2017 was an incredible year full of lots of adventures as a family. We are so grateful to have been able to experience so many new places and activities. I was recently inspired by Tanya over at Rockies Family Adventures and her incredible 2017 list and so we decided to write out our favourite experiences of the year. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try new places and spend some time connecting with your family by going on new adventures in 2018.
Our Top 2017 Adventures-
1. Hiking Ptarmigan Cirque in Kananaskis. Peter Lougheed Provincal Park is one of my very favourite places in Alberta, and this hike was absolutely incredible. Easy enough for little kids to do, with spectacular views for everyone. We saw everyone from toddlers to seniors making the 30 minute climb to the meadow, and rumour has it if you hit the hike on the exactly right week, the meadow will be full of wildflowers.
2. Spending a weekend in the Invermere Area with friends. We stayed at the incredibly charming Picadilly Hotel, right across the street from a giant newer playground. The hotel was perfect for our family, and the included breakfast in the morning was the absolute best I’ve experienced at a hotel. They had all types of rooms at incredibly reasonable prices- some with full kitchens and BBQs and patios, perfect for a weekend getaway. While this hotel was in Radium and not directly on the lake, everything was a close drive away. We experienced the Fairmont hot springs, the Kinsman Beach (a sandy beach complete with waterslide and spray park!), the Radium hot springs, lots of good restaurants, gigantic ice cream cones for dinner and some of the many tourist activities in the area, like mini golf. We also spent some time hiking around Red Streak campground and taking in a free interpretive program there. I was lucky enough to have some past wedding clients treat us to a boat ride around the lake too. It was only a 5 hour drive from Edmonton and worth every minute. We already have booked a campsite for Red Streak for this summer and can’t wait to go back.
4. Experiencing Canada Day in Canmore. The town of Canmore puts on a gigantic party for Canada Day. The celebrations started early in the morning with a road race and pancake breakfast, then the town parade. The amount of candy and prizes my kids got from the parade was awesome and they both loved it so much. We, of course, didn’t miss the opportunity to go to Grizzly Paw Brewery for lunch before heading back to enjoy the entertainment stages. The fireworks at night against the mountain silhouette were absolutely incredible and definitely worth a trip out there to see.
5.Snorkelling at the Cayos Cochinos in Honduras. If you are looking for place that lacks tourists, has crystal waters and feels incredibly remote, this is your place. The series of tiny islands are a perfect escape of reality, and we love supporting the local culture and wonderful Honduran people. Definitely a place to add to your bucket list if you want to experience the Caribbean off the beaten track…. and I’ve been told you can rent an entire house on a isolated island for $65 a night…..and the reviews are fabulous….
10. Unearthing real dinosaur bones with an paleontologist at Dinosaur Provincial Park. This has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. My girls didn’t get to join me on this one, but I loved wearing the floppy hat and pretending to know about dinosaurs. We spent an entire day outside working and I did end up learning a ton about fossils. I really loved finding a small bone in the sand and then slowing digging around it to find out it was a giant femur. It was pretty cool touching something that hasn’t been seen in millions of years. My kids also had a great day with their aunt exploring the Unesco heritage site and climbing hoodoos while I tried this very cool once-in-lifetime experience. This program fills up in the spring really fast for the entire summer- I’m going to write a blog post with all the details, but you can sign up HERE for the program.
6. Camping at Pembina Provincial Park. While my next scheduled blog post is all about the Pembina area, I’ll quickly say that it was a wonderful spot to spend the weekend. We had a campsite right on the river and spent hours wading in the water catching minnows and playing in the sand. There’s a large day use area and it’s easy to float down the river (using a great shuttle service) for the day if you rather not camp. It’s close enough to the city to make an afternoon of it and there’s enough to keep you occupied for an entire long weekend.
7. Spending a weekend at the Delta Kananaksis. The girls loved skiing at Nakiska and trying tubing on the hill. The Delta is so close to opening their new gigantic Nordic indoor/outdoor spa, and I’m so excited to head back out to try it out!
8. Picking fruit fresh off the tree in Kelowna, BC. Actually our entire trip to Kelowna was pretty spectacular, and we experienced so much- you can read about it here. While I loved meeting kangaroos and swimming in the lake, my kids still talk about picking their own cherries and apricots.
