Posted by mike On January 12, 2020
Believe it or not, I’m Canadian…but I hate the winter. Some people love dealing with that cold, numbing feeling of the wind chill hitting your face. I’m not one of them. Escaping potential frostbite to go somewhere warm and sunny isn’t really in the cards, either. Luckily, however, there are places not far from me (or anyone else in the Greater Toronto Area) to temporarily get away for some summer-like fun. Places like Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA!
What is Splash Lagoon?
Splash Lagoon is an indoor, Polynesian-themed waterpark, located in Erie, PA. At 80,000 square feet, it’s one of the biggest indoor waterparks in the USA. It’s full of aquatic activities (and more) for people of all ages, set to a tropical theme/design.
Erie, Pennsylvania is located about two hours southwest from the Niagara Falls border (or the comparable indoor waterpark to Splash Lagoon in Niagara, Great Wolf Lodge). This worked out to a three hour drive for us. When travelling with three small kids, this is about as good as it gets, time-wise, for a road trip. It’s almost doable in one drive, without having to stop for bathroom breaks. Also, you can schedule it so that you can hit the road after a meal at home, negating the need to stop for food along the way. Just throw on The Irishman for them to watch, and by the time that it’s almost over, you’ll be there (note: that was joke. I do not advise showing The Irishman to little children).
I mentioned Great Wolf Lodge earlier, because that is more of the go-to waterpark destination, for families in my region. My family has stayed at Great Wolf Lodge several times before, so I will say that Splash Lagoon is different, but in a good way.
The experience at Great Wolf Lodge is pretty immersive, as everything at the resort, from the hotel rooms on-site, to the waterpark, to the decor, to the games and restaurants, all have the same kind of nature-y, rustic theme. The thing is, though, that you really pay for the immersiveness, as an overnight visit can be quite pricey. You also can’t easily obtain day passes only, to visit the park. If you want to get your swim on, you gotta get your sleep on there, too.
Splash Lagoon, on the other hand, is its own standalone place. However, it has three hotels connected to it: Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn and Hawthorn Inn & Suites. These have stay and play package deals which include passes to Splash Lagoon. The good thing about these, of course, is that you can stroll from your hotel room to Splash Lagoon in just your Speedo, without having to set foot outside in the frosty winter elements (note: that was a joke. I do not condone unwanted Speedo strolls. Think of the kids, people). If these don’t float your boat, a few of the nearby hotels also offer overnight package deals, and include a shuttle service Splash Lagoon, too. Then, if none of these are appealing for whatever reason, you are able to just buy day passes to Splash Lagoon, and stay somewhere else .
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Erie PA, which is the closest hotel, proximity-wise, to Splash Lagoon. Our stay was complimentary, but the rates online for a stay package were more affordably priced than Great Wolf Lodge. Our room was suitably clean and tidy. Breakfast was included, too. With a family of five, anytime that you have one less meal to worry about is always nice.
One more thing. The Peace Bridge Duty Free store, near the Canadian border, also promotes Splash Lagoon overnight deals, that seemed to be very reasonable, so keep an eye out there, too, when booking a stay.
playing there (water)
Alright, now let’s get to the wet and wild stuff! Over two days, my family experienced almost every attraction. Instead of a typical Splash Lagoon review, though, I’ll break them down for you, by age appeal and appropriateness. And yes, Splash Lagoon does have life jackets on-site, don’t worry.
For KJ Sized kids (re: babies and little kids)
Monkey Shines Island
This play area is in a shallow pool, with seven small slides scattered around it, which have a 48″ maximum height requirement. KJ could go down these by himself, but I still had to hang out at the bottom, to catch him. Some parents took their kids down them on their laps, as an option. There’s also a tipping bucket in this area, and “showers”, as KJ called them.
Adventure Bay is a big pool with basketball nets and balls, along with lily pads to jump on (which were off limits when we were there). While more suited for all ages, little kids can still have fun here, in life jackets, with parents nearby, I think. B and J both commented that the water was colder in Adventure Bay than other areas of the park. Hoops-loving B could have stayed there the whole time, regardless, challenging random kids to one on one games, like he was at the aquatic version of Rucker Park.
Wild Water Waves Pool
Billed as “the largest indoor wave pool in the Eastern United States”, Wild Water Waves Pool was a hit with my fam. Again, while more suited for all ages, KJ did enjoy bobbing up and down on the waves, some of which got pretty big!
The Frog Pond
The Frog Pond is an area with a whirlpool for the family to relax in, and leapfrog fountains for little kids to splash around on. It’s kind of tucked away in a corner, behind the Tree Tops Ropes Course. Not gonna lie, because we didn’t try the ropes course, I didn’t notice the Frog Pond, so we never went in it. #planningfail
The Lava Pool
This is a small pool, with “lava” for kids to play in. Again, not gonna lie, I assumed that it was a hot tub, and didn’t stop to go in. J checked it out, though, with K, and reported back, in her words “the water was not deep, and it was hot, and there were benches nearby, and it was relaxing.”
For B and J SIZED kids (re: big kids)
Tiki Tree House
This is located in the middle of Splash Lagoon, and is a featured attraction. It’s four stories high, with activities like water cannons, and a giant tipping bucket. I’m not sure why, but the Tiki Tree House didn’t seem as good as it probably normally is, during our stay. Some things were not functional, or were barricaded. If fully operational, it appears to be a blast, but I can’t vouch for it, based on our experience.
The Lazy River
This is just as it sounds. Grab a tube, alone or with your kid, and lazily float around the river. It’s a decent size, so you can do a few laps without taking up too much time. Minimal congestion, too, which is sometimes an issue with these things.
WARNING: if you have a mischievous daughter like mine, she will probably steer you towards the waterfall, where you will get splashed worse than a basketball net after a Steph Curry versus Klay Thompson three point contest. I suggest singing the chorus to TLC’s ‘Wateralls’ to alleviate any potential soaking (note: that was a joke. You should obviously sing TLC’s Creep, instead).
This is a big, curvy water slide that actually goes outside for part of it. It’s for single or double riders with a tube, with a minimum 36″ height requirement. Children 36″-42″ tall, like J, had to slide with an adult, though.
Python Plunge is similar in thrillness to the Big Kahuna, and it has the same restrictions and tube requirement, too (though this one is a lot of fun with two riders).
This is a single person body slide, minimum 36″ height requirement. It feels like you’re going pretty fast, and it’s another slide that takes you outside for part of it. The lineup for this water slide was a bit confusing. It’s located beside the Big Kahuna, and I noticed a lot of people were standing in the line for that because they didn’t realize that the line for Shark Attack was separate. In B and I’s case, we made that mistake initially before noticing, once we got to the top, that there weren’t actually any people in line for Shark Attack, so we went right on.
This was J’s personal favorite. From the top of the Tiki Tree House, the whole water slide is in complete darkness. Single riders only, no tube, minimum height requirement of 36″.
Maui Wowie is a bit of a quickie single rider slide, no tube. It shoots you down and around the sharp, sudden turns pretty fast. 36″ height requirement.
B’s fav because, in part, of the toilet bowl effect of going round and round before being flushed out into a pool below. For single or double riders with a tube, with a minimum 36″ height requirement. Children 36″-42″ tall gotta ride with a grownup.
