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Banff Alberta is Magical at Christmas

Get into the holiday spirit with a quick family trip to Banff in the Canadian Rockies. We just returned from a magical weekend of fairy lights, marshmallow roasting, tubing, carols and brunch with the big man himself. Check out our top Christmas activities for kids in Banff below.

A glass of wine with a view at the Sky Bistro.

1. Float above the clouds on the Banff Gondola

The Banff Gondola’s free Mountaintop Christmas activities run through January 7, 2018. Book your lift tickets in advance to save 10%.

Kids will love the cookie decorating, writing letters to Santa, Disney’s Prep & Landing movie, meeting the big man in red, and the Christmas themed treasure hunt.

Parents will love sipping a glass of bubbly in Sky Bistro, while devouring epic views of six snow-capped mountain ranges. You’ll also appreciate that kids (ages 6-15) ride for free before 12:00 pm in winter, and toddlers (five and under) are always free.

Little Miss B & the Fairmont Banff Springs Gingerbread House

2. Brunch with Santa & A Christmas Carol

Christmas at the Castle is in full swing at the Fairmont Banff Springs. We adored everything, from the beautifully decorated trees and delicious gingerbread resort replica, to our brunch with Santa followed by a live theatre production of the holiday classic A Christmas Carol.

Kids will love writing a letter to Santa AND receiving a hand written response delivered to their room; roasting marshmallows on the resort terrace; making crafts in the Kids @ the Castle centre; Christmas movie nights; and swimming in the outdoor hot pool.

Parents will love that the above mentioned activities are included in your room rate AND that un-parented Kids Club activities are available (additional fee).

Fun facts:
Resort guests receive 50% off A Christmas Carol tickets. Or, if you’re dining at one of the Fairmont’s restaurants you’ll enjoy a 25% discount on admission.

Alberta & Saskatchewan residents receive up to 30% off stays at the Fairmont Banff Springs. Contact us for details.

Getting ready to ride at Tube Town on Mount Norquay.

3. Tube Town at Mt. Norquay

For a screaming good time, head to Mount Norquay’s Tube Town. With speeds hitting up to 80 km per hour, I promise you’ll be laughing (ok squealing) the whole way down the hill. Kids must be at least four years old and 1.1 m (42”) tall to use the park.

Kids will love the pumping music, friendly attendants and the adrenalin rush.

Parents will love arriving safely at the bottom of the hill.

Prefer to ski – and for free? Head to the hill on Monday December 25th dressed up as Santa* (or an elf, reindeer or Mrs. Claus) and you can ski for free all day. *FULL costume required (just a Santa hat doesn’t qualify!).

Little Miss B fireside at The Moose Hotel & Suites in Banff.

4. The Moose – Our Top Hotel in downtown Banff

The Moose Hotel & Suites is an awesome new(ish) property on Banff Ave. Think boutique luxury, ideal for families. We stayed in the one-bedroom suite that has two queen beds and a double pullout. You’ll also find a mini-kitchen equipped with a microwave, sink and fridge for quick meals and snacks (or to keep your wine chilled).

Kids will love the all-you-can-eat ‘grill-your-own’ toast and jam bar, included with every breakfast at the onsite restaurant Pacini. The pool and outdoor hot pools are also a big hit.

Parents will love the Meadow Spa (signature pedicure is heavenly) with outdoor adults only hot pools and the fact that lattes and cappuccinos are just a $1 at Pacini on weekends. Insider tip: The Benny’s and veggie frittata are delish.

For more Christmas and New Year activities and events in Banff, check out the BanffLakeLouise.com.

Tips for Tackling California’s Disneyland Resort with Kids

PARADISE PIER credit: Disneyland.ca

We’ve just returned from a magical trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. From travelling tips and must-experience attractions, to our favourite dining spots, we’re sharing our top thoughts on how to enjoy a stress-free vacation at Disneyland and California Adventure Park.

MICKEY & MINNIE credit: Disneyland.ca

Download the Disneyland App
Think of the Disneyland Mobile App as having the park in your pocket. Everything you need to know can be found in the interactive map-style app – from washrooms and water fountains to ride times and character meetings. Searching for show times? App it baby. Need a lunch reservation? The app’s got your back with wait times and restaurant menus. Use it to book top dining spots up to 60 days in advance – like a character breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen and the Ariel’s Disney Princess Celebration.

