My oldest is a transportation-enthusiast. We like to indulge him by adding in public transportation when the opportunity arises. So, when we heard there was going to be a lot of traffic at Seattle Center the same day we had an event to go to, we decided we NEEDED to ride the Seattle Monorail from Westlake Center to Seattle Center.
As I'm writing this, I can't stop saying "monorail" like they did in that episode of the Simpson's where they do a riff of the Music Man. It cracks me up because that episode made monorails seem like an old-timey thing, when in fact they are supposed to seem more futuristic. In fact, our monorail was launched as part of the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle as a transportation system for the future.
Anyway, we parked at Pacific Place (parking is only $6 on Sundays) and walked over to Westlake Center. There was lots of signage to catch the monorail, plus there was the MONORAIL right there. I love it when things are hard to miss. We took the elevator up to the platform. Since kids 4 and under ride free, I handed my son $10 and let him buy roundtrip tickets for my husband and me. The Monorail only accepts cash (so no ORCA cards, Debit/Credit, or Sound Transit cards.) He was excited for that responsibility!
And then we waited for the monorail to arrive. I think we waited 3-4 minutes and my son posed for about 50 photos as he anxiously waited the arrival of the monorail. And then in happened. The monorail raced into Westlake Station and we patiently waited for the passengers to disembark and for the crew to check the monorail. Then, the doors opened and we were able to select our seat.
The ride is very, very short. It's a total of 2 minutes. It was enough time for my son to get settled, look out the window, ask if he could have a snack for the ride, and spot the Space Needle. I thought everything looked fairly clean and no one lingered on the monorail.
When we got to Seattle Center, we stopped to look at the Monorail Man (AKA Trainus Prime.) It was a fun little exhibit! My son especially enjoyed his traffic light legs that lit up! He is made from used parts that are no longer suitable for their current monorail system configuration. Monorail Man was built with about $15.00 in scrap metal, which makes it especially impressive!
They also had a vending machine that sold Seattle Monorail merchandise, which I thought was cool. And they had a souvenir smashed penny machine, which is always a hit with kids! Plus there is a lot of fun stuff to look at from the Seattle Center platform.
6 Reasons Your Kid Should Ride on Seattle's Monorail
My friend likes to collect memberships to museums. I always joke that if there's a new museum out there, she probably already has a membership there. So, when she told me she just got a membership to the Washington State History Museum (located a good 45 minutes away from our house) I just laughed and thought "of course you did." But then she invited my family to join them for their Model Train Festival and I totally got it.
We had been to the Model Train Festival at Pacific Science Center in Seattle last year and I was curious how it would compare. I love how much space there was at the History Museum to set up the displays and have room for people to move around them. They also had little step stools placed at strategic areas so kids could get a better view. All the train tables are set about 6 inches too high for toddlers to see (but the right height for the adult train enthusiasts who operate them.) If you are debating whether to take your toddler in a stroller or carrier, I'd go with the carrier so they could see the models much easier.
They had a whole floor celebrating the Kitsap train that runs on the second and fourth Saturday April-October in Port Orchard, WA. The volunteers were very friendly and the train ride looked perfect for our toddler. It reminded me a lot of the mini rail at Squamish, BC. We will definitely be planning a day trip over there next year.
They also had a room filled with trains that kids could play with. There was a large remote control train and track on the floor, 2 LEGO train exhibits on display, LEGOS for kids to create their own trains and a couple of wooden trains and tracks. The volunteers were incredibly nice and helpful! This room was a hit with toddlers and preschoolers.
The day we went, Santa was there for a few hours, so my toddler insisted we visit with him. We had already done Santa photos with 4 other Santas at that point (he's a major celebrity in our house) so we thought, "what's one more?" He was hands-down the best Santa we'd come across this year! Not only did he spend quite a bit of time talking with our toddler and us, but he did about 5 fun poses right off the bat.
Even without the Model Train Festival, it's a really cool museum. It reminded me a lot of Seattle's Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) with their exhibits about Washington's history and culture. I think it would be perfect for Elementary School aged kids because they have a lot of hands on exhibits. If we lived closer to Tacoma, I would get a membership every year (mostly for the train display) but also because there are a lot of things for kids to explore.
We had a great experience at the Washington State History Museum! I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before, especially since it's so kid-oriented.It's definitely worth the drive from Seattle and would make a great family field trip.
We will definitely be back for the Model Train Festival next year!
6 Things to Know for Babies + Toddlers
Our family has a tradition of heading up to Vancouver, BC after Christmas each year to take advantage of Boxing Day sales and to celebrate our son's birthday. We always see fun holiday-themed activities, but never seem to have time to participate. This year, we decided to add an extra weekend trip at the beginning of December to check them out. Here's what we were able to see in one day with a baby and a toddler.
