Tuesday 11 August 2015

#PEIVacation 2015

Last week I spent the week on Prince Edward Island with family, on vacation. Every summer we seem to find ourselves visiting PEI... even when we say we're not taking a vacation. It always pulls us in! Simply put, I love PEI. The scenery, the food, the attractions - I love it all. I'm sure that some find it touristy, but I like a little of that, and you can always avoid the tourist traps. After visiting PEI so many times, I can easily find my way around and have many favourites that I return to every year.  I always try to find something new, but finding new things to see and do can be a challenge, especially when looking for places that are fun for both adults and a very busy toddler!

This year, I knew that I wanted to explore the East Point Drive. Last year, we had driven to Souris and Kings Castle Provincial Park. We loved the spots, but it was a long drive. This year, I spent the week before we left looking for new sights. I scoured the PEI tourism book, scrolled through the travel forums on TripAdvisor, and browsed through some travel blogs. 

Planning vacations is a bit of joke in my house. Although my husband teases me for over-planning when we travel, I don't think I'm that bad.  Okay, I do like the planning part. Also, I like to have a good list of possibilities, so I don't have to waste time wondering what to do when we get up. For this trip, I knew that I had to find enough to do on the Points East Coastal Drive to make the drive worthwhile. Driving a couple of hours for one stop is not ideal when you are travelling with an almost 2 year old.

Since I always love finding blogs with their travel finds, I thought I'd share my new kid-friendly favourites from our latest trip to PEI.

1.  Orwell Corner Historic Village:

Last year, I had a visit to Kings Landing Historical Village on my summer bucket list but it didn't get checked off.  When I found Orwell Corner Historic Village listed in the Points East section of the PEI tourism guide, I added it to my list. I'm glad I did. It's not as big as other historical villages I've visited,  but when you have a little one, that's a good thing. You get to see what life was like, without having to walk 10 miles and go in and out of dozens of buildings. At Orwell Corner, there are about 10 stops nestled together. You start in the agricultural museum before moving into the village,3 set in the late 1800s, to see a cemetery, school, church (although it was closed for repairs when we visited), hall, store/home, barns, and my favourite - the blacksmith shop. My son could walk through the entire place without getting tired or needing to be carried.  We had brought a little umbrella stroller, but didn't even need to use it. As a bonus, it wasn't too crowded, so he was able to explore outside the buildings a little more independently, which is important to him.  He likes a little freedom.

There aren't any tours, but they give you a map and there are a few people scattered about, who are very willing to give you a history of the village and specifics on the area they are covering. This is also great for parents with little ones who have short attention spans, as you're not tied down to one spot for too long. In the afternoon, they offer wagon rides. We were too early for them, but I'm sure they would have been fun!

For budget travelers, this is also a great find. Adults are only $6 and preschoolers are free!  There is a little café in the hall. We stopped for a light lunch. I had the beef vegetable soup and biscuit and C had the grilled cheese. Both were very good. They also offered sandwiches, wraps, ice cream, scones, and cookies. A small menu, but a nice light lunch or snack. From what I read on their website, they will pack up a picnic basket for you to enjoy at one of the nearby picnic tables.  

Agricultural Museum

One-room School house

Making Candles outside the school

My candle! A little wonky,
but I was pretty proud.

In back of and above the store, there was a house you could explore.

The blacksmith shop has always been my
favourite building to visit in a historical village.

Of course, there were animals!
Little C's favourite was the cat that kept running away.

2.  Avonlea Village

Avonlea Village is an old and new find. Up until this year, it was set up like a historical village based on Avonlea, the setting of L.M. Montgomery's Anne and Avonlea books. There were buildings to visit, shops, dramatic presentations set up throughout the village, games, and more. It was pretty pricey, but you could spend a lot of time there with so much to see, so you got a lot for your money. I was very disappointed to hear that the Avonlea that I knew and loved was gone. I didn't have much hope for the "new" Avonlea, but I was presently surprised.

I went in knowing that it was now a collection of shops. Some of my favourites have set up shop -  including Moonsnail Soapworks, Cows Ice Cream, and Anne of Green Gables Chocolates (the maple creams are my favourite!) and some new shops like Prestige Home Décor and a collection of craftspeople in the old barn. I wasn't planning on doing much shopping on my vacation, but I was able to find some unique gifts for family. Sprinkled among the shops are a wide variety of eateries. You can get fancy baked potatoes, lobster rolls, wood oven fired pizza, coffee, or grilled cheese. Lots to choose from, which is great for families. There is some outdoor seating, which would make it great for families with a variety of food preferences. Sadly, I didn't get to eat there, but I would have loved to try the pizza from piatto and the coffee from Samuel's.

All in all, a fun way to do some shopping. If the kids get bored, you can take breaks at the swings, listen to some live music, have a bite to eat, take a pony ride, or just wander around. Best of all, you don't have to pay to get in anymore, so you can walk through L.M. Montgomery's Avonlea free of charge.

3.  East Point Lighthouse
Since we were going to travel around the Points East Costal Drive, I figured, why not travel to the eastern tip of the island. You can actually travel to the top of the East Point lighthouse. There  are a lot of short flights of steep stairs, landings, and a steep ladder at the top, so you really need one adult for each child, if you have children going up with you, but it is pretty neat to be at the top of a lighthouse, which I'd never done before. The view is fantastic. On the landings between stairs, there are artifacts to look at, including various lenses for the lights and photographs.

On one section of the wall, there are very light pencil markings. If a sign hadn't been there, I wouldn't have seen them at all. When you look very closely, you see that the markings are signatures, and they're 133 years old. They are the signatures of the survivors from the HMS Phoenix shipwreck from 1882. It's quite amazing that they are still there.

