Traveling during the holiday season can be tough. With crowded airports, the already-challenging suitcase packing complicated by bulky gifts and the higher than usual chance of encountering delayed flights or snowy roads… it can all add up to frayed nerves and some less-than-festive feelings. Some families choose to forego this craziness altogether, even if it means skipping Christmas with extended family.
But holiday travel can also be fun and exciting, as the hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers liven up shopping districts and seasonal decorations have everything looking its most lovely and sparkly. So how to find a balance? I think we may have just found the best of both worlds… we’re staying at home for Christmas and we took a holiday staycation in downtown Calgary!
Unlike the frantic feeling I usually have when departing for the airport, I wasn’t at all stressed as we set off from home on a frigid December Friday afternoon. After all, no Christmas gifts required transporting, we only needed a couple of clothing changes and a swimsuit each and we would be traveling for a grand total of 25 minutes! Pulling into The Westin Calgary, we grabbed our one suitcase, gave the minivan keys to the valet attendant and headed into the festively decorated lobby. Easy-peasy… Christmas freezie?? Plus, the kids were each welcomed with a Westin Kids Club backpack (containing a colouring book) upon check in. I love hotels that make a point to fuss over their youngest guests a little!
While this hotel does offer some adjoining rooms, we went with an Executive Junior Suite. Our spacious, modern room featured two double beds, a seating area, desk and a lovely bathroom, complete with (much to the children’s delight) an in-mirror TV screen. We also had a deck, but with the temperature hovering in the -30’s, that went unused!
Had we been visiting a different city, the kids would have found it tough to explore the downtown core in such cold temperatures. Lucky for us Calgarians, our downtown features the Plus 15, an above-street-level network of indoor corridors that connect office towers, hotels (the Westin included), the downtown malls and a number of other downtown attractions and locations. We didn’t even need our jackets to walk from the hotel to dinner!
The walk over (via the positively glittering CORE shopping centre with its many, many Christmas trees) wasn’t the only warm thing about dinner at Double Zero Pizza – the welcome was every bit as warm, as was the delicious chili oil they serve with their ‘za! From the ’00’ Meatballs and Warm Brussels Sprouts through two amazing classic-but-with-a-twist pizzas (Wagyu Pepperoni & Polynesian Princess) and finally on to Fresh Italian Donuts and Sicilian Cannoli, the entire meal was a hit with every member of our family. Our 9-year-old (not a huge veggie guy) even went for seconds of the brussels sprouts! It was a Proud Mama moment, I must confess.
Although we didn’t see a whole lot of kids here, that’s a factor of its downtown location rather than the atmosphere or staff; I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this location to families who find themselves in the area.
You might have thought we’d not need to eat again anytime soon, but alas… growing kids never stop! Our breakfast the next morning was both delicious and healthy, featuring SuperFoodRX™ items from the Westin Eat Well and Westin Eat Well for Kids menus. And because we ordered from room service, we didn’t even have to get out of our PJs. Only one thing could have (and did) make this morning better… Will Farrell’s ELF was on TV!
The entire breakfast feast was delicious, but if I had to recommend a few stand-outs, I think I’d go for the kids’ Fruit Smoothie and Blueberry & Banana Pancake Lollipops, the Blueberry Orange Granola Pancakes, Carrot-Orange-Turmeric-Ginger-Mango juice and “Eggs Your Way” with Ham and Breakfast Potatoes. It was a hearty start to a busy day in the heart of the city!
We thought there might not be a direct indoor route (on the weekend) all the way from the hotel to our next stop, so we grabbed our jackets. It was a wise choice because we did end up walking outside for about 3 blocks on our way to take in a matinée performance of Slipper: A Distinctly Calgarian Cinderella Story by Alberta Theatre Projects at Arts Commons.
