I remember the days when I used to write charming little reports on each Summer of Awesome activity we did, complete with insider tips, photos, and all my recommendations. I don’t know if life has gotten busier, or I’ve gotten lazier, or if I’m just too distracted by Dance! Show! (more on that coming soon), but I find I can never make space these days for the full details.
So I bring you: Summer of Awesome mini updates!
RCMP Musical Ride: Finally made it this year! It was a pretty good show, with lots of different components – it’s not just the musical ride, but also some riding skills demonstrations, a pipe band, and some “humorous” clowns. The ride itself was definitely the best part, though – be sure to stay until the very end as you have a chance to approach the ring and visit with the Mounties and their horses up close and personal. Also, if you stay after the show ends, you can watch them cooling down the horses – they walk in a small paved ring at the far east end of the stadium for about a half hour after the show. The kids enjoyed this part the most.
Tips: Arrive EARLY, OH SO EARLY – we got there a more than an hour in advance and we were able to get seating, but by the time there was only a half hour to go, it was standing room only (recommended: sit at the west end so the sun is at your back, and you’re not facing into huge glare). There are displays on site to entertain you and the kids while you’re waiting for the show to start – some interactive crafts and things. Bring chairs (or a blanket, but I recommend chairs), hats, and sunglasses (there’s no shade, or shelter if it is rainy); you may also want some pocket cash to buy drinks/cotton candy/pizza from the various food trucks on site, and cash donations are also welcomed.
The Mint: So, The Mint is not for everyone. There’s no interactive displays or things to touch and do, and you can’t even take pictures inside. There’s the shop, and there’s a guided tour of the facility (featuring the Vancouver Olympic Medals, behind glass), and that’s it. I wouldn’t recommend it for toddlers or preschoolers, but for the right audience of older school-age kids it works. We went because my son, who is 11, has recently become a bit of a coin collecting fanatic, and he wanted to buy himself a real collector coin (which he did). The girls thought it was okay – the best part by far was getting to hold/lift a real, solid gold bar in the gift shop (constantly monitored by a security guard, in case you were thinking of running with the 28 pounder).
Tips: Most of the market roads near the Mint have complex parking rules and signs, so be careful or you’ll get a ticket. The tours cost a little bit, but they offer free or discounted tours on some days of the year so check the website if you’re looking for a deal. You will be amazed at how beautiful and tempting the collector coins are, so make sure you discuss up front what the budget will be for any purchases, or else you may find yourself sucked into getting your kid a $100 sterling silver keepsake.
Museum of Nature: We saw their current special exhibit, Creatures of Light, and it was lovely although a little scary in places for the very young (it’s twilight-type dark in there, there’s giant fireflies and a few scary looking deep sea fish sculptures). Worth it alone, however, for the flashlight fish – black fish with light-up eyes (they look kind of like aquatic Toothless from the How To Train Your Dragon movies). We also caught their newest 3D movie, on surfing in Tahiti, which was cool and make all my kids want to immediately learn how to surf.
Museum of History: Turns out the Children’s Museum is still a huge hit at age 7, huge hit at age 8 (we were there with friends), sort-of hit with age 9, and totally over it by age 10. So while my youngest stayed in the passport stamp getting area, I took my bigger two to see their special exhibits on Snow and the Empress of Ireland. The Snow exhibit is interesting but not very interactive, although the kids enjoyed watching snippets of Canadian films. The Empress of Ireland exhibit is amazing, totally immersive and fascinating and very, very sad. My older two learned a lot and were really interested, but it’s also not a place for small kids as we had a lot of deep conversations in there about death and disasters.
Our real purpose for going to the museum was to see Pandas 3D, as I have one very, very serious panda lover here (Gal Smiley), and it did not disappoint – adorable, and also informative and inspirational. Recommended for all ages that can keep the 3D glasses on.
Upper Canada Village: Totally lived up to its reputation as a kick-ass day trip. We spent the whole day there and could easily have stayed longer – we’ll have to go back to see everything. I was afraid the kids would see it as an “educational” trip but they were immediately fascinated with the workings of the various mills, the farm animals, the carriage rides, and the variety show. The schoolhouse was a hit, too – they wanted to stay there all day hoping to get into trouble and have to stand with their face to the blackboard (well, they were hoping their siblings would have to do it, anyway). We added the miniature train ride to go and tour the field where the Battle of Crysler Farm took place, and the kids had a zillion questions about the war of 1812, and then they INSISTED on going through the little museum there on that topic, and then later I caught them PLAYING “War of 1812” with their Legos, and if that isn’t the very definition of Successful Summer Road Trip, I don’t know what is.
