How a post-holiday winter getaway helped us start the new year right

In partnership with Great Wolf Lodge and in partnership and published through Today’s Parent

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Recently, our crew managed to get away for a little bit of luxury and a whole lot of play at Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  I expected it to be a getaway “just for the kids,” but I quickly realized that this place is incredible for kids of all ages! The resort featured an incredible indoor waterpark, on-site dining options, a great list of activities and attractions to choose from, and accommodations and hospitality were off the chart. They have everything you need, which is great because my focus was enjoying the much-needed downtime after such an action-packed holiday.

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Get comfy in a cozy cottage

I say “our cozy cottage” because the lodging really felt like home. In fact, my little guy said just that as he walked up to the door. He’s a great traveler, but when any destination requires an overnight stay, he’ll have sad moments throughout the trip where he tells us that he misses his bed and wants to go home. But this go around, there was nothing like that. He was amazed at how cool the cottage was, how his plaid jacket matched the décor—yes, I purposely dressed our family to match—and the kids room made him feel like a big boy. On the second floor, there are two bunk beds that both my boys still fought over, a bathroom that they reluctantly shared and an additional room which they called the games room with a magnetic tic-tac-toe wall board.

The main floor space is remarkable with its high ceilings, a fully equipped kitchen, a gas fireplace and a luxury master ensuite. Their cottages can accommodate up to 10 people and for those travelling with multiple families, their semi-detached cottages have optional adjoining doors. The cottages are secluded and separate from the main building, which I really liked.  To get back to the main building they offer a shuttle pick up/drop off, you can drive over, or you can walk, which is approximately five minutes. But as you know, with kids in tow, the five minutes could take between 15 to 20!

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Take advantage of what your destination has to offer

I don’t know where I got this idea, but I thought I’d be spending my trip following the kids around, being their bag lady while I watched them enjoy the waterpark and activities. Yes, Great Wolf Lodge is a kid-friendly resort known for its indoor water park; however, their range of activities is quite impressive. We spent more time at the attractions and activities than the waterpark itself, and we weren’t mad about it.

When visiting GWL, I would recommend purchasing a Paw Pass. It’s great for the entire family and you get the best bang for your buck. The Paw Pass is a bundled way to save on the Great Wolf Attractions. The kids head over to each attraction listed on the pass, complete it, have it crossed off and then move onto the next. It created a friendly competition for the boys. We had a great time at the Northern Lights Arcade and Ten Paw Alley, and they picked out a sweet fudge treat at the Bear Claw Café. But the attraction that won us over as a family was MagiQuest, where you choose a magic wand with special powers and go off on a quest throughout the building. It was so interactive and engaging.  We were so caught up in the magic that we completed seven of the nine quests.Processed with VSCO with s2 preset

Make sure there are good eats for your wolf pack

While we had a fully equipped kitchen available, we decided not to cook. The dining options were perfect for an overnight stay. A quick lunch at Bucket Incredible Craveables, which is accessible in the waterpark, was a perfect meal to tide us over until the family dinner buffet at Antler Shanty. They have a great mix of healthy options and comfort food to fill one’s plate. And of course, this mama wolf needs her caffeine, and Canoe Coffee did not disappoint.

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Our family getaway during the winter season was really good for the soul. Canadian winters can be tough and honestly it didn’t take a lot to get away: just an hour and a half from Toronto, we were able to pull the trip off with minimal packing and planning. I’ll definitely be back with my wolf pack.

Tips for Cruising With Kids

You booked your cruise and the family is ready to set sail.  Well, all aboard!!!!  We took our first family cruise last month and I wish I could say we researched and prepped but we didn’t.  I’ve cruised with the hubby (before kids) and with our previous family travels, we agreed to just go with the flow and have fun.   Sharing tips on the experience and what we learned being at sea:

Arrive at Least One Day before Sailing

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If you think the stress of having to travel to a destination is high, can you imagine having to fly or drive in the day the ship sails with kids in tow. Those cruise ships don’t wait for you and you’ll be paying a hefty penny to get to that next port. I’d recommend arriving at least a day early to give the family time to adjust and to move at a snails pace.  We were boarding at the San Pedro Cruise Port Terminal about 45 minutes from LA, so we flew in a few days early to hang with friends and explore with no agenda.

Bring Books, Homework, Toys and Games

You’d think that on a cruise, you could keep kids busy.  You definitely can, but we found that travelling as a family with young kids, we spent a lot of time in the room at the start and at the end of the day.  We didn’t want the boys to be watching TV the entire time.  For all our trips, the boys always packed books, toys and games.  For this trip, on the whim we took the boys to  Barnes and Nobles and as a treat they picked out activity books to keep them busy.  I was surprised and actually impressed that they worked on their activity book every night for about 30 minutes.

Boarding the Ship and Organizing Yourself on Day One

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When you board the ship, having access to your room may take a few of hours so bring a carry on with goodies just for your kids (LOL). We had  swimming gear, toys and books on hand just in case.  But really the first few hours spent on the ship, we ate, explored and relaxed a bit.

Once you have access to your room, organize yourself. Space is tight in the stateroom on a cruise ship and unlike an Air BnB or hotel where you can leave a suitcase out for easy access, you don’t have that same luxury. Ask your room steward for tips on organizing and any hidden drawers that you can use, then unpack everything and leave what you don’t need in the suitcase in the closet.

Cha-Ching! Have Cash On Hand

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Having cash on hand, it gave us negotiating power not only with the cab drivers, but with my boys.  We rely so heavily on easy payment with a card, and with our trip through Mexico it was handy to have cash for shopping at the market, transportation and eating local like my little guy above.

NOTE: withdraw cash from home to avoid the out of country bank fees.

On Board Kids Care aka Babysitting Options

I would highly recommend putting the kids into the cruise line’s Kids Care Service (On Norweigan, they had Splash Academy). Hubby and I were so excited for them to go play and we were excited for ourselves to have a date of some sort, but my boys refused to go in. By the end of the trip, we were itching for some time alone and on our last day at sea, I bribed my boys with cash and it was worth every penny.

Room with a Balcony?

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My first time cruising with hubby we opted out of a balcony. We figured that we’d hang out to watch the sunrise/sunset and enjoy the water from one of the deck chairs. Rarely happened, but we didn’t regret it. Booking a balcony this time around with kids, we opted for it because we thought it would be fun. You can save yourself the money, but for us unknowingly it was money well spent. When you have kids, and depending on their age and mood, you could be spending a great deal of time in your cabin. And on our first cruise with the boys, we did just that. They slept in and after each meal always asked to go back to the room to chill and watch TV.  Also, if you’re an early riser, being steps away from the balcony to watch the sunrise is bliss!

NOTE: it’s important to set the rules before boarding the ship with the kids and talking about balcony safety is a MUST.  We were always on their case.

Self Arranged Tours

We decided to not purchase excursions through the Cruise Ship. Not because we didn’t want to, we just didn’t have the time to research.  And in the end, it actually worked out in our favour.  We woke up every morning and took our time easing into our day and I would say by noon, we were ready to explore.  We made our way off the ship and took a car service to explore and typically ended up on a beach.

Quick and easy tips and with that, happy sailing!

XOXO

Sunshine