If you’ve kept up with the news, you’ve probably read about the forest fires ravaging British Columbia’s interior right now and the increasing cases of COVID-19 in the area.
Hopefully the situation will be under control soon. Until then, exercise extreme caution if you’re headed there – or safer yet, reschedule if you can.
In Part 1, I covered our time in Osoyoos, Kelowna, Salmon Arm, and their surrounding areas. In this post, I’ll be covering the “beyond” part, where we headed to Parksville and Victoria on Vancouver Island, which may be better options at this time if you’re still hoping to head out west.
So let’s pick up where we left off, heading from Kamloops back towards Vancouver Island.
Day 10: Chilliwack
The drive from Spahat and Helmcken Falls back to Vancouver is over seven hours, so to break up the drive, we chose the small town of Chilliwack as a good overnight stop.
Accommodation: Hampton Inn by Hilton Chilliwack
Price: $109 for one night in a room with one king bed and a sofa bed
I booked this hotel almost expecting a guaranteed room upgrade with my Hilton Diamond status. Boy, was I wrong. The hotel was fully booked.
With the heat wave, many local residents, who normally live without air conditioning, had flocked to local hotels for relief from the heat.
The room was therefore a fairly standard one, with a king bed, sofa bed, desk, mini-fridge and microwave.
Parking at the hotel was complimentary. There was also a nice indoor pool with a large water slide, which made my kids quite happy.
At check-in, the agent had advised me that their complimentary breakfast would be bagged, which is not an uncommon practice now with the pandemic.
However, I was pleasantly surprised the next morning to find that they had decided to resume their hot breakfast service! It was well-received by guests, including myself.
Our ferry to Vancouver Island wasn’t until early afternoon, which gave us a leisurely morning for the kids to enjoy more pool time.
En route, we stopped for blueberry picking at Willems Berry Farm. The blueberries were so sweet that the kids were eating them by the handful. And better yet, it only cost $2 per pound, cheaper than buying them from the grocery market.
If blueberries aren’t your cup of tea and you’re visiting mid-summer or in the fall, check out the Chilliwack Corn Maze & Pumpkin Farm.
They have a 12-acre corn maze that kids can have fun getting lost in, in addition to seeing farm animals, playing on a jumping pillow, and pedalling carts.
Days 11–13: Parksville
Parksville is located on the east side of Vancouver Island. Although we had thoroughly enjoyed our time on the west side of Vancouver Island in Tofino last summer, that’s a 3.5-hour drive off the ferry. A friend suggested that Parksville could be a closer alternative, so we decided to check it out.
Parksville is located only 35 minutes from the ferry terminal at Nanaimo. Like Tofino, it is known for its beaches that stretch miles out during low tide; however, its surrounding waters are calmer and warmer than its western counterpart.
Driving in from from Nanaimo, you’ll encounter a Costco and a few grocery stores where you can pick food items for your stay if you prefer to cook some meals. Fast food and restaurant options are also plentiful.
Accommodation: The Beach Club Resort
Price: 176,200 TD Rewards points for two nights, plus $397 for one night in a one-bedroom suite
Tips to save: Other than redeeming fixed-value travel points like TD Rewards or going through Hotels.com, you can also download the Moola app which offers at least 5% off gift cards for Bellstar properties (and with flash sales, up to 10% off).
If it is your first time visiting the property, I would recommend you call the resort directly to book your stay, as they provide a first-timer’s discount of ~15% off the advertised rate on their website. Stack this with the gift card offer I mentioned above, and you could save more than 20% off.
This property is located right on the beach front, with a nice boardwalk that extends to Parksville Community Park.
The Room. Our one-bedroom suite had traditional decor, but was very spacious. It had a full kitchen, a dining set, a large sofa (which converted into a sofa bed), a small desk, and an outdoor patio with another dining set.
There were also ensuite laundry machines, a powder room, and a full bathroom with tub in the master bedroom.
Pacific Prime Restaurant. This is the hotel’s only restaurant. It offers both indoor and patio dining, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
When we stayed, the hotel was fully booked and so reservations were hard to come by. We did try their Thursday-night Prime Rib special for takeout, which was decent.
Pool and Spa. There is an indoor pool and jacuzzi. It’s great for a rainy day, but otherwise, I would much rather spend the time on the beach (although my kids wanted to do both). There is also a full-service spa at the resort, although I didn’t experience it myself.
