To Zoo or Not to Zoo? That is the Question.

I wish parenting came with a book; one that was always right or one that at least, always agreed with me!

Early on, before kids, I came across the most sad forlorn elephant in a Vietnamese zoo. Chained, on a cement platform, I took one look and vowed I would never reenter a zoo again.

Soon after, I had the luxury of watching wildlife in Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Etosha National Park (Namibia). To say the experience was amazing and eye-opening is an animal understatement. I proclaimed that this was the only way my kids would ever see wildlife.

That is until I had a child and then 3 more, thanks to our blended family. That is 4 kids, 2 adults, which equals 6 tickets to Africa which amounts to one big financial headache. At least for us it did.

So then I research. Surely not all zoos are as bad as that one in Vietnam. Right? Couldn’t there be one or two that are safe, healthy and protective of the animals and their well-being; somewhere where our kids could see animals and not be breaking any animal taboos?

I tell myself that the research points to yes. Not all zoos are equal. So we go to New York City and of course, fall in love with the animals in the Bronz Zoo. I look around. It looks like they have covered all the angles. They must have. Right? This is the States, after all. And those baboons are so darn cute. We can’t even bring ourselves to leave.

Despite the fact we visited, my zoo quandary remains. And I worry that I could slide down that slippery slope right into one ugly unethical animal mess. Maybe I already have. I simply don’t know what and whom to believe.

As travellers become more wary of participating in tours that feel like “human zoos” in areas such as Thailand, I wonder this. If a “human zoo” seems inappropriate than is an animal zoo any better?

Faced with summer, looming on the horizon and billboards of cute pandas at the Toronto Zoo everywhere I turn, I ask myself: to zoo or not to zoo?

In the meantime, I will check to see if there are any cheap deals to Africa.

What are your thoughts on zoos? 

New York City: The Best Kind of Apple for Families – Our Top 7 Must Sees

Thinking of New York City? Go…immediately… it is the perfect city vacation for families of all ages.

Here’s why.

1. Central Park

It is a playground for everyone; little kids, tweens, teens and adults. We spent literally hours there from roaming the pathways, to playing on the oldest carousel, to boulder climbing, to getting wet in water fountains, to hanging with famous Balto (read the book on Balto ahead of time), to getting lost and then rediscovering something new awaiting us. Central Park is a mystery for visitors; you never know what is around the corner and when you do, it never fails to delight the kids.

Free water fun in Central Park; perfect for families.

Free water fun in Central Park; perfect for families.

Then after you are wet, you run to the playground and hang out for a while.

Then after you are wet, you run to the playground and hang out for a while.

Then when your energy returns, you climb a few boulders and look out from the top.

Then when your energy returns, you climb a few boulders and look out from the top.

One of the largest carousels in the United States is fun for everyone.

One of the largest carousels in the United States is fun for everyone.

Read the true story of Balto and find the statue in Central Park.

Read the true story of Balto and find the statue in Central Park.

2. FAO Schwarz Toy Store

This is the most fun toy store our family has ever visited and yes, the adults loved it too. It has it all: they can dress up, they can play on the piano from the movie, Big, they can eat candy, they can ride escalators, they can spend hours in there! Think a ton of fun for as much money as you want to spend; in our case, very little – a few candy treats on the way out.

Even the entrance to the store is fun.

Even the entrance to the store is fun.

Yes, we all dressed up but we think this photo is the best.

Yes, we all dressed up but we think this photo is the best.

If there is a line up, wait, it is worth it.

If there is a line up, wait, it is worth it.

A sweet ending to a sweet store.

A sweet ending to a sweet store.

3.The Free Ferry Out to the Statue of Liberty

Kids of all ages love ferries and this one is free. It takes you out into the harbour where you can see the skyline of NYC and goes past the Statue of Liberty. For us, this is all we needed.

The free ferry to go past the Statue of Liberty.

The free ferry to go past the Statue of Liberty.

An easier Statue of Liberty to get close to.

An easier Statue of Liberty to get close to.

4.The Bronx Zoo

We took the subway out to the Bronx Zoo and that was half the fun, just getting there. I remember Jade asking me why a man was speaking to himself and another was wearing winter clothes in the heat of the summer. There is always something going on in NYC – the unplanned stuff just unfolds around every corner. We are not usually zoo kind of people and I remember researching this zoo before going to ensure it was as humane as a zoo could be. I guess it fit that bill, as we went and the kids loved it. The monkeys and chimpanzees were the biggest hit. We could have stayed there for hours (and we did) just watching them.

Entering the zoo our first time. We later went back a second time on another visit. Yes, it is that great.

Entering the zoo our first time. We later went back a second time on another visit. Yes, it is that great.

