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Beautiful British Columbia: The First Pandemic Trip as a Family (Part 2) Amy October 16, 2020

Beautiful British Columbia: The First Pandemic Trip as a Family (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this trip report series, we went through the decision process of planning a trip with kids to British Columbia, our experience from the airport to the airplane, and finally how we spent our time in Vancouver.

In this article, I’ll now cover our time in Whistler and Tofino:

  • Vancouver (1 night)
  • Whistler (1 night)
  • Tofino (4 nights)
  • Vancouver (2 nights)

Whistler: The Westin Resort & Spa

Whistler was a last minute addition to our trip. We weren’t sure if five nights in Tofino would be too much, and figured we’d change the scenery a bit and go up to the mountains.

When looking at the accommodation options, we had narrowed it down to the Four Seasons, the Delta Hotels Whistler Village Suites, and the Westin Resort & Spa. In the end we went with the Westin, for its proximity to the Whistler Village Gondola (which would bring us to the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola), and that complimentary breakfast for Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite members and higher.

Westin Resort & Spa Whistler

Unfortunately, the day we were checking in was more expensive than other dates, at $379 before tax for a 1 Queen Bed Deluxe Studio with sofa bed (their most basic room), even with Marriott’s Community Caregiver Rate promo code, QWO. Without it, the rate was $700!

A points redemption wasn’t worth it either as it’s a Category 7 hotel, which requires 60,000 Bonvoy points at the standard rate.

TIP: Book your accommodations early and cancel later if need be. In the pre-COVID days, I would book hotels at least six months out. Given that this trip was planned within two weeks of our departure, I wasn’t able to. Had I booked earlier, the rates would have been cheaper. 

Fortunately, on my American Express US Green Card, I had an offer of “Spend US$200 or more at a Marriott property, and get a US$50 statement credit”, which lessened the blow. That card also earns 3x points on travel and has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s not a bad card to use for travel regardless. Currently, there is an elevated sign-up offer which Ricky covered in his article and video.

In addition to the offer, I used my Marriott e-gift card which was purchased at a 20% discount earlier this year to pay the remaining balance. If you missed the promotion, you may have another opportunity later this year. The U.S. Travel Association normally runs an annual promotion called Daily Getaways in late spring, but because of the pandemic this year, they rescheduled it for later this fall (dates not announced yet).

During the promotion, they usually feature a different deal each day, and for the past few years, one deal they have offered is Marriott gift cards at 20% off. The only caveat is that they only sell a limited quantity, so you need to be quick if you want to grab one.

One other thing to note about booking this property, and also many other Marriott properties, is that if you are booking online and are booking more than two guests in a room, an extra guest charge is applied for each subsequent guest. The charge is usually $20–30 per additional guest. 

Back when we visited Disney and stayed at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel, this also happened. I called Marriott and the agent assured me that the extra guest charge would be removed for children, I just had to inform them at check-in.

TIP: Because of this, I’ve opted to book only for two adults whenever I see that extra guest charge. I’d rather they add the charge at check-in (if they say insist it’s mandatory even for kids), than forget to request it be taken off. Just remember to book a room that can accommodate your family and you shouldn’t have any issues.

The room. Before check-in, the Westin had proactively upgraded our studio to a One-Bedroom Suite, 1 Queen with sofa bed. The suite has a full kitchen, complete with stove, fridge, microwave and cookware and dinnerware.

There is a small dining table which was great for eating in and for playing family board games. Despite being a one-bedroom suite, it felt a little more cramped compared to our corner room at Westin Bayshore in Vancouver, and the decor was a bit more rustic. 

Westin Resort & Spa Whistler – One-bedroom suite
Westin Resort & Spa Whistler – One-bedroom suite
Westin Resort & Spa Whistler – One-bedroom suite

The amenities. The Westin has a heated indoor/outdoor pool and hot tubs that are available for use by reservation only, with a maximum of 25 guests at one time. Reservations for time slots are available online beginning at 8pm the night prior.

Like the Westin Bayshore, they do book up within minutes for weekend stays, so be prepared.

