Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ovens - Nova Scotia

The "beach" right by the campground
A friend of a friend recommended we stay at The Ovens once they heard we were heading out to Nova Scotia so we figured we'd check it out.  We were glad we did and ended up staying an extra night.  We liked being right by the ocean,  We could stand on our campsite and look out at the ocean which was nice.  We could also walk down a flight of stairs and be on a great, rocky beach that was full of things to see and do.  You do pay more for the ocean front sites though so keep that in mind.
This one is called the Cannon because the sound of the waves is really loud.
My younger daughter was surprised by how loud it was.  
My kids also liked the Sea Cave Trail which takes you along the coast where you can check out a whole bunch of caves and tunnels and the like.  It only takes about an hour or so to do the hike but there are stairs so you do have to be able to handle those.
I don't know why they didn't name these tunnels Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Missed opportunity if you ask me.
The campground also has a restaurant and store on the premises although the store doesn't sell a ton of useful stuff, mostly snacks and souvenirs.  I was a little worried when we first arrived since the sign said there was live music at the restaurant every night until 11:00 and my kids usually go to bed around 9:00 but we were right by the restaurant and didn't hear any more noise than you would hear from having neighbours at a campsite.
The restaurant serves tea made in tea pots.  For that alone I will forever love them.
There is a playground, swimming pool, and small area with some goats (you can buy the goat food in the store) that was popular with the kids.
They do have showers and bathrooms.  No wifi or pay phones though.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The Ovens is in a pretty good location.  We were about 30 minutes from Lunenburg and Peggy's Cove and Halifax are about 90 minutes away.  Grand Pre is about the same in the other direction.  
  • You can pan for gold at The Ovens.  
  • You can rent kayaks if you want to see the sea caves up close and personal
  • They have live music most nights and host several music festivals. 
  • It is apparently called The Ovens because some of the caves resemble old timey ovens.  I was expecting something a little more exciting.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Joggins Fossil Cliffs - Joggins, Nova Scotia

First off, yes I did feel the need to jog into the visitor's centre on arrival at Joggings Fossil Cliffs. And the post office and the fish and chips restaurant in town.  Sue me. 


Joggins Fossil Cliffs, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site,  is another place where you will want to check the tide charts before planning your visit.  If you have trouble parsing the charts you can always email them and they will tell you when you should come.  There is no point in showing up if the tide is at its highest because you won't be allowed to go down to the beach.
A budding paleontologist
My kids loved Joggins Fossil Cliffs and so did I so it really is fun for the whole family.  I loved seeing the ocean and learning about the fossils and finding neat rocks and sea glass.  My youngest daughter though turned out to be a future paleontologist in the making because she was in her glory.  She loved listening to our guide, Dana, tell us all about the fossils and the history of the place and she was the fossil diviner!  She would come up to me with a rock and I would be like "Neato!" and then she would show it to Dana and he would say "well, this here is a fine specimen of one of the earliest life forms on earth, the unpronounceable name".  Which is presumably why he is the guide and I am not.  Anyway, Dana told my daughter that one of her specimens, of some kind of ultra old timey worms, was going in "the collection".  That was pretty much the highlight of my daughter's life.  She is still talking about it.

Along with the actual cliffs, there is a pretty good interpretive centre with some fossil samples and microscopes and whatnot where you can kill time if you arrive between tours.  They also have a gift shop and a restaurant which was cooking something that smelled good when I was there.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Those tide charts!
  • You only need a half day at Joggins so you can check out some other attractions in the area such as Cape D'or Lighthouse or the Anne Murray Centre (hey why not?).  
  • They have computers near the restaurant that you can use for free if you need to check your email or anything.  
  • You don't have to go as part of a guided tour, you are free to wander down on your own but I strongly recommend going with a tour.  Otherwise you will probably think you are looking at a bunch of rocks and not realize the significance of what you are looking at.  I thought it was just me but I spoke to another mom and she said the same thing.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hopewell Rocks - Alma, New Brunswick

The view from the stairs.  
Hopewell Rocks was one of our first stops once we got to New Brunswick.  We stayed at Fundy National Park so it was about 40 minutes down the road and we had heard so much about it that we figured we should check it out.  I am glad we did because it was great.  

When I told the girls that we would be walking on the ocean floor they didn't really get what I meant and seemed to think that they would be underwater walking around in scuba suits or something so I was worried they would be disappointed when they discovered that it was basically a muddy beach when the tide is out.  I shouldn't have worried.  They loved it.  My daughter can't wait to tell all her friends at school that she walked on the ocean floor.

