Friday, May 22, 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Family Camping

For many families, the word ‘camping’ evokes memories of their childhood spent at a lake learning to swim, riding bikes around a campground chasing cousins and friends, going on family nature hikes or catching that first fish with Grandpa.

Meanwhile, many of us (myself included) didn’t grow up camping and it can be very intimidating to get started. You may have questions like:
“How much gear do we have to purchase if we want to just try camping one time?”
“What if a bear tries to get into our tent?”
“What if the baby wakes up at 2am and won’t go back to sleep?”
“What if our toddler screams the whole night?”

Before you know it, you may have a very long list of questions.

Camping - when everything goes right


My family has grown to love camping over the past several years, and I can assure you that every trip gets a little bit easier. First though, you have to get started.

In my newest story for Calgary's Child Magazine, I cover my top 5 suggestions for families wanting to try camping and who may be looking for practical tips on how to get started or how to make it a pleasant experience for everybody involved.

In my story:  Camp Dazed? A Beginner's Guide to Getting it Right,  I talk about comfort camping, equipped camping  in campsites that are already set up for you (yep, that exists,) choosing the right kind of weather and location, gathering the gear that you'll need, and making it FUN (something that should be a primary goal if you are going to go camping!)

Camping when you've finally figured it all out


Here's a preview from the story:

Tip #1:  Try comfort camping or book an ‘equipped’campsite. Parks Canada has started placing tent style cabins called O’TENTiks in some of their more popular campgrounds. These small cabins offer sleeping for up to six people, comfortable mattresses and a heater to ensure your first camping experience is a pleasant one. Two Jack Lakeside in Banff is the closest location where you can try comfort camping, and it’s one of the best campgrounds in Banff with lakefront camping, showers and nearby amenities in the Town of Banff. While you’ll still need to bring sleeping bags and food, you won’t need much else, so this is a great way to ease into camping without investing in a lot of equipment.

Parks Canada also offers a new service called ‘Equipped Camping.’Together with Mountain Equipment COOP, Parks Canada has equipped 22 campsites at the Two Jack Main Campground in Banff. Each site comes with a six-person tent fully set up, sleeping pads, a stove with propane and a lantern. Bring your sleeping bags with food for the weekend and you’re ready to go!

Comfort Camping in Banff

Read the rest of the story here at Camp Dazed? A Beginner's Guide to Getting it Right.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

I've written a lot of stories now in my "Kids on Wheels" series and I'm really excited about this new one because Nipika Mountain Resort is one of my favourite places to spend the weekend!  We usually visit in winter for cross country skiing but it was high time we checked the place out with bikes instead.  And wow, are we ever glad we did!

Family Mountain Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

 

What and Where is Nipika?


Nipika Mountain Resort is located in the Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia approximately 45 minutes outside the town of Radium Hot Springs.  It's a short drive for a weekend getaway from Calgary and an easy day trip from Invermere or Radium Hot Springs in the Columbia Valley.

Nipika has over 100km of bike trails ranging in difficulty from wide double track ski trails (great for family biking in  summer) to challenging and technical single track trails perfect for the more advanced riders in your group.

Easy riding on "Main Street"
Dad taking a spin on "Cliff Hanger"

Families wanting to visit Nipika can either pop in for the day (donations accepted if you want to use the trails in summer) or stay overnight in one of Nipika's log cabins.  The cabins can accommodate 6-8 people and include a kitchen, bbq, fireplace, and lovely deck to spend your afternoon on.  The largest cabin, the Rocky Mountain Cabin, can accommodate 13 people which is great news for those wanting to travel with friends and family members.

Log cabins at Nipika Mountain Resort
The Rocky Mountain Cabin can sleep 13 people at Nipika


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Our Favourite Family Adventure Destination: Mexico!

We live in Calgary, Alberta on the doorstep of the wild Canadian Rockies.  We are outside year round and most people would say we lead a fairly adventurous lifestyle hiking, skiing, biking and paddling.  Add camping and backcountry trips, and our weekends are far from mundane or boring.

Looking back on the past 4 months though, our biggest adventure this year took place way outside of our beloved Rocky Mountains  and required a plane ride to get us there. 

How we hang when we go to Mexico on vacation

We go to Mexico for a week every winter because we have fallen in love with the Pacific Coast and area surrounding Puerto Vallarta.  And while most families go here to relax, we travel to Mexico for the adventure!  Check out some of the status updates I posted to Facebook while we were gone:

Mexico Highlights 2015


"And a status update you don't see every day - today I jumped off the second deck of a pirate ship 6 meters below into the ocean. And it was AWESOME!! I was shaking for a good half hour after. (No shock, I was the only passenger begging to walk the plank!)"

