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Children play on the Raiders attraction at Vancouver’s Playland. (JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)
Children play on the Raiders attraction at Vancouver’s Playland. (JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)

How to have an affordable, fun family vacation without leaving Canada Add to ...

Although deficient in the kid department, my inner nine-year-old recently enjoyed visiting Parksville on Vancouver Island – especially for the mini-golf, fish and chips and the chance to stick-poke a giant dead jellyfish on the beach.

But there’s much more for travelling families in Canada, according to this week’s experts. Each with their own children, together they have more suggestions than a five-year-old on a sugar high in the back seat.

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Family Fun Canada’s Melissa Vroon (familyfuncanada.com) says it’s important to remember that, for kids, the vacation starts as soon as they leave the house. “If you’re driving, set aside the idea of making good time and instead plan fun stops for playgrounds or picnics. It’ll make the experience more enjoyable for everyone – instead of a necessary evil you just need to get through.”

She begins with a few ideas out West. “B.C.’s giant outdoor playground is perfect for boating, fishing, swimming, surfing and scuba diving. But there are also amusements parks like Playland in Vancouver and the Enchanted Forest near Revelstoke,” Vroon says.

Montreal’s museums, summer fireworks and grab bag of freebie festivals also brings la belle province into the mix. And while Old Quebec’s fairy tale historic streets might appeal to little princesses, the Gaspé Peninsula’s small-city Percé is also recommended – especially for its shipwreck-themed playground.

“Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village or the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish [B.C.] makes history fun – and Quebec’s Exporail is also a must for junior train obsessives,” she says, adding the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., for dino-lovers, plus the Children’s Museum at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.

A challenge for many parents, of course, is budgeting: Family travel can heat your credit card faster than a giddy toddler chasing a careening puppy. Vroon highlights camping and cabin rentals as accommodation cost-savers, but Toronto-based Cheryl Leung (kidsonaplane.com) takes things one step further.

Keen on family-friendly destinations such as Vancouver, Old Montreal and Ontario’s Muskoka cottage country – and agreeing with Vroon that geocaching is ideal for kids who love exploring – Leung also advocates staycationing.

“Prepare like you would for a vacation away from home,” she says. “Set out-of-office e-mail alerts and forget housework and regular routines. Then, order in every night or prepare a week’s worth of stress-free freezer meals.”

Once you’re organized, the fun begins. “Visit a national park, plan outings to popular attractions, try new restaurants and explore neighbourhoods you’ve never been to before to learn about different food and cultures.” If it’s in the budget, consider a local hotel stay while checking coupon sites for deals.

Intent on leaving town? Leung’s good-value suggestions start with the capital. “Ottawa has a multitude of family-friendly activities, free events and summer festivals – Canada Day is a fun time to visit. And with everything from zip-lining to white-water rafting – plus hotel rates lower than in winter – Whistler can be affordable for adventure-loving families.”

Also charting the country’s popular family destinations, U.K.-based tour operator Jessica Boston of Triptoes Canada has more suggestions.

Her hotlist includes Ontario cottage renting in the Kawarthas, where kids can roam the woods and cannonball into one of the regions many lakes; kayaking, wildlife-watching and First Nations cultural experiences in Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island; and exploring the coast of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula for history, pretty fishing villages and eye-popping whale and iceberg-spotting.

“Get the whole family involved in planning the trip,” she advises. “Pour over maps, read travel guides and encourage each family member to Google where you’re going.” And once you’re on the road? “Encourage kids to write a travel journal or start a blog – younger children can make scrap books.”

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