Looking for school holiday fun in Sydney? Take the kids to see a show the whole family will enjoy – and yes, I mean the adults, too. During the September school holidays catch a hilarious new show, The Bockety World of Henry & Bucket at Monkey Baa Theatre Company in Darling Harbour.
The Bockety World of Henry & Bucket is a work by Irish theatre company Barnstorm, and is presented in Australia thanks to Monkey Baa, the preeminent Australian children’s theatre company.
What can you expect from the show? The Bockety World of Henry & Bucket is a story about friendship, told through a day in the life of two friends.
Henry and Bucket are best friends. Like all friendships, their have their ups and downs, battles and reconciliations and shared adventures. Sometimes things go badly and the pair have a falling out. What can they do to fix the problem and make their friendship work?
Through Henry and Bucket’s relationship the audience can explore what it means to be someone’s friend, and how to fix it when things go wrong. Told with humour, poetry and visual antics, The Bockety World of Henry & Bucket is a show that will reinforce the importance of friendship for viewers of all ages.
Monkey Baa are Australia’s widest-reaching touring company, having conducted over 25 national tours to 135 regional and remote communities across every state and territory of Australia, 3 international tours and over 2,500 performances, and engaged with 1.3 million young people.
Make a day of it
Monkey Baa usually has free craft activities and books inside the foyer for kids to enjoy prior to the show.
You can also get lunch at a nearby cafe or bring your own to picnic on the grass if the day is fine.
The Darling Quarter Playground is right outside the theatre, a great spot for kids of all ages although it can get very busy so keep a close eye on kids.
Catch the train to Town Hall and walk down to the theatre or, if you’re driving, park at the Darling Quarter Car Park (weekend rates are excellent).
We had the most incredible week sailing the Disney Wonder up the Inside Passage of Alaska. Our cruise departure date was July 17, 2017 and included the ports of Icy Strait, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. The Disney Wonder sailed out of the port of Vancouver, Alaska.
What to do in Vancouver
We arrived in Vancouver a few days before the ship left so we could acclimatise and also to see more of the city. We spent three very full days in Vancouver and absolutely loved it. Summer in the city is gorgeous and there is lots to do – the guide to what to see and do in Vancouver is here.
Check in at Vancouver Port
The process is very simple. Arrive at your PAT (Port Arrival Time) and follow the signs and directions. We dropped off our luggage (don’t forget to use the bag tags), head to the check in desks to receive our Key To The World cards (as Silver Castaway Club members we received bonus lanyards – otherwise bring your own) as well as the Navigator for the first day (each day onboard the ship you will receive a “Navigator” which is a printed guide to the following day’s activities) and then head through customs.
As the ship starts in Vancouver then sails into the US state of Alaska, you must clear customs before boarding the ship. It was the simplest customs we have ever had to go through. Next was the security check, which we also breezed through, and finally the boarding room.
In the boarding room we took photos with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and then boarded straight away.
We had a sit down lunch at Triton’s restaurant, but the popular buffet restaurant, Cabanas, is also open for lunch and breakfast every day (except for disembarking day). We checked into our room when the luggage arrived, roamed decks, had a quick dip in the pool. The first day was all about checking out our surroundings and settling in before dinner. Each evening guests are allocated one of three restaurants for sit down dining, changing location each night in what’s called the “dining rotation”. Our first evening we were in Triton’s, which is loosely themed on The Little Mermaid.
We came back after dinner to find our room transformed for the evening. The bunk bed was pulled down from the wall and made up for Cheese to sleep on, and we had a cute towel animal on the bed plus the Navigator for the next day’s activities. Each evening this routine was repeated.
Hubby wanted to see a movie that was showing that night, so the kid and I listened to live music in the lobby, hung out in the room together after dinner and went to bed early after watching a spectacular sunset from our balcony.
Day 1: At Sea
We booked our Disney Character Breakfast for the first at-sea day. The breakfast is a free ticketed event that is best booked in advance when your activity booking window opens.
Each session of the character breakfast is held in the Animator’s Palate dining room. We ordered from the menu and met the characters circulating around the tables while waiting for the food to arrive. Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse and Pluto all came by for a visit.
The package included a choice of dress, hairstyling, makeup, nail polish, a face gem, princess sash, crown, wand and a cute little bag to put all her goodies in.
After the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique we head to the atrium for another free, ticketed event, the Princess Meet and Greet (book your tickets online at the same time as your other activities to get the best time for you).
At the Princess Meet and Greet we met Belle, Ariel, Tiana and Cinderella. The princesses made small talk while signing autograph books and taking photos – they are all extremely gracious and a delight to meet.
We lunched at Cabanas and then explored the ship while on the Anna’s Chocolate Chase Scavenger Hunt. The hunt took us all around the ship in search of Frozen-themed clues. The instructions told us to leave the completed form the following morning on our beds to receive a chocolatey surprise.