Stanley Park Miniature Railway
I've been trying to take my son on the Stanley Park Miniature Railway during the holidays for the past few years. I had heard from Vancouver locals how much fun it is for families. This year, we finally made it happen! We did the matinee train because we didn't have any evenings available this trip.
The train ride was a lot of fun! The 14 minute ride was the perfect length for our family. There was so much to see that we could have ridden it again, if we had more time. My husband especially enjoyed seeing The Grinch and our son loved going through the tunnel at the end.
We also explored the grounds and my son was thrilled to see Frosty the Snowman as he's currently his favorite holiday celebrity. It was really fun to see which characters he recognized and hear him sing Christmas songs while taking it all in. I could just imagine how amazing it would be at night time and we hope to do the evening train in the near future.
Click to read my full review.
Vancouver Christmas Market
This was the first year that the Vancouver Christmas Market was at it's new location on the waterfront next to the Olympic Cauldron. We drove past it on our way to the Stanley Park Minature Railway and thought it would be a fun place to pass the time before heading up to Squamish, BC.
Since we knew we'd be back up to Vancouver at the end of December, we opted to buy a season pass. The first thing we did was ride on the carousel. The token seller was a bit grumpy and made us get out of line to double check our toddler's height and then we had to go to the back of the line and wait again to get our tokens. When it was our turn to board, we again had to check the height of our toddler. But then we boarded and my son picked a horse to ride on and he had so much fun that we rode the carousel one more time!
After that, we perused the vendor booths and decided to grab lunch. Our toddler saw a booth that sold corn in a cup and he was adamant that's what he wanted. It was a bit pricey, but comparable to all the other food. I had some ham and pea soup and my husband got a ham hock sandwich. I was impressed how much seating was available. We opted to sit on the stage while the band took a break.
We were only able to stay an hour, but we are looking forward to returning in a few weeks!
The Polar Express Train
One of our main reasons for doing a weekend up in Vancouver, BC was so we could experience The Polar Express train ride at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park up in Squamish, BC (about an hour North of Vancouver.) Our experience there was alone worth the drive up from Seattle. Not only was the event superbly executed, but our family had much more fun than we imagined.
The train ride was a blast and featured lots of elements from the book and movie, including characters and hot chocolate with the yummiest chocolate cookies! The train is maintained beautifully and it was quite a comfortable ride. Our kids wore their Christmas jammies (along with almost all the other families aboard) which made the whole experience even more fun!
After our ride, we explored the North Pole located within the Roundhouse. It was filled with fun activities for the whole family. Our son especially enjoyed the miniature train ride around Santa's village and pulling on a real train whistle. He also handled the line-up for photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus pretty well. Other activities included letters to Santa, a viewing of The Polar Express, a bouncy house, concessions and so much more.
Click to read my full review.
Timeline of our Day with Baby + Toddler
9:00am: Woke up and read The Polar Express book
9:45am: Ate breakfast at our hotel
11:00am: Arrived at the Stanley Park Miniature Railway
Noon: Nursed our baby in the parking garage at the Waterfront
12:30pm: Arrived at the Vancouver Christmas Market
12:45pm: Rode the carousel twice
1:00pm: At lunch at vendor booths
2:00pm: Headed out for Squamish, BC while baby and toddler napped in the car
3:15pm: Arrived in Squamish, nursed baby in car and changed both kids into pajamas
3:45pm: Boarded The Polar Express
4:45pm: Explored activities at The North Pole
7:00pm: Nursed baby in the car and drove back to the hotel
My family travels to Vancouver, British Columbia every winter for Boxing Day and my son's birthday. Each year, Bright Nights at Stanley Park has been on my itinerary and each year we fail to get there. We've heard so much about the light display and how festive the whole experience can be. In order to ensure that we experience it, we headed to Vancouver for a "bonus trip" at the beginning of December.
I always do my research before trips, so I diligently scoured the Vancouver Parks & Recreation website to make sure I had the correct information. That's when I realized that Bright Nights supports the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society and the BC Professional Fire Fighters' Burn Fund.
I took my son on the Stanley Park Miniature Train over the summer and we had so much fun! It made it more exciting this time because he knew what to expect and we both were curious about what holiday items we'd see on our journey. The train ride did not disappoint!
