- See more at: http://blogtimenow.com/blogging/automatically-redirect-blogger-blog-another-blog-website/#sthash.cWnu8Osl.dpuf Solo Mom Takes Flight

Monday, 31 March 2014

Antigua's Donkey Sanctuary

     Since I wasn't traveling this week, I thought I would share with you one of my favourite finds while on vacation- Antigua's Donkey Sanctuary. Last year, my sister and I were lucky enough to be able to escape to Antigua for a week away at the beginning of Spring. We enjoyed the island and found many fun things to do but our most memorable activity was definitely the sanctuary.
Me at Antigua's Donkey Sanctuary.
     Being an animal lover, I never say no to an opportunity to meet and help local animals when traveling. Although the hotel we were staying at offered quite a few tourist pamphlets, we actually found out about the sanctuary on Tripadvisor.ca. Rental cars are quite cheap on the island and we were able to rent a car for the day to go meet the rescue donkeys.

     The main road on the island was well sign-posted and it wasn't difficult to find our way to donkey heaven located on the eastern side of the island near the town of Bethesda. We arrived to find a few volunteers on site and no one else visiting that morning. As we were departing a group came in that was with an island tour so ask around and I am sure you can make your way there somehow.

My sister Ann meets a donkey.
     During our visit, we were given a tour from a very nice volunteer and told that over 150 donkeys live on site. Many of the donkeys the sanctuary takes in are pregnant and we even got to meet some foals.

      The incredible part of meeting the donkeys is that even though some have a bad history with humans and have been in some way injured, the donkeys are all exceptionally loving and cuddly. A few of the donkeys chose to follow us around and kept putting their heads under our hands to signify they wanted to be pet. All in all, I must admit I hugged quite a few donkeys that day.

 Ann getting a donkey hug.
      While there is no cost to visit the sanctuary, visitors on site and online are given the opportunity to adopt a donkey for $25US. I adopted Ushi who had followed me around the whole morning since I felt like we had a good connection. The money collected from adopted donkeys helps to feed the donkeys and provide them with veterinary care.

      If you are visiting Antigua, don't hesitate to take a few hours away from the beach and go visit this amazing charity. The hope is that all stray and roaming donkeys on the island will be brought to the sanctuary to keep them safe from cars and abuse. If you happen to see Ushi, give him a big hug from one of his biggest fans.
Giving Ushi a kiss goodbye. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Harlem Globetrotters!

One of my favourite memories as a child was getting to attend a Harlem Globetrotters game. When I heard they were coming to Toronto, I knew I had to take Will.

I researched the best discounts I could find on tickets and found the following deals:

Groupon: Expiring at Midnight on March 29, 2014 Groupon is offering 40% off tickets including VIP seating but not court side seats.

Wagjag: Expiring at Midnight on March 30, 2014 Wagjag is offering 37% off tickets  including VIP seating but not court side seats.

Ticketmaster: With both the above deals you are given a pass to a certain section but cannot purchase an actual assigned seat. If you prefer to go through Ticketmaster, I found the following codes that will get you varying discounts:
      PTPA: $7 off most tickets.
      KELLOGS: 25% off all tickets except court side seats.

The Globetrotters are also offering ticket holders the chance to buy a Magic Pass. Starting 90 minutes before the game, Magic Pass holders can spend 30 minutes on court with the team playing basketball, learning tricks and taking photos. The Magic Pass is an additional $25 per person and adults accompanying children to the event must also have a Magic Pass for early entry.

See you at the game!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Canada's Best Kept Secret- Canada's Wonderland

Seeing its the beginning of summer, I thought I would highlight local attractions in and near Toronto that solo parents can easily explore when outnumbered. The first and my favourite activity is Canada's Wonderland. You must be thinking this woman is crazy and having seen the crowds in July I would probably say the same.

Here is the key detail-- attendance at Wonderland on weekdays until school lets out is low and mostly limited to high school groups. Translation-- you and your children can rule Snoopy's Planet. 