Not ME, but that's exactly how I chose to exit the ship too (while screaming of course)

"Family bike tour around Nuevo Vallarta that ended with a cheetah licking my hand!!! For real! So awesome!!!!!!"
We LOVE biking around Nuevo Vallarta Mexico

"Yesterday we left our resort for an authentic Mexican adventure high up in the hills. We went on 12 Zipline cables (the longest was 400 m long) - and Noah was not scared for a second! Then we played in a river with a bunch of local school kids and played on natural rock water slides (total thrill ride in themselves!!) As you can tell, we don't like to stick around our resort all week!"
My dare devil child choosing the fun way to get in the river at Los Veranos

"New things Noah has done so far in Mexico: body surfing, adult sized zip-lining, he held a tarantula, he held a snake, Cliff jumping into a river off a rock slide that ended way way above the water, and he took his first banana boat ride."
Mexican Zip line Adventure - for the WIN
Body surfing in Mexico with a super cool little boogy board
"Life's too short to "relax." Go big or go home! So today's adventures included swimming, boogie boarding, stand up paddleboarding, and horseback riding."

Noah's first real horseback ride - no surprise he loved it!
Love learning to SUP surf in Mexico

"They've built awesome bike lanes in Nuevo Vallarta since our last visit and they are so great for families. Our resort also loans out bikes so it's been a great way to get out for a short free tour."
Riding the awesome new bike lanes in Nuevo Vallarta Mexico

Top Three Adventure Tours for Families in the Puerto Vallarta Area


We've done a lot of adventure tours in the Puerto Vallarta area, with kids and without, but these are our favourite three tours that most families will want to check out next time they travel south to Mexico.

Even Mama got a thrill playing in the river at the Los Veranos Canopy Tour


Los Veranos Canopy Tour


We searched high and low to find a zipline tour that our 6 year old could do in the Puerto Vallarta area.  He did the kids' adventure park at Las Caletas the year before when he was 5 but it wasn't nearly thrilling enough for our little dare devil.  Enter the Los Veranos Canopy Tour that accepts children from ages 6+ and where the kids get to ride the lines together with the guides most of the time to ensure complete safety. 

Noah got to ride with the guides on all of the big crossings

The tour was a lot of fun and as mentioned under highlights above, we got to do 12 cables, the longest being 400 metres long.  Noah wasn't scared for a second and we felt safe at all times.

Equipped and ready to FLY
I LOVE Ziplines so am super happy that Noah does too!!
There were lots of crazy ways you got to cross on the shorter lines

As fun as the zipline portion of the tour was, I think the highlight for me was actually playing in the river afterwards.  We had an authentic Mexican lunch beside the river and then had time to play for an hour or so.  The natural rock waterslides were a total thrill ride and I was sore for a good week after from hitting the water so hard each time I went down.  Let's just call it cliff jumping because those slides ended nowhere near the water!  Thank God the water was deep enough.  Noah tested it for me before I went down.  ;)

So much fun!!!

Such a great way to spend a hot day in Mexico
There were little kayaks for the kids to play with too
This tour gave us a taste of what we will call "the real  Mexico."  We got to play and interact with local school children, played in a river that may or may not have been very clean (I haven't gotten sick yet though and I swallowed a lot of water,) and got a taste of every day simple life outside the  big city.  I'd go back to Los Veranos just for lunch and to play in the river any day!! And this would be super fun for families who have rented a car.

There were all sorts of critters we got to interact with at Los Veranos
Mama certainly did NOT hold the snake!  But Noah was all over it.

Final notes:  If you're staying at an all inclusive resort just ask the tour staff at the hotel if they can book a tour for you at Los Veranos.  Our hotel did it for us and arranged shuttle transportation for us from a nearby convenience store. Also, bring cash or a credit card along to pay for photos after as well as for the lunch (which was not cheap!)  And finally, bring your own life jacket for the kids if you think you'll need one.

I could hardly take this photo let alone look at this big tarantula Noah's holding!!



Las Caletas Beach Adventure


We did the Las Caletas Tour with Vallarta Adventures last year in 2014, and it is tied in our mind for first choice of tour together with Los Veranos.  For younger kids it definitely upgrades to first choice. The adventure park is a lot of fun for kids 4+  and gives them a mini-zipline experience with a mule ride and some easy climbing.  It's a wise way to introduce the kids to zipline tours before starting with a big one like Los Veranos.

Mini Zipline tour at Las Caletas
Easy climbing in the Kids Adventure Park at Las Caletas
You never know who'll drop in on you at Las Caletas

In addition to the Kids' Adventure Park, you get to spend hours on the beach playing in the sand, using their kayaks and stand up paddleboards, and you can go snorkeling if you want.  You can even pay to snorkel with sea lions for an extra cost. 

