As the song goes, it's the most wonderful time of the year. My to-do list is neverending but I don't mean the unfun/errands/shopping/adulting type of to do list (although that one does tend to also be neverending). I am refering to my list of festive events to attend around the city at this time of year.
Every year, there seem to be new events organized and added to Vancouver events calendars, making it impossible to attend every single one. While new events are constantly being added, some of my favorite events seem to be the ones that have been around for a long time and really put me in the Christmas spirit.
Earlier this week, the famjam and I hopped on the SkyTrain and headed to downtown Vancouver to attend some of these events that I have fond memories of attending in the past. The great thing is, there are a number of events that are within walking distance to one another so it is easy to see them all in one go. Another great thing: they are all free to attend, so it doesn't cost an arm and a leg to bring the whole family! However, they are all fundraisers, so donating to the excellent causes is really encouraged. After all, it is the season to give!
Here is what we got up to and an itinerary of our adventure:
Stop 1: Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt Regency Hotel
Located in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, next to Burrard SkyTrain Station, this event showcases some outstanding gingerbread houses created by local organizations, schools, individuals and culinary artists. I am always amazed at what people come up with and the patience that they must have to create such masterpieces. The details on some of them are just incredible! I will share some with you here but you will have to attend the event to see more! I don't want to spoil it for you!
Entry is free but donations are being accepted for the Make-A-Wish Foundation (BC and Yukon division) which is a charity that grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. As an added perk, donations allow you to cast a vote for your favorite gingerbread creation. If you are unable to make it to Gingerbread Lane, you can also donate online.
Stop 2: Lights of Hope at St. Paul's Hospital
We continued south on Burrard Street, about 8 blocks (roughly a ten minute walk at the most) away from Gingerbread Lane until we reached St. Paul's Hospital and their eye catching annual light display and fundraising campaign called Lights of Hope. This display takes 6 weeks to build with over 150 volunteers! It really is a sight to see! Lennon loved walking through and exploring the lights and it made for some great photos! If you are unable to pass by and check this display out, you can also donate online.
While you are in the area, you can also check out the light display at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel, which is across St.Paul's Hospital.
Stop 3: The Official Vancouver Christmas Tree
Vancouver's version of New York's Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree (it totally reminds me of it anyways...and Home Alone 2). The main 50-foot tall tree and its neighbors are in a new location this year, at Robson Square. Before the annual tree lighting ceremony, one can help light the tree by "purchasing a bulb" which supports the Vancouver International Children's Festival. After the ceremony, which happened at the beginning of December, donations can be made online.
If you have time, you can tick off another holiday event off your list and check out the outdoor skating rink on the lower level of Robson Square, directly below where the trees are.
Stop 4: Festival of Trees at the Four Seasons Hotel
Similar to Gingerbread Lane, the Festival of Trees event showcases Christmas trees decorated by local businesses and individuals while raising funds for BC Children's Hospital. There are some truly unique trees and there is no shortage of decorating inspiration that can be found here! There is no admission fee but there is a suggested donation of $5 (which also gives you a vote for your favorite tree...if you can pick just one. But you can always vote for multiples seeing as your money will be going to a worthy cause)! You can also donate and vote online. Here are some photos from the Festival of Trees but I won't share them all as I don't want to spoil any surprises!
This was definitely a fun festive adventure. You can incorporate an adventure like this with shopping, a meal at one of the many restaurants, cocktails or a night out on the town. You can grab a hot beverage from one of the many coffee shops to keep you warm along the way, and you don't even need to drive downtown as the locations of these events are all within walking distance to multiple SkyTrain stations. I love that you don't have to spend so much money to attend these events either and that the money you do spend by donating to the charities is going right back into the community and to very important causes. Here is a little map I made to show you the route and how close everything is:
There are also plenty of festive decorations that you will notice along the way, in store fronts, hotel lobbies, and so on.
There may not be any snow on the ground downtown, but with all these festive events, we really did feel like we were in a Winter Wonderland! Are there any other sights to see in the nearby area that we missed?!
Hope you are all enjoying the festivities!
