Twirls and Travels » a blog about exploring with kids

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We may have found a new favourite winter getaway. Nestled in the heart of Kananaskis,  Delta Hotels by Marriot Kananaskis Lodge is the perfect place to bring a young family.  It’s less then hour from Calgary, doesn’t have the crowds we dread,  and it’s only minutes to Nakiska Ski Resort, all making it an ideal location for a weekend away.

It’s a resort that appeals to young families for so many reasons. Some of our favourite parts of the weekend included-

  • Open fire and a complimentary s’more station outside in the lightly falling snow (magical!)
  • A large indoor playground with a full playhouse, lego, giant floor “iPad” with interactive games, play kitchens, chalk wall, craft room and movie screen for their special family movie nights.
  • Complimentary Hot Chocolate in the lobby, served in to-go cups that you can enjoy as you walk around the trails surrounding the resort.
  • Skating on the pond outside in the middle of the resort. There’s even skate rentals available on site.
  • A inside-outside hot tub and a wooden sauna outside the pool doors. The indoor pool was the largest we’ve seen at a hotel- lots of room for multiple families and heated enough that parents will actually get in 🙂
  • The kids buffet in the main resturant, Forte.  Actually, I think the set-up is genius. Adults order off a menu while kids can help themselves to never ending kid-friendly food (including crowd favourites and lots of healthy options).  No long wait for food =no whining. They even had multiple included desserts. And bonus, kids under 6 eat free at the Delta.
  • The service throughout the resort was extremely good. Probably the best part of our trip. The server took the time to learn the girls names at dinner, the house-keeping made “towel art” and left a friendly welcome note, and  the check in staff were friendly and  helpful. Even the pool attendant brought us out towels with a smile. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a hotel feel like home.

delta-kananaskis-reviewdelta-kananaskis-with-kidsThe resort itself is minutes away from Nakiska Ski Resort. For Tim, that little bonus was priceless. Usually we are up early making the trek to the ski hill- but here it’s less then 5 minutes to the lift.  The hill is perfect for young families- there were so many green runs my daughters could do.  There’s even a tube park with friendly lifties ready to give you a “super spin” or a push down the hill.  Maeve loved the tube park- I think she was excited for a activity she could do that required no balance and lots of high speeds down the hill. Overall, we were really impressed with Nakiska and will definitely ski it more often now that we’ve tried it out. And if you’re not a skier, definitely try out the Tube Park, it’s so much fun (and the magic carpet lift is perfect those of us who get exhausted going up and down the toboggan hill with kids).

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If you don’t make it to the ski hill,  there’s a ton of exploring around the resort with multiple hiking trails close by.  The weekend we stayed there were several events posted for families to take part in- guided hikes to Troll Falls, nature walks, yoga, free crafting workshops,  a family games night, and a family movie night on a big screen. The staff can also point you in the right direction for snow shoe rentals to use close by and skate rentals to on-site. Overall, you won’t be bored. The scenery is enough to get me out to Kananaskis alone- the location of the resort can’t be beat.  I think a minimum of two nights would be ideal to truly explore the area and take in all that The Delta Lodge at Kananaskis offers.

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Look forward to-

Kids under 6 eat for free at the Lodge.  The  promotion doesn’t include room service but kid meals were only $7 delivered, and had huge portions. It was a really fun splurge for the girls to get room service before a long day at the ski hill. They’re still talking about it.

But be Prepared for-

It is no secret that this hotel is undergoing renovations. While we found it didn’t disrupt our stay, the check-in is not in the main lobby and there are areas of the resort off limits.   Be aware that not every room has been renovated and some rooms are still dated.  The hotel should be completed by summer, however check ahead of time to make sure that the renovations aren’t going to distrupt your vacation plans.  I’m excited to see the new pool area which has plans to have a nordic feel (we also hear they will even include watersides and kids water features). I’m looking forward to visiting again this summer and trying out everything the hotel has to offer in the summer.