5.Eating in NYC

Eating at Lombardi’s, America’s first pizzeria, was a highlight and bonus, the pizza is great. We have to admit; we have been a few times.

Pizza at Lombardi's - an affordable family dining out option.

Pizza at Lombardi’s – an affordable family dining out option.

Jade loved this restaurant so much that we returned again when Allyson and Abby came with us to NYC. Mars 2112 is a restaurant geared for kids; particularly those obsessed with outer space and aliens. You get into a space shuttle to experience a space trip as you arrive to the restaurant. This could be kind of scary for little kids but ours fared well enough. Then inside the restaurant alien waiters serve the food. Yes, the kids died and went to alien heaven while the parents cringed a tad at the bill.

An alien at Mars restaurant with Abby.

An alien at Mars restaurant with Abby.

A little coconut water for some refreshment and something new to try. NYC’s streets are filled with food and this is a cheap and fun way to eat; we did a lot of ice cream, hot dogs and pretzels.

They tried coconut water; always fun to sample something new.

They tried coconut water; always fun to sample something new.

6.Times Squares (and M&Ms store)

Of course, you have to go to Times Square and experience the lights and the action. This was even more fun to do in the evening… although the kids are a bit tired at the end of the day. If tired, like ours, some sugar and excitement at the M&Ms store is sure to wake them up. I have to admit that it is a lot of fun and that even I wanted to know what colour of M&M personality I was.

Abby hanging out at M&Ms store and she doesn't even like chocolate!

Abby hanging out at M&Ms store and she doesn’t even like chocolate!

And Allyson is pink... not a surprise.

And Allyson is pink… not a surprise.

After a great day in NYC, we head for Times Square.

After a great day in NYC, we head for Times Square.

7.The Streets of NYC

Wandering around, a little aimlessly, is also fun, at least for a while. You never know what you will find but likely buskers, food, a few odd-looking characters, and even a random park might be around the next corner.

Determining strength.

Determining strength.

And at the end of your stay in NYC the kids will be a tad tired but filled with great memories. At least that is what you tell yourself. 🙂

Very tired girls as they wait for the shuttle to cross the bridge to go to New Jersey ( a cheaper alternative for accommodation).

Very tired girls as they wait for the shuttle to cross the bridge to go to New Jersey (a cheaper alternative for accommodation).

Home sweet home or hotel sweet hotel.

Home sweet home or hotel sweet hotel.

Disney – Magic, Mickey, and the “Missing” Orange Stroller

A family trip of 11? More like a tour group and one that better have a tour leader, or otherwise known as mom.

In order to pull off this holiday, I did so much research that if there was a Masters in Disney, I earned it.

I knew my stuff; which day to go where; how the fast passes worked; how to get the most bang for your buck, Disney style. And yes, Disney is very expensive so you want every minute to count. No pressure eh? Can you sense the relaxation of it all?

So all is going according to plan. The kids are happy, the teens are happy and yes, even the parents and nana are happy. What more could you want? Well… autographs, lots of rides, more of said rides, and the odd swim thrown in here and there.

So here we are being happy at Disney.

But if you are like us, Disney is a “happy place” as long as you have the stuff you need like money to pay for everything, water as it is scorching hot, snacks and more snacks to feed as you go, fast passes that someone actually understands and knows how to effectively use, and oh yes… an infamous orange stroller (at least in our family) to keep Abby, the smallest one (in every sense of the word) going.

Well the moment… when Disney lost some of its magic, was when we returned to the stroller parking lot and the orange stroller was no longer there. We searched high and low, far and wide, and that little itty bitty orange stroller had vanished like pixie dust.

Now if you know us, which you might not 🙂 and you know Abby, which you might not 🙂 the C family does not go anywhere (other than a drive through) without the orange stroller. It is a need; not a want.

Allyson begins to lose it; who would steal this orange stroller, one of the bargain basement variety? One that under other circumstances, you couldn’t probably give away for free.

I can feel the magic, the dreamy feel of Disney slipping away as we grasp; as we clutch to our old memories of the stroller. I know,  I know, live in the present and be happy. We are at Disney, we can afford to do so, enjoy it, even without said stroller.

You know how kids don’t want to give up their blankies, their sippy cups; their stuffies? Well that stroller was our family blankie, sippy cup and stuffie; all rolled up into one. We had to let it go.

Moving on (more physically than mentally), we continue on with our day. Until…

Allyson spots an orange stroller outside a restaurant. She proceeds. She investigates. She reports back. It is ours. It has our family markings ( true but strange) and we know, without a doubt, that the magic has returned.

So after a small family discussion (or more like a large family fight… feel that magic) the results are tallied and the stroller is back on Abby’s butt. And off we go… glancing around… hoping the stroller gods are working this time in our favour.

