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!

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.

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”

The Best Laid Plans (of a Cloth Diapering Mama) Often Go Awry

Dear Drought of 2016:  You win.

Sincerely,

Cloth Diapers

We cloth diaper.  There, I said it.  Now that it’s out there I’ll explain a little bit why.  We love the Earth and try to conserve resources where we can, but are not environmental activists by any stretch of the imagination.  I try to buy organic fruits and veggies, but only Continue reading “The Best Laid Plans (of a Cloth Diapering Mama) Often Go Awry”

Brier Island: Whale Tales and So Much More!

I’ve always wanted to get out and go whale watching.  Knowing that we have the opportunity to do it now and are unsure of when the opportunity will arise again we took the leap (and ferries) to Brier Island, Nova Scotia.  They’ve got a reputation as the best whale watching around. Continue reading “Brier Island: Whale Tales and So Much More!”

We Found Dory! Our Dory Day on the South Shore

The importance of the humble Dory to the history of Eastern Canada is undeniable.  They were a way of life for thousands of fisherman and helped create the fishery as we know it today.  The Dories were carried on large schooners (think Bluenose).  Fisherman then climbed in and were lowered into the water to venture out, fish for the day and return to the ship.  It was dangerous work for many reasons.  If a man were to go overboard there was usually only one person to help get him back in, and in the frigid North Atlantic, hypothermia sets in quickly.   Tragically, despite painting the boats bright Continue reading “We Found Dory! Our Dory Day on the South Shore”