Disney On Ice review

Remember the Ice Capades? It was a part-theatrical, part-dance, ice skating show that often featured former Olympic skaters like Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton doing fancy routines without the pressure of winning a medal. It toured around the U.S. when I was a kid and I’m pretty sure my parents took me to see a show or two. I always loved watching the tricks, listening to the music and admiring the pretty costumes.

Ice Capades has pretty much gone kaput (although someone tries to resurrect it every couple of years), but now there’s something even better for kids: Disney On Ice. Imagine your favourite Disney franchises coming to life in front of you, on ice skates, and skating to the movie’s best songs. That pretty much sums it up.

The gang from Toy Story 3. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

The gang from Toy Story 3. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

I was invited to attend the Calgary opening of the Worlds of Enchantment tour last night. I brought my daughter Avery, 11, and one of her besties, age 10. I was worried they’d be too old for the show (most of the audience was comprised of little girls six and under wearing Elsa dresses and accompanied by their moms), but she surprised me by donning her Pluto hat from Disneyland, and even singing along to Love is an Open Door, the song where Anna meets Prince Hans in Frozen.

The Pulto hat makes an appearance!

The Pluto hat makes an appearance!

Worlds of Enchantment features four “ice skits.” First there’s a long show that recreates the most memorable scenes from Toy Story 3. Next comes a short skit from The Little Mermaid, when Ariel trades her voice to Ursula in exchange for human legs. After a brief intermission there’s a short performance where the cars from Cars drive around slowly (hey, it’s slippery) in circles to Tom Cochrane’s song Life Is A Highway and simultaneously wreck the ice that was just Zambonied (this was the weakest park of the show, in our opinion; a feeble attempt to appeal to the three boys in the audience). Last comes the Disney On Ice climax, when Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf take to the ice in an abbreviated version of Frozen that includes Elsa singing Let It Go as she skates in dizzying circles and channels her inner ice queen while the little girls in the audience lose their minds.

While we loved the costumes from Toy Story 3, and the choreographed scene featuring Andy’s army men, we agreed this skit was too long. Ursula and Ariel from The Little Mermaid were fantastic, and we benefitted from having an intimate knowledge of this particular Disney story (I read the book to Avery exactly 291 times when she was three). In fact, having a genuine enthusiasm for all-things-Disney-and-Pixar (or having a little girl) is kind of a prerequisite for attending.

Best costume of the show, worn extremely well by Ursula.

Best costume of the show, worn extremely well by Ursula. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

The Frozen performance was not only the most current, but definitely the best. It was the perfect length and included all the great songs from the movie, and solid skating and acting from the performers.

The Frozen Gang stole the show, in our opinion. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

The Frozen gang stole the show, in our opinion. We especially loved Olaf. Image courtesy Disney On Ice.

In all, it was a fun night out and Avery enjoyed it more than I thought she would. I’m surprised the Stampede Corral wasn’t more full, but it was a school night, after all.

Disney On Ice is in town through November 20, with morning and matinee performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

 

Drink of the Week: Tequila Manhattan

I really like Cocchi, a sweet vermouth from Italy. It’s made using a Moscato wine base that’s then infused with herbs and spices, including gentian, cinchona bark and bitter orange peels. The result is a fruity, raisiny and spicy vermouth, with a touch of bitterness. I learned all this during a crash course in “vermouth vs. amaro” several weeks ago, and now I have the difficult job of trying out recipes that showcase each.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a high-quality sweet vermouth from Italy.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a high-quality sweet vermouth from Italy.

First up: the Cocchi vermouth. Why not use it to make a Tequila Manhattan, a twist on the classic cocktail? When you add a bit of jalapeño syrup for smoky sweetness, and a dash of orange bitters to keep its edge, you have the makings of something spirit-forward, but smooth and round. I like-y.

Smooth tequila and sweet vermouth combine in this spirit forward sip that's a twist on a traditional Manhattan.

Smooth tequila and sweet vermouth combine in this twist on a traditional Manhattan.

