Our family regularly travels back and forth from the Isleville region to downtown Halifax. All you need is a booklet of bus tickets, a handy transfer and access to Google maps to make the journey as smooth as possible.
When I was offered the opportunity to take part in Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s Big Day Downtown initiative, I immediately enlisted the help of my daughter. We thought of many places we could shop1 but decided to focus on the emotional, experiential side of town. The guidelines were simple; we had to spend $100 downtown and, according to the RBC Royal Bank Prepaid Card Agreement, “not use your Card or your Card number for any illegal, improper or unlawful purpose.” Fair enough. I wouldn’t even know which criminal element, outside of banks and illegal card swipers, accepted major credit cards.
The Harbour Hopper ($25.99 adult + $8.99 child = $34.98 + tax = $40.232) was filled to capacity and we ended up sitting next to a couple from Montreal. We were on the back bench that gives you a high, unobstructed view (probably less so if the roof was up) and bonus bouncy-ness. The entire tour takes about an hour and is filled with various Haligonian factoids and product placements for restaurants and bars. The vehicle, a decommissioned and refitted Lark V from the Vietnam War, starts off on land and travels up over Citadel Hill and down Spring Garden Road, finishing it’s last leg as it dips into the harbour near the casino for a short cruise. This was a natural first choice for Rowan, who screeches with excitement whenever the Harbour Hopper drives by. She was a little fidgity by the end but was thrilled to be on board as it drove into the harbour.
The Discovery Centre ($8.50 adult + $6.00 child = $14.50 + tax = $16.68) was next. Our previous visit was cut short when Rowan stepped directly into a vat of soapy bubbles and we were without spare shoes. There is also a fund-raising “wishing well” that Rowan really loves. The first she saw it I handed her some change and she walked up to it and tossed it directly into the middle of the drain, without even having a spin.
The main floor features a gift shop filled with interesting education toys, puzzles and gadgets while the main exhibit is a seasonal look at a theme or topic. This time, it was diamonds and, personally, was a bit of a snooze fest unless this sounds interesting to you:
“This dazzling exhibit is suitable for all ages. Dig into how a diamond is cut, why Canadian diamonds are among the most valued in the world and how diamonds are formed and mined out of the ground. Visitors can size diamonds, evaluate colour and determine cut while marvelling at replicas of some of the world’s most famous diamonds.”
There are many different exhibits spread out over the two floors, dealing with the human body, parabolic reflectors, bikes that power radios and fans, building blocks and suspension bridges and much more. Rowan was immediately drawn into the various mirrors (the fun-house style ones are near registration) and spent quite some time practicing Bernoulli’s principle with some ping pong balls.
We ended up catching a live science demo in the theatre and I even learned that balloon animals can be squished into a small jar of liquid nitrogen and then retrieved unharmed and fully inflated. Overall, the Discovery centre continues to appear a bit dated in an age of touch screens and 3D-everything. I’m not saying they are promoting a flat earth but I was expecting Julius Sumner Miller to step out from behind a blackboard covered in dust. I want a place like this to whisk us away by the great possibilities of science and give us a rough glimpse into our future.
We headed back to waterfront to take a spin on Theodore Tugboat ($19.99 adult + 8.99 child = 28.98 + tax = $33.33). This was a lot more child-friendly, compared to the Harbour Hopper. There is room to move around the tug boat itself and the children are given a clipboard to colour along with.
The tour was geared towards the pre-school and early elementary school set and there was ample amounts of goofiness and interactivity. Probably not the best place to be if you are tripping or bothered by anthropomorphism (Benjamin Bridge, Northumberland the sub, Philip and Filmore the ferry boats, etc.).
One nit-picky thing that did stand out was when were told that George’s Island was not inhabited by people but had the most “snakes per capita”. Division by zero FAIL.
We still had some time (and money) left, so we decided to go to The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic ($8.75 adult + free for children = totally free if the front desk decides to cash out early). We had been to a pirate party there before but never fully explored the museum. We also spent time at the “boat” playground, the wave and had a tour of the nearby CSS Acadia. There is a live parrot, paintings, various sized boats (both actual and models) and lots of rope3.
There is also a Titanic exhibit and Rowan insisted on watching some of the slow-paced documentary playing inside a small room. The moral of this museum, according to Rowan, was that “people dying in the water is a bad thing.”
With a little bit of money left, the only sensible conclusion was to visit Freak Lunchbox (like several other bloggers and kids at heart). I rarely get out of the store without dropping at least $20 and, sure enough, I had to toss in some extra money to cover Rowan’s Candy Buttons, Sweethearts, SweetTarts, Pixi Stix and (American) Smarties habit.
In the end, there were some freebies4 (a slice of Dr. Oetker pizza) and out-of-pocket expenses that could not have been processed by Visa: A $6 pulled pork sandwich from the mobile Boneheads BBQ unit, a $5 ice cap from a mini barn, a $1.25 strawberry gourmet sucker, a $3 bottled water and two visits to Glow Parties’ bouncy castles ($5).
The castles were part of the Busker’s Festival and one had a Disney theme while the other was some sort of a Coliseum battle dome. She wanted to spend time at both and we were able to squeeze in visits between the boat rides.
If you were to ask Rowan now what her favourite part of this big day was, she would undoubtedly tell you all about the bouncy castles5.
- I could have easily turned this into a shopping spree involving any of these fine retail stores (examples of previous purchases in brackets): Attica Kids (apron), Biscuit General Store (necklace), Black Market (rainbow windsock), Carbonstok, DeSerres Art Store (canvas), Historic Properties, The Jade W, Mountain Equipment Coop (backpack), Maps & More, Maritime Hobbies and Crafts, Random Play (The Incredibles DVD), Rock Candy Boutique (Tigger patch), Strange Adventures Comic Bookshop, Taz Records and Urban Cottage Antiques (ballerina Barbie). ↩
- Note: You can save a couple bucks if you have an Atlantic Baby & Child Family Card ↩
- What Halifax really needs is an honest-to-goodness aquarium. I want to learn about cod fish outside of their newspaper habitat. ↩
- Other free/cheap ideas when you are downtown are a ferry ride to Dartmouth, Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market, scavenger hunt on Citadel Hill, Murphy’s touch tank, the Bishop’s landing water fountain and just checking out the boats. ↩
- One of our regular activities, that we weren’t able to squeeze in, is a trip to The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia ($12.00 adult + free = $12.00 or look into their family memberships). It is worth checking out the gallery during one of their Sunday family days because they establish a theme related to a current exhibition and have a workshop area filled all sorts of art supplies and great instructors to help the children make their own art pieces. ↩