Butterflies in flight, indoor
go-karting, extreme tobogganing – there are still plenty of options for last-minute March Break ideas. Plus, tips on where to go to have some time away from the kids.
And the newly renovated Canada Science and Technology Museum has plenty to see. The Wearable Tech exhibit includes smartwatches, yes, but also innovative gear dating back to the 19 th century. While there, you'll have the chance to test a concussion sensor on a hockey helmet and try to keep pace with a pacemaker.
TIP: For destinations like the Canadian Museum of History, arriving right at opening will give you an hour or two of peace before the masses arrive.
For a tropical escape, head to Butterflies in Flight at the Museum of Nature, which houses hundreds of winged creatures, brought from Costa Rica, in a solarium; just outside it, an incubator-like space has been set up where the bugs in their pupal stage hang – lucky timing will mean you can watch a butterfly emerge. Wear bright colours and you're likely to have a few of the creatures land on you. The exhibit has timed admission, and is often sold out, so be sure to purchase tickets ahead to avoid a cranky crew. nature.ca
Stay and skate
It wouldn't be a winter trip to Ottawa without a skate. The Westin Ottawa launched its SkateWestin program in January and while the Rideau Canal might be off limits due to warm temperatures, the refrigerated Sens Rink of Dreams in front of City Hall, the rink at Rideau Hall and Lansdowne Skating Court will still be cold enough for a spin. Hotel guests can rent skates during their stay ($5.95 a day compared with the Rideau Canal's $11 an hour, with a two-hour minimum) and you can arrange for hot chocolate to be waiting for your return. thewestinottawa.com
A craft brew is just the thing to take the buzz off kid-overload, and the scene in Ottawa is booming. Two new spots of note are Bar Lupulus, in the Wellington West neighbourhood, which has 20 rotating taps pouring an Ontario-centric beer list. In a heritage building downtown, Flora Hall Brewing recently opened its brewery with a tap room, upscale bar-snack menu and shop if you're looking for some drinkable souvenirs. barlupulus.ca; florahallbrewing.ca
– Maryam Siddiqi
Has Team Canada's success in Pyeongchang got your little ones dreaming of Olympic glory? Mont-Tremblant's just-tall-enough ski hills and small-town vibe might be the encouragement they need to do more in the snow than make forts.
While the ersatz European mountain resort aesthetic may cause more seasoned travellers to scoff, first-timers quickly discover this Quebec favourite boasts a charm that is distinctly its own. If the nearby rustic chalet-style airport (Porter and Air Canada offer direct flights from Toronto) doesn't immediately win you over, then a ride on the free panoramic gondola at the main entrance should do it.
Obviously skiing is the draw for most visitors, and with 96 trails, four slopes, 14 lifts and 269 skiable hectares powder hounds of all ages and abilities will be satisfied. And eight new features in the resort's three snow parks – six in the beginner area – offer a chance for kids inspired by Canada's outstanding Olympic snowboarding team to start training for their own gold medals.
Other new developments for this season revolve around food, including a $6-million revamp of the Fairmont Tremblant that focused on improving the dining options and – more fun for kids – the opening of Pop Therapy, a popcorn shop whose white cheddar offering puts all other cheese-flavoured varieties to shame. Finally don't miss the new 30-minute snow groomer ride that takes guests to Le Refuge, a cabin in the quieter Versant Soleil area, for a fondue dinner – cheese and chocolate!
The family-owned Habitat lifestyle boutique eschews tacky made-in-China souvenirs for keepsakes and clothing you'll want to buy for your kids – and yourself. The bulk of items for sale in the sleek shop are made in Canada or the United States (the gorgeous canoe hanging over the cash is by Quebec-based Abitibi & Co). Chilly toddlers will look adorable in tiny retro-80s puffer vests from Electrik Kidz (made in Montreal), while teens can get cozy in "Happy camper" and "Canadian built" T-shirts and sweats. Toys and books are also available if the kiddos are getting bored.