One thing I missed out on was the "Tip-to-Tip Tour." If you plan to tour the entire island, it would be fun to participate in. When you visit the East Point Lighthouse, you ask for a ribbon. Take it to the North Cape lighthouse and you will receive a certificate to prove that you have been "tip to tip" on PEI! It would make a fun souvenir.

The East Point lighthouse and attached gift shop and restaurant.

The view from the top of the lighthouse.

Signatures of the survivors of a shipwreck in 1882
4.  Elmira Railway Museum & Miniature Railway:
I've seen this in the tourism guide for many years, but have never been. It was a suggested activity for a toddler, and since we were exploring that end of the island, I thought it would be perfect time to finally see it in person. The admission rates to the museum are very fair - $4 for an adult. We decided not to go into the museum, but did peak our heads in and it looked quite interesting. There used to be many trains on the Island. Elmira was the end of the line. I'd like to go back at some point to see the museum.

To be honest, we went for the miniature railway, not the museum. I had seen pictures in the guide, and thought Little C would love it. You get to ride on a little train through the woods! What's not to love? I expected it would take us in a little circle before returning to the "station," but I was in for a surprise! The train ride lasted a lot longer than I expected - maybe 10 minutes? It snaked through the woods, over a bridge, through a tunnel, passed cute wooden painted cutouts of animals, and walls covered in murals of the area. The seats were very small, but our group was the only one there, and I was able to sit Little C securely on my knee with his legs flopped onto the next seat, so we had a very comfortable ride.

After the miniature train ride, we also rode the speeder. You have to pay for the rides ($5 for adults, $3.50 for kids), but when you pay for one, you get the second for half price. It's a neat experience, so I thought it was well worth the price. The speeder runs on the original Elmira train tracks and gives you a demonstration of how they would turn trains. It ran a bit faster than the miniature train.

I'm so glad to have found this place, and would definitely add it to the itinerary when heading to that end of the island again, so I can check out the museum.

Highlights from the miniature train ride

The train station (above left), speeder (top right),
museum (bottom left), and sign directing you
to all that the Elmira Railway Museum has to offer.

5.  Playground - Cardigan
When travelling with little ones, good pit stops are important. I had searched and searched for a couple of good stopping points on the way to Souris. I had posted on a TripAdvisor forum and someone said that Cardigan was a great spot to stop for a break. We got a little lost inside the small town, but someone doing some gardening at a restaurant pointed us in the right direction. If you decide to stop, look for the red building that is home to the farmer's market and tennis courts. Behind the building and court is a lovely little park that is perfect for a picnic. There is a great playground, with lots of different slides and a set of swings with toddler and "big kid" swings, so children of different ages can enjoy. Scattered throughout the park are benches, picnic tables, and a couple of gazebos with picnic tables in them, so you can stop even if it's raining. When you're a kid, a playground is the perfect break from a long drive.

Apparently, Cardigan is also home to Canada's smallest library, but I couldn't find it. I didn't spend too long looking for it though, because I wouldn't have been able to check out a book! I would have liked to have seen it though. It would be a neat picture to hang up in my classroom.

6.  Green Gables Post Office:

One morning, Little C and I went for a walk. We were staying at a cottage close to Cavendish Corner, and decided to do a little sightseeing within walking distance. Our first stop was the Green Gables Post Office. Why so significant? L.M. Montgomery grew up in a home that was also the Cavendish post office. This building is similar to the one she lived and wrote her now-famous stories in and mailed them away to publishers, hoping to be published.

In the building, there is a real post office and a little museum. You can buy postcards and mail them, and they will be stamped with the Green Gables stamp. Of course, we did that! I'm still waiting for the post card to arrive, to see what it looks like, but it's only been 3 business days since we sent it, so I have to be a little more patient.

Inside the museum, there is a quote of L.M. Montgomery that reads, "The manuscript lay in the hatbox until I came across it one winter day while rummaging... 'I'll try once more', I thought."  Interestingly, when she mailed her manuscript for Anne of Green Gables in February 1907, it had previously been rejected 5 times. Just imagine how different PEI would be if a publisher had never recognized how special that story was. I loved Anne growing up, and learned so much from her. Thank goodness L.M. Montgomery keep trying!

7.  Island Artifacts - Eclectic Gift Shop
I know what you're thinking - gift shop? with kids? In this case, it really works! An artisan gift shop is a surprising addition to a list of kid-friendly spots to stop at, but in this case, it is very deserving. I had driven past the sign many times, and I'm drawn to craft/artisan shops, but with a toddler, it's not a fun experience. It's a lot of hand holding, near-drops, and near-nervous breakdowns. On my final day in PEI, as we were just about to pass it, I said to my husband, let's go in. He would have just taken Little C for a walk in the yard, but when we pulled in, there was an even better option... goats!

The gift shop itself is an old barn - I think the owner said it was 100 years old. It doesn't look like much, but inside, there is so much to see! There is a lot of jewelry, art, photography, décor, candles, and lots more - a little something for everyone, but nothing super touristy. That's a big plus for me. As much as I like Anne, I have seen enough Anne dolls, movies, postcards, key chains, etc. I don't need any of that.

While I enjoyed looking around inside, C was out back with my husband with the goats. They got some goat treats in the shop and the goats were very friendly (and eager to get a snack!)

Those are my newest PEI finds. All toddler approved! Have you found any must-do attractions, shops, or better yet, dining options? I'd love to hear about them, so I can visit them the next time I'm on the island!

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