• Stephanie Joy

Take Off...To the Great White North!

Updated: Oct 9, 2018

Vancouver, British Columbia during the holiday season is a magical time... With the city and parks decorated for Christmas and the weather not TOO terribly bad for this Florida family, it made for a wonderful holiday getaway!

We had never done a Christmas family vacation to any place other than driving up to see family in eastern Tennessee, but since we had a number of Delta Airlines SkyMiles to use, we thought "Hey, why don't we go somewhere different this year and really make a vacation out of it?"

To be honest, the thought of traveling during the Christmas holidays was a bit nerve wracking, especially after seeing the super long lines at the Orlando airport when we flew up to Knoxville on Thanksgiving morning. Even on Thanksgiving Day, the day that all the travel advisers recommend as they day to fly if at all possible over the Turkey Day holidays, it was still wicked crazy. Crazy busy to the point that the TSA wasn't even making you take off belts, shoes, or remove your laptops. Nada. ZIp. Zilch. They were just moving us through security like cattle and well, that didn't exactly sit well with me.

But when I booked the flights, I wasn't thinking about any of that because I hadn't yet traveled over a busy holiday weekend. It would be fine....and truth be told, it was. Since we were driving to Vancouver from Seattle, the first destination on our Christmas vacation trip, we didn't have to deal with airport security or anything like that. I made sure our retal car was booked and that they allowed us to drive in Canada (always check to make sure that Out of State/Country is covered under your rental agreement), that we had our passports, that I contacted Verizon ahead of time to have the daily international data/calling plan on our phones (only $5 USD per day, per line...so just use one phone for the GPS and calling to help keep costs down) and that our hotel reservations were booked and confirmed. We headed out about 9:00 am on Dec. 26th on our way to the Great White North...

On our way headed out of Seattle, we had to take a detour and go visit the Troll Under the Bridge, known as the Freemont Troll. In case you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, per Wikipedia, "In 1990, the Fremont Arts Council launched an art competition whose partial goal was to rehabilitate the area under the bridge, which was becoming a dumping ground and haven for drug dealers. The piece, built later that same year, won the competition. The Troll was sculpted by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead." You can find it at N. 36th Street at Troll Avenue N., under the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge (the Aurora Bridge).

This was just a little side stop and before you knew it we were back on the highway headed towards Canada, eh. It was a nice drive...the evergreen trees dusted with snow were very picturesque and not something we ever see here in Florida, so it is not a drive that you just immerse yourself in a book or sleep. Enjoy the sights!

A word of advice while you're still a little bit out of the Canada border area: Stop and get lunch and do a bathroom break. There is a McDonald's and Subway at the Pilot Travel Center just off of Exit 262 on Interstate 5 at Ferndale, WA so that is a great place to make one last pit stop before you get to the Peace Arch Crossing Border Crossing. At the very least, make sure you buy a few snacks because the border crossing took us over an hour and a half. I would recommend Checking to see what the wait times are and you can check the wait times at the Canada Border Services Agency website HERE

When decided to gas up before we crossed the border at the Pilot Travel Center, my daughter convinced me to buy a hat because all while we were in Seattle, my head was SO cold and in the rain and snow I was having a perpetual case of Bad Hair. I'm a Florida girl...I'm not used to weather under 60 degrees, with rain, sleet and snow. So I bought the hat she chose for me, because it matched my Calvin Klein jacket and "looked Canadian". Here I am below wearing it for the first time. I felt like I should be waiting in a Soviet bread line.

Me: “I look like a fat, Russian woman.”
Sarah: "Mom, you don't look Russian."

The Days Inn Downtown: Great Location, Not So Great Hotel

921 West Pender Street, Vancouver BC


When it comes to hotels, I try to weigh the pros and cons. Location is everything for us, so usually I do my research and decide where we want to stay and then I work on finding the best price on a reasonably nice hotel and admittedly, I missed the mark on this one. I know you're saying "It's a Days Inn, what did you expect?", but I guess I was to focused on paying a lower price for a good location than spending an addtional $30 a night and staying in a place where we were truly comfortable.

I will say this because I don't want you to get the wrong impression: By no means is this a crap-hole of a hotel or anything like that. It was clean, centrally located and the staff were very cordial and helpful.

It was just basic.

Maybe we were spoiled having just stayed at the Hotel Theodore in Seattle (formerly The Roosevelt Hotel) and our stay there was beyond exceptional. At the Days Inn, the toiletries were pretty generic (I don't even remember the brand to be honest!) and the room was almost spartan in furnishings. We had a bed, a dresser, TV and end tables and although that is standard issue for a hotel, it just seemed....well, bare.