Need for speed
Looking for a rush but not up for skiing or snowboarding? Grab onto a snow tube, sit yourself down and enjoy a cushy rope-tow ride to the top of a hill. Then get ready to have the wind knocked out of you – in a good way, of course – as you careen down one of eight runs (they range from novice to expert, just like skiing). It's like extreme tobogganing – but still suitable for little ones. $21.50 for two hours for children four to 12; $26.50 for 13 and up; tremblantactivities.com
When you need some peace and quiet escape to the Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant: Not only is it a kid-free zone (guests must be 18 years of age or older), but cellphones and conversations are verboten. Relax with a massage (extra charge) and cycle through a series of outdoor warm, cold and hot pools, plus indoor saunas and steam rooms. Last month, the sanctuary unveiled its latest expansion, featuring an infinity edge hot tub, outdoor relaxation areas and a large sauna offering a soothing view of the surrounding forest. $60 for bath access; scandinave.com
– Domini Clark
If you haven't been to the city's coolest new rink, you need to try out the Bentway skating trail. The 220-metre long figure eight is found beside the Fort York Visitor Centre (250 Fort York Blvd.) between Strachan Avenue and Bathurst Street. Rink opens at 11 a.m., and it's free, but skate rentals aren't available till after 4 p.m.
If the ice is melting, spend the evening at Ontario Place (free admission), the West Island is home to an outdoor synthetic skating rink, bonfires and artist-inspired light installations. ontarioplace.com
Goodbye, giant pandas
You've got one last chance to see Da Mao and Er Shun and their born-in-Canada cubs, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, before they leave the Toronto Zoo. Make sure to stop by before March 18 when their exhibit closes to the public. On March 16, families can buy tickets to two close-encounter panda programs, including an overnight Panda PJ party ($65 each), which includes panda access, a guided tour, indoor accommodation and bedtime snacks.
If you can wrangle some kid-free time, enjoy a good, sippy-cup-free meal. Chris Nuttall-Smith, local food writer, critic and judge on Top Chef Canada, suggests the new Il Covo on College Street for dinner. "It's small-plates Italian and has a character-driven wine list in one of the loveliest new rooms – check out the light fixtures made from gramophone horns – in recent memory."
– Catherine Dawson March
This winter playground is the epitome of family friendly. It's an easy hour's drive from Calgary, making it a doable day trip option, particularly if there are visiting relatives in need of an adventure (with or without a chaperone). The abundance of lodging also offers a conveniently cozy base from which to explore the various ski resorts nearby.
Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay are each within a half hour drive. Nakiska and Lake Louise are a bit further. Each resort offers lessons, rentals and, best of all, child care for parents who want a few runs without having to monitor sibling pole jousting. While costs can add up, all four resorts participate in Ski Canada's Grade 4 & 5 SnowPass, which allows kids in those grades to ski three times at each participating resort for a one-time fee of $29.95.
Closer to town, Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park boasts several equally exciting options with fewer altitude shifts. Cross-country ski trails are groomed for both skating and classical, with rentals available for the whole family (including sleds for when the novelty of moving on planks wears off on the toddler). Snowshoeing and fat biking trails are also available, as are a winter disc golf course, a skating rink and a relatively tame toboggan hill.
