Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fun with kids in Vancouver: Playland & the PNE

Taking your kids to an amusement park can be a real summer-time highlight. There are so many sights and sounds and smells to take in: vertigo-inducing rides, glittering merry-go-rounds, spooky houses, whack-a-mole, bright-colored cotton candy, popcorn, lemonade, and the ever-present squeals and screams of terror and delight.

Vancouver's amusement park is called Playland, and inhabits a huge area with some truly fabulous kid-sized rides and entertainment: a kiddie roller-coaster, an old-school merry-go-round, flying elephants, bumpy-ride motorcycles, bumper cars, a giant slide, cars on a track, a mini-train, and much more.

And this time of year, from the end of August until the Labor Day weekend, the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), also called The Fair, is added to the fun.

The fair at the PNE has been around since 1910. It features all sorts of exhibitions, concerts, and entertainment. There are dog shows, farm animals on display, pig and duck races, star searches, bands and artists performing, and more.

This past weekend, my husband and I took the kids to Playland and the PNE. Going there means pretty much a full day of fun and frolicking outside with the kids, and there are some things that I highly recommend you bring in order to make the day easier:
  • at least one refillable water bottle - just fill it up in one of the bathrooms when it's empty: much cheaper than buying bottles of water
  • some snacks - just in case your kids get the munchies
  • sunscreen - if the sun is shining: some rides have shady canopies, but you definitely need the sunscreen to be on
  • hats - and hope you can get your kids to wear them if it's sunny!
The rides & the fair
We bought Junior Ride Passes for the kids (they're 4 and 8 years old). The Junior passes are for kids who are under 48 inches tall, and this was the year when they both seemed to be old enough to totally enjoy the whole "going on rides" experience.

There are tons of great rides for kids at Playland, and many allow parents to accompany their kids for free. This is the case on the kiddie roller-coaster for example, which was just a tad too scary and shaky-bumpy for the kids to go on by themselves.

Amusement parks are not that much fun with, or for, babies and toddlers, at least not in my experience. They can't go on most of the rides, and the whole experience can be a little overwhelming for them as well with all the noise and chaos (and heat, if you're going on a hot summer day).

This year is really the first year I've felt that both my kids were old enough to truly enjoy both the rides at Playland and the exhibitions and shows at the PNE. We no longer need to bring a stroller (strollers are a hassle at an amusement park, but a must if you're going with a baby or toddler), and  they are also able to go on (and enjoy!) enough rides to really make it worth the trip.

In addition to the rides, the kids also hugely enjoyed the big barn/exhibition area with the farm animals on display. We saw cute little piglets, fluffy little chicks and ducklings, calves, an endless parade of cuddly bunnies, llamas, dogs, goats, sheep... My animal-crazy daughter was in absolute heaven. We got to pet rabbits and horses, watched a sheep being sheared, and even got to very gently touch a tiny newborn chick...

Food & snacks
Food is a bit pricey inside Playland and at the PNE, but there is a huge selection of tasty grub at the outdoor food-stalls at the fair: everything from Chinese and Indian food to barbecued ribs and hot dogs.

We chose to have our lunch at the White Spot restaurant in Playland. It had lots of air-conditioned indoor seating (nice on a hot day), and because it was indoors, there was less stuff going on around us to distract the kids.

For snack-time, we bought blue cotton candy, and some of the PNE's famous mini-donuts (fresh cooked and rolled in sugar and cinnamon... mmmm...).

Admission, parking & facilities
This year, children under 13 get free admission during the fair at the PNE, but you still have to pay for ride passes. Admission varies, depending on whether you're going when the PNE is on, or when it's "just" Playland.

Parking your car at the designated parking lots just outside the PNE costs $20 during the fair. We parked for free about 10 minutes away instead. Beware if you do this however, since there are many parking restrictions in place in the area around Playland/PNE.

There are lots of washrooms available on the grounds, including washrooms with diaper change tables.

Playland and the PNE (or just Playland, if you're going when the fair isn't on) definitely makes for a fun and active day out. Just bring along that refillable water bottle and apply LOTS of sunscreen!


  1. We went to playland last time we went to van and had a blast! My tip is to pay for a "companion pass" at the gate, it allows parents to still ride all the rides but is 1/2 the price of a regular ride ticket. For some reason it took me years to figure this one out ;)

  2. That is a great tip! Thank you! :) And yes, it's a fun place for sure. My kids were wiped out that day.


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