Maritime Ferry Fun!

This past summer we took a loop vacation from Southern Nova Scotia to Grand Manan, NB with our last stop in Cavendish, PEI before heading back.  Part of the excitement of planning this trip was knowing how excited my kids were going to be to sail on all of the different ferries.  They’ve not yet been on a real cruise ship but some of these ships felt like a Carnival Cruise for them. Here’s a rundown of the ships we traveled aboard.

 “MV Fundy Rose”
Bay Ferries
Digby, NS – St. John, NB

Upon arrival in Digby for our first ferry ride of the day we checked in, explored the terminal and then headed back to the car to wait.   Thankfully, it was a sunny day so we could walk around outside to burn off some energy.  Our time had arrived to board and now that they’d seen the ferry, the kids were about to pop up out of their seats from the excitement. This ship was so much better than I could have imagined.  There were a couple different cafeterias.  The one out on deck was our favourite. Their “Foghorn” coffee hit the spot.  On this deck they had a table set up with all sorts of bits from the Bay of Fundy area.  I believe the super well-informed woman at the table was a Marine Biology student.   Just some of the items she had on display were a  piece of baleen from a Minke whale that we could feel, an intricately designed basket made of porcupine quills – the way first nations from the area would have crafted it, and even a 500 million year old fossil of the Trilobyte – an ancient ancestor of the lobster.  They had thought of everything for families including a basket of binoculars that we could borrow from and colouring sheets and crayons.  Isaac zeroed in on the binoculars and was immediately on the lookout for whales and sharks.  Though there are often whale sightings on this crossing, we didn’t see any that day.  There is live music on each summer crossing.   Here we were introduced to the musical talents of Hayley Ryerson.  She had people up and dancing and sang a song just for Maddie.  We were so impressed with her music we purchased the CD of her band “Kitchen Orkestra” and kept it on as the soundtrack throughout the rest of our trip to Grand Manan, NB and P.E.I.  We were able to arrange a tour of the bridge which thrilled these kids!  The Captain and crew patiently explained how all of the technology works and   let them jump up into the Captain’s seat and “steer” the ship.  Their day was made right then and there.  We’re hoping to be able to sail aboard the M.V. Fundy Rose again next summer as it was pure entertainment from Port to Port.

IMPORTANT: Take note of where your car is and what staircase you take to go up.  I thought I’d remember.  I didn’t.  We were the last to find our car, mere minutes before disembarking.  Not at all embarrassing.  Nope. Nope. Nope.

 

“MV Grand Manan V”
Coastal Transport,
Black’s Harbour, NB to Grand Manan, NB

We had just over an hour to get from Saint John to Black’s Harbour to check in for the ferry to Grand Manan.  According to Google Maps, the drive was 46 minutes.  That meant that as long as traffic cooperated and after stopping for gas, we’d slide into the lot just in the nick of time.  We checked in with 15 minutes to spare. On board we found a sweet little snack bar with home-style cooking, plus they had Froot Loops.  Win/Win for this family!  I enjoyed the fish chowder while the kids inhaled their 100% sugar cereal.  I’d certainly become more lax on the nutritional value of their food during this trip.  The decks gave plenty of opportunity for them to burn it off while keeping a keen eye for whales, sharks and seals.  The scenery was breathtaking from beginning to end. There was a children’s play room as well which would be a great benefit during rainy crossings. While exploring, a crew member saw the kids excited faces and asked if they wanted to see the bridge.  They absolutely jumped at the opportunity.  Again they were able to sit up in the Captain’s chair and “steer” the ship as well as checking out the radar.  The crew were very friendly and also gave us some tips for Grand Manan.  As we pulled into the harbour we were greeted by some whales!  Everyone was so distracted by the whales that we were all racing to our vehicles at the last minute.  But hey! At least I remembered where I left the car this time.

“MV Manan Adventure”
Coastal Transport
Grand Manan, NB to Black’s Harbour, NB

We took the M.V. Manan Adventure on our return.  If you are given the choice between ferries to and from Grand Manan, choose this one.  The other ship was great but this one is much newer, felt more spacious and had more modern amenities.  We found a large children’s playroom with a climber and a TV with “Treehouse” playing. There were several, comfortable lounge areas.  One section held a collection of theatre style seats and a television.  The cafeteria was large with a wide variety of snacks.  Being the creatures of habit we are, we opted for the Froot Loops and Fish Chowder again.  Yum!!  The booths were comfortable and had beautiful views.  There was ample space for the kids to safely burn off their energy on the upper deck, along with plenty of seating to enjoy the views.  I was thoroughly impressed with the cleanliness of the ship.  We could’ve stayed on this ferry for a couple more hours. 