9.Trying out the new aerial outdoor ropes course at Snow Valley. Every single time we drive by on the Whitemud, my girls ask to go back. I did write a blog post all about it, and if you haven’t been definitely add it to your list for 2018.
9. Staying in a “bucket list” hotel at Three Valley Gap. From the Titanic themed indoor swimming pool, to the strange and wonderful ghost town, to the sandy beach and canoe rides, and the old-school indoor games room, this hotel was the perfect mix of kitschy and vintage. I remember always driving by it as a kid wanting to stay, but never being able too because we were always going somewhere. We decided to make the road trip part of the vacation this year and it worked out perfectly. I love being able to slow down and enjoy days on the road.
11. Taking on Prince George , BC, with a bunch of Edmonton bloggers was a great quick trip full of surprises. I wrote a blog post about my adventures and my experience flying with the awesome local airline, Central Mountain Air. I had such a great time trying out everything Prince George had to offer and getting to know some new local bloggers as well!
12. Heading to Hawaii on a girls trip was really a dream come true. Now it wasn’t with the kids, but I would LOVE to take the family back to the Big Island. Our trip highlights included jumping off waterfalls, swimming in hot springs and hiking lava fields. We stayed at the wonderful Waikoloa Marriott, but also visited the gigantic, crazy, family friendly Hilton for a luau (think multiple waterslides, gondola rides, a monorail train to get around the resort, pools with waterfalls, swinging bridges…basically a family resort dream!). We did love the Marriott because the location was perfect- it was right on a sandy beach, it was easy walking distance to grocery stores, Starbucks and shopping. It was also right next to our favourite beach club & restaurant, Lava Lava Beach Club! The Marriott also had multiple pools, including a sand bottom kids pool and waterslide- all much quieter than the Hilton but still completely family friendly. Our resort had snorkelling, paddling boards and kayaks available as well. I was extremely happy with the tour we booked with Island Wide Family Tours. They made us a custom designed exploring day- he gave us tons of ideas and built us a trip showcasing all our favourites (which included a 20 minute run into Target. Canadian moms love Target.) I would highly recommend their company for any day trips on the island.
So what’s happening for 2018? A lot! We just got back from Las Vegas to watch the Oilers ( tip- stay at New York, New York and have the tailgate party outside your door), and now we’re looking forward to ton of exciting adventures. We have summer camping trips booked to Red Streak, Jasper, Long Lake, and Kananaskis. We are also looking forward to lots of summer nights on our new deck and relaxing in our new yard, something that was just mud pit last summer. But our biggest plans for the year include going to Guatemala and Honduras this winter and then heading across the pond late this spring- Europe here we come! I can’t stop researching…bring on 2018!
This year we have a season pass to Snow Valley Ski Hill and one of the best parts about the pass is the fabulous events they host on a regular basis. This past weekend was World Snow Day, and besides skiing events on the hill, they also had Parks Canada set up a tent with information and activities. The best part was the bon fire and apple roasting. I’ve been camping my entire life, but have never made these delicious treats. I’ve been meaning to blog about camping food (okay, mostly treats) for a while now, so this is a great post to start off sharing all the fun things you can cook over a fire. Violet is a very shy eater- she trusts nothing and is scared of everything- but gave these 2 thumbs up, even though they were something new. The best part is they’re easy enough for kids to make alone- and you don’t have to worry about the apple burning!
Take an apple (we used simple MacIntosh apples) and stab on a roasting stick, making sure it’s secure. Put it right into the flames. The best part is you want it nice and blackened, so you don’t have to worry about holding it above the heat, like a marshmallow. You can pop it right in the flames, or next to the coals. Easy. We roasted the apple for about 7 minutes, as you want it heated all the way through and blackened all the way around.