Our Insider Tips-

This resort can be purchased with Airmiles- it’s a great way to use extra miles and have a mountain getaway for only the $25 in taxes.

 

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I know a lot of families heading out for spring break this year- whether it be to the beach, the mountains or to Grandma’s house. Around here the countdown to any vacation is exciting. Multiple studies show that the anticipation of a holiday is often as good as the holiday itself.   The anticipation, the daydreaming and the pre-planning all contribute to having an exciting and successful vacation. However,  the last couple of weeks before a trip can be a little bit stressful so here are our tips to help beat the stress and enjoy the countdown.

– Start a countdown chart. My girls and I usually make simple posters with squares they can colour each passing day.  I usually start this between 2 to 3 weeks prior to leaving. This gives them perspective to when we are leaving and keeps their excitement strong. It also works on number recognition, counting backwards and the understanding the passing of time.  Younger kids need a shorter countdown but with more prepping about what’s to come.

-Head on over to Trip Advisor and be prepared for what’s to come. Read the reviews of your hotel and check out the reviews of the attractions you plan to visit. However, take every review with a grain of salt  as most people seem to be either really negative or overly positive. However, I always find some really great tidbits on Trip Advisor and enjoy making note of travellers tips before each vacation. I’ve found fantastic hidden cenotes and really cool restaurants just by checking out TA’s “top” lists.

-Email your hotel or resort about 2-3 weeks prior to arriving.  Most hotel chains don’t receive the booking information from your travel agency until a couple weeks prior to arrival. This is the best time to request room locations (like closer to the beach or pool, a top floor for a better view or the bottom floor for ease with a stroller), any required amenities in the room (cribs, cots, microwaves, birthday banners) or any other questions or concerns you may have. My family has had great luck emailing resorts and local hotels ahead of time. With lots of kind words and gratitude we have been able to receive upgrades, rooms with the best location, extra bedding and welcome baskets in our room.  Nothing is ever guaranteed but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

– Pull out your suitcase no later then 2 weeks prior to leaving. Then start making lists. When you think of something either add it to the suitcase or put it on the list. I leave my packing list on top of the suitcase to keep it handy.  When I randomly think of something I need to pack it will either go directly into the suitcase or onto the list of “things to pack the night before” (like toiletries or things you need on a every day basis).   Keep popping what you can into the suitcase, then actually organize the suitcase a day or two before leaving.  Keeping your luggage out where you can see it might be a bit annoying but it’s incredibly helpful to pop random items as you go.

-Spend a night or two as a family  researching the area you are heading too. Talk about the activities that are available to try in the area and see what type of things your kids might be interested in. We are heading to Lethbridge (!! I know you’re jealous ) for Spring break this year and our list of “must-do’s” is getting incredibly long- and it’s turning out to be very exciting for the girls. With a little bit of research you can find hidden gems for both you and your children to enjoy. Google is your friend- pull up the websites and work together as a team to plan your holiday. Even if your plan is to head to a resort and stay in the resort, go through your hotel’s website and view the different amenities  available- get the kids excited about new things they can try. You’ll be surprised what your kiddo might be willing to experience when they’ve researched it themselves.

– If you’re visiting the same small town year after year try to do something new- try the local museum, a different hike or nature walk,  a new restaurant, or something else that interests your family. Keep the excitement of doing something new as part of the reason why you travel. Helping your kids explore new places will instil a lifelong love of travelling in them.

-Double check all your documents prior to leaving- the names on the tickets  and the expiry of passports in particular.   While prepping for our last trip I noticed that Maeve’s name was spelled wrong on her ticket. I have no idea why I didn’t notice originally but was very glad I caught it more then 2 weeks before our departure and it was a easy fix. Double check hotel reservations and any other documents- we’ve had friends try to check in to a hotel only to find it was booked for the wrong date. Also, if you are not travelling with the other parent of your child, and you are crossing a border, you will need a notarized letter for customs. My husband and I often fly separately (I often book seats on travel points and can’t get all four of us together) and I have been asked every single time for a letter.