“M.V. Holiday Island”
Northumberland Ferries
Woods Island, PEI – Caribou, Nova Scotia

We took the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island and opted to take the ferry from the Island back to Nova Scotia.  Regardless of whether the bridge or ferry is taken, payment is only made upon leaving PEI.  The ferry was about $30 more than the bridge, but the experience on board certainly made it worth it. Nearby the ferry terminal there is a large climber, picnic area and restaurant.  We’d bought some fresh strawberries from a roadside stand to snack on during the crossing.  As soon as we boarded we headed straight to the top deck, snagged some seats and ate every strawberry before the ship moved a foot.  PEI Strawberries for the win!  We were able to sneak in for a tour of the bridge of this ship, too.  The crew were very welcoming and let both kids “steer” this one as well.  Isaac was so proud that he knew the answers to the questions they asked about the radar.  After the tour, we hit the cafeteria.  An order of chicken fingers, a hot dog with delicious fries and fish chowder came to just $20. After being on the road for over a week, that price made my wallet very happy. There was a sampling available from Nova Scotia’s Hardy Wares Preserves.  I love that each crossing has a sampling from a local company.  We purchased 3 jars of yummy Carrot Cake Jam to take home.  We heard some music, searched it out and found Lester MacPherson, “PEI’s Country Gentleman” entertaining the crowd.  Maddie danced and danced to “Sonny’s Dream” and “Me and Bobby McGee” until he strummed his last chord of the day.  She took her own money that she’d been saving and with her most serious face, bought one of his CD’s.  When we return to PEI, we’ll be sure to take the ferry again.

Note: You can save 40% by taking the ferry to PEI and driving the bridge to leave instead of the other way around.

That’s the roundup of the ferries we were able to travel on this past summer.  Each ship has kept families in mind as they all offer kid-friendly foods and play areas.  While they were all educational and very entertaining, the MV Fundy Rose was an adventure wrapped inside of an adventure for our little family.  Maybe this summer we can manage a Newfoundland getaway and escape aboard the MV Atlantic Vison for the 178 km, 7 hour long ferry from North Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques, NL!

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: Tall Ships, Taller Tales

In early August we were able to sneak away for a last minute getaway to St. Andrews By-The-Sea.  If you didn’t catch the first post about our getaway, be sure to check it out here.

After an exciting day filled with Starfish and Seals, we enjoyed a giant slice of pizza at a seaside park.  The kids ran amok on the rock beach searching for treasure while we waited for our whale watching adventure aboard The Jolly Breeze to begin.

With the kids outfitted in their pirate hats and eye patches, we made our way to the wharf.  There were pirate costumes available that the kids could borrow if they wished.  The total cost with taxes for the three of us was $138.00 which is on par with other whale watching tours.  We walked down the steep ramp to the dock and watched for our ship to come in.  There were jellyfish and starfish in the water that we could see while waiting.

Finally, The Jolly Breeze appeared in the harbour.  I was as excited as the kids to board the tall ship.  The kids both loved all of the flags.  Once we were all seated they went over the rules and we were off.  We sailed out for about an hour before looking for whales.  During this hour we saw tons of seals on the rocks, a bald eagle and some porpoises jumping in the water.  One of the crew came along with face paint and painted sharks and starfish on their faces.  This was a great distraction for kids that were getting antsy.  The bathroom was downstairs, or rather down ladder.  One adult needs to be at the bottom as the kids scale down.  As my kids only had one parent there, I had to rely on the kindness of other parents for a minute to watch them at the top.  I climbed down, then Isaac, then I climbed back up and got Maddie situated to climb down.  I was a little nervous for her, but she nailed it.  Along with the bathroom there is a big table with colouring pages, pencil crayons and books to read.  This was a hit.  I nearly had to drag Isaac away to go look for some whales.  The Captain slowed down and the crew looked and listened for the whales.  Now, here’s where we failed as whale watching passengers.  The kids were having so much fun with all of the other activities on board that they missed them altogether.  That said, apparently everyone else saw some Minke whales which was pretty exciting.