SOARIN’ AROUND THE WORLD photo credit: Disneyland.ca

Disneyland MaxPass is Worth It
Disneyland Resort’s MaxPass, released in July, is currently available for the introductory price of just $10 per person, per day, via the Disneyland app. Think of it like a super-charged version of Disney’s FastPass that allows you to reserve high-demand rides and attractions from anywhere in the parks. This means, that if you’re at It’s a Small World in Disneyland, you can reserve your spot on Soarin’ Around the World (a must do!) in the California Adventure Park without having to spend the 30 minutes it takes to walk between the two park’s attractions. The bonus? PhotoPass is included in the $10 fee, which means that all of your character experiences captured by Disney’s photographers can be downloaded for free.

FRIGHTFULLY FUN PARADE photo credit: Disneyland.ca

Bring a Stroller to Disneyland
Travelling with a child six (or even seven) and under? Bring a stroller. No joke, we clocked an average 12,000 steps per day, and we took it relatively easy. As our feisty-five-year-old outgrew her stroller over a year ago, we had to purchase one just for the trip. Traveler tip: Pick up a gently used umbrella stroller from a local children’s consignment store. It was so worth the $12. Bonus: our kiddo even fell asleep in it while we watched the late-night parade. It’s also handy for storing sweaters, light coats and water bottles – bring your own and refill at the fountains to avoid spending $3.75 USD on a bottle of Dasani.

ENCHANTED TIKI ROOM photo credit: Disneyland.ca

Top Spots to Eat at Disneyland
The Disneyland Resort offers a wide array of dining choices, here are three of our favourites:

  • Storytellers Café in the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa: Loved the character breakfast with Chip, Dale and Brother Bear. With its cooked-to-order omelets, caramel French toast, eggs Benedict and bagels and lox, we felt that the buffet was a nice step up from the more casual fare served at Goofy’s Kitchen.
  • Napa Rose in the Grand Californian: We’ve enjoyed this fine dining restaurant both with and without our five-year old foodie tow. Our favourite dishes include the Smiling Tiger Salad with lobster fritters, the tempura zucchini blossoms and the pan roasted scallops. Oh, and order a side of the truffle mac and cheese orecchiette. It’s to die for.
  • Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Resort: Rum based tropical drinks and a south pacific inspired menu makes this place a home run. Kiddos are allowed inside the dark – and always packed – bar until 8pm. Then, move your party to the patio, which is lit up with tiki torches. First timer tip: the drinks are delicious, but deceivingly strong. Go easy.
MICKEY MOUSE AND MINNIE MOUSE CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN TIME photo credit: Disneyland.ca

Best Months to Visit Disneyland
Late September through October is a fabulous time to visit California, as the weather begins to cool and the crowds are slightly smaller. The purpose of our visit was to attend Mickey’s Halloween Party, which was so worth its ticket price. Entry includes a free PhotoPass and access to the California Adventure Park for up to three hours prior to the party. For us, the best part was that the crowds were much lighter, and as such we never had to wait to get on the rides. Within three-hours we’d hit up all of popular attractions: from photos with princesses to Pirates of the Caribbean. It was awesome. Other highlights include the dozens of trick-or-treating stations, the spectacular Halloween-themed firework show and the Frightfully Fun Parade, featuring the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, along with all of your favourite Disney villains and heroes. The event sells out quickly, so be sure to purchase tickets when they go on sale in mid-July.

Contact us to learn more and book your trip!

Family Fun in San Diego

My two-year old daughter already has a case of wanderlust. She talks about hotels, planes and restaurants nonstop. I personally think it was San Diego that sealed the deal for travel. Powder sand beaches, oceanfront resorts, wildlife parks and a land filled with Lego. If toddlers ruled the world, this would be our reality. With so many children’s activities available throughout the San Diego area, we divided our time between Coronado Island in the south and Carlsbad in the north.

Pool at Hotel Del Coronado
Pool at Hotel Del Coronado

Coronado is a sun kissed visual feast. Quaint storefronts and colourful historic homes, with perfectly manicured gardens, reflect a host of architectural styles including Craftsman, Spanish Colonial and Italian Renaissance Revival. While the island’s picture perfect beauty may have been lost on my daughter, the iconic Hotel Del Coronado where we stayed made quite the impression.