– Read through some of these blog posts to help you with packing the carry on bag, travelling with kids through Edmonton’s International Airportflying with kids,  road tripping with kids, and why I think it’s all worth it.

 

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With campgrounds in Alberta Parks opening today for the first 90 days of the camping season, it’s time to start planning some more of your summer vacation. Today also marks the first day you can book Dinosaur Provincial Park’s Tours with their Reservations website online. Today I’m checking off another box on my bucket list and booking a full day guided excavation. I’m so excited to be spending the day with adults uncovering real fossils never before seen by human eyes. With so much to do on site, Dinosaur Provincial Park should be on your summer exploring list this year-  the programming, facilities, and campground are all world class.

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A UNESCO World Heritage site, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a must-see Alberta destination. In the past years we’ve tented amongst the giant popular trees and also stayed in their modern and cozy canvas tents along the river. The campground is located right in the middle of the valley, surrounded by hoodoos and endless hiking opportunities for all abilities. There’s a beautiful  treed section of the campground and a section facing the hoodoos- just depends what you like. There’s also dinosaur themed playground and a creek to wade in on those hot, summer days.

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Add on the option to go on an actual dinosaur dig, enjoy family programming like making your own fossil cast class, a guided hike through the badlands, or learning about prehistoric times in the Visitor’s Centre, there seems to be something for everyone. If you’re there on a weekend, be sure to take part in the free theatre programs too. My kids really enjoyed John Ware’s cabin on site and the interpreter was fabulous getting them involved with activities and helping them get excited about the history of the area. On our last trip we took part in the Explorer’s Bus tour which the four kids all loved. They even found real dinosaur bones and learned how to identify fossils from rocks (if you lick your finger and it sticks to the rock, it’s actually a fossil!). We also took part in Fossil Safari, but ended up getting rained out- however the guide had a back-up program inside including a behind the scene tour of the lab and some handling of real fossils. It was perfect for young minds.  If you like your vacations to become educational, Dinosaur won’t disappoint.

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If the incredible scenery isn’t enough to get you to head out to Dinosaur Provincial Park, maybe the modern amenities like free showers, free wifi, a yummy restaurant, a sandy creek to play in, the option of comfort camping (complete with air conditioning and a heater!) and endless photo opts might.

Look Forward to-

  • The views. Oh those views.
  • The facilities. As mentioned above, Dinosaur has been developed with both comfort and exploring in mind.
  • Amazing programming for families and programming for Adult’s only.
  • If you can’t get into the Programming, there’s self- guided interptive trails with uncovered fossils to check out, free of charge
  • There’s really good food in the cafe if you don’t pack enough, need a cool treat after hiking or just need a break from cooking (and if you see someone who looks like me, give her a little wave- that’s my lovely niece scooping your ice cream!)
  • The on-site Museum is very interactive and worth the small cost of admission for kids.

But be Prepared for-

  • The Drive. At over 5 hours from Edmonton and 2.5 hours from Drumheller, budget your time accordingly. I would give yourself 2 days to fully experience Dinosaur.
  • Mosquitos. Do not forget the bug spray. Enough said.
  • The heat. The Badlands can have extreme heat waves. Pack hats, sunscreen and water accordingly.
  • Booking all your camping and programming in advance.  You will be disappointed if you make the trip and don’t have a campsite or a program to attend- everything fills up in far in advance.

Our insider tips-

If camping or comfort camping isn’t for you, there are multiple hotels in the town of Brooks, as well as Bed and Breakfasts in the surrounding area.  It’s still worth the trip even if you don’t want to stay onsite. We loved our little canvas tent along the river- it felt like we were on luxury safari- and we were warm at night and cool during the day. Everything but our food was included.  Definitely worth the splurge. There’s also Kinbrook Island Provincial Park about 30 minutes away with a beautiful beach, playground and a day use area to use in if the badlands get to hot, or if you’re in the mood for a change. Our biggest tip would be to plan out your trip with help from the Park’s website, but to also leave time to just relax and explore the valley. There’s so much much to do (and I’m always guilty of trying to do it all!) but don’t forget to enjoy.

