Relax this Winter with a Cruise

Cruise Ship Departing Ft. Lauderdale

The wet slush on your boots, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…. combined with fighting with car to start it’s no wonder thousands of Canadians flee to warmer climates for a brief respite from winter.  With warmer weather on our minds my wife uncovered an unexpected deal on Royal Caribbean last January!  It’s been a while since we cruised and with the kids being old enough to appreciate the experience, but young enough that their education wouldn’t be disrupted, it didn’t take long for us to jump on the opportunity.


A few quick tips if you’re new to cruising

  • If you live in southern Ontario, look for flight deals in Buffalo or  Detroit.  Even with the exchange rate airlines like Southwest sometimes are providing trips with steep discounts.  For this trip we departed a day early from the Buffalo airport which is about a 2 hour drive from Kitchener, Waterloo and flew on Southwest Airlines to Ft. Lauderdale.
  • Arrive at your departure port a day in advance especially if you’re coming from an area that experiences real winter.  Dealing with the weather is unpredictable and this will give you some time to adjust your schedule if you’re delayed.
  • Getting to your destination a day earlier gives you time to pick up last minute items that you may have forgotten, or allow you to pick up a bottle of wine to take with you on board the ship.  If you don’t have a beverage plan, this can save you quite a bit of money due to corkage fees.
  • If you don’t drink there’s usually free lemonade or iced tea available on board.  Most of the time I don’t drink soda pop and usually stick with iced tea at meals; for all the other times I’m drinking water.
On top of the Liberty of the Seas
On top of the Liberty of the Seas

We had a gorgeous departure day with slightly cloudy skies – warm with no snow in sight.  Watching the parade of cruise ships departing port for ocean is amazing as you can see how how nimble these behemoths are as they navigate out to to the ocean while much smaller freighters needed a little assistance from tugboats.

Tugboat helping out
Tugboat helping a freighter navigate the Ft. Lauderdale port.

Cruise ships have plenty of activities to keep you busy.  Besides just eating and drinking, you can find water slides, rock climbing walls, golf simulators and more!  Royal Caribbean signature activity is their flow rider that allows you to ride boogie boards and see how long you can remain upright before making a big splash!

Catching the wave
Catching the wave

There are two main benefits on ship when cruising in the winter:

  • There are not many kids on board which means parents don’t have to the Kids Club for day care.  The clubs give parents a nice break to be by themselves without feeling guilty that their children aren’t having a good time.  On this particular cruise I think we counted maybe 20 kids at any given time being taken care of by the staff.
  • For those who are not travelling with children – enjoy your day without having to deal with kids running around your feet!

As this was a January cruise, the low number of children allowed for those on board to really explore and take advantage of everything the ship has to offer.  The H20 splash  zone was practically empty allow my children to run around without worrying that they’ll collide into someone!

The empty splash zone.
The empty splash zone.


Every day there’s some kind of activity happening around the pool.  Watching the belly flop contest was one of the highlights on this trip – I wasn’t brave enough to join, but I salute all those who bruised themselves for everyone else’s entertainment!

To give you a sense of scale of how large cruise ships are these days, on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, there is an entire deck that is configured like a long shopping mall.  Places to eat and shop to your heart’s content.  There’s even a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop and an ice rink where you can skate or catch an evening ice show on ship!


One of the things I didn’t realize I would enjoy is watching the sun set over the ocean.  Amazing colors that you don’t often get to see being land locked in Southern Ontario.  Golds, marine blues and deep cherry reds.  You can lose yourself watching the sun rise and fall each day.

If you managed to take a five day cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, convince yourself that you need to spend a few days touring around this city before rushing back to the snow.  This city has extensive beaches that reminded us of being on a TV Show. Swimming, Kite Surfing, and even getting married are just some of the things you can do and see while strolling around.

If you consider the all-in costs of getting away for a beach holiday vs. a cruise the price is almost comparable.  Considering that your hotel, meals and entertainment are all included it turns out the price is almost identical.  So what are you waiting for?  If you need a break from the wintery weather taking a cruise is an option that you definitely should consider!

Churchill Park Fall Photo Shoot

The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend provided gorgeous weather for a family fall photo shoot at Cambridge’s Churchill Park.   A sunny clear sky with leaves turning colour – a beautiful backdrop to work with.  Small children are always tricky to deal with and often you need to have patience to capture a moment – the classic family photo where everyone is smiling may or may not happen, but most of the time preserving authentic personalities is often better.  We headed out around 11am and could have ended up with photos with harsh shadows due to the mid-day sun.  Luckily Churchill Park has plenty of trees to soften the light.

