Updating the Awesome

I’ve been slacking off on my Summer of Awesome reporting, but that’s okay, because we’ve been busy having fun (and sadly, in my case, being really sick, UGH). I have a lot to say about our trip to Montreal last weekend but until then, here’s a quick report on a few places we’ve been so far this summer.

Saunders Farm

As fabulous as always – the kids and I were there for seven hours and had an amazing time. Saunders Farm features many really cool giant mazes, pedal cars, many many play structures, a giant slide, tractor and wagon rides, puppet shows, a splash pad, and this:

Jumping Pillows at Saunders Farm

Giant jumping pads! Seriously, SO much fun.

Here are my tips for a day at Saunders:

  • There’s an awesome attraction where you can buy a bag of semi-precious stones in sand, and then use a river to “pan” for jewels. This activity costs extra – between $6 and $11.50, depending on the size of bag – and they only take cash. The ice cream stand and grill also only take cash, so bring some money if you don’t want to have to hike back to the entrance to use the ATM.
  • It’s pretty exposed there so wear sunscreen and hats, and be sure to bring lots of water – you can refill your water bottles at the tap attached to the grill.
  • The Music Maze has all new instruments this year, and it’s often overlooked because it’s tucked back behind the pedal cars. So make it a point to check it out.
  • The Mile Maze is as impossible as ever – avoid if you have young children who can’t handle a half-hour trek through a maze. Speaking of which, idea for Mark Saunders: could you post “maps” of your mazes on the website, so we can either look at them after the fact to see just how wrong we were, or print them out and bring them with us just in case we get lost?
  • If you’re going on a wagon ride, and it hasn’t rained in many days, don’t sit at the front of the wagon by the tractor, as dust sprays up from the wheels. You’ll still be washing it out of your hair days later.
  • Don’t forget you can bring your own picnic, and their wristband system lets you go out to your car as often as you like so you don’t need to carry around a cooler all day (although some people park their cooler at a picnic table and just establish an internal base of operations, which is okay too).
  • Ladies who have had children may wish to wear panty protection before going on the jumpers. TMI?

I think that’s it. Have an amazing time – it’s pretty much impossible not to!

Museum of Nature

Here we checked out Whales Tohora, which will only be there until September so visit now while you still can. My kids were surprisingly into this exhibit, it’s fascinating and there’s also a map that leads you to interactive stations where you can learn something and do something fun, too. We also checked out both of their current 3D movies, one about turtles and one about dinosaurs – both were excellent, but both contain at least one “circle of life” moment, so make sure your kids can handle it. The National Geographic photography contest winners are still there – my one daughter is getting into photography and loves it when the winners come out – and we also saw the giant solid gold loonie (the “million dollar coin”) made by the mint (which is at the Museum of Nature…why?).

Anyway, it’s always a great time at the museum and they have a ton of good stuff on right now. Remember that Whales Tohora and the 3D movies cost extra, even for members.

Museum of Civilization

The Little Miss picked this as her destination of choice on her fifth birthday, and it was a surprising good time. I always think that we’ve been there and seen it all, but I forget how much the kids like to just play, and the Children’s Museum is really so big and complex that you can do something different every time. We were only there for three-ish hours but barely touched half of it, and the kids were sad to leave. Right now they also have an interesting exhibit about Queen Elizabeth, and there’s a fake throne that you can sit on with full costumes for a photo op in the afternoons.

Ray’s Reptiles

Here’s another place we’ve been dozens of times, but it’s still always a hit, particularly with Gal Smiley who is recently addicted to the TV show Python Hunters. This year they’ve really changed things up over at the permanent zoo. They have a new off-site warehouse where they keep most of the animals, including the caimans who used to have a huge pen. Where the caiman pen used to be is a brand new, much larger showroom for the hands-on shows and feeding shows that still run every half hour or so. However, the animals they use for the shows are brought over from the warehouse each morning and stay there all day – that means that, show to show, it’s the same set of animals, so the demonstrators don’t have the flexibility to bring out something new for the same crowd, or to bring out a different animal for the feeding show if one of the animals isn’t cooperating. I’m sure they will work out that kink at some point.

In the main section, where there used to be many aquariums with snakes and other animals, they’ve reorganized to display certain animals on a theme. Right now, for example, the theme is venom – most of the animals on display are venomous, and there are lovely display boards that give you interesting facts and explain the science behind venom. In the fall they’ll be changing the focus to camouflage.

So in general: nice new digs, but fewer animals. Still, my kids had a great time. It’s perfect for a two to three hour getaway on a rainy day, or a day when you have some errands to run and want something shorter to fill out the rest of the day.

