What do you do when rotating strikes in an ongoing labour dispute disrupt your kids’ school days? We seized it as an opportunity for some family time and when our rotating strike day fell on a Friday we made it a long weekend trip to Vancouver Island!
Easily accessible by ferry, a quick 90 minute jaunt on BC Ferries from Tsawwassen gets us to Swartz Bay on the island and from there points everywhere. Vancouver Island has long been a preferred destination because of its location off the west coast of Canada, its amazing temperate climate and the abundance of attractions, both natural and man-made. From the rugged (and remote) rainforests in Carmanah to the endless shoreline at Long Beach, to the hustle and bustle of Victoria, there isn’t a single location within its 31,000 square kilometer surface that doesn’t inspire!
To make the most of 2 days on the island, we took an early crossing and immediately headed south into downtown Victoria to have lunch, wander along the inner harbor, the grounds of the BC Legislative building and visit the Royal BC Museum. The kids may have been off school, but that’s no reason not to learn!
The museum’s exhibits provide lot’s of educational and fun opportunities. We had an excellent time walking through the Natural History collections of reptiles, fossils, insects and mammals. The wooly mammoth was a particular favourite, and immediately became the wallpaper on my daughter’s iPod! And walking through the Modern History gallery is like experiencing the settlement and growth of Canada. Amazing attention to details makes you feel like you are really walking through a coal mine, lumber mill, and early Vancouver, including a back alley Chinatown. The vintage movie theatre in the town was a hit with the kids who love anything on the big screen and used the opportunity to rest. The current exhibition, Vikings: Lives Beyond the Legends runs until November 11, 2014 and features a rare view into the life, rituals and mythology of the Vikings in an interactive exhibit that was chock full of artifacts, yet still engaging for the children.
As we left the museum, we saw a sign which presented a bonus educational opportunity; the USS Nimitz would be making its way into Esquimalt that afternoon. We drove out to catch a glimpse and the children were awed by the sheer size, even from our far away vantage point.
Our next destination was our room at the Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa in Sidney by the Sea, a boutique hotel right on the water in the heart of the district. A beautiful hotel with amazing views, the staff are very friendly and have a special welcome party; their own resident black Labrador, Dave. Unfortunately for us, Dave was taking some much deserved time off and wasn’t available to visit, but he’s a sweet welcoming part of the team, available to give you doggie love in the lobby, and adores the attention he gets when guests take him on walks. Any hotel that boasts a resident pet must be ereceptive to your fur-babies and the Sidney Pier certainly is no exception! Their 3rd floor rooms are pet-friendly and you are welcome to bring yours for an additional Pet Fee.
Our room was spacious and modern with crisp linens, a lovely selection of excellent coffee or tea, a mini fridge, and great products in the bathroom. I was also appreciative to find a pair of wineglasses which were promptly filled with wine purchased at the liquor store conveniently located across the street (and open to 11 pm) and used on our room’s glass sided patio where we sat overlooking the sea.
After an excellent sleep in our comfy beds, we had a light breakfast from the Georgia Café in the cozy lobby, then left our chic home away from home at the Sidney Pier Hotel to explore the town of Sidney.
Sidney is often overlooked as merely the place where the ferry stops as people make their way south to Victoria but it has a lot to offer. With over 3 1/2 kilometres of waterfront and a large pier, it’s no wonder that many water activities such as diving, kayaking, whale watching thrive in Sidney. For attractions, the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre (conveniently located right next to the Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa) is a delightful facility, giving kids up close and personal time with aquatic creatures as well as some hands on experiences. And you certainly can’t beat the view of the ocean while you get hands on with the creatures!
My rock loving daughter was hard pressed to leave the Scratch Patch at Mineral World, a small venue where they viewed a model of the inside of a volcano, sifted through semi-precious stones and tried activity stations demonstrating how some rocks float and other why some rocks are fluoresce under certain light.
A number of years ago when we visited Sidney, we walked to the water and spent some time at a beach near the pier where we found an abundance of sea glass, more than I’ve ever seen at one beach. The children spent hours sifting through the sand, competing to find the largest chunks. Eager to find more beach glass we revisited this spot, and while chatting with a friendly local, I discovered that it’s known as Glass Beach for that very reason! According to the woman, the spot was once the location of the town dump and now these lovely bits of glass and the occaisional chunk of pottery is all that remains of the garbage.
And books, books books! Sidney has 7 new/used bookstores within walking distance of each other. I underestimated how much time we’d spend in each one, sifting through the treasures and debating which to buy until we were almost late for the ferry!
Once safely ensconced in our seats on ferry, having just made the second last crossing of the day back to the mainland, we reflected on our favorite places on Vancouver Island and already can’t wait to see what else there is to discover!