North America – The Barefoot Nomad Travel. Tech. Family. Fun. Wed, 07 Feb 2018 20:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Things To Do in Vancouver With Kids Thu, 04 Jan 2018 01:30:00 +0000 Vancouver, one of Canada’s premiere destinations and wildly regarded as one of the world’s great cities, is also only a few hours away from our our place. As such, we’re in Vancouver several times a year with the family.

It’s a fantastic city, and there are plenty of things to do in Vancouver with the family, from indoor fun like the Vancouver Aquarium, to outdoor adventure by the ocean, to thrill seeking fun on either the Lynn Canyon or Capilano suspension bridges.

Things to do in Vancouver with kids

There are hundreds of fun things to do with kids in Vancouver, but we’ve picked the very best for this list.

The Vancouver Aquarium

The non-profit Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is committed to rehabilitation and re-release (wherever possible) of injured, ill or abandoned marine creatures. It also operates Ocean Wise, a conservation program that works directly with local restaurants, markets, food services and suppliers to ensure that they have the most current scientific information and to help them make ocean-friendly buying decisions.

The Vancouver Aquarium is Canada’s largest aquarium and home to over 58,000 animals. It’s a great place to take kids, with the new Discover Rays touch pool, and plenty of kid-friendly exhibits and play areas.

Vancouver Aquarium kids fun

Stanley Park

I’m not sure I can count how many times we’ve visited Stanley Park over the years. Quite handily, it’s right next to downtown and it also houses the Vancouver Aquarium. There are over 1000 acres here, with stunning views of Vancouver’s skyline, and plenty of room for kids to run free. It’s a special place that lets you glimpse the natural wonder of British Columbia’s coast in an urban setting. Be sure to take your time and wander through the giant Sequoia trees. If you love trees, Stanley Park won’t disappoint.

Ducks on Misty Beaver Lake Stanley Park Vancouver

First Nations heritage

The First Nations people of Vancouver have played a large role in preserving Stanley Park in its natural state. If you’re interested in First Nations culture, and especially the relationship between First Nations people with Northwest coast trees and plants, I’d highly recommend taking the Talking Trees tour with Talaysay Tours. It’s a two hour tour, and I was fascinated by our soft-spoken guide’s intimate and detailed knowledge. Just a note, this tour may be better suited to slightly older children.

Horse-drawn tours and railway tours

Everyone on these old-fashioned horse drawn carriages looks like they’re having a blast. The tour leaves from Coal Harbour, and a guide describes Stanley Park’s attractions, which include the Vancouver Harbour, Lions Gate Bridge, the cedar forest, totem poles, and Deadman’s Island and more.

The kids will also love the Stanley Park Miniature Railway and the Prospect Point totem poles.

Stanley Park beaches and more

Everyone in your group will love the miles of stunning boardwalks that line the rugged coast with walkers, joggers, bikers and rollerbladers all cruising by. There are also numerous beaches and beach volleyball courts set up along the shoreline.

Science World at TELUS World of Science

Kids adore Vancouver’s Science World, with it’s fun, hands-on interactive displays like Eureka!, as well as huge special events, OMNIMAX films and real life art exhibits. Even if you don’t go inside, there are plenty of free fun things to check out outside like the giant marble maze and the moving water stand.

With continually changing exhibits and galleries designed just for kids, there’s something new at Science World every time we go.

Vancouver Science Centre

Vancouver Seawall

The Vancouver Seawall is a 28 km (17 mile) long paved pathway that runs along the ocean front through most of metro Vancouver. Views are fantastic here, and it’s always busy with families and health enthusiasts. There are beaches, kids play structures and beach volleyball courts running along the seawall at various places so make sure you grab your swimsuit if you’re there in the summer months.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Kids will love this suspension bridge, which stretches 140 meters (over 450 feet) long and 70 meters (230 feet) high above the Capilano River. The only negatives I can say about it are that it can be busy, and that admission is steep at over $40 for an adult. Kids under six are free, though. As well as the bridge, there’s the Treetops Adventure, a decent collection of First Nations totem poles, rain forest ecotours, gardens, nature trails and the new cliff walk which lets you climb on the outside of a cliff along a slim cable suspension bridge.

The FREE Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge

As an alternative to the pricey Capilano Suspension bridge, we like to visit the free Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. The lesser known (and free!) Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver’s Lynn Canyon Park is a solid alternative to the Capilano bridge and has some pretty pathways that cross the bridge and lead down to natural pools and waterfalls.

Granville Island

Granville Island, in Vancouver’s downtown district, is the city’s most popular tourist attraction. Both kids and adults usually love a visit.

The main attraction here is the bustling Granville Island public market, full of fresh fruit and veggies, pastries and breads, specialty coffee, ethnic specialty cuisine, and artisan handicrafts. There are also almost 300 stores on Granville Island itself.

As well as the shops, there’s almost always some sort of show being performed on Granville Island. Whether that’s buskers blowing enormous water bubbles for the kids, musicians playing everything from bongos to reed instruments to banjos to dance troupes performing acrobatic stunts, there’s always something there to entertain the kids.

Vancouver Foodie Tours The Best of what to see do and eat in Vancouver British Columbia

Granville Island is surrounded by lovely views of the waters of False Creek and the Burrard Street Bridge. There are marinas and boats all along the shore front here. Also, be sure to take some time to walk by the floating water homes just east of the public market.

Getting to Granville Island

You can either cross the Granville Island bridge on car or on foot (it’s a very long walk by foot) however parking is very limited on Granville Island. As such, most people take an Aquabus Ferry to get there.

The kids will also love cruising around False Creek on the Granville Island Ferries, which runs a fleet of adorable, mini ferries that buzz back and forth between small docks around False Creek and Granville Island. It’s also the easiest way to get to Granville Island if you’re walking in from downtown.

Aquabus at Granville Island Vancouver

The Kids’ Market

Be sure to check out the kid’s market on Granville Island! It’s housed in a large, yellow building, and packed with toy shops and a busy play area. Your kids will love it, but your wallet probably won’t so take that as you will.

The Granville Island Water Park

Despite Granville Island’s small size, they’ve managed to build the largest free water park in North America. It’s open all summer and is a great place to chow down on all the goodies you picked up at the public market.

Kitsilano Beach

Located right downtown, Kitsilano beach is a long swath of soft, gold sand that peeks out over beautiful English Bay.

There’s plenty of fun to be had here resting on huge logs along the beaches, beachcombing for shells and playing in the golden sand. There’s also a playground right there with park benches for the parents and beach volleyball nets set up, ten tennis courts, as well as basketball courts.

Vanier Park

Kitsilano Beach, or Kits Beach as the locals call it, is next to expansive, leafy Vanier Park, which is home to the Museum of Vancouver, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the City of Vancouver Archives, and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. There’s plenty of grass and space here, making it perfect for a relaxing day under the trees. If you visit during summer, check to see if the International Children’s Festival is happening in the park which is a popular festival for kids every summer.

English Bay from Vanier Park Vancouver

English Bay from Vanier Park Vancouver

Kitsilano Pool

You’ve likely seen photos of this outdoor, heated salt water pool with city and mountains in the background. It’s only open in the summer, and there’s a place for little kids in the shallows.

Cuddle cats at the Catfe

Catfe is Vancouver’s first cat cafe, featuring adoptable cats from the BC SPCA! Animal loving kids will adore a visit here, but since it’s hugely popular, make sure to make an online reservation as soon as you can since it’s usually booked up days in advance.

Catfe Vancouver

Saving money on your trip to Vancouver

Vancouver’s beautiful and fun, sure, but it can also be a bit pricey. Here’s little list of ways to save some cash in Vancouver.

Attractions near UBC

During our last visit to Vancouver, we stayed on the UBC (University of British Columbia) Campus, at the lovely West Coast Suites at UBC. If you’re looking for a quieter pace, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and the Greenheart TreeWalk at the UBC Botanical Garden may be just the ticket.

Tip! If you’re planning to visit several UBC attractions, look into the UBC Museums and Gardens Pass. You can buy adult, concession (senior, youth or student) or family passes. The pass gives you admission to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Nitobe Memorial Garden and the UBC Botanical Garden. It also gives discounts on food, books, clothing and the fun Canopy Treewalk.

Beaty Biodiversity Museum

An enormous blue whale skeleton is the first thing you’ll notice at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. Inside, we were fascinated by a dated, but interesting, documentary on how the blue whale skeleton was found, unearthed, and installed. The vault-like downstairs houses more than two million specimens of plants, marine invertebrates, insects, fish, vertebrates, fungi, and fossils. Kids with a naturalist or scientific bent will love this place.

Beaty Biodiversity Museum

Greenheart TreeWalk and the UBC Botanical Garden

Our kids had a blast tearing along this 310 metre (1,000 foot) long canopy walkway. It’s not as tall or scary as the Capilano or Lynn Canyon Suspension bridges, but the multiple walkways make it a lot of fun for kids. At its tallest, it’s almost 20 metres (65 feet) above the forest floor.

Tip! The Greenheart TreeWalk is not included in the UBC Museums and Gardens Pass, but the pass offers a 10% discount on the treewalk.

The Greenheart TreeWalk is in the larger UBC Botanical Garden, which covers about 110 acres (44 hectares) and has over 8,000 different plants. We loved the long, winding trails through big, shady trees, as it gave the kids (and us!) a chance to burn off some energy.

Greenheart TreeWalk at UBC Botanical Gardens

Museum of Anthropology (MOA)

If your kids are a little older, they may appreciate the beautiful Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Inside, there are stunning displays of First Nations totem poles plus 38,000 ethnographic objects, as well as 535,000 archaeological objects. The MOA building, designed by famed architect Arthur Erickson, is a gem in itself.

Museum of Anthropology Vancouver

The best family accommodation in Vancouver

Deciding where to stay in Vancouver with a family can be a bit tricky. All of the accommodation downtown can be a bit pricier, but it’s a good choice if you want to be near the city’s main attractions. We’ve picked our favorite downtown hotels, an excellent choice just out of the center, as well as a great airport hotel, and our best value option out of the downtown.

The Perfect Location – Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

A couple of years ago, our little family stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver for two very happy days.

It’s a gorgeous hotel in a perfect location downtown across from Canada Place, and it caters perfectly to families. Our kids loved sitting in the room looking out over the harbor to watch float planes land and take off, and cruise ships like the Disney Wonder dock. Rooms are modern and beautiful, with plenty of room for little ones to run about, and it has every amenity you would want, from a heated outdoor pool to a spacious gym to quality dining downstairs. There’s even a rooftop herb garden and beehives that you can visit!

See prices and availability.

Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

The relaxed family hotel – West Coast Suites UBC

Don’t get me wrong, we love Vancouver’s downtown. It’s interesting and vibrant, with plenty to do and see. However, downtown’s not always a kid friendly place. When the kids were a bit younger, we were in town for a wedding, and got a hotel a close to Granville Street. On the way back to the hotel from the reception, with our then nine and six year olds in tow, we had to dodge a lot of drunk and rowdy folks so choose your place accordingly.

Needless to say, we were up for a hotel that was a bit more relaxed the next time we visited the city.

West Coast Suites at UBC was a perfect choice, with its location out of the downtown core, and surrounded by quiet grounds. Driving to the hotel, you’ll see the spacious UBC campus to one side, and get peeks of British Columbia’s stunning Pacific Coast on the other.

All of the rooms at West Coast Suites at UBC are one bedroom units with a full kitchen and a pull-out Queen bed for the kids. You can read more about our West Coast Suites stay here.

See prices and availability.

West Coast Suites UBC living area

West Coast Suites UBC living area

The airport choice – Fairmont Vancouver Airport In-Terminal Hotel

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport In-Terminal Hotel is Vancouver’s only in-terminal airport hotel. It gets great ratings, and might be worth the splurge if you’re looking for a little luxury at the airport. There’s a surcharge for WiFi.

See prices and availability here.

The budget downtown option

If you’re looking for a budget hotel in the heart of downtown, Robson Suites and Sunset Inn and Suites both get good reviews.

We haven’t stayed in either because they’re always infuriatingly fully booked far in advance, but they’re both smaller boutique hotels that should run you close to, or under, $120 a night for a double room. Both hotels include free WiFi, but Robson Suites is closer to Stanley Park (but doesn’t include breakfast, though rooms have a kitchen or kitchenette), while Sunset Inn is right next to Stanley Park (and includes breakfast in the rate).

See Robson Suites availability.

Check Sunset Inn and Suites availability.

A bit of a drive, but great value – Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Riverport Richmond

If you’re up for taking the SkyTrain or driving into downtown Vancouver, and want to save a few $$, the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Riverport Richmond is an affordable, clean option. We stayed here for a few days a few years ago, and would stay again. It’s a pretty standard chain hotel, but clean and new, with free breakfast, free airport shuttle, fast, free WiFi, and a pool and hot tub.

See prices and availability here.

The Hidden Gem – The hotel on Granville Island

Granville Island Hotel is one of Vancouver’s less known gems. It’s a boutique hotel located right on Granville Island, overlooking the water, and gets great reviews.

Check prices and reviews here.


As a family, we love staying in Airbnb properties. We always rent a condo or house, which gives us a kitchen, more bedrooms, and often an extra bathroom. The price you’ll pay varies on location and size, but a small private studio starts at around $60/night downtown, while a private two bedroom starts at around $100.

Create a new account using this link, and get $35 USD in Airbnb credits the first time you use them. (We get a credit, too).

Vancouver fun with kids

How to get around Vancouver as a family

Whether you drive, grab the efficient Skytrain, or take a scenic SeaBus, there are plenty of transportation options for families in Vancouver.

SeaBus to North Vancouver

This is relaxing, affordable ride across Burrard Inlet, and gives you a lovely view of Stanley Park, the Lions Gate bridge, and mountains on the distance. Kids will love watching float planes land and watching the other boats on the water.


Vancouver public transit includes the SeaBus (above). To get to Vancouver Island or the other off coast islands, you can take a ferry with BC Ferries.

Granville Island has its own ferry company, Granville Island Ferries, with a fleet of adorable, mini ferries that buzz back and forth between small docks around False Creek and Granville Island.

Hop-on, Hop-off Sightseeing

We haven’t had a chance to take the hop-on, hop-off trolley downtown, but our kids’ eyes light up every time they see it drive by. I’m sure it’ll be a huge hit!

Wee ones are thrilled to see Vancouver from an old-fashioned trolley or an open-air bus. With fully narrated tours, Vancouver’s hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tours give a great overview of the city, along with giving families the flexibility to make stops whenever suits them. Hop off to explore all the downtown attractions, then hop back on again to continue to the next exciting destination.

Vancouver Downtown Vancouver Trolley Hop on Hop off Tour


Driving around downtown Vancouver is certainly possible, and we’ve done it many times. As long as you’re not visiting during a major event, there are usually enough parkades to handle the traffic. Just be warned: traffic can get highly congested during rush hour or if there’s an accident. Parking is also one of the most expensive in Canada and runs $10 to $30 a day in downtown Vancouver, depending on your location.


Most visitors to Vancouver take advantage of the Skytrain service around the city. The system is quick, efficient (trains leave the downtown stations every two to five minutes) and covers most of the city. You can take the Skytrain out to the suburbs, and scenic Westminster Quay on the way to (not so scenic) Surrey.

Public transit

Aside from the ubiquitious Skytrain, Vancouver has a large fleet of buses that cover most of the city and are a great option if you’re staying at UBC.

Uber and Lyft

As of January 2018, ride sharing apps like Uber or Lyft aren’t available in British Columbia, but there are suggestions that may change soon.

Have you visited Vancouver with kids? What were your favorite Vancouver attractions for the family?

Things to do in Vancouver with Kids We travel to Vancouver several times a year with the family. There's always so much to do, including walking or biking the seawall, having fun at the aquarium or hiking through Stanley Park | Vancouver Travel | Vancouver BC Canada | Vancouver with kids | Vancouver with Family #Vancouver #BC #travel Things to do in Vancouver with Kids There are hundreds of things to do in Vancouver with the kids, from indoor fun like the Vancouver Aquarium, to outdoor adventure by the ocean, to thrill seeking fun on the Lynn Canyon or Capilano suspension bridge. | Vancouver Travel | Vancouver BC Canada | Vancouver with kids | Vancouver with Family #Vancouver #BC #travel ]]> 1
Things to do in Isla Mujeres Sat, 25 Nov 2017 18:00:00 +0000 It’s no secret that we love Isla Mujeres on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. Warm blue waters, fantastic beaches, good snorkeling, and a great selection of restaurants all make Isla Mujeres a must see if you’re on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.

Located only a short 20 minute ferry ride from Cancun, Isla Mujeres makes a great day trip and an even greater longer mini escape from your Cancun vacation.

