Families Travel! Penticton with Kids

Joanna Nesbit, a Bellingham-area mom (and fellow travel writer) recently went with her family to Penticton, BC, for three nights. Penticton is about a five hour drive from Bellingham, six and a half from Seattle and about five from Vancouver, BC.

“We went over Memorial Day weekend, which is a great time in Canada because it’s not their holiday,” Nesbit says. “Penticton is a beautiful town located on the land bridge that separates Okanogan Lake and Lake Skaha. It’s friendly, easy to navigate, and there are plenty of grocery and restaurant options for visitors.”

Nesbit went about her trip in a smart way – she brought her 13-year-old daughter’s friend along with them, and then met up with friends (who had a son the same age as Joanna’s 10-year-old).

Q. Where did you sleep in Penticton, BC?

We camped at Banbury Green RV Park. It’s pretty but tight. I wasn’t prepared for was how small the sites are. There are some other RV parks that might be just as good, not sure. Here’s a list of RV parks (Kaleden and Penticton addresses good; others too far away).

Penticton camping site

Penticton camping site

Q. What did you like about the campsite? What types of amenities did it offer?

The location was fantastic, a few minutes out of town right on Skaha Lake. We rented a paddle boat and the kids swam (sort of – the lake was cold). We also played rousing games of volleyball, rode bikes on a nearby trail, and of course roasted marshmallows. The RV park has showers, toilets, amenities for washing dishes, ice at the office, and paddle boat rentals (with life jackets)– $10 per hour or $25 for 4 hours.

Q. Which Penticton activities did your family enjoy?

We went to the Okanagan Amuseuments Go-Kart track just a few minutes down the road from the RV Park, where some of us got on Go-Karts and others got on bumper boats. Found Loco Landing online, which we missed, but I would feel confident saying it would be a blast. The bumper boats are cheaper here than what we paid.

bumper boats in Penticton, BC

Bumper boats in Penticton, BC

We went to the Skaha Bluffs climbing area, on the other side of the lake from the RV Park. The climbing area in the spring is a huge attraction for visitors (and the RV Park was full of climbers). It’s a beautiful place to walk around even if you’re not a climber (I’m not), and a great place to climb for all ages. However it would be too hot to climb there in the summer.

We also played on the public beach on Skaha Lake that features a playground, picnicking areas, a kiosk with ice cream and sno-cones. The lake does have a drop-off that parents of small children should be wary of – it’s marked (more on Penticton beaches here). We saw a kids’ spray park for younger kids (Lakawana Park) that looked great but it didn’t appeal to mine (ages 10 & 13)

Q. What did you need to do to bring a child’s friend across the Canadian border? How did that work out?

To take unrelated kids across the border, you need either a passport, or picture ID and a certified copy of a birth certificate, as well as a letter of permission from the parents that includes phone number(s) of parents and dates their child is entering and leaving Canada. There might be a form online. We put her documents in a clear zip-loc bag for easy visibility, and it was no problem.

We took a friend for Leah because we knew her younger brother would have a friend there. She had someone her own age to hang out with — by the time kids are teens (she’s 13), they really care about hanging out with friends. It worked out very well. But I’d pick that friend carefully if it’s for multiple days (we had Leah’s friend for three days).

Read more about entry into the Canada with kids or entry into the U.S. with kids.

Families Travel! Amber goes to Parksville BC

Could any trip be more kid friendly? A BC beachside vacation, combined with a tour of a family farm and an artisan cheese factory.

kid on Parksville beach near parksville accommodations

Running on the Parksville Beach

Vancouver mom and blogger Amber Strocel and husband Jon recently returned to Parksville, BC with their kids Hannah, age 5, and Jacob, 22 months. Parksville is about 45 minutes north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and one of Strocel’s favorite vacation spots (she’s been to the retreat three times now).

And after reading over their vacation, I’m jealous! I’m ready to book my stay – read this over, and see if you’re not ready to go, too.

Where are you staying? Did you find a family-friendly Parksville, BC, hotel or other Parksville accommodations?

We stayed at the Beach Acres Resort. We really like it. It’s right on Rathtrevor Beach, which is quite possibly the best beach ever. All of the units have a full kitchen, so we can cook our own meals. We have a two-bedroom townhouse with an ocean view, and it’s very affordable and really spacious. The resort also has a pool, playground, tennis courts and beach toys for the kids to use.

What kinds of family activities do you enjoy on a Parksville vacation? What kinds of things do you do with kids in Parksville?

We love Rathtrevor Beach. It’s very sandy, and has amazing low tides and very warm water. At low tide you can walk forever, exploring the tide pools. And at high tide, the water is the warmest in Canada and not too deep. If you’re not staying in one of the resorts on the beach, you can visit Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park for the afternoon, or for camping.

Parksville Rathtrevor Beach at Low Tide a Parksville beach

Parksville Rathtrevor Beach at Low Tide

Lions Venture Park in downtown Parksville is a not-to-be-missed playground. It is one of the biggest playgrounds I have ever seen, with an incredible variety of playground equipment. There is also a water park and a concession, and it’s right on Parksville’s main beach. During the summer there is a sandcastle competition in the park, as well.

The Old Country Market in nearby Coombs is also a must-see. There are goats on the grassy roof, and people come from all over to see them. The market itself is amazing. It has grocery store including a deli and bakery with some of the best pies going, toys, dishes, hats, bamboo cutting boards and cooking utensils, hammocks, rugs, art and other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. There’s also a restaurant, an ice cream stand, a produce stand, a garden centre, clothing stores, a surf shop and a bunch of other shops in the open street market. Adjacent to the Old Country Market is the big, open plaza, with a collection of statues that the kids can climb on. Coombs is only about 10 minutes away, and it’s totally worth the drive.

