New for Families from Victoria Clipper

For U.S. residents, there’s never been a better time to visit Canada. Thanks to the strong dollar, U.S. visitors will find items less expensive, from hotels to restaurants (if you withdraw Canadian money from an ATM, using your low-transaction-fee debit or credit card).

The Victoria Clipper has a few new options I thought I’d share — they’ve added a Family Fun on Bicycles tour that takes families on a private, two-hour cycling tour of Victoria ($41.75/adults, $26.50/children over age 2, prices in USD). The tours fit the family — so young kids may want to visit the petting zoo at Beacon Hill Park or feed the seals at a wharf, older children can visit historical sites or explore one of the beaches outside of downtown.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

The Pedaler (leading the tours) can set you up with a cargo trike that can either be driven by a tour operator or a family member, bike trailers for toddlers or a trail-a-bike so your child can pedal behind your bike. Kid-sized bicycles are also available; the smallest size is 20”. Check out the options at The Pedaler’s site.

The Clipper also offers Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre as an add-on option to travel/accommodations. The centre is in Sidney, BC, which is either a 30-minute drive or very long bus ride from downtown Victoria. I’d suggest it only if you have an extra day or so, because of the time involved. However, Sidney (also called Sidney-by-the-Sea) is sweet, petite, fish ‘n’ chips-style town.

A few more notes for families:

  • Children under age 12 are $10 per paying adult when booked with an overnight package. The children’s tickets sans package aren’t too expensive either ($35). Go before they turn 12!
  • The Clipper now offers online check-in, and you’re assigned a boarding group when you pay for your reservation. BUT! Pre-boarding is still available for families traveling with children under age three. Request pre-boarding at the ticket desk at your departure terminal, even if you’ve already checked in. You want to board as early as possible to get the best seats (My favorite spots are the four-person tables near the bathrooms/exit; upstairs four-person tables; and front-of-ship seats)
  • On the breakfast menu, there’s a kid’s basket called the “Lil’ Sailor” with Kellogg’s cereal, milk, string mozzarella cheese, a cup of fruit and a fun surprise ($4.50), if you didn’t have time to pack a breakfast.
  • You’ll hear about contests and promotions by signing up for the Victoria Clipper’s email list — no quick-link, scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the “Subscribe” text-entry box. I heard about the new online check-in via the e-mail list. Or you can follow the Clipper on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How to Get Good Seats on the Victoria Clipper

The Victoria Clipper passenger ferry is an efficient, pleasurable way to travel between Seattle and Victoria, whether you’re with kids, as a couple or boating solo. While you can take ferries from Anacortes to Sidney, or Port Angeles to Victoria, the Clipper is the fastest (no-flight) way to reach Vancouver Island’s shores from Seattle, or vice versa.

However, the Victoria Clipper boards in groups, and if you’re in the dreaded last boarding groups, you won’t have your pick of seats. You may find yourself wedged between strangers in less-than-ideal spots without views of the gorgeous islands, inlets and mountains.

I personally love the window-side, table-seating area (even if I do have to share it with other travelers), the front of the boat, the upstairs, or seats with plenty of play-room nearby. So I really want a spot in one of the first boarding groups. Here are three ways to get a Victoria Clipper seat:

How to Get Great Seats on the Victoria Clipper

1. Travel with your children under age two. Parents with young children qualify for pre-boarding, so you (and your stroller and other gear) will get on first. If you have kids older than two or still need special assistance, you can ask (but no guarantee). Ask about pre-boarding options at check-in or when purchasing tickets.

2. Get your assignment early. Visit the Clipper offices in Seattle or Victoria, check in and get your assigned boarding seven days before departure. You don’t have to wait until day of departure to get your assigned seating — and almost everyone else will be doing that — instead, you can check in and get your boarding group up to a week (7 days) in advance.

3. Join the Commodore Club. Clipper passengers who often travel between Seattle and Victoria may wish to sign up for this club, which gives you points toward a free Clipper trip with every trip purchased. According to the person who signed me up, the frequent-boating Club also lets you join Boarding Group 1 when you purchase tickets (if this is not your experience, please let me know).

Great Gifts for the Local Family Traveler

What to buy the traveler in your life? Check this list:

Spot It is my favorite new game, hands down. It’s easy to learn (you’ll get it in about two seconds), scales well by age (I’d say 5 and up) and comes in a very portable tin.

Gift certificates to a favorite hotel or restaurant. Many come with bonuses for you, too. I’ve seen a 10% bonus for purchases for the Victoria Clipper, an extra $25 gift card when you purchase one $25 gift card at the Cannon Beach’s Wayfarer restaurant and a few more I can’t really mention — they were only for e-mail subscribers to the hotel e-mail lists. But you’ll find these sort of “secret deals” when you sign up for a restaurant or hotel’s e-mail li.