Movies

With the heat, we’ve been hiding in the movie theatre. We saw Brave (I loved it, I totally cried, my daughters were a bit scared but are now obsessed with archery – thumbs up all around) and Madagascar 3 (hilarious – probably my favourite of the series, we all loved it). Sir Monekypants also broke down and took the Captain, age 9, to see The Avengers. We had classified it as a firmly PG-13 but it seemed like everyone we knew in the world was taking their preschoolers, so Sir Monkeypants decided it would be perfect for a little guys’ afternoon out. Turns out it was, the Captain adored it, only now we have to listen to endless discussions on whether or not the Hulk could lift Thor’s hammer, and whether Captain America would make a better leader than Iron Man. Sigh.

A Gym Tale

We had Little Miss Sunshine’s birthday party here, at her request, and it was OMG SO EASY. I basically did nothing but take photos and eat cake. It’s an indoor playground, where kids can slide, climb, and swing, and then there’s an organized playtime with an obstacle course, parachute, freeze dance, and bubbles. Afterwards, your party host serves lunch (pizza) and cake. We brought in some extra fruit and chips to round out the lunch, as well. Our kids were such slow eaters that there wasn’t time for much of anything else, but we did have a game and some colouring in reserve just in case; we didn’t even have present opening time!

It’s a small play structure and I think the age limit is 9 years old, but any kid between 3 and 9 would have a blast there, really. Aside from birthday parties, you can just drop in for some playtime on the structure or attend one of their day camps. Totally worth it.

We’ve also been the pool daily for swim lessons these past few weeks; been to our local splash pad park and to a wading pool park with a friend in Westboro; spent a weekend at a another friend’s cottage, and hosted a couple of barbecues at the house (featuring: PIES, ME SO HAPPY).

Next post: all about Montreal.

Summer! Of! Awesome! 2012!

Summertime is almost upon us, and that means it’s time to Bring the Awesome. Unlike my Year of Epic posts, the Summer of Awesome is less about one-time events, and more about taking time to visit all the great ongoing attractions this city has to offer. I like to think of it as being a tourist in my own town.

It’s not enough, for me at least, just to make the list of places to go and things to see. I also actually schedule everything on our calendar. It’s not set in stone – I can make adjustments if the weather is bad or we’re just too tired. But I find unless I actually write it down, then it’s too easy to spend our days lazing around, playing endless Lego, and eventually, coming to vicious blows and wiping each other out.

Talk about Summer of DOWNER.

Over the past couple of years I have accumulated a huge list of things to do in Ottawa. One family can’t possibly do everything on the list in one season, so we’ll be picking and choosing. We’ve happily been able to visit many of the places on the list, so we’ll be giving them a break this year in favour of new things. Of course, there’s always places that we loved so much, we will be back every year that the kids can stand it. AWESOME.

Just for complete awesomeness, I’m going to list here everything that we’ve done in the past or would like to do in the future, but there’s no way we’ll actually do all this stuff. I’ve put an asterisk next to things that I plan to actually do this year, for Summer of Awesome 2012.

I hope you’ll make your own list – maybe some things from here, maybe some of your own ideas. I love reading about other people’s summer plans so please drop me a line or leave me a comment letting me know what you’re looking forward to this season.

Anyway, here goes:

 

Scheduled Events

Late June – RCMP Musical Ride
July 1 – Canada Day on Parliament Hill – there’s also annual celebrations in Kanata, Barrhaven, and Orleans
August long weekend – Sparks Street Busker Festival
Mid-Late August – Lumiere Festival
Labour Day weekend – Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival

 

Classic About Town Attractions

Museum of Civilization
Museum of Nature
* Museum of Science (be sure to go on a day when the steam train is running, which I think are Sundays and Wednesdays, or better yet, go during Railway Weekend, July 21/22; there’s also evening stargazing on July 6 and August 10)
Museum of Agriculture
* Aviation and Space Museum
* National Art Gallery (Artissimo crafts run on Sat and Sun at 11 a.m. over the summer)
War Museum
Currency Museum
* The City Museums – Pinhey’s Point, Billings Bridge Estate, Cumberland Heritage Museum (Pinhey’s Point in particular has kids’ activities and workshops all summer long, which we plan to check out this year)
Mackenzie King Estate
Watson’s Mill
Diefenbunker
* Parliament Hill Tours (also check out Fortissimo, a massed military band, August 9-11, or Mosaika, an amazing sound and light show running nightly from July 6 through September 3)
Rideau Hall (be sure to catch the simple Changing of the Guard ceremony that happens hourly, or pop by on Friday afternoons for storytime)
* RCMP Stables
NAC – did you know you can tour the NAC every Monday, Wednesday, or Friday at 11 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., for free?

