The Easter weekend was coming, and we had covid credits to burn, so a quick family getaway to Toronto seemed like a solid plan. It would never have been worth it if we were paying out of pocket, but since the flight and the hotel were already covered, going all that way for three nights wasn’t totally crazy.
Plus, you know what they say: you’ll never regret spending money on experiences rather than things.
Our credits got us a deluxe room at the venerable Royal York Hotel, which was far too classy for the likes of us. The lobby was full of well-dressed, well-moneyed people with stacks of luggage, and there we were in our track pants and backpacks. Kind of felt like the Clampetts. That said, we did get the royal treatment on account of being “preferred customers” (we signed up for their loyalty program a few days beforehand) which was pretty cool.
We spent our first full day on a bus tour to Niagara Falls. It was a long drive to look at some waterfalls, but it was one of those landmarks you just want to say you’ve seen (like Stonehenge). We spent a few minutes taking pictures, then went for an incredibly expensive lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. Cheesy, I know, but we had fond memories of that restaurant from our first trip to Disneyland (c’mon, the thunderstorm is cool) and we were willing to splurge. Afterward, Justin and I played some mini golf while Chris and Brayden looked at souvenirs. A good day.
Sports was a major focus of the trip, since Toronto offers attractions that can be found nowhere else: the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Blue Jays. We’ve toured a few other sports halls of fame, but the kids had never seen anything like the room that showcases the Stanley Cup along with every other major hockey trophy. Very cool.
The highlight of the trip was getting to see a Jays game in Rogers Centre. We don’t get too many opportunities to see pro baseball–I’ve been to a Mariners game and Chris and I saw the Jays in Boston, but it was amazing to be part of the home crowd. The only downer was that the roof was closed, since it was about -5 outside…but we still enjoyed it immensely.
This was our first in-person murder party in two years, and I was almost afraid to look forward to it in case it didn’t actually happen (we postponed it a couple weeks so people could have a chance to get their boosters, plus we had everyone take an antigen test the day of the party…if anyone had come up positive, we would’ve been screwed!)
But it all worked out in the end. I went all-in on decorations, as usual, which this year meant getting Justin to spend three hours helping me put up stone walls. The overall effect was so amazing that I’m seriously considering painting that whole room a darker colour.
I managed to repurpose some items, too. The long table with the burgundy tablecloth, greenery, and candles is exactly what we used for both the Roman party in 2018 and the farytale party in 2013 (yes, we’ve been doing these parties for that long!) The wall banners with the shields were originally from the Roman party, too; the opposite sides feature a gold laurel wreath design.
Food was great: chicken drumsticks, cabbage, beef bourguignon, bread, and a delicious apple-cinnamon type dessert. No one seemed to mind that we didn’t have forks (in true medieval style). We got by OK with just knives and spoons.
Over the years we’ve set a pretty high bar for costumes, and this year was another showcase of awesomeness. One of the knights teaches at a high school that has an actual medieval armoury class, and he was able to scam some authentic armour. It was impressive, but seriously heavy, and he could only get out of it with the help of two people. Guess that’s why knights had squires.
With no one allowed to share breathing space with other human beings, I knew there was no way I could have my traditional murder mystery birthday party. And that was seriously depressing, since the party is often the one bright spot in what otherwise tends to be a very bleak month. But hope was restored when a friend of mine told me about some companies that offer virtual parties led by professional actors. The concept was intriguing and the price was reasonable, so we gave it a go.
We didn’t really have much of a theme; I was just told it was a modern-day twist on the movie Clue. So a bunch of characters were being blackmailed by an unknown individual. Finnish-American relations played a surprisingly large role.
I gotta say, it was nothing like an in-person experience. A few technical glitches got in the way, and to be honest I’m usually more interested in the theme and decor than the details of the mystery. But it was still fun to dress up and have a few laughs. Certainly better than yet another night of Netflix.