Each Thursday from the time Wonderland opens their doors on weekdays until the day local schools finish (which this year ranges from the third week of June to the last day of June), you can find me and my two kids under 4 running around like crazy. We explore every ride, go see the dinosaurs and interact with the very kind staff. Often ride operators will sing songs with the kids and Snoopy and his crew have a lot of time for pictures and hugs. 

The only issue with travelling to Wonderland solo during these few weeks is that you are restricted to the height of your shortest child. This hasn't become a big issue for us but I have noticed the taller one eyeing some of the smaller roller coasters this year. 

 If you are nearby or travel to Wonderland, I highly recommend taking a weekday off work and school and making it the ultimate trip. You could be the only ones playing mini golf or your children can ride the Snoopy Red Baron planes until they beg to get off or simply fall asleep like my little one did last year. 

An important note for some park visitors is that the shows in Planet Snoopy don't tend to run unless it is a weekend or school is out. If this is an important detail to you, you might want to face the crowds on weekends in June instead. We drown our sorrows in corn dogs and ice cream with no wait times and remind ourselves this small detail doesn't outweigh the fun we are having. 

If its a Thursday, keep an eye out for me and send me a wink to let me know you are now in on Canada's best kept secret. We will most likely be found at the giant trampolines. 

Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival at Bruce's Mill

     Located a quick 35 minute drive from downtown Toronto in Stouffville, Ontario, Bruce's Mill Conservation Area is worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of the city. From the moment you arrive at the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival, the air is tinged with the sweet aroma of boiling syrup and pancakes and you are met by a friendly staff with open arms.
Friendly staff at the festival are easily recognizable in their red flannel shirts.
     The kids and I headed out to the festival this past Sunday, not too sure what to expect but excited to see what it was all about. We were not disappointed. We entered the festival as it opened at 9:30 and saw not only young families but people from all walks of life.  The great thing about the set-up of the Maple Syrup Festival is that the trail is an easy walk and although muddy in spots quite accessible to young and old. As I was alone with my two, I definitely worried about wandering into the bush but quickly discovered that the trail was quite compressed and an easy walk from start to finish.
The Maple Syrup Trail at Bruce's Mill.
     Admission to the festival is $10 per adult and $6.50 per child. Children 4 and under are admitted for free.  My kids wanted to begin the day with a pony ride and I happily obliged. Since I was alone, the staff very kindly helped the kids onto the ponies and went around the ride with them so I could take pictures. Like a few other things at the festival, the ponies are an extra cost and at $6 per child for a one minute ride I did feel like this was the one thing at the festival that was unfairly priced. Still the kids enjoyed the ride and once they were finished did not ask to ride again.
Will and Charlie enjoying a pony ride.
     Once we were done riding ponies, we were off an a guided tour through the Maple Syrup Trail. The guided tour is included in the price of the festival and you also have the option of experiencing the trail on your own. The staff is quite helpful along the trail and there are many signs explaining every aspect of maple syrup production. We stayed with the tour for about half of the trail and then ventured ahead on our own.
Guests about to leave on the Maple Syrup Trail tour.
     When walking the trail, you get to experience the history of maple syrup collection from the original collection done first by the Native people of Canada, to the collection methods of the pioneers and concluding with how maple sap is collected and made into maple syrup now. My kids definitely enjoyed playing at each station and loved chatting with the friendly staff and pioneer manning the fire at the pioneer station.
Will checking out sap in the bucket. 
The kids inside the maple shack used in Native method. 
A pioneer teaching the kids how he made maple syrup over a fire. 
     Currently along the trail there are large mounds of snow that children have made into makeshift slides. These provided a good stopping point and break from the trail. The kids were easily lured back to the trail by the delicious maple syrup samples and the promise of pancakes at the end.
Will and Charlie sliding down snow banks.  
Will trying a sample of tasty maple syrup.
     When we were done learning about maple syrup production and looking in the buckets for sap, we headed to the pancake house to enjoy a delicious sample of pancakes and syrup. The pancakes are quite good and extremely large. 3 large pancakes with syrup costs $6.50 a plate with smaller plates costing between $3 and $5.
Will excited to dig into the pancakes and syrup. 
      Once our pancakes had been devoured, we visited the balloon twister and face painting station located in the back of the pancake house. The balloon twister, Dr. Bandoli, is great with kids and kept the entire crowd entertained. Balloons were free to every child. Charlie opted to have her face painted. The line was short and the face painter did an excellent job. Face painting ranged by design between $3 and $10. Charlie opted for a quite nice design which cost $5.
This kids loved the ballon twister station.
Charlie showing off her facepaint. 
     Before wrapping up our day, we wanted to take a wagon ride. We waited outside for less than five minutes as the horses returned from a previous tour. The wagon ride is $1 per person with children 4 and under riding for free. The kids really enjoyed the tour which takes you into the sugarbush to see more maple trees and sap buckets. Its a short ride but it gives kids an idea of how many maple trees are required to make maple syrup. We learnt at the festival that 1 container of maple syrup requires approximately 40 buckets of sap.
The horses getting ready to pull our wagon.  
Will and Charlie enjoying the ride. 
     We couldn't leave without stopping by the Sugar Shack which sells real Ontario maple syrup products. I, previous to yesterday, did not know that the colour of maple syrup affected the taste and was surprised to see them selling different shades of syrup. I purchased a large bottle of syrup and of course some maple syrup lollipops for the kids.
Breakfast this morning with our Ontario maple syrup and honey.
     On the way out we did a quick stop at the petting zoo which is small but has some very friendly donkeys, a llama, and some goats for the kids to say hello to as well as a smaller pen with friendly bunnies. Packed into the car with their bellies full of pancakes and balloon animals in hand, Will and Charlie both asked if we could return to the festival every spring. So it looks like another family tradition is born.
Checking out the bunnies at the petting zoo. 
     Due to the cold weather the Toronto Area has been experiencing, the Maple Syrup Festival has been extended to April 13, 2014 as they expect the sap from the trees to still be running. The Maple Syrup Festival takes place at two locations this spring, Bruce's Mill and Kortright Center for Conservation in Maple, Ontario. For more information visit www.maplesyrupfest.com.
All smiles at the end of the day. See you next year Maple Syrup Festival!

