What is a Canuck?
After spending three days in Vancouver, I really still wasn’t sure. So I googled it. Canuck is a slang word for Canadians. It’s also refers to the wildly popular NHL hockey team the Vancouver Canucks. Folks in Vancouver love their hockey team. The only thing they may love more is their city.
Vancouver is the 5th largest city in Canada. It’s West End neighborhood is one of the most densely populated areas in North America. The Olympic fever that put China on the map in 2008, brought the same fire to Vancouver in 2010, and the flame is still burning bright.
Vancouver sparkles like a young San Francisco. It’s confident, cosmopolitan and comfortable all at the same time. And families fit right in.
“We’re an outdoor city,” said one grandpa.
Mother Nature spent time on Vancouver. Massive mountains, an easy drive from downtown, provide ski slopes and hiking havens along with an unbeatable backdrop for colorful bridges. Water hugs the city, providing a playground big enough for everything from swimming to rowing to piloting seaplanes. What’s waiting on land isn’t too shabby either.
Start at the Convention Centre. Don’t go inside, just look up. The six-acre “living roof” is home to thousands of indigenous plants. Just next door is the Olympic Cauldron seen burning bright around the world during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Snap a picture, but then make plans to head straight to Stanley Park.
This is where you need to make a family decision. The walk to Stanley Park along the water is an attraction in its own right. You can watch seaplanes take off and land as you walk by sculptures, playgrounds and jaw dropping boats. But unless your kids are serious walkers, I’d save those walking feet for what will no doubt be a great day.
You’ve got plenty of options for the trip to and through the park. Just below the plaza where the Olympic Cauldron sits, you can rent bikes and roll through the park. Or you can go the more traditional touring route. Open-air buses and San Francisco style trolleys constantly run the circuit, connecting popular locations for visitors. They all pick up and drop off near the Convention Centre, you can’t miss them.
If you need help trying to organize your day, TourismVancouver (the official tourism board) is just across the street. It’s worth the stop to pick up a good map of the city and Stanley Park.
My trip to Vancouver was different than most of my trips, because I was alone. No husband, no kids. It was weird actually and there were many times I wished they were with me because I found so many things they would have loved like the Vancouver Aquarium.
It was cold and raining when I had the option to hop off the trolley tour. I hadn’t planned on stopping, but I hadn’t planned on steady rain either. The Vancouver Aquarium is Canada’s largest, but what makes it stand out is the animals that call it home. Along with the expected fish, seahorses and jellyfish, there are Belugas, pacific white-sided dolphins and Steller sea lions.
My kids and I have done sleepovers in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the Beluga exhibit in Vancouver made me smile, even in the pouring rain. I only spent a couple hours, but with kids in tow, I would have stayed longer. It was still raining pretty hard when I headed back outside, but my timing couldn’t have been better. Instead of waiting for a trolley, I got picked up by Bud and Weiser.
Alternate transportation, or thinking outside the bus is high on my list when visiting new cities, so I didn’t hesitate to take a Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tour. You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the fun of riding in a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage is big enough to hold about 20 people, but Bud and Weiser, the two Clydesdales on duty had it easy on my loop of the park. There were only five of us on board. And though the horse were definitely getting wet, the canopy kept us nice and dry. An added rainy day bonus, there were plenty of blankets on board to snuggle up in during the ride.
The slower moving carriage ride only makes one true stop at Brockton Point to see the totem poles. You get about 10 minutes to wander around the totems, but that’s probably all you and the kids will need. They tell stories or serve as the mark of British Columbia Indians, similar to a coat of arms. Carved in the late 1880s, most of the totems are replicas. The originals have been moved to various museums for indoor display and preservation.
The carriage tour lasts just over an hour, and you’ll learn about the roughly 500,000 cedar, fir and hemlock trees in Stanley Park, the seemingly endless number of sculptures scattered throughout the park and have fun waving back to all the folks who wish they were on the carriage with you.
By now your kids probably need some time to run around and burn off some steam. Pick a playground, there’s plenty of them, or better yet head to the waterfront Variety Kids Water Park. (Ask your bus or trolley driver. They should be able to drop you off pretty close.) The park is made out of a cluster of colorful tubes and will leaving the whole family happily dripping.
If you’re really looking to get wet, head to the Second Beach Pool. The heated fresh water pool sits right on the beach and offers an area for lap swimmers, some colorful slides for kids and lifeguards for parents’ piece of mind. There’s also plenty of tables to have a picnic.
If you’d rather put your toes in the sand, head to the beach. There’s plenty of stretches of sand to choose from, but if having a lifeguard is important, head to Second Beach or Third Beach. (Second Beach is next to Second Beach Pool, making it easy to do both. I love it when things work that way.) In addition to summer lifeguards, both beaches have bathrooms, concessions and parking.
Tired yet? You should be. At 1000 acres, one visit to Stanley Park isn’t enough. Don’t try to do it all. You can’t. Take the time to enjoy the places you stop in the park. If you like it as much as I did, spend another day of your vacation there or promise yourself you’ll plan another trip. Bigger than New York’s Central Park, there’s a vacation memory hiding somewhere in all those trees and it won’t be hard to find.
Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann
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