This is like the Cyclone, if the Cyclone was on Red Bull energy drinks. A bit more extreme, as it’s for tubeless single riders, which means you go faster, and end up in a deep pool. For people 48″ and up, who are strong enough swimmers to swim out of the deep pool at the end.
for DA GROWNUPS
There’s a bar upstairs called Island Oasis Bar.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
extra playing there
All of the above attractions are included in your day pass admission. If you want to spend a few more bucks, Splash Lagoon has some other fun ways to take your money. The aforementioned Tree Tops Ropes Course, for example, costs $7 per person. It’s three stories high, of various climbing challenges, for kids and adults (36″ and taller). $7 will also get you a spin on the Aqua Tumbler, a giant inflatable ball that loops you around and shoots water at you while you’re in it.
Upstairs from the park is an arcade. It has a decent selection of games, with the usual selection of prizes to be won when winning tokens at said games. One unique feature, though, was the Hologate Virtual Reality game, which cost $8/person, and looked pretty interesting.
If you’re like my family, you can expect to spend $20 at the arcade, for the joy of watching your kids win about $1 worth of tokens, which they will then argue about because they want to each cash it in for a different toy. B played one of those claw pickup games, and somehow ended up winning so much candy that even Milton Hershey would have been like “dang, homey”.
During our trip, The FlowRider, a wave simulation ride similar to ones seen at other theme parks, was not operational.
You are not allowed to bring outside food to Splash Lagoon. However, there is a restaurant on site called Laguna Grill. It serves the expected theme park foods like burgers, pizza and chicken fingers. One kind of odd thing was the ice cream stand. It’s nearby to the Laguna Grill, but to order a cone, you have to place the order at Laguna Grill, and then go to the stand to get your order. However, there was never anyone working at the stand, so you had to wait for someone who wasn’t busy at the grill to come over to scoop your order. K and the kids actually waited a half hour for an order that we placed (it was really good ice cream, admittedly, and almost worth the wait).
Hooch and Blotto’s Sports Bar& Grill is also connected to Splash Lagoon, and it’s a great place to go for a change of pace of the waterpark. While we didn’t partake in any food, the menu was pretty tasty looking, and there was nice selection of craft beers featured, which I may have had one or two of. We did hit hit up the lanes there one night, to play some bowling. No shoe rentals required, and small balls with bumpers in the lanes available, so it was very kid-friendly. At the end, though, you might leave the prohibition-themed restaurant with the same thing on your mind as B did: what’s with all the moustaches?
Beyond these options, there are several restaurants a couple of minute’s drive away. Because, as I have noted before on here, we are kind of suckers for chains that aren’t near us, we went to Applebee’s one evening. It was delicious. Come to Hamilton, Ontario, Applebee’s. Sheesh.
this, that and there
Some closing points about Splash Lagoon. Staying at the Holiday Inn Express did allow us to walk back and forth to the waterpark and our room swim-ready. However, I did duck my head into the change room on hand, and it looked really clean. The closeness also meant that we could just leave our stuff in the room. Otherwise, a locker might have been needed, which are available on the premise, for various prices. As an option, there was lots of tables and seating around, which people would claim by leaving their stuff on.
Towels, unfortunately, are not available, unless you want to buy them at the Surf Shop store upstairs, so you gotta bring your own.
Parking is free.
In terms of staff, everyone that I encountered was friendly, and helpful. There were plenty of lifeguards on hand, too, at every attraction.
getting out AND ABOUT there
I mentioned above about doing other stuff as a change of pace to Splash Lagoon. In terms of things to do in Erie,PA, it is a nice little city, with some cool options to keep you and your family busy, if you want to take a break from the water.
I loves me a good children’s museum (yes, even more so than my kids sometimes), so I, uh I mean we, really liked The expERIEnce Children’s Museum. Located about 10 minutes away from Splash Lagoon, it’s three stories high, along with an outside play space. Each floor focused on a different play-inspiring theme: creativity, explore, and imagination. I do think that it’s a bit more suited for smaller kids. B’s ten years old, and was more into goofing around with his brother and sister than most of the exhibits. However, J and KJ both had a lot of fun, especially on the imagination floor pretending to be doctors, grocery store clerks, and firefighters. The expERIEnce Children’s Musuem is definitely a nice place for kids to safely run around and blow off some steam, while learning a thing or two, in the process.
If you want to blow off some steam, in the offline retail variety, Erie is also home to the MIllcreek Mall. It’s one of the largest mall complexes in the USA. Even with the Canadian dollar being where it’s at, there were some good deals to be had there, especially on clothing (there’s no sales tax on clothes in Pennsylvania, to boot).
For the sports fan, Erie, Pennsylvania is also home to teams like the NBA G League’s Erie Bayhawks and the OHL’s Erie Otters. Neither were in town during our stay, unfortunately.
While we didn’t do a heck of lot of sightseeing and exploring in Erie, PA, what we did see and do was very worthwhile. Splash Lagoon, in particular, was the obvious highlight. When it comes to affordable road trip destinations where you can pretend to get away to somewhere tropical for a day or two, put Splash Lagoon at the top of your list.
Until the next one, peace!
Disclosure: though our accommodations and experiences during our stay were covered by Visit Erie, all opinions expressed are my own, as always.
Posted by mike On December 17, 2019
While in downtown Hamilton this weekend, I ended up walking past Gore Park. A ferris wheel has been set up there this month, which you can ride for free. Despite being alone, I totally went on it, because, well, free ferris wheel ride, duh. As I sat in my carriage, going round and round, taking in the sky high view of my hometown, a Forrest Gump-like thought entered my head. Life is kind of like a ferris wheel. Through the highs and the lows, things tend to always come back around full circle.
I mention this because it relates back to the reason why I was downtown, to begin with. The Good Shepherd was hosting their annual Christmas dinner event, at the Hamilton Convention Centre by Carmen’s, and I had signed up to be a volunteer. While this was my first year volunteering, it was not my first year attending an event like this. Back in the day, things were always tight money-wise, to varying degrees. On more than one occasion, the best meal and toys that little Mike got over a holiday season came courtesy of the Good Shepherd, or a similar organisation which helped those in need. And yeah, for the longest time, I’ll admit to being a bit ashamed about this. I grew up being the dude who was usually “without”, surrounded by people who were “with”. These experiences were my own little secrets, ones that I tucked away and never really looked back at it.
Until this year.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to that dinner. One thing that I wasn’t expecting was the crowd. I arrived early, and had to wiggle my way through large throngs of people, to get to the door. Later, I was told that a lineup had formed, which stretched down to MacNab Street. All in all, there were more than 2000 guests and about 800 volunteers in attendance.
The other unexpected thing was how much time and effort was clearly put in to make it seem like you had been transported to a winter wonderland. A band and a choir comprised of volunteers performed holiday songs on the way into the dining rooms. The dining rooms themselves were festively done up. On the lower level, Santa was in the house, flocked with toys to give out. Some of the giant inflatables for kids to play on even fit the snowy theme. At the exit, a donation area was set up, for you to grab free winter clothing if needed, to help stay warm.
I was part of the serving team for the day, which basically involved running back and forth to the kitchen, making sure that there was always food on hand. No trays of turkey were dropped by yours truly, which was a win in my books. Another win was the amount of people young, old and in between, who came out to help. From my numerous conversations with other volunteers, the common theme seemed to be that, for many folks, this was annual tradition. My team leader, Lisa, for example, had, over the years, done almost every job possible at this event, and happily kept everything on track for us. Annette Hamm, a local news personality, was also on my team. She was a repeat offender (when it came to volunteering there!) and offered me some great advice.