This vacation came about because I wanted to a) take the kids back to Disneyland and b) see Alcatraz. So when I found a cruise itinerary that began in LA, went to San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, and ended in Vancouver (such an easy hop home!) I was sold. I even convinced some extended family to come along.
A few highlights: – being at Disneyland for May the Fourth (a bunch of cast members formed an honour guard of lightsabers at the entrance to Tomorrowland, which was pretty cool) – seeing the polar bears, koalas, and giant panda at the San Diego Zoo – participating in multiple rounds of trivia competitions on the ship (although we peaked early…our first game was our best, and it went downhill from there) – learning some new line dance routines – beating my teenager at a game of 21 – sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge – touring the cell blocks at Alcatraz – getting amazing views from the Space Needle – marvelling at the brilliant glass creations at the Chihuly Gardens – getting me and my hubby, kids, parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew all together in the dining room for a nice meal (a lady from the next table actually complimented us on how well-behaved the kids were.
It was a bit tough to get a handle on the storyline for this year’s murder mystery party: it was set in the year 2099, with a retro steampunk (?) theme, and featured historical characters pulled from different time periods. I knew zilch about steampunk when I chose this one, but the notion of having characters like Einstein, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, and Ivan the Terrible in the same room intrigued me. So we gave it a go.
People really outdid themselves with costumes this year! The mystery itself was well thought out and a few people managed to follow the logic to the correct conclusion. I even threw in a trivia challenge to keep things interesting, so that was pretty cool.
For someone just getting over a queasy stomach, the idea of getting into an open-air transport truck and driving 30 minutes over the world’s worst roads was a bit daunting, but thankfully it worked out all right. Our destination today was Lac Bay (technically a saltwater lagoon), where we climbed into a raft and went floating through what the guide explained was the biggest mangrove forest in the world. The whole area is a UNESCO-protected site and serves as a breeding ground for 250 species of fish. It was fascinating to hear how a creature called an upside-down jellyfish creates oxygen in this special environment—the guide even scooped one of the slimy little blobs up and let Brayden hold it in his hand. Very cool.
(Speaking of the guide: when he heard we were from Canada, he mentioned one of his good friends moved from Bonaire to Saskatoon of all places a few years ago. God only knows why. It really is a small world.)
On the way back to the beach, we saw a couple of huge green turtles and one loggerhead turtle bob their heads out of the water just a few feet from our raft. An awesome experience.
In other news: we’re fairly sure Brayden sprained his toe a couple days back, but he seems to be toughing it out pretty well. Plus, my appetite is back for the first time in three days. Woo hoo!
The next two days are at sea as we head back to Miami. Here’s hoping for smooth sailing…
Located just 70 km north of Venezuela, Curacao is a Dutch Caribbean island with charming pastel-colored colonial buildings. However, it’s also a desert island whose chief attraction is scuba diving (a no-go for our group) so I had a tough time finding an activity that would appeal to all of us. I settled on a cave tour followed by a walk-through of the historic city centre. It seemed like a solid option.
The caves, however, were not only smaller and less impressive than the ones in Cayman, they were also full of bats, which the guide couldn’t stop talking about. The kids were so freaked out that they literally clung to us; Justin was almost in tears. Not a great start to the morning.
The walking tour of the old town was a letdown too. In retrospect, it was probably a bad sign that the guide warned us all up front to give her a head’s up if we were going to wander off…she said sometimes she’s talking and then she turns around and no one’s there. We all laughed at the time, but as we stood on a street corner for 20 minutes listening to a detailed description of the significance of the floor inside the Jewish synagogue, it became pretty clear why people would want to bolt. We bailed early, and we were not the only ones. Guess you can’t win ‘em all.
Aruba’s license plate slogan is One Happy Island, and we certainly found our happy place today. We spent the day at De Palm Island, an all-inclusive waterpark where we could snorkel, splash, ride banana boats, play basketball, eat, drink, and relax. The weather was perfect, everyone found something fun to do, and I didn’t vomit once. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.
We’re all tired and most of us are sunburnt, but it was totally worth it. A great day.