The thing my kids liked the best was finding crabs in the little puddles that are left behind on the beach.  At first they were excited to find shells but then they noticed that the shells were moving and had occupants and they were over the moon.  I overheard a woman in the bathroom at Fundy National Park telling another mom that her kids looked for crabs for about an hour so it seems to be a hit with all kids.  
On the hunt for crabs in a puddle
You can't get too close to some of the cliffs and rock formations these days since some of them are unstable, but there is still plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.  My kids liked being able to get up close and personal with some of the big rocks to examine some of the plants that grow on them.  
Found one!
If you are in the area Hopewell Rocks are a must see!

Things to keep in mind:
  • You will get muddy.  Wear shoes that can be rinsed off.  They have a foot washing station at the top of the stairs.  
  • They do have restaurants and a gift shop.  Not much else though.  So you only need a half day at Hopewell Rocks.  
  • You should check the tide tables before planning your visit.  What you see will depend on whether it is high or low tide.  An admission is for 24 hours so you can go back and see both if you want.
  • They do have a shuttle from the entrance to the rocks but you will still need to do the stairs to get down to the beach.  It would be hard for anyone with mobility issues to handle the stairs or the beach for that matter since it is muddy and uneven.  The walk to the stairs isn't long and there are washrooms along the way.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Parliament Buildings - Ottawa

Parliament Hill
We visited Ottawa during March Break and had a great time.  I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a short getaway with lots to do for kids and adults.  While we were there we did our patriotic duty and visited Parliament Hill.
The Centennial Flame fountain
One of the best things about Ottawa is that lots of the tourist attractions are free or have free days, including Parliament Hill which offers guided walking tours of the Centre Block year round and tours of the Eastern Block during the summer.  The tours last between 20 - 50 minutes depending on what is in session and are surprisingly interesting for kids.  My kids didn't understand everything the guide said but they know a fancy building when they see one and they always like checking those out.
I swear my daughter did like her tour of the Parliament building although you'd not know it by looking at her here!
My youngest daughter liked the Library and somewhat surprisingly, the Memorial Chamber which commemorates Canadians who have lost their lives in wars, and my oldest daughter liked the Peace Tower which gives a nice view of Ottawa.
Checking out the view from the Peace Tower.
Tours are on a first come first serve basis and can't be booked in advance (unless you are in a group) but you can get them starting at 9:00 a.m.  I suggest going early.  We were there right at 9:00 and we had no trouble getting in and nothing else was open yet anyway.  We did the tour and still made it to the National Gallery of Canada by just after 10:00 a.m. when it opened.    They are only about a 15 minute walk from each other.  I have heard from other people that if you go on a busy day they will run out of tickets so even if you want to go later in the day it might be worth picking up tickets first thing and then going back.
Checking out the library
Things to keep in mind:

  • You do have to go through a security check.  Similar to what you go through at the airport.
  • You can't bring any big bags in with you but they do have a coat/bag check
  • They do have a gift shop.
  • They have special events such as the changing of the guard and fireworks on Canada Day.  

Friday, June 3, 2016

Clearwater Marina - Clearwater, FL

There are a lot of pictures of us squinting into the sun.  I assure you we do actually have eyeballs.
I have two daughters, aged 10 and 8, and they love Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 featuring Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tale.  Along with an astronaut my daughter wants to be a marine biologist and my younger daughter wants to be a veterinarian and loves animals so I knew that they would want to go to Clearwater Marina.  I didn't realize how much they would want to go; once they heard we were going to Florida seeing Winter was at the top of their list of things to do. Winter and her new friend, Hope both reside at Clearwater Marina in Clearwater, Florida so off we went!  We dragged my nephews along too even though they had never heard of Winter or Hope. 
Hope?  Winter?  Can't tell without seeing the tale!
Winter and Hope are the stars at Clearwater Marina and my kids loved seeing them but there are actually lots of other animals at the Marina.  All of them injured or otherwise in need of help.  So it is a nice way to see animals even if you are ambivalent about zoos or animals in captivity.  My kids loved seeing Ricky who plays Rufus the pelican in the movie.  They also thought it was hilarious that the pelican "played" a different pelican. 
This turtle is missing his hind legs?  Flippers?  Appendages!
Another highlight of the visit for my kids was feeding the stingrays.  You buy a few fish and then stand with them between your fingers and the stingrays will come along and snatch them from your fingers.  It was hilarious.  Be warned they only have a certain number of fish and once they are gone you are out of luck so if this is something you want to do head to the office to pay for them as soon as you get there.  Don't worry you don't have to carry the fish around with you all morning or anything, they bring them out at feeding time and hand them out to the people with tickets. 
Feeding a stingray
My kids also liked going into the animal rehabilitation area.  The first time we went through there wasn't a lot happening but when we went through again later there was a turtle being helped which they found fascinating. 