Oh yeah, have I mentioned you can drive the entire island on a golf cart, in half a day? We did it the first time a few years ago and it’s still one of our favorite family travel highlights.

Beach in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Likewise, if you find yourself down in Playa Del Carmen, Akumal, Tulum or even staying on Cozumel, then Isla Mujeres is pretty easy and inexpensive to get to. We’ve done the trip from Playa del Carmen more than a few times now and have enjoyed our trip to Isla Mujeres every single time.

Now, we’ve written about Mexico‘s Isla Mujeres a few times over the years and, to be honest, not much has changed. Of course it’s grown, but that only means more golf cart rentals and more options. We don’t find that it’s gotten any busier and it seems there’s just more to do there these days with a lot more places to rent from.

Isla Mujeres

Things to do in Isla Mujeres Mexico

So, without any further ado, here are our things to do in Isla Mujeres.

Rent a golf cart on Isla Mujeres

Haha, if you read our previous Isla Mujeres post you don’t think I’d miss this one. There are now dozens of golf cart rental companies on Isla Mujeres, and though they do still occasionally run out during the holidays and busiest times of the year, most days you’re fine as long as you arrive before noon.

You can pretty much drive to every place on the island, and if you’re there for multiple days, you can spend lazy afternoons on different beaches every day. You can walk or take a taxi most places on the island, but if you want true freedom, rent a golf cart and enjoy yourself.

Sea birds at Isla Mujeres

Relax on the beaches on Isla Mujeres

Since we just talked about beaches, there are around six semi-official major beaches on Isla Mujeres and a bunch of smaller ones. Some, like Playa Norte, feature bars and beach chairs and on many you can rent SUPs, kayaks, water toys and even snorkeling equipment.

Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres

Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres

Playa Norte (North Beach) is by far the most popular and is often rated one of the best in the Caribbean. Playa Norte is just minutes from downtown, and the palm trees and luxurious white sand make Playa Norte muy hermosa. Playa Norte has almost no current, and kids and adults can wade pretty far out and the water will only reach their waist.

Playa Posada, found along the west side isn’t as crowded, however the water isn’t as clear, and Playa Media Luna is a beautiful crescent shaped beach but the water can be rough.

Playa Indios, Playa Paraiso and Playa Lancheros are all more secluded beaches found on the west side facing Cancun. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas there, and open air restaurants, gift shops and public bathrooms are close by.

kids playing in the sand in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Stay in one of the many lovely hotels in Isla Mujeres

There are lots of hotels to choose from on Isla Mujeres, and they cater to every taste and budget. You can stay on the beach or off, with a family or as a couple, at places like Beloved Hotels, an Adults-Only Boutique All-Inclusive. With swimming pools and all inclusive plans, staying at a hotel in Isla Mujeres can be a great way to start or end a long day seeing the sites.

La Tortuga Granja (The Turtle Farm)

Love sea turtles? So do we, and that’s why we always stop by the Turtle Farm in Isla Mujeres. Since large sea turtles have made Isla Mujeres their breeding ground for generations, the Turtle Farm gathers up the eggs it finds along the beaches and incubates them at the Turtle Farm thereby greatly increasing their chances of survival.

It's turtles all the way down at La Tortuga Granja

It’s turtles all the way down at La Tortuga Granja

Depending on the time of year you’re there, you can see hundreds of turtles in the tanks growing up in the large tanks around the property. There is a great celebration the day they’re released back into the wild.

Hands on at the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm

In the main building there is also a small aquarium with sea horses, lobsters, crabs, tropical fish and even an octopus. There are also a few land turtles and family of iguanas who hang out along one side of the building.

Sea Turtles at Tortugranja

Sea Turtles at Tortugranja

The Joysxee Floating Bottle Island

If you’re looking for quirky things to do in Isla Mujeres, you can check out the Floating Bottle Island. Created a few years back by Richart Sowa, this floating recycler’s dream is completely built using used plastic water bottles and recycled materials, including a three story house and an outdoor bar. You’ll need to talk to the locals about its current location, since the floating house moves around the island from time to time. There is a small entrance fee.

Punta Sur

Located at the far southern edge of Isla Mujeres, Punta Sur features not only the highest elevation in all the Yucatan, but it’s also the easternmost point in all of Mexico. That’s right, the sun hits Punta Sur before anywhere else in Mexico and we’ve heard that it’s a glorious sight.

Punta Sur on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Featuring an ancient Mayan temple honoring the Mayan Goddess Ixchel, it also boasts a lighthouse and dozens of modern sculptures around the property. Due to some of the most dramatic sea cliffs in all of Mexico, Punta Sur makes a great place to grab a bite to eat while looking out to sea.

Punta Sur Coast

Punta Sur

MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum

Conceived by Jason deCaires Taylor, Isla Mujeres is home to the largest underwater museum on earth. The clear waters off Isla Mujeres make a great place to scuba dive or snorkel while seeing how thousands of underwater sculptures change in time in regards to coral growth and marine interaction. The scope of the project is mind blowing and the combination of art and marine conservation is great to see.

Garrafon Reef Park

The Garrafon Reef Park is a great place to spend an afternoon. Its all-inclusive packages include a buffet lunch and an open bar. Not only do they feature zip lines over the clear aquamarine waters, you can rent kayaks, snorkel equipment, life jackets and they have plenty of hammocks to lounge on as well as relax in their infinity pool. Admission includes bathrooms, lockers, showers and entrance to the Sculpture Garden and Punta Sur.

Garrafon Natural Reef Park

Garrafon Natural Reef Park

Garrafón de Castilla

The Garrafón de Castilla is right next to the Garrafón Reef Park at the south end of the island, and your entrance fee includes lounge chairs with beach umbrellas, restrooms and shower areas. You can rent snorkel gear and lockers here. They have a small snack bar and a restaurant right on the property.

The Zocalo (Town Square)

Located in the center of town, the Zocalo or Town Square comes alive most evenings as celebrations, dances and events kick up with local Mexican families and tourists alike sharing in the celebrations. You can eat tacos and pastries from the vendors lining the park, as well as pick up souvenirs from local artists. The kids will enjoy the small playground.

Isla Mujeres Mexico pier

Fun on the water in Isla Mujeres

We’ve talked about the beaches, but there is also world class deep sea fishing in the water of Isla Mujeres. From deep sea fishing for marlin, sailfish and dorado to spear fishing tuna and barracuda, Isla Mujeres has some of the best sea fishing in the Mexico. Tours and guides can be hired for the day or the week.

Isla Mujeres with Cancun in Background

Look closely! You can see Cancun on the horizon.

Fun under the water on Isla Mujeres

Being surrounded by water means some of the fun things to do in Isla Mujeres occur under the water. You can snorkel and scuba dive all around the island and there are dozens of companies that will take you out on a scuba or snorkel tour to see many types of corral and colorful tropical fish including sailfish from December to June.

From June to September you can swim with giant Whale Sharks and anytime of the year is great to swim in the National Park that’s filled with the MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum’s sculptures. Most tours include lunch buffets as well as snorkel gear.

Have you been to Isla Mujeres? Do you have any tips? Let us know!


Things to do in Isla Mujeres Mexico. We've written about Mexico's Isla Mujeres a few times over the years and, to be honest, not much has changed. Of course it's grown, but that only means more golf cart rentals and more options. We don't find that it's gotten any busier and it seems there's just more to do there these days with a lot more things to do and see. Isla Mujeres Mexico things to do plus tips secrets and photography. ]]> 3
West Coast Suites UBC and our Vancouver Family Vacation Tue, 03 Oct 2017 13:00:00 +0000 Being so close to Vancouver, it can be hard for us to figure out the best places to stay in Vancouver for a family vacation.

So while we’ve stayed downtown for a quick Vancouver family vacation more than a few times, and though there are some fantastic hotels in the area, there are two big disadvantages to a downtown Vancouver family stay.

The first is cost. Hotels in downtown Vancouver can be quite expensive, especially if you look at getting a suite with a bedroom or kitchenette, or if you’re booking in peak season. Parking can also be crazy expensive if you’re by the water and some of the nicer hotels require you to pay extra for WiFi, sometimes even per device.

Second, downtown Vancouver accommodations can be quite busy, and it’s not always the most kid-friendly place, especially around the bars on Granville Street. Though Vancouver is a great walking city, staying downtown still requires you to be careful, especially with little ones in tow.

So when UBC’s West Coast Suites, located on the quiet and stunning University of British Columbia (UBC) lands, reached out to us about a stay, we were excited to give it a try.

The view at UBC

We planned to use the fully furnished suites, perched on the quiet and expansive green campus, as our base for exploring Vancouver with kids. Not only are the world class Museum of Anthropology, the impressive Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the fantastic Botanical Gardens and more within easy walking distance at UBC, there’s an abundance of great food right on campus.

The best part is that downtown Vancouver and many of the city’s other major attractions are just a short car trip or bus ride away.

See prices and availability here. Check out reviews on TripAdvisor.

West Coast Suites UBC

As we drove through busy Vancouver, and on through the quiet, lush, green oasis of the enormous UBC property, we were sure we’d made the right choice. On one side we could see the spacious UBC campus on the left of us and we kept getting peeks of British Columbia’s stunning Pacific Coast on the other.

Bedroom at West Coast Suites UBC

After the easy drive to West Coast Suites, we checked in at the next door Walter Gage Residences. The helpful front desk staff promptly got our key card, and pointed out some of the fun things to do with kids on the UBC campus. More on the details of our Vancouver family vacation later!

Within a few minutes, we’d whisked our stuff up the elevator, and I was relaxing on our couch, overlooking the trees in the courtyard, and enjoying a fresh Starbucks coffee from the single serve coffee maker in our cozy kitchen.

Our Suite

All of the suites at West Coast Suites are large, quiet one bedrooms with balconies and full kitchens.

West Coast Suites UBC kitchen

There’s no oven in the suites, but there is a stove top, a microwave, and most importantly, a dishwasher, plus a full kitchen table and mini-fridge. The kitchen was fully kitted out, including everything from pots and pans, glassware, cutlery, and even a corkscrew and bottle opener.

All the suites at UBC’s West Coast Suites are one bedroom, with a king bed in the bedroom plus a sofa bed.

There’s a LED TV, an in room safe, plenty of quality toiletries, and high quality linens.

West Coast Suites UBC living area



At the top of my list for hotel amenities is always WiFi. WiFi here is fast, free and reliable, with speeds at well over 35 mbps. That’s far better than the WiFi you’ll find in most homes.

There’s even free long distance in North America, making it easy to connect with friends and family.

View of bedroom at West Coast Suites UBC

Room Amenities at West Coast :

  • Free Canada/USA calling
  • Large LED TVs with cable channels
  • Parking is $10/day plus applicable taxes
  • 24 hour front desk
  • Guest launderette
  • Complimentary newspapers at reception
  • On-site vending facilities
  • Open year round

See prices and availability here.

Check out reviews on TripAdvisor.

What’s nearby?

We were pretty busy around the University of British Columbia itself, before we even headed into Vancouver proper for our downtown Vancouver family day trip. There’s a full list of what we did on campus below, but our highlights included the Museum of Anthropology, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the Greenheart TreeWalk at the UBC Botanical Garden. Click here to skip to our list of fun family activities and attractions near UBC.

There’s also a lot to eat on campus at the UBC, with dozens of cafes, restaurants and food trucks. Click here to see all the great eats on the UBC campus.

Family walk at the Museum of Anthropology

West Coast Suites at UBC is a short drive from downtown Vancouver, but located on some of the most beautiful land in Vancouver. The University of British Columbia pretty much owns the entire western tip of the Point Grey Peninsula. Within walking distance, there are rose gardens, Japanese rock gardens, botanic gardens, canopy walks, regional parkland, hiking trails, plus all the amenities below. The Museum of Anthropology is a ten minute walk from West Coast Suites, and Pacific Spirit Regional Park is two and a half kilometers (one and a half miles) away.


One thing we were a little uncertain of was if there was shopping nearby for groceries and other necessities. Luckily for us, it’s a short drive (or even walking distance, if you’re so inclined) to Wesbrook Village shopping center, which has a Save on Foods grocery store, plus plenty of shops.

Vancouver with kids – at UBC Campus

We had a blast being in Vancouver with kids at the UBC Campus. There’s a lot to do on the University grounds, and we’ve listed some of our favorites below. You can check out the other UBC attractions here.

Tip! If you’re planning to visit several UBC attractions, look into the UBC Museums and Gardens Pass. You can buy adult, concession (senior, youth or student) or family passes. The pass gives you admission to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the Nitobe Memorial Garden and the UBC botanical garden. It also gives discounts on food, books, clothing and the canopy tree walk.

On campus events and the Eclipse!

We were lucky enough to visit UBC during the 2017 solar eclipse. The astronomy society was handing out free eclipse viewing glasses just a short walk from our hotel at West Coast Suites, with displays and plenty of folks on hand to help.

While the eclipse was the big event when we visited (the people in the picture below were all gone an hour later), be sure to check what’s going on at UBC during your visit. There’s almost always something fun and interesting happening on campus.

Viewing the eclipse at UBC pinhole projector

Watching the eclipse through a pinhole viewer

Beaty Biodiversity Museum

The first thing you’ll notice at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum is the blue whale skeleton that looms over the entire facility. There’s an interesting documentary to watch inside about how the fossil was found, unearthed, cleaned and installed. Inside the vault-like downstairs, there are more than two million specimens of plants, marine invertebrates, insects, birds, fish, vertebrates, fungi, and fossils.

Beaty Biodiversity Museum

Museum of Anthropology (MOA)

We were especially taken by the stunning displays of First Nations totem poles inside the main floors of the MOA. It’s an impressive collection, as the MOA houses 38,000 ethnographic objects, as well as 535,000 archaeological objects inside. It houses collections from multiple cultures, but is best known for the large and impressive collection of art from First Nation band governments of the Pacific Northwest. The MOA building was designed by famed architect Arthur Erickson.

Tip: Don’t miss the outdoor longhouse recreation behind the museum building.

Museum of Anthropology Vancouver

UBC Botanical Garden

Lovers of botany will adore the UBC Botanical Garden, as it covers nearly 110 acres (44 hectares) and has over 8,000 different plants.

We loved the long, serene winding trails under great big, shady trees, as it gave the kids (and us!) a chance to burn off some energy.

UBC Botanical Garden bee on yellow flower

Greenheart TreeWalk

While you’re there, don’t miss the Greenheart TreeWalk! The kids had a blast tearing along this 310 metre (1,000 foot) long canopy walkway. The walkway is suspended from looming cedars, Douglas firs and grand firs (many of them over 100 years old), and reaches a height of almost 20 metres (65 feet). This isn’t for the faint of heart, or lead of foot, but our eight year old managed it beautifully, even taking the lead and egging us on.

Tip! The Greenheart TreeWalk is not included in the UBC Museums and Gardens Pass; the pass offers a 10% discount on the treewalk.

Greenheart TreeWalk at UBC Botanical Gardens

Nitobe Memorial Garden

The Nitobe Memorial Garden is a traditional Japanese Tea and Stroll garden. It’s officially part of the UBC Botanical Garden, but it’s located separately, close to Wreck Beach.

UBC Aquatic Centre

New in 2017, the UBC Aquatic Centre has a kids area, diving pool, swimming pool, whirl pool, hot tub and a sauna. It’s also only a two minute walk from West Coast Suites.

Farmer’s Market

UBC farmer’s markets serve up farm fresh produce at a weekly on-campus market from late spring to fall. We stopped by the pop-up market at the UBC bookstore, but there are also farm gate sales. Dates and details change, so check here first before you go.

Tip! There are also seasonal u-picks for blueberries, pumpkins, hops and more. If you’re around on the weekend, the UBC Farm offers free public tours at 11:00 am each Saturday. Check the UBC Farm page for details

UBC farmers market

More UBC attractions

There are plenty of other attractions on campus, including the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts and the UBC School of Music. Check out the UBC attractions page for more.

Wreck beach

Well, what to say about Wreck beach? There are a few things you need to know before you go.

First, it’s absolutely stunning, and well worth a look. Second, it’s clothing optional, so do with that what you will. Third, the most popular access is by Trail 6 by a steep and difficult set of 473 stairs.

Fourth, it has quite the reputation around Vancouver for it’s alternative culture, which includes the clothing optional scene, but also extends to a hippie culture of body painters, beach casinos, and a relaxed attitude toward pretty much anything. Read into that what you will but everyone we talked to said it was a cool place to hang out on a hot day and the unobstructed Pacific Ocean views from the beach are breathtaking.

Vancouver Family Vacation

There are hundreds of other things to do on a family vacation in Vancouver. I’d say the top, don’t miss family attractions, are the Vancouver seawall, the Vancouver Aquarium, Science World at TELUS World of Science, Stanley Park, the Capilano Suspension Bridge (or the free Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge) and Granville Island. Our comprehensive post on family things to do in Vancouver is coming soon!