Paradise at Las Caletas
Beach time at Las Caletas
Lots of fun  animals to interact with at Las Caletas

Final notes:  A welcome buffet and lunch are provided (with amazing local food) and you'll enjoy entertainment on the catamaran ride to the beach. Note that small kids might find the boat ride a bit long at times and the music can get a bit loud.  Also bring extra money or a credit card for photo CDs that you can purchase.  Most of my photos were taken by the Vallarta Adventures Photographer.  Finally, you can usually purchase this tour from your resort through tour staff at the hotel.

The beach was beautiful at Las Calletas!



Pirate Ship Vallarta


We did the day time Pirate Ship tour this year with Pirate Ship Vallarta and I'd have to say my 6 year old was about two years too young for it.  He enjoyed the time on Pirate Island but the pirate show on board the ship was too violent for him.  Each child is assigned their own pirate for the day and it's pretty hard to watch your pirate spend half an hour getting beat up in front of your eyes.   The comedy during the pirate show was slap stick humour but young kids of a sensitive nature will still find it disturbing.  The ship was also loud at times which my son didn't like.

Our Pirate Ship and authentic Spanish Galleon
The ship used a real wheel for steering
One of the scenes from the Pirate show on board the ship

We ate breakfast and lunch on board the ship and enjoyed great local food for both meals. There were also drinks served on board and one was never bored for long with all the entertainment.  The highlight for us though was the time spent on Pirate Island.  We got to go kayaking, could have gone snorkeling, and played in the waves.  There was also a treasure hunt for the kids and free banana  boat rides.

Banana boat rides at Pirate Island
Noah and his pirate for the day
The beach was beautiful and definitely worth the visit

Final notes:  We brought our son's life jacket but it wasn't necessary as they were provided on the ship.  We were also able to purchase this tour from our hotel staff and took a taxi from our resort to the marina where we started.

A look at the plank that I jumped off of when exiting the ship for Pirate Island
Our pirate ship for the day

Where We Always Stay in Nuevo Vallarta


We always stay at the Marival Resort and Suites in Nuevo Vallarta for several reasons.

One - Biking

The resort provides complimentary bikes and bike tours to interesting places such as to a nearby zoo (kids' bikes start at 20" bikes and for the tours kids really should be 6+ and competent riders as you'll be riding on the streets with traffic. 

We also love the new bike lanes they've built in Nuevo Vallarta.  It's a safe way for us to use the resort's bikes to go for a family bike ride to the nearby Startucks and mall (which has an indoor playground for hot afternoons.) 

Note that while we enjoyed the guided bike tours from the resort, riding as a family on the official bike lanes was much safer than joining the organized bike tours and most families will want to chose this option.  (we almost saw a 5 year old get hit by a car on the guided tour.)

Highlight of staying at the Marival Resort - Biking every day!!


Two - The Water sports Centre

Gilles runs a pretty amazing water sports centre with  kayaks, boogie boards, sail boats and stand up paddleboards. The Marival Resort is one of the only resorts to rent out SUP boards (for an extra cost) but there is no cost to use the boogie boards or kayaks.  To use a sail boat, one must do a quick test first to prove competency.  If you can't pass the test, you can take a refresher course (for a small charge) or you can pay for one of the water sport staff to take you out for a ride.

This was a great way to spend the afternoon at our resort
Learning to SUP surf last year
Sailing last year

Three - The Pool and the Kids' Pool

The resort has a great swimming pool and kids' pool with waterslides.  Noah spent hours here every day.  My only complaint is that there's never enough lounge chairs and you have to put a towel on one if you hope to save it when you go to breakfast in the morning.

Playing in the main swimming pool
The Kids' Water Park with Pirate Theme

Other than those top three features, we just find that this resort is easy for families.  There's always something at the buffet that kids will eat (even if it's just the pasta bar) and the snack bar is always loaded with pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs, and fries.  Noah never went hungry and we didn't have to worry about fancy gourmet restaurants.  We chose to eat at the a la carte restaurants a few times but found them to be harder with kids.  The new Brazilian Steak House restaurant was great though because it was located right beside the kids' pool.  Next time we'll just bring Noah to dinner in his swim suit! 

Sunset at the Marival Resort, Mexico

Room Tips - This year we chose to stay on the Club side of the resort and it was a LOT quieter.  (The Grand side by the pool is very noisy at night.) We also upgraded to a two bedroom ocean view suite and the photo below shows the view from our deck.  I'll never be able to go back to a normal hotel style room again.

The view from our deck at the Marival Resort



Final Adventures from this year's Mexican Vacation


We often take a day trip down into Puerto Vallarta to walk along the Malecon (boardwalk) but this year chose to take a taxi to the nearby town of Bucerias.  The town actually didn't do much for me but we did find a man giving kids horseback rides on the beach which made me happy we had gone. (note it was far from cheap though!!) Noah had a blast and we enjoyed just hanging out on the beautiful beach there.

Horseback riding in Bucerias
When I die, bury me in my new Mexican happy pants.

Questions?  Leave them below and I promise to respond.
 
Paradise at the Marival Resort and Suites


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