Hotel Del Coronado Octopus Suite
Hotel Del Coronado Octopus Suite

The expansive Victorian style beachfront property looks like a seaside castle, and our suite – the Octopus – reflected this whimsical theme. It’s a kid’s fairytale room, with ocean-inspired décor and a toy chest filled with games, puzzles and books. Needless to say, naptime was pretty much non-existent here.

Daddy and daughter combed the beach so that mama could hit The Del spa. After my 80-minute Shell Coronado Facial and Goddess of the Sea body wrap, I barely made it out of the spa’s infinity pool. We booked an early dinner on the patio of the resort’s ocean view restaurant, Sheerwater. A meal of fresh seafood, sparkling wine and a kids’ snack pack to keep my daughter occupied, was the perfect finish to day one in paradise.

Little Miss B Riding the Train in Balboa Park
Little Miss B Riding the Train in Balboa Park

Balboa Park in downtown San Diego is just a short drive from Coronado. Although it’s home to the San Diego Zoo, we focused on some of the smaller attractions like the Miniature Railroad, historic carousel and Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre. There are also lots of playgrounds and gardens to explore. When our daughter tired of the stroller we let her run around one of the park’s many sprawling grass fields.

Chez Loma Ceviche
Chez Loma Ceviche

On our second night, we booked a babysitter through the hotel concierge and strolled along Orange Avenue to Chez Loma for dinner. Like many of the businesses on Coronado, the bistro is in a perfectly restored historical home. From the name I was expecting traditional French cuisine; however Chef Alejandro Martinez infuses the menu with a Mexican flair. The food, setting and service were all exceptional. I went with our waiter’s recommendation, the Ceviche “Verde” with rockfish, tomatillo sauce and avocado. To date it’s the best ceviche I’ve had. My husband devoured half of it.

Little Miss B Trying Out Her New Four Seasons' Slippers
Little Miss B Trying Out Her New Four Seasons’ Slippers

From Coronado we drove forty-five minutes north to the Four Seasons Aviara in Carlsbad. The property is a residence club made up of villas with fully equipped kitchens and laundry facilities – ideal for families. As we were there for just three nights, I booked the bed and breakfast rate. In-room dining is a lifesaver with small children and ordering breakfast to the room was big hit with our daughter. By day two she was asking when her pancakes would be arriving. The highlight of her stay however was our in-suite Private Chef Dinner – a fantastic interactive dining experience for the whole family. My husband and I loved the crab cakes and pan seared Ahi tuna. Our daughter loved Chef Bradley.

Legoland California
Legoland California

California Legoland, which was a big draw for us, is only a 15-minute drive from the Four Seasons. We read the “What to Do When You’re Two” brochure on the park’s website prior to visiting. Our favorite activities were the Swabbles Deck splash park at Pirate Shores and the Duplo Village Playtown playground. Anticipating our daughter’s appreciation for anything water related, we brought a bathing suit, towel, change of clothes and lots of water, snacks and sunscreen. Kids two and under get free admission to the park.

Rhinos at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Rhinos at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is another homerun for toddlers. In addition to gorillas, lion cubs, giraffes and an abundance of other wildlife there are two interactive water parks, a playground and a petting zoo. We took the 25-minute Africa Tram ride, which is about the maximum amount of time a two-year old will sit for. A stash of leftover pancakes from breakfast helped with the last leg of the tour. Kids two and under are free, and all money spent at the park supports wildlife conservation.

Beautiful Beach in Carlsbad
Beautiful Beach in Carlsbad

Nothing wears out a toddler like a day at the beach. So on the morning of our flight home we grabbed chairs, towels and toys from Aviara’s concierge and hit the beach in Carlsbad. Scouring for seashells and buried treasure, building sandcastles and running through the surf was just enough activity to produce a peaceful sleep on the plane ride home.

Our Favourite Wineries in Naramata Bench

Private Tasting in the Pecking Room
Private Tasting in the Pecking Room

We arrived at our bed and breakfast in the Naramata Bench after a leisurely lunch of hand-pulled pizza, summer greens and plenty of wine at The Pecking Room – Red Rooster Winery’s al fresco kitchen. Steve, an expat from London who owns Benchmark B&B with his wife Gail, greeted us warmly and quickly dived into a humour filled synopsis of Benchmark’s history and amenities. Although charming and witty, his stories were lost on me the minute we entered the garden.