The first evening on the cruise was “formal night” so we put on kind of dressy clothes and, after taking a few pictures in the lobby, we went to our designated dining rotation in Animator’s Palate. This evening featured a really fun animated show on the video screens plus a surprise appearance by Mickey Mouse dressed as the magician.
After dinner we walked down to the Walt Disney Theatre to watch the Golden Mickeys, a cute show that is a take-off of the Oscars, combined with scenes from Disney movies.
Day 2: Icy Strait Point, Alaska. We spent the morning checking Cheese into kid’s club. For her age group, there is the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab for kids 3-12. They are two separate areas that are connected via a tunnel that the kids love to run up and down.
The Club and Lab both have activities that run each day as well as being open for free play. Characters often visit, such as Spider-Man and the cast of Frozen. While we were waiting to dock, Cheese and I enjoyed one of the many free daily activities that are run all over the ship – 3D Star Wars crafts.
We docked at Icy Strait Point and headed down to check it out after eating lunch. Cheese and I walked around the port and enjoyed the rocky beach, while the rest of the family went on the Whale & Marine Mammals Cruise. Read more about our Icy Strait Point port adventures here.
Cheese and I headed back to the ship to get ready for the Royal Court Royal Tea, a ticketed event for an additional fee that runs once every cruise to a small amount of people. It’s an event that, despite being pricey, books out extremely quickly. You can read about our Royal Court Royal Tea experience in detail here.
We had a lovely afternoon of cakes, meeting princesses and enjoying the songs and storytelling during the Royal Tea event, before heading back out to Icy Strait Point for a walk down one of the nature trails.
We checked back into our room before dinner and found the chocolate prize for completing the scavenger hunt the day before.
Our dining rotation for the evening was the brand new Tiana’s Place, which was our fave restaurant for the attention to detail and ambiance. Live jazz music played during dinner and Tiana herself made the rounds to meet her little fans.
When we returned to our room that evening we had a lovely surprise – a beautiful photo was waiting for us from our Royal Court Royal Tea we had enjoyed earlier that day.
Day 3: Skagway, Alaska
A full day in Skagway meant plenty of time for both an excursion and exploring the town. We booked a tour called Yukon Ho through Skagway Day Trips and highly enjoyed our tour over the Canadian boarder into the Yukon, and fantastic visit to a summer dog sledding camp.
On the tour we held 7-week-old puppies and had a ride on the dog sled, and spotted a bear along the way. Back in town we walked around the historic gold mining era streets before boarding the ship. Read more about our Skagway port adventure here.
Back on board, our dining rotation was Triton’s, followed by the Freezing The Night Away deck party. We donned our light-up snowflakes and made sure we were up on deck in plenty of time. After getting the kid her daily cone of unlimited soft serve, we found her a spot at the front for her to watch the show and gave her and her friends blankets that are stored on the deck incase they felt cold (which they didn’t!).
The deck party featured the whole Frozen cast with lively music and dancing, capped off with “snow” falling from above and silver streamers shooting out across the deck. A highlight night for the kids.
Day 4: Juneau & Tracy Arm, Alaska
A super early morning for us in Juneau so we order room service (available 24 hours a day, room service is free onboard) then meet at what feels like the crack of dawn for our Disney Exclusive Glacier Dog Musher For A Day port adventure. The bonus for us with this excursion over the regular dog mushing ones was the additional time we were given on the glacier with the dogs.
We took an incredibly scenic helicopter flight to the top of the Norris Glacier. In this snowy wonderland we met the dogs and people who lived in complete isolation here during the summer months while training for dog sled races such as the Iditerod.
An incredible few hours flew by where we hugged and patted the dogs, made snow angels on the top of a glacier, and whooshed through the snow on a sled. Playing with the puppies completed the experience, before we were flown back town to Juneau and boarded the ship. Read more about our dog sledding port adventure here.
Our time in Juneau was brief as the ship sailed onwards towards Tracy Arm after lunch. We dropped Cheese off at kid’s club and enjoyed a quiet afternoon on our balcony reading books and watching the amazing scenery as it became more and more glacial. From 4pm onwards Tracy Arm could be viewed from the deck, so we all head up there to take a look.
Dinner rotation was Triton’s again with a Frozen-themed menu. We had an extremely rushed dinner as it was on at the same time as the ship was reaching the peak position to see the glacier.
Up on deck the weather was milder than we had expected. The glacier was right there in front of the ship – we were amazed at how close we were.
The top deck was crowded so after a bit of a look we went back downstairs to our rooms and watched from our balcony instead as we sailed back out of Tracy Arm.