To kick things off the kids didn’t really want to cooperate and knowing that I was there to take their photos brought out their wackiness.  I needed to figure out my camera settings so why not embrace the moment?  Some of them were the best shots of the outing!

This family has a greyhound which must be one of the most even tempered dogs I’ve worked with.  It didn’t matter what everyone else was up to he just stood there patiently without fussing around.

You don’t need to go far for a fall photo shoot and the best places are sometimes in your backyard.  Churchill park is a great little gem in Cambridge; interesting trails and play equipment for the kids making this a great place to capture memories.

Backyard Tourist: Waterloo’s Royal Medieval Faire

Waterloo’s 18th Royal Medieval Faire celebrates everything from the middle ages – knights, queens and kings, and even pirates!  Over 150 actors, performers and volunteers spend a multitude of months to hold a spectacular day of family fun.  If you’ve never attended this annual event you are missing a treat and I would dare say it’s one of those rare city events that makes the KW region a great place to live in.  This event is so popular that Waterloo’s reigning mayor got into character to open the festivities.

Waterloo's own Mayor Dave Jaworsky opens the 18th Annual Royal Medieval Faire.

Waterloo’s own Mayor Dave Jaworsky opens the 18th Annual Royal Medieval Faire.

Getting in the spirit of the election year, festival goers were treated to skits surrounding the election of the new “Pirate King”; debates were held and champions were chosen through combat.  In some ways I wish elections were always this entertaining as King Bertram’s promise of an endless supply of catfish is more believable than many of the promises being made by political leaders.

Waterloo, Ontario's annual festival celebrating swords play, costumes, food and music.
Waterloo, Ontario’s annual festival celebrating swords play, costumes, food and music.

Besides watching sword play there was plenty of things for the kids.  From firing giant crossbows, bow and arrows to miniature catapults there isn’t a moment where those young at heart had something to keep them entertained for the day.

This year Torvik, a Viking re-enactment and educational group made an appearance.  Not only were crowds entertained with realistic combat they also got a glimpse of how rough Norse life could be.

Swords, pirates, Vikings, food music… there’s really something for everyone at this festival.  So if there is one event that you need to add to your list for 2016, make it the Royal Medieval Faire.







2015 Royal Medieval Faire Preview

Waterloo’s annual Royal Medieval Faire is happening September 19, 2015 at Waterloo Park!  This event has something for the whole family to enjoy – food, music, costumes, activities and of course people swinging swords (real metal ones)!  I have the privilege of taking photos of this year’s festivities and managed to attend one of the last remaining rehearsals before weekend.

Practicing for the 2015 Royal Medieval Faire in Waterloo.
Practicing for the 2015 Royal Medieval Faire in Waterloo.

These actors and professionals make swinging swords, axes and staves easy, but don’t be fooled!  It takes a lot of skill and practice to do it safely. Many of them have been honing their craft for years on stage and donate their time to make the Royal Medieval Faire a success.  With this year’s festival being held on “Talk like a Pirate” day, you’ll need to come out and help determine who will be crowned the new Pirate King!

If the rehearsal is any indication, this year’s festival is going to be a great one – more photos to come next weekend!

Backyard Tourist: Pinery Provincial Park

The Labour Day weekend provided a final opportunity to explore the great outdoors with the family.  This time we decided to try camping at the Pinery Provincial Park  just outside of Grand Bend – about a 2 hour drive from Kitchener, Ontario.  We’ve always heard that this park is famous for its 10 kms of beach on the shores of Lake Huron, rolling sandy dunes and a 21 kms of rare forests that is great for hiking.  It was time to find out if all of the hype is real.

We booked a camp site in Burley Campground, on the far west of the Pinery.  Sites are nestled within an old pine forest providing privacy that you normally can’t find in many other car camping areas. Washroom facilities, showers and running water is a short walk away and for those who need electricity I’d recommend heading over to the Riverside area where you can find hookups as well as laundry facilities.  Our particular site, 1087, was extremely clean and with tall trees protecting us from the heat of the hottest weekend of the summer.  It’s also a short 10 minute hike through sand dunes to arrive at a secluded beach for you to enjoy.  Even without swimming gear my wife and kids decided to charge into the waters of Lake Huron to cool off!  I was thankful for the limited number of spectators as my 5 year old son decided to take off his shorts to enjoy the water in his underwear.