Tips: It’s about an hour and a quarter drive from the west end of Ottawa, so be prepared. There’s little shelter or shade there, so bring sunscreen and hats and sunglasses, and lots and lots of water. We actually went on a drizzly kind of day and it was perfect as it wasn’t too hot or sunny, and it was practically deserted as well. The Harvest Barn is a great place to have lunch (you can buy food, or bring in your own). Be sure to wear very comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be on your feet all day – as long as it’s dry you can easily bring in a stroller or wagon. Try to arrive as early as you can as you’ll want to maximize your time there.
SkyZone: This place is like, an hour’s drive for me, but my kids would live there if they could, so it’s worth it. We bought the 90 minute package and they still whined when we had to leave. Basically it’s a place where you jump, then jump, then jump some more. Parents don’t have to jump (and if you have had babies, I would not recommend it, if you know what I’m saying); you can still come up into the main area to supervise your kids, or if your children are a little older, you can just sit on a comfy couch at the entrance with a magazine while they jump away inside. Non-jumping parents need to wear socks; jumping kids must wear special non-slip socks that you buy there for (I think) around $2 a pair (remember to bring them back next time).
Tips: I would definitely recommend buying your tickets online in advance from their website – tickets are for a specific start time and duration. You can just buy them the morning that you are going, then print them out and bring them with you. Otherwise, when you arrive you might find yourself twiddling your thumbs for a half hour or more while you wait for the next available jump time. Also: if you already have SkyZone socks, don’t forget them!
Saunders Farm: I always think my kids are going to get tired of Saunders Farm someday, but they never do. We had as good a time here as always. Special shout out to Jonathen, who was working the jumping pillows, and who spent a lot of his time good-naturedly bouncing my children around. My kids could jump on the pillows literally FOREVER, but I do drag them away for the pedal cars, giant slide, mazes, climbing structures, and wagon rides, and it’s all awesome.
Tips: Saunders Farm gets a LOT of day camps. The day we were there, there were 10 day camps on site. The farm is really super organized and the camps are all on a tour schedule so no one area or facility is overrun with people at any given time, so it’s really not so bad, and we certainly never had to wait for anything. But if you are really afraid of crowds, try going on a Monday or Friday (fewer day camps), or call in advance to ask how many camps will be there, or go on a weekend.
Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo: We have been there dozens of times, and there’s always something new to see. This time we went specifically to see these little guys:
Two baby foxes they have just received, named Crimson and Clover. They bring them out regularly for the “visit with animals” show and we actually got to touch them both – so, so cool.
They also currently have a nocturnal animals exhibit, featuring this little guy:
He’s a hedgehog named Sonic (of course!). Usually Sonic is inside his aquarium and is sometimes pretty sleepy. But we happened to get lucky, and managed to catch him outside for his daily run and explore time. If you specifically want to see Sonic out and about, ask when you get there what time he’ll be exercised. He’s adorable, and the kids LOVED him. Kind of surprised I don’t own a hedgehog by now.
Parliament Hill: Of course we have been to the hill many times, but I actually have never taken the kids for the inside tour because I thought they’d be bored. And they were…sort of bored. The Captain learned a lot about the government in school this year so he was by far the most interested, but the girls (age 9 and 7) were bored at times (but surprised me at other times – they loved the library and looking at all the portraits on the walls).
We all actually enjoyed the outdoor tour more, I think – looking at all the statues and reading in the guide (available at a kiosk near the Centennial Flame) about all the various immortialized people. The best statue is the one of Lafontaine and Baldwin. The wall they stand on is curved, and it is a “whispering wall” – stand at the end facing the flat part, and whisper, and someone at the opposite end of the curve can hear you clear as day. It’s AMAZING. Super cool.
Tips: Remember that going up the Peace Tower is separate, and you don’t need a ticket for that – in the past we have only done the Peace Tower part and it was a bigger hit with the kids. Do yourself a favour, though, and ask upon entering how long the wait is – we did not realize how long the line up was and ended up waiting over an hour to get up the tower, which did push the kids’ limits of patience. On weekends, arrive early in the day and get your tour tickets immediately from the Information building across the road on Wellington, because they go quickly and once the day is “sold out” (tickets are free, but limited), that’s it until tomorrow.
Well, that was a MUCH longer post than I intended…but now I won’t have to blog for a month! Hope you’re having a Summer of Awesome, too.