The Good Shepherd opens the doors to their dinner to everyone and anyone. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but I can only assume that people from all walks of life came out to eat. At one point, among the sea of happy faces, I saw a little boy who resembled me when I was younger, sitting at a table with his mom (I’m assuming). I’d like to say that we then locked eyes, and that something profoundly, magically, Chistmas-spiritually happened, straight outta Hallmark. In reality, he probably wondered who this weird guy was that was staring at him, and I had to run off to get more mashed potatoes. At the end of the event, though, I did see the mom rummaging through the donated winter items, and giving him a scarf, which made him smile as if he just got a Playstation 5.
Look, parents tend to reflect on the jobs that their parents did on them, and want to do better than that with their own children. I’m no exception. When I see B and J’s annual Santa wish lists, and how thrilled they are, when they actually get what they asked for, I remember all of those years when little Mike would make his own lists, yet those lists had no chance of ever being filled. Shoot, on Black Friday this year, I woke up early, to go to a Real Canadian Superstore to buy a TV. On the way out, because I spent more than $250, the store gave me a free frozen turkey. When I told this to my family, no one cared, and we ended up giving it away to a friend. On some hungry nights, little Mike would have given his right leg for a right turkey leg, but here’s current Mike out here giving turkeys away, like it’s no biggie.
I guess what I’m rambling about is this. Though it’s been said many times, many ways (probably), everyone deserves a good meal this time of the year. Everyone deserves to feel a little bit special, too, especially kids. I’m glad that organisations like the Good Shepherd exist to help facilitate this. While not profoundly, magically Christmas-spiritual, it did finally dawn on me that we should be more appreciative, because things really do come around full circle. Ain’t no shame in that.
Happy holidays, y’all!
Posted by mike On December 11, 2019
Disclaimer: Compensation was received from Best Buy in exchange for this post, but all opinions expressed are my own, as always.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If you are still looking for that extra special gift for an extra special person, then have you considered the Sony Xperia 1 Cell phone? Since my FAQ posts are
sometimes always popular, let’s do this in that way!
A POST ABOUT A PHONE? JEEZ, YOU’RE REALLY PHONING IT IN TODAY, HUH?
What? No! I like to keep up on the latest and greatest in mobile devices, and the Sony Xperia 1 is pretty sweet. Plus, Best Buy has a nice deal on it right now, too.
FINE, YOU CELL-OUT. TELL ME ABOUT THIS PHONE THEN.
The Sony Xperia 1 smartphone has a triple-lens camera system and advanced autofocus technologies, which makes it easy to take stable, detailed images and capture 4K videos. It’s unlocked, and has a 6.5-inch 4K OLED touch screen that really brings out the detail in captured footage and streaming videos.
6.5 inches? that’s big! bigger than my current phone.
What phone do you currently have?
hey, i’m asking the questions here!
Right. My bad. Anyway, besides the screen, the storage is good-sized, too. 128 GB internal memory with a microSD slot.
It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with a respectable 6GB of RAM, and runs on the Android 9.0 Pie OS at 4G LTE speed.
SO YOU’RE SAYING THAT I CAN TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES OF MY KIDS PLAYING AT THE PARK, UPLOAD THEM IMMEDIATELY TO MY “KIDS PLAYING AT THE PARK” FACEBOOK ALBUM, AND LIKE ALL THE PICTURES, TOO? ALL BEFORE THEY FINISH GOING DOWN A SLIDE?
I….I didn’t say that. You’d have to try doing that on your own, and get back to me. The Sony Xperia 1 does have a 12.0MP triple-lens camera system and 2x optical zoom to capture details without losing quality. Also featured is Motion Eye, which lets you capture slow motion videos at up to 906 frames per second, and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, to help keep your images free from motion blur. All of this will result in some dope shots of your, uh, kids on slides.
Wait. Why do you like your own photos on Facebook?
I’M WARNING YOU, pal! STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! NOW, CAN I DROP THIS PHONE IN A TOILET, OR NOT?
Uh. I mean, the Sony Xperia 1 has an IB68 rating, so it can stand being submerged in static water, to a point. I wouldn’t want to find out if it can survive a toilet drop, though. Neither should you!
YOU SAID THAT BEST BUY HAD A DEAL? EXPLAIN IT, PLEASE.
From December 9 to 22 2019, you can save $200 on the Sony Xperia 1 at Best Buy. Check it out here!
$200? do you hoW MANY SUBSCRIPTIONS TO DISNEY PLUS I CAN BUY WITH THAT?
Why do you need so many Disney Plus subscriptions?
THat’s it, mike! i warned you about asking questions. i’m leaving!
Yeah, I think we are about done here.
Happy Sony Xperia 1 smartphone shopping at Best Buy!
Posted by mike On November 19, 2019
Parenting, as we know, is a tough but rewarding gig. For every parenting win like this, though:
There are way more parenting fails. Head shaking, hand-wringing fails. Fails that can make you feel like a complete failure of a loser. Shoot, this past week alone, I feel like I’ve been throwing up Ls left and right, on the fatherhood front. Here are five examples.
MY OLDEST SON DOESN’T APPRECIATE THE VALUE OF MONEY
I’ve told you before about B’s ongoing infatuation with the game Fortnite. Recently, he worked and saved up some money, so he could buy a Playstation gift card. He really wanted the latest Fortnite battle pass, and a new skin. What’s a skin, you ask? This:
When I was a kid, on more than one occasion, we had to scrounge up loose change, to be able to buy a cheap pack of hot dogs for dinner. Now, here’s my son spending perfectly good cash to buy a video game character dressed up like a bratwurst?
I’m sorry, people. I done messed up.
RULES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN BY TODDLERS
I took B to his piano class at a music academy the other day, but I had little KJ with me. KJ actually likes to go there, because the place has a toy area set up. We drove over, then walked along the snowy sidewalk to the building where the class was. When we entered the building, I noticed that there was a sign on the door of the academy which said to please remove your shoes.
No biggie, right?
B dutifully removed his sneakers and went in. KJ, however, refused to take off his shoes. Not just refused, but full on screaming and crying refused. It was an out of nowhere reaction. I was shell-shocked. I have no clue what was going on in his head. Maybe his feet smelled? Maybe he was embarrassed about his choice of socks?
Regardless, it’s been a minute since I’ve been apart of a ‘terrible twos’ tantrum, and that old familiar feeling of essentially being screwed set in real quick. If I took his shoes off, and carried him, that would just escalate the meltdown, and disrupt all of the classes. Standing in the hallway trying to be the stern father, followed by the bribing father, followed by the begging father, also didn’t work. I couldn’t just let him go in, though, because cleaning up dirty wet little footprints wasn’t fair to anyone. I couldn’t even take him to the car. That would have involved leaving him in the hall while I went into the academy for who knows how long to find B, to let him know where I was going. After about 20 minutes, I scooped KJ up off of the ground (because no tantrum is complete without a good ol’ floor flopping), and carried him into the academy, shoes on, to sit on my lap for the rest of the class. He was less loud, but not quiet, during this time.
When the class ended, and we got back into my car, KJ, the newfound rebellious rule breaker, only had one thing to say for himself:
“But I want to play with the toys!”