Our tour guide for the Sea Life Safari.  I am horrible at remembering names but he was great!
In addition to the Aquarium there are also other options that you can go for while at Clearwater.  We opted for the Sea Life Safari Boat Tour which was awesome.  It is a 90 minute boat ride where you get to see dolphins in the wild.  This was one of the highlights of the whole trip to Florida for my kids.  You also stop at a little island and can collect shells.  Our tour guide was very informative and friendly and told us all about the animals and plants that live in the area.  He helped my kids identify different shells too which they loved.  They each brought home a baggie full of shells to share with their friends. 
Checking out some sea life samples on the boat ride
On the way back to the Marina the kids got to check out a whole bunch of sea life samples up close.  Things like fish, coral, urchins etc.  They loved it.  The crew of the boat also hauled in their nets and collected some samples while we were heading back.

If you need a break from the heat there is a movie theatre that shows a movie about the making of the film and Winter.  Bring Kleenex, it is oddly affecting.  I know this because the woman across the aisle from me was sobbing through the whole thing.  I am a repressed British person who maintains a stiff upper lip at all times but still...I feel ya, lady.  There might have been a little moisture in my eyes at times. 
Clearwater beach
All in all our visit to Cleawater Marina was a big hit.  It is a must see for anyone who likes the Dolphin Tale movies but even kids who aren't familiar with the movies will have a blast since there is so much else to see and do.

Things to keep in mind:
  • It takes about 2 hours to get from Orlando to Clearwater.  I know some guide books and website say 1 hour but they are LIARS!  You can get to Clearwater the town in just over an hour if the traffic doesn't happen to be bad but once you get there you still have a ways to go and traffic always seems to be bad along the stretch between the town and the Marina.  If you are doing a boat tour or anything they are at specific times so be sure to leave enough time to get there.
  • Parking is free.
  • Clearwater beach is lovely so it is worth spending the day in the area.  Do all of the stuff at the Marina and then hit the beach if the weather is good. 
  • You can bring your food with you or buy food there.
  • General admission is around $20 a person which, frankly, is insanely reasonable for an attraction in Florida. It includes seeing Hope and Winter, Ricky and the other animals, the hospital area, movie etc. If you want to do a boat tour or animal encounter then it will be more.  The Sea Life Safari and general admission was around $40 for an adult and $30 for children.  Animal feedings also cost extra.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Kennedy Space Center - Titusville, FL

As Canadians we were duty bound to check out the Canadarm. 
First off, as a Canadian I want you to know that it pains me to spell it center and not centre so know that I am grimacing every time I type the word.  Moving on!  Kennedy Space Center is huge.  We didn't have time to do it all in one day, especially since they are only open until 6:00. We didn't do the bus tour or the Astronaut Encounter (since we were doing the lunch with an astronaut option).  I hesitate to categorize Kennedy Space Center as educational because that makes it sound like it isn't fun.  It is fun.  My kids loved it and so did I.  In fact I would say that of all the things we did in Florida it was the one that had the best balance of things for kids and adults.
Sam Gemar who went to space 3 times!
When you have a daughter who wants to be an astronaut Kennedy Space Center is pretty much a must see/do.  So of course a trip there was on the itinerary, especially when she heard that they offered lunch with an astronaut.  The lunch with the astronaut was my favourite thing we did in Florida and was also enjoyed by all of the kids in my group.
Space toilets are pretty interesting.
You don't sit down at a table and eat your lunch with an astronaut though in case that is what you are imagining (I was!) Instead, you enter a big dining room and help yourself to the buffet and enjoy your lunch (which was way better than any lunch I have had at an amusement park type place).  Then the astronaut comes out and talks for a while and answers questions.  He will also pose for pictures with your group when the talk is over. My nephew was pleased that his question about going to the bathroom in space was answered so thoroughly!  I recommend getting over to the lunch area a bit before your reservation time. Especially if you are a big group.  You will want to be sure to find a table that will seat all of you together.
I swear I didn't colour coordinate my one child with the space shuttle.   
When you enter Kennedy Space Center the first thing that will catch your eye is the Rocket Garden where kids (and adults) can check out rockets up close.  There are a few you can go inside and it is a great place to take some pictures.  It is open whenever the park is open and unlike a lot of attractions and activities at the Center which are timed, you can spend as little or as much time as you want here so you can always check it out at the beginning and then again later if you have kids who want to spend more time there.
This is not what they mean when they say "Astronaut Encounter"
My kids loved the launch simulator which is inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.  You can't miss the Space Shuttle since it is, well, a giant space shuttle.  The Atlantis exhibit also houses all kinds of things to look at and do including cockpits to check out and the insides of various rockets.  So you can spend a fair amount of time here.  It is all indoors which is good if it is raining or blazing hot.  
A 10 year old at the helm.  What could possibly go wrong?
My kids also liked the IMAX movie which was included in the price of admission.  Again, a nice way to take a break from all the walking and the heat and/or rain.  Again, I would recommend getting there a bit early if you want good seats.  We were pretty close to the front and it was fine so I wouldn't worry too much.  
Private Ham who was a favourite of my youngest daughter.  
Things to keep in mind:
  • Kennedy Space Center isn't cheap.  For the general admission and the lunch with an astronaut option it was $80 and adult and about $55 for a kid.  I haven't seen any coupons or anything for it either but it is a one a of a kind experience and was well worth the money for me.  Especially the lunch.  If you buy lunch at the concession stand you will probably spend half that anyway and the food was really good at the lunch and you get to meet an astronaut!  
  • They do still launch rockets from Kennedy Space Center.  You can find launch dates and information about which astronaut will be in the Astronaut Encounter area on their website.
  • The gift shops are great!  If you have a space mad kid you will be able to do all your Christmas and birthday shopping there.  They have everything.  
  • Parking is $10
  • They are open 9:00 - 6:00 every day.
  • It takes about an hour to get to Kennedy Space Center from Orlando.  There is less traffic going that way than going to Tampa.
  • There are some great beaches near the Center.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wild Florida - Kenansville, FL (psst, it's near Orlando)