A theatre, ballet or musical performance is on many families’ holiday-must-do lists and it’s a tradition we’re ready to embrace too. Each year, this local performing arts company puts on a holiday pantomime that is suitable for all but perhaps the youngest members of any family (because its a 2-act play and so perhaps too long for really wee ones). Written by Rebecca Northan, who is a local playwright known for her comedic style, Slipper features jokes and pop culture references for all age levels, some interesting Calgary history and fun and colourful sets and costumes. We spent the afternoon laughing and being good noisy audience members (as is encouraged during a pantomime!) and we’ll certainly return for next year’s holiday production by Alberta Theatre Projects.
Following a quick peek at the decorations on the ice rink and Famous Five monument at Olympic Plaza, old City Hall and Stephen Avenue Walk, we hustled back to the warmth of the shopping centres and Plus 15, entering through Calgary’s historic sandstone Hudson Bay Company building. A slow stroll along Stephen Avenue and a skate on the Olympic Plaza refrigerated rink would certainly be highlights of a warmer visit, but were not appealing during such an intense cold snap! We were all a bit tired by now, so we enjoyed a quick swim in the Westin’s 20th-floor pool, a cozy sushi dinner near the hotel and another holiday movie on the large flatscreen TV in our room.
After checking out on Sunday morning and getting our (warm – hurray!) vehicle back from the valet attendant, we trekked over to Fort Calgary in historic Inglewood… a mere 10-minute drive away. Although I had visited the fort on kids’ field trips a couple of times and knew it to be an excellent museum, I wasn’t sure what to expect from their brunch. It turns out that the Fort Calgary Sunday Family Brunch “served with local organic history” is fabulous!
Featuring a gourmet savory buffet, dessert buffet, custom egg/omelette station manned by a chef and several entrées made to order in the kitchen, the breakfast is served in a pretty dining room (complete with holiday decorations, of course). I was pleasantly taken aback by the quality (and quantity) of the food, given that Fort Calgary only charges $27 for adults (13+) and $15 for kids (5-12), with younger kids eating free. Non-alcoholic beverages are included (and alcoholic ones available for purchase), as is admission to the museum following your meal! A lesser-know Calgary cultural and culinary bargain to be sure.
The return trip from our Calgary staycation was the best we’ve ever had on a winter holiday… 25 minutes from Fort Calgary to our front door. We arrived home feeling rested and content… and with a better understanding of our own city and 48 hours of new family memories to cherish!
Know If You Go:
The Westin Calgary
The Westin Calgary is conveniently located on the Plus 15 corridor system in downtown Calgary, offers a variety of room types, a terrific in-room Eat Well Menu plus 4 other in-hotel dining options and an indoor pool and workout facility. It’s even pet friendly (by prior arrangement)!
Address: 320 4th Ave. SW, Calgary AB
Double Zero Pizza
Double Zero Pizza is a lively Italian eating and drinking establishment, by award-winning Calgary chef Justin Leboe. Located on Calgary’s historic ‘restaurant row’ – Stephen Avenue – you can also enter Double Zero Pizza from within The CORE Shopping Centre (west end of the mall). Our kids loved the restaurant and the food!
There is a 2nd location of Double Zero Pizza next to Nordstrom’s in Chinook Centre.
Address: 751 4th Street SW, Calgary AB
Alberta Theatre Projects
“Slipper: A Distinctly Calgarian Cinderella Story” plays through December 31st at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Arts Commons and is recommended for kids 5 and up. We were rushed for time, but the cast comes out to the lobby for photos and autographs following the show!
Address: 215 8th Ave. SE, Calgary AB
Sunday Brunch at Fort Calgary takes place once more in 2016, on Sunday December 18th. Brunch will resume in mid-January, 2017. Fort Calgary will be closed December 24-26, 31 and January 1st.
Address: 750 9th Ave. SE, Calgary ABN
Many thanks to The Westin Calgary, Double Zero Pizza, Alberta Theatre Projects and Fort Calgary for hosting our family; the opinions expressed here are my own. ~am