Tequila Manhattan

  • 1-1/2 oz reposado tequila (I used Rocado)
  • 1/2 oz Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino
  • 1 tsp. jalapeño simple syrup*
  • Dash orange bitters
  • Orange zest

Method: Combine tequila, vermouth, jalapeño syrup and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir for about 20 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice ball (optional). Squeeze in orange zest, rim glass with orange peel and drop in.

*Jalapeño simple syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 jalapeño, cut into chunks

Method: Combine sugar and water and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add jalapeño and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Strain out jalapeño and store syrup in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Hiking Kelowna’s Kettle Valley Railway trail in Myra Canyon

There’s something magical about a train trestle. Multiply that by 18, add in two tunnels and tons of views and you’ve got the makings of a great hike (or bike ride) along the old Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) line that curves around Myra Canyon in Kelowna, B.C.

Expect great views while hiking or cycling the Kettle Valley Railway trail that curves around Myra Canyon in Kelowna, B.C.

Expect great views of while hiking or cycling the Kettle Valley Railway trail that curves around Myra Canyon in Kelowna, B.C. You also cross 18 wooden train trestles like the one pictured above.

My husband and I had known about the KVR trail for years. This part of the old railway has been restored by a group of volunteers a couple of times. Initially, in the 1990s, they made the 18 trestles safe for recreation. Then, after the devastating wildfire in 2003, they reconstructed the damaged trestles, a project that took nearly five years. So this past summer, during a quick two-day stay in Kelowna, we set out with the kids, bag lunches and lots of water to hike the most epic portion — the 2.5 kilometres between trestle 18 and the second tunnel, for a round trip of 5k (a perfect distance for kids!).

You can even see Okanagan Lake from the trail.

You can even see Okanagan Lake from the trail.

Yes, this meant we were essentially hiking backwards from the terminus trailhead at Myra Station, but lots of other people seemed to have the same idea. And no wonder — we crossed seven trestles of varying lengths and heights, and enjoyed views of the other trestles across the canyon. It’s a popular cycling trail, too, and most of the two-wheelers seemed to be making a day of it by pedalling the entire, mostly-flat, 12-kilometre trail in one direction, turning around, and then cycling back again (for an easy 24k ride).

Next time we visit we are going to bring our bikes!

Next time we visit we are going to bring our bikes!

With the lure of an afternoon spent swimming at the pool complex at Manteo Resort, our lakefront lodgings, we turned around on the other side of the tunnel and headed back to the car. In all, it was a fun outing that combined exercise with pretty Okanagan scenery and a bit of the area’s history (there are interpretive signs that detail the region’s railway past). We’ll definitely be back to hike or cycle the entire trail!

One of two old train tunnels along the Kettle Valley Railway trail in Myra Canyon near Kelowna.

One of two old train tunnels along the Kettle Valley Railway trail in Myra Canyon near Kelowna.

Drink of the Week: Heavenly Hibiscus

It seems a stretch when people describe cocktails as sublime or divine or heavenly. Like, can a drink taste so good it inspires awe? Well, the aptly named Heavenly Hibiscus, created by James Nguyen of Royale Brasserie Francaise, comes awfully close.

You'll have a hard time stopping once you start siping this vanilla-meets-cognac-and-hibiscus taste sensation, aptly named the Heavenly Hibiscus.

You’ll have a hard time stopping once you start siping this vanilla, cognac and hibiscus taste sensation, aptly named the Heavenly Hibiscus.

In fact, once I started sipping I had a hard time putting down the glass, so intoxicating is its combination of cognac, vanilla liqueur and apple juice. It’s strong and rich, with the heady scent of vanilla transformed into something drinkable. There are also hibiscus flowers in there — Nguyen makes his own cordial (see recipe, below) — and a splash of lemon juice for tartness. The drink is intended to demonstrate that cocktails made with cognac can be light, long and easy to drink. I may have asked him for a to-go cup (request denied).

Heavenly Hibiscus

  • 1-1/3 oz Chateau Montifaud VS cognac
  • 2/3 oz Giffard’s Vanille de Madagascar
  • 1/2 oz Hibiscus Cordial*
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 2 oz apple juice
  • Garnish: 3 thin apple slices, skewered

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice and garnish with three thin apple slices artfully arranged on a skewer.

