cozy children’s area and the coffeeshop. For Thanksgiving dinner, I like the McMenamins’ buffets, which serves up heaps of goodies for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Don’t Miss: Once Thanksgiving Day is over, there are all those wonderful kid-friendly restaurants and kid-friendly, affordable attractions.

The Washington or Oregon Coast:

If you’re inside the just-right hotel or condo, a coastal Thanksgiving offers spectacular natural beauty mixed with cozy indoor stay. A few recommendations for a coastal getaway include Newport, Ore., (incredible views at the Hallmark Hotel and great kid-friendly attractions, including the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center); Cannon Beach, Ore. (read more on my activities for Cannon Beach); and the Westport area (if you want a beach to yourself — this is your spot, and there are a few rooms left at Vacation By the Sea).

Don’t miss: Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, seen in the photo at the right.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving weekend getaway in the Northwest or Canada? Where do you like to go?

Military Travel Deals in the Pacific Northwest and BC

Today is Veterans Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada; a good opportunity to highlight ways that active duty personnel and veterans can travel our region for a little less:

Active-duty U.S. military personnel save 10% on Amtrak, while VIA Rail Canada offers 25% off fares for Canadian active personnel and veterans.

Disabled veterans can benefit from free camping in Washington State Parks through the Washington State Parks Pass Program.  Both disabled veterans and active military on leave can get a special access pass for camping in the Oregon State Parks.

Great Wolf Lodge, in Grand Mound, Wash., offers discounts to Armed Forces members, with the word HEROES entered into the code box of the reservation page. Proof will be required, and you might check with the hotel in advance to ensure you’re getting a great deal.

Check the “deals” options offered through Northwest Military.

Canadian and US military can benefit from the Victoria Clipper’s special “Military and First Responder Appreciation” rates.

The Military Merits site offers BC, Washington and Oregon hotels with military discounts, along with family attractions, museums, gardens and restaurants. A great site, particularly for travel in the Pacific Northwest.

Veterans Advantage Card, for around $50/year, offers 5% off Continental airlines, 15% off Amtrak and 20% off Choice Hotels, among other deals.

Are there any military discounts or deals you’d like to add to the list?

Steveston, BC with Kids

Drive past Richmond’s malls and farmland — and you’ll find yourself in the midst of BC’s quaint, walkable fishing village, Steveston. Perfect on a blustery day or a warm summer afternoon, Steveston provides ample opportunity to stretch your legs by walking through village streets – chockablock with unusual fare (a Romanian bakery and a Japanese restaurant, for example), boutiques and simple shops — plus the town’s National Historic Site. Steveston’s a fantastic way to spend a family morning or afternoon. (Photo at right: Statue outside Gulf of Georgia Cannery)

Steveston streets and shops

What to do with kids in Steveston:

Try to decide among the hundreds of toys packed inside Splash Toy Shop (3580 Moncton St.; 604-241-0234)

Pick up a packet of crisps (chips) or package of biscuits (cookies) or pasties at Mary’s British Home Store (3740 Chatham St.; 604-274-2261)

Join a whale-watching, bird-watching or sea-lion-watching tour, or rent a bike via Steveston Seabreeze Adventures. The surrounding area is nice and flat, an easy ride for families — read the Richmond cycling map before you go.

Drive a boat or train, climb on giant wood structures and play in the water park (summer only) at Steveston Community Centre.

Playground at Steveston Community Centre

Steveston Community Centre playground

Put on a coat and head into the 1894-built Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, built of wood frame and heavy timber. The cannery is as chilly as the day it was in use. The interior is an exercise in grotesque fascination – plenty of bloody fish gut photos, ew, and trivia facts on why, exactly the workers wore broad-brimmed hats (all those seagulls, don’tcha know). On the boat replica, be sure to check the bathroom. You’ll find it in eh…use. On special weekends, craft projects help entertain younger kids.

Gulf of Georgia Fish Cannery

Cans at the Cannery

kid-friendly Steveston cannery

A mock shop inside the cannery

Fly kites at Garry Point Park.