The other fun thing about Parksville is all the deer. Local gardeners don’t enjoy the way they eat their plants, but kids think they’re so cool. They’re pretty comfortable around people, too. During four days in Parksville we’ve logged six deer sightings. My toddler learned the word ‘deer’ pretty early on.

Can you recommend any Parksville restaurants?

We haven’t really eaten out in Parksville, because we have the kitchen to use, and we have an almost 2-year-old kid. I can say that the last time we were here that Lefty’s in Parksville and Qualicum Beach was really good, and pretty kid-friendly, too.

You visited a Vancouver Island farm with kids, right?

Yes, we went to Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, which is located on Morningstar Farm. I would totally recommend Little Qualicum to others, especially people who are interested in local food, and cheese in particular. Little Qualicum produces some artisan cheeses, and lots of amazing spiced and flavoured cheeses. They use raw milk for their aged cheese. This is really quality crafted cheese. And the berry wines, also, are one of a kind.

Parksville with kids: Goats at family-friendly Little Qualicum Farm

Goats at Little Qualicum, located on Morningstar Farm

Can you tell me more about your Little Qualicum cheese factory tour?

The tour is self-guided, and we spent about 30 minutes. There is a half-hour walk around the farm that we didn’t take, because of the ages of our kids. The farm is well laid-out with maps in the farm store and lots of signs, so you can really structure it for your family and your children’s attention span. They also have guided tours on the weekends, and for large groups.

things to do with kids in parksville: See the Milking Parlor at Little Qualicum farm tour

Milking Parlour at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks

They have samples of all the cheeses in the farm store. I tasted at least six different kinds. My kids were big fans of the cheese curd, which makes a fun squeaky sound when you eat it. It’s made every Thursday, so we were able to have some super-fresh curd by visiting on a Thursday.

What do your kids like best about the farm and cheese factory?

My kids most enjoyed seeing the animals. Kids can go into the bunny enclosure with the rabbits, and that was the highlight for my 5-year-old. There were also calves and goats in their own enclosures.

My toddler especially enjoyed the way that one goat stuck its nose through the wire fence and nibbled on his hat. I didn’t as much (I like the hat!) but Jacob cried when we took him away from the goat. For them, the visit was less about the cheese and more about the farm animals.

As part of the tour you can see how the cows live, walk through the milking parlour where all of the milk comes from to make the cheese, see the pigs they raise for meat and peek into the window and see the cheese being made. You really get a glimpse into a fabulous local food producer. And it’s fun for kids, to boot, with animals to see and an old tractor to climb on and cheese to eat.

What’s the best age for visiting a kid-friendly farm in British Columbia?

I think that the best age for visiting Little Qualicum would be around 4-10. My toddler had a good time, but keeping him out of cow patties and keeping him contained in the farm store was a challenge. Also, I was somewhat concerned about him around the electric fencing that is used on the walk around the farm. That was one reason we didn’t attempt the walk, actually.

So, you’d recommend it? Is there anything you’d do differently next time?

The farm is on my list of must-see things in the Parksville area. If I were to do anything differently, I might show up on a weekend because they have ice cream on the weekend, as well as guided tours. My 5-year-old was disappointed that there was an ice cream stand and no ice cream.

This is a working farm, and you are visiting someone’s home. You can expect to be in the midst of farm activity and farm animals like dogs and cats. You are getting a real picture of what’s happening on this farm. But it’s also important to respect the work that’s happening around you, and to be considerate of the family that lives there.

Thank you, Amber! Read more about Little Qualicum’s sustainable practices on Amber’s blog.

Read more about family-friendly Parksville at the Qualicum Beach & Parksville BC Tourism website.

Read 49 Things to Do in Parksville from BC Tourism.

Vacationing on a Seattle Houseboat Rental with Kids

Seattle mom Leah Adams recently took an exciting and unusual staycation. She slept for two nights on a Seattle houseboat with her husband, daughter (10) and son (8). Leah took advantage of a weekend-only special (the houseboat usually rents by the month) and found that a houseboat serves up a rockin’ (and rollin’) family vacation.

Q: What did you enjoy about the Seattle houseboat?

I loved the cedar paneling (smelled just like I imagined a houseboat would). The efficiency of being in a small space appealed to me. There’s something so lovely about being totally satisfied in a small space, leaving all the extraneous stuff in our house behind. The Lake Union location, near Fremont, was fantastic. Fremont deserves the designation as “Center of the Universe.”

seattle with kids

Leah's son enjoying typical Seattle shorts-and-t-shirt weather

I loved being able to walk everywhere. The small conversations that happen when you’re walking past someone’s garden (and peeking in their windows! ha!) really bond a family.

The resident momma mallard and her three ducklings enchanted my son; it seemed every time we looked out the window, there they were, swimming in circles right in front of our houseboat.

Everything you would expect in an efficiency kitchen was there – coffee maker, toaster oven, stove, full size fridge and freezer, dishes, cups, utensils. Plenty of towels and linens. We brought our own pillows, only because three of us are very picky. Checking it out first before packing gave me a good idea of what to bring.

Q: What did you do with kids while staying on the “Molly Brown” Seattle houseboat?

On Saturday night, we walked to dinner at Blue Moon Burgers, had Royal Grinders gelato with Lenin, walked to the troll where we posed with lots of other tourists (seems our kids had never officially visited before), then walked home.

Sunday morning, we walked up to the Varsity Inn for a mediocre diner breakfast. We should have walked further into Fremont, even to the Essential Baking Company, but I wasn’t sure it was open.