Westin Resort & Spa Whistler – Outdoor pool and hot tub
Westin Resort & Spa Whistler – Indoor pool and hot tub

The gym is also available by reservation. Unfortunately, when booking online, you can only make one booking per day, whether it be for the gym or pool. For those of you who own a Peloton bike, you’ll be happy to know that their gym has two of these as well, so you can still make use of your membership while on vacation. 

Dining. The hotel had a few dining options available. You could order room service, eat at their restaurants, Grill and Vine for breakfast or FireRock Lounge for lunch or dinner, or pick up something light from their Grab & Go counter.

Westin Resort & Spa Whistler – Grill and Vine restaurant for breakfast

For Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite members and above, the complimentary breakfast voucher can be used at Grill and Vine, and covers one entrée and one non-alcoholic beverage for up to two guests. If you don’t have status, you can also head to the village and pick up something from Starbucks.

Whistler Village

Because the suites have a kitchenette, you can also easily grab some groceries to cook your own breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Groceries can be bought from The Grocery Store, which is located right in the village square. We picked up some some cereal, milk, eggs and fruit for the kids, and the prices were very reasonable. 

Whistler: Things to Do

360 Experience: This experience consists of three gondola rides, taking you from Whistler Village up to the Whistler & Blackcomb Mountains with amazing views throughout the journey. The two mountains are connected by the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which is the world’s highest and longest lift. Once you’re at the top, the views of the alpine landscape, lakes, forests and glaciers are breathtaking.

PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola

There are grab-and-go dining options at each peak serving snacks and sandwiches, with seating available as well. There are many trails ranging in difficulty and length (shortest is about 30 minutes), and suitable for kids of any age. There are plenty of marmots and birds to view which kept my younger kids entertained. The whole experience took about 3.5 hours. When we returned back to Whistler Village, the kids wanted to go up again! You can find more information at the Whistler website.

Lookout and dining area at Whistler Mountain
Walking the Alpine Loop trail on Blackcomb Mountain
A gorgeous viewpoint

Other activities: We only had 1 night, but if we stayed longer, there are plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained: biking trails, a bear-viewing tours, whitewater rafting (minimum six years of age), zipline and tree adventures (minimum seven years of age plus height requirements), etc.

If you would like a comparable gondola experience but don’t want to go as far as Whistler, you could visit Squamish, an hour out from Vancouver, which has the Sea to Sky Gondola. A 10-minute ride takes you 885m above sea level, where they have nice restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and an awesome view of Howe Sound. After a meal, you can take a stroll along the nicely groomed paths, that are, for the most part, stroller-friendly. (Unfortunately, it is currently closed due to an act of vandalism where the gondola cable was cut in September.)

Getting to Tofino with BC Ferries

Tofino is a small district located on the north-western side of Vancouver Island. Getting there from Vancouver requires a 1.5-hour ferry ride in addition to 3–4 hours of driving. Since we were coming from Whistler, it took an extra hour. Unfortunately, there’s no quicker way to do it, but the drive is a scenic one and the ferry ride is a fun endeavour for the younger kids. 

BC Ferries is the company that runs the ferries. Rides can be booked beforehand online, and I highly suggest this be done as early as possible to get your desired departure time (probably earlier to accommodate the three-hour drive to Tofino).

BC Ferries

You’ll want to book the ferry from Horsehoe Bay, Vancouver, to Departure Bay, Nanaimo. The final fare will be based on your destination, the number of passengers, and vehicle size. A non-refundable $10 reservation fee is charged at the time of booking, with the rest of the fare is taken at the ferry terminal.

In queue for the ferry

On the day of departure, be sure to arrive between 30–120 minutes prior. Once checked-in, your car will be queued up to board the ferry. Once on the ferry, you are free to leave your car and go up to the passenger decks. The ferries are operating on a reduced passenger capacity, with every other row of seats taped off to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

There is a small gift shop on board, as well as a cafe that serves freshly prepared hot meals like burgers and salads. There is even a small playroom for young children, but unfortunately due to COVID, it was taped off. Our kids enjoyed exploring the ferry inside and out and taking in the scenery, and we were even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a grey whale!

Be sure to have the kids use the restrooms before disembarking from the ferry in preparation for the drive.

Tofino: Pacific Sands Beach Resort

We had planned to break up the drive with a stop at MacMillan Provincial Park, specifically at an area known as Cathedral Grove, which is known for its trails amongst huge Douglas firs. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the pandemic, so we just drove straight to Tofino. 