We went during the day, so I wasn't sure if we'd be able to see any lights. I was thrilled that the light display was still impressive against the grey sky! We also saw many favorite Christmas characters, including The Grinch! The train ride is just the right length to feel worth the fare. We paid $6 each for my husband and myself and since both kids were under 3 years old, they were free. The train ride was about 14 minutes long. The train was about 2/3 full and we could have split our tickets (have one adult accompany our toddler for one ride and then switch) but we wanted to experience it as a family.
What impressed me the most was how expansive the decorations were. I thought it was just the area around the train, but the entire area was covered with funky displays! Again, we saw beloved characters, but also lots of Santa displays and reindeer! My son had a fun time pointing out all the elves that seemed to be placed everywhere! I could see how it would be really fun at night time!
While we walked around, I saw several booths for hot chocolate, buttered popcorn and other treats that opened in the evening. They also have live performances at night and photos with Santa starting at 4 p.m. There was also a booth selling glow sticks, which I bet would make a toddler's night!
7 Tips for Bright Nights at Stanley Park
My toddler has a deep appreciation for trains. We've been fortunate to be able to explore opportunities to go on train rides here in the Pacific Northwest. Not only have I learned more than I ever thought I'd know about trains, but it's been a fun learning experience for the whole family.
This past summer, we got to experience the West Coast Railway Heritage Park up in Squamish, BC (just North of Vancouver, BC.) This was the coolest train museum we'd ever been to! When I heard they had a Polar Express train event, I was instantly intrigued and determined to head back up for it. I'm so glad we did!
One of the volunteers at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park suggested that we take the 4pm train because it would be light when we arrived and dark when we left. He also recommended that we wear our pajamas, just like in the book. I had high hopes of getting matching jammies for the whole family, but life got busy and I was just able to get fun ones for the kids. We arrived about an hour before our train ride so we'd have time to pick up our tickets from Will Call and head to the train station. They had lots of parking attendants assisting with parking across the street for $5. Since we had a 2-month-old with us, I took that opportunity to feed him before we ventured out.
It was very cold and rainy, so we hurried across the street and quickly picked up our Golden Tickets for the train ride. Then, we headed to the front of the train for a Polar Express photo op. There were only a few people ahead of us in line, so we were able to get some photos easily and then head to the train station. In the entry of the train station was a choir (all wearing pajamas and bathrobes) singing Christmas carols. They had two rooms indoors for guests to wait in (one for First Class and one for General.) We squeezed into the room for General admission and my husband took that opportunity to use the restroom before boarding the train.
A train conductor who was dressed the part asked a few kids near the door to help him announce "All Aboard!" and we all lined up to head to the train cars. It was so well-organized. We were greeted as we entered the train car and easily found seats. The conductors helped seat late arrivals so that families could sit together. The train conductor walked up and down the aisle chatting with families. We were impressed how well-kept up the train was from the seats to the windows. It was very comfortable.
There was a 10 minute delay (for which they apologized several times) and then we were off for our train ride. My toddler was so excited! As we started moving, the story of The Polar Express was read over the loud speaker. There were also elements of the movie (the Hobo, the little girl, the boy in the bathrobe, etc.) My toddler told me his favorite part was when the little girl asked him if she'd seen his ticket and to not tell the train conductor that she'd lost it or she'd be kicked off the train. He took her very seriously and we all shushed and said we wouldn't tell him.
The chefs came around with the most delicious chocolate cookie. It was moist and tasted like a brownie. My toddler gobbled up his entire cookie and begged for mine. The train conductor walked around at this point and punched our Golden Tickets. He punched an O for my son on his ticket, which was fun! Then, the chefs came around with hot chocolate, which again was pretty tasty. My toddler did end up spilling some on me and my diaper bag, but thankfully we had napkins to quickly clean it up.
Then, they passed out song books with 15 Christmas carols in them. My husband and I looked at each other hoping we wouldn't be singing ALL of them and thankfully the train passengers decided to just sing Frosty the Snowman. It was a fun way to end our train ride! The collected the song books and the announcer mentioned that this event was run mostly by volunteers and that this was their biggest fundraiser of the year. It was perfect timing, as our next stop was the North Pole which had some opportunities to donate more money.
The North Pole was inside the Roundhouse at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park and was filled with fun activities for the whole family! The mini train that we rode around the park in the summer was now inside and ran around Santa and Mrs. Claus. That was the first line we got into because it moved quickly and our toddler was just too excited. The mini train was decorated and did two laps around lots of holiday train decorations.
After our train ride, we headed to the Ice Cave, which was new this year. Inside, they had a bouncy house, a climbable train that is usually outside, mini golf and a train where kids could pull the whistle. Our son just wanted to do the whistle a few times and then head back in for another mini train ride.