One thing we DID NOT LIKE was the automatic air freshener in the hallway that pumped out an air freshener that smelled like cheap cologne. The smell assaulted your nostrils as you got off the elevator. That combined with the utter lack of ANY moisture from the air had all of our sinuses out of whack. I guess that because rain is so common in that part of British Columbia, they use dehumidifiers to prevent damage due to excess moisture. In their case, instead of creating a good balance of humidity in the air, it was drier than the Sahara in that hotel.

The hotel says that they have parking available for hotel guests, but at a charge of $25 a day and the parking garage is 2 blocks away, so it's not like it is super convenient. Especially when it is raining and super cold.

Another downside for us was the fact that the restaurant advertised as being a part of the hotel is actually next door and does not allow minors. Since we were travelling with our daughter, had I known that certain establishments that are "bar & grille" or "pub" style establishments where liquor is the primary focus, while they may serve food, are not open to minors, I would have considered other hotels.

The Days Inn served its purpose though. The beds were comfy, the room was cleaned each day by housekeeping and for $457 for a 4 night stay (including tax), it was very reasonable priced.

Things to do in Vancouver:

Bright Nights at Stanley Park


I honestly can't speak highly enough about this light display. With over 3 million lights, tt was just positively amazing and it was a great way to spend some time on our first night in Vancouver. We made our reservations ahead of time via the website (above), as we decided to take the train ride through part of the park and see the light displays that weren't accessible on the foot paths. I'm not going to lie. It was COLD, but thankfully they had hot cocoa and coffee available for sale, so we were able to warm up. It is "free" to get in, but the suggested $5.00 donations at the front gate and a portion of train ticket sales go to the BC Professional Fire Fighters' Burn Fund. Over $1.4 million has been raised to help burn survivors and their families since 1998 and this way, you are helping the local community while making great memories with your family! I HIHGHLY recommend this if you are in Vancouver during the holiday season. The light display runs from the end of November through the beginning of January each year!

Visit to the Fishing Village of Steveston where ABC's "Once Upon a Time" was filmed:

We're a bit of a nerdy family, but for us that is a good thing. We love watching certain movies and TV shows, with "Once Upon a Time" being Sarah's favorite program. Although the show was supposed to take place in a town called Storeybrooke, Maine, it was actually filmed in Vancouver, and there was NO WAY we could go all this distance without visiting a few of the filming locations around the Vancouver area.

Using the website "Everything Once Upon a Time" I was able to find out some of the filming locations and we planned morning out to see the sights. We woke up that morning to a light snowfall still coming down and a few fresh inches on the ground, so it made some of our stops even better than we imagined.

The Evil Queen's House...when she was Mayor Regina Mills is a private residence and is located at 417 5 St, New Westminster, BC. If you stop by, please be respectful of the current owners as this is in a totally residential area.

I have to admit was pretty cool seeing this house...we were there only for a few moments to take photos and no, we didn't disturb the owners of the house. We had placed to go sow e hopped back int he car and headed to the fishing village of Steveston, just south of Vancouver. Steveston is the town that "became Storybrooke" each Season and it seriously is a super small town, but Sarah thought it was super cool getting to see the buildings that were transformed into places like Granny's Diner, Gold's Pawn Shop, the town Library and the waterfront where Capt. Hook anchored his ship...We didn't eat here in town since we were there in the late morning before places opened for lunch, but we did do a little souvenir shopping. Surprisingly, there was virtually no "OUAT" merchandise being sold except in the post office/visitor center located on Moncton Street in the middle of town.

Have lunch and pick out delicious foods at the Granville Island Public Market:

I had heard great things about the Granville Island Public Market and I wasn't disappointed. Open from 9 am to 7 pm, the Public Market is the go to place for fresh fruits, veggies, meats, specialty foods and baked goods that add about 50 lbs to your hips by just looking at them! We had planned on going there for lunch, but we SHOULD have gone there during the off house because it was straight up, legit PACKED! There were plenty of food stalls to choose from with everything from Seafood Chowders, Fish and Chips, Pot Pies that looked heavenly, but there was just no place to sit. It was like being at a food court in the mall during Christmas back in the 80's when the mall was the place to go during the holidays. My husband was quickly getting agitated due to the crowded nature of the place, so we wound up just looking around and then headed back to the hotel...but not before I took a few pictures and went and bought me a box of french macaroon at Bon Macaron Patisserie

(www.bonmacaronpatisserie.com). I wish I had taken a photo of them when I got to the hotel. They were delicious...

I couldn't find the street address for the Public Market, but just Google Map it & it will pop up!

Explore the suburban rainforest at the Capliano Suspension Bridge:

3735 Capilano Rd, North Vancouver

Now this place was a real treat and of course the day we decided to head out there, it was raining like the dickens, but since it is a rain-forest, it made perfect sense. Located in North Vancouver, like smack dab in the middle of the suburbs, is this gorgeous place. It's like walking across a suspension bridge to visit the Ewok Village on the Forest Moon of Endor from "Return of the Jedi" (I told you we were nerdy!)