Benchmark B&B
Benchmark B&B

What a magical setting. Lake views stretch across the expansive property. Two-person circular chaises with crimson cushions rest on the vibrant green lawn, enticing guests to lose themselves in the postcard perfect scene. A large saltwater pool runs parallel to the lake, while the hot tub, crowned with red fabric panels dancing in the breeze, is tucked at the south end of the garden for privacy.

_DSC7426fxMy mind was spinning as I devoured the view. I’ve travelled to the Okanagan countless times, so how could I have missed this paradise? A few kilometres north of Penticton, perched above the eastern shores of Lake Okanagan you’ll find Naramata. It’s a tight-knit community, bursting with family-run vineyards, orchards and wineries. Locals are welcoming and eager to offer an insider’s view on personal favourites – be it a particular winemaker, restaurant, varietal or even menu item. With more than 25 wineries in the region, we were spoiled for choice. To simplify our decision-making we brought in an expert – Meryl Van Duyn from Romancing the Wine Tours.

elephantWe selected a custom tour, which included some wineries of our choosing and some handpicked by Meryl. My husband’s affinity for fruit wines ensured Elephant Island made the cut. Proprietor Miranda’s grandmother Catherine purchased the orchard-turned-winery in the early seventies. Visiting here I felt a sense of family – and not the spruced-up, posing for a portrait type of family. This was candid and genuine. We had our tasting on the patio – a few tables over from the kids play area (brilliant). I favour dry whites, but quickly fell in love with the tart Black Current and the Pink Elephant sparkling. We purchased more bottles here than at any other winery on the trip.

_DSC7369Wine country inspires romance, and nobody can attest to that more than Gavin and Shana Miller of Upper Bench Winery and Creamery. This is a couple I’d welcome at every party I throw. Award winning winemaker Gavin and his wife Shana, an equally distinguished cheese maker, have united foodie forces to offer the ultimate pairing. We chose a wine flight and cheese platter on the patio. The signature creamy Gold, Stilton style King Cole and silky smooth Grey Baby were enjoyed immensely with their significant others – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. It’s no wonder that U&B’s quarterly Curds & Corks Club is such a success.

_DSC7430fxMany of the Narmata Bench wineries have excellent farm-to-fork restaurants, and we endeavoured to try almost all of them. We lunched at The Patio at Lake Breeze, dining on mushroom bruschetta and spaghetti to offset our many tastings. Lunch at The Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove (one of my favourite wineries) is also exceptional both in beauty and flavour. The summer sipper Blanc de Noir and charcuterie plate was a lovely interruption from the strenuous task of wine touring.

Hillside Winery
Hillside Winery

Throughout our time in Naramata there were two winery restaurants that received praise from almost everyone we met. Hillside Winery is one of them. The charming timber building, inspired by a gristmill design, overlooks exquisite gardens, which have been tended to by the same groundskeeper for more than a decade. On the upper bistro patio we feasted on red wine braised short rib and steamed mussels in Tom Yum broth. After, while watching the sunset, we worked through a Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake, which locals literally rave about.

liquidityLiquidity, in neighbouring Okanagan Falls, is also the talk of the town and was highly recommended to us by one of Benchmark’s guests, while we chatted over our three-course gourmet breakfast. Entering the recently opened bistro feels like stepping into a modern gallery. First the artwork captured my attention, then the view. The contemporary estate winery sits atop a rolling hillside of vineyards, with Vaseux Lake in the horizon. Executive Chef Rob Walker’s culinary presentation captures the essence of the winery, as every dish served was artistic perfection. A glass (or three) of Liquidity Bubbly and a charcuterie plate that rivalled the view in beauty – who could ask for more?

_DSC7451With Naramta’s endless lake views it’s a crime to not take a closer look, and Pier Water Sports in Penticton offers pontoon boat rentals on Okanagan Lake. For a takeaway lunch, pick-up picnic provisions from Bench Market (a local institution for weekend brunch), or house made salads and sandwiches from Brodo Kitchen. Both restaurants use local farms and producers, and create their daily menus based on the day’s bounty. After cruising the lake, we spent the afternoon at Spa Tranquila, where couples’ massages are offered on a serenity patio outside.