I FORGOT TO TELL THEM ABOUT R. KELLY
Driving home one night, with B and J in the back bickering about something ridiculous, ‘I Wish’ by R. Kelly came on the radio. I hadn’t heard that song in forever, so I cranked it up, to drown out the arguing. As I was jamming like it was Y2K all over again, this conversation then happened:
B – “Hey, dad. Isn’t R. Kelly in jail?”
Me – “No. Well, yeah. He’s in jail while he’s on trial.”
J – “What did he do?”
I then thought about the answer, looked at my daughter in the rear view mirror…..and I chickened out, dude. That’s a complicated issue which I didn’t really want to talk about with her, or B, at that time. I mumbled something about he did some bad stuff, then we talked about what a trial is, and that was it. Maybe that’s not a parenting fail. Maybe it is. I’m not sure. All I know is that I didn’t feel like listening to ‘I Wish’ by R. Kelly anymore.
I put their health in jeopardy by making them swim too soon
Do you remember, back in the day, when your parents would tell you that you have to wait an hour after you eat, before you can go swimming? I gave KJ a hearty bowl of chicken noodle soup before his swim class the other day. This led to him turning the pool into a hearty bowl of chicken noodle puke. For those keeping track at home, a half hour was not enough time, in this case. Oops.
MY YOUNGEST SON IS AFRAID OF TURNING INTO A BLUEBERRY
KJ’s vocabulary has come on strong the last few months, and it seems like we hear him saying a new word daily. The other night’s word was “disgusting”. His toy cars were disgusting. Everything on his dinner plate was disgusting. It was kind of annoying. I gave him a bath, and he complained that the water was disgusting. Finally, when he sneered, with one eye opened, that the soap was disgusting, I asked him why. With zero hesitation, he replied:
“Cuz soap makes you a blueberry! I don’t wanna be a blueberry! I’m a boy!”
Good googly moogly, there’s a lot to decompress here. Is berrying by way of soaping even a real phobia?
Thanks for the reassurance, Sigmund Freud. Anyway, aren’t toddlers supposed to be afraid of monsters, and clowns, or Sir Topham Hatt, or something? Clearly, I’ve failed at properly scaring my kids, in addition to failing at the other parenting stuff I’ve mentioned.
That’s all that I got for now. Until the next one, stay winning, y’all!
Posted by mike On November 13, 2019
Tis the season to repeatedly take pictures of your little ones with the jolly dude in red! To save you the Googling (or Bing-ing, or Yahoo-ing, or Ask Jeeves-ing etc), I looked into where to see Santa in Hamilton this year, and summarized my findings. Check it out!
November 16, 2019 – 4:30 PM
Starts on Barton St W & Bay St N
South on Bay St N to York Blvd
East on York Blvd to James St N
North on James St N to finish at James St N and Barton St W
Don’t forget to bring some non-perishable goods for the food drive.
Note: If you’re reading this and it’s too late (word to Drake!), the Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade takes place December 7 at 2pm, in downtown Stoney Creek at King Street East.
Start Date: Sat Nov 16, 2019
End Date: Tue Dec 24, 2019
Unlike years past, you need to pre-register to experience Santa. Walks-ups will only be accepted if there are open spots.
The free Meet and Greet is where you can take your own photos. Each child will receive a ME to WE colouring sheet and a surprise email from Santa on Christmas Eve.
For $17, kids can take part in Storytime with Santa.
Santa will read a special holiday book, “A Magical Canadian Christmas”. After storytime, Elves will invite each child individually for a visit and photo with Santa. Each child will receive three professional digital photos, a copy of “A Magical Canadian Christmas” and a surprise email from Santa on Christmas Eve. Families will also receive a Leon’s tote bag that includes a voucher for a free memory foam pillow redeemable in-store ($29 retail value).
Santa arrives to Centre Court November 17 at 2:00pm with some special guests and a performance!
Monday to Friday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Extended Holiday hours begin November 30:
Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Black Friday (November 24)- 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Christmas Eve (December 24) – 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m
Friday November 29 – 8am to 3pm is a Babies’ First Christmas Event. Donate a new unwrapped toy or a gift card for the CHCH Christmas Toy Drive and receive a preselected FREE photo with Santa (Newborn babies until age 12 months).
Dog & Cat Photos with Santa:
Saturday, November 23rd – 3pm to 6pm
Saturday, December 7th – 7pm to 9:30pm
Tuesday, December 10th – 7pm to 9:30pm
Regular Santa photo charges apply. Children are welcome without a pet, too, provided they do not have a pet allergy. $5 will be donated to the CHCH Christmas Toy Drive from each pet photo package purchased.
Free 5″x7″ photos here! Just bring a donation in support of McMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation.
NOVEMBER 30- DECEMBER 1
Saturday 10 AM – 8 PM
Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM
DECEMBER 5 – 8
Thursday to Saturday 10 AM – 8 PM
Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM
DECEMBER 12 – 23
Monday to Saturday 10 AM – 8 PM
Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM
Santa will be arriving on Saturday, November 23 at 9:30am via a freakin’ helicopter! Children will receive a gift from Santa upon arrival while enjoying a warm refreshment from Starbucks and Christmas cookies from Denningers. Once Santa arrives, he will be paraded into the Centre.
November hours are:
Monday to Friday 10am – 9pm
Sunday from 11am – 6pm
Monday, Dec 2 – Sunday, Dec 15:
Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday – Friday 9am–9pm
Monday, Dec 16 – Sunday, Dec 22:
Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday – Friday 9am–9pm
Monday, Dec 23 – Thursday, Dec 26:
Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday – Wednesday 9am–9pm
Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday Christmas Eve 9am–5pm
Wednesday Closed for Christmas Day
The RBG, as usual, has lots of holiday themed events going on, among the usual cool stuff to see and do there. Visits with Santa are included with your admission on these days, though:
Tuesdays, November 19 to December 17
Friday November 22 and 29
Train rides out to Santa’s Cabin are available for $2 per child (12 and under) and $4 per adult.
Finally, Santa probably won’t be at these two events, but they’re worth busting out your festive sweaters for, anyway, to get you in the holiday spirit (if that’s what you do to get you in the holiday spirit. I don’t know, man!):
November 28, 2019
The train features 14 rail cars decorated with hundreds of thousands lights and a modified boxcar that has been turned into a traveling stage. The Hamilton stop will feature music artist Alan Doyle and Beautiful Band. Concert starts at 8 pm. It’s a free event, just make a cash or non-persishable donation to the Hamilton Food Share.
Gore Park will be hosting a Christmas Market Friday, December 7th from 5-11pm, Saturday, December 8th from 11am-11pm, and from noon to 6pm on Sunday, December 9th. Admission is free, and the festivities include lots of local vendors, a kids’ craft area, carolers, holidays movies being shown, tasty beverages at a fully licensed bar, and a mistletoe kissing station.
Most importantly (well, to me, anyway), is that there will be a ferris wheel running daily in Gore Park December 7 through December 23 from noon to 8pm (Dec 7th it will run 3pm to 9pm). Neat!
Posted by mike On November 6, 2019
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Best Buy, but all thoughts expressed are my own, as always.
OK, so today we’re talking drones, and in particular, one that might be at the top of the photographer/tech toy fan in your life’s wish list, the DJI Global Mavic Mini! Let’s do this, FAQ-style!
Hold up. YOU’RE doing a post about a drone?
What do you even know about drones?
Well, I know that the Mavic Mini is small and lightweight, but it comes with many of the features of other quality drones.
How lightweight is it? If I sneeze, will it blow away like a tumbleweed?