While at West Coast Suites, we took the car downtown (it’s a short 15 minute drive if traffic is good) a few of times to visit friends, and check out a few downtown attractions. Most people just jump on a bus and grab the Skytrain around town.

Vanier Park 

Vanier Park is in the Kitsilano neighborhood in Vancouver, and home to the Museum of Vancouver, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the City of Vancouver Archives, and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. There’s a lot of green space here, making it perfect for a relaxing day under the trees.

If you go during summer, check to see if the International Children’s Festival is happening in the park.

English Bay from Vanier Park Vancouver

Kitsilano Beach Park

Kitsilano Beach Park is just to the West of Vanier Park (you can easily walk from one to another). It’s a long, lovely stretch of sand that faces picturesque English Bay.


We even got a chance to check out a little nightlife in Yaletown, when we popped out for supper with a friend. Yaletown is one of the busiest parts of Vancouver, and packed with trendy restaurants and bars in old warehouse buildings.

Food at UBC

Food on the UBC Campus is divided into two main groups: outlets owned by the Student’s Union, and outlets under the ubrella of the University’s Food Services.

UBC Food Services

UBC Food Services has over 40 outlets on campus with everything from chains like Starbucks and Tim Hortons, to mini marts, to full service restaurants, to food trucks. Many get their ingredients from the on campus UBC Farm, and fresh seafood is 100% Ocean Wise certified. We couldn’t try all 40 places to eat (unfortunately!), but we did get a chance to check out a few.

The Hungry Nomad

Where else would us Barefoot Nomads go to eat than the Hungry Nomad?

This food truck serves up delicious vegan poutine, with large portions for around $6. We bought two poutine as a snack, but there was far too much for the four of us (two adults and two preteen kids) to eat. Great value.

Hungry Nomad Food Truck UBC


We came in quite late one night after a long walk around the UBC Botanical Gardens, and wanted nothing more than to put our feet up and relax in our room. Luckily, Harvest was on the way home, and we grabbed a rotisserie chicken, roast vegetables, a tasty chickpea sandwich, and two bean burritos for the kids. Perfection!


This is the place to go on campus if you’ve got a craving for authentic made-to-order traditional Italian pizzas cooked in a hot stone hearth oven. Each pizza is a great value at about $12, and we only needed two to stuff two adults and two preteen kids to the gills.

Mercante pizza UBC

AMS Student Union

UBC’s student’s union (AMS) has several foood and drink eateries located in the Nest (the main student’s union building), including the Grand Noodle Emporium, Uppercase, Honour Roll, The Pit, Palate, and Ph Tea.

Being the coffee and baked goods lovers that we are, we made a quick beeline for Uppercase, which had an impressive display case of baked goods and bagels. Was it good? Let’s just say that I was contemplating a move to the UBC campus so that I could make this a daily staple.

Uppercase coffee and pastries at the UBC Nest

UBC Vancouver Accommodations

We found West Coast Suites one bedroom suites to be perfect for our family, but UBC has other accommodation choices as well.

Pacific Spirit Hostel at Place Vanier Residence

With rooms starting at $39 a night, this is a fantastic value in sometimes expensive Vancouver.

The Pacific Spirit Hostel has private single rooms or private twin rooms. There’s a shared lounge with LCD TV and on site laundry. Linens, towels and bath amenities are provided. Parking is $10 a day plus taxes, or you can buy a weekly permit.

Ponderosa Residence and Walter Gage Residence

Studio suite at Ponderosa Residence with kitchenette and a view

Private suites at Ponderosa Residence and Walter Gage Residence are only available from May 15 to August 25 each year. There’s a wide range of places to stay here, including studios, one bedroom and two bedroom units.

Units have a full kitchen with complimentary high speed WiFi, LCD TVs and free Canada/USA calling.

Accessible suites are also available. Parking is $16/day plus applicable taxes at Ponderosa. Parking is $10/day plus applicable taxes at Gage.

What you need to know

West Coast Suites is on the UBC Campus, at 5961 Student Union Blvd, Vancouver.

West Coast Suites is easily accessible by car, but can also be accessed by transit, with a major bus exchange located on campus.

Have you stayed at West Coast Suites UBC? What did you think? 

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LEGOLAND Florida Tips and Secrets to Save You Time and Money Mon, 25 Sep 2017 17:00:00 +0000

Earlier this year, we had a chance to team up with LEGOLAND Florida and checked out their amusement park and waterpark as a family. We’ve been huge LEGO fans for years, and we have the bins of LEGO pieces in our living room to prove it, so we were thrilled to visit!

While it’s not as big as the Universal or Disney parks in Orlando, there’s still a lot to see and do in LEGOLAND. It can be a bit confusing and overwheming, honestly, so we spent our time at the park looking for helpful tips and tricks to help when you visit LEGOLAND Florida. You’ll find everything in here, including the best rides and attractions, how to save money, where to stay, and where to eat in the park.

LEGOLAND Florida tips and secrets that will save you time money and trouble

Read on for our…

LEGOLAND Florida Tips and Secrets

How to Save Money

First, let’s get you the best deal we can for LEGOLAND. Generally, you’ll save money buying tickets online, rather than at the gate. Plus, you’ll avoid having to wait at the gate to buy tickets!

Undercover Tourist

If you’re looking for a great deal on park tickets, check out Undercover Tourist first, which offers a significant discount over gate admission. They also don’t charge sneaky delivery fees or extra taxes like some sites. Delivery is instant, as these are electronic tickets sent to you by email.

For example, when we looked, the Undercover Tourist price for adult 1 day park and waterpass admission was $95.91. At the gate, the price was $113.99.

See prices for a single day ticket.

See all discount LEGOLAND tickets on Undercover Tourist.

... the trusted name in attraction tickets

Get a Kids Go Free Coupon on Amazon

Check to see if you can pick up a kids go free coupon for LEGOLAND on Amazon here. They run around $18 (including shipping) for a coupon for Kids Go Free with a full price one day adult Ticket to Legoland Parks or Legoland Discovery Centers. Check the terms and conditions, but these can be a great deal if you’re booking ahead of time.

Go Orlando Card

If you’re looking at doing multiple other attractions in Orlando, a Go Orlando Card might save you a good chunk of money.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find passes that combined LEGOLAND with the other large parks at Disney and Universal, but there are some great combo deals for LEGOLAND and smaller Florida attractions.

Click here to save $10 & visit four attractions, including LEGOLAND Florida!

See the Go Orlando Card discounts here.

Groupon and Living Social

You never know when a good deal will pop up for LEGOLAND on Groupon or Living Social, so be sure to check before you go!

See deals here.

What to Bring

It’s pretty easy to spend the whole day at LEGOLAND, so pack accordingly.

  • Camera. We took most of our photos with our smartphone, but you may want to bring a waterproof camera for the waterpark.
  • Sunscreen. We like water resistant spray sunscreen.
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Jacket, if it’s cool
  • Comfortable shoes. The park is a lot smaller than Universal or Disney, but there’s still a lot of walking.
  • You can’t bring coolers, food and beverages into the park. However, there are exceptions for infants and if you have special medical needs. Bottled water is allowed. Alcohol is not allowed.
  • An emergency poncho (great for The Quest for CHI water ride, trust us). Get a 5 pack at Amazon for less than 2 on site.

LEGOLAND Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

LEGOLAND Florida is not open every day during the low season, so check hours and dates before you go.

If you adore LEGO, look at getting a two day pass, as it’s only about $10 more than going one day on the Undercover Tourist site. See 2 day pass pricing on Undercover Tourist.

Bring minfigures to trade. All LEGO employee wear minifigures on their name tags, and they’re happy to trade. Just don’t bring your rares though since most of fairly standard issue. There’s also a minifigures ambassador with hundreds of minifigures who’ll trade, if you can find them!


If it rains, indoor activities like LEGO Mindstorms, building a minifigure, the Imagination Zone and the LEGO NINJAGO ride will keep the kids busy.

There’s a lot of walking, so if you have young children consider bringing a stroller. You can rent strollers, but they’re first come, first serve with no reservations.

There’s no free WiFi in the park, unlike at larger parks like Universal Orlando.

LEGOLAND entrance family photo

Raising the roof at LEGOLAND

What age is best for kids at LEGOLAND Florida? The LEGOLAND best age for kids is probably under 12. Our son was 11 turning 12, and while he still enjoyed himself, I think he would have loved LEGOLAND even more when he was a little younger. That said, we saw plenty of teens and older adults having fun!

Wait times vary a lot, depending on weather, peak season, and even time of day. Almost all the rides had a sign at the front listing the current wait time, and we found them pretty accurate. If you have limited time or you’re visiting during peak days like Christmas, you can buy a Premium Play Band that offers front of the line access. You can buy it when you arrive on the day of your visit.

Is there a LEGOLAND Florida app? Nope. Unlike Universal or Disney, the LEGOLAND Florida Park doesn’t have an official app yet. We looked through the app store, and there are a few unofficial apps, but they got horrible reviews, so we decided to forgo the app. You really don’t need one, as the park is not overwhelmingly big, and we found the wait times and lines much more manageable than the larger Orlando Parks.

Best things to do at LEGOLAND Florida

There’s a lot of fun to be had at LEGOLAND, but these were our favorite rides and attractions.

Build your own LEGO character at the Minifigure Market

This was one of our kids absolute favorites of our LEGOLAND Florida secrets. Well, it’s not really a secret, it’s more of a don’t miss! At the minifigure market, the kids can build their own customized LEGO character.

It costs $9.99 to build a set of 3 mini figures, which includes 3 heads, 3 torsos, 3 legs, 3 headgears and 3 accessories, plus a handy holder to bring them home.

LEGOLAND Florida Minifigure Market


Make sure you try the Lego Ninjago ride!

It’s one of LEGOLAND’s newer rides, and a lot of fun! Lines were long when we passed it when we first entered the park, so we waited until the end to try it. Such a mistake! We only had time for one ride as it was closing on the way out, but we wish we’d gone on it several times. The good news is there wasn’t a single person in line in front of us so we just walked directly on.

To play, you put on 3D glasses, and practice your ninja moves while the computer records your movements.


Loved this ride! This is a snap of the scoreboard at the end.

The Quest for CHI

This ride was an absolute blast! It’s an interactive boat ride with water cannons, where you shoot bystanders and other boats with water guns. When we were there in March mid-week, the wait was only about five minutes.

You will get soaked! If you want your clothes to stay dry, LEGOLAND does sell ponchos for around $5.99 at different places around the park. If you want to save a few bucks, grab a poncho at a dollar store on the way or order one directly from Amazon before you go.

LEGOLAND Orlando The Quest for CHI

The Battle for Brickbeard’s Bounty

Full disclosure here: this about about as cheesy as they come. That said, we all had a lot of fun watching this live water show at the site of the old Cypress Gardens. As it’s set on the water, you’ll see lots of acrobatic water skiing with plenty of live LEGO action. We especially loved Miranda, the head of the Imperial Navy.

Just a note, though, if you’re in the front few rows you’ll likely get wet but the crew definitely gets the crowd going.

LEGOLAND The Battle for Brickbeards Bounty

Imagination Zone

The Imagination Zone was one of our kids’ favorites. There’s a lot to do here, including free play with a huge number of LEGOs. The kids loved the Flight Zone and Wheels Zone where you pick up parts to make your own flying or racing machine.

In the Imagination Zone, the kids can also build skyscrapers, virtually build water creatures, or even take a LEGO Mindstorms course. You have to sign up to take the course since it fills up every day so we decided to skip it to our son’s displeasure.

Imagination Zone car at LEGOLAND

Flying school

This looks like an upside down roller coaster, and gives you the feeling of flying through the air.

It’s especially lots of fun for the older kids (and us too). Our eleven year old son had a blast here, but our eight year old didn’t want to ride. The minimum rider height is 44 inches, and kids below 52 inches tall need to be accompanied by a responsible rider of this height or taller.

Flying school LEGOLAND

Dragon Coaster

We all tried the Dragon Coaster, and honestly had fun. It’s a smaller coaster, so don’t expect terrifying thrills and drops. There was only a 15 min wait when we went in March.

Attractions we didn’t love as much

In the LEGO Driving school, the kids go through driving instruction, and then drive around a track in a LEGO-themed mini car. This was really cute, but the driving portion only lasted about five minutes, and the line up took about half an hour.

Did you know there are LEGOLAND locations all over the world? You can visit LEGOLAND in Florida, California, Denmark, Dubai, Malaysia, England, Germany and more! There are also LEGOLAND Discovery Centers all across North America. See all LEGOLAND Discovery Center locations here.

Miniland USA is a large outside area dedicated to LEGO displays, most of them USA-based. It’s a pretty impressive display that takes up a good chunk of the park, with detailed recreations of scenes in LEGO miniature, like Daytona Speedway, Las Vegas, and the White House. While it’s cute and shows a lot of imagination and creativity, many of the scenes are fading and showing a little wear.

LEGOLAND Joust is ride where kids sit on the back of LEGO-themed horses that pretend to joust. It’s honestly an adorable ride, but our kids, at eight and eleven, were just too big to fully enjoy it. Little kids should love it.

LEGOLAND Royal Joust

Our 11 year old on the Royal Joust. Just look at that enthusiasm, lol. He perked up pretty quickly when we visited the Flight School, though.

Where to stay near LEGOLAND Florida

There’s a cute, new LEGOLAND hotel right outside the LEGOLAND front gates! This is our top pick if you’re visiting LEGOLAND in Florida.

That said, you have two options for staying at LEGOLAND: the LEGOLAND® Florida Resort and the LEGOLAND® Beach Retreat. Because we were based in Orlando, we didn’t get a chance to stay here during our visit, but they would have been our first choices for a hotel near LEGOLAND.

The bonus is that people staying at one of the LEGOLAND resorts get early access to LEGOLAND Park! That’s right. Hit the park before anyone else and then sneak out during the afternoon rush for a quick dip in the pool (or a nap) and then enjoy the park again until it closes.

The LEGOLAND® Florida Hotel

The Legoland Florida Resort is within walking distance of Legoland Florida Theme Park. Rooms are LEGO themed, and there are plenty of fun surprises for the kids!

More than two million LEGO bricks make up over 2,000 LEGO models throughout the hotel.

See prices and availability now.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort - Outside

The LEGOLAND® Beach Retreat

The LEGOLAND Beach Retreat is about half a mile from the park itself. It has 83 themed bungalows, each with its own whimsical LEGO décor inside and out. There’s a pool, a kid’s outside play area, and lots of fun activities for the kids.

Click to see prices and reviews

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat 

Holiday Inn Winter Haven

The Holiday Inn Winter Haven

This is a good family choice, with good reviews and a pool. It’s only about a nine minute drive to LEGOLAND Florida, and walking distance of Winter Haven Amtrak Station.

See prices and reviews.

Holiday Inn Winter Haven


When we travel, we often stay at an Airbnb, because it gives us a full kitchen and more room to run around. Since we were spending two days visiting the Universal Studios The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (check out our post on it here), we picked an airbnb closer to Universal, and we drove out to LEGOLAND for the day.

Click here to get a $35 credit on your first airbnb stay!

Where to eat at LEGOLAND Florida

There are plenty of places to eat at LEGOLAND. You probably won’t find five star dining here, and prices are generally on the expensive shade of reasonable (as are all theme parks), but we found the food to be decent.

Granny’s Apple Fries

We heard great things about Granny’s Apple Fries, so we tried them for our first snack. Honestly, they were good, but I don’t think they were as good as their reputation. The apples were a little sour for our taste.

They come with whipped cream, which is a huge plus. The combo with a drink was the best deal we saw, at $2 more.

Granny's apple fries

Fun Town Pizza and Pasta Buffet

FunTown Pizza and Pasta Buffet is a great alternative if you’re a big eater or absolutely starving. It’s all you can eat and drink. Prices are $9.99 for children plus tax, and $15.99 for adults plus tax and they include beverages.

Firehouse Ice cream

We were pretty much sold at ice cream. This is a great place for sundaes, floats and coffee.

Firehouse Ice Cream

Panini Grill

Looking for something healthy? We ate at Panini Grill for our main meal, and it was pretty good, especially for amusement park food. I’d give it a solid C+.

Our meal at Panini Grill ended up costing $45 for two adults and two kids. The $10 adult panini meal has an option of roast beef, ham and white cheddar, chicken Florentine, and the vegetarian panzanella. Drinks are extra. For kids, the $6.99 kids panini meal includes a drink, fruit and chips. Kids’ choices are ham and cheese, or ham only, or cheese only. There are free fountain drink refills so it’s a good place to quench your thirst. The Panini Grill is in the Imagination Zone.

