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.

Cape D’Or: Rugged and Unplugged

We were able to sneak away for a last minute escape to Lockeport, Nova Scotia this Spring.  On our way back home to Ontario, we had the chance to make a couple of stops.

Like every 5 year old I’ve ever known, my little guy loves all things dinosaur, so we headed to the Fundy Geological Museum and Joggins Cliffs Fossil Centre.  While looking for a place to stay in between the two, a few spots popped up including the Cape D’Or Lighthouse in Advocate Harbour.  I’m a certified lighthouse junkie and staying at a lighthouse has long been on my bucket list.  I knew that it would be a thrill for my little people, too.  The tourist season hadn’t officially started yet so most of the touristy type spots were still closed for another couple weeks.  I took a chance though and sent an email to the manager.  To my delight, he called me that evening.  They weren’t truly open yet but he was going to see if he could make it work.  The next day he called to say that everything would be ready.  I told the kids that we were going to stay at a lighthouse but we knew nothing of the adventure we were about to embark upon.

We spent the day driving and checking out the Geological Museum where they learned about the formation of rock and the different dinos that have been discovered in the area.  We then started our journey to the lighthouse.  Google Maps told me that the drive would be 52 minutes.  That, my friends, may be true in theory but certainly not in practice.  We turned off the paved, Parrsboro Shore Road onto one of the twistiest, hilliest road I’ve ever been on.  The transmission in my trusty Camry was in a near constant state of confusion as we drove up, down and twisted around.  Just as soon as I started to wonder what I’d gotten us into or if Google maps was hacked, the tippy top of a lighthouse appeared.  Phew!  It was the little, replica lighthouse in the parking lot at Cape D’Or.  We got out and took in the view.  Breathtaking!  The scenery was straight off of a postcard.  With a wee bit of intimidation and a whole lot of determination we stared down the hill we were to hike down to the lighthouse.  We gathered our belongings for the night and began the trek down.  This took longer than I had anticipated.  After being at the Geological Museum earlier, the kids were very interested in the gravel we were walking on and picked up and examined many of the colourful stones on the way down.  With our pockets lined with rocks, we made it to the bottom.  It was worth every minute of the adventure thus far.  We ran over to check out the lighthouse and…what was that little thing in front of the lighthouse?  A Foghorn!  Isaac was very excited about this. We explored all we could until the rain began.  Isaac and Maddie played pirates, pretended to be lobster fishermen and played baseball with the buoys.  The daffodils had just emerged and were a glorious shot of colour when the skies turned grey.

Once the rain started we headed into the “Light Keepers Guest House”.  It’s a shared type of accommodation.  Upon entering, there was a sitting area with two couches, a sink, dishes, coffee maker with coffee, bar fridge, bookshelf full of books and a table and chairs with some of the fresh cut daffodils in a vase.  The kids, of course, were most excited to check out their rooms.  We had the two rooms at the back with a bathroom to use at the end of the hallway.  One room had a queen bed and the other two twins.  Isaac decided on his bed right away and staked his claim.  Maddie ended up with me that night so he had the room to himself.

We dug out our supper, devoured it and headed back outside where we found some rabbits!  Maddie was in love with them.  They ran and played until dusk.  As we were headed inside, the fog horn sounded for the first time.  It was as loud as expected and startled all of us.  Maddie covered her ears and Isaac shouted “Whooooa! That’s so cool, Mom!”.  Back in the house the noise was substantially muffled, but still loud.  I was concerned that the horn going off, 3 times a minute, would keep them awake.  And it did, but not much later than usual and Isaac thought it was just so cool.  Maddie didn’t share his interest in it but it didn’t seem to bother her too much.  Isaac played lighthouse keeper until bedtime.  There isn’t any tv or wifi which for the most part was a welcome break from the world but at the witching hour before bed I like the little break that tv offers me.  I plugged in my computer and prayed that the temperamental DVD player in it would work.  I popped in The Lorax and waited.  The opening credits popped up.  Yay!  Isaac snuggled up in a blanket on the couch and watched.  Maddie wasn’t into the movie so instead hopped like one of the bunnies up and down the hallway.  I was super grateful to have the place to ourselves because keeping these two secluded to one room would have been a little like herding cats at that moment. We all got ready for bed, read our stories and let the sound of the waves (and fog horn) send us to sleep.  Early in the morning- so, so early- Isaac came bounding into the room excited that the fog horn was still sounding.  We were up and outside to investigate in 5 minutes flat.  The sun was peaking through the clouds and the bunnies were watching us from the bushes.  We explored and hiked around the area and they played pirates for a couple hours.  The restaurant onsite wasn’t open yet for the season so we munched on the snacks we had left and I drank a pot of coffee.  We did the dishes, packed up our stuff, closed up and readied ourselves for the trek back up to the car.  Again, with pockets full of colourful stones and some sticks for good measure, we made it to the car.  It was at this moment that I realized just how out of shape I was and committed to get back running and biking again upon our return home.

This is a one-of-a-kind spot that is worth the twisty roads and hills to find.  This was far and away the most secluded and rugged spot I have stayed with the kids.  The unplugged nature of it was relaxing.  I love watching imaginations come to life in the absence of screens.  I’ve heard great things of the restaurant but we didn’t get to test it out ourselves.  The manager, Darcy, is kind and as unique as the location itself.  He’s accommodating and I’m sure, given some notice would be able to give you a ride up and down the hill if you aren’t able to hike it.  This is a functioning lighthouse with a light and a fog horn when it’s foggy.   Do not come with 5 star resort expectations.  This is not the Marriot Harbourfront.  You will not find a spa, wifi, jacuzzi or sauna.  You will however have an authentic, rugged and memorable Nova Scotia experience.

The Beauty and the Brrrr: 5 Niagara Falls Attractions for Your Family This Winter

My name is Allison and I unintentionally lie to my husband and children every November, without fail.

Allow me to set the scene.  It’s mid-November, the leaves have all fallen off of the trees, the days are shorter and getting greyer by the second.  I grab my giant cup of coffee and proudly announce that this-this is the year I am going to enjoy winter!  We’re going to learn to snowshoe and cross-country ski and enjoy all of the parks that are open around us.  Then, before I know it it’s mid-January and I’m spending my spare moments wrapped in my Snuggie, Continue reading “The Beauty and the Brrrr: 5 Niagara Falls Attractions for Your Family This Winter”

Kids CanLit for Christmas! Explore Canada With Your Little Readers Through These Sweet Books

In the words of everybody’s favourite medical professional, Dr. Seuss

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

My mother was an elementary school teacher with a great love for children’s books.  I so fondly recall crawling up on to her lap in the giant, wooden rocking chair while we uncovered the latest adventures of Curious George and Amelia Bedelia.

Lucky for us Canada also has a long list of entertaining and engaging children’s literature to broaden the imagination of our nation’s youngest readers. There is no feeling quite like Continue reading “Kids CanLit for Christmas! Explore Canada With Your Little Readers Through These Sweet Books”