 

Free (or Nearly Free) Activities About Town

* The Public Library (Just a quick word here: the city’s libraries offer more than just books. There’s a reading club all summer long, where you can earn prizes for reading, but even more than that, almost all branches offer a ton of fun classes, workshops, and activities. I was going to list some here but there are literally SO many, it would take me all day – just for any one given branch! So click here and go find some activities at your local branch – most require preregistration.)
* Splash pad parks
* Hiking in the Greenbelt – I particularly recommend the Stony Swamp Trails, one of which leads to the Wild Bird Care Centre, which you can visit for free any afternoon; or Mud Lake (link leads to Dani’s excellent description of her family’s visit)
* Alcatel-Lucent bike days on the parkway
* Picnic and rock balancing at Bate Island
* Byward Market walk and browse (well, free-ish, if you can stop yourself from buying up ALL THE FOOD); also many other Farmer’s Markets including the Carp Market, Parkdale Market, and Ottawa Farmer’s Market – see a comprehensive list of Ottawa markets over at OttawaStart)
Gatineau park (hiking, biking, camping, beaches, and caves)
* A Company of Fools – Shakespeare in the park for a modern audience
Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame
* Backyard events: water balloons, tea parties, backyard camping, gardening
* Cruise night at Hazeldean Mall, Tuesdays
* Ottawa Beaches
Geocaching
* Ottawa indoor and outdoor pools (okay, not free, but pretty close)
* Strawberry Picking – Cannamore Orchard (also lots of other activities here – make it a day trip!), Dekok Family Berry Farm, Shouldice – Three Locations, Proulx Berry Farm

 

Fancy Pants Activity Centres and Shops

* Altitude Gym Clip and Climb
Lafleche Adventure Park – including caving and aerial climbing courses
* Ray’s Reptiles
* Saunders Farm
Karters’ Korner
Valleyview Little Animal Farm
Funhaven
La Fleche Caves
Cosmic Adventures
Midway Family Fun Park
* Pinto Valley Ranch
* Capital City Speedway – the best value is the Capital City Summer Slam, held the first or second weekend in September – a whole day’s worth of races plus monster trucks, WOOT
Putting Edge
* Mini Golf Gardens
Skyzone Ottawa
Merivale Bowling
Ottawa Fat Cats Baseball Game (possibly in their last season)
Ottawa Fury Soccer Game (read about our super fun trip to see the Fury here)
* Chinatown Day Trip featuring The Daily Grind Cafe (sells gluten-free, vegan treats which my allergic kid an actually eat – very exciting!), Global Homeware, Kowloon Market, Bubblicity – see Andrea from the fishbowl‘s great post on how to do Chinatown right
* Movies – oh how I miss AMC’s $1 summer movies, now cancelled. GAH. However, it’s still cheap if you hit the AMC before noon (tickets are half price)
Urban Quest (great for slightly older kids or teenagers)
Haunted Walk of Ottawa
Boat Tours: Pirate Adventures, Paul’s Boat Lines
Creative Places: Gotta Paint, 4Cats, The Mud Oven, Sassy Bead Company
* Dairy Queen – we usually go once to mark the beginning of summer; our super allergic kid gets a slushy; there’s also great treats to be had at Menchies, Kiwi Kraze, or for the super allergic, coconut ice cream at Thimblecakes Cafes (now in Barrhaven)
* Destination Shopping Spots: Chapters Kanata or Indigo Barrhaven, The Comic Book Shoppe, Kaleidescope Kids, Playvalue, Toys on Fire

 

Day Trips/Out of Town

(obviously there’s endless possibilities here, but these are some we have tried and loved, or would like to try)
* Mont Cascades or Calypso water parks
Papanack Zoo
Parc Omega
Granby Zoo
Camp Fortune
* Camping weekend at a provincial park
* Biodome
1000 islands boat cruise to Boldt Castle – read Allison’s review of it here
Upper Canada Village
Wakefield Steam Train (closed this year; hoping to reopen a limited part of the track in 2014)
Toronto activities: Canada’s Wonderland, Museum of Science, Zoo, Centre Island, CN Tower, Casa Loma
Niagara Falls: including Maid of the Mist and Marineland

Saunders Farm

I’ve just been abysmal at posting about our Summer of Awesome, but trust me, it’s happening. Almost every day at least one of the kids declares it to be the Best! Day! Ever!, which is very satisfying. We’re having a blast and I can’t believe it’s almost over – why can’t it be summer all the time?

Eventually I’ll post a list and some mini reviews of the things we have done, but in the meantime I did find time to write a longer review of Saunders Farm over at Kids in the Capital. Believe it or not, it was even more awesome than last year – they have a few new attractions and it was so worth it.

Hope your summer is just as awesome!