There are also plenty of other food options at LEGOLAND Floride, including the Fried Chicken Restaurant, Castle Burger, Sunshine Sweets and more!

LEGOLAND water park

We were pretty tired after an almost full day of rides and attractions at LEGOLAND, so we almost skipped the water park. However, we decided to buckle up and spend an hour and a half here, and I’m glad we did. It’s a fun place to hang out.

We started by building a LEGO raft on the lazy river. The water was just a little too cool for us in March, but once we were in we had a blast. We ended up going around the lazy river three times.

After that, it was on to the wave park and water slides. Charles and Cole had a blast taking the tubes down the Twin Chasers tube slide and careening down the giant dual Splash Out slides while Jordan and I enjoyed the wave park.

Water Park at LEGOLAND Florida

Locker rental at the LEGOLAND waterpark

We didn’t want to wander around all day at the main park in our swimsuits, so I was happy to find out that you can rent lockers inside the LEGOLAND waterpark. We used them to stash our clothes and valuables while we were having fun in the water.

It’s $7 for a small, but the small truly tiny. It would work for a single person, or two people without much gear. A large is $10, and this was plenty big enough for clothes and shoes for the four of us. It costs $13 for a jumbo, which would work for a larger group.

Water Park at LEGOLAND Florida end rental button on locker


You pay using an automated system, where you pay with credit card at the automated kiosk. You’re then given a code and locker number to match.

This part is a bit tricky. To end the rental, there’s a RED END RENTAL Button at the bottom of the locker keypad. The problem is that it’s virtually impossible for an adult to see, as it’s tucked away under the keypad. Luckily, our eight year old daughter pointed it out to us.

How to get to LEGOLAND Florida

Driving to LEGOLAND Florida

LEGOLAND Florida is approximately 45 minutes away from Disney World, an hour from Universal and around an hour from the Orlando Airport. It’s address is 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 3388.

Parking at LEGOLAND Florida

Parking at LEGOLAND Florida costs $15 online and $17 on site. Most of the parking stalls are only a few minutes walk from the front gate and there are plenty of stalls with shade. Parking opens 30 minutes before the gates open and there are handicapped parking spots right outside the front gate.

LEGOLAND Florida Shuttle Bus

If you don’t want to drive, there’s a $5 shuttle to LEGOLAND Florida that picks people up at I-Drive 360, the massive entertainment complex at 8401 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819. Parking in the garage is FREE.  The LEGOLAND shuttle bus pick up area is outside the parking deck by the back entrance of the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye on the Universal Boulevard side.

The LEGOLAND Shuttle bus picks people up at 9 AM and drops them off after the park closes. You need to book the shuttle at least 24 hours beforehand and arrive 30 minutes before the shuttle leaves to be guaranteed a seat.

Final Thoughts on LEGOLAND Florida

All in all, we had a great day at the LEGOLAND Florida amusement and waterpark. Unlike the bigger parks, there’s definitely more room and shorter lines to deal with however, that said, it’s more geared for those under 12 or for people that are huge Lego fans. We had both so it was resounding good day for all of us.

Have you been to LEGOLAND Florida? Do you have any LEGOLAND secrets or tips to share? We’d love to hear them. Leave us a comment below!

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Fun Family Things to Do in Cañon City Colorado Sun, 20 Aug 2017 01:06:28 +0000 What do you get when you cross a mountain town with a fast moving river? That’s right, good times!

My son Cole and I recently had the opportunity to check out some activities around Cañon City, in the heart of wild Colorado, and to be perfectly honest, we both had an amazing time.

Quick facts about Cañon City, Colorado

First off, let’s talk about the town’s name. It seems a few years back they added a tilde over the Ñ so the town is actually pronounced Canyon City as opposed to Canon City. Didn’t realize that? Well, neither did I until we talked to some locals on the plane ride down there and they couldn’t figure out where Canon City was either.

If you’re looking at a map, Cañon City is around 2 hours due south of Denver, Colorado and an hour southwest of Colorado Springs down long gorgeous highways. The city has been around since the mid 1800’s and has quite a nice historic downtown.

Charles and Cole on the Arkansas River in Colorado

Since it has the warmest year round temperatures in the state, thanks in part to its high elevation (5,300 feet or 1,600 m) and the mountains to the West that protect it, Cañon City is also known as the “Climate Capital of Colorado”.

When we were there at the beginning of summer, temperatures were already starting to soar in the high 80’s (that’s low 30’s in Celsius), however, luckily for the residents and visitors alike, there’s always a breeze in the valley and there isn’t much humidity so it’s a very dry heat.

Family Things to Do in Cañon City Colorado

For anyone who hasn’t been to the area, Cañon City is famous for two things. The first is its many long-standing penitentiaries (there are 13 in the area) and the second is amazing whitewater rafting, climbing and exploring just west of the city.

This means that Cañon City is a fantastic place to take in outdoor pursuits for the whole family, from white water rafting to checking out dinosaurs at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience.

Royal Gorge Cabins: Where to stay and eat near Cañon City

We were fortunate to be able to raft the amazing white waters of the Arkansas River with the region’s biggest whitewater company, Echo Canyon River Expeditions. Not only that but we also had the opportunity to stay onsite in their brand new Royal Gorge Cabins. They have both one and two bedroom bungalows with lofts, so Cole got his own king sized bed, while I got mine. Needless to say we both had a great night’s sleep.

Some of the new cabins at Royal Gorge Cabins

I can go on and on about the amazing views at the Royal Gorge Cabins, the understated luxury, the comfortable beds, good showers, nice kitchens and the beautiful outdoor living areas, but I think a few pictures might be better suited for this.

Upstairs loft in 2 bedroom at Royal Gorge Cabins

Living Room with two way fireplace

Kitchen area

Main floor master bedroom at Royal Gorge Cabins

Our cabin at Royal Gorge Cabins

To put it simply, if I was doing a review on the new Royal Gorge Cabins at Echo Canyon it would rate five stars. Both the buildings themselves, as well as the people, were first class. I especially loved the extended outdoor area with its two way glass fireplace. It would make the perfect place to sit around with friends after a long day spent rafting on the river.

Lovely outdoor area

For those that truly love the outdoors,  Royal Gorge Cabins even has some gorgeous glamping tents for rent for those if you’d like to have a few s’mores around the campfire, but still want to sleep in a comfortable bed at night.

Typical glamping tent at Royal Gorge Cabins

Not only that, we had some delicious fare across the street over at Echo Canyon’s 8 Mile Bar & Grill. Their fresh fried waffle chips were worth the trip in themselves, and everyone raved about their fried pickles. We ended up eating there for both lunch and dinner and both times we left satisfied.

Outside 8 Mile Bar & Grill

Waffle chip fries and fried pickles

Kids Mac & Cheese at 8 Mile Bar

For those that like their beer cold after a day on the water, 8 Mile Bar & Grill also has 16 draft beer options. Throw in a king sized firepit, some beach volleyball courts and lawn games to occupy the little ones and what more could anyone ask for?

Fire pit outside 8 Mile Bar & Grill by Echo Canyon Rafting

Echo Canyon River Expeditions white water rafting near Cañon City, Colorado

For anyone coming to white water raft the Arkansas River, there are several whitewater companies to choose from just to the west of Cañon City.

If your goal is to spend your day or half day on the river like we did, Echo Canyon River Expeditions is the biggest and highest rated over at TripAdvisor. All the guides, boats, buses and equipment were top notch.

On top of that, we had the pleasure of meeting Andy, the owner of the company, who was both extremely friendly and highly knowledgeable on the river and the area in general. What’s more, even with up to 50 boats running a day during high season, he still manages to get out and guide a few times a week so he’s always in touch with every aspect of the company.

Outside Echo Canyon River Expeditions

Entrance sign at Echo Canyon River Expeditions

Equipment rentals at Echo Canyon River Expeditions

Echo Canyon River Expeditions bus and rafts

Waiting area at Echo Canyon River Expeditions

Due to the Arkansas River still being high from the late Spring thaw, and because we wanted to do a Colorado family rafting trip versus the more adventure filled one, we ended up going the Upper Arkansas River run. After being fitted for lifejackets, wetsuits and helmets, we all waited for the bus to take us to our location.

30 minutes or so later, and after the guides set up all the rafts for us, we jumped into the boats and set off. Along with Mack, our guide and seven other boats, we hit some class three and class four rapids and everyone on our boat had a great experience. Not only were the rapids fun, we even saw a black bear running along the river beside us!

On the Bus to Raft Arkanasas River in Colorado

About to launch our rafts on the Arkansas River

Our 2 groups of 4 post launch on the Arkansas River with our guide Mack in the center

Our group rafting on the Arkansas River with Echo Canyon

We enjoyed white water rafting so much in Cañon City that Cole and I both want to go back and raft the famous Royal Gorge canyon section of the Arkansas River. After numerous tales from the owner and some of the experienced guides, the class 4 and 5 rapids sound like an exhilarating ride filled with breathtaking scenery.

Charles and Cole on the Arkansas River in Colorado

There are also some gorgeous views from the Royal Gorge Bridge, which is one of the highest suspension bridges in the world, and some good zip lining in the area, which we didn’t get to try, so yes Colorado, we will be back!

Dinosaurs in Cañon City, Colorado

After our morning on the water and another quick tasty snack at Echo Canyon’s 8 Mile Bar & Grill, we headed next door to the newly opened Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience. If you or your kids love dinosaurs then this place shouldn’t be missed. Not only does it have some great indoor exhibits with plenty of information, including castings of some locally found fossils, but it also has a collection of full sized animatronic dinosaurs just outside to get a feel for just how big dinosaurs were back in the day.

Triceratops and more at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience

Big dinosaurs and big exhibits inside

Life sized animatronic dinosaurs outside the Royal Gorge Experience

As well as the guided exhibits, the kids really loved the three story rope course outside. Ever adventurous, I decided to liberate the child within me and walked the heights as well. I think I enjoyed it more than a few of the kids but that’s another story. I will say the wind can really gust near Cañon City so that coupled with the heights made the climb that much more exciting.

Ropes Course at Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience

The cool part about Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience is that they have a miniature rope course designed for three to five olds and a dinosaur dig area where kids can unearth their own dinosaur fossils. Rope courses are becoming popular the world over, but this was the first time I saw one aimed perfectly for the toddlers complete with safety gear especially designed for them.

Toddler rope course at Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience

Family Fossil dig area

Besides for the indoor and outdoor exhibits, there’s also a small canteen and a very generously sized dinosaur shop at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience with more dinosaur merchandise than I think I’ve ever seen in one location. We walked away with tshirts, mugs, gems and dinosaur candy. All perfect to bring back to my daughter Jordan who was at home.

We also had the pleasure of meeting the family that built the Cañon City Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience. Not only were they super friendly and knowledgeable, their love for all things dinosaur related was quickly evident. I’m curious to see what they add next to their ever growing Dinosaur Experience.

Colorado Springs and area attractions

Overnighting in Cañon City was only one small part of our Colorado tour, so stay tuned for my forthcoming review on Colorado Springs and the many things you can do in that great little city.

These include riding a cog train up Pike’s Peak, checking out the beautiful Garden of the Gods, visiting the giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, eating s’mores and going on a MagiQuest at Great Wolf Lodge, descending to the depths in the Cave of the Winds, having breakfast and a pint in the Ivywild School and relaxing in comfort at the sprawling Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

Many thanks to Colorado Tourism, who hosted us. 

Family activities in Canon City Colorado, including white water rafting with Echo Canyon River Expeditions and visiting the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience. Family things to do in Canon City Colorado, including white water rafting with Echo Canyon River Expeditions and visiting the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience. things to do in Canon City Colorado with kids ]]> 9
21 Incredible Things To Do at the Calgary Stampede Before You Die Thu, 17 Aug 2017 01:45:00 +0000 When it comes to the Calgary Stampede, you can say we go back a long way. I not only grew up on the wide open prairies east of Calgary in the province of Alberta, Canada, I also spent nearly a decade in Calgary itself getting my MSc and then working corporate jobs. It’s also where Charles and I first met.

During those years I was lucky enough to enjoy the greatest outdoor show on earth, the Calgary Stampede.

Most years I would hit the midway, some years I’d visit the free Stampede breakfasts about town, and some years I would hit up the shows and exhibitions.

I’ve been traveling in, living in or storing my things in British Columbia for years now, and honestly, sometimes I still miss the Stampede spirit. So, when I got an email from GMC inviting me to join their team and some other media folks to Stampede like a pro, I replied yes faster than a Tasmanian devil in a windstorm.

21 Incredible Things To Do at the Calgary Stampede Bucket List

21 Incredible Things To Do at the Calgary Stampede Before You Die

While this obviously wasn’t my first rodeo, the folks at GMC Canada have been a partner of the Stampede for over three decades and they were able to show even me a few new Calgary Stampede tips. We took in chuckwagon races, the rodeo, enjoyed front row seats to concerts, went horseback riding at the Calgary Stampede Ranch, and they even got us kitted up in authentic Stampede gear.

So without further ado, here are my top 21 bucket list things to do at the Calgary Stampede.

Take in the Rangeland Derby

My uncle raced pony chuckwagons for years, so I grew up watching horses roar around the dusty tracks of southern Alberta. At the Calgary Stampede, Rangeland Derby chuckwagon races are almost a sacred experience.

Rangeland Derby Calgary Stampede

Photo courtesy Lucas Scarfone

Each team consists of one rider in a semi-enclosed wagon, and four horses tearing around a well maintained dirt track. Make no mistake, these horses are athletes, and serious money and time are spent on their upkeep and welfare. If you want to see the Stampede crowd roar to life, this is the event that will make it happen.

Enjoy the GMC VR chuckwagon experience

GMC Rangeland Derby Virtual Reality chuckwagon experience

The closest a mere mortal like me can get to racing the quick and deadly chuckwagons is via the GMC Rangeland Derby Virtual Reality chuckwagon experience. Make sure you stop by the GMC display on Stampede grounds, strap on a headset, a prepare to get immersed in a pretty accurate virtual reality simulation. You’ll find yourself racing around the (virtual) chuckwagon track at the Stampede like a pro, too!

Watch the rodeo

If you haven’t seen a live rodeo before, or even if you have, you’ll be wowed by the athleticism of the cowboys and cowgirls at the Stampede.

The 2017 Stampede saw the introduction of the Indian Relay Race as a demonstration sport, featuring teams of Indigenous racers. Riders go bareback around the chuckwagon track, and switch horses at a breakneck speed. I spent years watching rodeos as a kid, and grew up on a farm in South-Central Alberta, and I can say that I’ve honestly never seen horse riders that could equal the agility of these racers.

Take a road trip to cattle country

As a born and bred Albertan, I know first hand that the bigger the truck, the better the drive around Calgary. The Stampede is the perfect occasion for GMC to show off its brand new fleet of trucks, and we were told to pick a truck and venture out of the city and into cattle country to tear up the roads like a pro.

GMC convoy in cattle country

GMC convoy in cattle country

These GMC trucks are truly gorgeous vehicles, and equipped with plenty of features, including OnStar and a fast, reliable built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.

GMC Acadia SUV at the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch

My sweet ride – the GMC Acadia

I was quick to hop into the Acadia, which is GMC’s mid-size SUV. As a mom with two kids and lot of cargo, I really appreciated the seven passenger capability and silky-smooth, quiet ride. As someone who likes to have fun, I loved that it had plenty of power under the hood, and rugged 4×4 capability.

Want to find out more about these great GMC trucks? Visit the GMC Canada website here.

Visit the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch

The 8,000 acre Stampede-owned OH Ranch is a sprawling 130-year-old working ranch in the heart of Alberta’s foothills in Longview, Alberta.

Cow and calf at the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch

I was lucky enough to get a chance to drive around the ranch’s back trails in a brand new GMC truck, taking in gorgeous views of the Rocky Mountains.

GMC truck at the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch

Calgary Stampede OH Ranch

Ride a horse!

Arguably, no fully immersive Stampede experience is complete until you’ve had a chance to pull on your cowboy boots and climb atop a horse.

cowboy on a horse at the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch

Now, I grew up riding bareback on my favorite long past retirement thoroughbred horse, but that was a long time ago. A very long time ago. I expected to be a bit rusty, but between the 20 years that have passed since I last rode, and my somewhat feisty steed, I felt pretty darn awkward in the saddle. I also forgot how high those animals are from the ground. That, said, I would do my two hour trail ride again in a heartbeat.

Wear a cowboy hat

If you haven’t been in Calgary during the Stampede, you’ll probably be surprised that almost everyone downtown dresses up like a cowboy for the event. For men, that means a Stampede uniform of cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, and a western-style button-up shirt. Women have a little more latitude, with cowboy boots preferred (but not essential), jeans or a denim or Western-style skirt, and shirt that matches the outfit. For both sexes, one thing is essential: a cowboy hat.