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Family Day in our family is usually spent tobogganing, watching a movie and just being together, but this year there are a lot free activities in and around Edmonton worth checking out. The weather looks spectacular and we can’t wait to get outside.

If you’ve ever wanted to try ice fishing, this weekend is your chance to try fishing for free, with Alberta’s “Family Fishing Weekend”.  Lake Wabamun has a free family Ice Fishing program on Saturday, complete with complimentary hot dogs & hot chocolate, and loaner fishing rods. Check out the details HERE

Alberta’s Museums and Historic sites are free on Family Day-  Government House, Rutherford HouseReynolds-Alberta Museum,  Royal Tyrrell, amongst others have free entry and lots of special programming to take part in.

Elk Island National Park- With Free admission to all National Parks this year, heading East to Elk Island is a great idea this long weekend.  The website has ideas for your family day-  “Get outside and embrace the winter season at Elk Island this Family Day. Pack a thermos and set out into a frosted landscape by snowshoe or cross country skis to explore one of the many trails in the park. Or lace up your skates and skate around Archer Island on Astotin Lake for a truly unique winter experience. When you’re ready for a warm up, settle in near the crackle of a campfire with hot chocolate in hand or visit the Elk Island Golf Course Clubhouse for a bowl of chili and live musical performances.”

Alberta Legislature Grounds has numerous activities indoors and out, including magic shows, treasures hunts, Indigenous games and crafts.

Alberta Parks are always a great place to explore on the weekend, with some parks providing free activities this weekend to celebrate families. Check out the Alberta Park Website to see what’s happening.

 

There’s also quite a few festivals going on in and around Edmonton including- 

Silver Skate Festival — Edmonton, William Hawrelak Park from Feb.10 to 20.

Family Fun in City Hall & Churchill Square – Edmonton, City Hall, Feb.20, Noon to 4 p.m.

Fire and Ice Festival – St. Albert, Lacombe Lake Park, Feb. 20, Noon to 4 p.m.

WinterFest – Fort Saskatchewan, Fort Heritage Precinct Museum, Feb. 20, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

The City of Edmonton is hosting lots of great family day fun, with details on their website for free activities like skating, visiting the AGA, and the Shake-Up festival that includes free bannock making and sleigh rides on the Armature.

 

What’s your family doing this weekend??

 

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It’s that time of year again. The time of year when you have to plan out your summer of camping in the middle of winter. It’s crazy, but it’s the way it goes if you want to guarantee a site this camping season at one of the popular campgrounds.  This year the parks will be particularly busy for Canada’s 150 birthday because entry to all National Parks is free! You can apply for a free pass HERE, or just drive up to the gates and receive a pass on your way through.  If you plan a last minute trip and don’t have time to order a pass, it’s no big deal. You can enter as often as you like for free, you’ll just most likely save some time by going through the “pass holders” entry.

Here’s the basic layout of dates and times for all you happy campers wanting to ensure you get the exact site you want on the date you want.

National Parks in Alberta:

PARK: Jasper National Park- including Pocohontas, Wabasso,Wapiti, and Whistlers (including oTENTiks comfort camping)
DATE: January 10th, 8:00 a.m. MST.
WHY: Jasper’s Whistlers park is one of our family favourites. We go every year and enjoy it immensely.  If you are looking for a long weekend, I suggest you refresh your browser right at 8am to start your search. Full service sites are in high demand anytime in the summer. Tenting sites do not fill up near as fast. Keep in mind not every site has a fire pit in the national park. Here’s my post on Jasper during the summer to check out for ideas.

