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!

Island Hopping: P.E.I.

This past summer we took an Island adventure.  After kayaking and whale watching in Grand Manan, New Brunswick we crossed the nearly 13 kilometre (!!) Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. 

The middle of the Island’s busy summer can be a tricky time to find nightly cottage accommodations as opposed to weekly.  After perusing the old Google box, I came across Green Gables Cottages.  They booked nightly, were right in Cavendish and the rate was very reasonable.  They were not beachfront but they did have a salt water pool.  I called them ASAP and booked.

The cottages are only a 45 minute drive from the bridge.  My GPS, however, took us on a wild goose chase straight to someone’s driveway so instead it took us 90.  We booked a “Type A- Efficiency Cottage”.  It was crazy adorable.  The cottage opened to a living room/bedroom with a bed, pullout couch, chair and television.  Off of the main room was a small, well-appointed full kitchen. Another door led to the bathroom.  The floors were a little crooked but that seemed to be a theme throughout this getaway.

After inhaling our breakfast, the next morning went just like this:

Them: POOL!!  MOM! MOM! CAN WE GO SWIMMING RIGHT NOW??!!
Me: As soon as I get a coffee.
Them: LOOK AT THAT CLIMBER!!!  CAN WE GO?!!
Me:  We can, just as soon as I get a cup of coffee.
Them: OOOOH!  THERE’S WASHERS HERE!  CAN WE GO GET OUR CLOTHES?! (seriously.)
Me: Definitely.  I’d like a quick cup of coffee first.
Them: THERE’S EVEN MONKEY BARS, MOM!  MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM!
Me: We can do all of this as soon as we find coffee.
Them: MOM…
Me:  COFFEE! COFFEE! COFFEE! COFFEE! COFFEE!

My point is that just a couple hundred metres up the road is Avonlea Village. Along with a bunch of other restaurants, there is a breakfast joint called “Samuel’s”.  They make coffee.  Divine coffee and lattes.  And some yummy breakfast to get everyone fed, jolly and ready to take on the day. They will be your friends.

Shining Waters Family Fun Park was our first adventure.  Isaac had been saving his nickels and dimes for months to this waterpark.  He handed over his hard earned cash and strolled on in.  It turned out to be a local company’s Family Day so it was a zoo.  I adore that so many companies still do this so won’t grumble about it. If you are planning to go, maybe shoot them a message first to see if there is an event going on that day.  We still had a great time.  The kids ran through the Mirror Maze on repeat.  Storybook Land had a bunch of puzzles to be solved which was a lot of fun.  There was also a very “swingy” swing bridge that hilariously freaked out a lot of people.  It was certainly a wobbly challenge to cross.  The rides were all fun and the line-ups weren’t too long at all.  The sideways house was pretty bananas and we all loved spinning around in the pumpkins.  The waterpark was super packed but we were able to enjoy the kiddie slide area for a long time as well as the pool.  The big slides had long lineups but my kids were too small for them anyway.  The food was fine and there was nice green space to eat it.  Adding more shade areas would be nice as it was hot, hot, hot in the sun.

The next day we made use of the laundry facilities at the cottages.  They were inexpensive and clean.  The kids played on the climber and, as kids manage to do, made new friends immediately.  The warm pool was calling our name, so we played there for a couple of hours.  We had planned on hitting “Sandspit Amusement Park” but after the busy day at the waterpark, this relaxation was just was we needed.

My mom surprised us with tickets to see “Anne of Green Gables: The Musical” in Charlottetown that evening.  I love all things Anne but taking us all to see the show was out of the budget for this trip so this was a fantastic surprise.

We got to Charlottetown about 90 minutes before show time. The street beside the theatre suddenly sprang to life with patios and live music and dancing.  We ate and danced until the very last second and then raced into the theatre to find our seats.  The show is long and I wasn’t sure how well the kids would handle that.  While the oldest became squirmy towards the end, my youngest was wide-eyed and laser-focused throughout.  She’s been hooked on musicals ever since.

The next day was our last and we were excited to get some seafood and beaching in.

Isaac had promised to eat a new food everywhere we went this summer.  In PEI we’d agreed on oysters.  After some research we landed on The Blue Mussel Café in North Rustico.  It’s a busy spot so we were sure to be there when they opened.  The restaurant was bright and airy and surprisingly had some of my favourite song lyrics framed and hung by the bar.  We ordered up 3 oysters.  Isaac gathered all of his nerve, squirted some lemon on the gelatinous shellfish and down the hatch it went.  According to him it tasted bad like the ocean, and he’s never eating one again. Ha!  I was super impressed that he tried it to start with.

Our last PEI adventure was the Greenwich Beach area which is part of the PEI National Park System. It was a bit of a drive, but well worth it.  We grabbed our water bottles and hit the trails. There is no access to running water so be sure to bring enough.  We could’ve used another bottle.  The well maintained trails lead to a boardwalk that crisscrossed through different ponds then to the ladder-style stairs at the dunes.  The dunes on every coast are eroding so stick to the designated trails and stairs to get over them.  Greenwich Beach is actually home to rare, Parabolic Dunes which was interesting to learn about.  The view from the top was breathtaking.  Even on this beautiful day, there weren’t crowds of people.  The water is shallow for a long ways out and there weren’t any big waves so it was super kid friendly.  We spent hours walking the beach, writing notes in the sand, finding treasure, breathing in that sweet salt air and just taking in the beauty around us.  If we get back to PEI this will certainly be a spot to while away a day.