Hand crafting a cowboy hat at Smithbilt Hats

If you want to be dressed like an authentic Calgarian, that means you should mosey on over to the local Smithbilt hats. Smithbilt is home of the Official White Cowboy Hat of Calgary, and they make all of their hats by hand, in their Calgary factory.

Smithbilt Hats womens hats

There are thousands of hats to choose from, including some innovative women’s styles, but most people settle on a traditional felt or straw cowboy hat. They personally hand-fit every hat, and I loved the country look of the black felt hat.

Smithbilt hat black cowboy hat Calgary Stampede midway

Get a feel for the history of the Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede has its roots in Calgary and District Agricultural Society events started way back in 1886.

Calgary Stampede entrance 2017

The Stampede, as it is now, began in 1912, with just a few founding families taking part, and it’s lasted as an integral part of Calgary’s history through two World Wars to the present day. Many of today’s chuckwagon racers and rodeo participants are descendants of those original founding Stampede families.

Take in the Evening Grandstand show

I was expecting a good show, but honestly, the level of energy and professionalism at this year’s evening show really wowed.

Calgary Stampede evening grandstand show

Photo by Lucas Scarfone

The evening show is held at the Stampede Grandstand, which holds up to 25,000 folks (including standing room). The Grandstand also hosts the rodeo and chuckwagon races.

Tuck into a great steak

Alberta beef is famous for a good reason, and it’s a perfect accompaniment to the Stampede’s cowboy culture. Located smack-dab downtown on 8 Avenue SW at the former home of the iconic downtown Hudson’s Bay store, the The Guild is a carnivore’s dream come true.

 The Guild Restaurant Steak

Photo by Lucas Scarfone

If you’re looking for a great cut of meat, you can’t go wrong with the Charcut Roast House. The rustic-chic Charcut also has Canada’s first beer steward.

Pancake breakfasts

The tradition of the free pancake breakfast started way back in 1923, with cowboy Guy Weadick (a rough-and-tumble character of the pet badger fame). These days, there are hundreds of free pancake breakfasts around Calgary, which are organized by local restaurants, charities and local businesses. There’s even an app to help your find your new favorite pancake breakfast. You can download the Flapjack Finder app here.

Get behind the scenes with Agriculture Showcases

A little love and care behind the scenes for Troy Flad's horses at the Calgary Stampede

The Agriculture Showcases are hands on experiences with the animals and the people that tend them and allows everyone to get up close to the animals. With everything from barn tours to blacksmith showcases there’s something for everyone. There’s even a milk and cookies shack for the little ones.

I was fortunate to get a peek behind the barns at all the love and care shown for chuckwagon rider Troy Flad’s horses. For these racers, the horses are family and when you see them together there’s a lot of love in the way they treat them.

Prairie oysters

You’ll find something called prairie oysters popping up on menus all over Calgary during Stampede. These are about as far from real oysters as you can get. The tradition has its roots in real-life ranching traditions, where cowboys would chow down on prairie oysters after a long day of castrating cattle.

Castrating cattle? Yep, you guessed it, each prairie oyster is a bull testicle. I’ve heard they have a spongy, but not unpleasant taste, but I have to say I’ve never had the urge to try one myself.

Party it up!

Since Stampede is pretty much a 10 day excuse to party, Calgarians and visitors alike take full advantage, and dance the night away each and every night.

Nashville North, which is right on the Stampede grounds, amps up the fun with up to three acts a night. The vibe is fun, inclusive, and all-out loud and brash. While the crowd is largely in their 20’s, we saw plenty of folks in their 30s and 40s (ahem) or even older having a blast.

Once you’ve checked out Nashville North directly on the stampede grounds, be sure to head to the iconic Cowboys and Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall for a dose of local Calgary cowboy culture.

If music is your thing, the Coca-Cola Stage is onsite at the Stampede. Access is free with admission to Stampede Park, and the stage hosts some big name acts each year.

Watch the Showriders

Calgary Stampede Showriders

The Stampede Showriders were originally formed to accompany the Stampede Showband. They’re a team of equestrian riders that perform musical rides several times a day at the Stampede.

Meet a real life cowboy

Calgary Stampede cowboy

You may be surprised to learn that there are plenty of real life cowboys at the Calgary Stampede. Sure, plenty of city slickers and tourists visit, but the Stampede also draws a huge crowd of honest-to-goodness ranchers from far and wide including Canada, the USA and even from down under in Australia.

Listen to the Stampede Showband

There are 150 members of this iconic Stampede marching band, all aged between 16 and 22. They’re pretty darn good, too, and have been named the world champion of marching show bands five times. They usually play a few times throughout Stampede.

Visit the midway!

The midway is probably the part of the Stampede that I’ve visited the most over the years. There are fantastic and fun things to do and see all over the midway, from riding rollercoasters and tilt-a-whirls to playing carnival games. You can even take a look at GMC’s rugged and snow-worthy all mountain truck.

GMC All Mountain truck at the Calgary Stampede Midway

GMC All Mountain truck

Eat all the crazy midway foods

If I have one regret for this Stampede visit, it’s that I didn’t get a chance to scarf down more outrageous midway goodies. There are food and drink trailers found throughout the midway however they are mainly found in the concession area.

Calgary Stampede midway BBQ

Photo by Lucas Scarfone

The list of eats at the Calgary Stampede is long and quirky, and includes deep fried Oreos, ghost pepper pizza, crispy chicken feet (I may skip that one), deep fried Jell-O, Flinstones’-sized BBQ ribs and legs, Canadian bacon pickle balls, and of course, all things poutine. If you’re a regular carnival goer, relax. They have corndogs and mini doughnuts too for all you purists.

Browse the Indian Village

Indian Village has been part of the Stampede since 1912. The 26 tipis on site represent the five nations of Treaty 7: Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Siksika and Piikani. There’s plenty to do and see here, from trying traditional bannock, to watching First Nations youth dancers and learning about Native Canadian culture and history at the interpretative program.

Enjoy the Stampede Parade

The provinces largest parade kicks off the 10-day Stampede celebration, and winds its way all through downtown. It’s such an institution in Calgary that most downtown companies give their employees a day off to attend.

The city puts up stands all over downtown to accommodate all the parade goers however, if you want to ensure a seat, make sure you get there early.

Bonus Tip! Check out the Canine Stars at the Dog Bowl

Love your little four legged friends? So do I and there’s an amazing Canine show every year at the Calgary Stampede. From high jumping to Frisbee catching to dock-diving this show will please the youngest to the oldest and everyone in between. We used to take the kids to see the canine show every year when we lived in Calgary as it was one of our favorite activities at the Calgary Stampede so don’t miss it!

So, have you ever been to the Calgary Stampede? Do you have any iconic, can’t miss experiences to share? We’d love to hear about them!

The wild rose, Alberta's flower

Calgary Stampede Tips | Calgary Stampede things to do | Calgary Stampede Bucket List

Calgary Stampede Tips | Calgary Stampede things to do | Calgary Stampede Bucket List

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Why You Need To Visit Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery in Vernon BC Tue, 23 May 2017 22:30:00 +0000 Do you enjoy bourbon, rye or single malt Canadian Whisky? How about vodka, gin, brandy or delicious fruit liqueurs?

Now, what are your thoughts on locally made craft spirits sourced straight out of people’s backyards? Interested?

Okanagan Spirits, out of Vernon, BC is western Canada’s oldest craft distillery and the quality comes through both in the taste and in the story of how this small family owned distillery has become a driving force behind the provinces’ burgeoning small craft distillery market.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon CEO Tyler Dyck pouring BRBN

BRBN bourbon style whisky at the family owned Okanagan sprits

We were lucky enough to find ourselves at the impressive new 16,000 square foot Okanagan Spirits Vernon location and had the opportunity to try out some of their newer lines, as well as some of the classics, while talking with the family who helped bring this product to life.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon tasting bar

Okanagan Spirits Vernon tasting

We visited our local Kelowna’s Okanagan Spirits branch a few years back and loved trying out all their specialty craft liqueurs. Well, two years on, we’re still big fans and the fact that all of Okanagan Spirits’ ingredients are 100% locally cultivated here in our home province of British Columbia makes it all the better. We especially love that the majority of their spirits retain a little of their fruit heritage.

The Okanagan Valley is a 200 km (125 mile) long mountain valley boasting a string of crystal clear mountain lakes, pine forests and stunning mountains in the southern interior of British Columbia, Canada. It’s best known for some of Canada’s warmest weather and it’s hundreds of world class wineries centered around the valley’s largest city of Kelowna. It’s also the home to the majority of Canada’s fruit orchards, all bursting with apples, cherries, peaches and apricots.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon CEO Tyler Dyck checking on fermentation

Okanagan Spirits CEO Tyler Dyck checking on fermentation

At Okanagan Spirits family owned distillery, all alcohols are made from local 100% British Columbia grains and fruit. The produce comes from local farmers, growers, orchardists and often even from some local’s backyards.

When they couldn’t source enough rhubarb from local growers, the company put a out call out to local gardeners. Soon, they were inundated with locally Okanagan grown rhubarb for their award wining rhubarb liqueur. Likewise, they’ve traditionally made their apricot brandy from a local 100 year old apricot tree.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon distillation apparatus

Okanagan Spirits Vernon distillation apparatus

Today, Okanagan Spirits is North America’s only World Class designated distillery and masterclass designated distiller from the World Spirits Awards in Austria.

We met with Tyler Dyck, whose family has been at the center of Okanagan Spirits from the beginning. Tyler says that the demand is especially strong for gin, vodka, and whiskey spirits. In fact, their Canadian whiskys are so popular they can’t keep up with demand, especially for their award winning Laird of Fintry single malt.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon BRBN bourbon whisky barrels

Luckily for us, they hold back a percentage of every release so you can still try Canada’s first bourbon style corn whisky (BRBN), Western Canada’s first single malt whisky (Laird of Fintry) and their fabulous Canadian Rye whisky (Okanagan Spirits Rye) at either their Vernon or Kelowna branch.

What’s in a name? You’ll notice that Okanagan Spirits spell whisky without the ey at the end. Guess what, both whiskey and whisky are allowed spellings. Traditionally, the Scots spelled it whisky while the Irish spelled it whiskey. American whiskey’s traditionally end with the extra “e” as well, and most Canadian and European countries spell it whisky.

Laird of Fintry single malt whisky

Okanagan Spirits Vernon Laird of Fintry

The quality of Okanagan Spirits whiskey-based liquors hasn’t gone unnoticed in some pretty notable quarters. During a Royal visit to the Okanagan Valley in 2017, Prince William and Kate had a chance to sample the spirits, with William saying he “liked the Laird of Fintry, and Kate thought the blackcurrant liqueur was lovely” says Tyler.

Lovely blackcurrant Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge Kate’s lovely blackcurrant liqueur

There’s no denying that the Okanagan Spirits Canadian whiskeys are hugely successful, not only with customers who love their unusually smooth quality, but with judges at the World Spirits Awards in Austria.

The Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky was the first Canadian Whisky to receive a gold medal at the World Spirit Awards. It’s one of eight awards taken home from the World Spirit awards in 2017, including five gold, one silver and two bronze.

Tip! Want to get your hands on the award winning Lord of Fintry whisky? Click here to join their newsletter and you’ll find out when the next batch is ready.


Okanagan Spirits Vernon BRBN with Tyler Dyck

Since bourbon can’t officially be called so in Canada unless it’s US made, similar to how sparkling wine can’t be called Champagne unless it’s made in France, a fortified wine can’t be called Port unless it originates in Portugal or Scotch has to be made in Scotland, Okanagan Spirits has had a little fun with the name and BRBN is the result.

BRBN bourbon whisky on the shelf at Okanagan Spirits Vernon

Regardless of how it’s spelled, Okanagan Spirits BRBN is made in the traditional bourbon way using corn and barley all sourced just miles from their shop. Milled onsite, once fully fermented it’s left to mature in carefully selected white American toasted oak casks. If you fancy yourself a bourbon lover, you’ll love it’s sweet honey and molasses flavour with just a touch of burnt caramel.

Scroll down for our Suburban BRBN Iced Tea Lemonade Recipe for a tasty summer drink!

Okanagan Spirits BC Rye Whisky

Okanagan Spirits Vernon Rye Whisky

Canadian rye whisky is known the world over. While you’ll find a Canadian whiskey behind nearly every bar around the world, Okanagan Spirits rye isn’t setting out to imitate what has come before. With their own blend of locally harvested rye and malted BC barley, there’s a lot of love that goes into every bottle.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon rye whiskey being poured

This love is apparent when you get a chance to sample the Okanagan Rye for yourself. Like all of Okanagan Spirits alcohol, extra time is taken to remove all the impurities resulting in some of the highest quality spirits you’ll find this side of the border.

Visit for yourself to get a world class tour and tasting, and ask any of the helpful and knowledgeable staff about the fermentation and distillation process and how the team at Okanagan Spirits goes that extra mile to ensure that only the best of the best ever sees the inside of a bottle.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon sea buckthorn

While you’re there, be sure to try the amazing sea buckthorn liqueur. You’ll most often see sea buckthorn touted as a new super-antioxidant used in top tier skin care products. In a liqueur, it’s honey-smooth taste is finished by a note of almost citrus. It’s light, not cloying, and will make you want more!

The story and the team behind Okanagan Spirits

Okanagan Spirits Vernon Tony Dyck with barrels

Tony Dyck

Okanagan Spirits is a true local success story. It was started with a group of like minded investors led by the Dyck patriarch, Tony Dyck, back in 2004. A few years later, Tony and the family bought out the rest of the group and now Okanagan Spirits is wholly a family owned (and run) business.

The Dyck family has been part of the Okanagan Valley for close to a century, with roots among family and friends in the early days of back yard stills and moonshine so in some ways you can say they’re carrying on a long family tradition.

Okanagan Spirits liqueur samplers

In 2004, the new distillery started with Eau de Vie fruit brandy, aiming to blend high quality spirits with local origins. Over time, customer demand saw them expand to spirits like gin, vodka, whiskey, absinthe and their many delicious fruit liqueurs. The fact that the majority of their liqueurs are fruit based rather than grain based means a little of that lovely fruit flavour remains present in every product.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon Tyler Dyck

Okanagan Spirits CEO Tyler Dyck

Today, son Tyler Dyck (CEO) has a hand in what seems to be every aspect of the business and even heads the Craft Distiller’s Guild of BC to help bring about change in how BC deals with local craft distillers.

Extended family, like Tony’s sister Mary are often on hand to help out and when large events occur, every one in the family gets called in. Last year, the distillery was part of about 80 fundraiser and charity events.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon Master distiller Peter von Hahn

Master distiller Peter von Hahn

Master distiller Peter von Hahn has been the creative mastermind behind a lot of the products and is a major part of Okanagan Spirits focus on quality. He is Canada’s most awarded Craft Distiller and the only distiller in North America with both the Master Class and World Class Distillery designations from the European Based World Spirits Awards.

In person, von Hahn is both engaging and personable, with plenty of travel stories, and it’s easy to see where the creativity at Okanagan Spirits alcohols originates.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon Junior Distiller Christopher Burke

Junior Distiller Christopher Burke

Junior Distiller Christopher Burke is in charge of Okanagan Spirits’ expansion into one of Micki’s favorite Okanagan Spirits whiskeys, the Bourbon-style BRBN. With a degree in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, he brings a European sensibility to the team.

Despite talented distillers and family teamwork, getting a new craft distillery up and running hasn’t always been an easy ride. The Dyck family has pushed for years for changes in liquor laws to allow craft distilleries to succeed in British Columbia. They’re still struggling with provincial requirements that cap the amount of whiskey that craft distillers are allowed to produce and sell and have even formed the Craft Distiller’s Guild of BC to help fight for those changes with the government.

A peek inside Okanagan Spirits Vernon distillery location

The new location in Vernon opened in 2015. It’s an impressive facility, at over 16,000 feet with a gorgeous 1930’s prohibition era theme.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon distillation system

distillation system

Without a doubt, the stunning showpiece of the distillery is North America’s tallest copper pot still, a 24 foot, 50 plate distillation system. We’ve never seen anything like it. In fact, the distillation system is so tall they had to cut a skylight in the roof to accommodate it.

The distillation system was purchased from Germany and assembled on site in Vernon, as what Tyler says was like “the world’s largest and most challenging LEGO set”.

Each type of alcohol is carefully distilled in the behemoth distillation system and due to it’s height and design, Okanagan Spirits can achieve a higher purity than many of it’s competitors.  This means a lot of their alcohols, and their whisky for sure, have a smoother finish with less of the burning sensation you get from less pure blends.