Day 5: Ketchikan, Alaska
Our last point of call, we booked the Neets Bay Bear Watch By Float Plane excursion, which left mid-morning so it wasn’t as rushed as the previous day. We took a shuttle bus to the floatplane base, and then flew to Neets Bay (around 25 minutes away).
Neets Bay is a great spot to see bears as it’s home to a salmon hatchery. Each summer, the salmon return to the hatchery to spawn, which brings the bears in the neighbouring woods out to try their luck at fishing in the stream. We saw about seven black bears on our trip, as well as a few bald eagles.
Back in Ketchikan, there is time to take a walk around the town and look at the totem poles before boarding the ship. A few streets from the port is Creek Street, an historic area that is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts on the east side of Ketchikan Creek.
Creek Street was Ketchikan’s red light district between 1903 and 1954, with over 20 bawdy houses set up for business on the one strip. The area is now a combination of shops, museums and art galleries. Read more about our Ketchikan port adventure here.
Our dining rotation that night was Animator’s Palate, which featured the character drawing event. At each diner’s place is a piece of paper for the person to draw themselves (or anything really!). During the evening all the drawings are collected and scanned, then turned into an incredible animated show around the walls of the restaurant.
The evening also included a “decorate your own cupcake” option for the kids’ dessert, making it our daughter’s favourite night of the cruise.
We decided to head to the Walt Disney Theatre that evening to watch the show Dreams, An Enchanted Classic. It’s a really sweet story about a girl who needs to believe in herself to fly and featured characters such as Peter Pan.
Day 6: At Sea
Our last day on the ship! We had booked the free Frozen meet and greet but Cheese told us she met them in kid’s club already so didn’t want to meet them again. We had already done the meet and greet on our previous trip so didn’t think we were missing too much by letting her cancel.
We spent an incredibly relaxing day with Cheese in kid’s club and us having a coffee at the adult-only Cove Cafe. We used the free time to trying food from the other casual (and included in the price of the cruise) cafes up on deck, where I was served a pretty good veggie burger and fries.
Cheese wasn’t into meeting the characters on this cruise but was keen to meet Minnie Mouse one last time in her Alaskan gear. While I was waiting in line for Minnie I managed to meet Mickey in his Alaskan gear too. I really love how the characters change outfits several times over the course of the cruise so each time you meet them they look different.
Our last dining rotation was at Tiana’s Place again and the theme was mardi gras night. This meant we were handed festive beads to put on, there was more live music, Louis the alligator made an appearance with Tiana, and the whole restaurant was encouraged to get up and dance. We also highly enjoyed the beignets this evening!
The last show for the cruise was the brand new Frozen musical spectacular. Of all the shows we saw on the ship, it was our favourite. The show cleverly blended puppetry, technology and live actors/singers to create a really riveting performance.
Day 7: Disembarking Day
We put out our bags the night before and had an early breakfast in Tiana’s Place. It’s always sad to leave the ship and this time was no exception. After a quick breakfast we collected our carrying bags and walked off the ship, collecting our bags and then catching a taxi to the airport.
The only privately-owned cruise port in Alaska, Icy Strait Point is near the small village of Hoonah on Chichagof Island, about 35 miles west of Juneau. Owned by the Huna Totem Corporation, a group made up of 1,350 Alaskan Natives with ties to Hoonah and the Glacier Bay area.
Icy Strait Point is home to a restored 1912 Alaska salmon cannery and museum, restaurants, shops that are 100% owned by Alaskans, a beach and some beautiful walking trails. It’s also the jumping off point for nature and adventure tours, as well as being home to plenty of wild life such as bears and eagles (we saw a bald eagle in a tree right in port!).
It’s also one of the best places in the world to spot humpback whales in Alaska, with frequent sightings from May to September.
During our visit to Icy Strait Point, our family split into two groups. Cheese and I explored the port solo and then returned to the ship for the Royal Court Royal Tea, and then ventured out again afterwards for some more time on shore.
We wandered down to the beach, threw rocks and investigated the barnacles and crabs living in the rocks, then strolled along the waterfront into the main village area to walk through the cannery and shops. It’s a great little port with a very authentic feel to it, no doubt as a result of being owned and operated by native Alaskans
The rest of the family boarded the 2.5 hr Whale and Marine Mammals Cruise aboard a catamaran that sailed past Chichagof Island to the Point Adolphus area, one of Alaska’s premier whale-watching sites. This area is so full of whales that if you don’t see one, the operators will give you a $100 cash refund.
Before the ship left port we had time to walk around one of the nature trails near the port.
The city of Ketchikan was the last stop on our 7-night cruise up the Inside Passage of Alaska with the Disney Wonder. While the city itself is known for its many Native American totem poles that can be seen around the town and its historic Creek Street district, it’s also a jumping off point to experience some of the natural and wildlife wonders of Alaska.