Reusies are one of our favorite ways of transporting snacks for the kids (particularly crackers, nuts, cheese, etc.) in the car. Children can chow down, then seal up the container themselves — no plastic lids to struggle with. ReUsies 2 Pack Reusable Sandwich and Snack Bag – Pirate

If I were buying just one gift for the family traveler, it would be a picnic backpack. We’ve had ours since our wedding day and have used it over and over again — it’s a fantastic way to save money. Eat oatmeal in your hotel room or create a picnic from yummy things you’ve collected at Granville Island market. Here’s one example: Picnic at Ascot Classic Blue Picnic Backpack for Four with Blanket

A NW-centric book, like Lonely Planet Pacific Northwest Trips or (my book) Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver or The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Pacific Northwest.

Chicco Capri Lightweight Stroller. I don’t have the money for a Maclaren. But I think a Chicco umbrella-style stroller ($65-75) is a great value for those of us on a budget. This particular stroller works well no matter what the streets throw at it — cobblestones, dips, bumps or grass-covered hills. It fits easily into most crowded urban restaurants and the handles work well for my tall husband. If you don’t want to buy from Amazon, head to your local Babies R Us, which typically has this stroller in stock.

A membership to a local zoo or science center. All the better if they’re participating members of the ASTC Passport Program or the Association of Zoo and Aquariums, which allows the recipient to visit nearby cities’ zoos and science centers for free or at huge discounts.

Is there anything you hope Santa brings you this year?

And the winner is….

We have a winner! Our winner will receive two nights at the Royal Scot Hotel & Suites and a free family trip on the Victoria Clipper. Hopefully the family will love Victoria, BC as much as I do. Thanks to all of our entrants for applying and sending in your info – and referring your friends.

Congratulations, Jonelle. Your name was chosen at random using Random.org.

If you didn’t win, don’t get too down. In fact, the Clipper is running a contest on their Facebook page in honor of Mother’s Day – send in an entry and win a trip to Victoria, Seattle or Seattle AND Victoria. Only 30 entries so far, and it closes next week. Click here for details.

The Clipper also offers some fabulous ongoing family deals.

And I have dozens of additional giveaways lined up for the next few months. Hoorah for travel in Cascadia.

Win a Family Trip to Victoria, BC

I am so excited to offer this giveaway.

This week I’m giving away a two-night stay at The Royal Scot Hotel & Suites, where my family stays (again and again – they’re probably sick of us by now) on every visit. This suite-style hotel offers a small kitchen, perfect for prepping locally grown produce or freshly caught fish. The one-bedroom suites provide lots of room for a family of four or five, with a fold-out couch in the living room and a separate bedroom for the parents.

The hotel is located one block from Victoria’s Inner Harbour, within easy walking distance of the Royal BC Museum and downtown Victoria.

My favorite way to go to Victoria is via passenger-only ferry, aboard the Victoria Clipper. It’s a no-stress way to arrive in Victoria, because almost everything is within walking distance or easily accessible with public transportation.

I want you to enjoy it too – so Clipper Vacations has agreed to give our drawing winner round-trip tickets for four (two adults, two children) from Seattle, aboard the Clipper. Clipper Vacations whisks you from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria in about two and a half hours.

You cannot use this package during July and August or during really crowded weekends at the hotel. But that’s OK. I prefer Victoria when it’s not crowded with tourists, even if the weather is dependably beautiful during those months. Shoulder season months of May-June and September-October are my favorite times to go. Plenty of flowers, and Victorians have more time to chat.

If you like these kinds of tips and want even more, check out my book Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver (and order from my Amazon link).

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Here’s how to enter: You can enter a maximum of two times, using each method of entry ONLY once. You must enter via the first option (below). Entrants may be disqualified for violating any rule laid out here or for any other reason at the discretion of sweepstakes organizers.

REQUIRED ENTRY: Read this article on Victoria with kids and/or this article on dining in Victoria with kids. Next, return here to leave an entry below about what you want to do with your kids in Victoria, BC. Your entry must show up on this page. Don’t forget to leave your valid, correct e-mail address.

BONUS ENTRY: Sign up for the e-mail list (look to the right!) so you can find out about new posts and contests.

Contest Rules:

This contest begins at 9:00 p.m., April 12, 2010 and ends at 11:59 pm Pacific Standard Time on Monday, April 19, 2010. On April 20, 2010, the winner will be selected at random from all eligible entries received, using Random.org and will be notified by e-mail. Please ensure that you have entered the correct e-mail address in your entry. Your e-mail will not be sold or displayed.