As we walked back from breakfast discovered an amazing mosaic on the Wallingford steps. Then we visited Gas Works Park, running to the top of the hill, down to the terrace, through the painted refinery room (kinda gross), bushwacked a bit through the park, discovered a shortcut back to the marina. I was worried about surprising people in the bushes, but we didn’t see (or even smell) anything foul.

gas works park, seattle with kids

View from Gas Works Park.

Sunday afternoon, we took the bus from 35th to Northwest Folklife Festival, and back home around 5 p.m.

Monday morning, Lance and my son walked to the Essential Baking Company for breakfast coffee, while my daughter and I lounged around, reading and rocking. Lance chatted for ages with the neighbors, who were transplants from Bothell, about life in the marina. They glowed about the amount of community there is at the marina compared to their neighborhood in Bothell.

Q: Could you cook in your houseboat?

There was a full kitchen, though not a ton of counter space. I would call it a very efficient kitchen. You could definitely have frozen pizza, burritos or any prepared food from the Fremont PCC frozen foods/deli case heated up to eat on houseboat.

The kitchen table is small, and that’s where the television sits, so I wouldn’t want to eat too many meals there. The marina is so close to the park, I would probably choose to picnic most of the meals besides breakfast.

Q: Would a houseboat be difficult with a toddler or preschooler?

I guess it would depend on your particular toddler or preschooler, but it really wasn’t a challenge at all. There are no railings on the dock, so I suppose if your child was impetuous and couldn’t tell the difference between the dock and water, you might have a problem.

Q: Any challenges involved with a houseboat vacation for four family members?

This houseboat had a tiny little pump-action toilet, but there was a ‘cabana’ with a full bathroom and shower for the use of the residents. It was just a short walk down to the dock.

The shower was lovely, but once we found out that the entire marina pumps all of their grey water into Lake Union, I started thinking differently about how much conditioner I used in my hair. The neighbors said their 40-gallon septic tank gets pumped once every two weeks, and that is even with using the toilets in the cabana most of the time. I guess you would just make a point of stopping in the cabana every time you left the property. Time to take a potty break everyone!

My husband’s perception of the experience was very different than mine. He can’t put his finger on exactly what bothered him, but he said he wouldn’t do it again. I loved everything about it, and he wouldn’t go again. Go figure. He couldn’t wait to pack up Monday morning, and I really wanted to stay there all day, lounging around, reading and listening to the rain.

Q: So, would you suggest a Seattle houseboat stay as a family-friendly vacation?

I do think staying on a houseboat is a family-friendly vacation, especially if the kids are 5 and up. We could have rented kayaks from Agua Verde Cafe or the Northwest Outdoor Center for additional fun around Lake Union. How cool would it be to kayak up to your front door?

We didn’t bring our bikes with us, but the Burke Gilman Trail goes right past the marina. If we had planned a little further in advance, we would have biked from the houseboat to the Seattle Center for Folklife.

Thanks, Leah. Find out more about the boat Leah stayed on (Molly Brown) at VRBO.com. And you can find more VRBO.com houseboat rentals on Lake Union.

Would you stay on a houseboat?

Families Travel! Taking the Kids to Vancouver on Amtrak

Canadian-born Seattle resident Connie Wanklin-Iskra, her husband Matt, son Makhno (almost 3) and daughter Naomi (6 months) decided to enjoy a car-free weekend in Vancouver, BC. So, over the long US Memorial Day weekend, they decided to take the Amtrak train‘s route to Vancouver for a two-day trip.

“We wanted to stay longer, but felt we might need a day to recover when we returned,” Wanklin-Iskra says. “Which was definitely the case.”

They boarded the Amtrak in Edmonds, Washington at 8:07 a.m. and arrived in Vancouver, BC, almost four hours later. The train was $70 round trip for each adult, half-off for Makhno and free for her daughter (and other children under age 2). Once in Vancouver, it was non-stop schedule of fun. Let’s find out what they did and  what they enjoyed about their train trip to Vancouver, BC.

1. What did you do in Vancouver, BC when you arrived via Amtrak?

Customs in Vancouver was a bit of a wait  — a good twenty minutes which feels like hours when carrying and infant and pushing a tired toddler in a stroller chanting “go, go, go.” Makhno did not enjoy this much, BUT it wasn’t as long as it might have been at the border in a car.

After that we took the SkyTrain a couple of stops into downtown Vancouver and walked to our hotel.

I tried to find a hotel close enough to the SkyTrain, as we brought the Ergo for the baby and the jogging stroller for our little guy. The hotel (Best Western Chateau Granville) was a splurge for a suite with a King size bed and a couch bed. But the room and living room really helped with putting kiddos to bed.

My son Makhno likes to walk but the stroller had storage, and it’s also good for naps and a safe place to put the baby. Makhno fell asleep walking from the SkyTrain to the hotel, YEAH!!! We pushed him into the hotel and into the room and just relaxed until he woke up.

Then we walked to Granville Island and took the rainbow Aquabus ($10 roundtrip for two adults), which he loved. On Granville, there’s a Kids Market with an indoor play area, climbing slides and more. But admission to the play area is $6 and our little guy, while a monkey pants, would probably get overwhelmed so we kind of discouraged it (better for ages 4 and up). The climbing area did have a small free slide, which satisfied him. The Kids Market also has all kinds of Loonie-powered vehicles that you can sit in, but Makhno is really happy just to play-drive, so again — no cost.

We went outside and despite a drizzle, there’s a play boat the kids can sit in and pretend to drive, right outside the Kids Market. Also ducks on the water to watch and chase.

Then we went to Granville Island’s Crystal Ark, where they have all kinds of smooth rocks. Makhno picked five green ones, for which they charge six cents a gram (similar to the Scratch Patch in Seattle).

