Category Archives: Parenting

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.

 

Our fave 5 family attractions in Calgary

There are only two weeks of summer left (and a measly 10 days if your kids are in the Catholic system). It’s a time of mixed emotions — we’re sad because the season is coming to an end, yet ebullient at the thought of child-free September days. But we’re also plum out of ideas for how to occupy the children during summer break’s homestretch.

These are a few of our favourite outdoor places to go for fun, in no particular order. Some are popular attractions that charge admission; others are free. Hopefully one of our fave 5  stops will become your go-to.

Calgary Zoo

When the kids were little we had zoo passes and visited the Calgary Zoo almost weekly during the summer. Now that they’re older (11 and eight) we go about twice a year. It’s great fun to visit the animals that we think of as our old friends, including the gorilla troop, tigers and curious penguins. During our last visit we also bade Sabari, the rhinoceros, goodbye. He’s leaving in mid-September to make room for the giant panda exhibit, which is slated to open in 2018.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

We are a bit biased toward this protected natural area as we live a block away, but the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a neat place to bring kids. You have a great chance of seeing not only birds (from great blue herons to bald eagles), but other wildlife including deer and muskrats. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that all of the trails that were damaged during the 2013 flood have now reopened.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary -- a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary — a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

Heritage Park

Did you know the rides at Heritage Park are now included in the cost of admission? During our last visit we were super excited to just hop on the swings and carousel on the midway of this historical village. For those new to town, Heritage Park is an “olden days” attraction that brings to life various eras of a settler’s life in the west, from the fur trade at a replica fort to the dusty streets of a frontier town complete with ice cream shop and candy store. All the workers even dress the part (and are knowledgeable about their particular role), which makes it fun.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

St. Patrick’s Island

This new-ish urban park has a natural-materials playground, a wading area, walking paths and a giant grassy hill to walk up and roll down (where they show free movies on select summer evenings). What’s more, St. Patrick’s Island is right on the bike path by the Bow River near Fort Calgary, so you can easily get there under your own power, bring a picnic and make a day of it. Be sure and check out the other new natural play space in neighbouring East Village, or pop into the Simmons Building for a coffee, cocktail or baked goodie.

St. Patrick's Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village.

St. Patrick’s Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village. Here, Bennett wades in a Bow River off-shoot.

Calaway Park

The beauty of Calgary’s amusement park is its small size. You can easily “do Calaway” in a day and I’ve hardly ever encountered a wait time longer than 10 or 15 minutes, so you can go on your favourite rides more than once. And don’t miss the Bumper Boats on a hot day — the best!

On the airplane ride at the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Bennett on the airplane ride in the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Finally, don’t forget to go for ice cream one more time this summer! The Calgary Zoo, Calaway Park and Heritage Park all have ice cream vendors, and you can ride over to Village Ice Cream from St. Patrick’s Island, or pop in to the Inglewood Drive In for a chocolate dip cone or milkshake if you’re at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Now that's a proper kid-sized ice cream cone.

I scream for ice cream!

A few good drivers

There’s a legion of support staff that help Bennett each and every day. Most of them work in special education at Bennett’s school — they are teachers, education assistants and therapists. They help him focus in class, support him in play with his peers and teach him prepositions or how to dribble a basketball.

Outside of school Bennett’s world expands to include doctors, specialists, babysitters and respite workers, swim instructors, volunteer adaptive ski instructors and soon, camp counsellors. They all do a small job in helping Bennett function and integrate into the larger world, by prescribing medicine, building his confidence on skis or helping him have an incredible summer filled with games, hiking and swimming.

And then there are the trusty folks who act as his conduits between his two worlds: the bus drivers who get Bennett to and from school safely every day.

Bennett rides the bus to school and has since her was three.

Bennett rides the bus to school and has since he was three.

Bennett has been riding a bus to school since he started at Renfrew at the age of three. We’ve had many different bus drivers over the years — and some repeat drivers — and they always greet Bennett with a smile in the morning and send him off with a wave in the afternoon. They patiently wait while Bennett dawdles his way to the bus, and drags his feet getting off after school (he doesn’t want to stop watching the TV screen!).

But I never really stopped to think about what the job might be like for them until I read Craig Davidson’s book, Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077, this spring. The book chronicles his experience driving a busette of differently-abled junior high and high school kids in Calgary. Davidson, who previously had no experience with people with special needs, finds himself leaning to operate a wheel chair lift on the bus, getting to know his charges through daily conversations and banter, and even defending them against a high school bully and the bully’s father. He learns a lot about himself along the way. It’s a great book: serious and poignant, but with hilarious bits, too.

Precious Cargo

I got to thinking — after a note home about a month ago informing me that Bennett had been hitting another boy on his morning bus — these wonderful Renfrew drivers really must be a special breed. The kids at Bennett’s school range in age from three to 12, and even greater is their range of conditions, from autism to cerebral palsy to Down Syndrome. The drivers likely endure tantrums, screaming or even children who unbuckle and get loose inside the bus while it’s hurtling down Deerfoot Trail! And they have to know how to handle all of these situations, including my eight-year-old with loose fists after the morning commute! Yet despite what must be a lot of stress, plus driving in Calgary rush hour traffic (arguably more stressful), they always greet the kids with a big smile and are still smiling at the end of the day.

Their patience and dedication helps Bennett’s life run smoothly — and by proxy, ours — and I can’t imagine how we’d keep all the balls in the air if that bus with the rainbow didn’t pull up at 8:15 every morning. Thanks for driving my precious cargo!