Author Archives: Lynn

About Lynn

Story teller. Web designer. Party planner. Pie maker.

Summer of Awesome – Karters’ Korner

by Lynn

A lot of the places we’ve been this summer have been geared towards younger kids. Karters’ Korner is more for your older preteen or teenager. My kids had a good time, but there are so many things for them to see and do; if you’re sitting around at home with a 10 and 12 year old, wondering what the heck to do as a family, Karters’ Korner is the place for you.

The real appeal of the place is the goKarts. They have full sized carts on a fairly big track. You can drive alone if you are 54 inches or taller; otherwise, you can ride as a passenger if an adult (over 16) is driving beside you. My older two kids really, really wanted to go on the big karts, but since I was alone with them that day, I couldn’t swing it. We’ll have to go back with my husband so they can have a turn.

The Karts

For the younger set, there are these little 4x4s on a smaller but still pretty big track that you can drive. You have to be 53 inches or shorter to ride. There’s no minimum height, age, or weight, but you do have to be big enough to sit on them and press the accelerator. My youngest, at age 3, was just a smidge too short to push the gas, much to her disappointment. My five year old is very tiny for her age, and although she was tall enough to reach the pedal, she was a little too light (at 34 pounds) to get it going really fast, and she got tired of pushing down after 10 minutes or so (a ride is 15 minutes long).

4x4
4x4s in Action

So I’d recommend maybe, 3 feet tall and 35 pounds as a minimum? That should do most 4-5 year olds, I figure.

The 4x4s are the real appeal for my older two kids – they are the reason they ask to go here. But they also really like the mini-golf.

MiniGolf
Golfing Girl

My oldest son, at age 7, is really into mini golf. He actually took his ball and club and went around the holes twice, while the girls and I sat on a bench (for the second round) and had a little snack. I saw parents with kids of all ages — from toddlers up to older teens — enjoying a round. So that’s super nice.

If your kids are older, there’s also a small driving range here. You can bring a basketball or volleyball and have full, free use of their courts. There’s a snack bar too, but as usual, we brought all our own food.

For me and my youngsters, we do a 4×4 ride, a round of mini-golf, picnic lunch, and then we’re ready to head home. It’s more of a half-day place, but the kids like it and it’s very close to our house so it’s a fun mini-outing for a week when we’re worn out from other activities. For older kids, you could spend more time here, hitting the range and the big karts. Still, considering it is way out in the west end – about 10 minutes west of Kanata – it’s probably best for families who are already in the Kanata/Stittsville/Barrhaven area.

And now for the most important part – price. My absolute top advice for this place is: GO ON TUESDAY. Tuesdays are half price – or even less, for some things – and that is WELL worth it. On Tuesdays, the 4×4 rides are $4.50 for 15 minutes, and mini-golf is $2.25 per person. Go on the weekend and you’re paying $9 for the 4×4, and anywhere from $6 to $8 per round of golf, depending on how old your kids are. YIKES.

The Rules

The big karts will cost you anywhere from $3.50 to $4.50 per lap, depending on how many laps you buy – but on Tuesdays, you can get laps for just $1.25 each. Much better, no? Needless to say, we always make a point of going on Tuesdays.

If you’d like to check the place out and absolutely can’t make a Tuesday, I still have a couple of money-saving tips for you. One, the laps are sold in bulk but not by person, so you can buy say, a 12-pack of goKart laps and then split that among three or four people. Second, don’t bother trying to mini-putt if you are there with kids under 5 – you’ll spend so much time helping them chase after their ball, it’ll just be frustrating to try to golf yourself. Thirdly, they do have package deals for kids if you can drum up a group of 10 or more.

The park does close if there is thunder and lightening, or very heavy rain that will soak the fields. So be sure to check their website before heading out. They sometimes have specials on the weekends, too, and you can find out about any special deals by checking their home page.

Since my kids are small, Karters’ Korner is more of a Summer of Awesome Could Do for us. But we do head out there at least once a summer, and the kids have fun. If you’re in the west end, check it out.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos aged 7, 5, and 3, and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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Summer of Awesome – Backyard Camping

by Lynn

It’s no secret that I despise camping. I’ve blogged about it many, many times. I hate being outside, I hate cooking over two tiny burners with a pint-size pot, I HATE the bugs. I really hate getting up in the middle of the night and having to make my way with a flashlight through a cloud of mosquitoes to the “comfort station.” Assuming there even IS one.

My kids have been camping twice with their much hardier father, and as a result, they’ve had a taste of the joys of sleeping outside. And of course, they love it (maybe I brought home the wrong spawn from the hospital?). This summer, they bugged us and bugged us to go camping.

I believe I’ve come up with a genius solution: backyard camping!

Here’s what you’ll need to do.

1. Check the weather forecast and pick out a nice, sunny, warm day for camping. No need to book your site months in advance and take a gamble that it won’t rain – your private site is ready and waiting for you whenever you want. Just say the word and it’s yours. This must be what Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie feel like.

2. Get up early and pitch your tent in your backyard. Then kick back with your first tall lemonade of the day while the kids spend an hour running in and out of the tent like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

The Tent

3. Reflect on your brilliance.

4. My kids like camping for two reasons only, and the first one is the ability to gather a huge amount of sticks from the surrounding woods. So now’s the time to take them for a walk in the woods, in a nearby park or in the green belt. We are lucky to live within walking distance of a few green belt trails – you can see a full map of them here and get driving/parking information here. We like to bring chunks of fruit and baggies of birdseed to scatter around, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to catch sight of birds, ducks, or chipmunks. If you’re really ambitious you can take them out to Gatineau Park, but if you’re willing to go hiking in Gatineau Park, why don’t you just go camping for real, FREAKS.

The Woods

5. Head home for lunch. Make lunch in your own kitchen. Use your own bathroom. Reflect on your genius.

6. The afternoon is time for the second thing my kids love about camping: the beach! We live closest to Britannia Beach, and we like it – the beach is really nice and they have a big play structure set back from the water a ways, so you can alternate between fun in the sand and snacks in the shade. You can get information about all the city’s beaches here. Be sure to check the Swim Advisory Site before heading out to make sure that the beaches are open – the city site is updated every morning around 10 a.m. or so with details on the bacteria levels.

The Beach
The Beach

7. Head home for a BBQ dinner. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and corn on the cob will serve you well. Be sure to eat outside, at your patio table or even a picnic on the grass in front of your tent. Afterwards, finish up with smores – not having a fire isn’t a problem, you can make them in your microwave. Here’s my recipe: put a graham cracker on a plate and top with 8-10 chocolate chips. Microwave on high for around 15 seconds. Add a big marshmallow on top – it’s best to place it on its side – and then microwave for 12-13 seconds on high (your kids will get a kick out of watching the marshmallow swell up like a balloon). Remove from the microwave, top with another graham cracker and enjoy with many, many wet cloths nearby.

Indoor Smores

Mmmm. Gal Smiley prefers her smores made with two chocolate chip cookies instead of graham crackers and chocolate chips, and you really can’t argue with that, either.

8. As it gets dark, light some candles and break out some board games or books. Let the kids run around with flashlights, they LOVE that.

9. Time to sleep. Now, those that are truly wimpy can use a real bed, but even a dedicated non-camper like myself can handle a night in the tent. Either way, if you need to get up in the night for a pee, I can recommend a close, clean, private “comfort station.”

10. Get up in the morning to a fun breakfast made in your own kitchen. Reflect on your smartitude.

I almost forgot a critical component of backyard camping – unplugging. No computers, no phones, no video games, no movies. It will be hard to resist – the family room couch is RIGHT THERE – but it’s camping. There has to be SOME hardship.

My kids do still pine for the real thing, but backyard camping is just about as close to nature as I am willing to get. So for that reason, it’s a Summer of Awesome Must Do, and my kids can love it or lump it.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos aged 7, 5, and 3, and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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Summer of Awesome – Carp Farmer’s Market

by Lynn

I grew up in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, and there are a couple of farmers’ markets there that are legend in my mind. We’d go several times a summer and it was always so cool — looking at all the produce, getting fresh meat and to-die-for cheeses, scamming the odd baked treat out of my mother. Going to market was a lot of fun for me and ever since we’ve had kids of our own, I’ve been looking for a market to call home.

This summer we gave the Carp Farmers’ Market a spin, and it was pretty good. There’s no question the food was plentiful and varied and amazing. We bought some of these multi-coloured carrots, which I think are kind of a scam, but still got the kids excited about vegetables, so can’t argue with that.

Rainbow Carrots

It’s not a huge place but there are dozens of stalls selling all kinds of goods. Even though there’s not a lot of walking, it’s very stroller friendly, so feel free to bring one along – to hold your kid or your purchases. It’s free to get in and parking is free, but you’ll need lots of money on hand as this is a cash-only kind of place, and also, it’s not the Superstore. Things are on the pricey side – bunches of carrots were going for around $4, the last strawberries of the season for $5, giant zucchini were around $2. Much more than you’d pay at the supermarket, but I can promise you that the food is a) fresh, b) local, and c) delicious.

Tomatoes

Also, there are lots of really different fruits and vegetables here, and that makes it fun and interesting. Almost everything was organic, as well.

Rainbow Chard

I don’t know how to shop at a farmers’ market. I’m not usually there to get groceries, I’m there to explore and pick up anything that looks really tasty or unique. So as a result, we filled a whole bag with veggies and it did cost a pretty penny. But oh, SO GOOD.

Squash

We happened to be there the weekend of the Garlic Festival, which meant there were at least five times as many people as usual, and SCADS of garlic.

Garlic

There’s lots of other things to buy there, too, like chocolates, cakes, fresh baked bread, flowers, elk or buffalo meat, pies (I bought a sausage roll, I LOVE sausage rolls), fudge, and crafts.

Macarons
Chocolates
Cake

I bought my girls a fun cookie on a stick and YUM.

Cookie on a stick

You can also buy ready-to-eat food there, like pulled pork on a bun, freshly cut french fries, and gelato.

Price list

So, was it fun? I loved it, but the market got mixed reviews from the kids. My five-year-old daughter, Gal Smiley, is a bit of a foodie and was really excited to see all the different foods. It’s pretty hard not to feel like the trip was worth it when one of your kids is standing there saying, “Mommy, can we PLEASE get the beets? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE?” So, there’s that.

My three-year-old really loved the band that was playing there and wanted to stay and dance all day; she also liked looking at all the food and she sure did love her cookie on a stick. She likes crowds and shopping in general so she was happy and REALLY didn’t want to go home. So there’s that.

My seven-year-old son was uber-cranky and begged to go home the entire time. He sulked and frowned and was a general killjoy. It didn’t help that due to his food allergies, he couldn’t eat any of the ready-made food there, and couldn’t have a cookie on a stick. He did ask for some carrots and a cabbage, though. So, there’s that.

Overall, I think the market is good for the kids – it’s good for them to see different foods, to talk about buying local, and to learn about what it means to be a farmer. It’s not exactly a Big Fun kind of place, but it’s interesting in a field-trip kind of way. It’s certainly way better than a trip to the Superstore.

And for lunch on market day, we had sweet little baby grapes that taste like candy, purple carrots, unbelievably fresh strawberries, and rosemary bread with flavoured oil for dipping. So, there’s THAT.

Grapes for lunch

So I think I’ll give the Carp Farmers’ Market a Summer of Awesome Should Do – and know that I’ll personally be going back for more. The market is open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and you can get directions from their website.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos aged 7, 5, and 3, and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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Summer of Awesome – Saunders Farm

by Lynn

Saunders Farm was, in a word, AWESOME.

In the past I’ve thought of Saunders Farm as a Halloween destination, and they are certainly known for that. In October, you’ll find truly scary hayrides and haunted houses on the farm, funny shows, and yummy winter treats. It’s a fun night out for teens and young adults.

In the past few years they’ve worked hard to turn Saunders Farm into a year-round attraction. This was the first year we’ve been as a family, and it was really just so cool. Mazes! Splash pad! Huge, unique climbing structures! Giant slides! Shows! Wagon rides! Whew! The kids loved it – even more than Cosmic Adventures. It’s winning the Summer of Awesome so far.

When you get there, the first thing you’ll see after paying is this:

Actual tree houses

Actual tree houses! Houses in trees! This is just a small section of the various climbing structures and little houses they have scattered in the entrance area. There’s dozens of places to explore, several slides, sand and sand toys, and even a hay stack to jump in. My kids’ jaws hit the floor when they saw this and quite frankly, they would have been more than happy to spend 3 to 4 hours just playing here. There’s even a Kids Discovery Barn here with little interactive displays and other fun stuff. It’s a great place to spend the first 30 to 60 minutes at the farm – or longer, if you can’t convince your kids to move along.

After the climbers, a snack, and a puppet show, we hopped on a wagon ride.

Wagon Ride

Unlike the Halloween Hayrides, the wagon ride was not scary, just a fun ride through the forest with a few big dips for excitement and the thrill of almost getting “trapped” in a small pond.

Off Roading

The wagon ride was my seven-year-old son’s favourite part of the day. He really enjoyed questioning whether or not the driver actually had a license to drive.

Then, it was time to hit the mazes. Saunders Farm has the most mazes of any location in North America – these are full sized mazes that adults can walk through. Some are really tough, some are easy, but they’re all really fun.

Circle Maze

I was really looking forward to exploring the mazes and the farm did not disappoint. Most of them have some sort of treasure hunt component – something to search for in the mazes, or maybe a cool tower in the centre. At the very least, each maze has a stamp at the end so you can stamp your sheet and confirm your accomplishment (be sure to pick up a sheet for everyone in the gift shop on your way in).

Cedar Maze

We weren’t able to do all the mazes, but we managed to get through six or seven of them. I had wanted to try geocaching with the kids this summer, but I decided they were just too young. The mazes were a great alternative – the kids got really excited finding their way through and looking for clues, then getting their stamp at the end.

Inside the Circle Maze

The kids especially loved the Cedar Maze and the Colour Maze. I loved them all but would warn against the Mile Maze, which is TOUGH and also literally a mile long. Do NOT save that one for the end of the day or you will wind up lost with three cranky children on your hands, contemplating an air lift rescue.

From the center of the Mile Maze

We ate our picnic lunch at a nice table (we brought our own food, but they do have a snack bar that sells hot dogs and fries and the like, as well as a drinks-and-ice-cream bar), and then it was time to get wet. There’s a splash pad there, along with change rooms, and my kids were crazy in love with it.

Splash Pad

Oh, and I can’t believe I forgot to mention this custom made pirate ship which is right next to the splash pad, which my kids want to live in forever and ever. It has a crow’s nest and a pirate’s wheel and a plank for walking and a rope swing and a few cannons and even a mermaid on the front. Amazing!

Pirate Ship

And right beside that is this giant slide (warning: don’t slide down lying down on your back, it’s a bumpy one):

Giant Slide

And in the middle of all this action, there are some lovely cottage chairs for parents to kick back with a good book, like the mom sitting next to me.

Kick back and relax

AWESOME.

The kids had so much fun here, they did not want to go home. I thought we’d spend maybe three or four hours at the farm, but we were there for more than six hours and even then, I had to drag the kids away. They were pretty mad that we didn’t get a chance to go on every single thing there — there’s still several mazes we didn’t get through and we visited less than half of the various play structures. There is SO much here, it’s just so easy to fill a whole day.

And I had a good time, too – I loved the mazes, and their little onsite shop is just so cute.

In the shop

Did I mention that everyone went to bed a half hour early that night? And that they slept like logs? SWEET.

The one real drawback of Saunders Farm is that it’s pretty far out. It’s in Munster, which is about a 20 minute drive west of Kanata, so people in central Ottawa or in the East end will find it to be quite the hike. I think it’s worth it, though. You can get full directions on their website. The farm is open every day from 10am to 5pm.

Some things you’ll need to know:

  • It’s a day in the sun, so bring hats, sunscreen, and lots of water. You know the drill.
  • You’ll all get wristbands, so you’re free to go out to your car as often as you need to. So go ahead and leave the cooler full of lunch and your swim stuff in the trunk – a lighter load will serve you well in the mazes.
  • Parking is free and plentiful.
  • I really debated about bringing a stroller, and now that we’ve been, I’m still not sure what the right answer is. There are some paved sections of path, but other areas are grassy and not super stroller friendly, and there’s no way you should even think of taking a stroller into the mazes. Plus, no strollers are allowed on the wagon ride (you can leave yours by the pickup/dropoff spot, though). In the end we didn’t take ours and I was happy to have the freedom to run around after my kids, and to go through the mazes without having to constantly worry about where to park the thing. But there’s no question it was a lot of walking for my three-year-old and she was completely wiped out by the end of the day. I think next time I would again leave the stroller at home, but for kids under 3 you’ll probably want one.
  • Footwear is a tough call. Some of the mazes have needle-filled pathways and the prickles can worm their way into sandals, flip-flops, or crocs and give your kids’ toes a bit of a pinch. On the other hand, the concrete floor of the splash pad was cold and my kids preferred having their crocs on while playing there – running shoes would not have been suitable. So again, I don’t know what to tell you here, except maybe bring both? Next time I would do crocs again but caution the kids to walk carefully, and allow extra time in the mazes for stopping to dump stuff from shoes.
  • The Spruce Maze involves taking rubbings at various stations along the way, and the rubbings come together to make a complete picture. Unfortunately you need a crayon to take the rubbings and they were all gone when we were there – so do your kids a favour and bring a few crayons with you.
  • The cost is $50 for a family of four, which seemed like a lot to me at the time, but now I think was totally worth it. Plus we brought in all our own food, so we spent nothing other than our entrance fee.

Obviously, I’ll be giving Saunders Farm a Summer of Awesome Must Do.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos aged 7, 5, and 3, and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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Summer of Awesome – Changing of the Guard

by Lynn

Before we get into today’s event, a couple of quick updates on my Summer of Awesome list:

  • AMC has announced the “mystery title” for the August 10th Tuesday morning show — it’s How to Train Your Dragon. I’ll be there! (editor: that’s today. Last minute, but not TOO late)
  • We were going to head to the Biodome in Montreal this past weekend, but when we checked the website just before leaving, we found out it’s closed indefinitely due to a strike. Close call, there!
  • We did make it to the Museum of Nature a couple of weeks ago and it’s wonderful. Chantal already did a great job covering it for KITC but I wanted to add that the crowds have thinned out – we went on a Saturday morning and it was pleasantly quiet – and also that they have a fantastic display on right now about frogs that is super cool.

And now, to the changing of the guard. We were headed downtown for the Busker Festival (great for kids, by the way – if you missed out, book it on your calendar for next year’s Civic holiday weekend), and so we thought we’d catch the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill first. I was amazed when we took the kids to the Hill last year – they actually really enjoyed it. We didn’t do the tour, but the kids loved running around on the huge lawn, checking out the Centennial Flame, going up the tower (there’s a separate line for that, you don’t need to be on a tour to go up), checking out the cats and the view from the back of the building, and imagining all sorts of princesses and knights that live in “the castle.”

So adding really cool soldiers, pipers, and marching to the mix should only make it even better, no?

Um, no.

The Band marches in

The kids were pretty excited for about three minutes. They liked the drums and the bagpipes and the marching in formation. The entrance parade, where they march up Wellington from Elgin street, captured their attention.

The Guard marches in

But what came next was about 30 minutes of standing around. There was occasional unexplained shuffling, and the odd yelling of unintelligible orders. A few bigwigs walked up and down, inspecting the bayonets and guns. It was pretty low key, to say the least.

March, march, march

After about 10 minutes, our kids were either asking for a snack, asking to leave, or poking the kid next to them.

Cool hats, dudes

After about 20 minutes, they were all begging to go home.

Check out those guns

By the end, seven-year-old was swearing up and down that he was NEVER coming to this event again. It sure does make for pretty pretty pictures, though.

Can you spot the day moon?

So overall, although Parliament Hill itself is a big hit with the kiddies, the changing of the guard was a flop. Not only were the kids bored witless, I had to deal with my husband telling me, “I told you so!” about 50 times. Gah.

The changing of the guard takes place on Parliament Hill every day in the summer at 10 a.m., up until August 27. My kids are young and fidgety, but you might be able to sell this event to kids that are more 10 to 12 years old, and more interested in Canadian history. If you do have older kids and decide to give this a go, be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early, as two guides will give an English and French description of what the changing of the guard means, and what is going to happen. The best spots to view are along the Wellington Street side, closer to the East Block – so you can watch the entrance parade as it comes up the street – or up right in front of the Centre Block, where you can be close to the band and see the entire formation laid out in front of you.

Whatever the age of your kids, make sure you leave room for the tower, and the cats, and the running, and the princesses. Now that part of Parliament Hill, I can give a Summer of Awesome Should Do.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos aged 7, 5, and 3, and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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Summer of Awesome – OPL Centennial

by Lynn

Our Summer of Awesome was a little less awesome these past two weeks, because we did daily swim lessons in the middle of the day. And while that’s fun too, and good progress was made, it doesn’t really make for spectacular blog posts.

The floating! The gliding! The blowing of bubbles! See what I mean?

Since our ability to take splendid day trips was dampened, we did a lot of going to the park and having playdates and baking at home.

But the best thing we did is go to the library.

Our closest library is the Hazeldean branch, and quite frankly, it sucks for kids. The kids’ section is smack in the middle of one big room, and while your kids are yelling and running around and grabbing books from shelves and shouting, “MOMMY! READ THIS ONE! AND THIS ONE! AND THIS ONE!”, you’re fielding a ton of dirty looks from librarians and over-the-top shushing from people in Adult Education at Algonquin who are trying to get something done.

(Or, your kids are sitting quietly at a table reading to themselves, in which case, we can no longer be friends. Be well in life.)

Anyway, recently we discovered the Centennial branch, which is in Bell’s Corners. It’s not too much farther away and such a huge improvement. This is a library designed with kids in mind.

Centennial Branch of OPL

When you enter, the adult books, and a separate quiet study room, are to your right. The kids’ area is completely separate, off to your left. It’s a huge round room full of books just for kids, their own computers, and an adorable little circle for sitting and reading. Plus, with a massive skylight and kid-centered displays and decor, it’s bright and inviting and FUN.

Kids' Reading Room

I don’t feel the same need to keep a close rein on my kids here, and that is awesome. The kids’ room usually has its own librarian on staff and she’s friendly and helpful and above all, tolerant. The kids are free to explore the shelves and curl up on a miniature couch with their choices. They can ask me questions without me constantly telling them to be quiet, and if we want to have a little impromptu storytime, we can just go for it.

Cosy Little Couch

Not a bad way to spend an hour or so, with enough take-home goodies to cover the pre-dinner rush for the rest of the week.

All of the Ottawa Public Libraries have kids’ programs, but Centennial has more than most. They have Lego building events and craft series and storytime ALL the time and family puppet shows. It’s like they actually WANT you to bring your kids there. Really! Let them touch stuff! Let them explore! Let them be kids!

Amazing.

And the very best part about the library? It’s free. I usually tell the kids they can each take out three books. While the Captain limits himself strictly to this limit (because more than that would be breaking the rules, NO NO NO), and Gal Smiley is always delighted with whatever three titles I pick out for her, Gal Smiley can never limit herself to less than 10. And that’s okay! Take them all! Because it’s FREE.

And now, excuse me while we go do some serious reading.

Lynn is mom to 7-year-old Captain Jelly Belly, 5.5-year-old Gal Smiley, and 2.5-year-old Little Miss Sunshine. She blogs over at Turtlehead.

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Summer of Awesome – Ray’s Reptiles

by Lynn

The first really rainy day we had this summer made it clear that too many items on the Summer of Awesome list relied on nice weather. It’s summer! We want to be outside! But sadly, not every day can be an outdoor fun day.

We used a rainy afternoon full of thunderstorms to check out Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo, a small shelter here in Ottawa for reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids of all sizes and shapes. They also have several birds of prey at the zoo that they’ve saved from various bad situations, and a couple of mammals have snuck in, too. It’s mostly small animals in small spaces, but as a result, you can get up close and personal with many of the creatures. IF YOU DARE.

Some sort of crazy yellow beetle
Reticulated Python
Iguana
Tortoises

The best thing about Ray’s is that it is a very hands-on kind of place. At least once an hour (but usually more often than that), they’ll do a little show right in the middle of the zoo. They’ll get out three or four animals, one at a time, tell you all about them and then let eager and brave kids in the audience hold them or pet them. Cool.

Holding a tarantula
Holding a scorpion (someone else, NOT ME)
Holding a gecko

They also do feeding shows quite often, where they’ll bring out a lizard or a chameleon or giant tree frog or something and feed it some worms, which trust me, KILLS with the six-year-old boy crowd. They’ll also try to feed a snake a dead rat, which can lead to some circle-of-life style questions if your kids are very young and haven’t been to Ray’s before. It’s not very graphic and super neat to watch, but be prepared for a few inquiries.

Here’s a terrible blurry shot of the alligator feedings, which also happen several times a day. They make sure the alligators get some exercise by making them jump out of the water for their food. It’s pretty spectacular. And not as blurry in real life.

Leaping Alligator

If it’s not too rainy out, you might also catch one of their birds of prey shows. They’ll bring out a hawk or owl and have them retrieve food from various locations around the woodsy area out back, and it’s way cool. Trust me.

Ray’s isn’t a huge place, but that’s great if you have small kids. Not a lot of walking and pretty big bang for your buck. It’s not really enough for a full day, but perfect for a rainy afternoon or maybe filling up the rest of the day after swimming lessons. We had a year-long pass last year, and we went at least six or seven times, and the kids never got tired of it. It’s the shows that really sell the place – it’s so much more interactive than other zoos.

And as a bonus, their marmosets – kind of a tiny monkey – just had a baby two weeks ago. And baby marmosets getting piggy back rides from their mommies are ADORABLE.

Mommy Marmoset with Baby on Back

Some tips for visiting Ray’s:

  • It’s pretty far down Bank Street – it’s about a half hour drive from pretty much everywhere. Make sure you check Google maps beforehand and leave plenty of time to get there.
  • Speaking of getting there, Ray’s has like, the SMALLEST parking lot ever. You can park along Bank Street but it’s a very busy road with fast cars and not an entirely comfortable solution for families with small kids. So carpool if at all possible.
  • The cost is $38 for a family of four, so the annual pass at $105 is a good deal if you think you’ll go at least three times. Plus, the pass gets you a discount on their famous birthday parties, which are really well done and are a great solution if you planned an outdoor party and then it decides to unexpectedly rain all weekend, I’m JUST SAYING.
  • There’s no snack bar or snack area at Ray’s, so plan your trip between meals if at all possible. There is a birthday party room you can use to grab a quick bite and a juice box if you packed a bit of a picnic.

Since we’ve been to Ray’s about a hundred times, I’m going to give them a Summer Of Awesome Should Do. But if you have curious preschoolers, I do highly recommend it.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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