When it comes to car camping, I could never find reliable information of whether camp sites include grates to cook – not to mention if they’re actually going to be there.  It’s one of the reasons why I always pack one just in case.  I’m extremely happy that at the Pinery you’ll find that their fire-pits are well equipped.  Each campsite has a well constructed metal pit with a sturdy iron grate that is attached to the pit for cooking.  We made tinfoil dinners, hotdogs and pizza on the fires allowing us to save our propane cylinders.

Activities for the kids are plentiful with trails that are suitable for biking.  The Pinery has a well equipped rental centre where you can find all types of bicylces including tandems.  With the Old Ausable Channel running through the park there are penty of canoes to rent as well as hydro bikes and kayaks.  If you’re lucky you can tag along for a free 1 hour guided paddle where you’ll learn about the habitat and native wildlife that is being preserved.

The beach by the Burley campground is fairly rocky and due to Lake Huron having higher than normal water levels this year you’ll find very little sandy areas.  However if you need sand, and most kids do, head over to the day use areas where you’ll find a narrow strip before your toes touch water.  But don’t be distraught with the lack of a beach as there are advantages with water levels being so high – the water is warm and it’s shallow for 15 metres before it reaches your chest.

I’ve read that National Geographic has rated the Pinery as one of the best places for sunsets in the world.  I’ve yet to find an actual reference, however the statement is not hard to believe after witnessing it myself.  Just after dinner on Saturday I went for a quick hike up the dunes to witness what I’ve only seen in Caribbean.  The skies were painted in an orange and pink hues that is hard to describe, providing just enough light to enjoy a few extra moments of water play on the lake.

Watching the sunset, and the time as I didn’t want to hike in the dark back to camp, I was curious of how the shores of Lake Huron would look like at dawn.  Getting up before breakfast I returned to the same location and wasn’t disappointed.  Instead of skies being used like a painters canvas, a golden hue covers the land.  My attention was drawn to driftwood scattered on the beach with their character being drawn out by the morning light while the morning mist was slowly being burned away.  Photography enthusiasts should definitely make a pilgrimage to this provincial park.

The final activity that my family did was a short hike along the Riverside trail which follows the Old Ausable Channel. It’s a short 1 km loop and for tired kids – just enough to get them moving before complaining about sore feet.  It’s well maintained and level and you’ll get to see many different species of birds and frogs along the way.


The Pinery is a very family friendly park with enough activities to keep your family busy without having to drive through traffic to get to Algonquin.  Well groomed paths for bicycles, many hiking trails are wheelchair accessible and of you can’t go wrong having a beach along the shores of Lake Huron just 2 hours away from Kitchener.  The park is open during the winter and I’ve heard that you can catch Bald Eagles hunting – maybe I’ll be adventurous enough to head out to see what I’m missing.

Backyard Tourist – Storybook Gardens

Storybook Gardens Train
Storybook Gardens Train

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Storybook Gardens.  I remember my parents taking me when I was just a wee lad, and now that I’m all grown up I thought I’d see whether my own kids would enjoy something from my childhood.  Nestled within the picturesque Springbank park, this London, Ontario attraction has plenty of affordable rides to keep the little ones active.  Adult admission is $7.50; children 2-17 years $7.50 and a family pass is $28.  Ride tickets are $2.00 and if you really want to tire out your youngsters, grab an unlimited attraction wristband for $12.

Out of all the rides my kids enjoyed, the push pedal cars was a particular favorite.  My son didn’t want to leave the track and kept going around and around.

A large banana slide, merry-go-round and an elephant ride, but one of my son’s favourite attractions was an area with just large foam blocks to stack.

If Pirate Cove isn’t the best area of Story Book Gardens, it’s up there.  This area has 3 pirate ship themed areas where kids can climb, slide and explore; it also has a huge cable/rope course my daughter kept going from one end to another.   No doubt that other kids were having a great time while parents relaxed in the shade knowing that the ride home will be a quite one.

Not only are there plenty of rides to keep the kids happy, there are plenty of green spaces where you can hold a picnic or just get some quiet time in amongst some of the Canadian Geese that also frequent the park.

Just outside of the Storybook Gardens you can enjoy a miniature train and a merry-go-round and not have to worry about paying the full administration price.