When I asked the 6 kids who went to Florida with me (yes I traveled to Florida with 6 kids in tow and lived to tell the tale) what their favourite thing was in Florida, Wild Florida won.  And we did a lot in Florida (including Disney World, Busch Gardens, Kennedy Space Centre, and Clearwater Marina, so that probably tells you all you need to know.
"I'm the Captain now" 
We opted for a the Half Day Adventure Package which wasn't cheap.  It was about $270 USD (so approximately one million dollars Canadian at the moment) for a family of four.  But like I said it was the favourite thing of just about everyone in our party, adults included and it includes lunch.  You can pick different options that will be cheaper and you can bring your own lunch to save money.

A cow.  Just hanging out in a gator infested everglade.  
We started with our one-hour airboat ride which was great.  I feel horrible because I have forgotten our guide's name but he was great.  Very knowledgeable and friendly.  We did see several Alligators while we were out on the boat along with lots of interesting birds and somewhat surprisingly, cows.

Feeding time at the gator pen
I'm going to go ahead and call our guide John for lack of a better name.  John let all the kids (and me!) sit in the captain's chair when the tour was over and even took a picture for us all together.

A serval, one of the many animals they have on display at Wild Florida.  You can tell this guy is thinking, who is that magnificent beast?  Oh right, it's me.  
After our boat tour was over we went and had lunch.  As I said our package included lunch from the Chomp House Grill.  The food was fine.  I don't know that I would make a special trip out there just for lunch or anything but they have burgers and wraps and the like.  They have enough variety that everyone will be able to find something they like.  You can also pay extra and get some alligator nuggets.  They taste like a cross between chicken and fish.

Feeding the birds
Wild Florida also has a great zoo area.  It isn't huge but the animals are all great and they have lots of opportunities to interact with them.  My kids loved feeding the birds.  You buy popsicle sticks with bird seed on them and then stand in the bird enclosure and the birds will come to you.  When they hand you the popsicle sticks you will find yourself thinking "what, I paid $10 for three of these?!?!?!" but they actually last a long time.  We were in the bird enclosure for over 30 minutes feeding the birds. You can also feed alligators and several other animals.  They even have a sloth encounter!  I managed not to pull a full on Kristen Bell upon hearing that but it was close.  My kids loved the animal park, probably as much as the airboat ride.

This cheeky bastard stole my stick!  
Our package also included a photo of each of us with Fluffy, a young alligator as well as a group shot. Again, you can save money by not picking that option but we love our photos and it is the only picture we have from the trip with our whole group.
Fluffy
So, in summary I would highly recommend Wild Florida for a group of any size and/or age.  I was with six kids ranging in age from 5 - 14, boys and girls, and they all loved it.  All four of the adults in our party loved it too.

Things to keep in mind:
  • As the crow flies, Kenansville is about as far from Orlando as Tampa but it takes less time to get there since there is way less traffic.
  • Wild Florida was just about the only place we went to in Florida that wasn't packed.  It wasn't empty but there was no long line ups or worrying about losing your kids in a crowd.  Just to hungry gators. 
  • They have a great gift shop.
  • Along with airboat rides they also offer Ranch Buggy rides.  We didn't do that so I can't say much about it but you can find more information on their website.
  • They were super friendly and helpful.  We had to cancel two people from our party due to illness and they were the only attraction in Florida who did it without any hassle or bother.