Afterward, we went and ate in the Granville Island Public Market, which offers something for everyone.

2. What did you do the next day in Vancouver, BC with kids?

On Sunday we took the SkyTrain to the waterfront and the Seabus (Our son’s really into transportation!) across to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay Market, another cool destination.

At Lonsdale Quay, they have an indoor play space with a slide and ball pit, but this one’s free and smaller. Makhno actually remembered it from the last time we were there and he was only 20 months then. We had lunch– all of the market food courts are very kid- and budget-friendly; you can have anything you want. I found some excellent sushi, which I’ve been yearning for (and it’s much cheaper in Canada, I think).

We took the Seabus back across. We then thought we’d try to walk to Stanley Park, also hoping to get a nap in. We enjoyed an AWESOME green space with neat sculptures to climb, as we walked along the Coal Harbour waterfront towards Stanley Park.

Sculpture in Vancouver, BC

Didn’t make it to the park, as we had to head back to the train (this time we were going to try and get there an hour early). Got him finally into the stroller and he fell asleep.

We stopped in Gastown (lots of cool little shops, and a steam clock) for a “treat” when he woke up at a place called Trees Organics Coffee House. It apparently has the best cheesecake in town, but we got some excellent cookies and hot chocolate, then took the SkyTrain to the train
station (located across the street from Science World).

3. Is there anything you wish you had done in Vancouver, but didn’t do?

I’d like to take Makhno on the gondola up Grouse Mountain. One day we might even try the Grouse Grind, a local cult power hike of switchbacks that goes up to the top of Grouse Mountain. In the future we might like to try bring bikes, you can check your bike on the train (for a fee).

4. What did you bring with you on the train ride with kids to Vancouver, BC?

We used one large traveling backpack and one smaller day back. We probably brought a few more clothes than needed but with little kiddos, you never know! We also brought more books and things to do then we might have needed but again with kiddos you never know. Having a couple novel things can come in handy.

The jogging stroller was great too. It might have been hard to get on city buses but worked fine on sky train, with plenty of elevators to get on. We also brought our own snacks for the train, which was a good call.

Of course you can’t bring fruit across the border, especially from Canada to US. Though we had done a pre-trip run to the general area, we still managed to miss a turn on the big day. So we definitely recommend the practice run if you are unfamiliar with the train station location.

5. Did you like the Cascades train, overall? Would you have done anything differently?

The train made the journey really enjoyable for everyone. Easy to take kiddos to the washrooms which were very roomy and clean, with a change table and room to move.

I could pass the baby back and forth and nurse if needed. She slept in my arms. The best part…no crying!!!!  Well, at least on the way there.

We returned in the evening, so everyone was getting tired. If you have a baby you will be holding her or him the whole time — which is great — but can also be tiring. Of course if you have an infant car seat this probably would eliminate this problem.

On the flip side, my toddler would’ve slept in the car on the way home from Vancouver, but was too wound up on the train to settle down to sleep. He fell asleep from the train station to home, in the car!

Crossing the border was also easier on the train with less waiting. On the way home the border officials board the train at Blaine on the way back to Seattle, to ask questions and check your documents, so you just wait in your seat which is pretty relaxed.

Thank you, Connie! I can also vouch for this kid-friendly trip by Amtrak. We love to score seats on the western side of the train back to Seattle — and look out the windows at the sunset and rocky Washington shores.


120x60 Westin

Family Vacation on raveable

Families Travel! Harrison Hot Springs with Kids

As you probably remember from last week, we interviewed Sarah Reese, a Washington mom to 11 natural, adopted and step-children. This week, she tells us what she loves about BC’s Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, located 90 minutes east of Vancouver, BC and three hours Northeast of Seattle. First Nations peoples discovered the springs thousands of years ago; The springs have been soothing tourists since 1886, after one of the region’s first resort communities was established.

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs BC

Four of the kids at Harrison Hot Springs

Tell me about how your family of 11 stays at Harrison Hot Springs?

The older part of the hotel has the lowest prices. They also have family suites that have two rooms and a bathroom in this part of the hotel: One room with a double bed and the other with two single beds. We try to always book a deal for a weekday off-season in the older part of the hotel. We’ve managed to get each room at a good cost with free breakfast buffet included for the adults.

The west and east wings of the hotel have nicer interiors, but cost a bit more. The resort has several small cabin rentals that aren’t available online. These allow families to bring along a pet to the hotel.

The hotel also has a game room, lovely coffee shop, exercise room and beauty salon. During the summer months there is an outdoor tennis court and spray park right on the property as well.

kids harrison lake at the family-friendly harrison hot springs

Catching a ride along Harrison Lake BC with kids

So, what are the resort pools like at Harrison Hot Springs Resort?

The resort has five hot-spring fed pools, open year round. Outside, there’s a family pool, lap pool and adult only pool.

Inside is an indoor pool and VERY hot “hot tub.” Inside they also have men’s and women’s lockers with eucalyptus steam rooms. Be sure to bring your bathing suit, water bottles, bathrobes for the kids and flip flops for all.

There is a public pool that is hot spring fed, but we found the first time that we went there that by the time we paid for everyone to get into the public pool we could have paid for one hotel room. Only hotel guests are allowed to use the hotel pools.

What do you do for family dining at Harrison Hot Springs?

There are two restaurants — The Lakeside Cafe which serves beautiful buffets overlooking Harrison Lake and The Copper Room which has five course dinners and fancy brunch on the weekends and holidays.

