A New Spin on Snow Tubing

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We’ve very much been enjoying the winter climate here on Vancouver Island: cold enough for occasional snow but no bitter cold temperatures. We thought the few inches of snow in our river valley was impressive, but we soon realized it was nothing compared to the feet of snow we found during a day of tubing at Mount Washington.

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The highway drive from Qualicum Beach toward Courtenay was easy, and the 18 km  Strathcona Parkway is definitely manageable for anyone with four-wheel drive and/or good winter tires. Overall, less than an hour total to get from our doorstep to a winter wonderland. The sky was overcast when we arrived, but the clouds soon opened up offering breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks.

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The Tube Park is located at the Alpine Lodge, and we found the layout to be perfect for even the youngest of us. After choosing a lane and whooshing down the track, it’s a short walk pulling your tube up to the “Magic Carpet”, which does the work to get you and your tube back up to the top of the track. The operators were super friendly and made sure the kids got on and off without any issues, and after a few times down the kids felt comfortable enough to race ahead without us to begin their next trip down the slope.

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We originally didn’t know if we would get bored after a few times down, but this definitely was not the case. We underestimated the sheer variety of ways to tube down the track, each one providing a different experience. Fortunately, the wonderful staff at the top of the run gave us the nudge we needed. After the kids had their first time down, they were asked if they wanted a spin on their next trip. The first few spins were of the tame, “let’s see if they like this” variety. By the end of the day, though, the Younger Fives were begging the operators for the most head-spinning whirls they could muster, and the staff was more than happy to oblige. Spins are even more fun when shared, and we experimented with 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and even 5-person twirls down the slope. The only thing more dizzying than trying to figure out all the possible ride combination with five people was the actual experience of spinning like a mad teacup down the slope yourself!

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Fives’ Facts About Snow Tubing at Mount Washington

1. Location: Mount Washington (elevation 1,590 m or 5,220 feet) is located about 25 km from the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. It is home to the Vancouver Island marmot, one of the most endangered mammals on the planet.

2. Driving: The Mount Washington Alpine Resort is located at Exit #130 of Highway #19, about 13 km north of Courtenay. The Strathcona Parkway takes you the rest of the way, and chains are required if the weather turns ugly. Click here for more information about winter driving to the resort.

3. Passes: There are family two-hour and full-day passes (covers 2 adults and 2 children), with the option to add additional children at a discounted rate. We found the full-day pass to be ideal. We spent about 1.5 hours tubing, then took a leisurely hour for lunch inside the lodge, then went back out for another 1.5 hours. Not having the pressure of trying to get in as much tubing as possible before time ran out made the day much more enjoyable 🙂

4. Height Requirements: Children under 42″ ride free with an adult in the same tube. At first we were worried that our 7 and 5 year old might not make the cut. In the end, with boots on everyone was tall enough to ride on their own, and we were very glad we got each child their own pass so they could ride independently.

5. When to Visit: We planned our trip for a weekday, which meant the wait time was basically non-existent. The Tube Park is open 11am-7:00pm (and until 9pm on Friday and Saturday), and we had the place to ourselves until after lunch. We heard that on the weekends the wait can increase considerably, so go during the week if at all possible.

Choose Your Own Family Adventure: A Day at Playa Mia Beach Park

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The kids’ smiles widened as they looked over the map. “We get to do all this today?!”  they asked in disbelief. This was the wonderful start to our amazing day at Playa Mia Grand Beach Resort and Water Park.

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Cozumel has its fair share of beach clubs and beach resorts along the western coast, and we spent a good amount of time upon arriving here figuring out which ones would be best for our family. As we had been planning to visit a water park before our abrupt departure from Merida, Playa Mia caught our attention due to its kids’ water park, water slides, paddle boat and kayak rentals, along with its prime beach access. We liked that all these activities were included in the admission price, compared to other beach properties that have free admission but expect you to keep buying round after rounds of drinks and food, and make you pay for all the extras.

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We decided to arrive right at the beach club’s opening to try to make the most of all the recreation options, and that ended up being a wise decision. We had a lot to keep us busy, starting with the Buccaneer’s Bay Kids Pool. The Younger Fives had a great time splashing in the shallow water, climbing and sliding down the pirate-themed elements, and running through the water spraying at them from every angle. While more geared to kids 5 and under, Five of Hearts didn’t mind being a few years older than the rest and really enjoyed herself as well.