249 grams, and no?
That’s a relief, because I’m allergic to tumbleweeds. List off some of the specs, now!
30-min Max. Flight Time
4 km HD Video Transmission
Vision Sensor + GPS Precise Hover
3-Axis Gimbal 2.7K Camera
explain the features, but do it in a way that makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about.
I do know what I’m talking about! Anyway, the Mavic Mini supports 12MP aerial photos and 2.7K Quad HD videos. It also has a 3-axis motorized gimbal, which provides great stability, and clear, smooth, vivid footage. When fully charged, it can stay in the sky for up to 30 minutes, which is better than comparable drones. As well, the dedicated remote controller is easy to use, and it maintains an HD, low latency video feed of up to 4 KMs. I should also mention that the DJI Fly app gives users integrated access to SkyPixel, a social media platform for users to share their aerial photos and videos.
What type of camera modes does the Mavic Mini have? Slow-motion establishing shots of a city skyline at night, set to some groovy saxophone music are my thang.
That’s your thang? Regardless, it has QuickShot modes, which include Dronie, Circle, Helix, and Rocket. Just select your QuickShot, and the Mavic Mini will execute an elaborate preset motion while recording. For narrow or complex spaces, there is the CineSmooth mode, which slows down the flight speed and movements, for extra precision and stability.
What else does it come with?
Two-Way Charging Hub: The Two-Way Charging Hub can charge up to three batteries in sequence. Itcan also be used to store and transport batteries, and even as a power bank to charge your mobile device.
DIY Creative Kit: Make your FlyCam truly yours with this kit that includes shell stickers and colorful markers.
Charging Base: Show off your Mavic Mini while charging it with the convenient charging base.
DJI Mini Bag: Pack your Mavic Mini and Two-Way Charging Hub easily with this signature shoulder bag that’s perfect for everyday use.
Snap Adapter: Personalize your Mavic Mini with a wide range of compatible accessories when you use the Snap Adapter.
Propeller Holder : This lightweight propeller holder protects your FlyCam propellers from being damaged during transportation. It can also be used to fasten your Mavic Mini to your bag or belt.
Did you just cut and paste that from the Best Buy website?
Nope! See for yourself here.
Fine. Any other points, Mike?
Sure. The Mavic Mini looks it would please drone rookies and hardcore enthusiasts alike. I wouldn’t mind getting one, as I think that the kids and I would have a lot of fun using it!
Hold up. YOU want a drone?
And we’re done here. Later!
Posted by mike On September 16, 2019
They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Now, I haven’t planned anything with a mouse lately (or ever), but I have with my family, and, to paraphrase Lizzo:
why plans great til they gotta be great?
For example, we recently got to spend 24 hours in Chicago. Having never been to The Windy City before, I had a rough itinerary in mind for us, to maximize our time. I then envisioned coming back and telling y’all about our adventures. Luxurious shopping sprees along the Magnificent Mile. Family photos in front of iconic Chicago landmarks like the Bean and the Michael Jordan statue. Self indulgent visits to the locations of my favorite rapper’s childhood home (Kanye West) and the house where my favorite TV show is filmed in (Shameless). Scenes recreated throughout Chi-Town with the kids from my favorite 80s movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Potentially, it would be an epic Chicago day tour.
Believe it or not, our 24 hours in Chicago did not go as I thought that it would. At all. Here’s how it went down, to the best of my recollection:
9:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast, as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. Planned to then make the almost two hour drive to Chicago afterwards. Arrived at the market, and realized that most of the vendors did not open up shop until 10:00AM. Sat outside the market in our van until then.
10:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. It had started to rain heavily while we were waiting outside. We got our food to go, and then headed to Chicago in some occasionally torrential downpours, surrounded by dangerously driving transport trucks. It’s a white knuckle drive.
11:00AM – Realized that the forecast in Chicago calls for rain all day. Realized that we’ll have to call an audible on most of the potential destinations on my agenda. Touring around in the rain with three small, soggy kids is a recipe for a sucktacular trip.
11:50AM – Arrived at our first destination, Water Tower Place, to go the American Girl Store, a giant doll store that J had been excited about visiting for months. Upon arrival, discovered that affordable parking in downtown Chicago is harder to find than Steve Bartman’s whereabouts. Some of the parking signage is harder to decipher than the Bulls’ old triangle offense. Proceeded to drive around aimlessly, looking for a reasonable, understandable parking spot.
12:20PM – Finally find a meter parking spot about two blocks away from Water Tower Place. Walked to the American Girl Store.
12:20AM – Kidding. It only felt like I spent 12 hours at the American Girl Store. We were actually there for an hour, with J loving every minute. If you’ve ever wanted to take your doll to a hair salon, or get your kid the same outfit as their doll, then this is the place for you, by the way.
1:20PM – The rain kiboshed the shopping spree along the Magnificent Mile. Well, the rain, and the price tags at some of the high end shops. Instead, we walked through Water Tower Place and went to Macy’s. It had eight floors in it, and clearance sections galore, perfect for Canadians like us looking to ball out on a budget. Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for toddlers like KJ to run around the store like Walter Payton, and to play hide and seek by himself in the clothing racks.
2:10PM – Back to the car, to make our way to an actual iconic Chicago landmark – the Skydeck at Willis Tower (courtesy of tickets from my good friends at the Skydeck. Thanks again, guys!). It’s about a 12 minute drive, to get there from where we were.
2:50PM – Finally find a parking spot after some difficulties, same reasons as before. We are basically closer to Water Tower Place than Willis Tower. We are at a confusingly worded meter, as well. From it, I conclude that we have until 4:00pm to park there, before Oprah Winfrey would come to take our car away, and give it to a member of a studio audience. My conclusion is most likely not even close to being correct. Regardless, we gotta book it to, and through, the Skydeck.
3:00-3:40PM – the Skydeck was not busy, so we were in, up (a 90 second elevator ride!) and enjoying the 1300 plus feet lookout in short fashion. It really was amazing up there. Spectacular views of the city. Tried to take some pics for da ‘Gram, none of which end up making the cut. For example, here’s a family shot of us on the Skydeck Ledge glass floor. If I look scared, it’s because I was scared. If our family looks short-handed, it’s because B didn’t want to come on the Ledge, for the picture. If KJ looks like he’s so hungry that he had to eat his shirt, it’s because he probably was.
Tried to get the kids to pose like Ferris, Sloane and Cam did in Ferris Buehller. Realized that they hadn’t seen the movie, and didn’t know what I was talking about. Settled for this shot:
In the spirit of the Toronto Raptors’ championship and “We The North”, here is “He The North”, as in I’m way up in sky, rocking a Raps’ hat:
3:45PM – Time to rush back to the car. At one point, instead of running, KJ dropped and starting doing push ups.
3:54PM – Noticed KJ crossing a bridge, with some of Chicago’s majestic skyscrapers in the background, would make for a cute pic. Say cheese, little man!
Thanks, white van, for the photobomb.
3:59PM – No sign of Oprah, so our car is safe. With rain pouring down, we decided to go to our hotel, The Willows Hotel, located near the Wrigleyville area of the city. On the way, a rain-drenched Wrigley Field field was not in the cards, so I did the next best thing – walked around the stadium and took some mediocre pictures!
5:00PM – Arrived at The Willows Hotel. It’s a lovely, smaller, boutique hotel, with an old, old school (think 19th century) feel. B will make repeated comments about how he can’t believe the TVs are so new in such a classic building.
