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Mountain view at Parksville Beach

There are reasons The Globe and Mail, Better Homes and Gardens, even Conde Nast has listed Parksville, BC at the top of their lists for Best In Family Travel. Here are only a few of them:

Parksville Beach is part of British Columbia’s Oceanside region, which is also known as Canada’s Riviera.

Besides being long and extremely wide, Parksville Beach has loads of tidepools kids love to play in. Top on the list of activities are crab hunting, sand castle building, and sand dollar collecting.

Parksville Beach is home to a fantabulous community playground adjacent to the beach, which includes swings, climbing structures, slides, even a zipline, plus a waterpark, beach volleyball courts and an ice cream stand. (Parksville Community Lions Club Venture Land)

Parksville is easy access from Nanaimo, BC (about 40 minutes drive), and fun ferry ride from the pretty Horseshoe Bay terminal of BC Ferries. Tip: MAKE A RESERVATION! (www.bcferries.com)

Accommodations are family-friendly and plenty along Resort Drive on the outskirts of Parksville, including the Oceanside Village Resort: a series of newly crafted cottages, exceptionally equipped, surrounded by cedars. There’s an indoor pool, some shops, two mini-putt courses (Riptide Mini Golf), all at www.oceansidevillageresort.com

For more information on Parksville: www.VisitParksvilleQualicumBeach.com

Lori Knowles is the family travel writer for the Toronto Sun. You can read more of her work in this blog (www.LoriExploring.Wordpress.com), on her website (www.loriknowles.com) and on Twitter @LoriExploring.

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Photos by Lori Knowles

The following is an excerpt from my Family Fare column in the Toronto Sun:

It’s no wonder Justin Bieber loves this place.

Atlantis, the extraordinary resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas, is Vegas for kids. Its mind-spinning action — 13 pools, snorkelling lagoon, Mayan temple with waterfalls and slides, swim-with-dolphins program, 140-acre waterpark, teen hangout, oasis of tropical fish and… oh, yes, five Bahamian beaches — plays like a high-octane video game, one that never shuts off and requires the energy of Red Bull from morning to night.  Bieber, the continually mobbed Canadian 16-year-old teen sensation, is a fan. He shot his hit video Never Let You Go here in the hotel’s aquarium, and will resurface at Atlantis this spring for a live concert…

But you don’t need the frenzy of a Justin Bieber crowd to liven up Atlantis. The resort’s relentless vim is a guaranteed magnet for any kid…

For the rest of the story, visit http://www.torontosun.com/travel/international/2010/05/17/13973851.html

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His name was Stephen and he was my pilot.

He trundled into the Exuma airport late, a last-minute replacement for another errant pilot named Roland who somehow muddled the date he’d been hired to fly our little group from Great Exuma, Bahamas to the tip of the Exuma Cays for an extraordinary day of shark-feeding, boating, eating and swimming with the wild pigs…. But more on that later.

First, our flight.

Stephen put the Bahamian rush on prepping the plane while we sipped instant coffee across the road in the charismatic airport pub. Unaccustomed to private plane travel—usually, I’m strictly Coach—I was a mix of stunned, thrilled and made-silly by the effortlessness of what came next. We were ushered fast out the terminal door without security, across the tarmac of the tiny airport, past the massive American Airlines jets and tiny propped two-seaters, to our little Piper, a five-person-plus-the-pilots plane that I swear could fly sideways without any effort by its driver.

We took off equally fast—and again, practically sideways—then humped and bumped our way over the sea and along the long stretch out of the chain of Bahamian islands called the Exumas.

What a lovely sight are those islands. Bahamas has about 700 of them in all, and only about 30 of them are inhabited. They’re low and scrubby green, with pure white sand surrounding them. But it’s the water that you can’t tear your eyes from — so many shades of sea blue it’s impossible to name them. My group’s leader, Olga, representing Bahamian tourism, calls a particularly clear shade of water-mixed-with-white-sand “gin clear”. I think she ought to be the writer.

As our private plane yaws and bounces its way toward Staniel Cay, our destination, I lock my head against the seatback and stare firmly at the horizon—a desperate attempt to stave off nausea. But I do move my eyes sideways once or twice to catch fascinated glimpses of the infrequent and remote beach homes below owned by the impossibly rich. Faith Hill’s all-white estate makes me think of a Bahamian castle.

There’s a real Bahamian castle on an island next door, however. One Olga says may once have been owned by the local drug mafia. These islands, she says, were once absolutely chock full of drug lords—and before that, pirates. They’d set up illicit shop on these isolated isles and either ply their drug wares or, in earlier decades, steal booty from passing ships. I’ll be visiting a pirate museum on this trip, so more on that later.

Stephen soon touched the plane down softly on the runway at Staniel Cay, a smooth landing that was in surprisingly stark contrast to the lumpy, windy ride in the air. He threw open the door, helped us out, and we all nauseously wobbled toward the chainlink fence that led us out of the airport and into the waiting mouths of sharks… stay tuned. Soon, I’ll fill you in on the rest of the day’s story.

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Sandals Emerald Bay, Bahamas

I’ve just spent a lovely afternoon browsing through the press material for my upcoming stay at Sandals Emerald Bay, Great Exuma, Bahamas. It’s Sandals newest resort, having debuted in February 2010… and it’s enticing.

An overview of the property pre-visit:

  • Sandals Emerald Bay is a 500-acre resort on one mile of beach on Great Exuma, the largest of 360 Bahamian islands.
  • Onsite: an 18-hole golf course by The Shark: Greg Norman. Plus a marina and 183 Beachfront rooms. Did I mention they’re BEACHFRONT?
  • Most compelling: Sandals Emerald Bay is its first all-butler resort. Which means… I’ll have my own butler. At. My. Service. I’ve only had this once before–aboard Cunard’s  Queen Mary 2–and trust me, it is luxurious.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sandals Emerald Bay has a gym. A very expansive gym. With treadmills on which I can train for the upcoming Sporting Life 10K in May I’ve ludicrously signed up for.  No lounging on the beach sipping mohitos for this travel writer. I’ll be running Great Exuma.

More soon. Lori

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Dancing inside Whistler's new cultural centre.

At any given moment it’s rain, sun and snow here in Whistler, BC, during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, but no one inside the local Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) seems to notice. Men, women and children from all parts of the world sit transfixed as Aboriginal peoples dance, sing and tell their stories — vivid, rousing performances that capture the hearts, minds and respect of cheering audiences.

It’s all in a day’s work at this Centre, a new and strikingly beautiful cedar-and-glass structure set amid Whistler’s tall trees, snow and mountains. It has been built as an Olympic legacy to showcase the heritage and culture of Canada’s First Nations.  

The SLCC is an opportunity for Olympic watchers and future ski resort visitors to realize the connection the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations have to Whistler. Squamish territory is to the south and Lil’wat territory is to the north; the two meet at Whistler, and have peacefully shared the land long before they shared it with skiers.

The museum is a hugely open space filled with the art, clothing, transportation and tools these two nations have used for centuries. There’s a massive hand-carved cedar canoe dug out from a single tree, ceremonial masks, weavings and house poles — tall, carved structures that resemble totems. There’s a traditional Squamish longhouse and a Lil’wat pit house. Gigantic, hand-carved cedar spindles whirl overhead. When they’re not dancing and singing, guides wander about in traditional regalia, banging their drums, greeting visitors and answering questions.

The centre's massive 40-foot dugout canoe dug out from a single cedar.

“We lead a red cedar life,” explains Gerald Paul, a cultural interpreter and member of the Squamish nation, as he shows off a 40-foot canoe dug from a single cedar tree. “The red cedar tree cradles our babies and our elders, we use it for clothing, transportation and shelter. Nothing from it is wasted.”

Paul takes his own deerhide drum down from a nearby wall and proudly explains it was made for him by his grandfather. Paul — an artist — has decorated the drum himself, creating a design that incorporates the human eye. “It is meant to remind us to keep ourselves humble,” he says. “Someone is always watching.”

Whistler is not the only BC community to benefit from Olympic exposure to First Nations communities. “A number of other cultural centres have also opened in the last few years,” says Paula Amos, spokesperson for BC’s Aboriginal Tourism Association. Those centres include the Haida Heritage Centre at Haida Gwaii along BC’s northwest coast, as well as a museum attached to the St. Eugene Resort near Cranbrook, BC.

Amos says dozens of galleries featuring First Nations art have popped up across Vancouver, as well a several tourism projects throughout BC that offer everything from canoe trips to seminars in First Nations art and culture. During the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Vancouver’s Pan Pacific Hotel has created an Aboriginal village called Kla-how-ya, meaning “welcome from the heart” in Chinook, a traditional trading language among First Nations. The exposition features aboriginal fashions, traditional dancing, cedar bark weaving, birch bark chewing, moose hide tufting, jewelry making, carving and, of course, storytelling.

Vancouver 2010 marks the first time Aboriginal peoples have fully participated in an Olympic Games right from the bidding process. “The experience has rejuvenated our culture,” says Amos. “It’s not just about revitalizing our economy, it’s about having the opportunity to share and celebrate our traditions.” Adds Amos: “British Columbia now leads North America in Aboriginal cultural tourism.”

For more information on Whistler’s Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), visit www.slcc.com. For more information on British Columbia’s Aboriginal tourism, visit www.aboriginalbc.com.

Lori Knowles is covering the Olympics live from Vancouver and Whistler for the Toronto Sun’s travel section, and blogging daily at www.LoriExploring.Wordpress.com .

This article appeared in the Toronto Sun, Wednesday Feburary 17, 2010.

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Hello from my seat on a very large AC Boeing 777 on my way to Vancouver to cover the Olympics for the Toronto Sun and SkiPressWorld.com.

I’ll endeavour to update this blog daily with neat observations and sightings. I hope you’ll join me. Enjoy the Olympics!

Lori

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They say the Olympic Winter Games, opening in just a few days in Vancouver and Whistler, is the planet’s largest sporting event. The world will be watching — a very good thing for Whistler-Blackcomb, one of Canada’s most captivating ski resorts.

 It has been a long time coming.

 Hosting the Olympics was a dream sparked 50 years ago — before Whistler, the ski resort, even existed — by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA). A group of Vancouver guys intent on bringing the Olympics to British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, scouted the peaks north of Squamish, B.C., to establish a ski resort with enough vertical to stage an Olympic downhill. They settled on London Mountain — now Whistler Mountain — built a ski resort, and bid for the 1968 Games. They lost their bid to Grenoble in ’68, then lost four more in 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1988. But they didn’t lose their dream. It took 42 years, but the Games are finally on London Mountain.

At the 2010 Games, the Men’s Downhill event — the race most skiers consider the highlight of a Winter Olympics — will rocket down the Dave Murray Downhill. As you’ll see on television during the Games, it’s a course that snakes dangerously down Whistler Creekside on a run named after Dave Murray, an original member of alpine skiing’s Crazy Canucks. Murray, a longtime Whistlerite, lost his life to cancer in 1990; his daughter, Julia Murray, is a 2010 Canadian medal hope in the new women’s Ski Cross event.

 The Dave Murray course is revered among elite racers; it has hosted more than 10 World Cup events since 1975, including the World Cup downhill Whistler-raised Rob Boyd won in 1989. Boyd returns to Whistler in 2010 as a coach for the women’s Canadian ski team. The women — along with all Paralympic alpine skiers — will be racing on a newly designed set of courses that track down Whistler runs: Wildcard, Jimmy’s Joker and Franz’s Trail.

 Both the men’s and women’s alpine ski races finish at Creekside Village, a satellite base containing a few restaurants and loads of condos, which is located about four kilometres south of Whistler’s main village and gondola.

 Whistler-Blackcomb’s total terrain tops out at a massive 8,717 acres. While officials are claiming 90 per cent of it will be open for public skiing for the Games, skiers won’t be able to access runs surrounding the Dave Murray Downhill or Franz’s. The terrain won’t reopen until March 28, following the close of the Paralympic alpine events.

 Back in Whistler’s main village, an amphitheatre has been newly built to showcase the medal ceremonies for the events taking place at Whistler —alpine skiing’s downhill, giant slalom, slalom and super-G , plus bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events that take place at the Whistler Sliding Centre. The Whistler Medals Plaza has enough tiered seating for 5,000 spectators watching medal ceremonies and Whistler’s nightly concerts between February 13 and 27. The Whistler Live concerts include performances by Feist, Our Lady Peace, Usher, The Fray, and the All American Rejects.

 Much of this will be easily spotted during the Games on TV. If you’re watching — or lucky enough to be there skiing — also check out Whistler’s new Peak 2 Peak, a gondola that spans the 4.4-kilometre distance between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. It’s the gondola with the world’s longest unsupported span (3.024 kilometres between two towers), plus it’s the world’s highest lift of its kind at 436 metres above the Fitzsimmons Creek valley floor… a fitting spectacle for the world’s biggest snow sporting spectacle.

 Lori Knowles will be covering the Olympics live from Vancouver and Whistler for the Toronto Sun’s travel section, and blogging at www.LoriExploring.Wordpress.com . This column originally appeared in the travel section of  The Toronto Sun, Sunday January 31, 2010.

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