Sometimes the joy in taking a vacation is in the planning. And sometimes it’s not. Because let’s be honest, who has the time to coordinate a vacay, especially now that school’s in session? But a quick trip to Victoria, BC for the weekend (or the day) is more than doable, and it’s just click (or call) away at Clipper Vacations. Read on for the scoop on how to get this fall getaway started.
Good Things Come in Packages
In a noticeably walkable city like Victoria, taking the Clipper and leaving the car parked in the city (or in your garage) is a definite advantage. Almost all of the Inner Harbour hotels are a few blocks from the Clipper landing, and aside from a few attractions that require a bus ride, the family-friendly sights are too. Clipper Vacations works with a variety of hotels in the area, so you can find the right one for your family and your budget. Plan on clean, updated, kid-friendly hotels no matter where you book. Choice is more about the level of comfort and the importance of certain amenities, like pools and restaurants, being on-site than anything else. We recommend booking tickets to “do all the things” through Clipper Vacations, too. It’s one less thing to worry about once you get there, and allows families to plan ahead without really doing much, well…planning. Brilliant!
The Clipper ride is just a short two hours, and the accommodations fall somewhere between the tight spaces of an airplane and the spacious glory of our state ferries. If you can score seats around a table, do, so that the kiddos can assemble puzzles, color and play with action figures on the way. But no matter where you sit, something to keep them busy is a must, because even though you can get up to wander around, there’s not too much to see beyond the shoreline, unless you’re lucky enough to spot some orcas off the starboard side. The resident pods pass through frequently in the summer months, but sightings happen as late as October in the Straits.
Victoria Sights 101
There’s a reason why the Victoria activities and attractions that everyone writes home about continue to be the same year after year. They’re iconic, impressive and totally kid-friendly to boot!
The Royal BC Museum examines the rich culture and history of British Columbia through the natural world, people, languages, stories, commerce, fashion and more. This holistic approach, coupled with larger than life, interactive and detailed exhibitions, means hours of exploring and wandering through this world-class museum, for kiddos and adults. The Modern History Galleries will fascinate the tot lot for hours; there’s so much to touch and experience, you’ll have to drag them away. And the First People’s Galleries is another that will capture their attention with stories, videos, and interactive language maps that chronicle the lives of the area’s indigenous peoples. The current traveling exhibit on Vikings is an education and a half. The kidlets will marvel at Viking swords and artifacts and probably learn that many Vikings were actually farmers and that (spoiler alert) the iconic horns on Viking helmets are a total myth (who knew?). This exhibit runs through November 11, 2014 and is just one more reason to include tickets here in your vacation package.
Two words. Butchart Gardens. If you haven’t been, you’ve gotta go. And if you have, a return trip during a different season is worth the 45-minute bus ride from the city. And before you think, kids and a garden, but what’s there to do? Be assured that Butchart is completely kid-friendly, with plenty of room to roam in the crisp fall air. Upon arrival, stop by the Visitor Center to grab the Family Discovery Walk Worksheet. It’ll keep the Littles busy while you wend your way through the Gardens. The Japanese Garden is especially colorful in the autumn months, and the Children’s Pavilion (home of the Rose Carousel) makes for a great detour when the wee ones need a break. Clipper tickets for Butchart include the charter bus, and there’s plenty of flexibility both coming and going. If you find you want to stay a bit later or go earlier, catching a different bus is as easy as asking. And many will drop off curbside at the hotel if you ask, which is much appreciated when the babes have fallen asleep or are worn out from wandering the gardens.
The first building that everyone notices when pulling into the Inner Harbor has got to be The Fairmont Empress Hotel (followed closely by the Parliament Building), with it’s grand brick façade, draped with ivy and topped with patinaed copper caps. The hotel is impressive, exquisite and they serve a classic, traditional afternoon tea that can easily be included in a vacation package, good for kids who can sit through a 90-minute formal meal, and their parents. It’s a white glove, pinkies up kind of affair!
Kid-Friendly Hot Spots
Sure the munchkins will love the museum and the gardens, but they deserve a few activities of their own. Victoria’s got plenty of pint-sized programs just for them! The Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, located in Beacon Hill Park, is an animal lover’s dream, because kiddos get up close (within petting range) of the many farm animals found here. They’re open from 10 a.m-4 p.m., daily. Goats and chickens and sheep, oh my!
Another kindie chart topper is the Victoria Bug Zoo on Courtney Street. This is one creepy (as in crawly) place made just for kids. The zoo itself is tiny, (but then again so are its inhabitants), but deceptively so. Because even though the square footage seems minimal, the bugs are a-plenty. Best part? The kiddos get to hold and interact with many of the crawly creatures. Talk about wow factor! There are usually two ongoing tours, led by the incredibly knowledgeable staff. Guests just join a group wherever and whenever. Get buggy with it!
During the high tourist season, the minis can enjoy the ever-whimsical, not to mention free, Harbor Ferry Water Ballet, an impressively synchronized choreography performed by the harbor ferry captains on the causeway during weekends from May through September (be sure to check the schedule before heading out). These guys make it look easy, and with over 300 performances under their belts it’s no wonder. After the show, hop on one of the ferries for a quick trip across the harbor. The kids will love it and it’s a great way to take a load off after all that walking.
The Inner Harbour is bursting with restaurants, coffee bars and sweet shops. A quick trip down Government Street will leave lots to choose from, no matter what your taste, as Victoria’s international flair shines with its many Asian, Indian, French and even English-inspired choices. Finding a restaurant here is more about individual taste than it is about what’s good and what’s not. But a few that top our list of family-friendly faves are The Guild, Barb’s Fish and Chips on Fisherman’s Wharf, and John’s Place Restaurant. All are within walking distance of the Inner Harbour.
Victoria has two sweet shops that are worth peeking your head into too, especially if you need a little pick-me-up or incentive for the kiddos (don’t worry, we won’t tell). The first tasty find is the Bon Macaron Patisserie on Broad Street. Owners, David and Yann, are both French and they bring an air of authenticity to the little storefront, which doesn’t seem out of place in heavily European-influenced Victoria. Try the Blue Pear and the Chili Tangerine macarons. You won’t be disappointed. The second find is a tried-and-true favorite, an institution really. Roger’s Chocolates, on Government Street, first opened back in 1891 and they’ve been wowing visitors with their handmade chocolates ever since. Pick and choose favorites or grab a pre-packed box for the ride home.
Do you plan to book a trip to Victoria BC with the kids this fall? Let us know in a comment below.
-Allison Sutcliffe, words and pictures