6:00PM – The hotel is in a nice, quiet neighbourhood, so we decided to go for a walk. We end up in a clearance section at a T.J. Maxx, because we are apparently all about discounted stuff from department stores which aren’t in Canada. I have this convo with KJ there:
KJ – I miss you!
Me – You can’t miss me. You’re right beside me.
*KJ runs away, runs back*
KJ – I miss you!
I should also mention that, throughout these 24 hours in Chicago, B had been complaining about a headache. The poor kid kept freaking himself out, and escalating his symptoms via incorrect self-diagnosis. It started off in the morning as the slightest of headaches. Later, it increased to it hurting only when he shook his head violently, as if he was headbanging (note: B had never headbanged before in his life). By the time that we are in T.J. Maxx, he is essentially sulking around the place, thinking that he needs a brain transplant.
6:30PM – K had looked up restaurants in the area, so we start to head out to decent sounding one.
6:32PM – K looked up reviews of said restaurant, and read that the owner was allegedly openly racist. We walk to a different dining establishment (in the rain, of course).
8:00PM – After dinner, we walk to get dessert/breakfast, from Stan’s Donuts.
8:25PM – Back to the hotel. Yes, I realize that this seems early to call it a night for someone who wanted to maximize their 24 hours in Chicago. However, we were tired. Plus B had ‘inceptioned’ me, by planting seeds of doubt in my head about the crime rate in the city (“Hey dad, are we going to get shot in Chicago?“). Tapping out and enjoying the safety of our comfy hotel seemed like a good call.
6:00AM-7:00AM – Pack up, get some continental breakfast to go with our donuts, and check out of the hotel, so we can make the 8ish hour long drive home.
7:00AM – 7:30AM – We followed the Waze App, to guide us. The route that we take is very scenic, along the outskirts of the city. Between the skyline and architecture, it’s beautiful looking, in the distance.
7:30AM – We get led to the “Chicago Skyway”, which is a toll road. We pay $5 US to use it.
7:38AM – Waze leads us off of the Skyway, and onto another road. Huh? That’s it?! I immediately want my $5 US back.
We continued our way out of Chi-Town, until it was nothing but a recent memory.
Hopefully, a return trip will be in order, in the future, and hopefully, things will go as planned, too.
But, you know what they say about the best laid plans, right?
Posted by mike On September 11, 2019
Look, I get it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin doesn’t exactly scream family vacation destination. It’s a mid-sized Midwest city known for beer, bratwurst and cheese. How sexy is that? However, I read quite a bit about how internationally-born NBA Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo loved it there. If the Greek Freak, a man who’s been all over the world, and could basically play anywhere that he wanted, chose freakin’ Milwaukee, then there must be more than meets the eye. For my family, I thought that it would make for, at the very least, an interesting road trip. Turns out, there’s actually lots of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids, and it’s one of the coolest cities that I’ve been to.
Now, truth be told, it was a long drive, for us. It involved going through one province, and four states, plus a different time zone. Including stops, each way took a good 11 hours. To keep the kids
not at each other’s throats entertained, we pretty much brought more DVDs than an old Blockbuster Video store with us, for them to watch in the van, along with other devices and toys. As Milwaukee is situated on the coast of Lake Michigan, our drive consisted of going around the lake, to get there. A ferry called The Lake Express does depart from Muskegon, Michigan, and goes to Milwaukee. We looked into this, and while appealing, because it would have shaved hours off of the driving, it was fairly expensive, so we passed.
FAMILY FUN THINGS TO DO IN MILWAUKEE
Milwaukee is a big sports town. I couldn’t walk very far without seeing someone decked out in Bucks, Brewers or Green Bay Packers apparel. The aforementioned Giannis, in particular, seems to get a lot of love. While it wasn’t basketball season, we did scope out the not-brand-new-but-still-has-that-new-arena-smell Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks play.
Our visit happened during the summer, so we were able to watch a Brewers game, at Miller Park. The stadium is awesome, and is a great place to catch nine innings.
Beyond that, though, the Brewers do a nice job with the extra stuff. In case you or the little ones get bored, there are a couple of play areas in the park, for them to blow off some steam. One of them even has a mini version of the famous Bernie Brewer slide. On Sundays (when we went), you can play catch in the outfield of the Field of Dreams-esque Helfaer Field, located beside Miller Park, before then game. Then after the game, children can unleash their inner Christian Yelich, and run the bases on Miller Park’s field!
History is also featured prominently. There’s a Walk of Fame and a Wall of Honor commemorating legendary Brewers figures. For you Bud Selig fans, he’s a featured attraction at Miller Park, complete with a statue, retired number, and a section dedicated to him called the Bud Selig Experience.
Zoos are always a hit with our family, and the Milwaukee County Zoo was no exception. It houses over 3100 (!!) creatures of the land, sea and sky, sprawled across 190 acres. Coming up with a game plan seemed daunting, but once we got going, it wasn’t bad at all. It was easy to navigate and not very strenuous to walk (re: so no complaints about tired legs from B, J or KJ). The Milwaukee County Zoo also has some attractions like a carousel, Sky Safari, rope courses and a zip line on site, too (all for an added cost). In addition, numerous opportunities exist to see some of the animals up close, throughout the zoo.
I will admit to trying to cheat things a bit. We thought that if we took the Safari Train, then we could lap the park and see everything quickly. Word of advice – don’t do this. The train is a leisurely ride around the perimeter of the zoo, so you don’t get many glimpses of most of the crowd pleasing animals.
Another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids is to go to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. This museum is home to numerous exhibits, some of which are seasonal, but all of which are interactively hands-on with learning elements. KJ and J really enjoyed the Home Town exhibit, because of all the pretend, make believe, role playing aspects to it.
B spent a lot of time in the Big League Fun exhibit, putting his baseball abilities and knowledge to the test.
We barely scratched the surface of the other exhibits on hand (once my kids find stuff that they like, they tend to really like it), which was a shame, as they were all dope. Whereas my kiddos gravitated towards the ones mentioned, yours might like Science CITY more, for example.
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum was such a blast that I didn’t even realize how educational and skill-developing it was. I was too busy acting like a big kid with my kids. It even had an outdoor area, with amazing #views of Milwaukee’s waterfront, for you selfie-loving Instaparents.
Not far from Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is Discovery World. Focused mainly on technology and aquatic stuff, visiting here is another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids. It’s a large, multi-level center, full of stations, labs and experiences, which appeal to the inner scientist and engineer of all ages. Not only that, but it has an aquarium, as well, with a robust collection of interesting underwater animals to check out.
Due to the size and number of activities to do, it was hard to try everything; we were even there for a few hours! Our visit also happened to coincide with a tournament and some other event happening nearby, so finding parking was quite a challenge. Apparently, it can be even worse during bigger events, like Summerfest. However, Discovery World is the only place where my family “touched lightning”, lied on a bed of nails, gawked at a poisonous dart frog, and walked on a replica schooner while humming “I’m On a Boat” by the Lonely Island (Fine. The last one was all me). How cool is that?
Discovery World is located on Milwaukee’s lakefront. I was surprised at how beautiful this area is. It looked like a great location to hang out, or go for a ride along the shoreline, or, as we noticed on the day that we were there anyway, get married and have the reception on a cruise ship. Unrelated, but who knew that Milwaukee had such nice beaches?!