Ice, ice baby
Grotto Canyon is a rewarding and relatively easy hike for the family at any time of year. While certainly warmer in the summer, a winter ice walk offers the beauty of frozen waterfalls and, more importantly, no mosquitoes. Take a guided tour or strap on your own crampons (rentals are available in town) and self-guide the family along the beautiful, icy walkway. Round trip is less than five kilometres. Be sure to look for the Hopi pictographs on the canyon wall and keep all eyes peeled for ice climbers making their way up the frozen falls. albertaparks.ca
Sometimes, it's just too darn cold to skate on ponds or strap on skis. On these days, or let's face it, even on warmer ones, Elevation Place will keep everyone moving and entertained. Start by taking the kids to the climbing wall, since they're likely climbing the walls, anyway. Minimum age here is four and adult supervision is a must for anyone under 13. Go for an indoor skate or head to the pool to splash down a waterslide or float along the lazy river. Cap it all off with a soak in the hot tub before calling it a day. canmore.ca
Skijoring (pronounced ski-yoring) is the art of being pulled by dogs while on cross-country skis. You can even use your own dog, if you are blessed with a compliant pooch with energy to burn. This sport is less than ideal for the younger set as it requires steady balance on skis while under canine power. Luckily, there are dog-sledding trips that cater to limited attention spans as well as kennel tours. Book ahead, though, as the pups may be out on the trail. From $250 a person; maddogsexpeditions.com
– Alison Myers
International Drive offers an alternative that is the perfect mix of a Las Vegas look with G-rated fun. At WonderWorks, you'll get good value for a selection of brain games, ropes courses, laser tag and more all in one place. The I-Drive 360 complex (including the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, Skeleton Museum, Madame Tussauds and Sea Life Aquarium) is perfect for families looking for a quieter entertainment option. Plus, a stay in Orlando puts you close to the Florida's Space Coast. Catch a real rocket launch (check kennedyspacecenter.com/launches-and-events for dates) and tour the Kennedy Space Center before enjoying some quality time at local beaches
Canadians can save big during March break. There's a US$99 rate at Universal Orlando Resort, a 20-per-cent savings on multiday tickets at Disneyworld and buy one get one free offers at SeaWorld to name a few. Find more online at visitorlando.com
Rainy day options
A new US$32million, 150,000 square-foot Andretti Indoor Karting & Games racing centre takes the ho-hum out of rain days. In addition to a track that fills everyone's need for speed (kids under 13 have their own slightly slower track), there's also a bowling alley, virtual reality experiences and more. andrettikarting.com/orlando/play
Parents night out
Tapa Toro offers small plates perfect for tasting and nightly Flamenco dancer entertainment. Gearheads will love motor-themed Ace Café Orlando, which displays great cars alongside gastropub offerings. tapatoro.restaurant; universalorlando.com; acecafeusa.com
– Heather Greenwood Davis
Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey are classic vacation spots, for good reason: They're awfully pretty and offer plenty of accommodation and dining options. Wine and golf are big draws in Carmel, while Monterey Bay brings families to a rightfully popular aquarium, a multifloor research facility offering visitors a chance to check out sandpipers, otters and lots and lots (and lots) of fish. Those on a budget can visit those tony towns while making Santa Cruz their home base. A laid-back university town full of craft breweries, it's about an hour north of Monterey but significantly cheaper, with equally great access to nature's bounty.
That includes redwood forests a-plenty. The biggie in the area is the Byrne-Milliron Forest, which offers 402 acres of stately trees and challenging hikes suitable for older kids and teenagers. Kindergartner legs are more suited to the easy trails in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park – either way, the skyscraping trees are genuinely awesome.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park has been entertaining families for more than 110 years. Two of its rides are historic landmarks, including a wooden roller coaster that dates back to 1924. There's a huge arcade plus mini-golf, bowling and stands offering every kind of deep-fried wonder one expects from a carnival. When all that becomes too overwhelming, walk down to the beach to see a sea lion or two. Hundreds of kilometres of California's Central Coast are protected by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is why it's such a great place to catch sight of sea life. beachboardwalk.com
American mainstays in a low-key atmosphere means Surfrider Café is an enjoyable, affordable dining experience for all ages. Traditionally griddled burgers are made out of juicy Angus beef and served on classic sesame seed or sourdough buns – this being California, there are also healthier options, usually incorporating fish or avocado. An amazingly cheap kids menu offers a drink, small entrée, side and dessert for US$6. Santa Cruz is serious about beer and Surfrider offers its own brews plus plenty of local selections. surfridercafe.net
The state is well known for its obsession with wine, but Beauregard Vineyards, a family-run spot just outside the city proper, offers an alternative to cookie-cutter chardonnays and cabs. Winemaker Ryan Beauregard has led his father, Jim, into the low-intervention era, using only naturally present yeasts to mature his bottlings. A rustic building with a wraparound patio is a lovely spot to sample zippy, Chablis-style chardonnays, or amber-hued, skin-fermented pinot gris. That said, if monster reds are what you came west for, the 2014 cabernet sauvignon will do nicely. beauregardvineyards.com
– Denise Balkissoon