So did we end up in jail?

old 2738

No, thankfully not.

Instead we ended up like we started.. a family, a little too dependent on a stroller, but happy and content with the magic of Disney.

old 2548

Sucking It Up To Ask A Question

I used to be really good at this.

When I was 18 and backpacking through Europe, we asked questions all the time. I remember an entire day spent looking for contact solution in some Italian city; desperately pointing to my contacts and using hand gestures for cleaning said contacts. Finally we hit the contact bonus and found some. A scary moment for an 18-year-old who might have to resort to wearing glasses which in the old days, were pretty sad affairs. Think 2 big thick coke bottle lenses in some kind of unattractive accompanying frame. So yes, I was motivated to ask the questions.

Gradually this changed. Somehow I became “cooler” or “wiser” or “more experienced” and I thought less of asking questions and more of finding it on my own. Do people actually get more stubborn and determined as they get older? Well… a glance at my mom and that might suggest some truth in that statement. 🙂 Anyway, I remember when this came back to bite me in the butt for the first time.

Chris and I were taking some alone time for a romantic holiday to San Francisco. My dad had sworn by San Francisco and said we MUST go there. So here we are on our first day out and I have the guidebook in hand and we are off to explore. Note to couples: before dating, ensure one of you is good at reading maps; NOT both of you think you are good at reading maps but maybe neither is. The latter doesn’t paint quite as pretty of picture. So we head towards China Town and this is where it begins.

“Ah, Chris, do you know where we are going?”


“Oh, okay. Should we just double-check on the map of our guidebook just to be sure?”

“Well, fine.”

I “read” map, set the direction, off we go, to NOT find China Town anytime soon.

“Do you want to take a look at the map? Just to know if we are definitely going the right way.”


Looks at it and off we go; still lost and wandering in maybe San Francisco circles; looking for a way out to find China Town.

This continued for some time. You know that deathly silence that occurs between couples when things aren’t quite working out? Yup. We had that going on pretty well.

Somehow by a miracle, we ended up in China Town but by that time, we were no longer “happily exploring” as much as “frustratingly enduring”. I remember entering the fortune cookie factory (our sole goal), looking around quickly and thinking, that wasn’t worth the fight.

So I have learned that sucking it up to ask the question a tad earlier can save you some grief later on.

Despite experience backpacking, you still end up in places where the guidebook is useless, or its maps are useless, or you are useless and you have to move beyond that pride. I once would have known how to manage and get on these Cambodian boats; knowing exactly which one, how much to pay, where to sit but upon returning to Cambodia, I would now have zero clue. Yes, Cheryl, despite having lived there, you will now have to ask some questions.

How Do You Know When Your Family Is Ready to Backpack?

Well it all began with Chris wanting/needing/pleading to see a James Taylor concert. And this concert was to take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey; not exactly on my family bucket list for travel.

So we head off to Atlantic City and what do we find?

Overpriced boutique (questionable) hotels… certain women entering and exiting said boutique hotel, overpriced and well… frankly boring…restaurants along the boardwalk, a busy beach with a rough undertow that kept the lifeguards very occupied, a ton of ambulances wailing all day long…what to do?

We head to Cake Boss land to find some delicious cupcakes and cookies from our favourite baking TV show. That was the highlight  of the trip and it wasn’t even in Atlantic City. Oh, I must admit there was a great July 4 set of fireworks over the beach, so I will give that to Atlantic City as a must do if you happen to be there with kids at that time.

Upon leaving Atlantic City, Cheryl plays her travel game with Abby.

“What did you like best about Atlantic City Abby?”

“Well, she says, the Vietnamese restaurant where I got to use the chopsticks and the African store where the owner was yelling into the phone in another language.”

Yes… we knew… we were ready to leave North America and get some real bang for our buck.

Sometimes As Parents We Make Those Kinds of Trips

Jadey Potter and her sidekick Abby Potter made the annual rite of passage as they headed to Florida to check out Disney, Winter (the dolphin with no tail), Sweet Tomatoes restaurant (they are eagerly awaiting its arrival in Canada) and of course Harry Potter Land.

In our eagerness to get there before the hoards arrived,we drove over a meridian on the highway almost taking out a wheel or two of our rental car. I don’t recommend doing this when you have super excited kids in the back whose whole lives depend on getting to see the real deal or at least as close as you can get to in North America.

Chris Chooses Boston!

What? After all the places you have now been, you still said Boston was your favourite destination. How could that be? Well, it often is the memories of trips we had when we were younger that stand out so maybe that is why? I like the city but would still pick New York or San Francisco over Boston as a favourite American city but each to their own. However…we have had a lot of great family memories in Boston and so here are some visuals that clearly resonate with Chris and me as to why this city is so special.