A Grand Ole Time in Grand Manan, NB

I’ve been curious about the Island of Grand Manan since a Mars bar commercial years ago about renovating their local arena. Seriously. So, I guess advertising works, even if it takes 10 years.

The chance finally arrived and we jumped! There are two different ships ferrying people to and from the Island. We were aboard the ‘Grand Manan V’ traveling to Grand Manan. There was plenty of seating with a lunch counter with real, home cooked meals. While exploring the outside decks a crew member noticed the kiddos and asked if they wanted to check out the bridge. Isaac was on it! They explained how everything worked and made the kids feel like VIP’s.

On our return trip we traveled aboard the ‘Grand Manan Adventure’. While both ships are fun, if given a choice when booking, choose this one! It’s newer, has a big kids play area with ‘Treehouse’ playing on the tv, a movie lounge, a large lunch counter and lots of seating inside and out on the decks.

Whales are a common sight from the ferries but we didn’t see any on our trips.

If timed properly, you can Island Hop between the Fundy Isles of Deer, Campobello, Grand Manan and Whitehead Islands. New Brunswick Tourism has a guide available to help you plan it out.

CHECKING IN:

We’d planned on camping at Anchorage Provincial Park but chickened out at the last minute as there was nasty weather threatening. Tent camping in the rain with kids is far from my favourite thing to do, so I searched the ole Google box for somewhere with a roof. I stumbled across the Marathon Inn and bonus, it was only a minute from the Ferry! The Inn is a Heritage Property built in 1887 and maintains all of the original character. Our booking was last minute so we didn’t get their finest room. The floors were a bit sloped and the fixtures could use some updating but the room was clean and the beds were super comfortable. There was a shared dining area down the hall with a kitchen for guests to use and a wrap-around porch where guests relaxed with their books. Maddie adored the cats, Mickey and Micey. The owners are lovely people who are new to the Island and purchased the Inn last year. We didn’t spend a ton of time at the Inn but would stay there again. Given the chance to go back we would also try to stay at Anchorage Provincial Park. Hole in the Wall camping is also an intriguing spot. We met a couple that were cliff camping there and woke up every day to the sounds of whales! It is definitely not kid friendly though.

EXPLORING:

WHALE WATCHING
We booked a whale watching tour with Sea Watch Tours. We arrived at Seal Cove wharf at 7:30, found our seats and scarfed down a snack. The Captain introduced himself and the guide and laid out the rules and the plan for day. There was hot chocolate and coffee available as well as sunscreen in case someone had forgotten theirs. We steamed out for about 45 minutes, seeing seals and sea birds along the way. Then, just like that there were whales! Lots of them! Finback whales! The second largest animal on the planet was right in front of us. Maddie was awestruck. “Mommy, there’s a whale! Another whale! Right there! Look, Look, Look!” We headed out further and found some Humpback Whales. There’s something humbling about seeing them breach or their tail flipping in the water. The tail markings are unique like a fingerprint so the guide could tell us exactly who we were seeing. Up front was a photo album with the pictures and names of the known whales in the Bay of Fundy. This was our third whale watching adventure after going out in St. Andrew’s, NB and Brier Island, NS. We saw the most whales on this trip.

SEA KAYAKING

The surprise highlight of our trip was Sea Kayaking! I’d never sat in a kayak in my life and wasn’t sure I could even paddle. I sent ‘Adventure High’ an email and they told me to come down and we could asses my skills, or lack thereof. Luckily the guide, Brady, offered to take one kiddo with him so I wasn’t paddling 3 of us. We chose the evening paddle. It was only 1.5-2 hours long we were the only ones signed up which meant less people to embarrass myself in front of. Ha! When the time came two other people had signed up. Luckily they weren’t seasoned pros either. We paddled out of the harbour, out to the Herring Weir where the guide explained how they work. Then around the corner and past Swallowtail lighthouse. The views with the setting sun were stunning. We saw lots of jellyfish and to Isaac’s delight, even some seals. If you do nothing else, do this. You honest to goodness don’t need any previous experience.

BEACHIN’

We spent part of a day relaxing at Anchorage Provincial Park. It’s totally free to use the beaches. In the park we drove by a beautifully peaceful migratory bird sanctuary. The kids were sleeping in the backseat and you couldn’t pay me to wake them, so I took my time on this drive. We drove right to the end where we found a very long and basically empty sand beach. There was also section which was rockier where Maddie scoured for stones. The water was shallow a long way out, the waves were small and there were big tide pools to splash around in. It was the perfect spot to unwind. Whenever we travel there is always a point at which I realize my kids are growing up far too quickly. This was it. I realized that I might be able to squeak out just one more summer where Maddie excitedly searches the beach for broken seashells as though they are gold nuggets, and that’s a big “might”.

CHOW DOWN:

Isaac has agreed to eat something new everywhere we go this summer. Dulse, an edible, red seaweed was the food of the day and he was excited to dig in. He hilariously and immediately regretted his decision. It’s exactly like chewing up sea water. It’s full of nutrients and some people can’t get enough of it. We are not those people.

We’d been told about ‘North Head Bakery’ before even leaving Ontario. “Get the coffee. You need to. They are the reason I drink coffee at all” a friend had said. We searched it out ASAP as this Mama needs her coffee. It is a fairly nondescript building, giving no clues about the delectable treats inside. The breads! The lemon cupcakes, cinnamon buns and Madeleine’s! We were excited to get a Madeleine for our little Madeleine. I tried – begged – for some coffee beans to take back home or even the brand but it is apparently a closely held secret.