Browse urchins, salmon and the fresh catch of the day among over 600 fishing boats at Steveston Public Fish Sales Float (Fisherman’s Wharf).

Steveston Fishermans' Wharf

Fishing ships at the Steveston Wharf

Don’t want to filet and cook your own? Neither did I. Split the First Mates Platter (Two scallops, two shrimps, two oyster and piece of salmon, cod or halibut) at Dave’s Fish and Chips. and split the massive fresh feast with your partner. Kids’ meals run $5.95 each, with a choice of cod, salmon, clam strips, shrimp or chicken fingers, plus chips, beverage and dessert. Another option: Pajo’s Fish and Chips, open seasonally.

Dave's Fish and Chips Steveston

Dave's Fish and Chips, a kid-friendly Steveston restaurant

Browse adorable kids’ clothing fashions at Buttons & Soles, then walk along Steveston’s wide wooden boardwalk.

Steveston kid-friendly boardwalk

Steveston boardwalk

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly restaurant or kid-friendly activity in Steveston, BC? Leave a note below:

Things to Do with Kids in Semiahmoo and Birch Bay, Washington

For an escape that feels hours away — but is located a mere 15 minutes from Bellingham and 50 minutes from Vancouver, BC — head to Semiahmoo Resort and Birch Bay. Spend a weekend at this laid-back, waterside location and experience total relaxation. Oh, and did I mention that it’s great for kids too? There’s just enough to do to not feel bored, but not so much that you feel like you have to hurry-hurry all weekend.

Semiahmoo with kids

Skipping stones on Semiahmoo Resort's beach

Semiahmoo Resort sits on a long spit, with picturesque views of Semiahmoo Bay and White Rock, BC. It’s great weekend getaway with kids – the resort strives to offer families plenty of fun little extras. Kids can watch movies in the movie-theater-like auditorium, swim in the indoor-outdoor pool (although it may get a little chilly in winter, it’s heated to 80F year-round), relax in the hot tub, or complete the scavenger hunt and pick a little toy from the treasure box after completing the on-site scavenger hunt. Front desk staff can lend buckets and shovels, and you’re just steps from the pebbly beach.

The resort’s Seaview Room looks out onto Semiahmoo Bay. Pick out a board game from the resort’s collection (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly Junior, Sorry, Connect Four) or bring your own. In the library, a roaring fire burns in winter (or you can ask the staff to start one for you). Pick up a hot chocolate for the kids at the resort’s gift shop/coffee bar, and a hot toddy for the grown-ups at Packers Lounge. This resort is upscale enough to host weddings, but low-key enough for families to feel comfortable.

Often, resort food is known for poor quality and overpriced totals, so I was pleasantly surprised by Packers. Our meals were generously sized, very good and reasonably priced.

Semiahmoo Washington State

Dining outside at Semiahmoo's Packers

A variety of hotel rooms are available, but I recommend the The Deluxe Waterview Rooms, which open up to the outside grassy area via a door. The rooms aren’t super-swank and feel more like homey hotel rooms, with knotty pine built-ins. It’s not an exclusive resort, so there’s no need to pack anything but jeans and a sweatshirt. Rates range all over the place, but rooms are frequently available for under $100 in the off-season, with deals for multiple nights and midweek stays.

Deluxe Waterview room, photo courtesy Semiahmoo Resort

Deluxe Waterview room, photo courtesy Semiahmoo Resort

In summer (June 18-September 6), ride the cute-as-a-clover Plover Ferry between Semiahmoo and Blaine’s dock. This ferry ride was a hit with the kids, as it putters through the harbor past fishing boats and barking seals. Blaine, the last stop in Washington before the U.S.-Canadian border, doesn’t have a whole lot to offer – but the town’s main street holds a decent Mexican restaurant and a few little shops.

So I recommend heading south for 15 minutes to Birch Bay, a quaint saltwater community where families have vacationed for generations. Birch Bay itself is rumored to be the warmest spot on the Pacific, north of California, and it’s easy to see why — the land shelters the estuary in a gentle c-shape. You’ll see families crabbing in the calm waters and combing the tidepools for treasures, including hermit crabs, seastars and sea urchins. The 194-acre Birch Bay State Park is open year-round for camping and tidepooling.