The resort hotel also has a bar and a large lounge area inside where they serve tea at 4pm each day. Every guest room comes with bathrobes (for the adults), so almost everyone just goes around the hotel with their bathrobe covering their swimsuits. This takes a bit of getting used to, but the kids think it’s the best thing ever! Of course for dining you would want to wear proper attire, but for tea, it’s nice to sit in front of the fireplace and have your tea and cookies.

In the mornings, we have the older children and Dad go for breakfast while I have breakfast in the room with the younger children, then we all go for an early morning swim.

For dinner we usually have pizza or other take out in the room from local places we can walk to. Or if it’s nice out we walk and eat by the lake. Most of the rooms have a small fridge.

What else can families do? Are there many kid-friendly options near Harrison Hot Springs?

Locally, there are many other things for families to do including Bridal Falls Water Park, the amazing Minter Gardens, Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park and visiting the Fraser River and Hell’s Gate Airtram.

family-friendly resort in the lower mainland bc

Kids along Harrison Lake, BC with kids

You can walk along the lake and each fall there’s a sandcastle competition (From Lora: check out this YouTube video of the totally amazing sculptures). Of course there is tons of fishing, boating and camping opportunities as well.

It’s really a great place to go without kids for romance, or a “girls get-away” with friends. Just one night at Harrison Hot Springs Resort feels like a week away.

Find out more about kid-friendly Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia at the Tourism Harrison website or this great article, Weekend: Harrison Hot Springs, BCat the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Families Travel! A mom to 15 kids tells you how she travels

Sarah Reese is a 36-year-old Bellingham mom to 15 kids. And she loves family travel. Yes, you read those two sentences correctly.

Sarah was a single mom to just one child when she met her husband Robert, who was a single father to four children. Like a Super Brady Bunch, the duo combined their children, then adopted foster kids and Haitian orphans. Eleven children live at home; four are grown and have moved out.

She blogs (beautifully and with vulnerability) about her journey and parenting struggles at Mom to 15. Many of Reese’s children have special needs – physical, medical or psychological. Seriously, her blog sucks me in. I admire her ability to parent with such reflection and compassion. She also takes excellent photos (the photo below is in Pioneer Park, in Ferndale, Washington). It’s difficult to get that many kids arranged and smiling!

“We’ve found that travel and having adventures is what brings us all together,” Sarah says.

So as you can imagine, Sarah knows a lot about how to travel as a larger family, how to save money on trips and why travel is so important for families. Let’s discover how she does it:

1. Where have you gone recently?

The most recent trips have been overnights to Seattle. We often try to combine Children’s Hospital appointments with adventures in Seattle. Typically we have all the little children plus a few bigger ones with us too.

Last summer we did several local camping trips, including Olympic National Park, Vancouver Island (including Victoria) and the North Oregon Coast. On the Oregon Coast, we were with another family who had five children. It was a wild time!

2. What’s your family’s biggest challenge while traveling?

The amount of “stuff” that it takes for our family to travel, especially when we are camping. It’s difficult to not over pack and I am someone who always likes to be prepared. Now we have a good system down for camping and we typically make a list of each item and where it is; which bag, which container, and so on.

3. How do you save money when staying in hotels?

When we stay at hotels we typically stick to two brands: Marriott Residence Inn or Embassy Suites. The Marriott Residence Inn has a “penthouse” suite that we can get for less than two hotel rooms. It has two bedrooms and a fold out sofa. It has a full sized kitchen so we are able to stay on budget with food costs. Both hotels have free breakfast and swimming pools.

Embassy Suites we love because they have a room with a living room area that has a fridge and microwave. We do get two rooms but it’s almost like having four, because of the way that its set up.

If we have to stay outside of these two options we always call ahead to the hotels and let them know how many children we have and see if they have connecting rooms or can guarantee side by side rooms so there are no surprises.

We also always have extra sleeping bags and single air mattresses in the van in case we need to have an extra bed for someone on the floor.

We participate in reward programs, and use AAA or other discounts we can find online. We also always keep our options open to staying at a KOA or renting a cabin or home from VRBO.com.

We’d love to house swap, and have offered several times. Yet no one is taking us up on our offer- might be the family size!

4. How do you save money on food expenses when traveling?

We have half a family of vegetarians and several picky little eaters. This is how we save the most money — by not eating out.

We do try on each trip to have one meal out where we go someplace local and have the experience and the great food! In Victoria, BC, we had fish and chips on the water at a popular place and it was a hefty price, but well worth the experience.

I know that this doesn’t sound luxurious, but spreading out paper towels on the dashboard and laying down PB & J’s works just fine with us. Saving our money for great locally made ice cream or other indulgences is much more rewarding then going through a drive through each time.

We also try to bake muffins and other things so that we have them in the car for snacks and meals on the go. We pack fresh fruit and cut up vegetables and take a huge cooler that we restock on the road.

We also sometimes order pizza and have that in our hotel room or even heat up something in the hotel microwave. Our children are just as happy eating some cheese and crackers with fruit salad for dinner as anything else.

5. How about on things to do; how do you save money on activities?

We did our research and bought family memberships at many big places like the Seattle Aquarium, Pacific Science Center, The Seattle Children’s Museum, and so on. We bought the memberships specifically because they have reciprocal programs in many other places. We try to utilize them as often as we can.(Read more about reciprocal memberships)

We also divide and conquer. We split up and go to the activities that are really important to us. We would rather split up and give everyone the chance to do the things that they really want to do instead of paying entrance fees for everyone even though certain children are indifferent about going.

We also do our research ahead of time on Tripadvisor and other websites so we can see what other people recommend for visiting. We try to go to as many “free” places as possible. We use local swimming pools and recreation facilities if they are unique. We attend free events and try to avoid big theme parks and other money sucking places.