We got in line to see Santa after the line had quieted down. It was a slow line, so my husband stayed in line while I took my toddler on the mini train one last time. My husband was able to wave at us as we passed him on the train. We spent the next few minutes chatting with other people in line and then it was our turn. It was cool because we had to cross the train tracks to get to Santa and wait at the Train Crossing sign (which is amazing if you are a 3-year-old who loves trains,)
Santa was at the end of his shift, but didn't make us feel rushed. We were able to get both boys on Santa's lap and then just our toddler on Mrs. Claus' lap. They didn't have a photographer, but they did have an elf who would take photos with our camera. We opted to just have the boys since they were in their Christmas jammies. Mrs. Claus gave both boys a silver bell (like the one from The Polar Express) and we were on our way.
At this point, everyone was cleaning up. We had been at the event for 2.5 hours and didn't even do all the activities. They had an area to write letters to Santa (and he will reply back), cookie decorating, wooden train building (for $10 donation) a curtained-off area to watch the movie The Polar Express and a whole area upstairs we didn't even see. Now we'll have more things to do next year.
The walk back to our car was tricky. It was really dark and the parking attendants were gone, so we had a hard time figuring out how to get to the parking lot without falling in puddles or slipping on the mud. Thankfully we had flashlights on our phones.
The drive back to Vancouver was a bit nerve-wracking. The Sea to Sky Highway is gorgeous during the day, but can be scary in the wind, rain and dark. It winds a lot. Let's just say the Road to Hana was much less stressful.
My husband and I were truly impressed how friendly the staff and volunteers were and we felt very taken care of throughout the entire event. It was organized beautifully! Not only do we plan on coming back for The Polar Express next year, but we are also curious how their Day Out With Thomas differs from the one in Snoqualmie, WA.
7 Tips for The Polar Express
I've spent the past month hearing my toddler ask me, "Are we doing the Santa Train today?" It's my fault, really, for telling him as soon as we purchased tickets. It also prompted questions about Santa. I told my son that Santa goes to everyone's house on Christmas Eve and brings them presents. My son's eyes widened as he inquired, "Santa is coming to OUR house and bringing US presents?" And when I told him we'd be leaving cookies out for Santa because he gets hungry visiting so many houses, he almost couldn't handle it. Oh, and this was all before Halloween.
So, when it was finally the day of our Santa Train, the whole family was excited! We'd been on many trains, but never one to see Santa. My husband and I brought my Mom, toddler and infant on opening weekend.
I'm a pretty upbeat person who can always find the fun anywhere I go. I just couldn't get over all the "bumps" of the event. My professional background is in non-profit event planning, so I was surprised how many things were poorly planned, especially for an event geared for families with small children. It was recommended to arrive 45 minutes prior to boarding time to get in line. That's already a long time with toddlers in the rain and cold. At our boarding time of 11am, we were told that the train would be 30 minutes late. There was no explanation or apology. That's when parents in line started grumbling and the kids started crying and melting down. It would have been nice if someone would have passed out hot cocoa and cookies to everyone in line as a kind gesture. My mom ended up taking our toddler for a walk and to run around a bit, which was very helpful.
When we finally were able to board, there were no assigned seats, so we ended up having 7 people crammed in a space meant for 4 people. We saw several couples taking up twice as much space but we felt uncomfortable approaching them to scoot over so our family could sit near each other. It would have been great if the train conductors could have helped facilitate seating.
Upon arrival in Snoqualmie, we realized we'd be standing outside in yet another line in the cold and the rain to see Santa. Because my group had a few adults, we were able to switch off so one adult could get hot cocoa and cookies. Had I been by myself, I probably wouldn't have been able to get refreshments until after we saw Santa in fear of losing my spot in line. They offered the refreshments in an old Red Cross train car, which was super cool! The cookie assortment consisted of chocolate chip, snickerdoodle and oatmeal raisin. My toddler had the snickerdoodle and enjoyed it. I got the chocolate chip and nearly chipped a tooth (it was like a hockey puck) and ended up throwing it away. I overheard some volunteers discussing how to get the right cookie dough consistency. Since we went opening weekend, I'm guessing they were still working out the kinks.
Our Santa experience was fabulous! They only had a couple of families in Santa's house at a time, so it was fairly quiet and kids didn't feel rushed. They had a table to set coats and bags, which was really helpful since we were all wet. The room was decorated beautifully and it was so fun to see the kids stand in awe in front of the Christmas tree. At the end, Mrs. Claus gave each kid a wooden top which was fabulously nostalgic!
As the train announcer reminded us that most people are volunteers, it sounded like he was trying to excuse the poor planning. The soundtrack of the ride back to North Bend was just kids crying because it was naptime. Had the train not been delayed 30 minutes, I think the timing would have worked better for most families. It also meant any families hoping to watch the Seahawks game missed the first quarter due to the delay.