Nearby is Misty Fiords National Monument, which makes for a popular floatplane trip to see snowcapped mountains, waterfalls and salmon spawning in the streams. Wildlife in the Ketchikan area include black bears, wolves and bald eagles.
We chose on our stop at Ketchikan to take a floatplane to nearby Neets Bay to hopefully see some bears up close (but not too close!). Our trip was organised through Disney Cruise Line, but if you sail with another cruise line to the port you can take the same tour that we did through Taquan Air.
Neets Bay is 40miles north of downtown Ketchikan – a 25 min plane ride or 35 min by boat. it’s a prime spot to see black bears from late July through early September because the bay is also home to the Neets Bay fish hatchery, where thousands of Coho, Chinook, & Chum salmon return every year in early June to swim upstream and spawn. The salmon attract the bears and the bears attract the people!
For our floatplane and bear watching adventure, we are picked up at the cruise port and transferred by by to the waterfront base where the planes depart. It’s about a 15-minute drive. We watch a safety video before boarding our plane, and then an approximately 25 min flight to Neets Bay. The plane ride is bumpier than expected and for the first time ever, Cheese and I feel motion sick in the air.
On the ground at Neets Bay, we are given a tour of the hatchery on the way to the bear viewing platform. It’s as short 1/4 mile/400m walk through the rainforest and during the walk we learn about the different kinds of salmon, their life cycle and the bears who live in the forest and return every year.
The observation area we are led to has two small undercover gazebo areas where we stand when the rain comes down. The stream directly in front of is teams with salmon and it’s not long before we see bears ambling down to the river to try their hand at fishing.
Despite the abundant number of salmon in the stream, the bears don’t manage to catch any while we are watching. We see about seven different bears during our stay, as well as several bald eagles.
When our time at the river is up we walk back to the waterfront to catch our floatplane back to Ketchikan. During our walk back through the rainforest we come across a black bear only a metre or so away.
The bear was somewhat startled to see us, but was quite relaxed about having several cameras snapping photos not too far away. I guess the bears who return continually to Neets bay have learned that they get a free food buffet but in return have to put up with the paparazzi.
Back in Ketchikan, there is time to take a walk around the town and look at the totem poles before boarding the ship. A few streets from the port is Creek Street, an historic area that is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts on the east side of Ketchikan Creek.
Creek Street was Ketchikan’s red light district between 1903 and 1954, with over 20 bawdy houses set up for business on the one strip. The area is now a combination of shops, museums and art galleries.
NOTE: There is no food allowed on this trip as it attracts the bears. Be sure to feed kids a BIG meal before boarding the floatplane. There are bathrooms and water available at the hatchery. Ketchikan has a very we climate and there will be a high chance of rain when you visit so dress accordingly.
The port of Skagway in southeast Alaska is a popular stop on the Inside Passage cruise route. The town itself is an historic city with gold-rush-era buildings that have been preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
On our stop in Skagway we took the “Yukon Ho” tour with Skagway Day Trips, a local company that specialise in intimate tours.
Our Yukon Ho tour was a four-hour adventure from seal level to 3300 ft over the White Pass Summit, through the Tormented Valley and into the Yukon territory in Canada.
During our Yukon Ho tour we made several stops to admire the spectacular scenery including the “Welcome the Alaska” and “Welcome to the Yukon” signs that make for great photo ops.
The highlight of the tour was a stop at the Tutshi Lake Musher’s Camp where we met and played with 7-week-old Alaskan Husky puppies and added a dog sled ride to our tour package.
While at the musher’s camp we learned more about the life of the Alaskan Huskies and the people who race them in the annual Iditarod competition through snowy Alaska. The camp’s owner, Michelle Phillips, placed 13th in the race in 2017, making her the highest ranking dog musher to be currently running dog sledding tours.
We learned that the purpose of the summer training camp that we visited was to train younger dogs while keeping the team in shape for race season. Alaskan Huskies are a mixed breed that combines breeds such as Siberian Huskies, greyhounds, vizsla and mastiffs to create the perfect race dog.
The dogs were a lot smaller than we had expected. As they are bred to be marathon runners, they are quite light in weight. Their coats were also not as big and fluffy as we had expected, yet when we ran our hands through the fur we could feel the thick layers that make the dogs so suitable for the cold.
On the day we visited it was a mild day yet still required us to wear warm layers – the dogs, however, were unbearably hot and had sprinklers on them while they rested in the shade.
Our dog sled ride was a fun run through some gorgeous scenery, with the dogs yipping in excitement the entire way.
Playing with puppies were another special experience we enjoyed at the mushing camp. As visitors, we provided them with much-needed socialisation that will help them acclimatise themselves to the presence of strangers in the future.