We were granted free admission to the festival. All opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Boyne, Michigan- Our Week in Review

     The kids and I have returned from Boyne Highlands, in Northern Michigan and I have had some time to reflect on the trip, the hotels, and the resort itself. To be clear, Northern Michigan is a decent drive from Toronto (approximately 7 hours) and when you arrive you aren't checking in to a 4 or 5 star hotel. That being said there are a lot of reasons to visit the resort.
The Main Lodge at Boyne Highlands.
    As I have previously posted photos of the main hotel at Boyne Highlands, I will skip reviewing the property but will say that I quickly visited Boyne Mountain (30 minute drive from the Highlands) and saw vast improvements on that property including the Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa, a newer and modern hotel. The Highlands is at best what I think of as a 2 to 3 star hotel with decent food and at time longer waits for food service than necessary or acceptable.
Boyne Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa (Photo courtesy of Boyne Mountain)
     So why visit Boyne? Three reasons: (1) The family atmosphere makes for a relaxing and great vacation; (2) the Boyne Ski Academy is exceptional; and (3) Avalanche Bay, the indoor water park at Boyne Mountain is well priced and incredibly fun. Put the three together and you have a vacation you and the kids won't forget for a long time.

    As a mom who travels alone most of the time, I have become accustom to travelling to resorts and only meeting a few people, lots of kids and the staff. Things were very different this time at Boyne.

      During Canadian Ski Week, most of the skiers are Canadian. I would have guessed that the resort was at least 90% full of Canadians coming from Northern Ontario, the Windsor area and the GTA. The vibe in the hotel was incredible. As I pulled in, all walks of people offered to help me unload my van and welcomed us to the hotel. The halls were filled with excited children who immediately made friends with Will and Charlie and instantly I knew this would be a good week.
New friends Braedon, Charlie and Jaden.
     During our daily swim, girls ages 12-14 would rush over to the kids and help them swim and play with them. A group of boys arrived at our door nightly to offer to take Will down to the arcade and play hockey with him in the hallways. It truly was the most inclusive group of children I have ever met and their parents should be proud to be raising such amazing kids.