Recreation desk. Across from the check-in counter, there is a recreation desk where you can borrow all sorts of equipment for the beach, including towels, beach toys, umbrellas, beach chairs, and even wagons to carry it all. The convenience of having all your beach gear already at your hotel really helps to make for a stress-free vacation.
You can also sign out bikes, kayaks, and paddle boards from the recreation desk, in addition to a small selection of board games, which were great for the evenings.
Beach. During high tide, the beach looks rather small and is rocky, and lined with broken shells and seaweed.
However, at low tide, it transforms into a feet-friendly, soft-sand beach that stretches out into the horizon, interspersed with small tidal pools teeming with sand dollars, crabs and oysters; you may even find some geoduck if you dig deep and or a jellyfish or two washed up on shore.
- Parksville Community Park. A 5-minute walk down the boardwalk will bring you to an area with a large number of children play structures for all ages, including a small zipline. It’s a perfect place to spend an evening after dinner on your patio.
- Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. A 5-minute drive east, and you’ll hit this scenic park. You can spend some time at the beach here, walk their trails, build a new fort from the washed up beach wood, climb on the play structure (or tree stump), or let the kids chase the large number of rabbits that run free here.
- Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Morningstar Farm. This farm produces local milk products. You can roam free to see the cows or do a self-guided tour around the property, and you might also see cheese being made. There is also a milk dispensary where you can fill your own bottle of fresh milk to go.
- The Old Country Market. This small market consists of a few restaurants and shops, a bakery, an ice cream shop, and fruit market. The country market itself was like an emporium of goods; in addition to speciality food items, they also sell toys and activity kits that you don’t find in more traditional toy stores.
One of the biggest appeals of the place among kids are the goats that you can see grazing on the grass of the market’s rooftops. Now there’s something you don’t see everyday.
I would highly recommend enjoying a meal here on the patio of the Italian restaurant, Cuckoo Trattoria & Pizzeria. The setting is lovely and the food was great. Then go for some donuts or ice cream for dessert.
- North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. If your kids love animals, then this is also a great place to spend an hour or two to see rehabilitated animals in a beautiful setting.
Day 14: Victoria
For our last night in British Columbia, we headed south to Victoria.
Parksville to Victoria is almost a two-hour drive. You could drive straight there, but I would recommend a stop at The Raptors, a sanctuary for injured predatory birds that cannot be re-introduced into the wild.
Aside from just viewing the birds in their enclosures, they have flying demonstrations throughout the day. The highlight, in my son’s opinion, was the close encounter experiences that can be booked. Book online in advance as they do sell out during the busy summer season.
The minimum age for the experiences is 8 years old, but sometimes they will allow parents and younger siblings to tag along. I booked a 15-minute hawk walk for my son, in which a hawk would literally fly and perch on his gloved arm on multiple occasions while we walked along a small trail.
Accommodation: Delta Hotels by Marriott Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort
It was a toss up between the Delta or the Marriott in Victoria. The Marriott is located more centrally, whereas the Delta is just a little further out. However, in the end, I went with the Delta as it seemed a little more modern.
My husband was able to “suite-talk” them a couple of days prior to our arrival. At the time, they couldn’t confirm an upgrade but made note of it.
At check-in, we were pleasantly surprised to find that they granted our upgrade request to their top room, the Presidential Suite, which was an enormous one-bedroom bi-level suite overlooking the harbour. It was a very generous upgrade, even for with Titanium status.
The room was massive. It had a mini-bar area with a fridge and a full set of dinnerware. The loft had a king bed, while the living room had a sofa bed and a few accent chairs. There were two full bathrooms, one on the first floor and another on the second.
Breakfast was served at their hotel restaurant, LURE Restaurant & Bar. If you are Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite member or above, your breakfast benefit includes an entrée and drink for you and a guest. However, our hostess did not charge us our kid’s meal (nor did she for the table beside us).
Unfortunately, my other two kids chose to sleep in that morning, so I’m not sure if she would have extended this to two more children had they been dining with us as well.
Other amenities at the hotel include an indoor pool and gym, but with our short one-night stay, we didn’t have time to enjoy them much. If I were to do it again, I would add an extra day to our stay in Victoria.
- Whale watching tour. There are a few companies on Victoria that offer whale tours and they all have decent reviews. We went with Eagle Wing Tours and I cannot stress how awesome they were. The tour was organized, the boat was clean and spacious, and the staff were incredibly good and patient kids on the tour.
