Our Christmas festivities have begun! As part of our Christmas Traditions for 2015, we’ve been out and about as a family visiting many cherished and new festive spots. We’ve made a visit to the Aquarium to see Scuba Claus and to the Burnaby Village Museum to complete the scavenger hunt for the 12 Days of Christmas in their Heritage Christmas celebration, and this weekend we drove out to Maple Ridge to visit the Timberline Ranch for the Timberline Country Christmas.
Held at the scenic 73-acre horse ranch, Timberline Country Christmas aims to deliver what we all seek at this time of year: a simple and relaxing Christmas wonderland! Secured through a time-based reservation system, you avoid lines and crowds during most of your stay. You start at your pre-reserved time, but can spend as long as you like on the ranch: visiting the petting zoo, taking a hay ride, playing in the game area, making ornaments, taking a hay ride, listening to stories, or riding a pony (extra ticket required, but still reasonable)! There’s even an assortment of snacks and food available, if you want to extend your stay.
Compared to many Christmas events, this is both reasonably priced as well as more laid back. I felt like we truly enjoyed our two hours at the ranch – no rushing or dealing with impatient kids! We were welcomed with cookie decorating (hooray, no gingerbread! We all get gingerbread-ed out this time of year!), then took the short hay ride to the petting zoo / pony ride / hay maze barn. The whole event is either indoors or covered, so weather isn’t really an issue, but we lucked out with a mild day. Our kids loved interacting with the assortment of animals (goats, llamas, cows and more!), and we were impressed with how immaculate the entire barn was. The highlight, of course, was the pony ride! Both boys had huge smiles on their faces to be riding the large horses!! I was so impressed with them.
Every inch of the ranch, including the animal areas, was kept pristine and each person who we interacted with actually seemed to care for their job. Nobody seemed frazzled or annoyed or overwhelmed with their roles interacting with so many people. I was especially impressed in the barn, where I didn’t feel overwhelmed by animal poo!, and in the craft area, where I commended the assistant for keeping all the craft supplies so tidy! I know that can be a daunting task with kids!
Our boys loved the snowball fight area!! We spent a lot of time there and freely let the boys play and play and play. Eventually we coaxed Aiden away by suggesting he set a goal for how many targets he wanted to hit / go through – his final score was 40 hits / hoops!
If you are looking for a unique Christmas experience, try a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium! Although Christmas is not the central aspect of any visit to the aquarium, the special touches all around the aquarium do make it an extra special time of year.
From trees covered in jellyfish and sea stars (each one incredibly stunning) to the appearance of Scuba Claus at set times, it’s a real treat to pay a visit at this time of year.
Scuba Claus pays a visit to the aquarium to seek out some bells he has lost. My kids (5 and 2) were mesmerized by the experience, and loved the opportunity to go up to the tank and give Santa a high five after the little show. It was such a fun time! They talked about it for days after.
Have you been to the Vancouver Aquarium during Christmas? We can’t wait to go again this year!
Update: we went and it was lovely! Also fun was the 4D Experience of the Polar Express!! Great integration of sounds and smells and even some snow!
Christmas is a very special time of year for me, a time I look forward to all year. Since I shop all year round, I don’t often feel the “madness” side of Christmas. Instead, I focus on creating memories and making people feel special. I do more crafts, I spend hours wrapping presents with special ribbons and decorations, I watch movies, and we do many special outings as a family. There are more than 200 Christmas-related events in Vancouver this year, and that can be overwhelming. I’ll share with you the events we have planned for this year, including the ones we visit every year and some new ideas we plan to try.
Timberline Country Christmas
New to our Christmas line-up this year is a visit to the Timberline Ranch for their Country Christmas event, running from December 2-20. This is the second-annual Country Christmas for Timberline Ranch, a horse ranch located in Maple Ridge, and features cookie decorating, a Christmas ornament craft, a wagon ride, an indoor hay maze, a petting zoo, a photobooth, a snowball themed ball pit, Storyland, and even pony rides (for an extra fee). It sounds like a very unique event, so stay tuned for our review in early December! If you do want to attend, reservations are required.
The Polar Express
Every year, we trek out to Squamish for the West Coast Railway Heritage Park’s exhibition of The Polar Express. As Aiden’s most favourite movie, this event has always had the most special meaning for us. We must have watched the movie dozens of times and, when it comes to the magic of Christmas, for us it’s all about the Polar Express. The event has evolved over the years and now involves a more elaborate “North Pole” experience, with a visit with Santa, a mini train ride, crafts & cookie decorating and many great displays.