This is particularly important as when the dogs race they are in contact with large numbers of unfamiliar people and dogs so need to be able to cope with environments that are very different to the quiet, isolated part of Alaska where they train during the year.
After a few swings on what was the biggest swing any of us had ever seen, we were back in the van, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife.
While the tours can’t promise animal spottings, we were fortunate to see a deer and grizzly bear on the side of the road.
After a stop to skip rocks and a few more photo ops, we arrived in Skagway with enough time to walk around the town to check out the historic buildings before boarding our ship, the Disney Wonder.
The Novotel hotels are renowned for their well-priced, comfortably appointed rooms situated in convenient locations. They’re a staple of our holidays as they hit the right price point for us and are a good mix of family-friendly, trendy and ultra convenient.
Our stay at the Novotel Brisbane was exactly as we had anticipated it to be. The hotel is rated as 4.5 star accommodation, featuring 296 contemporary guest rooms and suites. With a location that is only a four-minute walk from Central station, 1.8km from Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and Queensland Museum and a short stroll down to Brisbane’s Eagle Street Pier and Queen Street Mall, it’s a great location to spend a few days seeing all the sights in Brisbane.
The Novotel Brisbane is a modern hotel with bright, cheery rooms. Ours included two double beds, a sofa, iPod dock, flat-screen TV, WiFi (additional fee unless you’re an Accor member) and tea and coffeemaking facilities.
Other features in the hotel include a large outdoor pool, gymnasium and sauna, plus a kids’ corner in reception and three dining options: “The Pantry”, where the breakfast buffet and evening dining are served, “GourmetBar”, which is a relaxed place to eat or have a coffee throughout the day (and a drink at night!), plus the external cafe, “Two Donkeys”, which is perfect for a grab ‘n’ go coffee or brunch.
GourmetBar was our fave dining option and we highly enjoyed our meal of pizza, mac and cheese and burger with fries.
One of the things we love about visiting the Novotel hotels is their excellent kids’ welcome packs. They’re a great way to encourage families to stay as they really tell guests that they, and their children aren’t just welcome, they are going to be well looked after. The welcome pack at the Novotel Brisbane included an activity book, foam picture pack, popcorn, colouring in, markers and more. It was a huge hit with Cheese and kept her entertained for ages.
We also received complimentary water in our room and milk cartons in the fridge.
If you bring a car and need to park it at the hotel, undercover self parking is available for $35 (Mon-Fri) or $25 (Sat & Sun).
Noosa’s only 5-star luxury hotel is the relaxing, elegant and sophisticated Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort. Located in the heart of Hastings Street with its hip cafes and boutiques, and close to the beautiful Noosa beachfront, the hotel has a relaxed beach vibe to its 176 spacious studios, suites and villas.
Inline with the classic Sofitel brand, guests at the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort are greeted with a cheery ‘Bonjour’ when they check in – a little touch of France on the Sunshine Coast.
The Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort is renowned for its spacious rooms. Mine, at 55 square feet, is so big that I get lost in it when trying to get from the entrance to the bedroom and through the walk in closet back to the entrance again. It is the largest hotel room I have ever stayed in.
My room is perfection, from the comfortable bed with elegant covers and crisp sheets, to the excellent kitchenette facilities (including a kettle, microwave and toaster), work desk and dedicated living room space. There’s room for not just my suitcase but a family of four’s.
The entire hotel exudes relaxed luxury, from the bright and elegant lobby with comfy couches for lounging on, to the delightful outdoor pool area, with tropical landscaping, plenty of beach chairs for lounging, and a swim up bar in the middle of the pool. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxing beach vacation.
For families visiting the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, the hotel offers a kids’ menu, resort activities particularly during school holidays and use of their beach boogie boards, buckets and spades.
As the hotel is just a 2-minute walk from the Noosa Main Beach, the location is perfect for sun-seekers who want to stay a few days and just relax.
The Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort also features a casual restaurant, lobby bar and wine cellar. We dine in the restaurant the following morning and highly enjoy the made-to-order omelettes and freshly cut fruit.
My stay at the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort was brief but highly enjoyable. I would recommend this hotel to anyone staying in the Noosa area who is after a touch of luxury on their next beach holiday.
Australia Zoo, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, is famous for two things: the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, and his saltwater crocs. What is less well-known is the zoo’s strong conservation focus and role in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, as well as the many other furry and scaly animal residents who call Australia Zoo their home.
The zoo is a family affair, and it always has been. Australia Zoo’s story began in 1970 when Steve’s parents, Bob and Lyn, bought four acres of land in Beerwah, where the zoo stands today, with the intention of building a wildlife park. The park opened and eventually passed down to Steve to manage with his wife Terri in 1992, when Bob and Lyn retired. It was rebranded as Australia Zoo the same year.