     As for the parents, I was invited to numerous dinners, chatted to in the pool and offered to join groups of skiers so I wasn't alone. The staff of Boyne also realised I was alone.  I often found the Guest Services staff rushing over to help me carry skis and on one occasion to carry an exhausted Charlie back to our room. At night, the lobbies were filled with card playing and singing.  We truly have never experienced that welcoming of an atmosphere in all our travels.

     During the day, the kids attended the Boyne Ski Academy which offers snowboarding and skiing lessons to kids and adults. During Canadian Ski Week, adult lessons are included in the ski package.
An adult snowboard class at Boyne Highlands.
     On Day 1, there is a ski-off and kids are placed in groups based on ability. Will and Charlie had never skied so they began on the tiny hill next to the hotel. We were greeted by wonderful instructors, Priscilla, Sarah and Megan, who quickly popped the kids onto their skis and ushered me away. The instructors clearly know what they are doing with this age group and not once during the entire week did I hear from them with a problem.
Will meeting Sarah for the first time.  
Priscilla strapping Charlie into her pinnie. 
     The morning lessons for all kids begin at 9:45 am and run until 11:45 am. The kids then break for lunch and activities which include crafts, downtime and if the kids are old enough a chance to go tubing. Afternoon lessons run from 2:30 pm until 4:30 pm. I stopped by during lunch on the first day to see if the kids wanted to come back to the room and Charlie began crying and begged me to leave her at ski school. After that, I knew they were hooked.
The Boyne Highlands tubing hill.
      When the kids came back from skiing, they were exhausted. Our nights were filled with easy dinners and early bed times. They woke up excited to head back out on the hill and were devastated when the week ended.

     The Ski Schools at Boyne Highlands and Mountain are run by two Austrians, Tony and Wolfgang. They are both incredibly approachable people who visibly care about the schools they are running. I spoke to Tony throughout the week at the Highlands and really got the sense that the ski school was something he was passionate about. On the last day of ski school, every student gets to participate in Race Day and as I watched Tony stand in frigid temperatures for most of the day to time almost every skier who went by, I understood that he wasn't just supervising instructors, he was ensuring every skier in the school had as great of an experience as we did.
Tony timing a skier on Race Day.
     On Race Day, the vibe in the hotel was electric. Parents picked meeting spots and exchanged their kids race times so that each child could have a huge cheering squad. Being alone with my kids, I worried that they would be sad with just me cheering them on. I was touched to see that as the bigger kids races ended on the larger hill, parents and children alike trickled down to the bottom of the hill to cheer on the tiniest of skiers. Later that day at the awards ceremony, Will placed first in his category, quite a feat for my not-so-athletic 5 year old, and the cheers from the crowd made him feel like he had won a gold medal at the Olympics.
A family cheers on their son on Race Day.

Will and instructor Megan with his ski report card. 
     I knew I couldn't visit Boyne without checking out the much talked about indoor waterpark Avalanche Bay. We arrived early Friday morning to a completely empty waterpark. As you would expect, the waterpark has a winter ski theme.  The centre of the park is Splasherhorn Mountain which houses a water playground, two sizeable slides for younger kids and pours down an 800 gallon water avalanche every 20 or so minutes.