We ate at Post Office Pizza each night. Firstly, because it was delicious. Secondly, because it was all that we could find that was open. It’s located down the hill from the Marathon Inn so it was convenient, too. They even had a selection of Kombucha. The building also houses a gift shop with items from local artisans, postcards in the old mail slots, clothing and surprisingly, a 3D printer! We couldn’t leave without a 3D printed shark. Super cool.

We had a half hour until checking in at the ferry so I decided to take the kids on a quick hike to Swallowtail Lighthouse. It’s a very kid-friendly hike and you can take a tour of the inside and go right up to the top

We were bummed to be leaving Grand Manan but were looking forward to the ferry ride and our next adventures on PEI.

We’re all hoping to get back to Grand Manan as there was so much we didn’t have time to explore. It’s an ideal combination of relaxation, stunning scenery and adventure.

St. Andrews, NB:  Starfish, Seals and Seaside Fun!

It was the end of July and we were deep into the dog days of summer. Our original summer plans were rescheduled and we were getting antsy to strike out and find some adventure.  I pulled out the Google box and started to search for somewhere to explore with the kids.  I came across the town of St. Andrews in New Brunswick which billed itself as “Canada’s Premier Seaside Resort”. After perusing their site I quickly decided that this is where we would go.  It was only 13 hours from our door and seemed super family friendly.

The activities we decided on were The Huntsman Aquarium, beach combing and whale watching aboard the tall ship “The Jolly Breeze”.  Finding last minute accommodations in St. Andrews was a totally different story.  We were however, finally able to secure a room at the Greenside Motel.

We struck out early on a Wednesday morning and after making a few extra stops along the way, arrived in town around 9:30 that night.  We checked in and received the key-yes, an actual key-to our room.  New owners took over a couple years ago and the amount of work they’ve done is evident.  I think in another year or two this place will be great little spot.  There was a kitchenette complete with pots, pans, coffee maker, microwave, mini fridge, hot plate and toaster oven.  We found a queen size bed waiting for us.  We snuggled in and fell asleep.  We were up early and ready to roll.  As I was packing up our stuff I heard a loud “POP”!  I ran to the kitchen and found that Maddie had somehow managed to microwave our toothpaste.  Yup.  That happened.  We narrowly averted an emergency, packed the car and skedaddled outta there.

Bonus:  The Motel gave the kids both a full size pack of gum upon checkout.
Bonus Bonus:  They ate it and didn’t stick it to the car seats or in their hair.

The first stop was of course the Tim Hortons across the road.  They scarfed down their breakfast and I adequately caffeinated.  We headed over to the Huntsman Aquarium.  The road leading into it is currently under construction.  I asked one of the guys directing traffic which way to the aquarium.  He looked at me strangely and pointed to the giant building, literally right in front of us.  Whoops.  We arrived just in time to see the seal feeding.  There was a small crowd though, so we couldn’t really get a good view.  We watched a few minutes then went to check out the giant touch tanks.  This, my friends, was a huge win!  Both kids loved every second of it.  Isaac was full of questions and the ladies working there were so kind to him and answered every single question in a way that he could understand.  The water is pumped into the tanks from the bay and has a 95% recycle rate.  There were starfish, sand dollars, lobsters, skate fish, urchins, crabs, flounder, sea cucumbers, clams and I’m sure there were more that I didn’t see.  With each creature we picked up we discussed what they felt like, what they looked like, what they ate and what ate them.  The skate fish were really interesting.  We could feel them as they’d glide by.  They’d also stick themselves to the glass and their underside looks like a smiley face.  If you go, please remember not to pick them up.  Staff had to tell the same 3 people about 5 times to stop.  Downstairs we found lots of other fish including my personal favourite, sea horses.  There were wall-sized aquariums with schools of fish swimming around and lots of other creatures.  There are also lots of games and a model fishing boat that the kids can play in.  There is a secret area behind a door to go see other sea animals that aren’t on exhibit.  There was an additional fee for this though and since I wasn’t 100% sure whether it would be worth it we didn’t venture in.  We will next time, because there will certainly be a next time.  As soon as we drove away they were asking when we could come back.

We went for a drive downtown to find something to grab for lunch.  We wandered into Olde Tyme Pizza and ordered some giant slices and drinks.  I drove to a rock beach with picnic tables to enjoy our slices.  I then let the kids loose on the beach to look for treasure.  Isaac is convinced that he found a dinosaur head fossil and Maddie filled my pockets with shells and stones.

They played, ran and treasure hunted until it was time to go whale watching.  We’d been excited for this since we booked it.

I’m going to save that and our awesome surprise bonus night at the Algonquin Resort for the next post though…

I’d go back to St. Andrews tomorrow with my kids.  The whole town seemed family friendly and oh so charming.  I’ll definitely plan to stay at least 3 nights as there is so much to see and do.

Lockeport, Nova Scotia “Feels like my Heart is Home”

Michelle Held stated it perfectly when she said

“Don’t grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you loved the beach”

My not-so-secret love affair with Nova Scotia is as old as I am.  In case you’re keeping track that continues to be 29 years for the third year in a row.  There’s nothing I don’t absolutely love about Nova Scotia.  The scenery amazes me each time we’re there.  My mind never gets used to it.  Every time I see the waves cresting upon the pristine sand beaches Continue reading “Lockeport, Nova Scotia “Feels like my Heart is Home””