If you're heading anywhere near Abbotsford, British Columbia this month, the Abbotsford Tulip Festival is definitely worth the stop! Even making the special trip out there from the lower mainland or elsewhere is worth it. Pack a picnic and don't forget to bring a camera or phone with LOTS of memory and battery power! In the two hours we were there, snap happy me managed to capture over 500 photos. Today, I am sharing my favorites from this magical and vibrant place.
Last year, the hubby (and baby bump) and I attended the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in the Mount Vernon area of Washington state and I fell in love with the bright and cheerful setting that tulip fields provide. I was so happy to hear of one that is much closer to Vancouver and doesn't involve a border crossing. It felt very special to return to a tulip festival this year with our offspring. Although it is much smaller in scale compared to Skagit Valley, it is still spectacular to see so many beautiful colors and different varieties of tulips.
There are some rows here and there that aren't quite yet in bloom but that didn't stop the fields from looking as vibrant and brilliant as they did. You can check the Field Report on the festival's website if you are concerned before going.
We went on a Monday as to avoid the weekend crowds and we noticed there were no food or drink vendors (luckily, we had packed a picnic). If you are hoping to get a coffee or food while you are there during the week, it is best to pack a picnic or there are many options for food nearby that you can head to before or after your visit to the tulip fields. There is a large covered area with picnic tables that you can use should you decide to bring food or dine from a food truck on the weekend.
There is a play area for little ones near the entrance. Lennon is too small to have enjoyed these activities but I did see toddlers and older children having a great time with lawn games and duck races! The terrain is not great for a rickety stroller (like an umbrella stroller) or wheelchair but it is manageable once you get onto the field's path and off the gravel parking lot.
It is a great place to take photos. Photographers can opt in for a special admission that gives you entry one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset to capture the beauty of the fields. We noticed a couple was having their engagement photos taken there as well. Great idea!
The festival runs until May 1st and is open daily from 9am-6pm (with adjusted hours for season's pass holders and photographers) but be sure to check the Field Report to avoid disappointment should tulip season be ending early (like it did at Skagit Valley last year). It is adjacent to Highway 1 and just off exit 95. Entry is $5 per person 2 years old and over and if you visit on the weekends, there is an additional $5 charge for vehicles. You can pre-purchase your tickets online. Cash, Debit and Credit Cards are accepted on premises which is very convenient! You can pick your own tulips at the U-Pick field for 75 cents a stem or they sell pre picked bunches of 10 for $5 a bunch (buy 4 and get a 5th free). See more details on the official Abbotsford Tulip Festival's website!
Here is a gallery of my family's excursion (click on photo and then scroll left or right to view the gallery)! Look at all the colors! It doesn't get more picturesque than this! Enjoy!
Perry and I are avid travelers. Prior to having a baby, every opportunity we got, we would be packing the car and getting out of the city. Whenever we had at least two days off in a row together, rather than staying at home, the first thing we would consider is where to escape to and book a last minute getaway. Seattle, Whistler, Portland, the Okanagan, Oregon Coast, Vancouver Island....living on the West Coast provides plenty of opportunities for beautiful road trips and fun getaways and we were taking full advantage of this. Then came Lennon...and along with Lennon comes a year of mat leave. This has allowed for plenty of time together but instead of using this opportunity to escape from the city each time Perry has 2+ days off in a row, we have felt overwhelmed by the daunting task of loading a car full of oversized and necessary baby gear and nervous about disrupting baby's precious sleep schedule. We have just felt that it would be much easier to stay put. But having a serious case of the travel bug, we have serious itchy feet. It is also one of our priorities to travel as a family and raise our kids to be open minded and worldly so we need to get comfortable with the idea of traveling with a baby. We have a nearly 5 week trip planned to Europe for next summer but we feel like we need practice to get us ready for this and an opportunity came just this week. It was Perry's birthday and he had 3 days off in a row so we figured we should celebrate by going away on our first family trip. When we were trying to decide where to go, Harrison Hot Springs became an obvious choice and we couldn't have been happier with choosing this destination as our first getaway with Lennon. Here are the main reasons why we were so happy with our decision and why we highly recommend Harrison Hot Springs as an ideal getaway for those with little ones:
It is relatively a short distance away from Metro Vancouver
This is a bonus on so many levels. From Metro Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs should take no longer than 2 hours to drive to. Depending on traffic and the route you take, you could get there in an hour and a half from downtown Vancouver, less from places like Surrey and Maple Ridge. This means that you can take your time loading the car in the morning and getting ready to go and perhaps even enjoy a nice cuppa! You don't need to rush as hotel check ins are usually not until 3 or 4 anyways and even if you want to stop for lunch along the way, or head to Harrison earlier than check in to explore, you still don't need to leave at the crack of dawn. Another bonus to Harrison being a short distance from home is that you may not need to make any stops along the way. If baby has a routinely long nap in the morning, you can strap them in the car seat and allow them to nap in the car on the way there which means you don't need to stop for a feed or diaper change. Even if they don't nap, if you feed and change right before getting in the car, you may be able to do the journey without stopping! Like I said, the short distance is a bonus on many levels! However, if you do want to stop and check out what the Fraser Valley has to offer along the way, I highly recommend checking out Circle Farm Tours for suggestions of places to visit, eat, shop and so on.
The trip doesn't "break the bank"
Every time that we have overnighted in Harrison, it has been during a weekend and a last minute decision and the Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa, which most visitors lodge at, has always been fully booked. This time, we were going on a Monday during low season and, luckily, there were rooms available, and for a great price. Bonus! If you go during the week, the rates are usually cheaper AND you are more likely to have an early check in. We have a BCAA membership which provides a 10% discount on just the room rate (not package deals) so we ended up getting the room for just over $100 - now that is value for money. There are lots of different types of rooms to suit different needs and different budgets. We just went with the basic double room in the Main Hotel as we were there primarily for the use of the hot springs. Yes it was a bit dated and the room was a bit small and it didn't have a view or air conditioning but it worked for us and it was still clean and cozy and included entry to the pools and free wifi among other things. It's not like we need AC in December anyways. It was only $20 more to have a family suite. While we contemplated opting for this room to allow Lennon to sleep in one room while we Netflix and Chilled (the married couple version) in the other, we thought we should practice Netflix and Chilling (remember - the married couple version) while Lennon sleeps in the same room because family suites may not always be an option where we travel to in the future. But it is great to know that they have well priced family suites in case you want to bring along a grandma and/or grandpa (ahemBABYSITTERahem) or have a separate room for your kids to sleep in.
They do have newer, more modern rooms which are larger, with views, air conditioning, balconies and even those are well priced compared to other resort hotels. The hotel allows you to use the pools prior to check in (from 1pm) and after checkout (until 1pm) which adds to the value for money. The hotel parking is $6 if you self park or $12 for valet parking which, again, is well priced for a resort hotel. If you want to park for free, there are spots along Esplanade Avenue which is really just steps away from the hotel.
Another money saving bonus is that the gas is cheaper in that part of BC than it is in Vancouver. There are also a variety of other budget friendly accommodations in Harrison that range from around $40 and up but having the access to the hot spring pools and the spa ambience that the resort provides really does make it a relaxing trip and worth the extra money spent which brings me to my next point...
It really is relaxing!