I will say that my toddler had a blast and it lived up to all his expectations! He thoroughly enjoyed the train ride, walking around the stations and chatting with Santa. However, as much as I love holiday events, this will probably not be an annual tradition for us.
6 Tips for the Santa Train
My toddler Owen is obsessed with all types of vehicles. He likes to read about them, watch YouTube videos of them, and most of all he'd like to sit on them. Almost on a daily basis, he asks if we are going to sit down on a train today. I realized that in Seattle, we have several local train options and we could easily make a train excursion. So, we grabbed some friends and we decided to have a morning of trains and then do lunch.
Of course, this was easier said than done. Since we all live in South King County, we decided to meet at the Tukwila Station at 10am. Unfortunately, every spot was filled and there were many cars circling the parking lots looking for something to open up. Normally, I'd try Airport Station, since there's lots of parking. However, this was Friday of Labor Day Weekend and the line-up to even get to the airport was crazy. So, we decided to try the Columbia City Station, since we knew there was lots of street parking. In hindsight, we could have parked at Othello or Rainier Beach.
We easily found street parking in Columbia City and headed to the station to buy our ticket. We all bought Day Passes for the University of Washington, since that was the furthest stop and we weren't sure if we'd want to get off at some point. Then, the boys patiently waited for the train to arrive, which was just minutes later.
Owen was actually grinning ear to ear when the train approached and started making all kinds of sounds. I was worried he was upset by how loud the train was, but he just looked at me and exclaimed "I'm so excited!" He eagerly climbed aboard the train and was ready to start our journey.
The train was pretty full when we got on, but we were able to secure seats and have the toddlers sit on our laps. Our seats were in a long row on the sides of the train, so Owen stood in my lap facing me and looked out the window. After a few stops, the train emptied a bit and we moved to the back of the train so we could have the toddlers in window seats while the adults took aisle seats.
What we didn't realize is that most of the route between Columbia City and the University of Washington is in a tunnel, so there was less for our toddlers to look at. But, they really didn't seem to mind and got a kick out of being on a train and looking at each of the stations. Owen asked me the name of every station and what there was to do there (this was after I told him there was lots of shopping at the Westlake Station.)
Once we got to the University of Washington, we stayed on the train to head back to Columbia City. We were informed that we had 10 minutes before the train moved, so we walked to the other side of the car to get seats that would face in the right direction. This time also was used to check out the doors and other seats on the train.
The ride back to Columbia City was still a lot of fun! The toddlers looked out the window and would comment when they saw buses or buildings and asked a lot of questions. They were really sad when we got back to our station and had to get off.
We decided to grab lunch at Super Six in Columbia City because they are kid-friendly and the food is really yummy. After lunch, we walked around the corner to Columbia City Bakery to grab treats for the kids. If it wasn't so close to nap time, we would have walked a bit further to Retroactive Kids to look at their toys.
As we got back into the car, Owen told me that his day was "awesome" and he wanted to ride the train again! For $5.50, this was a great way for us to spend the morning. I'm definitely adding it to my list of activities to do with toddlers any time of the year!
7 Tips for Link Light Rail with a Toddler
Vancouver is an awesome not-so-far-away trip from the Seattle-area. And there are so many things to do with toddlers up there! My Mom was visiting from Kauai so I thought I'd take her and Owen up to Vancouver for 3 nights. We usually come to Vancouver a few times a year. Mostly, we eat a lot of Chinese food, buy a lot of food items and then fill in the time between meals walking around Robson Street. This time, I really wanted to plan a toddler-focused trip. There were way too many fun activities to pack into our trip. I decided to focus on things we hadn't done on past trips. Here's what we did:
The tricky thing about traveling with toddlers is that their moods can be unpredictable. I had a hard time letting go of my detailed itinerary. This just stresses everyone out and in hindsight I should have gone with the flow a bit more. But, c'est la vie. So here's what we actually did everyday:
We left Seattle a bit later than I planned and Owen took a short nap in the car, waking when I stopped for gas about an hour North of Seattle. Thankfully, the border wait was just a few minutes and we headed straight to the Historic CPR 374 Locomotive that is on display in Yaletown at the corner of Davie St and Pacific Blvd, which closed at 4pm. We got there at 3:50pm and literally ran to get in to see it because my son LOVES trains! George, one of the docents there, was so nice to explain the importance of the train to Vancouver’s history. In the late 1800s this train hauled spices and silk from Vancouver to Toronto in just 7 days and 7 days after that it was in London. Talk about fast shipping for those days!