Each of the children typically have their own money saved ahead of time to spend on something for themselves but we don’t go overboard with buying things or shopping on vacations.

6. So many people give up traveling after they have kids. What do you think?

Travel is what keeps life exciting! Living in such a wonderful area of the world (Pacific Northwest) is certainly a blessing that we should all be taking advantage of. There are so many options for travel of any size family on size of a budget.

The longest trip that we have taken as a family was two months long. My husband was working from home at the time and was able to work on the road.

The farthest trip was across the country – yes — with all of our children. Once your family gets into a good routine of traveling the whole concept becomes second nature to the kids.

I would suggest for families who are able to travel outside of the busiest travel times to do so. It’s been incredible being able to go places that are popular and save a ton of money and have free reign because the crowds are non-existent.

Next Monday, for part two of this interview, we’ll find out what Sarah thought of her trip to Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia.

Families Travel! Greg goes to Rockaway Beach

Recently, Seattle dad Greg Bamford, wife Shannon and their two daughters Clara (4) and Annabel (18 months) went for three nights and four days to Rockaway Beach, Oregon a little under two hours from Portland. They also popped into Bend, Oregon for a brief visit. Let’s read about their journey.

What did you do in Rockaway Beach, Oregon with kids?

We stayed at a family cabin at Rockaway Beach in Tillamook County. It’s right on the beach…very quiet, smells great, lots of walks and digging in the sand. Really not much of anything to do in town. They mainly love playing in the sand. Digging and getting dirty. And reading in front of the fire. Playing board games.

oregon coast with kids at rockaway beach

Shannon and kids on the beach.

So I highly recommend having a family member who owns a beach house, ha. I’ve been going there since I was Clara’s age.

Where did you eat at the Oregon Coast with kids?

We mainly cooked. The Oregon Coast is not much of a dining mecca, in my mind, although there are good pizza places and such. So we ate the local stuff: Tillamook Ice Cream, of course. And I ordered Dungeness crabs and steamer clams off the boat. There’s a place between Rockaway and Wheeler where the boats come in – The Jetty Fishery. The employees steam the clams for you, then gut the crabs. They always try to get me to eat the crab heart. That’s the best meal of the trip, always.

Did you stop anywhere cool, while en route to the Oregon Coast?

Kids love the Tillamook Cheese factory. Because there’s ice cream. And it’s kind of interesting to think about all the milk they consume.

There’s also an AWESOME public aquatic center in Astoria, about a 1.25 hours north of Rockaway on the way back to Seattle. For $12 the whole family swam and had waterslide access, showers, family changing room, kiddie pool, baby pool, hot tub. This was a great stopover for a long ride back.

We paired it with pints and lunch at Fort George Brewery and Public House in Astoria. They had a great kids menu as well as great IPA. Next time, I’ll do the same but stop at the Rogue Brewpub, which is right on the Columbia River.

We chose not to go back through Portland, but I regret it, because Apizza Scholls is amazing pizza. Ohmygawd. It reminds me exactly of Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. The secret (as with all artisan pizza) is in the crust. Actually, Apizza’s pizza is maybe better than Grimaldi’s, but very much of that type. There’s nothing like it in Seattle.

You also went to Bend, Oregon recently. What did you think of Bend with kids?

Bend is awesome. We are looking at relocating there, hence the trip. It’s quite inexpensive housing-wise right now. The big discovery there for kids was the Juniper Swim & Fitness Center facility. It has several pools – inside and out – a kid pool, a waterpark outside, and kids exercise classes – there was a kids yoga class when I was there – so cute! And cheap. Oh, and child care for when you work out/swim. Everything else is pretty obvious – hiking, biking, skiing, et al.

Did you find any great kid-friendly restaurants in Bend?

Yes, the kid’s menu at Deschutes Brewpub. The food is exactly the same as the adult menu, but cheap. Clara had an insane, grassfed, all natural, huge hamburger with a side (we chose applesauce, but it could be chips or fries) for $5 flat. It’s leftoverlicious, exactly the thing for a hungry dad. Last time, she got an amazing salmon fillet for $5. It was the best thing at a table with five people.

At the same time, you can enjoy fine brews as an adult. Did you know there are six breweries with restaurants in Bend?

Thanks, Greg. And if you don’t want to go to Bend for Deschutes, there’s also a Portland Deschutes location.

Read more about the Oregon Coast via the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.

Families Travel! Great Wolf Lodge with Kids

Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound with Kids

Great Wolf Lodge with Kids

Located about 90 minutes north of Portland, Oregon and 90 minutes south of Seattle, Great Wolf Lodge (one of 12 in the Great Wolf chain) was created with families in mind, from 4,000-square-foot water pools to evening pajama storytimes.

Ryan Ellis of Vancouver, Washington, went with wife Marissa, and children (Sam, age 10, and Ben, age 7) to the waterpark resort in Grand Mound, Washington. Let’s find out what Ryan thought of Great Wolf – and what you should know before you go.

Q: What did you like about Great Wolf Lodge with kids?

I liked that there was something for every age. Kids had the Cub Paw Pool, older kids liked the MagiQuest (live-action magic-themed treasure hunt) game, teens had their own game room (Northern Lights Arcade) and adults had a couple of bars. But everyone loved the water park and arcade.

Q: What did your kids like at Great Wolf?

The top three things they liked were the wave pool, the MagiQuest game and the water slides.

Q: Which ages would enjoy Great Wolf the most, though?

Kids over age 6. I saw a lot of really small kids, but they were pretty limited on the water features they could participate in. I think the minimum height for a lot of the features was 48 inches. (Lora’s Note: Yes, that’s correct)

Q: What is the Great Wolf food like? Passable? Pretty darn good?