Some companies offer high speed zodiac boats. Although they sound more fun, they unfortunately aren’t suitable for young kids. Also keep in mind that most whale tours last 3–4 hours, so I actually prefer a larger, covered vessel where the kids have space to move about and seek refuge should it get too cold for them (and it does get cold out there). Larger vessels are also nicer for those more prone to motion sickness.
The great thing about the boats at Eagle Wings is that they have both an outdoor and indoor covered area. We went on their “Wild 4 Whales” boat, which has a large covered area enclosed by glass windows from top to bottom, so as not to take away from the view or experience.
Our tour was staffed by three marine specialists and the captain. They educated us on whales, the surrounding area and conservation efforts. They were extremely patient in answering all the questions my kids had.
They even actively engaged them in helping them identify and track the whales. Perhaps we lucked out on our crew, but they were all phenomenal.
We also lucked out on our tour as we not only saw one orca whale, but a pod of them, and they swam right up and under our boat! It was truly an unforgettable experience for the whole family.
Whale tours can be expensive. Eagle Wing Tours can be booked through Expedia for TD, which makes for another great redemption option for TD reward points.
- Fisherman’s Wharf. Before or after your whale tour, you can grab a bite here. There are quite a few food options, including ice cream for dessert.
- Although we didn’t have enough time on this trip, next time we’re in Victoria, we would also check out the Victoria Bug Zoo and Butchart Gardens, a breathtaking floral garden that has been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.
The next morning, we caught a ferry back from Victoria to Tsawwassen to catch our flight home.
If you have some extra time to kill before a flight, I would recommend stopping at Terra Nova Rural Park in Richmond. It’s close to the airport and a wonderful park with wooden climb structures for the kids to stretch their legs before our flight.
Saving with Miles & Points
For this trip, I took advantage of a few credit card offers, promotions, and award currencies to significantly reduce the total cost of our flights and accommodations.
Return flights (economy class paid fare on the outbound, business class points redemption on the return) for five people:
- Aeroplan: 88,500 points, 20 eUpgrade credits
- Out-of-pocket cost: $669
Accommodations for 14 nights:
- Marriott Bonvoy: 215,000 Bonvoy points + one Free Night Award
- TD Rewards: 176,200 points
- World of Hyatt: One Category 1–4 Free Night Award
- Amex Offers amounting to $100 in statement credits
- Out-of-pocket cost: $1,962
As you can see, it really is advantageous to diversify one’s points portfolio, especially if you’re travelling as a larger family.
Our First Time in Business Class with Kids
I also mentioned in Part 1 that this was a trip of many firsts.
It was the first time we had the kids ditch their electronic devices on a trip. Even though they complained initially and at random times during the trip, they did well without them. During the car rides, we would talk, laugh, and the kids would play make believe.
It was also our first time taking the kids in business class, and I’ll admit this made me a little nervous. My kids are generally well-behaved, but are they well-behaved enough for business class? I also didn’t want to be “that parent” who spoils and raises self-entitled kids.
I even considered downgrading our tickets to re-book in economy, I would not be saving any points, as with dynamic pricing, the cost of economy tickets had gone up from when I first booked. I also had more eUpgrades than I had use for, so I left it.
In the end, it was a good experience for all of us. My youngest took a nice long nap in her lie-flat seat; my middle child cuddled up in her blanket and enjoyed her movie and the food; my eldest quickly discovered his remote could be used for video games; and my husband and I enjoyed a comfortable flight home.
I did take some time to explain that to travel is a privilege in itself and that this was a special experience and not to become an expectation, and above all, to be grateful in all things.
Would I book them in business again? Unlikely for short-haul trips, but I will consider it for long-haul ones if the cost in points makes sense.
We started off our trip in British Columbia’s beautiful interior region and ended back on one of our favourites, Vancouver Island.
Both areas are great for family travel, but given the current unfortunate situation with forest fires and COVID-19 right now, a trip to just Vancouver Island may be the safer option. My kids had a great time in Parksville and Victoria, and Tofino is also another great choice if you don’t mind the drive.
Accommodation costs have risen significantly given the recent increase in demand. This is where dabbling in multiple points currencies is key, as it helped us unlock immense savings along our trip. Make sure to follow along closely here at Prince of Travel so that you too can start building up your points balances.