Australia Zoo has expanded over the years and is now spread over 105 acres, home to over 1,200 animals. In 2002 Australia Zoo’s non-profit organisation Wildlife Warriors Worldwide was established by Steve and Terri Irwin; a non-profit organisation designed to support the protection of injured, threatened or endangered wildlife.
In 2004 the zoo’s next major conservation project opened: the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.
The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is a 24/7 community service that treats all Australian native wildlife. The facilities include a veterinary hospital with an intensive care room and laboratory, outdoor holding facilities, and an orphan enclosure for hand-raised koalas to develop climbing skills and minimise contact with human carers before being released back into the bush.
From a humble beginning, set up in a converted avocado packing shed, the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is now Australia’s largest wildlife hospital has treated over 70,000 sick, injured and orphaned wildlife since opening; an average of 5,500 animals each year.
When planning your day at the zoo, take note that it’s a really big place and you’ll need a full day to see everything – and even then you’ll probably miss a few things. There are so many animals, experiences and shows to enjoy that it’s hard to know where to begin.
We highly enjoyed our experience at Australia Zoo: the zoo itself is in fantastic condition, the animals well-cared for, and there’s plenty for kids to enjoy. From statues climb on, fossil pits to dig in and a free jumping castle, you’ll be hard-pressed to get kids to look at the actual animals!
If you’re making a special day of the zoo, put these must-do experiences on your itinerary:
The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital
A small donation (that goes to funding the hospital) gives you entry to the hospital. We enjoyed seeing behind the scenes of the great work carried out by the vets and carers. While we were visiting we met a few orphan possums and joeys being cared for by locals, as well as a koala who has been brought in for surgery and rehabilitation.
Climb up the three-storey treehouse and get up close to ring-tailed lemurs, who freely roam this area, as well as giant Aldabran Tortoises and colourful macaws.
Grab a seat in the shade and enjoy an incredible free-flight bird show and saltwater crocodiles stalking the keepers.
African Safari Shuttle
Hop aboard and experience the wide open plains of the African Savannah without leaving the zoo. Giraffe, rhino and zebra roam the enclosures – keep an eye out for the cheetah!
Our favourite part of the day was meeting these beautiful animals up close. Book well in advance to meet animals such a koala, wombat, macaw, snake, lizard or echidna – the experience is well worth it!
There are also plenty of animals who roam the zoo during the day that you don’t need to pay extra to meet, such as this wombat taking a walk, kangaroos and lizards.
1638 Steve Irwin Way, Beerwah QLD
Hours: Open daily, 9am-5pm, every day except Christmas Day. australiazoo.com.au
We were hosted during our visit to Australia Zoo as part of the Australia Society of Travel Writers Annual General Meeting. We paid for the echidna experience ourselves. All opinions are my own.
Additional photos courtesy of Australia Zoo / Ben Beaden
An icy breeze blows against our faces and the high pitched sounds of excited dogs yipping fills the air. We’re racing at high speed through a snowy winter wonderland, pulled by a team of 12 strong, extremely enthusiastic dogs who live to race. High up on a glacier in remote Alaska, this remarkable experience is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that we can’t believe is actually happening.
On this special day, we’re dog sledding with the mushers and sled dogs of the Iditarod, an annual race that sees teams of people and canines pitch themselves against each other in a race across an arctic landscape. It’s a battle of endurance, speed and survival.
High up on the Norris Glacier we visit their training camp. It’s a chance to not only see natural beauty that is so spectacular that it makes your heart ache, but also an opportunity to get a glimpse at the unique way of life for the people who dedicate their entire lives to their dogs.
The opportunity for this incredible experience comes while we are in Juneau, Alaska. We get picked up by staff from Era Helicopters at the dock where our ship, the Disney Wonder, had parked early that morning. A quick bus ride to the heliport and we are given a life vest, a weigh-in and watch a safety video. No bags, water bottles etc are allowed on the helicopter and must be placed in a locker before boarding. My daughter and I wear waterproof boots, but snow booties are supplied for those wearing sneakers.
Each group and their seating assignment is decided on weight to ensure an even distribution in the helicopter. In ours, my husband and our daughter, Cheese, sit up front and I get placed in the rear next to a window.
It’s Cheese’s first helicopter flight and we aren’t sure how she will go. It’s an exhilarating (and potentially terrifying) experience for adults, so for a five-year-old, we have no idea what to expect. She’s really quiet when we board and while we are taking off, but, once we are in the air and she discovers the “talk” button, it’s game on and we have a running commentary of every amazing detail she spots out the window: mountains, glaciers and tiny buildings nestled into the ice.
The flight from Juneau to the Norris Glacier lasts about 20 minutes. We get a bird’s-eye view of the glaciers and can see the vibrant blue of newly-calved ice. Our pilot, Ryan, talks us through the glaciers and points out which had receded and which advanced back to the same level each year. Most are receding more and more each year. It’s a confronting look at the effects of global warming.
