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Take a break close to home

Close and closer ways to spend your spring break

By: By Lucy Haines

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 22, 2014 06:00 am

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  • LUNCH IS READY – St. Albert student Keegan Yeo creates made-to-order pizza in less than five minutes at the new Stages Restaurant in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in west Edmonton. The hotel offers family-friendly packages and a new pool.
    LUNCH IS READY – St. Albert student Keegan Yeo creates made-to-order pizza in less than five minutes at the new Stages Restaurant in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in west Edmonton. The hotel offers family-friendly packages and a new pool.
    LUCY HAINES/St. Albert Gazette
  • TEA AND TOUR – The Royal Tea and Tour at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald offers a bit of finery for wanna-be princes and princesses. Afternoon tea with all the trimmings, and a historical tour are available weekend afternoons.
    TEA AND TOUR – The Royal Tea and Tour at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald offers a bit of finery for wanna-be princes and princesses. Afternoon tea with all the trimmings, and a historical tour are available weekend afternoons.

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What do you do if you don’t want to venture too far from the house this spring break, but hanging around at home all week with the kids just isn’t an option?

If you’re not booked into a sun-drenched holiday resort, or can’t even muster packing up the car for a few hours of driving, there are many in-the-area solutions to the challenge of keeping the family sane and occupied at the end of the month.

You may even come away from the week feeling you’ve tried something new, entertained the troops and, surprisingly, feel you’ve had a bit of a vacation too.

It may seem a simple idea, but sometimes kids just want to stay at a hotel for a couple of days, enjoying a different swimming pool and dining options – the location isn’t critical. If that sounds like you and yours, the new DoubleTree by Hilton in west Edmonton is calling your name. Formerly the Mayfield Inn, DoubleTree boasts the novelty of a brand new indoor pool, spacious suites with refrigerators and family-friendly food at the new Stages Kitchen & Bar.

St. Albert resident and former owner of River House Grill Willie White is on board as DoubleTree’s executive chef, and he has brought his focus on fresh and local to the new restaurant, serving regional cuisine, organic oils and dressings, and thin crust pizza that steals the show.

“Our food has to hit all the right spots for guests in their teens or in their 80s,” said White. “We’re getting great response to the bison burgers and personal pizzas, especially the organic chicken pepperoni and mushroom.”

The boutique-style hotel restaurant definitely satisfies the more sophisticated palate, but even if you’re scurrying over to the hotel pool or grabbing the morning buffet before heading over for a day of fun at nearby West Edmonton Mall, the unique, modern hotel is an experience unto itself.

“It’s a perfect spring break getaway,” said DoubleTree general manager Grant McCurdy. “The Mayfield Dinner Theatre is here, with great shows and buffet, and our full service – health club, pool, room service – has something for everyone in the family.”

The hotel welcomes each guest with a warm chocolate chip oatmeal cookie.

Royal tea

The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald has welcomed members of the Royal Family since 1915 (King Edward VIII, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip).

For us regular folks, the hotel offers A Royal Tea and Tour, an oh-so-civilized way to spend a couple of hours on your spring break weekends. This year, that’s March 29 and 30 and April 5 and 6.

This event along Edmonton’s beautiful river valley is less than a half-hour drive away from your St. Albert doorstep. If your children are old enough to appreciate a traditional afternoon tea, with finger sandwiches, scones with Jersey cream and fresh fruit compote, pastries and a selection of teas made in the “proper” fashion, you’ll enjoy this hidden gem.

Following the tradition of taking afternoon tea that harkens back to one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, the Duchess of Bedford, visitors can enjoy the dainties and beverages in the Harvest Room at the downtown hotel, followed by a historic tour of the building – its hidden treasures, history and fun facts – and including a stop at the hotel’s Queen Elizabeth II suite.

Reservations are recommended at 780-429-6424. The cost is $39 per person and goes at 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Art classes

Paint like Picasso, or have fun trying, kids. For decades, the City of St. Albert has offered visual arts classes during spring break, a perfect way to let the younger set get busy (and messy) outside the house. There’s still space in the dozen or so classes aimed at ages six to 12, with some perennial favourites and new offerings among the bunch.

“For many, it’s not spring break without decorating a Ukrainian Easter egg – that’s always a popular class,” said Diane Gwilliam, the city’s visual arts program studio co-ordinator.

In just two hours, small groups of seven to 12-year-olds create a finished egg using a candle, beeswax, Ukrainian kistka and dyes, just like in the days of old and just in time for Easter.

Gwilliam said new classes include Secret Garden Stepping Stone (using glue, grout, tiles, glass and pebbles) and Puppet Play, in which six to 11-year-olds make a sock puppet then put on a show in an all-day class. And Yogart-Painting Zen explores painting techniques with yoga moves thrown in to create some good karma.

“These classes are often stuff kids just don’t do at home or school,” added Gwilliam. “We like to say kids should dress for a mess and artistic success.”

Check sta-culture.com to register, or call 780-459-1585.

Getting away

Back to the idea of spring break as a time to escape the city, those who just have to get far away next week may be out of luck, especially if looking for flight deals or last-minute vacation steals for an entire family.

Tanya Idzan, leisure manager at Vision Farlie Travel, said people have to change their mentality on that front as the industry has changed over the last couple of years. The result is that would-be travellers are more likely to find disappointment than a March bargain at the last moment.

“After Christmas, spring break is the busiest time for family travel in Alberta,” Idzan said. “People need to plan well ahead and book early – that’s where the best deals are.”

Idzan said sun destinations (Mexico, the Caribbean) and mountain park ski getaways (Jasper, Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise) are the most sought-after for spring break. Thesea are usually booked well in advance so she cautions buyers about deals that may pop up this week online or in newspapers.

“Be cautious of deals that look too good to be true, and ask yourself ‘why didn’t anyone else want that package sooner? It makes you stop and think,’” she said.

And heads up for next year’s planning – if it’s a visit with Mickey Mouse your kids are dreaming of, book that Disney getaway by June.


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