Known as the often frigid home to great hockey, rodeos and oil, Edmonton in the warmer spring and summer months offers much more for those seeking family-friendly adventure.
I recently traveled there with my 4 year old son Rory and chose to stay at the Edmonton Marriott at River Cree Resort and casino to accumulate reward points. I was surprised to find how much the staff at the Marriott at River Cree catered to my little guy. Although no children are allowed in the large casino area, during our trips to the lobby and the restaurant, my son developed a very unrealistic idea of what a hotel stay involves.
From the moment we went down for breakfast to the times he passed a concierge or doorman, he was given extra attention and invited to pick a small toy from the prize box. Rory called each bellman "Captain" and on our return back to the States, he expressed missing the captains that reminded him of Santa.
Another surprise was finding an ice rink attached to the hotel. When I took my son for a short walk we noticed it and slipped in to watch an amateur game. One of the winning players treated my little guy to a victory ride out on the ice afterwards. I couldn’t imagine scripting a more Canadian moment If you want to give the little ones a bit of a workout, be sure to check with the front desk or concierge for free skate times.
Venturing a few short miles from the hotel, we visited the nearby Valley Zoo. It’s relatively small by Brookfield Zoo (near Chicago) or San Diego Zoo standards, with limited indoor exhibits, but as a small park you can manage easily with views of the more rugged Saskatchewan River area, it’s the perfect spot for a day outside. From the small castle entryway complete with creek-bed moat, to the animal shaped paddle boats, the zoo has a sweet, old-fashioned charm.
There are pony rides and opportunities for close encounters. While we were there, the resident elephant was led out of her cage for a short walk in a grassy picnic area. My son especially enjoyed the petting zoo where he could pet sheep, goats and chickens.
The biggest hit was the brand new tram train ride that makes a small loop not far from the swan pond. Although adults are encouraged to ride with the little ones, I found it rather hard to fit in the small train cars clearly meant for the 10-and-under set.
If you want to get right into the Canadian wild, during the more temperate months of May through September, I suggest a visit to Elk Island National Park. The oldest national park in Canada, this spot has myriad hiking tracks, forested picnic areas, a golf course and a breathtaking view of Elk Island from the golf shop. We spotted a buffalo up close. Later, on during our drive back, we spied what looked like either a wolf or coyote running along the small hill near the entrance.
No matter what time of year you visit Edmonton, I recommend a trip to the Great Edmonton Mall. It may not be Disneyland, but it sure comes close in terms of size and number of things to do for little ones of all ages. In the middle of the mall, there’s a large man-made lake, complete with a Spanish galleon that houses a restaurant. There’s also a submarine ride.
Further down, live sea lions put on a show. You can actually pay to swim with them. If you stroll far enough you’ll run into the indoor Ice Palace Skating Rink, where you may be lucky enough to catch the Edmonton Oilers practicing. You can also explore the 4-story World Waterpark, with its wave pool and near miles of water slides.
All ages will enjoy Galaxyland Amusement Park. This houses the world’s largest indoor triple-loop roller coaster, a 4-story space-themed interactive area for small children, a merry-go-round and a bungee jump.
For tamer fun, you can golf at either the Put n’ Glow golf course or Professor Wem’s Miniature Golf.
If you prefer to stay where the action is, you can find lodging at the mall, at either the Fantasyland Hotel or the West Edmonton Mall Inn. The Fantasyland has Sony Playstation consoles in each room and different themed bunk-bed rooms such as The Igloo, Truck or Railroad.
In the more brutal months of winter, if the family gets hungry you don’t have to step outside to experience over 20 sit-down restaurants catering to all tastes.
Whether you are up for an outdoor adventure or an indoor one, add Edmonton to your list of family travel spots.
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Kimberly is the mother of a 4-year-old son born in New Zealand.
She spent five years thinking Christmas meant summer weather while living in Auckland. She currently lives in a suburb of Chicago.