Tofino is situated on First Nation territory, and is known for its quiet inlets, old rainforests, and laidback vibe. It actually wasn’t on our radar until a friend of mine mentioned it, and I’m glad she did.

It is a great place to take kids to explore nature at its finest: hiking trails in ancient rainforests, endless sandy beaches, and plentiful opportunities for marine life and animal sightings. It is also a surfer’s paradise and boasts fantastic dining.

Cox Bay, Tofino
Beach at Cox Bay

When looking for accommodations in Tofino, one thing I would highly recommend is finding a resort whose property is right on the beach.

There are a variety of beautiful accommodation options; however, summer is peak season, and it will be difficult to find anything under $300 a night for a family. There are also no big chain hotels in the area other than a Best Western, which makes loyalty redemptions almost nonexistent. 

We ended up booking a one-bedroom oceanside suite at the Pacific Sands Beach Resort, which is located right on Cox Bay, at $459 per night, plus tax, for its fantastic family-friendly amenities.

Yeah, the price was steep, but rates at other properties were not much better. Even the Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort was $419 per night. If you can forego the beachfront, you could consider Hotel Zed, a new hippie-style accommodation for rooms just under $300 per night. 

Beach at Cox Bay

When I book a hotel for which I don’t have elite status, I typically go through Hotels.com so I can at least earn one free night for every 10 paid nights.

However, Pacific Sands is not on Hotels.com, so we resorted to redeeming points earned through our Capital One Aspire World Elite Mastercard against our stay at effectively 2% cash back. As you may have heard, this card has recently undergone a big devaluation, and so we are looking to cash out all our points before cancelling it anyway and replacing it with the HSBC World Elite Mastercard (thanks to its an outstanding signup offer right now).

The property. Pacific Sands is situated on 1,000 ft of beachfront. It underwent a big renovation in 2018 and has a total of 120 beachfront suites, composed of one- to three-bedroom units. Each spacious unit has a patio or balcony, as well as a full kitchen and complimentary wifi access. 

Map of Pacific Sands Beach Resort, right on the beach of Cox Bay

The accommodation.  The oceanside suite is their newer modern suite that is set up for surfers. It has direct access to the beach, with outdoor showers and lockers for surf gear. We also found it perfect for our kids who love the beach. The direct access was convenient when carrying pails, shovels, and towels with us, and the showers were great to rinse off all the sand before returning to our suite. Laundry facilities were also conveniently located in the same building. For those who want to bring their dogs, you can book pet-friendly suites as well.

Laundry facility in our building

Rather than trolleys, they have large wheelbarrows lined up outside the building to help you carry luggage up to your suite. The suite is bright, clean and modern. If you are one for cleanliness, then this hotel is for you, as the suite was spotless. Our suite had a bedroom with a king bed and a living room with a sofa bed.

Pacific Sands Beach Resort Tofino – One-bedroom suite
Pacific Sands Beach Resort Tofino – One-bedroom suite
Pacific Sands Beach Resort Tofino – One-bedroom suite

With three younger kids, we had no issue sleeping in this suite. If you have older kids, you may want to look into a two-bedroom suite for more bed space. The only complaint I have is that there were no USB ports for charging our devices, so be sure to pack one! 

The kitchen was fully stocked with all the cookware you would need to cook your own meals. A few small grocery markets are located in town, about a 10 minute drive away. However, if you just need a few staples like milk, butter, eggs, etc., they are available to purchase onsite. 

The amenities. If you’re big into family-friendly amenities, this place has it all.

At check-in, we were given activity books and pails and shovels for each child. The kids made good use of those, digging for clams, building sand castles, and collecting whatever marine life they could find.

We were also given a s’mores kit which contained a bag of marshmallows, a package of graham crackers, a bar of chocolate and roasting sticks. The property has multiple fire pits that can be used for this.

Complimentary s’mores kit!
Firepits are scattered around the property – perfect for roasting marshmallows and having some hot chocolate!

They run a complimentary daily educational program for kids from 10am–12pm, where you can drop off kids aged 5 and up.

In the evening, you can borrow movies from their extensive DVD library or perhaps a board game for a games night – and don’t forget to ask for complimentary popcorn to go with it. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and freezies are also complimentary. 