Then, we headed to the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre to check in. I reviewed the hotel in this blog post. This was a speedy process and just minutes later we were up in our room admiring the view. We dropped off our bags and decided to head to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This was amazing and I wish we had gotten their earlier so we could have explored more. We will definitely be back. Read about our experience there in my Capilano Suspension Bridge blog post.
We returned to the hotel about 8:30pm, which was an hour and a half after my son’s bedtime. Oops. It took awhile to calm him down (especially when I told him we’d be going on a double decker bus in the morning. Double oops.)
This was our Stanley Park Day (read my detailed blog post here). With a toddler, you could easily spend a couple of days here exploring and doing all the activities. We chose to do the Horse Drawn Carriage ride first, so that we could get a layout of the park. Once we passed the sign for the Miniature Train ride, Owen decided that we needed to do that next. So, we drove over and the train ride was much cuter and special than I had envisioned. They also do themed train rides around Easter, Halloween and Christmas and I’d definitely want to do one of those to see how they change it up. After the train ride, we grabbed burgers, hot dogs and pretzels at the nearby concession stand so we could hop in the car and head back to the hotel for naptime. Owen didn’t end up napping (boo) but it was a nice quiet break before getting on the Hop-on, Hop-Off Bus Tour to explore the city and stop at the Vancouver Aquarium. I love bus tours and this was a lot of fun because it was open air and it was a gorgeous day! Owen ended up falling asleep for an hour of the bus ride. After touring around for about 1.5 hours, we made it to the Vancouver Aquarium about 2 hours before it closed. Owen was not thrilled to be there and once he saw there was ice cream, he couldn’t focus on anything else. My Mom and I enjoyed seeing the jellyfish and the large mammals. By the time we finished our dinner and ice cream at the Aquarium, we missed the last bus. Mommy fail for not grabbing a brochure to know when the last bus would come around. Fortunately, we were able to instantly hail a cab (a true rarity) and made it back to our hotel in time for bedtime.
We did a Squamish Day trip today and it was fabulous (read full post here)! We started at DeDutch in Yaletown because I heard they had a play area. They had a play kitchen and tons of toys to keep Owen occupied while we waited for breakfast. Bonus: Starbucks is right next store, which was perfect for grabbing chai tea before hitting the road. We headed straight to the West Coast Railway Heritage Park because Owen really wanted to see the trains. It was even cooler than I imagined! Lots of stuff for kids and adults and the staff were really friendly. Owen’s favorite part were the outdoor Thomas the Train Tables and the Mini Rail. We were there 2 hours and could have easily spent another hour there. We will definitely be back. We then headed to the Sea to Sky Gondola, which was absolutely breathtaking! Again, it would be easy to spend all day there. We rode the gondola up and walked the suspension bridge and checked out the view points before heading back down in the gondola (probably 20 minutes total at summit), as we were right up against naptime. We opted to eat at the base simply because we weren’t sure if we would be queasy on the ride down with full tummies. The ride was so smooth and I think we would have been fine. There are tons of play areas and fun photo ops at the summit and base. Our lunch was surprisingly delicious, for pre made sandwiches. Then, we hopped back in the car and headed to our hotel. Owen napped for half of the ride and then we relaxed a bit in the hotel before hitting up Robson Street for shopping a dinner.
For our last day in Vancouver, we opted to walk around Downtown to people watch and see what we could see. We ended up walking to the Vancouver Lookout. It was a nice walk from our hotel and Owen was excited for the elevator ride. I thought we'd be able to see more of the city from the elevator since there were glass panels, but we really couldn't see much during the ride. But, once we got up to the observation level, we had incredible views of the entire city! Then, we went back to the hotel to hop in the car and drive to the marina for our one-hour Harbour Cruise. This was amazing! Read my full blog post about the Vancouver Lookout and Harbour Cruises here. Not only was the weather beautiful, but we got to watch seaplanes take off and the narration was pretty funny. There was a lot for Owen to see and one hour was the perfect time to be on the boat. After we docked, I asked where the nearest restroom was and was directed several blocks away to a Starbucks. Being 7 months pregnant and toting a toddler, I didn't think that was a good option. So, we hopped in the car and drove a bit out of the city before being able to park in front of a Starbucks to grab lunch and use the facilities. It ended up taking us 2 hours to get from Vancouver to the border, which is the longest it's ever taken me, due to traffic. We got gas in Lynden, WA along with more drinks and drove the 3 hours back to our house. Owen ended up throwing up 10 minutes from our house. It was pretty epic. In hindsight, we should have let him run around partway through the drive, but he was napping. Oh well.
