Moncton by Rail: The perfect family getaway

Our Family renewed our love for the city of Moncton….sans Crystal Palace!

Halifax families have suffered two setbacks in recent years in terms of our ability to enjoy short winter or spring weekend breaks. Firstly in October 2012, VIA rail slashed the frequency of the Halifax-Montreal rail service from 6 to 3 times per week. As well as stopping Halagonians’ ability to do a “there and back” on the train to Truro – a popular field trip for the preschool set – it also meant that you could no longer travel by rail to Moncton, New Brunswick for two nights: the perfect length of time for a quick jaunt to Crystal Palace Amusement Park.

Train Resurgo Transportation Discovery Centre Moncton

Resurgo Transportation Discovery Centre

Then, in September 2014, Crystal Palace itself, that small but perfect March Break Mecca where you almost never had to wait in line, and inevitably bumped into your Halifax next-door neighbours, closed its doors for the last time.  Our family, like many others, felt deflated at the loss of a small but unique Maritime Institution.

So, when March Break 2015 rolled around, we felt lost.  But, after a short family discussion, we decided to return to one of our favourite Maritime cities, and there we discovered that Moncton is still the perfect weekend getaway for families!

Resurgo Museum Train

Resurgo Transportation Discovery Centre

Judging by the other groups of parents and children we met on the train heading back to Halifax, we’re not alone in our view. Here are the reasons we (and all those other families!) consider Moncton the perfect family getaway:

A Unique City Culture

Moncton has a unique city culture. For Halifax families whose children are learning French – or even for those who are not! – Moncton offers a valuable education. New Brunswick is officially bilingual, and therefore, a family visit to Moncton is truly a lesson in culture, as you observe train attendants, waiters and waitresses, hotel staff and many local families effortlessly switching between the two languages. During our visit, my daughter, who does not yet learn French at school, was beamingly proud to announce that she said ‘Bonjour’ to a girl who was speaking French in the pool.

Downtown Moncton Rob Whelan Photography

Downtown Moncton. Photo:

The Halifax-Moncton Train Journey

The train is still an amazing experience for kids, and the Halifax-Moncton run is just enough time to enjoy a meal, a snooze and a gaze out the window. The Ocean, which at the time of writing is in its 111th year of service, departs Halifax on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at about lunchtime, and returns from Moncton on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays, at suppertime. This means for a 3-night weekend break, you could go up Friday and return Monday.  Too long? You could also zoom up to Moncton for a single Friday night, returning Saturday – a journey that is becoming increasingly popular with Halifax families. VIA Rail often has deals for families, especially in the low-season.

The Ocean Via rail

We always make friends on the train journey from Halifax to Moncton.

The Delta Beausejour Hotel

The Delta Beausejour has become not just a place to stay, but the destination itself for Halifax families needing a short break. Firstly, the Delta is walking distance from the Train Station. No car rental = cheap holiday. Next, the services in the hotel are totally geared for kids: children are welcomed with premium goodie packs on check-in; kids 6 and under eat free in the restaurant; the room service menu for kids offers very substantial kids’ meals for $6.99, and most importantly, the hotel pool includes  – wait for it- the longest indoor waterside in Moncton!

Hotel Beausejour Waterslide Moncton Halifax

Photo courtesy of Delta Beausejour, Moncton

Resurgo Transportation Discovery Centre

Don’t let the slightly robotic-sounding name fool you. Moncton’s newest family attraction, The Resurgo Transportation Discovery Centre is unbelievable, and once you get in there, your kids will never want to leave. The draw? Interaction: almost everything in the museum is hands-on. Kids can launch a rocket, build a truck, fly a plane, float a boat, and even send odd-shaped homemade crafts up a wind-tunnel. At the Resurgo, your kids can, quite simply, make stuff and learn…all day.  “People are calling it the smart Crystal Palace”, says Heritage Development Officer and super-cool tour guide, James Upham.  He’s right. It totally is.

Resurgo Transportation Discovery Centre Moncton

Resurgo Transportation Discovery Centre Moncton

The Transportation Discovery Centre: Kids want to stay all day!

The Homestead Restaurant, Riverview

When we asked the locals where we could go for a home cooked diner-style meal in Moncton, every single person, without exception, said “The Homestead”.  It’s not within walking distance of downtown, but if you can find your way to Riverview, your family will be pampered with generous platters of home cooked food, delicious sandwiches and french fries, home-baked bread and pies, and warm, friendly service. Their speciality: “mini-platters” with sides of fresh vegetables.

Homestead Restaurant Moncton

The Homestead Restaurant, Riverview

Moncton Maple Sugar Camps

There are a few options for enjoying the Maple Season in Moncton. For a walk through the woods to a family sugar bush, check out  Trites Family Sugar Bush, which offers maple taffy on snow, and a delicious pancake breakfast on the weekends. Or, if you would like to learn more about the maple sugar process, head the to a FREE “Pails to Pipeline” Tour, run by the city of Moncton, at their very own sugar shack near Turtle Creek Reservoir. Both locations are about 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre.

Moncton Sugar Camp

Moncton Maple Sugar Camp: An Educational Tour

Family Friendly Pubs

For warm winter comforts and great live music, our family has always loved The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse, which has a great kids’ menu.  When we go as a family, we arrive early in the evening and commandeer a snug: great for containing the kids while Mummy and Daddy enjoy a pint. We haven’t yet ventured to the famed Tide and Boar Gastropub, but we can’t wait to go there. Although the Tide and Boar doesn’t have a kids’ menu, they promise they have lots of options for kids.

You’re spoilt for choice in Moncton, with plenty of restaurants, bars and coffee shops along Main Street. The nice thing about travelling in a small city like Moncton is that everything is compact and accessible.

Old Triangle Alehouse Moncton

The Old Triangle Alehouse in Moncton

There was one more stop on our 3-day family trip to Moncton this March Break. Ever the sentimentalists, we journeyed to Champlain Mall, to see the former site of Crystal Palace. Behind the bulldozers and rubble, we could still see remnants of the signage: “Parc D’Amusement”. As I looked toward the front doors, I heard the echoes of high shrieks,  loud regular-patterned zooming sounds, and the low rumble of what must have been one of the world’s humblest roller coasters.

My reverie was broken by a shout from the rental car: “Mum, hurry up- I want to go to MacDonald’s Playland!”.

Yup, we’ve moved on!

Special Thanks to The Moncton Tourism Board for their warm hospitality.

All details and prices accurate at the time of writing. Has something changed? Let us know in the comments! 🙂