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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.”

OUR READERS WRITE

  • Port Hood beach on Cape Breton Island – warm sea, sandy beach, great lifeguards, beautiful setting and ceilidhs. @margymaclibrary
  • Montreal! You don’t need a car; the Jazz Festival is set up for kids – and parents can still enjoy adult music; and there’s food everywhere. @_HeMom
  • The Calgary Stampede is awesome. @LaurenBrodie
  • Annapolis Royal and its surrounding area in Nova Scotia! No kid could resist playing at being Champlain in the reconstructed 1605 “Habitation” stockade at Port Royal. Take a day down Digby Neck whale-watching, travel one way at least on the Digby-St. John Ferry. (I’ll leave it to someone else to suggest Fortress Louisbourg, also great for kids.) Carol Bradley
  • I love the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum [Ontario] for hands-on fun. Had a great time there once with my young stepdaughter: It wasn’t crowded, so we could play with the printers. @SarahBHood
  • Rathtrevor Beach on the east coast of Vancouver Island is perfect for families. At low tide the ocean recedes almost a kilometre. When the tide comes in, the hot sand warms the water, making for wonderful swimming. The provincial campground fills with families, so your kids will have friends. But you need to reserve ahead – it’s a very popular park in summer. @SsecretsSuitcase
  • Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto. @rbecksss
  • Prince Edward Island for beaches, camping and Anne of Green Gables! Oh and mussels. @meredithbethune
  • Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park (a hidden gem!) and the Icefields Parkway (pure awe!). Also, the village of Tadoussac in Quebec (whales!) @ShannAnderson
  • Victoria! Totem poles at the Royal B.C. Museum, Miniature World, the Bug Zoo, harbour boat tours and whale-watching. And the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival at the Forks – great shows, great playground and a nearby kids theatre. @Nat_Carnegie
  • I have great memories of my parents driving my brother and I around the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, as a kid. Loved the scenery and playing golf with my dad at the Keltic Lodge – I think it was the first time I ever outscored him on a hole. @GChanRay
  • Cabane à sucre in Quebec; International Fringe Festival in Edmonton; walking kilometres off-shore at low tide in Parksville [B.C.]. @k_kassam
  • So many options in the Maritimes! PEI is always fun – amusement parks, beaches, Anne of Green Gables, golf, lobster. Fredericton’s also a lot of fun: rent a houseboat, golf, hike, bike on the trails. @iamTheMaritimer
  • Bien sûr Montreal! For the Biodome, Old Port, jet boating and the Notre-Dame Basilica light show. Also, summer fests like the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival amp up the fun @DearAnnTravels
  • Northern Ontario, where families can get outside and embrace our lakes, trails and wildlife via camping, fishing, hiking, etc. @Feeleygirl
  • In Fredericton, kids can “enlist” as a guard, swing from the trees and play in an old provincial jail! @FredTourism
  • Definitely Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the East and Pacific Rim National Park in the West! @baby_traveller
  • I love Vancouver Island: Tofino is full of fun things to do. The Calgary Stampede is awesome too. And then there’s Quebec for walks. @LaurenBrodie
  • The Waterpark at the indoor West Edmonton Mall in Alberta. @HeidiFortes
  • West Edmonton Mall also has Galaxyland (indoor rides). Also, Fort Edmonton Park has some interesting old West history. @travellingtraci
  • I would suggest Loisirs Saint-Donat [Quebec]. A beautiful place, very warm people … and many things to do around. @Dennis7menace
  • Travelled to Prince Edward Island every summer as a kid and always enjoyed it! Very family-friendly. @nancyorford
  • The Banff Springs Hotel [Alberta] for the mountains, horseback riding and swimming. Also the Empress Hotel in Victoria for tea and crumpets. @EmptyNestExpat
  • As a youngster, I can remember visiting Osoyoos [B.C.] with my family and it was always gloriously hot and sunny! There’s great beaches, swimming and water activities in Canada’s warmest freshwater lake. Morgan Sommerville
  • Quebec City in the winter. The architecture makes it feel a bit like a fairy tale – plus there’s sledding. @jasonclampet
  • Families love coming out to Splashdown Park in the summer or Toy Traders, a hidden gem in Langley [both B.C.]. @dariankovacs
  • Summer on Hornby Island [B.C.], definitely. Multiple sandy beaches, excellent mountain biking, good food – plus choice rental houses or camping. @aucuagmo
  • The Fairmont Whistler hotel staff are superb – treating children as well as adults and committed to everyone having a great experience. @WendyHartley
  • The Caravan Farm Theatre in Armstrong, B.C. Whether in summer, or for the sleigh-ride winter show … magic! @juliehijinks
  • Total appeal to families here: the Royal Tyrrell Museum [Alberta]. It’s just a cool dinosaur museum, with lots of parking, a cafeteria – plus it’s easy for families to do together. @KSofen
  • The Okanagan [B.C.] of course! Lots of beaches, sun, orchards, u-pick fruit, hiking and friendly people @VisitWestside
  • Best place for families? Camping in Banff National Park! @TanyaOtis
  • The Parksville area [B.C.]. Beaches, ocean, wildlife, caving, rafting, goats on a roof, Cathedral Grove, mini-golf – and Island Farms ice cream. @travelling_mom
  • Any of the Gulf Islands in B.C. Lots of outdoor activities! @worldnecklace
  • We enjoyed a recent trip to Taku Resort on Quadra Island [B.C.]. The kids had a ball. This summer we’re taking our kids to Montreal and Toronto. @raspberrykids
  • The coasts! Sandy beaches for barefoot beachcombing, ocean kayaking, paddleboarding and crazy geocaching! Especially Prince Edward Island and B.C.’s Parksville-Qualicum Beach area. @LesliCKellow
  • I would suggest Vancouver Island – many easy hikes, camping and biking opportunities. @groceryalerts
  • Victoria has a massive amount of family-friendly events – and they’re almost all in the Inner Harbour. Add in the petting zoo, Dallas Road beaches and Fort Rodd/Fisgard Lighthouse. @SnarkySteff
  • Christina Lake [B.C.] is Canada’s warmest tree-lined lake – with pictographs, wildlife and lots of family-friendly adventure. It’s not as busy as many of the other family destinations in Canada, but still has all the amenities and activities a family could hope for. Barkerville [B.C.] is like stepping back into the Gold Rush days with costumed actors, horse-drawn carriages, a gold-rush theatre and panning for gold. It really needs two days to see everything and is fun for all ages. @bikehiketravel
  • I know you’re looking for travel locations, but I have to say that White Spot [B.C. and Alberta] is the restaurant destination for families! Super friendly towards families with babies, I can attest! Accommodating with seating and the table next to you likely has kids, too! @chengsophia

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