DVD library and complimentary beverage station

For the active vacationers, they run complimentary morning yoga sessions and also have bike, surfboard, and paddle board rentals on site. Don’t know how to surf? Just sign up for a lesson with their onsite surf school (minimum age 10). Book in advance as they’re quite popular and were fully booked when we inquired. The resort does have surf n’ stay packages as well. 

The dining. If cooking’s not your thing, then try Surfside Grill, their outdoor eatery which serves made-to-order fast food. The food was actually quite good and a kids’ meal can easily feed an adult. Drive a few minutes out and try Tacofino, a food truck serving California and Mexico-inspired grub. The line ups can be long, but the wait is worth it. For fancier fare, drive 10 minutes into town for plenty of options. 

Surfside Grill
Tacofino, featuring West Coast-inspired Mexican grub

Tofino: Things to Do

Rock pooling: This was by far the kids’ favourite activity. They spent HOURS on the beach at low tide, combing through the rocks and tidal pools, looking for whatever creatures they could find.

They found a lot – barnacles, mussels, anemones, shore crabs, hermit crabs, jellyfish, and even starfish! The excitement was never-ending. The water was too cold for swimming, but that didn’t stop them from wading knee deep in it!

Cox Bay beach was good for rock pooling, but driving a few minutes to Chesterman Beach was even better. We even spotted eagles while we were there.

Rock pooling, a fun and educational experience for all ages!
The kids found all sorts of sea creatures in the rock pools.

Whale watching: This could be a great experience under the right weather conditions. Unfortunately, for us, the fog was building when our tour began, so visibility wasn’t the greatest. We did see a few spouts of water from afar, but could only make out the faint back of a grey whale. We did see lots of cute sea otters along the way though. 

Cute sea otters

Wild Pacific Trail: This 9km trail system is located near Ucluelet, a 40 minute drive from Tofino, and is the most famous in the area. We only had time to walk a portion of it: the Ancient Cedars and Rocky Bluffs section, where the kids were amazed by the gigantic 800-year-old red cedars they saw. Walk a little further to the bluffs and you may catch a glimpse of some seals and sea lions too. 

Map of the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet
Gigantic ancient Douglas firs

Surf lesson: A word of advice is to book in advance! We had no idea how popular these lessons were until we tried booking a lesson the day before, and every place we tried either was fully booked or wouldn’t take children younger than 8 years of age.

Fortunately, the very last place I called, Wya Point Surf Shop, could accommodate us! This place was a 30-minute drive away, close to Ucluelet.

Wya Point Surf Shop, located 30 minutes from Tofino

The owner, Tyson, happened to be the surf instructor and was fantastic. He got my husband and our two older kids (aged 6 and 9) into their wetsuits and helped strap the surfboards onto our vehicles.

The shop isn’t located on a beach, so we drove eight minutes to Wickaninnish Beach for the lesson. It was a group of six participants, and cost $84 per person for three hours.

I wasn’t sure if my 6-year-old could manage, but she ended up doing better than most! It was a great experience for all of them. Meanwhile, I chilled at the beach with our youngest, watching them at a distance.

Surfing on Wickaninnish Beach

Conclusion

Even though we struggled initially with our decision to travel with the kids this summer, we’re glad we ended up going. We went during a time when it was relatively safe, when COVID-19 cases were low throughout the country and practiced precautionary measures as recommended by public health.

In the end, we had one of our most memorable trips yet, with a good mix of urban and outdoor experiences. Nothing made it more worthwhile than the kids telling us it was their “best trip ever.”

Seeing that international travel is mostly off the table for the near future, it’s great to know that we have so much to see and explore within our own country, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you a few more family trips that we’ve taken recently in future posts.

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2 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Mer

    Thanks for the report! If COVID persists next summer, we’ll give Tofino a visit! Like you went to YVR in the summer, but stayed longer in Whistler and then Banff.

  2. Avatar
    Oz

    I salute you! I like how you go through the process of deciding your hotels and how to pay for it. To use the bank or not. Also the US green card + 20% Marriot gift cards lessens the demand on points. Anyone get nervous when the points bank aren’t ready to go anywhere for 5 days? Hehe 🐻

Amy

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