Marcie in Mommyland received an Experience Pass from Tourism Vancouver which provided complementary admission to Capilano Suspension Bridge, Westcoast Hop-on, Hop-off Tour, Stanley Park Horse Drawn Storytelling Tour, Vancouver Aquarium, Sky to Sea Gondola, Vancouver Lookout, and Vancouver Harbour Tour
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We absolutely love Vancouver, but I’ve never really explored the surrounding area. When I heard about the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, I knew this would be the ultimate destination for my train-enthusiast toddler Owen. When I mapped out our route, I saw that we’d also be passing by the Sea to Sky Gondola, which looked amazing. I figured we could manage two major tourist attractions before my toddler would need his nap.
The drive to Squamish from Vancouver is about an hour away. The highway has stunning views of the water and the mountains basically the entire way. There are also several scenic lookout points that would be worth stopping to snap some photos or eat a sack lunch or do an emergency diaper change.
Here’s my review of the West Coast Railway Heritage Park and the Sea to Sky Gondola:
WEST COAST RAILWAY HERITAGE PARK
This park feels like the middle of nowhere. We turned off the highway and head into an industrial area, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. There is great signage that took us directly to the park. The entrance is inside the Roundhouse. This is where we bought our entrance tickets, mini-train tickets and perused the fabulous gift shop. The staff person gave us a park map and told us his suggested route. Being 7 months pregnant, my first stop was the restroom!
Owen insisted that we experience the mini-train first, so that’s what we did. We lucked out and were the only ones on the first train of the day! The mini-train is like no other we’ve done. The conductor sits on a miniature engine and the passengers straddle a cushy seat and put their feet on each side. Even though there were no seat belts or restraints, I felt really safe and just sat close to Owen. We LOVED the little train ride! The highlight was driving past a model train village and watching the train go all around, over a bridge and through a tunnel. We got to see this twice. Partway through, the conductor had us get off so he could turn the train around. We were encouraged to look at the museum but Owen was deadset on watching exactly what the conductor was doing. As soon as he was set, Owen leapt up and grabbed some seats for us and away we went. There were a few more stops at little train stations along the way. We got off where they had the kids play area.
The kids play area consisted of a climb-on train, which Owen thought was really fun! He pretended to be the train conductor and told us to sit in the back and be his passengers. There is also a huge sandbox filled with sand toys. Owen started to dig in when he saw the train tables. They have 4 Thomas the Train tables set up outdoors under a roof. The tracks are screwed downs and 3 of the tables are identical. Even though Owen has a train table at home, we spent a long time here. Thankfully, they have benches for parents in the shade.
We also explored a few of the trains outside. Owen’s favorite was a train that had an extensive model train exhibit inside. He was able to see most of it standing on his own but there were a few parts where he asked to be picked up so he could see better. This train was much cooler temperature-wise than the other cars. We found the mail car to be quite stuffy. We also ventured into the house that is set up like it was in the early 1900s. It was very cool to see how the house was laid out and some of the antiques inside. Owen was eager to climb upstairs, until he saw the mannequins and then we quickly left the house.
Our final stop was the Roundhouse. It houses some beautiful trains that you can climb inside. We were even able to ring the bell in one of the trains. It was so easy that Owen was able to ring it all by himself. They had some fun cut-outs of old-timer people for photo ops, which was cute. We headed to the gift shop on our way out because Owen fell in love with an item and we just had to get it for him and we wanted to support this non-profit.
Know Before You Go to the West Coast Railway Heritage Park:
SEA TO SKY GONDOLA
By the time we finished with the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, Owen was getting sleepy. We kept him awake by singing for the 10 minutes it took to get there from the park. The parking lot is gravel and pretty clearly marked what direction to go. The ticket area is really nice and set up very well. We easily got our tickets and headed straight to the line to hop on board a gondola. I think we waited 2 minutes before getting in a private gondola to head up the mountain.
The view from the gondola was absolutely breathtaking and it kept getting better and better the higher up we went. I was a bit worried that Owen might not like the ride but he told me it was “awesome!” After about 10 minutes, we reached the summit and headed to the first lookout point. The view was unbelievable!
Owen was determined to cross the suspension bridge, so we immediately headed there. It was much less wobbly and shorter than Capilano Suspension Bridge and he was able to walk it pretty confidently holding our hands. About 3/4 of the way across, a staff member asked if we would like a professional photo. We declined, but I can see how that would make a unique family photo!