Eating and Drinking There
Make no mistake about it, Milwaukee is a beer lover’s dream. It’s not just a city of MGD drinkers, however. Milwaukee’s micro and craft beer scene is thriving. I’m sure this isn’t even remotely true, so don’t hold me to it as fact, but when exploring the town, it felt like there was a brewery on every corner, each with their own unique offerings. Many of the breweries offer tours, too, with samplings. These obviously aren’t necessarily child friendly, though, so we didn’t partake in one while in search of family fun in Milwaukee. Regardless, whatever your taste is, you definitely won’t be hard-pressed to find good, satisfying suds anywhere during your travels
A city dubbed “The Beer Capital Of The World” having lots of beer in it is hardly a surprise. Conversely, Milwaukee’s culinary scene was pleasantly surprising. Brats are a Wisconsin staple, and the sheer number of people grilling them up as they tailgated before and after the Brewers game that we went to was impressive. Cheese curds are another staple, and I had no idea that there were so many different ways to make them. Beyond these, the cuisine in the city stretches way beyond traditional Midwest fares. Cool, trendy-looking restaurants to fill your belly are aplenty throughout the city.
For example, we went to Glass + Griddle one evening. It’s a large, open beer hall environment, with a bright, contemporary interior design. Picnic tables are one of the seating options on the premise which, if you’re with a large party, is actually kind of perfect. The bar was huge, and as Glass + Griddle is located directly beside MKE Brewing Co., their beers are featured prominently (but not exclusively). The food offered is more or less what you find at a gastropub. There was no kiddie menu, so, in terms of families, I’d probably recommended it as a place to go to while on the way to, or back from, somewhere, to grab a quick bite. We just picked a bunch of scrumptious apps and chowed down on those…..including, of course, cheese curds!
One of the most fun places to go in Milwauakee to eat is SafeHouse. I think that I’d describe it as a spy-themed speakeasy. The secret entrance is located in an alley, and once you find it, you need to know the password to get in (don’t worry, you can still enter, but no spoilers how here). Once inside, the restaurant takes the espionage theme very seriously. The staff are all “agents”, and you’re referred to as an agent. If you wanted someone to call you Austin Powers with a straight face, then this is the spot for you. Spy memorabilia and decor fill the walls; the menu is littered with spy references, too. You can even partake in a scavenger hunt, where you’re encouraged to walk around and find all of the hidden surprises scattered throughout the building. Stopping by the magic bar is encouraged, because, well, magicians rule, and the one at SafeHouse was really entertaining. The food was alright, but, as one of Milwaukee’s hot spots, SafeHouse is the type of place where you go to soak in the unique experience.
Another unique, diverse food destination that we checked out was the Milwaukee Public Market. This is an indoor food market located downtown, which houses many local vendors who offer a wide range of freshly-produced products. We went during breakfast, so we didn’t get to divulge in some of the tasty looking lunch/dinner options. However, I’ll vouch for the smoothies from On The Bus, the big cookies from C. Adam’s Bakery, the coffee from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. and the breakfast tacos from Margerita Paradise as all being outstanding.
Milwaukee does has lots of more traditional restaurants. Our favorite was Blue’s Egg. From what I’m told, this is a very popular breakfast/brunch joint, so the wait time to get in sometimes can be long. However, we experienced no delay, when we went. The food is American-style, with their own twist on things. The portion sizes were generous, and delicious. The stuffed hash browns came highly recommended, and for good reason! Not only that, but the service, no joke, was the best that I’ve ever had at a restaurant, above and beyond what you’d normally expect. Blue’s Egg exceeded the hype, for sure.
BEING THERE, SEEING THERE
During our trip, we stayed at The Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown. It’s very contemporary, and our room was bright, clean and comfortable. As a basketball fan, I found the subtle hoop themes in the lobby to be especially cool.
You can tell that downtown is experiencing a resurgence, as many buildings and areas are new, or have undergone changes to be more fresh and hip. The best example of this is Fiserv Forum, which I mentioned earlier. It’s the central point of Deer District, a revitalised neighbourhood that is one of the city’s best sports and entertainment destinations (it also happened to be a short stroll away from our hotel).
Marquette University is also located near downtown, so pockets of neighbourhoods had a youthful buzz about them, if that makes sense. Harley Davidson’s headquarters are in Milwaukee (there is even a Harley Davidson Museum, in town), so, coincidentally or not, I did notice all kinds of different folks cruising along on Harleys. Alternatively, it appeared that the electric scooter trend has taken the town by storm, as lots of people were zipping around on them.
Travelling around downtown Milwaukee wasn’t too bad, in terms of accessibility. Lots of stuff was withing walking distance, or a short drive (or scooter ride) away. Even getting over to Miller Park can be simplified. Several of the restaurants in the Deer District offered a shuttle bus service to games, where if you go and pre-drink, you can take the bus to the game, and it will pick you up afterwards (for the price of a tip to the driver). We took advantage of this service at The Mecca Sports Bar And Grill. The best part was that the driver acted as a de facto tour guide along the way, giving us the lowdown on some landmarks, as well as the head’s up on which parts of the city to avoid after dark.
THE WRAP UP
Don’t sleep on Milwaukee, my dudes. It’s not just another stereotypical, industrial, Midwestern city. Milwaukee is culturally diverse, artsy, random and eclectic, with a really chill vibe about it. It’s an unexpectedly vibrant place to check out with the family, full of stuff for you and them to enjoy.
Note: We were hosted by Visit Milwaukee for this trip, and many of the destinations discussed were complimentary in nature to us. All opinions expressed are my own, as always.
Posted by mike On August 20, 2019
It’s a sunny, muggy Friday afternoon in August, and I’m standing on the field of Atwood Stadium, in Flint Michigan, with my family. It’s busy here, full of kids and adults interacting with each other. There’s an excitement in the air, too. Lots of laughter. Lots of smiles. We exchange pleasantries with a complete and total stranger. Soon after, the stranger rounds up her children, and four others, including my nine year old son B. The stranger then says goodbye and leaves with them all. As I stand there, clutching my daughter’s hand, sweat now escaping my forehead more rapidly than before, watching as my son walked across the field with the stranger, and then disappeared out of the stadium, I wonder if I just made the biggest mistake of my life.
Welcome to the Canusa Games.
OK, OK, that’s a melodramatic opening paragraph, so I should probably provide some context.
The Canusa Games are, per their website, North America’s largest and longest running international games. Athletes mainly under the age of 18 from Hamilton, Ontario (my hometown) and Flint, Michigan compete against each other annually in various sports. The two cities take turns each year hosting, as well. This year, it involved over 1200 athletes across 13 different sports. Of those 1200 athletes, one of them happened to be my nine year old son B. He tried out for Canusa’s youngest age division’s basketball team, and ended up making it. Basically, picture the Olympics but on a smaller scale; replace all the countries in the world……with Hamilton and Flint.
The 2019 Canusa Games took place in Flint, over three days. Here’s the huge part of the equation, though. Unlike the Olympics, which has an Olympic village to house the participants, the Canusa Games relies on billets. The visiting athletes all take chartered buses to the hosting city, and are then paired with a local family for the weekend. That family houses them, feeds them, and gets them to their respective sports on time. It’s a longstanding tradition.