We toured around a little bit more, and more attentive passengers saw one more whale.  The journey back was full of activity.  One crew member brought around a piece of baleen to see and feel.  All of the kids lined up and helped hoist the sail which was a memorable experience for Isaac.  Then, they brought out the soup.  Pea soup.  Now, bear with me…While getting ready to go, I looked at a pair of jeans and a pair of white cotton pants with hearts on them for Maddie.  I inexplicably chose the white pants and in an even more confusing twist put the other outfit back in our suitcase as opposed to in our bag to take along.  What.  Was.  I.  Thinking.  Maddie took one sip of the soup then immediately poured it all over herself.  We climbed downstairs and cleaned up to the best of our ability using every wipe I brought along.  She was now wet and since we were on a boat, she was going to be cold.  There are blankets available for chilly passengers so I scooped one up and wrapped her up as snug as a bug.  Luckily Maddie is pretty easy going and it didn’t seem to faze her.

Note:  There is nothing glamourous about traveling with kids, folks.
Note 2:  Always, always, always bring spare pants.

This was also the point where Isaac was being the best pirate he could be.  As he was pulling off his eye patch, he caught his pirate hat and over it went into the bay.  Again, thankfully he wasn’t upset and just said “Bummer, there that goes”.  One of the crew then brought out a touch tank!  Out of all of the activities they have available, this was by far the best.  The kids could hold a crab, lobster, sea cucumber, starfish and many other little creatures.  The crew member that was doing this was patient with answering the many questions fired at her by all of the eager children and was sure to teach them how to hold them carefully and gently.  The last activity was to take a turn at the helm.  All of the kids lined up and hopped up to the wheel.  They had their pictures taken and then received a fun certificate.  With that the sailing was over.

If you are planning to go whale watching with your little people, I can’t recommend this place enough.  We chose this one because even if we didn’t see any whales there would be enough to keep them entertained.  As it turned out the entertainment was more exciting for my small people than the whale watching.  And really, who doesn’t want to play a pirate aboard a real tall ship?

We were done the sail and getting pretty tired.  I was planning on driving to Sussex and staying there for the night but hadn’t booked anything and I really wanted to get Miss Maddie cleaned up.  I pulled out my phone and checked to see if there was any availability in town.  To my amazement I came across a good deal at The Algonquin Resort.  I booked it immediately and we checked our tired selves in.  The lobby was beautiful and the staff were so kind.  We accidentally missed the elevator alcove and walked through the great room.  There were families enjoying a snack and laughing while playing games together like Clue and Scrabble.  It was like a movie.  Like walking into the clubhouse from Dirty Dancing.

I was so grateful to find a super comfy, King size bed in our room.  Isaac loves to organize our shoes and gear when we get to a hotel room.  When he opened up the closet to put away our shoes, he found a cozy robe.  He had it on in 2 seconds flat, curled up in the wing back chair and watched some Bubble Guppies.  The toiletries in the bathroom smelled just like a spa.  There was even a loofah which I quickly squirreled away in our bag.  Hey!  Isn’t that what they’re there for?   After the day we had, the kids quickly fell asleep.

In the morning we headed to their restaurant.  There was a breakfast buffet complete with smoothies and an omelet station.  Maddie loved the strawberry smoothies.  I loved the green smoothies and the perfect coffee.  The total for us for the breakfast buffet, before tip, came to $34.01.  Because of Maddie’s age she was free.  Win!

We headed back to the room and got ready for a swim.  There is a corkscrew water slide that Isaac was desperate to try.  There are two pools.  One indoor and one outdoor and neither really has a shallow end.  The shallow parts were right around 4 feet so Isaac stuck to the slide.  He made fast friends with a bunch of kids and went down the slide at least 75 times. I was able to get him out to go check out the outdoor pool.  There were people lounging around and it seemed like more of a mellow environment.  I didn’t want to disturb their serenity so we only swam here a short time.  It was then time to head out.  We packed the car up and struck out for Nova Scotia.

When we get back here again, I will certainly be finding a way to stay at The Algonquin.  It’s great for mom and dad as well as the kids.  The staff come from far and wide to work a summer there and I can see why. We will definitely book 2 nights here.

I am so grateful that we had the opportunity for this last minute escape to St. Andrews By-The-Sea and will certainly be adding to our list to discover again.

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.