Okanagan Spirits Vernon antique car and whiskey vat

The distillery itself taps into the rich history of homegrown stills and bootleg moonshine in the Okanagan. The showrooms speakeasy style features a vintage car plucked from the dusty garage of an old family friend and a long bar set on aged barrels.

Want to see more? Peek inside the Vernon location.

Suburban BRBN Iced Tea Lemonade Recipe

We experimented with about five bourbon-based drinks at home for this post so we could bring you our own tasty BRBN-based summer cocktail (yes, lol, sometimes our job is tough), and this was by far our favorite. It’s a light, refreshing summer cocktail that’s easy to drink yet still allows a little of that bourbon flavour through.

BRBN Iced Tea Lemonade Okanagan Spirits Distillery

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 4 Earl Grey tea bags
  • 1 oz BRBN
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (you can also use 1 tbsp granulated sugar as a substitute)
  • Ice
  • Orange slices, for garnish
  • maraschino cherry, for garnish

How to make

Pour boiling water over tea, steep for five minutes. Take out tea bags and refrigerate for at least an hour.

In a highball glass, add 1/2 cup iced tea, bourbon, juices and syrup or sugar. Serve over ice and garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherry.

Tip! We used fresh squeezed orange and lemon juice, and it gave a nice flavor, but boxed juice works perfectly well.

Irish Buck

While this is traditionally a Saint Patrick’s Day recipe, we love the combination of BRBN, lime and ginger ale for summer.

BRBN Ginger and Lime Okanagan Spirits Distillery


What you’ll need

  • Ice
  • 1 oz BRBN
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 5 oz ginger ale
  • lime wedge, for garnish

How to make

Fill a glass with ice, and pour over BRBN, fresh lime juice and ginger ale. Garnish with a lime wedge.

When to Visit


Inside the Okanagan Spirits Vernon

Inside the Okanagan Spirits Vernon

Visiting the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada this summer? Besides for hundreds of wineries, great beaches and some amazing hikes, make sure you check out Okanagan Spirits Vernon or Kelowna locations. They’re open year round and besides for the taste rooms, they also have a lounge and patio in the summer.

You can check out our previous Okanagan Spirits Kelowna tour here and if you’re trying to figure out what else there is to do in Kelowna check out this post we wrote last summer.

Want to find out more?

You can order Okanagan Spirits online, or pick some up at your local BC liquor store.

Okanagan Spirits Gin Sea buckthorn liquerur and BRBN bourbon style whiskey


You can also visit Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery  in store in the new Vernon distillery location, or at their Kelowna storefront.

Visit them on their website, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Why You Need To Visit Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery in Vernon BC

Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery in Vernon BC

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The Best Day Trips from Jackson Hole Wyoming Mon, 15 May 2017 17:00:00 +0000 Are you thinking about spending some time around Jackson Hole, Wyoming? If you’re not, then maybe it’s worth considering, since there are plenty of fun things to do on day trips from Jackson Hole.

We haven’t spent as much time exploring the USA’s gorgeous Rocky Mountain region as we would have liked, however, we’re hoping that soon changes. Though we’ve recently been to New Hampshire and this spring to Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, after seeing what the Jackson Hole area offers, it would be fantastic to spend a day or two touring the amazing Grand Teton National Park, or even taking a Yellowstone Park day tour from Jackson Hole.

There are also great restaurants, lots to see outdoors, and some fantastic Jackson Hole rentals that let get up close to the natural beauty of the region.

Best Day Trips from Jackson Hole Wyoming

Wondering what to do around Jackson Hole? Go no further; we tell you some of our favorites below.

Day Trips from Jackson Hole

In a region known for stunning outdoor adventures, it’s probably no surprise that our tips for Jackson Hole day trips focus on things you can do and see in the great outdoors.

Sure, there are the don’t miss visits to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, but there are also some fantastic, lesser known adventures to be found floating down Snake River, fishing, taking a road trip, and camping nearby.

First, let’s look at visiting the stunning Grand Teton National Park.

Note: Jackson Hole isn’t a town. Jackson Hole is actually a valley between the Teton Mountain Range and the Gros Ventre Range in Wyoming. The hole, or valley, is 48 miles long and about six to eight miles wide. The town of Jackson, within Jackson Hole, is where the name of the valley comes from.

Visit Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Mountains near Jackson Hole DP

Now, technically, many people don’t consider Grand Teton National Park to be part of Jackson Hole, but we decided to include it in this post as it’s an absolute, not to be missed nearby area.

The park is not only beautiful, but it also offers plenty of wildlife for visitors, including elk, moose, black bears, grizzly bears, bison, deer and many smaller mammals and birds. You’ll find the best scenery walking through the park, with easy day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips on over two hundred miles of trails.

A day trip can take in some of the most beautiful spots in the area including Snake River, Jackson Lake and also Jenny Lake.

How to get there: Grand Teton National Park is one of the easiest day trips you can imagine. It’s a 22 minute drive from the town of Jackson to Teton Village.

Campgrounds are open from mid-May to mid-June and close late September to early October. Check the National Park service for more info.

Cool tip! On August 21, 2017 the center-line of the solar eclipse will pass over Grand Teton National Park, making for some amazing viewing. Be sure to plan for this if you’re in the area. More on NASA here.

Yellowstone day tours from Jackson Hole

Yellowstone really needs no introduction. It’s the United States’ first national park, and home to stunning scenery, one-of-a-kind natural wonders, and an abundance of wildlife.

Yellowstone National Park Wildlife Safari

While most people think of Yellowstone’s stunning geysers and hot springs first, the park is home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including predators such as wolves and bears as well as beaver, moose, many smaller mammals, and plenty of bird species.

Make sure you take some time to learn about how the re-introduction of the wolf to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1995 changed Yellowstone significantly. After the wolf was re-introduced, Yellowstone saw a “still-unfolding cascade effect among animals and plants” (Yellowstone National Park), which includes increasing numbers of beavers and other wildlife.

A day trip to see Yellowstone’s diverse wildlife will also take you to the most amazing places in the area including unique places to truly enjoy the lush and scenic beauty of the natural environment.

How to get there: To get to Yellowstone from Jackson, Wyoming, it’s about an hour and a half drive. You’ll pass through the stunning Grand Tetons, so budget a bit of time to stop and take in the views along the route.

Visit Yellowstone National Park’s Hot Springs

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone National Park DP

Besides the many rivers, streams and lakes, Yellowstone is most famous for its amazing hot springs. The Granite Hot Spring Pool is just half an hour from the town and the Grand Prismatic Spring is a must visit stop.

How to get there: The Grand Prismatic Spring is in the Northern part of Yellowstone, and almost a three hour drive from Jackson.

More Jackson Hole day trips

While nearby Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone are the biggest draws around Jackson Hole, there’s definitely a lot more to see in the valley proper. Day trips near Jackson Hole involve getting into nature by either camping, hiking, or even going on a short road trip, so be sure to bring your sense of adventure.

Camping near Jackson Hole

Tenting near the near the Grand Teton mountains on a day trip from Jackson Hole Wyoming

There are plenty of places to camp in the valley, from Curtis Canyon and Cascade Canyon, to Paintbrush Canyon or along the Teton Crest Trail. Shadow Mountain, just outside the Grand Teton National Park boundaries doesn’t require a permit, and has stunning views. There are many other, similarly scenic camping places in the Tetons that invite you to explore and enjoy.

How to get there: Shadow Mountain is about a 40 minute drive from Jackson.

Float down the Snake River

Snake River is one of the most scenic rivers in Wyoming. It starts in Yellowstone National Park, and weaves its way down through the Jackson Hole valley. You can take an adventurous white water trip, or just float down calmer sections on an inner tube or even kayak.

How to get there: This one’s easy. Just take a guided tour from Jackson that will include everything from life jackets and vests to transportation and you’re all set.

Go on a Scenic Drive

Bull moose in Wyoming DP

In an area filled with stunning scenery, it’s no surprise there are plenty of scenic drives. If you want to see bison, take the Kelly loop from Gros Ventre Junction. Plenty of moose and elk can often be seen on Moose Wilson Road, and stunning, 360 degree views can be seen from the summit of Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park.

How to get there: Check out this helpful article from Travel + Leisure.

Guided Fishing Trips

Fly fishing is one of the must-try activities in the Jackson Hole area. Snake River and the smaller rivers that flow into it are known as world-class fishing spots, teeming with trout and other fish – some species can be only caught here. You can easily arrange fly fishing tours from Jackson.

How to get there: The easiest way to almost guarantee good action is to take a guided tour from Jackson with one of the areas many fishing experts.

Have you taken a day trip from Jackson Hole? Tell us in the comments!

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips and Hacks to Save You Time, Money and Hassle Fri, 05 May 2017 19:00:00 +0000 Whether it’s fate or just good timing, some things just seem meant to be.

You see, for the last two months of our South American trip, both of our kids devoured the entire series of Harry Potter books. Once done, we all started re-watching the movies together as a family since Charles and I are huge Harry Potter fans as well.

So, when the opportunity to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando on the way home presented itself, we were thrilled.

At this point we had heard nothing but good things about the Harry Potter world, but honestly, the Universal Orlando Parks blew our expectations out of the water. Every detail was perfect and lovingly crafted. We truly felt like a family of muggles magically dropped into Harry Potter’s world.

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

Aside from having a fantastic time, the four of us learned a lot during our visit, so I wanted to share our tips for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to make your visit easier, faster, and save you money.

Top Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

Get the Park to Park pass

To start off, in order to access everything both wizarding worlds offer, make sure you get the Park to Park pass.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split between the two Universal Florida parks, with Hogsmeade in Universal Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. The parks both have unique shops, rides and experiences, so you’ll want to go to both. You’ll also need a Park to Park pass to ride the Hogwarts Express!

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter girl with Hogwarts Castle

Try to visit for at least two days

It is possible to visit both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in one day, but you’ll likely be rushed, and you’ll miss a lot of the carefully crafted details. You’ll also miss everything else both parks have to offer.

If you can, take at least two days to visit, and don’t forget about the Park to Park passes. Even better, right now Universal has a fantastic special, where you get two more days FREE if you buy a two day Park to Park pass. See Universal Orlando’s deals here.

We’ve heard great things about buying passes in advance on Undercover Tourist. Unlike a lot of other sites, taxes are included up front (so no surprise fees at the end), AND shipping is free. Plus, you’ll save $42 over paying at the gate.

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

Get the Official Universal Orlando® Resort App

We grabbed the app the day before we went to help develop a game plan for the big day and to let everyone in the family mark the attractions they didn’t want to miss. Once there, we used the app constantly during our visit to figure out where we were and to help decide where to go to next.

Tip! If you don’t have a data plan, don’t worry, there’s free WiFi available throughout the park!

The app was so helpful for checking out wait times and show times, finding rides, and figuring out which restaurant we wanted to go using the interactive park map. You can even set up alerts for when ride wait times drop, save your parking information, and check out restaurant menus! Download the app on iTunes here. Get the app on Google Play here.

Stay at an onsite hotel

Many of the Universal Orlando hotels include Unlimited Express Passes and early park access to help you beat the morning rush. Since no car is needed, you’ll also save time and money by using the free shuttle service.

You can choose between Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Leows Royal Pacific Resort, Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel, and Leows Portofino Bay Hotel. Free Universal Express Unlimited is included, which is worth up to $89 per person, per day (not offered at at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort or Cabana Bay Beach Resort).

Check prices for hotels near Universal Studios Florida.

Important: Universal Express access is not valid on Fievel’s Playland, Pteranodon Flyers, Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides or Ko’okiri Body Plunge.

All on site hotels offer Early Park admission (one hour before regular opening hours) and complementary transportation to the Parks and CityWalk. There are some other great perks, including complimentary delivery of merchandise from the Resort to your hotel, appearances by Universal Orlando characters, and priority restaurant seating (for Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort).

Tip! If you want to purchase a package vacation, the folks at Get Away Today offer a layaway plan. Click to see Orlando vacation packages here.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter entrance

You can also get Early Park admission if you buy a Universal Orlando vacation package through Universal Orlando, even if you don’t stay at a Park Hotel.

Did you know that there’s a Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan and California?

Interactive Wand Hacks and Tips

First, get the new interactive wands

They ring in at $47 USD per wand, but our eight and eleven year old spent hours casting spells in shop windows at Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. They were worth every penny, as they brought the shop displays to life, and really made our kids feel they weren’t mere muggles! They also used them at both parks each day we were there and you can bring them with you the next time you go to Universal Studios.

You’ll find the spell locations on the map included with your wand and will see the corresponding medallions with the nature of the spell on the ground. Don’t worry too hard about finding them, there are usually a few kids lined up trying to get them to work, as well as a special wizard helper showing you exactly how to make the perfect wrist movement.

Wand Tip! Since the camera sensor is small, stand just in front of the medallion. It seems that tight wrist movements work best and make sure you aim towards the four red dots.

There are a bunch of locations to master your wand skills in both Diagon Alley as well as Hogsmeade. One of the kids favorites was the wingardium leviosa spell to float a feather and make quiddich balls float in the air at Spintwitches Sporting Needs in Hogsmeade!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter girl casting spell with wizard

Buy the interactive wand at a cart

The most popular places to buy an interactive wand are at Ollivanders in Hogsmeade or at Wands by Gregorovitch in Diagon Alley. Both places can be very busy, especially Ollivanders, since it also has the special wand selection attraction.

If they’re busy, and they probably will be, pick up your wand at a cart instead of in the small and often busy wand shops. There are wand stands located throughout both Harry Potter Worlds with practically no one in line.

We picked our wands up at a cart in Hogsmeade at the Islands of Adventure, near Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. There was almost no wait at the stand, and they had the most popular wands on display. Since the wand chooses the wizard, Dumbledore’s wand chose our daughter, and Sirius Black’s wand chose our son. The stand attendant was patient and helpful, and our kids got their wands much more quickly than if we’d gone to Ollivanders.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter wand cart

If you want to buy your wand at one of the shops, it’s usually quieter at Ollivanders in Diagon Alley than Ollivanders in Hogsmeade. The Diagon Alley Ollivanders is also bigger, with a larger selection of wands, and you’ll get the experience of having the shopkeeper help you choose your wand.

Secret Locations! The special map that comes in your interactive wand’s box will guide you to wand spots in both worlds, however there are also a few secret spots hidden throughout the park. Here’s one to get you started: check out the storefront at Slug and Jigger’s Apothecary in Diagon Alley.

Here’s the next best thing to picking up your wand at Olivanders. These aren’t interactive wands, but they’re carefully boxed and get good reviews.

Harry Potter’s Wand

About the wand show at Ollivanders

You can also visit the wand show at Ollivanders in Hogsmeade to get help picking a wand. The show lasts about five minutes, and Ollivander himself will select one person from the crowd to demonstrate a wand selection ceremony. The show’s free, but you’ll have to pay for your wand.

It’s All About the Butter Beer

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter girl with butter beer moustache

Everyone needs a butter beer foam mustache

Make sure you try the butter beer

It’s non-alcoholic, and comes in three types: regular, hot, and frozen. I absolutely loved the regular butter beer, and I’m not a fan of sweet drinks, so I thought I wouldn’t like it. In fact, I now get butter beer cravings! I think it may be time for a trip back to get some!

Regular butter beer tasted like a mix of cream soda and root beer, but less sweet than either, topped with a butterscotch flavored creamy topping that doesn’t melt into the drink. I found it both tasty and refreshing.

Our 11 year old, Cole, loved the new hot butter beer. The hot butter beer tasted a bit like white hot chocolate with the same butterscotch flavored topping as regular butter beer.

Charles tried the frozen butter beer, which we’d heard was the best. Surprisingly, it was our least favorite. We did drink it on a fairly cool day in Florida (it was about 20 Celsius /65 Fahrenheit at the time). We may have enjoyed it a lot more on a hot day in the summer.

You can also get butter beer ice cream in the park!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter delicious creamy sweet regular butter beer

Delicious, creamy, sweet regular butter beer

Share a butter beer

The butter beer portions are fairly large, so if you’re buying for a small child, consider sharing. Our eight year old couldn’t finish hers, but luckily I was able to help. 😉

If the stands are busy, you can get butter beer with your meal at Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron. Even better, there’s a secret entrance at the back of Three Broomsticks that will let you get into the bar, which is part of the restaurant. This can save you a wait in the Three Broomsticks restaurant line. Just go down the alley on the side of the Three Broomsticks to find the entrance.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter hot butter beer

Hot butter beer. Yum!

If you love butter beer as much as I do, and plan to make it your main beverage while you’re in the park, forgo buying your butter beer in a souvenir mug. You don’t get discounts on butter beer refills, and the souvenir mug is smaller than the disposable cups. As a note, you do get discounts on other beverages in the souvenir mug, so if you’re drinking other beverages it may be worth your while. Plus, you’ll get the mug as a souvenir.