If no response is received within one week (7 days), the first winner will forfeit the prize and another entrant will be selected at random using Random.org.

Royal Scot Suites and Victoria Clipper will provide the prize to the winner. The value of the hotel stay is $400; The value of the Clipper trip is $280.

The prize is valid for a one-bedroom suite room and a round-trip tickets for a family of four (two adults, two children). Both must be redeemed by 12/31/2010; certain holiday weekends and high-occupancy weekends will be excluded. Neither may be used in peak season (July and August); other restrictions may apply.

Please reserve your room and Clipper trip as soon as possible; coordinate the stay. The prize information must be presented when making reservations. There is no cash value. There are no substitutions. The prizes are not transferable. The winner is solely responsible for any national, state, provincial or city taxes incurred.

Sweepstakes void where prohibited by law. Entrants must be age 18 and over and residing in the U.S or Canada.

If a resident of Canada is selected as a winner, they will be required to correctly answer, without assistance of any kind, whether mechanical or otherwise, a timed, mathematical skill-testing question (3*6)+(12/2)-8 to be administered by Lora Shinn by e-mail before the awarding of the prize.

By participating in the “Victoria BC Escape,” you release and agree to hold harmless CascadiaKids subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, (collectively, the “Released Parties”) from any liability whatsoever for any claims, costs, injuries, losses, or damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the Victoria BC Escape or acceptance, possession, or use of any prize (including, without limitation, claims, costs, injuries and losses related to personal injuries, death, damage to or destruction of property, rights of publicity or privacy, whether intentional or unintentional), whether under a theory of contract, tort (including negligence), warranty or other theory. CascadiaKids is not liable for technical error, omissions or Internet inaccessibility.

Victoria Clipper with Kids: 8 Tips for Families

Victoria Clipper with Kids

Clipper with Kids

One of my favorite ways to reach Victoria, B.C. from Seattle, Wash., is via Victoria Clipper. The Clipper’s three ships are passenger-only, but each one cruises from downtown Seattle’s piers directly into Victoria’s Inner Harbour. And vice versa, for Seattle-bound Vancouver-Island residents. No cars, no headaches, no hassles!

While the Clipper’s fares can be spendy in summer, prices tend to go down in winter and spring (as low as $50/per person). Kids are often free, year-round. Combining Clipper and hotel via the online packages can save families between 10-30%.

Eight tips for your trip aboard the family-friendly Victoria Clipper:

  1. Check in at least an hour early as requested, perhaps even 15 minutes before official check-in. If you’re traveling with kids in strollers, request pre-boarding. Pre-boarding helps you find the family-friendly seats on the Victoria Clipper.
  2. You’ll need to break down your stroller for storage once on the Victoria Clipper. So make sure your stroller breaks down easily (one-handed, if possible!).
  3. Pre-boarding families can (and should) look for four- or six-seat clusters around tables, which makes both feeding and play easier to pull off. Bring toys that are easily contained and won’t spill all over the ship.
  4. It’s generally a pretty smooth ride, but the Strait of Juan de Fuca can get a little rough in bad weather. Staff will generally let you know in advance. If you or the kids are prone to seasickness (my son often yaks, no matter the transportation option), prepare beforehand. I bring quease-easing lollipops and try to sit toward the front of the Victoria Clipper, looking forward. Or sit near the bathrooms (rear of ship) for quick visits.
  5. Breakfast and meal packs are offered aboard the Clipper. I like to pack my own easy-to-eat breakfasts: sandwiches, juices, fruit. Remember that you’ll need to toss leftover-and-now-contraband fruits and veggies before disembarking in Victoria. Tip: The Clipper Cocoa is a enormous whipped-cream-smothered delight. It’s best right before arrival, unless the kids can handle their caffeine.
  6. At the front of some Clipper vessels, the crew shows kid-friendly films during the voyage. Ask at check-in if your ship will show a movie. If yes, sit near the front of the ship, where the movie plays on small, floor-level screens.
  7. You can get up and walk around during the journey. However, it’s not a good idea to let kids run, play or get too rowdy. The ship can tilt suddenly, catching kids off-balance, and aisle traffic can annoy other passengers.
  8. On-board or during booking, the Clipper offers extras, including tea at the Empress, Butchart Gardens admissions, and other Victoria must-dos. Check beforehand whether their prices save you money by looking up the direct-buy option from the attraction; depending upon the exchange rate, you may save a few dollars by booking through the Clipper.

Do you have any tips for riding the Victoria Clipper?