Friday, March 28, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

A peaceful morning at the Hong Kong Zoo




The Hong Kong Zoo and Botanical Gardens is the 5.6 hectare home to more than 1,000 species of plants and over 500 animals including orangutans, lemurs and pythons.

Visiting at 7 am on New Year’s Day meant we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves with the exception of a few locals getting in their morning exercises.

If you are looking for a expansive Singapore Zoo-type experience, this is not it.  But with a children’s playground, aviaries, green house and gardens, and lots of animals to see, it’s a quaint and fun destination for little kids.  The zoo is clean and well-kept, and is so serene and quiet, it’s hard to believe it’s in the middle of Hong Kong.

Our taxi dropped us off at the Albany Road entrance of the zoo at about the mid-way point.  In hindsight, a better place to start would have been at one of the northwest entrances off of Glenealy Rd, since the zoo slopes steeply southwards, and wind our way down.

The green house and education centre opens at 9 am and the zoo and gardens open at 6 am every day.  Admission is free!  We were welcomed at the entrance by a large flight of stairs, so be aware there may be spots where you have to carry a stroller.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Getting away from crowds... and your stereotypical cruise activities





Since B was born, we’ve admittedly done a lot of cruises, something we wouldn’t have thought about doing pre-baby.  For folks who have never been on a cruise, there are some common preconceived ideas about what they are about.  Though we’ve been on many cruises, we’ve never attended an art auction, gone gambling in the casino, jockeyed for a lounge chair next to the pool, learned how to make a folded towel animal, entered a belly flop contest or gone late-night dancing.  We don’t pay extra to eat at specialty restaurants, buy duty-free items or spend money in the shops.  We rarely even take advantage of the kid’s centers.  Frankly, we are usually just too busy.

So what DO we do?


Enjoy Off-Hours Outdoor Fun

I’m not a fan of crowds so we generally steer clear of the crammed swimming pools, the loud music and the sizzling sunbathers during the busiest daytime hours.  But before 10 am, and after 5 pm, we usually have the pools, basketball court, shuffleboard, mini-golf and other outdoor venues all to ourselves - and get to enjoy them when the sun’s rays are less intense.  These outdoor activities are usually open 24 hours and since B is an early riser, by the time most folks roll out of bed, we’ve already had hours of family fun.  Some of our favorite after-dinner activities are to play a few rounds of mini golf or have a swim in the moonlight - something we rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to do at home.

Go Star-Gazing

We live in Toronto, and light pollution often foils our attempts at star-gazing.  Sure, we could drive out of town, but by the time the sun sets in summer, B is asleep - and in winter when the sun sets earlier, it’s not much fun to sit outside in the cold for long.  Cruising in the Caribbean and other places where the sun sets earlier, and where the skies are dark and clear, allows us to grab a cool drink, relax on a lounge chair and watch the stars - and still get to bed on time.  The Night Sky app on my tablet makes this activity extra fun!

Get Crafty

If we are spending a day at sea, we skip the crowds by taking in a movie or planting ourselves at a quiet table to read books about our destinations, play cards, build Lego creations or do crafts.  We never travel anywhere without a small container of Lego and a bag stuffed with craft supplies like beads, pipe cleaners, pencil crayons, a glue stick, small sheets of paper, coloring pages and stickers.  By the end of the cruise, our cabin looks like an art gallery!  Most cruise ships have lots of quiet, common area spaces to enjoy some relaxing family time if you don’t feel like hanging around in your cabin.

Say “Cheese!”

Most cruises have formal nights.  We don’t get too dressy… In these days of all the luggage surcharges, who has room to pack a ball gown?  But we do dress smartly and the photographers and backdrops set up around ship allow us to easily and inexpensively get a new family portrait or playful shot of B - without having to pay a sitting fee or stick to a pre-arranged appointment, when B will inevitably be in a bad mood.

Enjoy the Entertainment

Have you ever taken your child to see a live show, then had to leave early because he or she was fussy and/or uninterested?  Many cruise lines offer everything from full production shows, live music, magicians, ice shows, aerial acrobatics to movie screenings by the pool.  But since they are included in the cruise fare, you can come and go as you wish (obviously as long as you aren’t disturbing others) when the little ones get fidgety or need to use the washroom.