After your apple is done roasting, rub it with paper towel to remove all the black skin. It comes off perfectly and takes zero effort. I would recommended wearing gloves as the apple is warm, but they’re not necessary. After the skin is removed, pop it onto a wooden skewer. We have these packed in our camping supplies since we often make kabobs over the fire, but if you don’t have they’re easy to find at the dollar or grocery store. Then dip the apple into a ziplock bag with a mix of cinnamon and sugar. There’s lots of variations with this- you could try brown sugar on roasted pears, or your own concoction of savoury spices instead. Violet decided afterwards that she would prefer just the plain roasted apple instead of one dipped, and hey, I can’t complain about her wanting to make it healthier.
Maeve is looking over my shoulder as I type this asking to make these “roasted apple pies” right now! It’s safe to she loved them. They’re the perfect combo of warm apple and sweet sugar, with the right amount of crisp- they’re not soft and squishy. And they definitely taste like an apple pie. You could eliminate the sugar and make it healthier too- definitely a satisfying alternative to roasting a marshmallow.
And that’s it. Zero clean up, very little effort and the most delicious “candy apple” you could eat. Camping season is looking yummier already! Enjoy!
So the Christmas holidays are over-it’s back to work, back to the hustle and now time to plan your summer vacations before the second weekend of January. It’s crazy, but it’s the way it goes if you want to guarantee a site this camping season at one of the most popular campgrounds. I’m looking at my summer schedule trying to figure out how to plan a mountain trip this far in advance- this year it’s tricky- but at least it has us looking forward to summer while hibernating in minus thirty temperatures this January.
Here’s the basic layout of dates and times for all you 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)
2018 Reservation Launch: January 9, 2018 at 8:00 a.m.
WHY: Jasper is one of our favourite places on Earth. 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- definitely scout out your preferred sites ahead of time. 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
2018 Reservation Launch: January 10, 2018 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 at Two Jack, 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: Waterton National Park- Townsite Campground
2018 Reservation Launch: January 11th, 2018 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.
PARK: Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
2018 Reservation Launch: 11th, 2018 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: Rocky Mountain House is a gorgeous alternative for summer camping- you’re off the beaten path a bit with lots of new places to explore within a hour drive. I wrote a blog post about the area and why we think it’s a great spot to add to the list. You can also book Heritage Camping in Trapper’s Tents and Tipis, plus explore the impressive Historic Site.
PARK: Elk Island National Park- Astotin Campground
2018 Reservation Launch: January 11th, 2018 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!
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 in February. 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 12 @ 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 5th @ 9am: Group Camping – reservable for the entire season
February 20 : 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 we stayed at Kinbrook Island, Pembina, Jarvis Bay, and Peter Lougheed– every campground we ventured to last year was excellent with clean facilities and lots of opportunities to explore. My instagram has pictures of the different campgrounds until I can get some blog posts written up shortly.
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.
It’s almost the time of year where I find myself itching to get out of winter and fly somewhere warm and tropical. The Gran Bahia Principe resort on the Mayan Rivera is one of those resorts the consistently comes up as a budget vacation spot for last minute bookings- I find there’s always a good deal to be had staying here. We’ve been lucky enough to stay at this resort on multiple occasions and we think it’s a great place to ditch winter and play in the sun. The facilities and programming are perfect for kids and families, with so much to do and see.
The biggest thing to know about the this massive hotel, is that it is broken down into several resorts on one property – Bahia Principe Akumal, Bahia Principe Tulum and Bahia Principe Coba. There is also Sian-Kann which is adults only. We were grateful to have received a wristband to allow us to check out all areas of the resort, and loved features of each. We booked an ocean front room on the Tulum side- the Tulum section is great, lots of pools, beautiful grounds, well laid out with good food. The Coba side is not ocean front, but rather in behind the Akumal resort. The Coba section boasts the incredible kids water park, lots of pools and also features larger family suites compared to standard rooms. The Akumal side is the nicest of the three and has little extras like pool side drink and snack service, a nicer beach, prettier pools and better buffet. If you are staying in the Akumal side you have access to both other resorts, while if you are at Coba or Tulum, you may not enter the Akumal property. So after visiting them all, which one would I choose? Well, if the budget allowed I would choose the Akumal for all the extras and the better buffet, but to be honest we felt like both of the others were fabulous. My kids loved the water park at Coba, so we ended up there every afternoon. They also enjoyed the kids club at Coba the best, followed by the Club at Akumal. I liked being right on the beach at Tulum, so I enjoyed having our room there. But it is easy to get around the resort, there are trains leaving every few minutes to bring you wherever you may need to go, so don’t get too worried about where you are sleeping.