PARK: Banff National Park- Lake Louise, Two Jack, Johnston Canyon, Tunnel Mountain
DATE: January 11th, at 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: Banff is incredibly popular and there are so many good reasons why. Two Jack Lake is particularly awesome in my opinion. These campgrounds are busy all summer long, weekends and weekdays- Last year we had friends miss out on a campsite even though they were at the computer at exactly 9am.. But if you are looking to stay in mountains but away from the (bigger) crowds, other options include Bow Valley Provincial Park (see below) and Peter Lougheed PP which are both located in the mountains, but outside the National Park Boundaries.

PARK: Elk Island National Park- Astotin Campground
DATE:  January 14th, 2016 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: While Elk Island doesn’t have the popularity of the mountain national parks, Equipped camping is in high demand and is a great way to try out camping as a family without purchasing any gear. These sites will fill up quite fast, especially for popular dates. Here’s a post on why you should add Elk Island to your list of places to discover this year. And it’s the perfect year to check it out,  considering there will be no fees this year and it’s so close to the city!

PARK: Waterton National Park- Townsite Campground
DATE: Thursday, January 12th, 2016 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: If you want to try out Waterton and don’t want to risk not having a site at the popular first come first serve Crandell Mountian Campground, then this is your best option. Unfortunately, the campground is in the middle of the townsite and the sites are not private at all, buuuuuut the views, the ability to walk to anywhere in town you like, and the lake front location make it still a worthwhile visit. If you’d like to Tipi Camp at Crandell Mountain, reservations open May 10th by phone. Here’s my post on what makes Waterton great.

The link to book all of the above through the National Parks System is HERE

Alberta Provincial Parks-

The provincial park system is a bit different. Their system goes live on Tuesday, February 21st. However, you can only book dates up to 90 in advance of your departure date. So if you are looking for May long weekend camping, you can book on opening day. Then you can book up 16 days in a row.

Some dates to keep in mind when looking for a Provincial park to camp at-

February 13th  @ 9am: Comfort Camping – reserve for the entire season. If you are wanting to try out the yurts, the canvas wall tents at Dinosaur, the cabins at Lac La Biche, be ready to book on this day. Especially if you are looking for a long weekend or a extended period of time, you need to be on the computer waiting to click on “book now” when the clock strikes 9.

February  6th @ 9am: Group Camping – reservable for the entire season

February 21 : Regular Campsites- these are restricted to the 90 day window

Then for the rest of the season you need to do some counting. For example, if you want to head out on June 30th to spend Canada day in a park, you’d need to book on April 1.  I found this handy calculator to do the math for you at this website HERE.

Our favourite provincial parks include Dinosaur, Writing on Stone, Crimson Lake, Long Lake, Carson-Pegasus, Red Lodge, …just to name a few. We also love the Yurts at Pigeon Lake and the Cabins at Lac La Biche.  But why not browse the Alberta Parks website, find something new and then book early to avoid disappointment!  Last year our list included Thunder Lake, William A. Switzer, Crimson Lake, Peter Lougheed PP,  Whistler’s, and Miquelon Lake. We enjoyed each of them for different reasons….but we are hoping for a little less rain this year!

The link to book Provincial Parks is HERE or you can call at 1-877-537-2757

Insider Tip- write the date and time to book your preferred site in your daytimer and or add it is an event on your phone with a alarm to remind you when it’s the right date and time to book.

Happy Camping!

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  • January 6, 2017 - 7:39 pm

    Erika - Thanks for the info on the national parks! We don’t normally camp in those much but hope to this year with the free pass. We do camp a lot in the provincial parks. Have you tried Ross lake at whitney lakes provincial park? If you like Carson- Pegasus you will love Ross lake. We tried it last year and went twice. Our list last year also included dinosaur, William a Switzer and Miquelon. We also love Carson-Pegasus and crimson lake. Maybe we will try the other ones on your list this year! 🙂ReplyCancel

    • January 22, 2017 - 3:58 pm

      Kelsy - It sounds like we have a lot of the same favourites! I’m going to go google Ross lake right now. I’m a little worried about the National Parks being so busy so we only have weekday camping arranged for Jasper. I guess we will see!ReplyCancel