Not much more to say; this is a fantastic amusement area of young kids at a much more affordable price than Canada’s Wonderland.  From the Kitchener/Waterloo area Storybook Gardens is only an hour drive away – much more convenient than going into Toronto and with a lot less traffic.

Backyard Tourist – Kultrun Music Festival

In celebration of the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, Neruda Arts presented the Kultrun Music Festival in Victoria Park in Downtown Kitchener.  Celebrating diversity, this festival features local and international music artists and artisans representing the only event in the region selected by Ignite Ontario to host a cultural celebration of the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.  These images are of Tribu Baharu, a high energy band from Caribbean region of Colombia; if you ever get a chance to hear them I’ll doubt you’ll be able to stand still.  Their over the top personalities and charisma is definitely contagious!


2015 Waterloo Purina Walk for Dog Guides

One of the great things that Lions Clubs are involved with is providing training for dog guides.  These dogs provide services for people with many different conditions.  From visual assistance to autism, diabetes and seizure support these amazing animals provide companionship and offer independence to those suffering from many different ailments.

Purina sponsors a national fundraising dog walk event every year in support to increase public awareness and raise funds to keep this program affordable.  The walks are usually done on the last weekend in May, but for some reason Waterloo, ON always holds theirs a week earlier.  This year the Waterloo walk raised a record breaking $33,000 – congratulations!


Cutting the Ribbon to start the Walk
Cutting the Ribbon to start the Walk
Up early to prepare for the walk
Up early to prepare for the walk
Walkers getting their morning cup of coffee before starting the walk.
Walkers getting their morning cup of coffee before starting the walk.
Heading to the starting line for the Dog Walk
Heading to the starting line for the Dog Walk
Getting ready to feed the hungry walkers.
Getting ready to feed the hungry walkers.
CTV was out this year interviewing people and the organizers regarding the Purina Walk for Dog Guides.
CTV was out this year interviewing people and the organizers regarding the Purina Walk for Dog Guides.
Last minute instructions for the walkers.
Last minute instructions for the walkers.
2015 Purina Dog walk in support of guide dogs was brought out the largest crowd in Waterloo.
2015 Purina Dog walk in support of guide dogs was brought out the largest crowd in Waterloo
A thank you for Piller's who donated the hot dogs for this year for the Purina Walk in support of Dog Guides.
A thank you for Piller’s who donated the hot dogs for this year for the Purina Walk in support of Dog Guides.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes are used to help those in need.  Even Poodles!
Dogs of all shapes and sizes are used to help those in need. Even Poodles!
Have to taste test the Piller's hot dogs
Have to taste test the Piller’s hot dogs


2015 Outlaw Food Food Truck Picnic

Lunchador Food Truck

One of the things that KW lacks is a food truck scene.  Luckily the ones we have are exceptional.  Lunchador, Berlin 95, The Lancaster Smokehouse, The Bruce Caboose, and several others took over Civic Centre Park where foodies and families can enjoy what these vendors have to others.  While munching on street eats, local musicians and buskers entertained the crowd and providing some time to determine which truck to try next.

The Kitchener BIA chose an excellent spot for this family friend event by having the trucks parked at the the Civic Centre Park.  There’s plenty of shade and play equipment allow kids and adults to burn off calories as well as stay cool in the early summer sun.

Food Truck Berlin 95
Berlin 95 is a food truck specializing in German Cuisine.
You better get your food quick at the Lancaster Smokehouse truck.  Food was gone mid-way through the day.
You better get your food quick at the Lancaster Smokehouse truck. Food was gone mid-way through the day.
Order taking is entertainment for some food trucks
Order taking is entertainment for some food trucks
Lunchador Food Truck
Crowds gathered to taste Lunchador’s mexican fusion cuisine.
The wacky Silly People and their juggling, clowning and balloon act.
The wacky Silly People and their juggling, clowning and balloon act.
Bruce Caboose
The Bruce restaurant’s food truck specializing in Poutine.
Entertaining the Crowds
Entertaining the Crowds at the Outlaw Food Truck Picnic


On a lovely fall day in October I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a hike with a family through the Apps’ Mills Nature Centre in Brantford, Ontario.  Run by the Grand River Conservation Authority the 107 hectare property has a historic mill Flour and Grist Mill from circa 1841 with easy hiking trails through the woods.  For family and engagement photography this location is really easy to work with and allows children and couples to doing things naturally without having to artificially set things up.

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