We’ve just enjoyed our oddly placed but very welcome Family Day holiday here in British Columbia and of course I couldn’t let a long weekend go by without a family adventure of some sort. For this trip we completed the “west” leg of our north/south/east/west theme for the year by heading over to Victoria, the capitol of our province located on beautiful Vancouver Island.
Travelling from the BC mainland to is actually not that simple, especially when you consider that the provincial capitol and about a sixth of the population of the province lives there. It costs about $100 each way for the 90 minute ferry crossing for a family of four, plus $15 each way if you want to reserve a spot and ensure you’re not waiting for hours at the terminal. Fortunately, my local grocery store offered ferry vouchers as one of the options for redeeming loyalty points, and I had just enough points to collect two one way vouchers for our family. Of course this was the result of spending about $100 a week at that store for five years. Still, if you collect any sort of points, it never hurts to check out what kind of travel rewards are available!
So we packed up the truck early on Saturday morning and headed out west for the one hour drive to the Tsawassen terminal, marveling just a bit at the idea of not having to bring passports or limit the luggage we were carrying with us. After a brief wait at the terminal we drove onto the ferry and set out to explore the vessel. There were two passenger decks with small shop, a cafeteria type restaurant and a small children’s play area at one end. After the first 30 minutes on the open water we began to thread between the small islands which lie near Vancouver Island and I was surprised at how close we passed between some of them. Despite the rain we really enjoyed the scenery; I’m sure it would be spectacular on a sunny day.
The ferry docks about 30 minutes north of Victoria and after we returned to dry land we stopped briefly in the town of Sydney to check out the Ocean Discovery Centre and look around a bit. The aquarium was small but well laid out and happened to have some Lego themed activities going on that weekend. We also learned that the Sydney Historical Museum on the main street also had a larger Lego exhibit so we had to stop there. We had a lot of fun checking out a huge collection of new and older Lego models and also stopped in an independent book store and a nice cafe called Toast offering homemade soups and huge sandwiches with delicious fresh breads.
From there it was a quick hop down to Victoria and our lodging for the weekend, the Hotel Zed. This is a new independent hotel and the booking was a bit of a gamble on my part, but we were very pleased with it overall. It was definitely an older building in an area that is in transition just outside the downtown core, but it had been refurbished with a lot of care and style with many fun touches. Now I have to say that if you recoil in horror at the thought of exterior corridors and older fixtures it’s probably not the place for you. But the website is upfront that it’s not trying to be a luxury property and the prices can’t be beat.
We booked a suite and our room had a large main room with a queen bed and sofabed plus a small kitchen area and a separate bedroom with another queen bed. It was decorated with bright colours and fun touches like a rotary phone and comic books. The beds and bedding were brand new and comfortable and the room was very clean.
The hotel lobby was decorated like a 70’s style living room with a record player and typewriters that guests could use as well as a ping pong table in a sort of rec room downstairs. We had fun showing the kids these relics of our youth. The hotel also had a vintage VW campervan that guests could use to shuttle them to the sights downtown, which was a huge bonus with the limited downtown parking. We were able to use our booster seats in the backseat, but it didn’t look like it would be able to accommodate carseats for kids under four. There were also loaner bikes and helmets that would be a great option in the summer.
There were a few downsides to the hotel, but they were minimal. Despite having dishes and cooking facilities in the room there was no in room coffee makers. Free coffee was available in the lobby, but I always grumble a bit about having to get dressed and go out in the rain to get my coffee. It’s a bit of a dilemma for me. I don’t like to fully open my eyes before I have my coffee, but I can’t go get coffee without opening my eyes. Such suffering, eh?
Another frustration was that it was hard to find anywhere to get groceries on foot. I had brought most of our food supplies with us, but I just wanted to get a carton of milk for the morning. Thinking I would just pop out I headed down the street, past a KFC, a Denny’s and a boarded up Chinese restaurant, across the street to a very flashy mall filled with all the usual clothing chains, but no groceries, out the other side of the mall and past about a dozen other stores including appliance stores, craft stores, a bridal shop, an electronics shop, a gym and a pet groomer. I finally gave up and headed back to the hotel and was able to snag the last carton of milk in a small gas station convenience store on the way back. Did I mention the neighbourhood seemed to be in transition?
Overall, our Family Day weekend trip got off to a great start and I was very happy that I had taken a gamble and tried something new when booking accommodations. One other problem we had, though, was that with no restrictions on luggage we ended up bringing too many things and one of my daughter’s favourite stuffed animals got left behind in the room. When I called the hotel the next day they replied promptly and took down our address to send it back in the mail and even sent us a picture of the stuffie hanging out in the hotel lobby to let us know she was on her way back home. That’s the kind of personal service that any parent can appreciate!