Where to Eat

Eat at Three Broomsticks. We loved Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade so much that we ate there twice in two days. The food is British inspired, with treats like shepherd’s pie, kids mac and cheese, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and roasted potatoes. It was all absolutely delicious.

For supper, for a family of four we got two side baked potatoes, one salad, two corn on the cobs, a kids Mac and cheese, a roast chicken, two regular butter beers, two hot butter beers, and our total came to $65.18. We were absolutely stuffed, so next time, we’ll be sure to save some room for a pumpkin drink and the delicious looking sticky toffee bread pudding.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter shepherds pie at Three Broomsticks Restaurant

Shepherd’s pie at Three Broomsticks Restaurant

If you can, eat outside of the usual 11 to 1 pm lunch window. On our first visit to Three Broomsticks, there was a line way out the door. We only had to wait 20 minutes, but when we went at around 2 pm on our second day, we walked in with only a five minute wait.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter menu at the Leaky Cauldron

Plan your meals ahead

If you’re a vegetarian, or if you have special dietary requirements, choose your restaurant wisely. We had three vegetarians in our group, and there were veggie options at every restaurant, but you may be limited in what you can eat in certain restaurants.

For example, at the Leaky Cauldron in Universal Studios, they only had soup and salad as a veggie option, so we decided to eat elsewhere. You can get menu information on the Universal Orlando App or the Universal Orlando website to plan ahead.

Use the Official Universal Orlando® Resort App (get it on iTunes here | Google Play) to check out menus in advance.

Shopping – Our Harry Potter World Tips

If you have time, quickly stop in all of the shops, since each shop has something unique. Each shop is beautifully Harry Potter themed, with everything from the Owl Post where you can buy stationary, quills and ink (and send a postcard from the Hogsmeade Post Office that’s stamped with a Owl Post postmark) to Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley where you can dabble in dark arts merchandise.

Inside Weasleys Wizard Wheezes novelty joke shop

Our favorite shop in Diagon Alley was Weasleys Wizard Wheezes novelty joke shop run by the Weasley twins Fred and George. You’ll find fantastic jokes and magical stuff like Pigmy Puffs, U-No-Poo pills and Puking Pastilles.

Berties Bots Every Flavor Beans

Sugarplum’s Sweetshop was another favorite, with the inventive Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans (but watch out – they do come with vomit and booger flavors!), and fun treats like Cauldron cakes and Exploding BonBons.

Treats inside Honeydukes sweets shop

In Hogsmeade, our favorite shop was Honeydukes sweets shop. It was one of my personal favorite places in all of Hogsmeade. We found wonderful treats like chocolate frogs and exploding bonbons.

Honeydukes Emporium Exploding Bon Bons

Dervish and Banges was another winner, with fun magical items like Golden Snitches, and brooms like the Nimbus Two Thousand.

If you’re short on time, skip Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods in Hogsmeade. Filch’s Emporium is more like a regular gift shop with merchandise like clothing.

Both Universal Orlando Parks have a pickup service, so you don’t have to tote your purchases around all day. Just buy your souvenirs and pick them up at the end of the day. If you’re staying at an on-site hotel, you can even arrange to have your purchases sent directly to your room.

Rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was our favorite of all the fantastic rides, shows, and experiences at Universal Orlando. I don’t want to spoil too much of the surprise, but the ride felt the most like the real world out of any theme park ride I’ve ever experienced. It honestly felt as if we were truly swooping through Harry Potter’s world on broomsticks. Even our little eight year old, who doesn’t love scary rides, thought this was one of the best rides in the park.

Because this ride is so popular, it can have longer wait times, but there are so many interesting things to see in the line as you wait that the time really flies! On the way in you’ll see the Defense Against the Dark Arts class room, moving paintings, the Gryffindor common room, and even Dumbledore’s office.

Escape from Gringotts

If you’re in Diagon Alley, ride Escape from Gringotts. It’s a fun, 3D ride with incredibly realistic looking animatronic goblins, lots of twists and turns, and fire-breathing dragons. You may even catch a peek at he who shall not be named, Lord Voldemort, himself! Even if you’re not a big fan of rides, it’s well worth your time to stand in the line for all of the incredible sights and sounds of Gringotts Bank on the way in.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter line for Escape from Gringotts

Look up on your way into Escape from Gringotts

The dragon on top of Gringott’s breathes fire periodically. You can actually feel the heat from his flames so get your camera ready – you won’t want to miss it.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter street with Gringotts Bank and Dragon

If you’re a fan of Hagrid (like I am), check out the Flight of the Hippogriff ride in Hogsmeade. You’ll see Hagrid’s hut while you’re in line.

Saving Time at Harry Potter World

Get there early

We are not morning people, so morning starts were the hardest part of our day, but we did find the crowds to be much lighter in the morning before noon. Try to be at the park at least half an hour before opening. It’s a fairly long hike from parking to the entrance, and it does take a few minutes to pass through the entrance, and then through the park to the Wizarding World of  Harry Potter as well.

Stay late

We found that the crowds really dropped off around 6 pm, in the three hours before closing, and stayed quieter until the park shut down. This, or early morning, is the perfect time to take in the busier rides and attractions at Harry Potters Wizarding World since most people have experienced and left this area of the park already.

Make sure you check closing times! Closing times for Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure were different when we visited.

The Wizsarding World of Harry Potter Universal Orlando Resort Ticket

Look at getting the VIP Experience

With a VIP experience, you can skip ALL of the lines plus get your very own personal Universal Orlando tour guide. You also get a continental breakfast, plus you can choose several other options.

That means you can get priority front-of-the-line access to all rides and attractions including all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions and experiences. Plus, you can get behind the scenes tours, complimentary valet parking and reserved seating at shows.

You can also get a private VIP experience, with just you and your party (which includes two full service meals), or a regular VIP experience. I didn’t know about the VIP experience option when we want, but it sounds amazing. I’d be especially tempted to get it if I was short on time!

See information on the VIP experience here.

Visit the other Universal Park attractions mid day

Harry Potter world is incredibly popular, and many of the shops and lines can get crowded early to mid afternoon. We used this time to check out the rest of Universal Orlando and Universal Islands of Adventure. Since the rest of the Parks are so huge, they feel much less busy during peak times compared to the Harry Potter areas.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley at sunset

Go during a quieter month

If you have the flexibility, try to avoid traditionally busy times like weekends, Christmas, Spring Break and summer holidays. Orlando Informer has a helpful Universal Crowd Calendar.

Get Express Passes if you’re visiting other areas of the park

An Express pass lets you skip the normal lines and jump in the express line. We loved having the Express Passes, as they saved us plenty of time in lines during the busier afternoon time and allowed us to experience nearly everything both parks had to offer.

Important! You can’t use Express Passes at Fievel’s Playland, Pteranodon Flyers, Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides or Ko’okiri Body Plunge, but we found they were a lifesaver for other rides in the Universal Parks.

To save time in lines, use the alerts in the Official Universal Orlando® Resort App to let you know when a wait time has dropped (get it on iTunes here | Google Play).

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Gringotts Bank

Use child swap

We used child swap on Escape from Gringotts, as our eight year old decided at the last moment that she didn’t want to go.

With a child swap, all the family stands in line together. At the last moment, one adult waits with the child when the other adult rides. When the first adult is done, the adults swap, and the adult who waited with the child goes to the front of the line. Just tell the greeter at the front of the line that you want to use child swap.

I loved that even the Escape from Gringotts child swap waiting room was perfectly and carefully Harry Potter themed, with clips from the Harry Potter movies that coincided with the attraction playing on a TV on the wall.

Take the single rider line

If you want to get onto the rides quicker, and don’t mind riding without the rest of your group, use the single rider line. This will save you a lot of time in queues, especially on the busier rides like Escape from Gringotts and The Hidden Journey.

Hogwarts Express Tips

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogwarts Express

Check to see if Hogwarts Express is running before you go

If the Hogwarts Express is up and running, go as early in your trip as you can, to make sure you don’t miss it. It was down a few times over the two days we visited, and we’ve heard other people say it was down for part of their visit too. You can see it’s status on the Universal Orlando app mentioned above.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter platform nine and three quarters

Ride the Hogwarts Express both ways

It’s a real train that that you can ride from King’s Cross in London or Hogsmeade. The experience is different each direction, but you’ll be sure to see the beautiful scenery of the English countryside, Hagrid on a flying motorcycle, Mad Eye, Harry, Hermione and Ron, and the Weasley twins, and even a dementor or two. The ride is also a lovely way to rest your feet for 10 minutes.

There’s also a fun surprise at Platform 9 3/4. If you pay close attention while watching people ahead of you in line, they’ll appear to walk through a wall to get to the platform.

Other Harry Potter Orlando Tips

There’s free WiFi throughout the park. We found it fast and reliable, so turn off your data roaming to save money. Thanks, Universal!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter family with night bus driver

Visit the Night Bus

The Night Bus and wizard driver Stan Shunpike are outside of the Wizarding Worlds Diagon Alley on your way back into the rest of Universal Islands of Adventure. Stopping by for a photo op is well worth a few minutes. The driver and his little friend, Dre Head the Shrunken Head, were a lot of fun to talk to.

Call the Ministry of Magic from the telephone booth

You’ll need to figure out how to use a rotary phone for this one! If you dial the numeric equivalent of M A G I C (it’s 62442), you can hear a special message from the Ministry of Magic.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter family with the frog choir show

Go to the shows!

They’re well worth seeing. You’ll find the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally shows in Hogsmeade, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard show and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees show in Diagon Alley. Check the Official Universal Orlando App for show performance schedules (get it on iTunes here | Google Play).

Don’t be afraid to dress up and have fun!

Deluxe Harry Potter Child’s Gryffindor Robe

We saw plenty of people in Hogwart’s robes and house scarves with interactive wands in their hands everywhere throughout the park. Adults seemed to be in on the fun as much as kids so don’t be afraid to embrace your inner wizard.

elope Harry Potter Gryffindor House Infinity Scarf

Indulge your inner dark wizard in Knockturn Alley

It’s perhaps a little lesser known that some of the other Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions, but Knockturn Alley is chock full of interesting things to see and do.

Create your own moving pictures at Shutterbuttons

We somehow missed this during our visit, but it sounds like a wonderful keepsake. In the shop, you’re guided through 12 scenes, and you can purchase a DVD photo album in a collectible Shutterbuttons’ tin.

If you have any questions, just ask the staff

I was amazed with how helpful the staff were, even if I was asking them something that was well out of their field of expertise. They also stayed in character throughout Harry Potters Wizarding World and didn’t let us muggles get into too much trouble. Top marks to Universal for their amazing staff, who were always friendly and welcoming!

Hidden Secret: If you’re patient, you can see Kreacher the House Elf peeking through the windows at 12 Grimmauld Place.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter entrance with cars

Pay for Prime Parking parking if you’re driving

We got prime parking both days we visited, and it was wonderful to have such a short walk to our car at the end of the day. We also managed to walk to the entrance a lot faster. Prime parking is an additional $10 a day at $30 (it’s $20 for regular parking).

Read and watch before you go

If you haven’t see a Harry Potter movie, or read the books in a while, consider catching up a bit before you go. There are so many little tidbits and in-the-know places and items throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that it makes it more fun if you know the backstory before you go. If you have time to catch up, there are lists of all of the movies and books at the end of this article.

That being said, you’ll still enjoy the park regardless. You just won’t be as amazed at all the little details Universal included while making it.

Saving Money on Tickets!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Globe

Before you buy your tickets, be sure to check out Universal’s deals and specials. They often have some fantastic deals, and offer special rates for Florida residents as well. Right now Universal has a fantastic special, where you get two more days FREE if you buy a two day Park to Park pass.

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

See Universal Orlando’s deals here.

Is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on your bucket list? If you’ve been, do you have any Harry Potter Universal tips to share? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

We were kindly hosted by Universal Orlando Resort during our trip, but they didn’t tell us what to write, and all opinions are all our own. They definitely didn’t encourage Micki’s current butter beer obsession, or get Charles to buy the kids their own wands and they definitely didn’t force us to smile all day. Those came all by themselves.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

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Expanding Our Senses – An Xenses Park Review Tue, 25 Apr 2017 17:00:00 +0000 As you walk into Mexico’s newest Mayan Riviera ecopark, Xenses, you’ll know right away that this isn’t your average theme park. With giant granite balls floating in water and rubber ducks bouncing in the waves, you’ll almost think you’re heading into a children’s discovery center.

After checking it out for ourselves, we can definitely say it’s not just for kids, however there are a lot of things for children to discover here. I can also guarantee that by the end of the day you’ll be questioning your perceptions as the park challenges all of your senses.

Tip! We found the cheapest ticket prices for Xenses on the Xenses website, where you can find tickets for about 10% off gate admission.

See Xenses prices here.

You see, as part of the Xcaret family of eco-parks, the designers of the Xenses Xcaret park wanted something a little more out there than what their other parks, namely Xcaret (check out our Xcaret review), Xplor, Xplor Fuego and Xel-Ha offer.

The sign reads “The water in this drinking fountain is perfectly clean, and the toilet has never been used. So why do you hesitate before taking a drink?”

Sure, there’s a zip line and water slide at Xenses, but that’s about all Xenses and the other parks have in common. You see, Xenses isn’t just about filling your adrenaline needs, it’s about opening up your body and mind to everything around you.

They say that by the time you’re done at Xenses you’ll be a Xensei or a master of your senses. I’m not sure about that, but if you’re curious to know more, read on for our thoughts and a full Xenses review of Xenses park in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Where is Xenses

Tucked just across the driveway from Xcaret, the Xenses park is around 10 minutes south of Playa Del Carmen in Mexico’s Riviera Maya and about 50 minutes south of Cancun. Compared to the older, more mature parks of the Xcaret family, Xenses still hasn’t hit its stride yet, however that’s a good thing if you don’t like big crowds.

Scanning bracelet at Xenses

Scanning your wrist tag to get into Xenses

Our Playa Del Carmen taxi driver didn’t even know where it was exactly. Luckily, we’d spent the day at Xcaret the day before (read our latest review of Xcaret here), and saw a bunch of Xenses signs as we pulled into Xcaret, so we just told our driver to go towards Xcaret and follow the signs to Xenses. That said, the park is so new that it’s to be expected, and I’m sure it’ll be a popular place for those looking for alternatives to the more adventure aimed themed parks in the area.

A half day excursion

Another notable difference between Xenses and most of the other parks is the other parks are all day long events. In the case of Xcaret, it’s a very, very long day when you factor in the late show espectacular. Xenses, on the other hand, can easily be done in four or five hours, so it still gives you lots of time to hit the beaches in Playa Del Carmen or even check out a cenote or two. It’s also priced less than the other parks in the Xcaret family so it’s also a little easier on the wallet.

Xenses checking out the tubes

Exploring your senses at Xenses

As you can probably guess, the whole inspiration for Xenses is to explore all the senses, with a strong emphasis on touch, sight, sounds and smell. The taste aspect comes into play when you check out their lunch and snack area and stop for food, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Xenses kids playing in the upside down swimming pool for fun

As you walk into Xenses, you’ll see the main building is circular in design with exhibits, the exits to the other areas, and even the lockers in a confusing spiral of directions. They call this area the Pinwheel and you’ll understand the term as soon as you see it for yourself.

Each section blends into the next and it’s very easy to get turned around. If you get lost, don’t worry, they want and expect you to get turned around here. Luckily, there are plenty of helpful guides in every area of the park whose sole job is to help point you in the right direction.

Lockers are included

Another similarity to the other parks in the area is that chances are very high that you’re going to get wet while checking out Xenses. It’s possible you can enjoy some of what the park offers without donning a bathing suit, however if you really want to get your money’s worth, a bathing suit (and, ideally, water shoes) are a good idea.

Tip! Don’t forget your water proof camera or water proof cell phone bag if you want to capture some memories of your day here. If you don’t want to take a camera, opting for their photo package might be a good idea but I’ll talk about that towards the end of this post.

One of the many sensory rooms at Xenses

When you first get your ticket, you’ll be issued a few things for your time there. One is a locker key, another is a wristband, and the final is a little waterproof fob that goes on your wrist. The locker room in Xenses is accessible from the main hall in the Pinwheel.

Note: The locker areas are communal and the male and female change room/washrooms are to the left and right of the locker rooms. I only say this since we saw a little more skin in the shared locker area than we expected to that morning, so please don’t change in the shared locker rooms.