*Hibiscus Cordial

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. hibiscus flowers from Silk Road Spice Merchant

Method: Combine sugar and water and heat until just simmering and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add hibiscus flowers. Let steep like a tea. When cool, strain out flowers and refrigerate cordial.

— Recipes courtesy James Nguyen, Royale Brasserie Française

Drink of the Week: Paper Plane

This modern classic was created by New York-based bartender Sam Ross. These days, it’s rare to come up with a brand new cocktail that becomes so popular everyone starts putting it on their list, but that’s what’s happened with the Paper Plane.

Simple, balanced and delicious. The easy-to-execute Paper Plane is a must-duplicate at home.

Simple, balanced and delicious. The easy-to-execute Paper Plane is a must-duplicate at home. Photo courtesy Earls.67.

I discovered it at the new Earls.67 on Stephen Avenue. It’s a perfect transition drink for fall — the lime and Aperol are bright and sunny, while the bourbon and Amaro hint at cooler days.

I also like its simplicity. Like The Last Word and the Negroni, it’s a drink where you mix the ingredients in equal parts; so, it’s almost impossible to mess up — an important consideration if you’re shaking up more than two!

Paper Plane

  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz Aperol
  • 1 oz Nonino Amaro
  • 1 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Fine strain into a coupe glass.

— Recipe courtesy Earls.67

Victoria with kids

It’s small, walkable, picturesque and totally charming. And with each visit I wonder why we don’t visit Victoria, B.C. more often.

Victoria's Inner Harbour

We could’ve spent the day watching float planes land and ferries arrive in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, from the comfort of our room at the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort.

I last visited Victoria in 2011 for the Art of the Cocktail festival and then wrote about the city’s burgeoning spirits scene for the Calgary Herald. Fast forward five years and cocktails are pretty much off the table during a visit with my husband and children, aged 11 and eight. Instead of learning to love gin, our goal is to find Victoria’s wild heart and then write about it for Toque and Canoe. But on the trail of the untamed we also toured through the city’s famous family-friendly stops. If you’re here with kids, don’t miss…

1. Children’s Farm in Beacon Hill Park

There are alpacas, bunnies and birds, but the biggest hit at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm is the goat enclosure, where billies, nannies and kids approach visitors and demand pets, even going so far as to jump onto laps or even backs. You’ll actually be able to say that a Billy Goat Gruff has your back, and mean it.

This Billy Goat Gruff has definitely got Avery's back at the Beacon Hill Children's Farm in Victoria, BC.

This Little Billy Goat Gruff has definitely got Avery’s back at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm in Victoria, B.C.

2. The harbour seals at Fisherman’s Wharf

The fish and chips from Barb’s is fantastic, but the cheeky harbour seals swimming off the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf and angling for raw fish bits by splashing with their flippers, steal the show. When your kid asks you if she can feed the seals, don’t hesitate. Pay the $5 — it’s worth every loonie!

This adorable and very well fed harbour seal appreciated his 10th lunch of the day!

This adorable and well fed harbour seal appreciated his 10th lunch of the day.

3. Butchart Gardens

Our kids were dazzled by the sheer number of blooms at Butchart Gardens, from azaleas to zinnias. This renowned attraction got its start as a private Eden planted by Jennie Butchart to camouflage her husband’s exhausted (and unsightly) limestone quarry. She got a bit carried away and the garden grew and grew and grew. We marvelled at the Sunken Garden, site of the old quarry, now a riot of colours, and got our zen on in the tranquil Japanese Garden.

Bridges, pagodas and tranquil ponds make the Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens a calming oasis (yes, even with kids).

Bridges, pagodas and tranquil ponds make the Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens a calming oasis (yes, even with kids).

4. A whale of a time

You can’t visit Victoria without going out on the water to look for orcas, a.k.a. “killer whales.” We last saw these magnificent creatures performing a cheesy show at SeaWorld in San Diego two years ago, so it felt better and way more natural to see them in their ocean environment on a Prince of Whales tour. We saw a transient pod of six orcas and learned they are an example of “cultural driven evolution,” a group that chose to eat seals over fish. As a result of their mammal meal preference, the group no longer breeds with the resident orcas, which eat salmon.

See that tiny speck in the water behind Avery? That's a killer whale!