On the Norris Glacier we are met by the Alaska Heli Mush crew, who take us to meet the sled dogs, AKA the stars of the show. 20 people and almost 200 dogs live on top of this remote glacier during summer, with their entire lives devoted to training. As the only way to get to the glacier site is by helicopter, the entire camp must be flown up the same way that we did – via helicopter, with special dog boxes made to carry about 12 dogs per flight. In September the dogs and camp are all flown back off the glacier, with the camp being stored in a warehouse and the sled dogs continuing their training and racing in other homes.
The dogs we have flown so far to meet are in training to run the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which is held every March in Alaska over a distance of 1,049 miles (1688 km). Mushers and a team of 16 dogs complete the race in 8–15 days, through the harshest of terrains – through forests, over hills and mountain passes, in the coldest conditions imaginable. The Iditarod race, which began in 1973, is highly competitive and a win is incredibly prestigious.
We learn that the sled dogs who run the Iditarod are “Alaskan huskies”, which is actually not a breed, but rather category of dog. An Alaskan Husky is generally a mix of many different breeds that each give the dogs various strengths, such as Siberian Huskies, Greyhounds and German Shorthaired Pointers. The dogs are selectively bred to create dogs that have the desired traits of speed, stamina, good feet, size, and coat type.
We are introduced to the dogs one at a time and learn their names, plus a bit about their personalities, then gave their coats a brush and assist giving the dogs a wellness check. They’re much friendlier than we had expected working dogs to be, and greet us with face licks if we’re not fast enough to get out of the way.
Next is strapping on their snow booties (only some of the dogs need them to protect their feet from the water, not the cold) and harness them up, ready for the ride. Our sled is led by two dogs both called “Otter”. One is bred for endurance and one for speed. As the racing dogs are around large groups of people and other animals when they race, it’s important for them to be well socialised, so the cuddle time we have with the dogs is beneficial to both dogs and visitors alike.
After a quick lesson in how to drive the sled, we jump on and are off, racing in the snow. The dogs know what’s coming and literally leap with excitement at the chance to run. It’s so hot for the dogs that they’ve been lying in the snow to cool off, while we’re so cold that we pull our beanies down over our ears and tuck chins into our fleeces.
With the two Otters leading our team of dogs, we glide through the snow to the tune of our musher’s commands of “Hike!” “Gee!” and “Haw!”, and Cheese’s gleeful cry, “Mush, mush!”. We each take turns driving the sleds as we race through the snowy glacier top, with awe-inspiring scenery on every side. Snow-capped mountains reach high around us, as we glide through a winter wonderland that photographs can’t do justice.
When our sled ride is complete, we feed the dogs a treat and thank them for the ride with hugs and pats. One of the Otters, we learn, is a particular softie who sleeps inside with the musher and does an incredible job as a heater. Running our hands through their thick, soft coats it’s easy to understand how these dogs thrive in cold climates.
We say a sad goodbye to our new canine friends and are taken on a tour of the rest of the camp, which consists of 10 living tents, a cook tent, vet clinic and community tent. No Internet, cell phones, or TV – the crew live completely off the grid on their remote glacier with the absolute basics. The life of a musher is a simple one that is 100% about the dogs they care for.
Our tour continues with puppies, who will in time be trained as sled dogs. They meet us with joyful licks and wiggling tails; 7-month-old babies who benefit from the socialisation visitors like us give them as much as it gives us joy to play with them.
Cheese merrily chases the puppies and tumbles with them in the snow in a pile of canine and human limbs and icy snowflakes flying in the air. Her dislike for the snow pants we made her wear is forgotten as she lies on her back and makes snow angels, and throw giant snowballs at our heads.
Just before the helicopters arrive to take us back to Juneau, we are served freshly baked cookies, snacks and hot drinks in a heated tent, which is exactly the thawing out we need after a few hours playing in the snow.
We arrive back in port after our return helicopter flight in awe of the experience we have just had. Have we really just flown to a glacier? Have we really just mushed dogs through the snow? When we say it out loud it sounds like a dream or a scene from a movie that doesn’t happen to regular people like us.
We flick through the photos and videos in disbelief that this magical day has been ours. It’s true, this memory is real and has left a snowy pawprint in our hearts that we will never forget.
Vancouver is a blend of spectacular scenery, vibrant culture and city living. It’s also easy to get around, clean and safe – as well as packed with activities that the entire family will enjoy. Whether you’re into winter skiing or summer fun, Vancouver should be on your family’s travel bucket list.
Grouse Mountain is an all-season attraction in Vancouver, Canada. While in winter the mountain is a popular ski resort, it has plenty to entertain visitors all year ’round.