Just some history, courtesy of the Capliano Suspension Bridge website:

"In 1888, George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer and land developer, arrived in the young city of Vancouver in Canada. Mackay purchased 6,000 acres of dense forest on either side of Capilano River and built a cabin on the very edge of the canyon wall. In 1889 he suspended a footbridge made of hemp rope and cedar planks across the canyon... After his death, the hemp rope bridge was replaced by a wire cable bridge in 1903."

Fast Forward to now and you have an amazing suspension bridge that traverses the canyon and the river below and brings you to walkways among the trees. It is so peaceful and scenic and honestly, you really must stop by here. During the holiday season it is decorated with Christmas lights and it is beautiful.

Tickets for adults are $42.95 and there are Child $14.95, Youth $26.95 and Student (17+ with student ID) for $33.95 available for purchase online (all prices in CAD, Canadian Dollars). There is a snack stand as well as a very nice gift shoppe available to purchase souvenirs.

Go shopping at a Japanese Super Store (think WalMart meets Dollar General)


88 W Pender Street, Vancouver BC, Canada


What a fun store!!! The weather was perfect for a stroll down West Pender Street (about a mile) to the International Village Mall and I wanted to see all the interesting things for sale at this store. Described on their website as " A massive 8000 square feet, it's one of the largest Japanese general merchandise stores in Canada. Yokoyaya carries over 15,000 different products: everything from household supplies and food items to beauty goods and travel accessories", it sounded right up my alley. If it weren't for the fact that we had to fly back home from Seattle, I would have bought more things, but as it were, we just wound up buying little tchotchkes, like small dipping bowls for sauces, sets of chop sticks, different Asian snacks that we had no idea what they were, but they looked interesting. Sarah just had to buy a kit for "Make your own Candy Sushi". Oh my god, it was so gross!! While we were there, we bought a couple of el-cheapo umbrellas, since we forgot ours. They totally came in handy on the trip!

Walk the trails at Stanley Park http://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/stanley-park.aspx

When it comes to places to walk, jog, bike or hike while in Vancouver, Stanley Park fits the bill. This was another place where "Once Upon a Time" was filmed, as they used the wooded areas as the backdrop of the Enchanted Forest of all places....and after vising there in person, I can attest, it really is like being transported to another world. You really should take the time out of your visit to Vancouver and visit Stanley Park in the daytime. It's a great way to get fresh air, exercise and see some really cute squirrels and commune with nature!

Go to Cirque Du Soleil under the Big Top in downtown Vancouver: Concord Pacific Place - 88 Pacific Blvd Vancouver, BC


I was able to get us tickets to the "Kurios" show under the big top and it was amazing! Not a bad seat in the house, it was entirely heated and an amazing show! It's my understanding that each year, starting in late October, there is a Cirque show under the big top, so it will change from year to year, but if you have the money in the budget and have never seen a Cirque show before, I really recommend it! I have to admit that I had pretty much NO CLUE what it was actually about, other than having this interesting SteamPunk vibe to it, but it was visually stunning and that is what it is all about, isn't it? Just a suggestion, save your money and pass on the VIP experience unless you are a die hard Cirque fan.

To read my review of the food we ate while in Vancouver, click HERE to be taken to the eating section of my blog, where I share with you the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of our culinary adventures.

Taking the long way home...

As we were in line for Customs at the US/Canadian border, we decided to see if there were any scenic coastal drives on the way back to Seattle that would get us off the highway... We took the coastal drive just south of Bellingham, Washington along Chuckanut Drive and it was breathtakingly beautiful with a number of different areas to pull off and take some photos. One of the places we pulled off overlooked a lovely lake and right out in the center was a replica of the Loch Ness Monster. It was so odd and funny at the same time!

Jason and Sarah had so much fun doing this photo. They had me take a panoramic shot, and once I moved past them, they quick ran around to get into position at the end frame.

Check out this article from the Seattle Times with a mile by mile detail of what to see and where to pull off. I wasn't taking notes, but it was worth the detour. I apologize in advance for the rather blah looking photos, but it was December 30th and Mother Nature couldn't decide on whether or not she wanted the sun to come out or for it to start raining at any time. You know, that typical Pacific Northwest weather...

So there it is...it was a nice trip overall. I hated that all three of us wound up getting sick, oh and I also twisted my ankle, but I am a total klutz, so that was no surprise. Would we go back to Vancouver? Definitely because there is just SO much we didn't get to. Call this a brief introduction...we'll be back for a longer visit, but maybe when the weather is a little warmer!

About the Joy Family

We're not a normal family. In fact, we're downright goofy, with just a touch of nerdy (well, maybe a lot of nerdy at times)...but we're fun, we care very much for one another and we LOVE to travel.

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