In search of a non-traditional holiday, we found it across the border last year in beautiful and bustling Vancouver, British Columbia. Canadians celebrate a Thanksgiving similar to the U.S. holiday, but in October. That meant we arrived in the city on an ordinary Wednesday of an ordinary work week, and we didn’t pay premium holiday prices for a hotel room like we would have if we’d traveled in the States.
Did I feel a twinge of guilt about skipping Thanksgiving? I definitely did. It was my deceased father’s favorite holiday and I’ve worked hard through the years to carry on our traditions. But I was the only one of my family of four who felt any pangs of remorse.
“We’re together. What else matters?” my husband reassured me more than once on the drive up. He was fully on board with the plan, as were the kids. If they had even a pumpkin-pie crumb of hesitation, it was soon squashed. And mine was, too — when by the end of day one, I became a rock-star parent.
How? Not only did my husband and I bring my kids on an international trip, we also inadvertently brought them to Disneyland, a concert, and Hollywood. All within the Greater Vancouver metro area. Here’s how.
We checked into our waterfront hotel, The Westin Bayshore, with a view of 400-acre Stanley Park on one side and the city on the other, and went out to explore. It was close to 4 p.m. so we didn’t have high hopes of anything more than a walk to stretch our legs after the long car ride from Seattle. Boy were we wrong.
We set out for a stroll along the Coal Harbour Seawall, a two-kilometer waterfront path that extends from Stanley Park to Canada Place. We enjoyed the crisp autumn weather.
When we reached Canada Place, the iconic white-tented, waterfront pavilion built when Vancouver hosted the World’s in 1986, we stumbled upon our first surprise — a tourist attraction called Flying Over Canada. just like Disney’s “Soaring Over California” ride at their California Adventure park in Anaheim. We bought tickets, buckled into our seats and were soon suspended 65 feet in the air in front of an IMAX-type movie screen. For the next eight thrilling minutes we flew coast-to-coast over Canada. It was a blast, both literally (special effects include wind, mist and scents) and figuratively.
While we joked about our unexpected to visit to Disneyland, we stumbled into another unexpected, the festival-like atmosphere of Grey Cup weekend. The Grey Cup is the Superbowl of the Canadian Football League and there were throngs of people in town, not only for the big game, but for the entertainment leading up to the big game.
We stuck around for a rock concert by a Canadian group. I can’t remember the name, but my teens enjoyed the show.
Day Two (Thanksgiving)
On day two we soaked up the city, shopping on Robson Street with a favorable exchange rate. We spent an enjoyable hour browsing through the flagship Canadian bookstore chain, Chapters, on Robson and Howe. (Update: this store sadly closed in June 2015.)
Around dinnertime we headed for historic Gastown for a browse through the galleries and tourist shops, and a gander at the Gastown Steam Clock (circa 1977 and one of only a handful in the world). It spouts steam and chimes out a song four times an hour, often drawing a crowd of tourists. Afterwards we had “Thanksgiving dinner” at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Always a family pleaser.
Just 10 minutes from downtown on the other side of Stanley Park and the majestic Lions Gate Bridge, is Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. It’s one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions. Built in 1889 it spans 450 feet across the Capilano River, which is 230 feet below.
The Park is more than just this bridge. On the other side of it is Treetops Adventure, which includes 8 more bridges suspended between 250-year-old Douglas Firs.
Beneath the treetops, are boardwalks, ponds and interpretative signs. During the holidays, the whole park is lit up after dark by festive lights. Here’s a sneak peek.
We saved the Cliffwalk, the parks’ newest feature, for last. It’s a series of boardwalks jutting out from the granite cliff wall, suspended over the Capilano River. A few sections have glass floors.
It’s not for the faint of heart, let me tell you.
On our last day in the city, I lobbied for a visit to the fabulous Vancouver Aquarium, which we visited when the kids were younger, but was outvoted by the family. It was a chilly day in Stanley Park and much of the aquarium is outside. Brrr.
Instead, we met a friend for lunch and explored the park.
We drove south for our last sightseeing stop — the historic fishing village of Steveston, in Richmond, where ABC’s hit show Once Upon a Time is filmed. It’s one of our family’s favorite shows. Although we were there earlier than the shops opened (and on a Sunday morning to boot), there were plenty of Instagram-worthy snaps for my teens, which prompted their friends to reply, “Where are you? Hollywood?”
Cool mom points for me.