When it comes to gifts, it’s easy to think of the type that come in a box wrapped with a bow. But as time goes on, the notion of giving an experience is becoming increasingly popular – and for good reason. Not only do such gifts tend to have way less waste that needs to be recycled or thrown out, but they lead to less clutter around the house after the holidays. Depending on the experience, it can also be a chance to learn something new, gain a special skill, or simply be a fun outing for the whole family.
Best of all, it’s an opportunity to create a special memory that will last for years. If you’re putting together a holiday shopping list right now, consider replacing a few traditional under-the-tree type gifts with a special experience – no matter the age of the recipient, there’s something to suit everyone. Here’s a few ideas for families in the Vancouver area:
Set the Stage and Raise the Curtain
Live theatre and musical events are an ideal outing for all ages. Find one that’s a good match for the ages and interests of your children. Check out our round-up of holiday shows if you want a “right now” activity, and explore some of the local arts organizations to find out about shows coming in the new year if you want to put some tickets under the tree.
Fun That Lasts All Year
Here’s an easy way to give a gift that truly lasts all year long: pick up an annual membership to a place that your kids love visiting, and you’ll be able to go any time. In most cases, even visiting a handful of times will pay for the cost of the membership. Telus World of Science, the Vancouver Aquarium, or the Greater Vancouver Zoo are all big family favourites. A family pass at Reifel Bird Sanctuary is a low-cost way to access the trails and outdoor beauty all year long on Westham Island outside Ladner. Or how about an annual recreation pass in your own community: in Surrey, a family recreation pass covers drop-in swimming and drop-in activities at every rec facility. Or plan ahead for a summer pass at Playland – you can’t buy it yet, but gift a “coupon” that can be traded in by your kids come May, then spend the summer riding high.
Tea for Two … or the Whole Crew
Take a special time out with an afternoon of tea. Want to really make a day of it? Hop on a ferry and enjoy the world-renowned high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria (don’t forget to make a reservation, of course.) If that’s a tad extravagant, there are options close to home with beautiful settings, wonderful food, and of course, plenty of tea to tempt the tastebuds of kids and adults. Many local tea houses have a special menu for children, with juice or cocoa in lieu of the tea. Check out Neverland Tea Salon on West Broadway, Secret Garden Tea Company in Kerrisdale, or La Petite Cuillère in Mount Pleasant, to find out what kind of tea party you can plan.
Back in the Saddle
It might just be the most requested gift of all time. There are few kids who haven’t asked for (or imagined having) a pony or horse all for themselves. But for children in urban areas, it’s not particularly easy to have your own – but it is possible, with a short drive and some advance planning, to enjoy a visit with some horses, take some riding lessons, or head out on a trail ride. Back in the Saddle Again and Langley 204 both offer reasonably-priced rides for young children starting at $25. At Maplewood Farms, you can book one attendant and one pony for an hour, so siblings or friends can join in the fun. If your child wants to learn to ride, Southlands Heritage Farms offers lessons for kids as young as three, while Leghorn Ranch in Pitt Meadows has lessons for those aged four and older.
Here’s a free gift that will help you explore your own community. Check out the regional district park map, and then create a calendar to visit them one by one – pack a picnic lunch (or hot cocoa in a thermos, depending on the time of year) and discover the trails, parks, lakes, and more in your own backyard. Pick up a backpack, and fill it with a few supplies – along with the list of parks you’ll be visiting – for a surprise under the tree that will lead to fun for months. Once you’ve explored all the regional parks, check out your local municipality parks – or the Parks Canada destinations that may be close to home, too.
A Good Old Hockey Game
There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere in a big-league hockey game. Check out a Vancouver Canucks game to see some of the sport’s biggest superstars. The Vancouver Giants, the local Western Hockey League team, is a great alternative for amazing hockey at a slightly lower price point. They also play at a smaller arena, so little ones, in particular, can get a better look at all the action. Pick up tickets now, and enjoy an outing in the new year when the holiday fun has passed – then make a night of it with a dinner out before or after.
Encouraging the Arts
Have a little artist on your hands? Why not water their blossoming interest and talents with some hands-on art lessons. Check out the offerings at Collage Collage on Main Street, 4Cats (various locations) and Arts Umbrella (Granville Island, Surrey) for one-on-one opportunities, group lessons, and more. There’s a wide variety of options depending on age and interests. And if you’re interested in a family activity, some of the painting lessons with Yaymaker are offered for children, too.
Get on the Road
What better way to spend some time together, then a short getaway. There’s plenty of choices within a short distance, whether you’re keen on an outdoor adventure, indoor fun, natural beauty or more.
Harrison Hot Springs Resort is well known for its unique natural hot springs pools. Close enough to to the city for a one- or two-night getaway, it’s a perfect location for families. In winter, enjoy a long walk along the lagoon and sink into the warm pools at the hotel; in summer, enjoy a swim in the lake and an ice cream cone from one of the many vendors in town.
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, near Tacoma, is home to 40 species of animals native to the northwest region. Take a tram through meadows and forests where moose, bison, bighorn sheep and elk roam freely. Explore walking trails and safely see bears, wolves, cougars, beavers, and otters in their natural habitat. When the kids want to play, there’s a nature-inspired playground and zip line course. There’s no lodging in the park, but Tacoma and Seattle are within an hour’s drive.
Great Wolf Lodge, south of Seattle, will keep everyone in the family entertained. In addition to a big indoor waterpark with slides and a wave pool, there are kid-friendly attractions such as storytime, mini-golf, an arcade, and a ropes course. There are plenty of dining options to keep everybody fuelled, as well as a fitness centre, spa, and shopping. Everything the family needs is under one roof, making it a low-stress getaway for you.