Liquidity Winery Tasting Area
Liquidity Winery Tasting Area

Wine touring in Narmata lasts well into October, with the annual Fall Wine Festival commencing at the beginning of that month. As Steve and Gail’s slice of paradise is rated as Trip Advisor’s number three B&B in Canada, I advise booking now for next season (we are). A quaint, historic alternative (with fabulous bistro and wine bar) is the Naramata Inn & Spa.

Whistler with a Toddler

_DSC6031fxAs Vancouverites my husband and I have shared an almost lifelong love for Whistler, British Columbia. A four seasons playground, only one and a half hours by car from Vancouver, Whistler is a recreational and gastronomic paradise. Although we both ski, and are enthusiastic participants in all après ski activities, we actually prefer visiting Canada’s most celebrated mountain resort in the warmer months.

_DSC6021Having travelled to Whistler countless times as a couple I was apprehensive about a trip with our newly toddling 14-month old daughter Brooklyn. As with most vacation destinations itinerary planning seems infinitely easier when children are a little older and the range of feasible activities broadens. Whistler however surprised me. Our tiny traveller was well entertained throughout the entire weekend, and my husband and I even managed to squeeze in a date night. Truly what more could you ask for?

_DSC5976Splashing Around

Kids love water, and mama loves the sun, so we try and dedicate a lot of time to the pool. Four Seasons Whistler has a fantastic year-round heated outdoor pool and we easily lost a couple of hours a day there this visit. I’m looking forward to when Brooklyn wants to spend all of her time at the pool (or at least a good chunk of it – that is one nice pool!)

_DSC6041fxLost Lake By Bike

Four Seasons Whistler is only a stone’s throw from Lost Lake and the meandering 34-kilometre paved Valley Trail system. We rented bikes and Chariot trailer from Can Ski (located in the lower level of the resort) and spent a morning exploring some of Whistler’s best lakefront parks. The ride was such a success that we purchased bikes and a trailer when we returned home.

_DSC6064Picnic at the Park

Prior to heading out on the trail we ordered a picnic from the Four Seasons Concierge, which we enjoyed waterfront at Lost Lake Park. The lunch was delicious, however Brooklyn was more excited about putting her bare feet in the water and pointing at all of the ducks.

DSC_2105Fresh Market Fare

The Whistler Farmer’s Market runs every Sunday, from mid-June through early October. Located steps from the Four Seasons in Whistler’s Upper Village, the lively outdoor market appeals to adults and kids of all ages. Live music, face painting and of course delicious artisan fare (we love the Aussie meat pies from The Pie Company) score high marks with our family.

Village Stroll

One of our favorite Whistler activities is simply to wander along the Village Stroll window-shopping and people watching. All of the cafes, restaurants and shops in Upper and Lower Whistler Village are connected by a paved pedestrian pathway, which makes it very easy to walk with kids in (or out of) a stroller.

P1010942Hike

I’ll be honest; we are not super duper hikers.  However, the Whistler Blackcomb alpine is quite superb in the late spring, summer and early fall. Similar to the ski runs, hiking trails are assigned a green, blue or black diamond rating for level of difficulty. Having Brooklyn with us (and as previously intimated we are far from boy scouts) we opted for the more leisurely green trails. The scenery was stunning, and we were even granted a bear sighting – thankfully from the gondola.

_DSC6033

Mountain BBQ Series

Post ‘hike’ (term used loosely) we stayed for the Mountain BBQ Series at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain. After piling our plates high with slow cooked Prime Rib, corn on the cob, potatoes, salad and all the fixings, we ate al fresco on the patio listening to live music and taking in the stunning panoramic view. The BBQ Series is offered every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in the summer.

_DSC5967Date Night at Side Cut

Date nights are a special, much needed treat in our house, and Side Cut at Four Seasons Whistler was the perfect choice. We booked Baby Sitting Whistler (which came highly recommended by friends) through the Four Seasons Concierge. Every bite of our meal was phenomenal, from the Steakhouse Beef and Tuna Tartare with Crispy Shallots, 63ºc Egg Yolk, Nasturtium and Shaved Crostini, through the Ahi Tuna and Quinoa Salad and my husband’s calorie crazy Bone in Kobe Style Beef Short Ribs with Yukon Potato Mash (still thinking about this dish). We savoured every last morsel and raved about our dinner to friends, who booked the following night and were just as impressed.