We packed our own food. There is a fridge and microwave in every room and I am a cheap S.O.B. We went to Trader Joes before and bought a bunch of frozen burritos, bananas, carrots, salad and mixed nuts. Oh, and wine. Lots of wine.

Q: How much per night at Great Wolf Lodge? What’s included in the price?

We went from Sunday through Monday, the least expensive of the nights, and it was $190 per night for our Family Suite before taxes, for four people AND it included admission to the water park for all four people. Friday night or Saturday night sets you back much more for the same room. The MagiQuest game is extra, $17 for the wand and $10 to play the game, but the kids loved it.

Q: Is there anything a parent should do (or not do) to have a good time at Great Wolf?

Bring lots of snacks. Playing in water makes everyone hungry and thirsty, and resort prices are outrageous. It was nearly $7 for a hot dog and about $4 for a soda.

Q: Anything during the experience that surprised you at Great Wolf Lodge?

That you can’t make it a day trip to the water park. You have to stay at the hotel to get in, and the suites have a base price for four people — same price for family of two as a family of four.

Q: Would you go back to Great Wolf with kids?

Yes, we are already planning on going back with a friend and her son probably in the winter. The smiles on the faces of the boys defined the fun we had. (This Hallmark moment brought to you by sappy fathers anonymous).

As we were packing to go home, the kids were plotting on a way to live there.

Thank you so much, Ryan! Have you stayed at Great Wolf? What did you think? Leave a comment below.

Read another trip report on Great Wolf Lodge with kids, from the DeliciousBaby.com site.

Tofino with Kids … er, a Baby

Vancouver-based mom Elaina Spring Eden, husband and adorable 9-month-old daughter Ava just traipsed off to Tofino, BC for almost a week. Tofino — located off the west shore of Vancouver Island — is well-known for opportunities to hike, whale-watch and unwind from the world.

But that last part (unwinding) isn’t always so easy for new parents, as we all remember.

“My husband I both realized that our days of laying in bed in terrycloth robes and staring out at the ocean for hours on end are on hiatus for a while,” Eden says. “The idea of rest and relaxation has taken on a whole new meaning in our lives at this point.”

“I find it humorous that I would easily trade a million dollar view for a microwave and a few extra feet of ‘crawl space.’”

So let’s find out how Eden successfully chilled out with her little one:

Q. Did you stay in any kid-friendly Tofino hotels on Vancouver Island?

Yes!

The first three nights we were at the Long Beach Lodge. Overall, the property was kid friendly. They happily provided a pack n’ play and high chair for our room.

However, if you are traveling with little ones, I highly recommend one of their two-bedroom cottages over the beachfront rooms in the lodge. It is nice to have the privacy and the extra space (1,000 sq. ft) as well as a full kitchen.

We put baby upstairs in a pack n’ play and enjoyed having the entire downstairs area to ourselves after she went to bed.  There is a gas fireplace as well as a private hot tub off the master bedroom.  We used the BBQ one night and ordered food to go from their restaurant another night (they don’t offer room service). I emailed in advance to make arrangements for a babysitter one evening. It was $15 an hour and allowed us to enjoy a nice dinner in their restaurant that was not particularly family friendly in the evenings.

standing at tofino hotel for families with a kid-friendly windowWe also stayed two nights at the Wickaninnish Inn. In a word, it was amazing. Their attention to detail was truly extraordinary. Riedel stemware in our guest room, homemade butter with every meal, cedar carving lessons, rain jackets, pants and boots, a hybrid Lexus for borrow, the world’s best hair dryer, HBC wool beach blankets, a caring smile at every turn and breathtaking scenes of rain forest, rock and ocean. The staff could not have been more accommodating and courteous.

We were in a fairly standard “deluxe” guest room and it was extremely spacious and absolutely lovely.  The bathtub was enormous and provided our baby girl hours of enjoyment.  It was as if she had her very own swimming pool!  They also provided a microwave in the room, which made heating up her baby food a breeze.

On their third floor they have a wonderful little library with all kinds of children’s books, puzzles, games and videos. Perhaps the best part for us was the complimentary in-room childcare for guests who wish to dine at the famous Ponite Restaurant. We were fortunate to experience the chef’s five course tasting menu during our visit and it was simply amazing truly incredible. The meal was simply amazing.

We also ordered room service a couple of times, which was just as delicious.  I was impressed that they came to our room four times to bring us our dinner in courses: appetizer, starter, entree and dessert.  It was expensive but I have to say the return was worth every loonie.  This is the ultimate “family friendly five star” resort in British Columbia.

We also spent one night in a cabin at the Tigh-Na-Mara Resort in Parksville. This place prides itself on being family friendly and it shows.  We stayed in a private cabin that was adorable and had everything we could wish for, including a full kitchen (with a dishwasher and microwave), a back deck with a private picnic table and BBQ, and a wood burning fireplace.

The resort itself has a link on the website for “families” and features several different organized activities, programs and amenities for kids.  We used their babysitting service to visit the spa and have dinner and were extremely happy.  The restaurant is also 100% kid friendly for all meals. Apparently it is also a great place to bring the family during the winter holiday season.

I had no idea how easy it was to arrange an in-room baby sitter at each of these properties.  What a pleasant surprise!

Q. Some families would be worried to leave their baby with a babysitter they’re unfamiliar with. What reassured you?

Regarding the babysitting service, it was easier than I thought it would be.  I did some research in advance and all three resorts have such a good reputation it immediately gave me some confidence.  It also helped that I knew we were just a few moments away on the same property.