Our son LOVES being in the water. We love taking him swimming and seeing how he reacts when in the water but taking him swimming is also a big production and exhausting. Swimming takes a lot of energy out of Lennon so we only go in the water for maximum 15 minutes and we spend much more time in the change room than we do in the water. We not only need to get him dried up and ready afterwards but Perry and I need to take turns in the shower while the other cares for Lennon and then get ourselves ready and doing so in a cold change room with a lack of space or a soaking wet bench to put our dry clothes and everything we brought along with us on sometimes takes the fun out of it and makes it discouraging to keep going. The great thing about the resort is the ease it provides when taking a baby or young child swimming. You can bring a stroller down to the pool so when you get out, you can bundle babe up and put him/her in the stroller and take them up to the warm room to get them dried up and dressed (and the parents aren't freezing their butts off in the meantime). The toiletries are already in the shower, you don't have to place your stuff on a soaking wet bench, there is plenty of space to move around and get ready in. It is just a whole lot easier returning to your room to get ready rather than going to the community center and having to get yourself and a baby ready in a change room. It makes the experience more relaxing and enjoyable. Its also relaxing cause, you're in a resort - and there are bath robes waiting for you in your room upon check in! The spa ambience of the resort adds to the relaxation. While we were walking around the lobby, which has a large fireplace surrounded by big comfy couches where guests were lounging, reading and relaxing, I heard one man say that he felt like he was on a cruise. To top it off, you're at a hotel with hot pools. It's almost like going in a hot tub except you can take your baby in with you! Bonus! And for me personally, there is something relaxing about being in an outdoor hot springs pool when it is cold and raining out and surrounded by nature.
Another reason that visiting Harrison Hot Springs is relaxing is because it is such a small and quiet town that you don't have to worry about going out and sightseeing. You can spend a majority of the day relaxing in the hotel without feeling like you have missed out on the sights or attractions. The village has basically two small roads with restaurants and shops and in the slow season, not all of them are open. You only really need to leave the hotel to go for a walk along the lake or to eat at a restaurant other than the ones at the resort. You don't need much time to do that so you can relax in the hotel without feeling like you are missing out on anything as the hotel also has everything you need. You can check out the lake and other nearby places on your way in and/or out of the village if you so wish.
The hotel is also really welcoming of families. Not only do they provide family rooms and have cribs for guest use, but the resort has an adult pool and a family pool. You can relax knowing that you won't have adults frowning upon your kids for being kids in the pool. If someone doesn't want to be around kids, they will use the adult pool. The family pool was actually much quieter and less busy than the adult pool when we were there anyways.
I also need to mention that we received great service from all the staff we interacted with during our visit. Some notable moments of the great service: The lady that checked us in comped our parking fee for Perry's birthday, the bellhop was extremely helpful in carrying our luggage to our room and explaining the best ways to get to the pool with the stroller, Perry had a box of chocolates waiting for him in the room, and, when we spilled some red wine on the bed, housekeeping was up immediately to change the sheets without a fuss. There was also one kind lady that offered to take some photos for us three all together (it is not easy to take a selfie with a DSLR). The great service really added to the experience.
Another way you can make this relaxing is to take the scenic route along Lougheed Highway which turns into Highway 7 and avoid Highway 1. It may add about 20 minutes to the journey but it is worth it as it is much more interesting and scenic than HIghway 1 with lots of opportunities to stop for lunch (Mission Springs Brewing Company is a great one).
Harrison Village does hold a special place in my husband's and I's hearts. The last time we visited Harrison prior to this recent trip was in February. I was 11 weeks pregnant and just that week I had gone to visit the doctor for a check up. She was unable to hear the baby's heartbeat so she scheduled an ultrasound to make sure everything was okay. The two days that we had to wait for the ultrasound really were two of the hardest days we have ever experienced. It was a really emotional time thinking that we may have lost our baby and I felt that we had to book a night out of the city no matter if it was good news or bad just to escape everything. The ultrasound was scheduled for Saturday morning and much to our surprise, the news ended up being the best we could have hoped for and the technician told us that the reason the doctor couldn't hear the heartbeat is because the baby was moving around like nobody's business and also that 11 weeks is still early to pick up a heartbeat using the doppler. To say that we were overjoyed is an understatement. We were definitely ecstatic and following the scan, we went to Harrison for the night. This place is associated with positive memories in our hearts and we even contemplated naming our son Harrison for this reason (and also because of George Harrison...clearly we love the Beatles).
Personal emotions aside, we could not have had a smoother first trip with sweet little Lennon and I feel confident when recommending Harrison Hot Springs as a first getaway for new families - or for anyone really! We are already planning our return! Check out the gallery below for a glimpse of our first getaway post partum (click on the images for captions).
What other places would you reccomend traveling to with a baby?