Now, back in the day, growing up in Hamilton, the Canusa Games to prepubescent/teenage me sounded awesome. Roll up into Michigan for a weekend by myself and get treated like a big shot while competing in a sport? Sign this boy up! Unfortunately, prepubescent/teenage me lacked the actual skills required to make a Canusa Games team, so the awesomeness remained in my head only.
Nowadays, the idea of leaving my little kids alone in a foreign city with a stranger for a weekend terrifies me. In fact, when B made the Canusa basketball team for his age group, I figured that we would take advantage of the modified billet system. The host family would handle B during the day, and we would come grab him at night. Unexpectedly, though, K wanted B to do the full billet! She HAD actually competed in the Canusa Games when she was younger. It was a great experience, with no incident.
Times change, of course, and your feelings evolve as you grow up. Nostalgia tends to cloud your memories, as well. The more that I thought about it, the more that I just didn’t get it. The billet system seemed like a quaint idea from a woebegone era to me, when people didn’t lock the doors of their homes, and children sat in the passenger seats of cars without using seatbelts. Society is just so much more different now. America is just so much more different now. What the heck was I missing, when it came to Canusa? How could so many people be so trusting in this system, when it defied common sense? My family was making the road trip to watch B, but some parents just left their kids at the bus stop in Hamilton. Good luck, see ya in a few days, essentially.
For my own sanity, I wanted to believe in Flint, Michigan. And then I learned this. And this. Shoot, there’s even a Netflix documentary about the city which, spoiler alert, doesn’t portray it very glowingly. Don’t forget the water crisis, too. You can’t even take in a Flint Tropics game, as they don’t actually exist! Well, maybe that one doesn’t count. Regardless, K, who’s usually more overprotective than me, was fine with B going it solo. Nothing on the old Google machine listed any horror stories from past Canusa Games, either.
What the heck was I missing?
These are the thoughts which raced through my sweaty head as I stood in Atwood Stadium on that fateful afternoon. Similar to the Olympics, the Canusa Games had an Opening Ceremonies, complete with the delegations walking into the stadium separately, national anthem performances, and a torch lighting run.
When the ceremony was complete, the athletes and their families met up with the billets on the field. Besides passing a police check, I knew nothing about the prospective host for B. If you didn’t know me at all, but knew that I was going to watch your precious child for three days, what would be going through your head? My perception beforehand was so rife with negativity that I will admit to grasping at judgemental straws. However, B’s billet gave off a strong first impression. As well, while most hosts were taking one or two young athletes, she was housing four. You’re either bananas or incredibly openhearted for taking on such a responsibility, and as they disappeared across the field, I was hoping that it was the latter.
B’s first game was later in the afternoon, which gave K, J, little KJ and I some time to check into our hotel and grab a snack. Every city has bad areas and good areas, no doubt. Driving around Flint was pretty eye-opening, nonetheless. Neighbourhoods full of rundown, vacant storefronts and houses, pocketed by empty plots of land. Instead of cars parked on streets, I saw more cars on cement blocks in front lawns with no rims than I’ve ever seen before, in one particular street. More people sitting on front porches glaring as we drove by than I’ve ever seen before, on another street. A Starbucks was temporarily closed, so we went to the adjacent Quizno’s, and I audibly gasped when the Quizno’s associate informed us that the Starbucks was closed because of a water problem (luckily, it had to do with a heating issue, and not because of the Flint water crisis). There’s quite a bit of “used to be” in Flint, which is better than being “never was”, I think.
At B’s game, we seated ourselves near the other Hamilton families in attendance. Conversations centred around how sad Flint was, and how scary. How there were doubts about drinking the water still. The funny thing was, as I looked around at the Flint families, there was no sadness or scariness. Just regular, happy people, having a good time. As the game went on, it became readily apparent that, when it comes to Canusa Games basketball, Flint has Hamilton’s number. The contest was never in doubt, and Flint won running away.
I’ve seen kids get pretty demoralised after such a defeat, but when the game ended, there were plenty of smiles and camaraderie among both sides, including from B. The billets were matched up by age and sport, for the most part. Evidently, it’s hard to be upset at your housemate for the weekend, after they beat you. The game the following day had the same result, and same vibe. Also, there was more mingling back and forth amongst the Flint and Hamilton family contingents. To top it off, not only was B safe, but he couldn’t wait to head back with his billet, and totally brushed us off! #theygrowupsofast
With B in good hands, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. As options are kind of limited, when it comes things to do in Flint with kids, K and I ended up taking little KJ and J to the Flint Children’s Museum. This is located downtown, near Atwood Stadium and Kettering University. This area is actually nice. Vibrant maybe isn’t the correct term. Let’s go with active and up-and-coming. On first glance, the Children’s Museum is pretty unremarkable on the outside. We had to double-check to make sure that we were at the right building. Once inside, though, holy Michael Moore-ly, is this place tons of fun for kids! It reminded me of Rochester’s The Strong Museum Of Play. There’s numerous exhibits, all designed to bust out your imagination and curiosity through hand’s on play. Many have an educational aspect, too.
We were there for hours, and KJ didn’t want to leave, which is always a good/bad sign. I had a coupon, so it only cost us about $10 in admission total, which was a steal. It’s such a simple, nice concept for a play centre that any city (cough, cough, Hamilton, cough, cough) could learn from it and implement it. If you’re looking for things do in Flint with kids, I do suggest hanging out here.
After our outing at the Flint Children’s Museum, we eventually made our way out to the suburbs, Grand Blanc, to pick up pizza for dinner, from Da Edoardo. This area didn’t feel or look like the same Flint at all, and I felt like I should have been wearing a tuxedo, when I entered Da Edoardo. The dichotomy between downtown and the suburbs can be quite striking in some cities, and Flint is no exception.
Later on that night, back at the hotel, I was chit-chatting with a few other Hamilton parents, whose children were there for hockey. The conversation turned to billets, naturally. They then told me something which I never realized. Billeting in the hockey community was common, one person said. The community is tight knit, and everyone looks after one another.
That was it then, for the Canusa Games, too, wasn’t it? I had been looking at the whole thing all wrong the entire time. I couldn’t get how two large, flawed cities could expect to keep kids who don’t live there safe every year. The thing is, the Canusa Games is like a 60 plus year old community in these cities, and it’s a community which protects their own, and looks after each other. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I should have considered the many positives of the games and Flint, which really weren’t that hard to find. To paraphrase Joel Embiid, I should have just trusted the process.
The next day, at the Closing Ceremonies, Canusa’s motto of “experience the friendship” was on full display. There was no separate congregations, as yellow shirt-wearing Hamilton athletes mixed with blue Flint ones. Lots of pictures were taken, and lots of contact information was exchanged, for keeping in touch. B was safe and sound, with memories that will last his whole life.
We met his billet one last time, the woman who I expressed so many doubts about prior to the weekend, but who generously housed four random kids, and literally even gave B the shoes off of her son’s feet (he had outgrown a pair of Jordan’s, and they were just going to throw them out). K asked how B was for her, and the billet replied “OK”.
In parent-speak, OK is what you say when you don’t want to say bad! So, you mean to tell me that I was worried about whether Flint, Michigan was good enough for my precious nine year old boy, when in the end, my boy wasn’t good enough for Flint?!
Hey, not now, Alanis Morrisette!
Anyway, next year’s Canusa Games are in Hamilton, and B has already expressed interest about participating again. If you’re apprehensive about billeting, like I was…..take a deep breath and trust the process. And if you somehow end up sending your kid to my house, don’t worry, B will be more than OK.