The Wick and the Long Beach Lodge interview and train existing in-house guest services staff to provide childcare.  At the Tigh-Na-Mara Resort they also hire and train staff.  As noted on their website “All of our sitters have been interviewed by Tigh-Na-Mara and have their Babysitting Certification. Babysitters will provide their own transportation to and from the Resort. Children under the age of two years require a mature sitter, 18yrs and over.”  The person who looked after Ava was the mother of the woman who ran the hotel gift shop.  She was delightful.  We were truly happy with all three babysitters.

My advice is to trust your gut instincts when the sitter arrives and if everything feels okay … escape and enjoy a leisurely two-handed paced meal.  You will be so glad you did.

Q. Did you eat any memorable Tofino meals? Did you find a great baby-friendly or kid-friendly restaurant in Tofino?

At the Trans-Canada Highway with kids at Tofino BC A friendly mum on the ferry recommended we try Sobo while in Tofino and I am so grateful.  It was a bit hard to find (a couple of blocks off the main drag) so it isn’t a place you would just stumble upon but it is definitely worth seeking out.

Not only was the food fresh, local and seasonal, but the restaurant is perfect for families. There is patio with a play area for kids as well as some fun picnic tables. Our server  (also the mother of a nine month old) was incredibly kind and even offered to bring out some special “baby friendly” food for Ava.  They also offer all kinds of items pre-made and ready to take-away. Their fresh cookies and other decadent desserts are to die for.

Q. Which family-friendly activities you enjoy with your baby daughter, in Tofino?

At a Tofino beach with baby and family

Photo credit: Christopher Pouget

One cool thing we did was hire a professional photographer to take some family shots.  The scenery is so extraordinary that we simply couldn’t leave without capturing it.  We worked with local photographer Christopher Pouget and he was great … personable, professional and patient.  His price was extremely affordable and his images are priceless.

kid-friendly Pacific Rim National Park hike

Rainforest Walk

Another fun thing was the “Rainforest Walk” in the Pacific Rim National Park. The path we did was an easy half hour journey on a raised boardwalk.  It is not stroller friendly but we managed beautifully with our baby carrier.

Q. Did you find that it was easier to meet and talk with people when your infant daughter was traveling with you on Vancouver Island, compared to before kids?

Yes, we found people to be extremely friendly.  Having a baby is great conversation starter but then again, I am much more outgoing when I am with Ava. I enjoy talking with people who have kids and never hesitate to strike up a conversation. I guess it is the same as always … you tend to find what you are looking for, in that regard.

Families Travel! Sarah Goes on a Quadra Island Farm Stay

In August 2009, Sarah Pugh, her husband Stirling and 3-year-old daughter Rowan rented a kitchen-equipped cottage from Bold Point Farmstay for six nights. Their hosts, Rod and Geraldine, run the farmstay on the secluded and rustic Quadra Island, BC. Quadra Island is located about three hours north of Victoria (and involves a quick 10-minute ferry ride). Here’s why Sarah thought her family’s stay on a functioning farm was so fantastic:

Q: What did you do at the family-friendly farm?

Sarah: We went for long rambles in the woods, picked berries and fruit, went swimming in the lakes, and fishing and paddling in the ocean.

We went to the market, popped over to Campbell River for a day, chatted with Rod and Geraldine, played on the lovely lawns around the garden on the farm, cooked fabulous meals with the vegetables from the farm and mutton we purchased from Rod.

We also enjoyed communing with the sheep, seeing how the chicken flock worked as new chickens were added, collecting eggs, and feeding the ducks. Daisy, our dog, enjoyed herself immensely. (Pets are welcome as long as they can be leashed or trusted around livestock.)

We also enjoyed dessert and other home-made treats with Rod and Geraldine. Rod and Geraldine do a LOT of food preserving and are happy to share tips, techniques, samples and stories.

Just being there was lovely. Fresh air, clean water, beautiful stars at night, misty mornings, deer everywhere, birdsong all around.

The only downside to our week was that it was a bit windy on most days so we didn’t go canoeing. The farm has a canoe that guests are welcome to use but neither Stirling nor I are competent paddlers so we didn’t use it. We would have on a calm day but it just didn’t work out for us.  Next time!

Q. Which activities did your daughter like at the farm?

Sarah: Helping to feed all the animals and leading the ducks to and from the pasture every day. She would walk and quack like a duck, to encourage the ducks to follow (although sometimes they ended up leading)

Taking the ducks to pasture at the Lower Mainland family-friendly farm

Taking the ducks to pasture

She also enjoyed napping on the lawn with Stirling, following Rod around, playing on the old swing, picking and eating blackberries and tomatoes and little plums, fishing and swimming (LOVED the swimming).

Q: Do you have any farm-related caveats for traveling families?

Sarah: There is no TV and the radio reception is spotty.  My cell phone couldn’t find a signal at all.  If you want entertainment beyond conversation, cute animals and exercise, bring it with you.

The roads are not paved around the farm (pavement ends about 15 km before you get there) and sometimes, logging trucks drive by, which may mean chips in your windshield. Make sure your car insurance covers you appropriately.

Not a bad way to clean up.

Urban types may experience a bit of culture shock.  The shower in the cottage isn’t great – we relied more on the lakes for swimming to get clean. Water restrictions are often in place as Quadra typically enjoys a couple months of drought in the summer so don’t plan on daily showers for everyone even if you don’t go to the lakes to swim.

It really is a place to get away from modern life and just enjoy simple pleasures like somersaults on the grass, reading, walking, and making ducks quack at you.

Thanks, Sarah! Once a week, I’ll interview a family about a favorite Washington, Oregon or BC destination, attraction or experience. Do you have one to share? E-mail me at lora@cascadiakids.com.