The beach runs along the resort and includes rocky areas and sections of pure white sand. You may have to move a bit to find the perfect location. There are sections of chairs that are reserved for those staying in that area of the hotel, but the beach and water are open to everyone. Around the pier there are so many fish to see, you don’t even need any snorkel gear to get up close. The ocean sports hut does have free snorkelling rentals if you’d like as well. I felt like the beach was really safe for children as they have put up sandbags to break the waves. Maybe a bit of eye sore if you’re picky, but I like being able to relax in the water with my kids without being worried about giant waves. If waves are your thing, there are sections of the beach that don’t have breakers as well. We didn’t bring water shoes, but I can see them being beneficial if you wanted to explore all areas of the beach. There are no complimentary sand toys, so make sure you bring some cheap ones along.
There are no shortage of pools at any of the three resorts. My kids LOVE swimming and spent a ton of time in the pools. Almost everyone has a kids “play ledge” or a shallow area, and they’re so big you never feel crowded. There’s multiple swim up bars and pool volley ball/basketball nets as well. Floaties are allowed in the pools, so be sure to pack one for lounging. Each resort also has an “activities pool” which hosts the different games and events the staff puts on- this may or may not be your thing. The Coba section also had a quiet adults only jacuzzi pool and a massive zero-entry family pool. It also was home to the massive water park.
The Water Park-
Seriously, how fun is this? They loved this place. With slides for every age it was a huge hit for all families we talked too. There’s ample shade and sun chairs around the park for parents to relax while the kids played. The only time it got busy is when one of the kids clubs showed up to play.
The Kid’s Club “Bahia Scouts”-
I have heard parents say “why would I drop my kids off at a kids club when we are on a FAMILY HOLIDAY?” Well, I get that. But I also like Jacuzzi pools and quiet time. And my kids LOVE the clubs. We didn’t drop them off every day all day, but did leave them for the morning every other day. They made new friends, made crafts, went to the water park, had sandcastle contests, watched a dolphin show, did scavenger hunts…. they did more then we would have done with them! We picked them up at lunch and we enjoyed the rest of the day together. Tim and I got some well-deserved relax time and were able to have conversations and read books. I call this a win-win. The club also had “Monkey’s Birthday” once a week at each of the resorts- there was a bouncing castle, party games and prizes, a piñata full of candy and of course, birthday cake. “Monkey” (a costumed man) danced along with kids. Of course, this was a huge hit. You don’t even have to put your kids in the club to enjoy the fun, you can join the party at the pool if you see it happening. All the activities are listed outside the clubs, so check them out and plan your week a bit in advance. My girls enjoyed the Coba club the best, probably because of the fabulous staff on site. I also enjoyed it was air conditioned so they could cool down and not spend every minute in the heat- the Tulum club is open air. At the end of our week the kids both got a t-shirt, which is a favourite pj top now. But if kid’s clubs aren’t your thing, there were so many family activities taking place around the resort as well.
The Bahia Principe has so much going on, there’s never a chance to be bored…unless you want to be, which I also highly encourage. On top of the pool games, the sports rentals, tennis and archery, there were also events every evening. We spent our evenings in the Tulum section, where there was always live music in the lobby bar along with a show in the theatre. We didn’t get to all the shows, but we did see the “circus show” (highly recommended with kids) and The Lion King (again, a fan favourite). There was face painting before the Lion King shows and a chance to meet the characters. There was also activities in the garden outside the lobby on several evenings- balloon artists, face painting, bouncy castles, giant outdoor movies on a drop screen with popcorn and treats, dance parties…they really cater to young families. I also never found any events too busy. Lots of kids go to bed early or families have dining reservations, so the crowd is always spread out. Some night we were ready for bed after our dinner too- we just played it by ear. However, the dining options were also a highlight of the trip.