The Main Hall – The Pinwheel

As I already mentioned, when you first enter Xenses, you’ll find yourself in the main hall called the Pinwheel. While you’re still dry, now’s not a bad time to check out all the crazy exhibits here. There are a dozen or so rooms for you to wander around, through or over. You’ll find everything from standing in a dry swimming pool while water flows overhead to upside down rooms to rooms so filled with lights and color you’re not sure where the walls and floors end.

The center hub of Xenses, otherwise known as the Pinwheel. Each spoke of the wheel leads to a different room or area at Xenses

I don’t want to spoil all the surprises but rest assured your perceptions will be tested and you’ll be delighted by a few of the halls. You might find others a little underwhelming without pretty specific camera placement for you to get the full effect and this leads me to our next section.

Xenses corazon heart

A lot of love went into the creation of Xenses.

Cameras at Xenses

You’re fully allowed and encouraged to bring your own waterproof camera to Xenses (we brought our GoPro for the water activities) and the gift shop even sells see-through waterproof cases for your cellphones so you can keep them with you throughout your stay, however a lot of the exhibits require pretty specific camera placement to the get the full effect of the room.

Xenses colored doorways

Fortunately, the designers at Xenses understood this and there are dozens (if not hundreds) of cameras found throughout Xenses. This is where the wristband fob I mentioned comes in. Just place your unique fob over the specially marked sign and look at the camera wherever it may be hiding. You have about three seconds before the camera flashes to get your pose on.

All your pictures from the day get saved to their network and the nice part about this is you can check out your pictures anytime at one of the hundreds of huge TV’s adorning the park. We used this system the whole day as well as took our own pictures as we went.

The nice thing is you don’t need to purchase the pictures if you don’t want to but the kids loved setting off the camera in each zone and I think our daughter Jordan had a few hundred herself by the end of the day. Each person gets their own wrist fob however all the pictures of the group are available as a bundle deal if you want to purchase them at the end. We never priced out all the packages however I think you can get a USB stick with all your combined memories of the day for under the $100 mark.

Important tip! You can save about half off the photopass if you buy your photopass online on the Xenses website. When we looked, you could add on the photopass for $58 USD when you buy your park tickets. Even better, one photopass includes all photos of a group up to 10 people who are registered at the same purchase.

The lockers and bathroom

After you check out all the rooms off the Pinwheel in the main hall, it’s time to head to the lockers to throw on your swimming suit. True to the spirit of Xenses, even the trip to the lockers was a shock to the system. To get to them you have to walk through a dizzying spinning crossway that even I, with a decent sense of balance, had a hard time getting through without almost falling over. Micki, who’s prone to car sickness, just looked at it, shouted “Hell No!”, closed her eyes and walked through it while holding the railing.

Xenses bathroom

Once inside the communal locker room, we found an amusing collection of central sinks with curved mirrors and odd contraptions from a toilet bowl water fountain to mock toilets. The locker room itself is a playful area, with fake peek-a-boo slits in the stalls to giant half-bottomed statues that also work as seats.

The kids really loved this area, and there are also private shower stalls in each male and female wing as well as family change rooms. You can come back to this area at any point during your stay at Xenses.


The first real attraction at Xenses is the Xensatorium. In the ads they’re very secretive about what exactly it is, however I’ll give you a hint. Imagine walking through a very, very long tunnel without a speck of light, while your other senses get turned up to about a thousand. If you ever wanted to experience the four corners of the world with just your sense of touch, hearing and smell then you’ll definitely love this area.

IMPORTANT: If you’re afraid of the dark, or claustrophobic, think hard and long before you head into here. Seeing that Jordan is only eight, I stayed with her and there were more than a few times when I had to convince her to keep going. Cole on the other hand, at 11, blazed through it and loved it so much he wanted to go again.

This is what you will see in the Xensatorium at Xenses however your other senses are going to go through the roof.

If you run into trouble, there are also infra red cameras placed throughout the Xensatorium and if you ever feel the need for help, you can just need to raise your hand and staff will be there in moments. Jordan and I had a moment of indecision and staff appeared before we even had the chance to raise our hand.

You’ll feel like a giant on the way to the Xensatorium

I will say that it was a unique experience and the walk through the beautiful lighted cenote cave system, the Eden, on the way out should make even those afraid of the dark willing to brave it just for that part. It’s a fairly long twisting route through a semi open cave with plenty of spots to take a picture, regroup with your fiends and check out the parrots.

Parrots on the way out from the Xensatorium

To get the full effect of the Xensatorium, they recommend that you take off your water shoes/sandals to be able to really feel your way through it all. Cole, Jordan and I took ours off however, Micki chose to keep them on. We both say that our way was better, so feel free to do whichever you feel comfortable with. There is a bit of a walk to get through it all, however the floors were easy on the feet.

Cave system on the way out from the Xensatorium

Tip! Remember to grab your shoes from the two way lockers that are next to the washrooms on your way out from the Xensatorium. (We forgot to grab ours and I had to run back through to grab them again.)

Once you’re through the Xensatorium, it’s a bit of a walk back to the Pinwheel so make sure you grab a few glasses of lemonade in the Xitric Gardens. It seems that at Xenses, lemonade comes directly from the tree and it’s tasty and free so enjoy!

Lemonade trees? Only at Xenses

Crooked Town

As the old rhyme goes, there once was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile. Well, the beautifully recreated old Mexican town of Townville in Xenses must have been designed for him. After figuring out how to get to the town (I’ll give you a hint, look for the beating heart of Xenses back in the Pinwheel), and walking through a waterfall, you enter the crooked town of Xenses.

Exit to El Pueblo Town Xenses

This amazing piece of architecture will skew your sense of up and down. Is the little stream actually flowing upward? Are the houses slanted or straight? Am I walking uphill or downhill? Why are the stairs so awkward to climb? You’ll ask these and a dozen more questions as you make your way through the picturesque town.

The crooked town of Townsville will test your senses

Along the way you’ll read amusing stories, and get a chance to walk into some of these peculiar buildings. Make sure you take some pictures, because if seeing is believing, you won’t believe what you’re seeing!

Umm, what’s up with the liquids in crooked town?

The kids especially enjoyed walking through the crooked town and took a picture (or three) at every opportunity.

Stairs don’t work quite the same way at Xenses


After you get through the crooked mile and cross behind the old church, you’ll come across a huge sand-filled area with dozens of hammocks strewn about everywhere. If you’re like us, at this point you’ll be a little hot. The thought of laying down in the blazing sun won’t sound too appealing, but, as you’ll soon find out, they make a great stop after exploring the Xenses Riviera Maya underground adventure zone.

The Adventure Zone

I called it this simply because Xenses doesn’t really have a name for it. Essentially, it’s a group of activities you do in a certain order. The pathway starts in the hammock area just past the crooked town and also ends here. Most of the adventure zone takes place in a labyrinth of a cave/cenote system except for a few parts. The Adventure Zone is also the most lively area of the park and you’ll soon find out why.

The Slip Waterslide

Remember when I said a swimming suit was fairly crucial at Xenses? Well, as you climb to the top of a small hill you’ll realize there’s only one way down, via the Slip. The slip is a nice water slide that starts off little slowly and speeds up as you go along. Did I mention the latter stages are in the dark? Well, they are, and as you exit the slide into the light you’re not going to know whether you’re up or down. Of course my son Cole wanted to do it again and again. 😉

The pool at the end of the waterslide

Bird Flight

Think face forward zip line and you’ll understand what the Bird Flight is all about. In it, they strap you into a harness and you glide down a limestone cavern ending back in the original cave you started in.

It’s a great feeling as you soar like a bird over trees and around corners however watch out for the end since it can be a little abrupt and it gave me a good wedgie. A staff member will fit you into your harness and help get you out so it’s a fairly quick, easy and safe process as well.


Now this was one was truly enjoyable for all our family. In it you choose one of three channels and lay back in a foot and a half of warm, salty water as you float on your back through blue bliss. Along the way you’ll pass through a variety of cave systems, but the temperature is just perfect as the slow current weaves around the bends.

Riverlaxing at Xenses

Tip! Make sure you leave a bit of space between you and the people before you, since not all people float at the same speed and you don’t want to have to put on the brakes while you’re floating so they can stay ahead of you.


As relaxing as Riverlaxing was, the next activity, gliding through the Sludgerie was a stark contrast. Like Riverlaxing, you’re supposed to lay back in the cool mud and let your body soak in the natural moisturizer. The reality is that most people slip and slide their way through this one as fast as they can.

Time to get muddy!

The temperature is a little bit of a shock after the lovely Riverlaxing activity and though I suppose this fits in with Xenses shock to the senses ideology, it would be nice if they heated the mud a little more. Luckily for me, Jordan wanted to skip it, so I got to skip it with her.

The Showers

As you exit the Sludgerie, there are many buckets hanging down from the cave roof. To rinse off all the mud, all you have to do is brave the water that comes out of them. My son Cole and I had a little fun pulling the buckets down on each other.

The Sauna

Feeling a little chilled after your cool shower?

Not a problem, because as you follow the pathway Xenses leads you through a well heated cave. Don’t worry, just as you start to feel a little overheated, you’ll start cooling off again. There is only a tiny alcove to show where the cave sauna ends, so if you’re still chilled, walk slowly through this part and you’ll be golden.

Fast Forward

A great thing about the Adventure Zone at Xenses is that you can easily skip any activity. This is perfect for those with small children or people who don’t feel all that comfortable with a particular activity. Jordan opted out of a few of the activities and it didn’t really slow the process down or force us to reroute everyone.

There is a waiting area off to the side of the major activities where you can wait for others to catch up. The vast majority of the way is paved and easy walking except for the slide and zipline. Even those have smooth floors, however they have a bit of an incline in places so walking to them requires a little extra work.

One of the exits in Xenses. Pics of the day show up on the top screens and follow you along as you walk.

The Hammocks (Part 2)

As you exit Xenses Adventure Zone you’ll find yourself in the Hammocks area again. Now is a great time to unwind and warm up. Just be careful because that hot Mexican sun can roast you before you know it.


As you exit the Hammocks and re-enter the Crooked Town you’ll pass through the marble area. In it there are dozens of giant marbles making there way around a cavernous room along pathways and machinery. It’s a loud room, however it was fascinating watching the round balls make their way around the whole room.

The Xnack

Located just off the Pinwheel, the Xnack housed a decent collection of snacks, from sandwiches to chips, and it also included a huge selection of healthy gluten free and vegetarian foods and even some bulk food options. The kids were impressed that you could fill your own beer glass from their fountain and that they had a warm nacho cheese dispenser as well.

Quirky outside seating at Xnack at Xenses. The bus in back features air conditioning if you want to get out from the sun.

Outside, there’s a small barbecue area where you can purchase hamburgers and hot dogs as well as drinks and candy. There are also several areas to eat outside, including on a giant typewriter or under a canopy of floating umbrellas. For those that want a little air conditioning, there’s a retro-fitted air conditioned bus complete with seats and tables.

The menu for the outside grill at Xnack. There’s tons more options inside.

The Giftery

When you first enter the Pinwheel, you’ll notice a large gift shop in the center. The Giftery is stocked with everything from tshirts to water bottles.

Xenses Gift Shop in the Pinwheel

What makes the Giftery stand out from all the other souvenir shops is all the puzzles and oddities it stocks. Remember at the beginning when I mentioned Xenses could be mistaken for a discovery center? Nowhere is this more evident than in the Giftery. Our kids love science things and they spent more time in the Giftery checking out the cool things than in some of the activity areas. Luckily, we were still traveling for another few months otherwise I know our suitcases would have grown another few inches.

Final Thoughts and Review of Xenses

Through and through, we all enjoyed our half day spent at Xenses. It was so different from Xcaret and the other nearby parks that it really didn’t feel like them at all. It’s like the designers of the park had a slew of fun projects they just couldn’t make work at the other Xcaret family of parks, but wanted to see come to fruition. The result? Xenses. A place that definitely challenges all the senses.

Seeing that we had just spent the previous day at Xcaret, we didn’t feel like Xenses was a letdown in comparison. We’ve been to Xcaret a few times now and the kids always love it, however Xenses is so unique that when asked which park they’d like to return to next time we’re in Cancun or Playa del Carmen, they both say Xenses just because it’s so unique. Cole even says the Xensatorium was his favorite activity so that came as a surprise as well.

There’s no doubt that Xenses has a different take on an adventure park, however no one ever said they all have to be a certain way. Xenses is different, in a good way, and considering how much cheaper it is than its main competitors, it should definitely be on peoples radar, especially those looking for something different or those with only a limited time in the area.

Quick Information about Xenses

Xenses entrance

Xenses entrance


10 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, or 50 minutes south of Cancun in Mexico.

How to get to Xenses

You can take anything from a taxi (easiest) to a collectivo (hardest) to get to Xenses. You can also buy a tour directly from Xenses that includes everything from transportation to your entrance fee. Xenses Cancun access is especially easy when you arrange transportation with the company directly.

See Xenses Cancun transpiration prices Xenses here.

Taxi: The easiest way to get to Xenses is to take a taxi from Playa del Carmen. It costs around 150 pesos ($10 dollars) for a taxi anywhere in town right to the front gate of Xenses and 180 pesos to get back.

Collectivo: You can also take a collectivo ($2) from the collectivo stand on 2nd calle and you can be asked to be dropped off at the gate. Just note that there is a very long walk from the highway to the park itself. This post on seeing wild sea turtles in nearby Akumal has a good section about taking collectivos from Playa del Carmen.

Bus: Those coming in from Cancun or Tulum to Xenses can take an ADO bus to the station in Playa del Carmen and then grab a taxi from outside the terminal. Since Xenses is a smaller park than its siblings, getting a taxi from Xenses back to your hotel can take a few minutes. Just purchase your taxi fare at the admission office and they’ll arrange for one to come get you.

Car: If you have a car, there’s lots of free parking and the signs from Playa del Carmen make the place hard to miss. Just follow the first signs that point to Xcaret and follow the smaller signs to Xenses once you get off the highway.

Ferry: Xenses Cozumel access is by ferry, and then by one of the methods above. Since Cozumel is an island off the coast near Playa del Carmen, just take the ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen, and bet a taxi, collectivo, bus or car.

Time to do Xenses

It takes around four hours to do Xenses Riviera Maya if you don’t go back and redo any activities. The whole park is set up with long walking paths and it helps to think of your day there as a series of activities you do in the order they’re presented in. It’s not easy to jump around doing different activities and we never even bothered trying.

Xenses Hours

Xenses Mexico is open from 8 to 7 Monday to Saturday, however they recommend entering the park between 8:30 to 10 or 1 to 2, since Xenses is considered a half day event and you’ll need that time to do all the activities.

Who’s it for

Xenses is great for everyone. Our family of 4 (kids 8 and 11) enjoyed themselves tremendously and even younger kids would enjoy what Xenses offers. Some areas like the Xensatorium might be frightening for those afraid of the dark, however parents can opt to go with the kids if it helps. The staff suggested I follow along behind my daughter, however she got too scared so I went before her and held her hand the entire way.

In the Adventure Zone, you can opt out of any activity and there are walkways to go from zone to zone if you choose to skip them for whatever reason. The stafff at Xenses suggest the place is for kids aged five and up and continually ask if you have a heart condition, epilepsy, claustrophobia and so forth since some of the activities can be a bit strenuous and lots of them take place in the underground cave system at Xenses.

Special Notes

There is a ton of walking at Xenses and though the vast majority of the park has smooth walkways, there are inclines at different points that some may find tiring. There are also numerous times where you’re required to go barefoot so those with sensitive feet might find it a bit of a challenge at times however if you wear water shoes you should be fine.

On-site amenities

There are numerous washrooms on site including free lockers, showers and change areas. They also have family change rooms. There is also a restaurant/snack bar called Xnack located in the main building as well as a souvenir market in the center where you can purchase everything from water shoes and shirts to waterproof cellphone cases.

Visit Xenses Park Test your mind and your senses while you slide, fly and immerse yourself in fun.

Prices and where to buy Xenses tickets

Tip! When we checked, buying online on the Xsenses website saved about 10%.

We couldn’t find an online Xenses coupon code.

See Xenses online discounts here.

Right now, the regular at door price is $59 for adults while kids 0 to 5 are free. Children 5 to 11 are half price at $29.50.

Purchase your tickets online before you go directly from Xenses Xcaret via this link. Buying online on the Xenses website should save you around 10%.

If you’re interested in going to more than one park, the Xenses Mexico website also has some great deals when you combine other parks like Xcaret, Chichen Itza, Xenotes or Xoximilco  with your Xenses ticket. Check out the combo deals on their website here.
Xenses+ Xcaret Park Combo of two parks: awake your senses + mexican culture, folklore at Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Is there anything you’d like us to add to our Xenses review? Did you find something cool at Xenses you’d like to share, or do you have Xenses reviews to tell us about? Let us know!

Xenses Park Cancun Mexico

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