Often called the “Peak of Vancouver”, catching North America’s largest areal tramway to the top will take you to 1,200 m (4,000 feet) in altitude at its peak. Visit the two rescued grizzly who live in the wildlife refuge up the top of the mountain, watch the raptor bird demonstration or enjoy the famous lumberjack show.
We visited Grouse Mountain after Capilano Suspension Bridge. The two attractions make for an excellent single day outing.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a popular attraction in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Originally built in over the Capilano River in 1889, the bridge has been rebuilt numerous times over the years and has grown in popularity for adventurous tourists visiting Vancouver. The Capilano Suspension Bridge stretches 450 feet (137m) across and 230 feet (70m) above Capilano River.
While the bridge is the main attraction, there are other activities that have been added to the park that engage visitors in exploring nature -Treetops Adventure, a series of seven smaller suspension bridges attached to eight 30 ton, 250 year old Douglas-firs and CLIFFWALK a cantilevered walkway attached to the granite cliff above Capilano Canyon.
We visited to Capilano Suspension Bridge in the morning, catching the 8:30am free shuttle from downtown. We spent two hours at Capilano and then caught the local 236 bus to Grouse Mountain, a five-minute drive down the road.
Stanley Park Stanley Park is a 405-hectare urban oasis in the centre of Vancouver, BC Canada. It’s free to enjoy this public park, which features the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path.
The 28km Seaside Greenway includes Stanley Park Seawall, and extends from Vancouver Convention Centre to Spanish Banks Park. The flat, wide path is perfect for biking, walking or jogging, and is completely accessible for wheelchairs and strollers alike.
Stanley Park is is surrounded almost entirely by Vancouver Harbour and English bay, resulting in stunning water views from the waterfront path. Inland, the park features more than 27 kilometres of forest trails, with majestic trees, beaches, wildlife and outdoor artworks scattered around it. Vancouver Aquarium is also located in Stanley Park (additional fee for entry).
Stanley Park features four playgrounds, one splash park and two pools for kids to enjoy. Visit the totem poles to teach kids about storytelling, symbolism and the First Nation people.
Granville Island Once a place where factories, plants and sawmills flourished, Granville Island has reinvented itself as a tourist and local hub for food, art and culture.
Technically a sandspit and not an island, the neighbourhood can be found south of the downtown peninsula, under the Granville Bridge. The industrial feel remains, but the buildings now hold the popular Granville Island Public Market, the Kids Market, theatres, artisan workshops and craft studios.
Take little ones to the Kids Market, a two-story kid-centric warehouse filled with over 25 stores, a play area, games arcade and bistro. The stores stock books, clothes, toys, crafts, magic, games and costumes. The Kids Market is housed in an 100-year-old factory, two annex buildings and a train caboose. Outside there is a water park for kids to splash in.
Meet sea lions, penguins, rays, sharks, otters and more at the Vancouver Aquarium. Located in stunning Stanley Park, the aquarium is not only home to thousands of ocean species, it’s also the headquarters of Ocean Wise, an organisation dedicated to education and conservation. vanaqua.org
Vancouver Art Gallery Housed in a former courthouse in downtown Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery has plenty to offer visiting families. Visit on Sundays to enjoy the weekly activities offered for kids aged 12 and under. vanartgallery.bc.ca
Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood is a delightful mix of cobblestone streets, storybook buildings and vintage lampposts. This part of the city dates back to 1867. Stroll along Water Street, shop for souvenirs, grab a bite to eat, and watch the Steam Clock whistle and shoot steam every quarter hour.
Where to eat
While we didn’t have a bad meal in Vancouver, the standout for us was our meal at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown. Very reasonably priced Italian food in a cool setting, with a great kids’ menu and activity sheet to boot.
Taxis are a relatively affordable way to get around. We stayed in downtown Vancouver and were able to walk to most areas easily. Visitors can also use the local bus network.
Where to stay
We enjoyed our stay at The Burrard, a retro, chic, boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Vancouver. This budget-friendly hotel has an excellent location, close to the main shopping district and near plenty of restaurants, plus a kid-friendly courtyard area with a ping pong table.
Typical rates are similar to the USA:
Restaurant wait staff 15%
Bar servers $1 per drink
Hotel bellhops $1 to $2 per bag
Taxis 10% to 15%
Visas Visas aren’t required for visitors from the US, the Commonwealth and most of Western Europe for stays up to 180 days. Visa-exempt foreign nationals visiting Canada (excludingUS citizens and those who already have a valid Canadian visa) require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). For more information on the eTA, see http://www.canada.ca/eta.
Best time to visit If you’re visiting to experience snow sports, visit in December to March.
The warmest months are June to September.
Visit during Spring and fall for great weather and reduced hotel rates.