So dining is an important part of nearly every trip. The food at the Bahia doesn’t disappoint. We found the buffet at Akumal better then those at Coba and Tulum- but there was nothing wrong with those buffets either- just don’t be expecting a gourmet meal. There was lots of variety but nothing you’ll write home about. I did make some epic salads and I loved the Mexican section of the buffet as well. During a week stay you receive 3 a’la carte meals. Our favourites were the Brazilian (unlimited meat sliced at your table), the Japanese (tepanayki style, cooked right in front of you with a show) and the Mexican (cause, well, it’s Mexico). It’s highly recommended to book your tables the night you arrive at the resort, they fill up quickly- you can wait in line to do this, or download the hotel app and book your tables as soon as you log in. Wifi is available for free in the lobby to do this. One night we didn’t have reservations and we didn’t want the buffet so we walked up to the Mexican Restaurant, hoping to tip the waiter for a table (this happens frequently if you follow along on trip advisor). We were offered a table on the beach if we purchased a bottle of wine. I think the cheapest bottle was about $12USD (which we didn’t even drink, but they sent it up to room that evening anyway). We figured an extra dinner on the beach was worth $12 and indeed, we had the best dining experience of our trip. The kids played while we relaxed, the weather was perfect and the food was delious. If you’re able, definitely try to get an outdoor table at the Mexican Restaurant. For lunches, we always ate at the beach buffet- no changing out of your swimsuit, lots of good variety for the kids (and it changed every day) and you can’t beat the view. There was also hard ice cream which was a huge hit for hot days. The kids ordered a ton of “smoothies” aka blended sugar juice, but the bartenders can add a banana to make it kinda healthy?? Another favourite was sparkling water with a bit a lime (essentially a virgin mojito).
All in all, I would definitely recommend this resort for a more budget-friendly family holiday. We never felt like we were at a low end resort by any means, but in comparisons to higher end vacation spots, you may notice a difference. The location is a bit far from the airport, but it was very close to the Tulum ruins and town, Xel-Ha and other tourist locations. We were able to take a Collectivo (local transportation- info here) everywhere we wanted to go and felt very safe at all times. The Akumal Forum on Trip Advisor is resource for specific questions about a trip to the hotel- there are threads about restaurant menus, nightly shows and activities. Very useful if you like to plan ahead and the information is more useful then hotel reviews. My kids have been begging to return- definitely paradise for them!
Check out my other posts for All-Inclusive Vacations-
Guide to Planning an All-Inclusive Vacation with Children
Guide to Preparing for a Vacation with Kids
Guide to Edmonton International Airport with Kids
The last couple of years I’ve been on the lookout for a pumpkin patch in Edmonton- one that we can actually pick pumpkins right off the vine. We grew up growing our own pumpkins, and in our last home we grew them a couple of times- but they take up a ton of room in the garden. I really wanted my kids to have the fall experience of wandering a field trying to find the perfect fall pumpkin just for them.
Luckily for me, I saw a past photography client post on Facebook that they were opening up their pumpkin field to be a u-pick this year. They’ve grown pumpkins for local grocery stores for years and this is their first time offering a u-pick pumpkins. They had a huge variety of sizes, colours and shapes- I think 6 types! We loved the white pumpkins, the yellow, the light green, the striped, the traditional and even the warty. I think one of each made it into our wheelbarrow. The price is right too- the cost varies from $1- $10 dependant on the size.
The field is a little bit muddy from all the rain last week, so wear boots if possible and be prepared to get a little bit dirty. The pumpkins will need to be wiped off when you pick them up and carrying them gets your shirt a little bit muddy. But my kids didn’t seem to mind (also it’s interesting that carrying their backpack to school is way too heavy, yet they were managing to haul around 15lb pumpkins 😉 )
The Pumpkin Patch is located in Stony Plain on the east side of Golf Course Road between Fairway Dr and Highway 628 (79th Ave). The technical address- which can be loaded into Maps on your iPhone is- 52417 Range Road 280. I also just put in “golf course rd” into maps and it brought up the right general area in Stony Plain. It’s a farm with large silos and a sandwich board sign. Follow the flags to parking in the field.
Hours for this week are-
Wednesday 11am -2:30pm
Saturday and Sunday- 11am-5pm
Hope you can make it out and find the perfect pumpkin for Halloween.