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Before long, Five Ball and Five of Hearts spotted the towering water slide behind the kids’ pool and were determined to give it a try. After checking in with the lifeguards, and explaining that both kids were good swimmers, they got the green light to climb the stairs and zoom down the water slide. They didn’t have much competition for the slide, a fact they took advantage of by sliding down again, and again, and again.

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It took a lot of coaxing, but we eventually got High Five out of Buccaneer’s Bay and the other Fives away from the water slide to relax in the Oasis Pool. The crystal clear water was very inviting, and Five Ball put his recently acquired swimming skills to good use by following his siblings as they crisscrossed the pool trying to make their way all the way around and back to where they started.

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Soon the beach and Caribbean called to us, and we headed to the watercraft area to take a paddle boat and kayak out for a spin. The staff was very friendly and safety-conscious as they ensured we all had a properly fitting life jacket and helped us get the vessels into the water. The gentle waves made getting around an adventure, but even with the Younger Fives at the helm we had no problems staying in the enclosed area or making it back to shore.

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We (at least the Older Fives) needed a little break next, so we walked down the beach to the enclosed swimming area and let the waves lap at our feet as the kids played in the surf. The swimming area is also just inshore from the Floating Park, and we watched as others bounced on the floating trampoline and ascended the Giant Aquatic Iceberg. We had read some reviews that getting out there was a bit of a chore, so when the kids asked about giving it a try we were a bit hesitant. However, we had to admit it did look like a blast, and we found out from the staff that kids were welcomed out on the Floating Park as long as their parents accompanied them. Nothing stopping us now, we were all fitted with life jackets and headed out for the short swim ahead of us.

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Photo from Playa Mia (alas, our camera is not waterproof)

Having the life jackets on was great, as we could more or less drift and not have to worry about treading in the water. The kids were not content to drift, however, and they soon zoomed ahead and were pulled up onto the Floating Park by an awaiting staff member. We had the entire floating playground to ourselves and lost all track of time as we bounced on the trampolines, climbed the inflatable iceberg, zoomed down the slide into the water, and raced on the obstacle course. For something we were not even planning on doing, this turned out to be our favorite part of the day. When we eventually and reluctantly swam back to shore we were certainly tired, but the smiles stayed on our faces even after we were back on firm ground.

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We quickly noticed everyone gathering in the dining tent, and finally became aware that some dark clouds were making an appearance, albeit briefly. Taking it as a sign, we moved our backpacks into the tent as well and had lunch. As our admission included the buffet, we scanned the buffet line and were pleased to find quite a few vegan options. We soon were ravenously enjoying chips and salsa, fruit salad, and french fries as the staff conducted several games inside the tent and gave away prizes to keep people’s minds off the rain.

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By the time we finished lunch the clouds passed, and we decided to wrap up our day back at the Oasis Pool / Buccaneer’s Bay / water slide area. The kids still had plenty of energy for pirate ship water canons and Twin Twister water slides, but the Older Fives were content to lounge in the pool and unwind. We had the good fortune to get the kids eventually back into the main pool for some more family swimming and relaxing in the submerged lounge chairs. As the time of our departure crept up there were some minor meltdowns, but we took that as a sign of a day well spent. We managed to keep our eyes open for the cab ride home, but it was certainly an early night to bed after all of our adventures that day.

 

Fives’ Facts about Playa Mia Grand Beach Resort
* Getting There: We caught a cab from San Miguel, and the official rate for the trip is 170 pesos for 4 people. Checking out the Official Cozumel Taxi Rate document in advance helped up keep track of what we should be paying.
* Hours: 9 AM – 6 PM Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
* Admission Cost: Day passes start at $30 for adults, $25 for kids 4-11, and kids under 4 are free. This includes access to the beach, all the pools, non-motorized equipment rentals, and the Float Park. Other passes include buffet and open bar options.
* Not To Miss: The Floating Park and non-motorized water toys (paddle boats, kayaks, water bikes)
* Social Responsibility: We were impressed to see several areas around the resort that were being restored to their natural state, including a mangrove area. We also learned Playa Mia has partnerships with local charities and uses a state-of-the-art sewage treatment system to reuse water and keep the surrounding Caribbean clean.

