A Victorian Christmas
'Tis the season to explore Christmas magic around the Pacific Northwest. If you haven’t headed to Victoria, BC with your kids yet, now is the best time to do so. The city’s holiday celebration is in full swing with events the whole family won’t want to miss. Even teenagers will find themselves smiling as they get caught up in the holiday spirit.
Hop on the nearest ferry or splurge on a seaplane for a weekend of festive fun. Once you arrive your senses will be overwhelmed with Christmas cheer. Check into your hotel and hit the streets to start a little tour of just why no one should miss Christmas in British Columbia’s capital city.
Lasso yourself a free ride on the horse-drawn trolley that brings you through downtown tempting your eyes with all of the food this city has in store for your visit. Swing by the Original Christmas Shop for a new ornament for your tree or a hand-carved nativity scene. Stroll past shops bursting with tempting treats and toys your kids will be begging to take home with them.
Pop into the Royal BC Museum, British Columbia’s human and natural history museum, for some toddler learning and fun. The handy Family Guide: Museum Activity Book has ways to engage visitors of all ages, even the grownups! Walk through the house of Chief Kwalwabalasami or discover the giant Grizzly Bear in his coastal forest home in one of the museum’s realistic dioramas. Stroll down the museum’s Old Town all dressed up for the holidays where you can say hello to Father Christmas and snap a few photos Friday through Sundays when he comes to call. Don’t miss out on 100 large-scale, back-lit photographs on display as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 exhibition running now through April 1, 2013.
Once your belly starts to grumble don’t shy away from sipping a steaming cup of afternoon tea at the iconic Fairmont Empress hotel ($48.95 CAD per adult excluding tax and gratuity). It’s a holiday splurge that should not be missed. Toddlers can enjoy this long-standing tradition with you when you reserve their very own Prince and Princess Tea (50% off the adult rate). The staff encourages crowns and tiaras as they eagerly introduce young taste buds to the art of tea, but the chefs are realistic enough to know that those little fingers will appreciate cupcakes, tiny sandwiches and a Crazy Hair Cookie surrounded by Pringles potato chips. A typical afternoon tea can last an hour or more. Make sure you pack your purse with a few extra games to keep little minds busy; finger sandwiches will only get you so far. The wait staff will stick mainly to the art of tea, and perhaps sneaking the kids an extra strawberry or two.
When the fine china has been cleared away, take a quick stroll through the Fairmont’s Festival of Trees to break through the toddler boredom that may have set in during tea. Ask your child to find their favorite in this forest of ornaments, each carefully decorated by local businesses and individuals to raise money for BC Children’s Hospital.
If afternoon tea isn’t up your alley, pick up a quick coffee or a cheap sandwich, salad or soup at PiCNic before you make your way to Butchart Gardens for their yearly light spectacular. The sun sets early at this time of year. Even if you have a strict bedtime to maintain you can still sneak in a little wander through one of the best light displays available in the Pacific Northwest.
If you have some extra time detour over to the Butterfly Garden where 3000 of these little beauties flutter around a tropical oasis that will have you wondering if it really is winter. The evening light display will just add to the magic of your visit and get you ready for the spectacular that awaits you further down the road.
As you pull into the parking lot of Butchart Gardens you will know Christmas has finally arrived. Enjoy carolers as you make your way through the 12 Days of Christmas, each given its own fun little twist, like three French hens enjoying a meal together with the Eiffel Tower behind them. Nine Lords a Leaping is particularly fun for little ones as they try to guess where the frog princes will pop up next. Take a whirl around the Rose Carousel or ice skating rink before grabbing a hot beverage and heading back to your hotel.
No matter how you plan it you will never run out of things to do in Victoria, BC with your kids this holiday season. The lights, the food, the smells; this is one experience that you will want to come back for every year.
