By Tim Johnson
There’s no getting around it. Between fighting the crowds at the mall, entertaining at home, and dealing with a calendar of events that’s even more jam-packed than usual, the holidays are almost certainly the busiest time of year. And so this season — which is meant to bring families closer together — actually leaves many feeling stressed, stretched and, ultimately, disconnected from one another.
If you’re hoping for some quality time you must make it a priority, says Dr. Ian Nicholson, Psychology Professional Practice Leader at the London Health Sciences Centre in southwestern Ontario. “Part of it is simply carving out time for your family,” he says. “The holidays aren’t just about buying stuff and going to parties and all the gifts, but it’s about what you do as a family.” If you start intentionally setting aside family time when the kids are young, Nicholson notes, it will remain a valued part of your household’s routine as the kids grow older. During the holidays, he recommends volunteering together, attending worship services, or sitting down and deciding as a group what gifts to buy for the extended family.
Another option is to get away from it all for a few days — but not too far away. Undertaking a huge vacation can bring its own batch of stress, but there are plenty of options that involve just a short drive, a minimal amount of planning, and come equipped with everything you need for a great getaway. A weekend away may be just what your family needs to reconnect during this busy time. “Our mission is to bring families together. You park your car, you put on your flip-flops, and you don’t have to leave,” says Keith Simmonds, general manager of Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ont. He notes that many grandparents, instead of buying traditional holiday gifts, will take their families to the lodge for a seasonal getaway together. “It’s great to see Dad racing the kids down the hallway in the morning, or the little ones curled up with Mom by the fireplace at night. You have no distractions — you’re just there to be with your family.”
Dr. Nicholson advises that, before leaving, you should plan your activities, so that everyone is on the same page when you get there. And, especially if your kids are older, you shouldn’t feel compelled to do everything as a group. “If you say that your 15-year-old has to do everything that your 10-year-old wants to do or vice-versa, this will make for a very unhappy 15-year-old,” laughs Dr. Nicholson. “But you have to make sure that there’s time for the family together — otherwise it’s four individual vacations with people sharing a room.”
Queen’s County, Nova Scotia
A coastal classic since 1928, White Point proves that the beach is a great destination in the winter, too. Be as active as you like — the resort offers a full menu of family-friendly programs, tailored specifically for the coldest months. There are theme weekends (culinary, fitness, arts, music), guided nature hikes and beach bonfires (complete with s’mores), plus a wealth of facilities, including a games room, indoor saltwater pool, hot tub and spa services. Or borrow one of the dozens of board games available at the front desk and enjoy some quality time in your sea-view cottage.
Mont Tremblant, Quebec
It’s not just about the skiing. Sure, its 94 trails have made Tremblant one of the premier places in all of North America to hit the powder, but there’s also plenty to do after — or even instead of — a day on the hill. Swimmers large and small will love “La Source,” an indoor aqua facility with two kiddie pools, a main pool with Tarzan cord, a waterfall and a fitness centre. If you have older kids, try “Acrobranche,” an aerial forest adventure with zip lines strung 25 to 75 feet high, or keep your feet on (or close to) terra firma and take advantage of horseback riding, tubing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice climbing and snowmobiling, all available on-site.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
The weather here never changes — it’s a balmy 29Â°C, all year round — so even on the coldest day in December, you can throw on your bathing suits and hit the 103,000-square-foot indoor water park. Shoot down 13 slides, drift on the 500,000-litre lazy river, explore the four-storey tree house water fort and splash in the wave pool. Afterwards, towel off and enjoy dinner at one of five theme restaurants, spend a little time in the arcade (which features more than 100 games), then get the kids into their pajamas for story time in the lobby (known as the Grand Living Room). The only downside is that, at some point, you’ll have to step back out into the cold.
Kelowna, British columbia
The mountain is big (2,765 acres of skiable terrain and a full range of trails), but the feel is small. Simplicity and ease are the key — many of Big White’s runs lead right into the charming little village, plus all of the resort’s rooms are right on the slope. And let the good times roll at Happy Valley, where you can catch a flick, enjoy the twice-a-week carnival, skate or play hockey on Canada’s largest high altitude rink, and take a guided snowmobile tour (the resort even has miniature machines for your youngest riders). Or embark on the epitome of old-fashioned winter chill — a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Contributing editor Tim Johnson knows a lot about family togetherness — when he was 11 years old, his family took their Pontiac Bonneville on a five week road trip to California.
All great vacations must come to an end, but here are a few tips for keeping the spirit and fun of your holidays alive, long after you’ve come home.