But No Elephants: A Day at Mérida’s Centennial Park

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From tigers to train rides, playgrounds to paddle boats, Mérida’s Centennial Park (located at the corner of Calle 59 and Avenida Itzaes) is an outstanding family-friendly experience for those traveling on a budget. And that is saying something for a city like Mérida, which is known for its wealth of free cultural events and recreational activities for families with children.

Centennial Park really has it all. It is best known for the zoo located within (free admission), with a variety of birds, monkeys, reptiles, and large cats, but to Grandma Tildy’s relief, no elephants. We tend to avoid zoos, but the chance to observe some of the Yucatan’s native animals close up was too tempting an opportunity to pass up. The zoo, though, is only a small part of what Centennial Park has to offer. The rest of the park is made up of a large playground, picnic areas, several ponds where families can rent boats, a bike path, and plenty of vendors and equipment to rent (such as bikes). The biggest attraction (after the animals) is the popular train that runs around the whole park. The line at the “train station” can get pretty long, but it is a great opportunity to relax and take in all the park’s sights.

Fives’ Facts about Centennial Park
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The park opened in 1910 as a place for the public to enjoy trees native to the region.
* The train started running in 1962.
* The Century Tree (Arbol del Centenario) was planted in 1910 and still thrives to this day (despite being blown over in a hurricane).
* The park hours are 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Tuesday through Sunday.
* The park is closed on Mondays and on some holidays.

 

 

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

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Five Ball stunned after an amazing triple play!

We have had some pretty memorable baseball experiences during our time in Mexico. We all fondly remember our impromptu games, usually taking place in unusual locations including a never-completed resort name Shang(r)i-La and a makeshift field of dreams sporting a large number of cacti in the outfield. However, there is nothing quite like sitting back and enjoying a game of professional baseball, and we recently did just that as we watched the Leones de Yucatán (Yucatán Lions) play in a doubleheader against the rival team from Tabasco.

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The game was a pretty cool cultural experience, and the scoreboard alone increased our Spanish baseball vocabulary exponentially. We also lucked out that we visited on a night where women and children were free, so we ended up with great field-side seats right of the third base line for less than $10 total.

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When our interested started to taper off in the third inning, stadium food and team mascots came to the rescue. While we did not opt for ordering a pizza or TGI Fridays takeout from our seat (both popular options), we did buy some bags of popcorn and enjoy some vegan sourdough pretzels Five Spice had whipped up before the game.

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In the end, the three different mascots were what made the game for the Younger Fives. The ball player, lion, and pelican worked the field and the stands from the third inning onward, and their humorous antics made the time fly. We must confess that we didn’t make it through the entire doubleheader (we left before the end of the first game), but nonetheless it was a night to remember. Plus, as a bonus, we’d like to think we made at least one new friend in Mérida, albeit he doesn’t too say much. 

Perfect Little Planet

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In preparation for our trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, where the stargazing is truly amazing, we stopped off in Salt Lake City to visit the Clark Planetarium. All in all we were very impressed by this planetarium. While not huge, the great thing about it is that all the exhibits are free. The only attractions that require tickets are the IMAX movies and shows in the Hansen Dome Theater.

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Being members of a museum that participates in the Association of Science and Technology Centers’ Passport Program, we secured free tickets to a show at the Hansen Dome Theater. While we waited,we explored the two floors of impressive exhibits that are free to the public.  Some of the kids favorite exhibits included the interactive scale that calculated our body weights on planets, moons, and stars. The boys especially loved the audio-kinetic sculpture called “Newton’s Daydream” which was created by artist and sculptor George Rhoads. They would have stayed there all day watching the balls move through the two story maze-like structure. Five of Hearts for her part was especially taken with the interactive space quiz which she almost passed 100% (thank you Magic School Bus)! 

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However, the highlight of our trip was definitely the exciting feature called “Perfect Little Planet“. This is a great pick for families with younger children. It is funny, informative, and quite a thrill as the dome theater and movie animation make you feel like you are flying through outer space. If you are in the Salt Lake City area we definitely recommend a stop by the Clark Planetarium to learn more about our perfect little planet and the other members of our solar system.