Tidepooling at Birch Bay

Tidepooling at Birch Bay

Not loving the crab? In summer, Birch Bay Waterslides offer six low-key slides for families to slip down. During weekends (weather permitting), families drive go-karts and play mini-golf  at Miniature World. And they always bring bikes, it seems. I frequently see dozens rolling along calm Birch Bay Drive.

Riding bikes at Birch Bay

Riding bikes at Birch Bay

Year-round, pick up chocolate, candy and other perfect sweets in the vintage-styled The C Shop. The Bay Café slings sandwiches, chips and other straightforward fare.

Birch Bay C shop

The C shop

Other local attractions include the windmillish town of Lynden (modeled on a Dutch village) and the shopping and movies and kid-friendly fun in Bellingham. But once you arrive in Birch Bay or Semiahmoo, I doubt you’ll want to leave. It just has that sort of effect on a family.

School-year vacation: Why and how to pull it off

Just because school’s in session doesn’t mean you have to swear off all family getaways. In fact, non-summer travel offers some of the best bargains on hotel and transportation options.

Here are lessons in school-year travel:

1. Shoulder season travel is a steal. Spring and fall are called “shoulder seasons” in the travel biz. Book during the shoulder season, and you’ll typically save about 25% off of summer prices.

2. Winter offers dark days and deep discounts for hardy travelers. Up to 40% in some tourism-dependent regions like Victoria, BC and the Oregon Coast. If you select a city location with plenty of indoor options (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver or Victoria), you may be happier and drier.

3. Research weekend getaways that only require a two- or three-hour drive. From Portland, a Friday night departure can offer two full days for coastal stormwatching. Remember though that winter nights start early in the Pacific Northwest – around 4:30 p.m. – so for a daylight drive, see whether you can leave work a few hours early or pick your child up at noon.

4. Return home on early Monday mornings to ensure a full weekend getaway. We typically leave Vancouver, BC at 5:30 a.m. The kids sleep en route, and we arrive in time for work and school.

5. Plan a trip around a long three-day weekend falling on a holiday like Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day. Then take the kids out on Thursday for a five-day fall or spring vacation. Or look for teacher in-service days (which seem to fall in random fashion), which can also give you three-day weekends.

6. Select a destination with plenty of hands-on learning possibilities. Particularly if you’re going to pull the kids out of school for a few days, Seek out museum-rich cities, tidepool-dotted coasts and historical sites. You may even find an educational   option on your trip, such as a glass-blowing class at the Museum of Glass (ages 8+), create a historical lantern at the Burnaby Village Museum or a engage in a hands-on science lab at OMSI where kids can build robots or dissect a squid eye (ew).

7. Chat with your child’s teacher beforehand. Many teachers are OK with a short trip or smarts-building journey. Offer to create a parent-child journal or online blog while on vacation and spend a half-hour reading and writing about the smart stuff you’ve learned while traveling. But ensure that you’re not leaving during the class pizza party or an important test.

8. Integrate learning into your travel day. Money management teaches math, reading a ferry schedule is real-world time-telling, a museum weaves real stories into history and beachcombing reveals natural science. But remember, you’ll need to take the lead on integrating fun, interesting facts and learning opportunities into the day. Do your parental homework when choosing a destination (#6) and researching the trip.

9. Bring a little homework help. Worried about your child falling behind? It’s unlikely that five days off will ruin your kid’s future at Harvard. (But you’re taking advice from someone who never did any homework until sixth grade. Long story.). If you’re so compelled, ask the teacher what will be covered. Some parents worry more in middle school, but by this age, your child should be able to juggle assignments. If not, then a three-day holiday break may be best.

10. Listen to your child. If they resist a school-year trip because they’re afraid of missing out, that should be respected as well. Seek a series of days that work well for everyone’s schedule.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for taking kids out of school to travel? What’s worked for you?