We had so much fun on PEI and could’ve stayed a lot longer, but the time had come to ship out and we needed to board the exciting ferry back to Nova Scotia.

A couple things that weren’t able to sneak in were Sea Kayaking and Tuna fishing.  Luckily, this gives us even more to look forward to next time around.  Hopefully we can catch up again in 2019!

Springtime in PEI: Province of Endless Imagination

“It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?”
– L.M.  Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

We were able to make a last minute escape to Nova Scotia this past April and since the opportunity was there I wanted to make a couple of stops on the way back home to Ontario.  I was on the fence about making the detour to Prince Edward Island but I am so grateful that we did.

I took a leap and booked a room at Dalvay-by-the Sea.  It’s long been a dream of mine to be a guest at the “White Sands”.  As a child our family watched Road to Avonlea regularly and I know Anne of Green Gables word for word.  We checked it out many years ago but in the middle of August it was fully booked.  My husband and I drove to Dalvay a few years ago as well but it was in April, before their season starts.

I’d shown Isaac a picture of the hotel online and he was most excited about…the chairs.  We crossed the Confederation Bridge and the first thing that stood out for me was how tidy the island is and the pride that people take in their homes and properties.  The yards were neatly manicured and the houses were colourful and well maintained.  After an hour or so of driving, we pulled into Dalvay.  I still couldn’t believe that we were staying here and completely geeked out.

We checked in and were given our key – yes folks, and actual key- to room number 9.  I’d recommend requesting this room if you can. We found a plate of cookies waiting and milk was delivered shortly after.  There were 2 super comfy queen beds, two wing back chairs, coat closet, bathroom, little balcony and stunning views.  They had a pack-n-play set up in the room for Maddie which was helpful.  There were also two bottles of raspberry cordial on the table.  Isaac was a little heavy handed with the bottle, got a little wild and broke a glass. Whoops!  That cordial will get you every time.

We headed to the dining room for dinner.  They had a kids menu and maybe more importantly, ketchup.  The kids enjoyed their grilled cheese and chicken fingers.  They came with a side of fried potato slices.  These had a taste and crunch similar to Miss Vickie’s chips but better somehow.  I had the scallops.  My goodness, these scallops.  We very rarely enjoy fine dining so I treated myself.  I have no words for how delectable it was.  I’ll attach a picture, which won’t do justice.  Admittedly, I was nervous dining with my kids at such an upscale place but they were pretty well behaved and it was so sweet to watch them practice their “fancy manners”.

After dinner we went to the lawn to burn off some energy.  The kids ran and ran.  They pretended to fish, to be on a safari and had jumping races.  They were getting tired and I’d already seen bedtime tick by.  This is where things get equally frustrating and sweet.

Along our journey I had managed to misplace my credit card.  I had assumed it was under my car seat because well, that’s just the kind of person I am.  When we were checking in I still couldn’t put my hands on it but we were able to get checked in and up to our room.  Small panic.  After checking out the room I tore through my car trying to spot it.  Slightly more panic.  Maybe, just maybe it was in our suitcase.  I emptied out our bags.  No luck.  By now I had enlisted my son as our detective and made it a game.  Still nothing.  We were done playing on the lawn, it was now dark and I was dragging the kids out to the car one last time to look.  Leah, who was working the front desk mentioned that she would watch them for a few minutes while I ran out.  Normally I would have said “No, that’s fine” but I was only a few minutes and I was just outside the door.  There were no more nooks or crannies that the card could be hiding in so I had decided to call and cancel the card after the kids were asleep.  Bummer.  As I come back through the doors, I found Leah along with both kids, sitting on the sofa in front of the fire reading an Anne of Green Gables storybook.  My heart almost burst.  My kids, on PEI being introduced to Anne of Green Gables at The White Sands Dalvay-by-the-Sea.  All the moment needed was Gus Pike playing the fiddle outside the door and Simon Tremain stomping through.  We went back up to our room and as I tucked the kids in to bed Isaac spotted it.   There lay the card under the bed, camouflaged as it was the exact same colour as the carpet.  All in all a great end to the day.

For breakfast Maddie wore her fanciest dress and hat, along with her rubber boots of course. The kids were made special pancakes which they devoured.  The coffee was just right.  It’d been quite a while since I’d had a really good cup of coffee so I doubled down, had another and grabbed one for the road.

We checked out and on the advice of the Manager, Joel, we headed to Brackley Beach which, along with Dalvay is located inside PEI National Park.  Despite the wind which didn’t even faze the kids, we played for an hour and then struck out for Green Gables.

We toured the house.  Since the kids don’t totally get the Anne thing we made it into an education on how people lived at the turn of the century.  We discussed things like cooking on a wood stove and life without a refrigerator.  We hiked the trail behind the house.  This was the “Haunted Woods”.  The trail was well maintained and an easy walk for the kids.  Isaac was a little freaked out by the “Haunted” bit but after explaining that it was “enchanted” he decided to grab a stick and become a magician.

Then, just like that our Island escape was over.  On the drive to the bridge we spotted a water park, go carts, toy factory, COWS ice cream shops and so many other places to check out once the summer season starts up.  Traveling during shoulder season means many attractions are still closed but the crowds are non-existent and there wasn’t a tour bus in sight, which is highly prized for us.  I can’t wait to go back to the Island for a longer stay in the summer time.  In the meantime I’ll keep watching the new Anne series and keep an eye out for the White Sands.