Will in the Splasherhorn Mountain Play Area.
     There is also a kid's pool, lazy river, various hot tubs, and 4 larger slides. My favourite was the Big Couloir which begins when you enter a capsule and listen to a loud heartbeat. The bottom of the capsule then drops out and you travel up to 38 feet per second in a 360 degree loop.
Capsule entrance to the Big Couloir slide. 
      Avalanche Bay is well staffed and the lifeguards were great with kids. I spent a lot of time noticing how attentive they were and never felt that my kids were in any danger in the waterpark. The height restrictions at the waterpark are much more lenient than I have seen elsewhere and at 38"tall, Charlie who is 3, could ride every ride except the Big Couloir which requires riders to be 48" tall.  Avalanche Bay is also incredibly clean and fresh towels and life jackets were easy to find.
Charlie and I racing down the waterslide racetrack. 
The two lifeguards who convinced me to try the Big Couloir. 
The toddler slides at Avalanche Bay with bigger slides in the background. 
      All in all, we had a wonderful time at the waterpark and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the area. The resort offers packages for a family of four to stay on property with 4 waterpark passes starting at $207 US a night.  Daily admission cost to the waterpark varies with the season but ranges from $22 for a day pass for children up to $41 for a day pass for adults if not staying on the property.
The surfing simulator at Avalanche Bay.
     Although there were a few service hiccups along the way, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Boyne and are planning on returning annually for the foreseeable future. There are definitely closer ski hills but the kids and I truly loved the Boyne Ski Academy and the vibe at our resort. We stayed at Boyne Highlands for 5 days and 5 nights and ate every meal on site. The kids attended ski school for 4 day-long lessons and we all were given a 6-day lift pass. We all also rented skis from the resort. The total cost of the vacation was approximately $1800 Canadian which is a price I don't think can be beat. As an added bonus, if you visit Boyne during Canadian Ski Week, the total cost of your vacation is priced in Canadian dollars instead of US dollars which saved us a little over $300 for the week.
Last day on the ski hill with Priscilla.
     When planning next year's spring break or a summer golf vacation, I would highly recommend looking into the Boyne family of properties. And who knows, maybe we will see you there next year!
Megan gives Charlie a goodbye hug. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Boyne Highlands -Canadian Ski Week

     We arrived Sunday night after a 7 hour drive from Toronto. The drive was painless and the border was quick and easy thanks to my consent letter to cross the border alone with my children. All in all, we were at the border crossing for less than 3 minutes. On the drive, we spotted a lot of wildlife including a wolf near the road as we were about to leave Canada and several gorgeous deer in and around Boyne, Michigan.

     We pulled into Boyne Highlands as it was nearing dark and a very pleasant young man from the hotel helped me unload my van as I was alone with the kids. Boyne is, as you would expect, an older cottage like ski resort in Northern Michigan. Most people here seem to know each other and we are met each morning in the halls by smiling and kind people.
Entrance to Main Lodge at Boyne Highlands
     The resort is split into several different hotels. Most of which you can ski to off the hills. I chose to book in the main lodge and luckily have a room that is sprinting distance from the pool. I booked a regular room which has two Queen beds, a full bathroom and a mini-fridge. The room is outdated but clean.
Room at Boyne Highlands
New televisions in each room.
Separate Bathroom Area with full bathtub.
     My favourite part of the room is the bay window which has become my personal reading and blogging nook. It have a gorgeous view and warms up nicely in the sun. 
The view from my bay window reading nook.
    The social centre of the entire resort is the outdoor pool and hot tub area. During the day, relaxed parents gather to enjoy a warm soak while the kids are at ski school. The backdrop of the mountain and warm winter sun all add to the atmosphere. At 4:30 pm, the pool fills with excited and tired kids who have been on the slopes all day. We have been visiting the pool at least twice a day and the kids love the social atmosphere after a day of skiing. 
Hot tub with pool in background.
The pool is heated to 96 degrees. 
    The hotel has three restaurants to eat in and pizza delivery. All are included in the Canadian Ski Week package.  Packages are very reasonable and start at $625 Canadian a week per person, for room, three meals a day and 5 lift passes and adult ski lessons. Kids stay and eat free so the only expense for Will and Charlie has been ski school which runs under $300 per child for 4 all-day lessons beginning at 9:45am and ending at 4:30pm. Besides having to buy the kids warmer clothes this morning, I have not had to spend much extra money here at all. 
Slopeside (Apres-ski pub)
Main Dining Room 
     The kids have now been in ski school for two full days and I am so pleased with the Ski Academy that I have chosen not to review it here but to do a separate post at the end of the week with all the information I have gathered. I have watched some of the lessons and yesterday afternoon even skied a little with Will's class. The kids will sometimes see me ski by and beg me not to take them off the hill. They are truly loving every moment of the academy and in my next post, I will share all the details of this incredible program for kids and adults.
Charlie loving ski school. 
And she is off! 
Will hard at work learning to turn.