On a recent cruise, B found the showing of Disney's Frozen a bit too scary, so we just left and went and did something else.  No parking hassles, no pricey tickets gone to waste and no arm-and-a-leg investment for snacks.  This same cruise also had a spectacular 15-minute aerial acrobatic show in the centrum area based on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, which was just the right length of time to catch just before dinner.


I enjoy cruising with B because it offers a relaxing holiday with very little planning and work required on my part (hurray!), and there are so many things we can do together as a family.  All on the way to our next interesting destination...



How do YOU spend your time cruising?



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Friday, March 14, 2014

Fun Food Friday: Afternoon Tea in Hong Kong

Treating ourselves to afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Grand Stanford Hotel in Hong Kong.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

New Year's Day Dragon and Lion Dance Parade

On January 1st, Hong Kong kicked off the New Year by hosting the annual Lion and Dragon Dance Parade in Kowloon.  To top off the hundreds of lions and dragons, this year over 1,000 parade participants were decked out with happy Buddha masks.

The Parade started at Canton Road, ran along the Avenue of Stars and finished at the UC Centenary Garden in East Tsim Sha Tsui (next to the Intercontinental Grand Stanford Hotel).

B and I headed out to the Avenue of Stars about half an hour before the parade was expected to pass in order to find ourselves a good vantage point to watch the festivities, and near the Hong Kong Cultural Centre so we'd be close to washrooms.  I'm not a big fan of crowds but the length of the parade route meant there was a comfortable number of people along the way, so the parade was easy to see and it was easy to navigate the route even with a stroller.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Year's Eve in Hong Kong

The cost of a harbor-view room in Hong Kong on New Year's Eve:  Don't ask...

Being able to watch the fireworks from our room:  Priceless!

B and I enjoyed four nights in Hong Kong over the New Year and I saved up to get a harbour-view room at the Intercontinental Grand Stanford in Kowloon.  

While not quite as central as some of the harbour-view hotels closer to the Star Ferry Pier, our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui East was far more affordable and the views of the spectacular New Year's Eve fireworks were amazing!  I knew it would be impractical to wake up B at midnight to take him out to the promenade to watch the fireworks, so the harbour-view room worked out perfectly and was well worth the expense.  We watched all the action from the comfort of our window sill!


Friday, March 7, 2014

Fun Food Friday: The Mother of All Pancakes

The Mother of all pancakes at Red's Sandwich Shop in Salem, Massachusetts… a foot in diameter and an inch thick… B had a big meal for lunch, we ate the leftovers for dinner that evening and still had some left!

Read about our visit to Salem


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Don't Miss! Capilano Suspension Bridge Park


Built in 1889, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is 450 feet (137m) long and hangs 230 feet (70m) above Capilano River. 

But Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is far more than just the bridge.  Not only is the park home to the adrenalin-pumping suspension bridge, but the thrilling Cliffwalk, gorgeous rainforest walking paths, trout ponds, a Totem Park and the Treetop Adventure - offering a birds-eye view of the rainforest from a series of viewing platforms and suspension bridges.  It is easy to spend a few hours enjoying this beautiful spot.

Admission isn’t cheap... The cost is $31.95 for adults, $12.00 for kids aged 6-12 (kids under 6 are free!), but I found the park worth every penny.

On our visit, B and I arrived by taxi about 30 minutes before the park opened and were the second group in line to enter the park.  I highly recommend arriving as early as possible to give yourself the opportunity to enjoy the bridge with as few other tourists as possible.  Be aware that tour buses get access to the site earlier, so even if you are the first in line to enter, you likely won’t be the only guests there.

Strollers aren’t permitted on the bridge and caution is certainly advised if you are carrying a squirmy child.  But if your child can walk, the bridge feels very safe.  While there is some swaying on the bridge, it isn’t a drastic amount of movement.  At first B was a bit hesitant to head out onto the bridge but after a few steps, he thought it was a blast!

The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is located about 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver and can be reached via car, taxi or transit (take the Seabus from Vancouver to Lonsdale Quay and take the #236 bus).  A free shuttle trolley is also available to and from several stops in downtown Vancouver. (We used the shuttle to get back to Vancouver - be warned the trolley is a VERY bumpy ride, so if you have back problems or have a napping baby, you may want to give it a miss).

Visit the official website for more information.







Monday, March 3, 2014

Doppleganger?



Is it just me or does this photo at our hotel in Paris, look an awful lot like Josh Ramsay of Mariana’s Trench?