Bright Nights in Stanley Park
Adding to our train-themed event, we visit Bright Nights in Stanley Park to view the three million light display and ride the train through the ever-changing themed displays. This is often an event that people do in large groups, with extended family or friends, and it’s great that a portion of donations and ticket sales go to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. This year, a “Grinch” stole a lot of materials from the venue, so we plan to give a larger donation in recognition of our support.
As annual members (one visit pays for itself for BC residents!), we often visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge for their seasonal displays. While lovely for Halloween, the park truly shines at Christmas. Canyon Lights features the world’s tallest living Christmas tree, thousands of lights throughout the park and on the bridge, plus events including live music and cookie decorating. As this event is nestled close to Grouse, be sure to dress extra warm! Holiday activities begin daily at 4pm.
Park & Tilford Hi-Light Festival
Local to North Vancouver, the Hi-Light Festival at the Park & Tilford Gardens is a favourite for it’s close-knit community feel. We are frequent visitors to the gardens, so that makes the Christmas event so much more special. On Family Friday Nights, there are Santa visits, hot chocolate, live entertainment, face painting and more! This is an annual tradition for us to do with many of our friends.
Last year we were frequent visitors to the Shipyards for their Christmas market and events. This year it’s not as frequent, but there is a Christmas Festival on December 5th and the Christmas Market on December 18-20th. Not to be outdone is of course the Vancouver Christmas Market, which we attended for the first time last year. Be prepared that this event is very busy and crowded, so it can be overwhelming for kids. The highlight for us was the carousel!
You may wonder, are we missing out on major events here? And yes, of course we are. The two biggest events we never seem to get to are:
Rogers Santa Clause Parade
Who doesn’t love a parade? Up until now, it’s never seemed reasonable to attend given the age of our kids, and even this year we can’t make it because of a scheduling conflict. Miracle on 34th Street is my favourite holiday movie, so a Christmas parade is a magical idea to me. Hopefully next year we can include it in our plans!
The Peak of Christmas
Top on my wish list is a visit to the Peak of Christmas where you can take a sleigh-ride, go skating, visit Santa and his reindeer and so much more. It sounds like a beautiful Winter wonderland. The age of our kids and their dislike for cold has kept us away so far, but one year! Plus, if you do every major event, it does get costly (and this is a very costly one).
Other holiday ideas we’ve tried are the VanDusen Botanical Garden display, which is beautiful but similar to our local Hi-Light festival,
We rode the Polar Express run by the West Coast Railway for our third time. This was, by far, our most enjoyable year, though that had as much to do with planning as with the age of our children. This year, we rode the train at 2pm, which allowed us to fully enjoy the activities in the Roundhouse after the train ride, while still preserving the illusion of “arriving” at the North Pole.
Though Aiden is not as obsessed with The Polar Express as he was in the two previous years, he did still enjoy the entire trip. His face lit up when the conductor came by and when the child actors came in pretending to be the children from the movie. Very nice addition to the experience and one we did not expect at all. Aiden literally glowed! He was also beside himself with excitement to tour the interior of the engine that mimics the real Polar Express:
The next bonus was the child-led controls in the mini train area, which was a highlight for Aiden. He was mad we had to move on when Damien lost interest, but that was our only low point in the night.
Each year the experience gets better and I am so happy it’s a part of our holiday traditions! Damien also loved riding a moving train, even though he’s not as immersed in the Polar Express culture.
This year, I managed to get both kids into their PJs (I wavered and gave them their Christmas Eve PJs early, since SO CUTE!) and planned it all better, to have two layers of PJs to avoid the cold. This year Aiden was interested in wearing his PJs, so that was a bonus. He didn’t want them last year and the previous year he only consented to wear the top. Finally, after years of struggling to find them matching PJs (who knew it was so hard), I purchased a matching set (2 months in advance, let me tell you). Huzzah!
One of my favourite winter activities is to visit Canyon Lights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s become a yearly tradition for us to take photos in their sleigh and make some delicious gingerbread cookies.
Last Sunday was a beautiful (if cold) day, clear and crisp, so we layered up and went for a visit. Damien started to feel poorly again, so it wasn’t an “easy” visit, but it was beautiful! The lights are outstanding and the new Winter Pavilion is a great addition – a nice warm place to decorate gingerbread cookies, take photos, have a hot chocolate or make a holiday card!
I also found a new hat and I love it! Ok, I will admit I purchased my jacket there too on my last visit. They have a surprisingly amazing gift shop, really you should check it out!!
Top photo courtesy of Capilano Suspension Bridge