Once we were across, we reached another scenic lookout point which had another gorgeous view of the water and the mountains. Washington State is stunning, but this is on a whole other level! We decided to walk up the first few feet of one of the hikes just to get some shade and see what the view was like. It was 85 degrees at this point and we figured we better head back down and grab lunch and drinks before Owen melted down. So, we walked back across the bridge and got in line for the gondola. It was much more crowded to head down and we got in line right before the mad rush. I was pleasantly surprised to see they had cups and water for those standing in line.
The whole activity was one big photo op! My phone actually told me I couldn’t take any more photos due to space and I frantically deleted a bunch so I could continue snapping pics. We could easily have spent all day here, especially if we were interested in hiking. I’d probably recommend 2-3 hours, especially if you want to eat lunch there.
Know Before You Go to the Sea to Sky Gondola:
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Stanley Park is Vancouver’s number one tourist attraction. It’s easy to see why, especially in the summer. There are so many things to do and see that one could easily spend several days here exploring all the options. The views are beautiful and the park is expansive.
With a toddler, we really had to pick and choose what activities we could manage. We wanted to see the park and also do things that were especially fun for Owen. Here’s what we ended up doing:
Stanley Park Horse Drawn Carriage Ride
I had always seen the horse drawn carriage rides when we have driven through Stanley Park in the past, but we never looked into it. This time, I decided it would be the perfect way to start our day in Stanley Park. My toddler Owen was especially excited since he had his first pony ride just days earlier. He couldn’t believe how big our horses, Andy and Jay, were! We sat right behind the driver and as soon as the carriage filled up, we slowly trotted on our journey. At first I thought the ride was a bit bumpy, but after a few minutes, I didn’t notice it at all. Our tour guide had a lovely presentation of facts mixed with stories about the people and places of Stanley Park. We had five minutes to get off and look around the Totem Poles and the waterfront, but the rest of the time was spent in the carriage. We really enjoyed the breathtaking scenery!
Horse Drawn Carriage Ride Tips:
Stanley Park Miniature Train
Every year, we come to Vancouver for Owen’s birthday, which falls right after Christmas. Every year, I suggest that we do the miniature train, but it never works out with our plans. So, we made it a priority to do it this trip. Owen is a big fan of trains and he loved every minute of this! I assumed that it would be similar to the Horse Drawn Carriage ride where we’d go around the park. It never occurred to me why I’d never seen the train in action before. Tucked away in the woods is a small train station! The conductor drives a miniature version of a steam locomotive and you meander through the woods checking out sights like Big Foot, Charlie Brown, Foghorn Leghorn, Kermit the Frog and more! Besides spotting the characters, the journey is actually pretty stunning as the train roams the forest of giant trees, through a tunnel, crosses a tiny brook and around a beautiful pond. It’s about a 12 minute ride and it feels like the right length. It was so fun that we will definitely come back, especially for their Easter and Christmas trains.
Stanley Park Miniature Train Tips:
We opted for a quick lunch at the nearby concession stand so we could head back to our hotel for a quick nap. Owen decided he didn’t want to nap (he told me he was too excited for the bus ride), so after resting a bit, we got on the Hop-on-Hop Off Bus to explore the city and stop at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Vancouver Hop On Hop Off Bus
The bus ride was a lot of fun! I loved the open air top because I could really experience the city. Owen had a blast for the first 30 minutes and then he fell asleep…hard. It was a bit difficult to hear the narration and announcements, but it was such a relaxing way to see the city. I love bus tours and would definitely do this one again. The only downside was when we were dropped off at the Vancouver Aquarium, we didn’t know that the last bus was an hour and a half later. Had we known, we would have planned accordingly. I wish they would have handed us a brochure with the times on it. We ended up (fortunately) hailing a taxi after we realized the last bus came before the Aquarium even closed.
Hop on Hop Off Bus Tips:
This is the largest aquarium in Canada and it was recently expanded. I had been before several years ago in December and remember it was cool, but nothing specific. By the time we arrived to the Aquarium, Owen was pretty worn out and didn’t really want to explore too much. I gave him a quick snack and we did a speedy walk thru of the Tropical Fish and Amazon area. Owen really wanted to head outside, so we headed out. This was my favorite part! We don’t have big mammals at our Seattle Aquarium, so it was a real treat to see the belugas and the dolphin! I wanted to explore more, but Owen saw the ice cream stand and didn’t want to do anything else. He had a huge tantrum when we tried to look at the belugas and we ended up spending the rest of our time at the Aquarium eating a quick dinner and getting ice cream. Next time, we’ll try to do the Aquarium in the morning when moods are better.
Vancouver Aquarium Tips:
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I'm a mom to a 3-year-old and a baby. We believe in traveling as a family as soon as possible and sharing our tips and tricks with other families!