See that tiny speck in the water behind Avery? That’s a killer whale!

5. The Victoria Bug Zoo

Never balk at an opportunity to hold a tarantula! Tell that to my husband, who cradled a hairy specimen at The Victoria Bug Zoo. Avery was a bit put out they don’t let kids have a turn, but she consoled herself by touching a millipede.

Now I know who to call when I see a spider on the wall...

Now I know who to call when I see a spider on the wall…

The goods: You can do all of the above through the fall, and if you happen to visit Victoria in October, there are oodles of spooky events and activities taking place, from ghostly walks to a Halloween-themed tea for kids at the Fairmont Empress. Plus the Art of the Cocktail festival takes place Oct. 22-23.

Stay: The Delta Ocean Pointe Resort made us feel welcome with kids’ play packs at check-in (complete with travel games, a slinky and a puzzle cube), the best view a kid could hope for, and a great location just a short walk from Chinatown or a quick water taxi ride away from the Inner Harbour action.

 

The jury’s in: Jura Creek is a great hike for kids

The limestone walls on either side of Jura Creek canyon near Exshaw, Alta. beckon like the lost city of Petra. Only, instead of manmade buildings hewn from rock, your little explorers will find treasures of the all-natural kind: “staircases” of rocks and boulders to clamber up, “railings” made from logs wedged between cliff walls and “sinks” shimmering with crystal clear pools of water trapped in shallow rocky depressions.

For kids, there’s nothing more enticing than a narrow chasm to squeeze into and dry waterfalls to scramble up, and the thrills don’t really stop on the way back because you have to navigate the trail in reverse.

The kids loved scrambling up this ledge at the entrance to Jura Creek.

The kids loved scrambling up this ledge at the entrance to Jura Creek.

Ominously, not 50 feet in to the canyon we spotted a trail of blood (ostensibly from an injured rock climber or hiker exiting Jura Creek) and followed it all the way up, which lent our little adventure a Blair Witch vibe on a cool fall afternoon.

I had never even heard of Jura Creek until this past weekend. Nearby Grotto Canyon gets all the glory and perhaps that’s not a bad thing — we had the canyon and all of its kid-pleasing obstacles to ourselves for most of the hike.

The canyon gets quite narrow in parts, and you can imagine the floodwaters of 2013 sluicing through the slots with force.

The canyon gets quite narrow in parts, and you can imagine the floodwaters of 2013 sluicing through the slots with force.

This narrow canyon has been eroded to reveal smooth limestone walls that curve and swoop as spring runoff has shaped it over the years. In fact, late summer/early fall is probably the best time for this hike, as the creek has mostly run dry so you don’t have to worry about slippery rocks or getting your feet wet. There were a few crossings where the water burbles up from underground, or where it pools in depressions, but these were easily navigated.

The most dramatic parts of the canyon — where you’re wedged between grey rock walls that tower above — are early on in the hike. After awhile the creek bed widens and the rock faces soften into forested hillsides. We hiked until the creek flattened out, and turned around at a spot where hikers before us had built a cluster of inukshuks. They’ll probably be washed away during next spring’s runoff, but we made one all the same — our own natural treasure for another family to find.

We ended the hike at a sort of Inukshuk shrine that's been built up in the dry creek bed over the season. We celebrated by making our own contribution.

We ended the hike at a sort of Inukshuk shrine that’s been built up over the season in the dry creek bed. We celebrated by making our own contribution.

If you go: Finding the “trailhead” is a bit tricky as there isn’t a sign or anything. It’s basically a turnout off of Highway 1A on the north side (take the Seebe/Exshaw exit from Hwy. 1, head toward Exshaw on the 1A), just across from the Graymont Plant but before the town of Exshaw. Various dirt tracks and trails head west and north toward a valley; you’ll know you’re on the right track when after a kilometre or so you emerge from the forest and see the gravelly reclamation effort around the creek’s washout after the 2013 flood. Turn right (north) and you can’t miss the start of the canyon.

A view from the canyon toward Exshaw. You can see the tons of gravel post-flood.

A view from the canyon entrance toward Exshaw. The gravel in the foreground is part of the post-flood effort.