Crack the family market with Katie McGonagle's guide to Canada for kids
What’s the recipe for a perfect family holiday? When they’re young, throw in a pool, a playground and the odd ice cream and most kids will be perfectly content.
But how do you please your most demanding customers as their kids start growing up? The formula that worked when they were four or five just doesn’t cut the mustard as they start turning into tough-to-please teens.
Luckily, Canada has all the ingredients you need for a fun family holiday – especially for school-age kids and teenagers – from climbing up mountains and trying out zip-wires, to whale-watching and horse riding. The youngsters won’t be the only ones having fun; mum and dad will love the range of activities too.
RANGE THROUGH THE ROCKIES
Perhaps it’s all the fresh mountain air, or the abundance of outdoor activities, but holidays don’t get more wholesome than in the Rocky Mountains. It’s the kind of break that childhood memories are made of, so it’s no great surprise that it’s the most popular destination for family-friendly itineraries.
Bigger resorts such as Jasper, Banff and Whistler are best for families as there’s no way the kids will run out of things to do. Inghams recommends a visit to Jasper National Park, where visitors can choose from white-water rafting down the Sunwapta River, kayaking and canoeing on Maligne Lake, horse riding through the park’s verdant landscapes, or venturing out either on foot or by bike into the spectacular mountain scenery. Keep an eye out for bears, elk, moose and bighorn sheep along the way.
Whistler is a prime summer destination for Premier Holidays, which can organise excursions such as paddling down the River of Golden Dreams (from £75), a daredevil zip-wire adventure across the cables and suspension bridges of Fitzsimmons Creek (from £85), or a Whistler bear-viewing tour (from £139).
Premier’s general manager for America and Canada, Heidi Blades, says: “Whistler and Blackcomb mountains have a population of 50 black bears that have adapted to feeding, mating and hibernating among ski area habitats. Riding in a four-wheel drive, you are led through a maze of ski area roads that traverse forests, meadows and streams. Take a short walk to bear-feeding sites, daybeds, rub trees and old-growth trees where bears have hibernated during the winter.”
Although the thought of being cooped up in a car with bored children might not sound appealing, don’t discount self-drive holidays – as long as you keep driving distances short, they can pack in enough variety to divert children with even the shortest attention spans.
Prestige Holidays’ Unlimited Adventures self-drive from Calgary to Vancouver includes a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, visits to Lake Louise and the towering Helmcken Falls, a whale-watching excursion from Vancouver Island, and a river float trip in Jasper. Bridge & Wickers’ Western Family Adventure also takes in Tofino, Whistler, Wells Gray Provincial Park and Banff..
If mum and dad want a stress-free break, consider an escorted tour. Family-focused trips give kids the chance to try new activities and make friends, especially on dedicated teen departures. Grand American Adventures’ 10-day Canadian Discovery starts and finishes in Vancouver and includes rafting, canoeing, hiking and mountain biking through Jasper and Banff National Parks, with evenings spent camping in the open air (from £1,099 land-only, minimum age eight with a 10% discount for children up to 16).
British Columbia’s biggest city is known for its range of activities, from sea to ski with everything in between.
Funway product administration manager Malcolm Davies says: “Vancouver is welcoming to families and offers a rare combination of action-packed fun and spectacular nature adventures that are enjoyable for all the family. The city has vast amounts of water and wide-open spaces, ideal for all types of family water sports, from paddling a kayak to sailing on a yacht. You can get up close and personal with the sea life on a boat tour to view the whales and dolphins in the wild.”
If they’re going for more than a week, why not make it a twin-centre to avoid boredom creeping in? Virgin Holidays suggests teaming the city up with Whistler, especially in the summer when there’s more of a variety of activities to try.
Ranch stays are a sure-fire way to give youngsters a holiday they’ll never forget, plus teens will love the sense of freedom they get from striking off on horseback without their parents in tow.
The Three Bars Guest & Cattle Ranch lies between Banff and Glacier National Park, where wranglers teach roping and fly-fishing, and lead morning and afternoon trail rides for beginners and advanced riders; these can be done as a family or divided into adults and kids (minimum age six). A six-night stay with Western & Oriental starts at £1,855 per adult for full-board accommodation in a log cabin.
The ranch can also be a short add-on, rather than the focus of the holiday; Inghams recommends a two-night stay at a guest ranch in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, as a memorable addition to its holidays in Banff (from £315).
FALL IN LOVE WITH ONTARIO
Niagara Falls is an awe-inspiring sight no matter what age you are, so it’s worth including on a family itinerary, but there are plenty of great attractions around Ontario too.
Kathryn Munro, communication and marketing director for Air Transat Holidays, says: “If it’s hard-to-please teenagers you are looking to impress, then we would recommend a twin-centre holiday combining the cosmopolitan city of Toronto and the Algonquin National Park. Toronto is jam-packed with exciting attractions that will keep the whole family entertained, from the 553-metre CN Tower with its new breathtaking EdgeWalk experience and the Rogers Centre sports stadium, to the Distillery District where you can enjoy a tour on a motorised Segway.
“Then when you’ve had your fill of the city, head out to the Algonquin Provincial Park. Here, the family can enjoy an outdoor adventure with beautiful lakes for swimming and kayaking, and acres of provincial parkland, perfect for biking, golfing and walking.”
Getting into the great outdoors is also the priority with Thomas Cook Signature’s suggestion of a stay at the family-owned Elmhirst’s Resort in Keene, 90 minutes east of Toronto on the shores of Rice Lake. All 30 self-catering cottages come with a deck and barbecue, plus there are indoor and outdoor pools, a children’s playground and activity programme for youngsters.
If you want the independence of a self-drive, Thomas Cook Signature also offers motorhome holidays around Canada, including an 11-night route starting from Toronto and stopping off at Niagara Falls, Craigleith’s beautiful beaches, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ottawa and Thousand Islands, with prepaid campsite fees and fuel.
Travel 2 also has a 10-day Lakes and Bays of Ontario self-drive, taking in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the huge Blue Mountain ski resort, and three nights staying on the shores of Lake Rousseau.
Ontario hasn’t cornered the market on countryside – neighbouring Québec has plenty to boast about too. Sacacomie Lodge is on the edge of Mastigouche Wildlife Sanctuary and about two hours north of Montreal.
It combines the facilities of a sizeable hotel with a rustic log cabin feel. There are canoes, kayaks and pedal boats to use free of charge, plus horse riding, hiking, and bear and beaver observation in summer, and a small on-site farm, which younger children will love.
Prices start at £68 per adult per night in summer 2013 with Tailor Made Travel; children under 11 stay free when sharing with two adults.
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