Gets You There
- Victoria Clipper
- Departs from downtown Seattle
- Passenger only ferry
- Parking- two lots offer special pricing with ticket stub near Pier 69
- Black Ball Ferry
- Departs from Port Angeles, WA
- Car and passenger ferry
- Travel for free on your birthday
- Out of service Jan. 21 through Feb. 6 for annual drydock
- Kenmore Air
- Departs from South Lake Union, north side of Lake Washington and more
- Lap children, younger than 2 years old, fly free
*Budget Tip: The ferries and Kenmore Air all offer package deals that include transportation and hotels, which can save you a bundle when traveling to Victoria, BC.
Rest Your Head
- Hotel Grand Pacific, 463 Belleville St., Victoria, BC, Canada, V8V 1X3 (Price: Mid-range. Check website for regular discounts and specials) Step off the boat and dump your bags at this affordable hotel offering family one bedroom suites, which include a mini-fridge and microwave for early morning breakfasts. Let the kids splash away in the kid’s sized pool or let them hop into the 25-meter training pool with you. The “Just Ducky” kids program free to all guests includes a rubber duck for your child’s nightly bath along with a coloring pack to keep those little fingers entertained. Check out the adorable stuffed animal bears in the Bear Wear event this holiday season before you warm up with a modern day twist on the afternoon tea that is open to children of all ages.
- Fairmont Empress, 721 Government St., Victoria, BC (Price: splurge). This iconic hotel on Victoria’s waterfront is dressed to impress this holiday season. It is not only home to a traditional afternoon tea that welcomes visitors of all ages, but it also hosts the Festival of Trees each year. Book a standard room with two beds, the Deluxe room with two queen sized beds and room for a pull out couch or rollaway bed for toddlers, or go all out with the Fairmont Gold 2 bedroom suite. Wooden cribs and pack n’ plays are available to guests at no charge.
Fill Your Belly
- John’s Place, 723 Pandora Ave., Victoria, BC. This great all-day dining spot serves up hearty breakfasts for the whole family at a decent price. Get there early, the lines can get long on weekends.
- PiCNic, 506 Fort St. Victoria, BC. An inventive menu with loads of weekly specials covers breakfast, brunch, lunch and coffee. Gluten-free options and free Wi-Fi make this an easy stop for families to recharge.
- Pagliacci’s, 1011 Broad St., Victoria, BC. Take over a table at one of Victoria’s oldest eateries. This mecca of Italian eating hosts local music Sunday to Thursday, and the foccacia bread has the bellhops of Victoria singing its praises.
- The Soda Shoppe, 801 Government St., Victoria, BC. Warm up with a hot chocolate or fill up on a sundae. Just make sure you tell them you want extra hot fudge sauce on top.
- Winter Farmers Market happens on the first and third Saturdays of each month, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in Market Square, Inner Courtyard. Enjoy local gifts, food and a little festive music. (Last December market is on the 15th.)
- Prince and Princess Tea at the Fairmont Empress, 721 Government St., Victoria, BC. $48.95 adult, child is 50 percent of adult rate (winter prices). Reservations are highly recommended. The dress code is casually elegant – meaning no beach wear, flip flops, ripped clothing, or baseball caps.
- Butchart Gardens, 800 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay, BC. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Jan. 6. Parking is free. Tickets: $24.50 adult, $12.40 youth, $3 child, children younger than 5 are free.
- Butterfly Gardens Victoria, 1461 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay, BC. Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through December. Parking is free. Tickets: $15 adult, $10 youth, $5 child, children younger than 5 are free.
- Royal BC Museum, 675 Belleville St., Victoria, BC. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking lots and metered street parking available. Tickets (IMAX not included): $16 adult, $10.50 youth, children younger than 5 are free, $42.15 family (includes two adults and two children under age 19).
- Free Horse-Drawn Trolley Rides, Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sundays noon to 4 p.m., now through Dec. 23. Pick up locations: Store Street at Chatham Street, in front of Ocean River Sports; Johnson Street near Wharf Street, in front of Willie's Bakery; Langley Street at Bastion Square, across from re-Bar; Government Street at Fisgard Street, in front of CRD Plaza.
*All prices are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted.