We had a real moment: there, at the end of a leisurely, cozy dinner. Nine-year-old Sabrina was sitting on Grandpa’s lap telling him about school. Duncan, eight, was showing Grandma the ins and outs of iPhone “Battleship” while they shared sips of his strawberry smoothie. And then we got up, moseyed to the lobby and perused the hotel’s “Festival of Trees” display* (fave = Abominable Snow Man tree). No dishes, no guest bed to make up. We hugged good night and headed to our own respective suites with views of the glittering skyscrapers and twinkle-lighted avenues below. Now this was a real gift!
I’m warming to the idea of special family occasions “off site.” We’re pretty traditional—i.e., glazed ham, yams and pecan pie for Christmas. All dressed up, with the relatives, at our house; and with all the cooking, cleaning and dishes that entails. Exhausting, but lovely, and a much-anticipated ritual for our family. But when my parents George and Cheryl suggested we try a Christmas season gathering with the kids at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, we didn’t hesitate. Really, why not?
We hadn’t seen my parents for nearly a year—since we’d rendezvoused in January for an epic Disney Land adventure together. They were flying up from the San Francisco Bay Area; we live in Canada, just outside the City of Glass on sleepy Bowen Island, BC. So Vancouver seemed the ideal spot for an easy get-away.
We’d been reading a lot lately about families taking vacations together or meeting at some special destination to celebrate a holiday instead of the usual houseguest scenario. In fact, our friends had just come back from Thanksgiving in Barbados with their extended family. Makes sense, with so many families spread out all over the world, and certainly takes the pressure off the hostess.
Living as we do in the boonies, our kids have pretty modest requirements for entertainment. So when they heard there’d be a swimming pool involved—plus Grandma and Grandpa—they were ecstatic. Also when they heard it was Four Seasons (we’d just gotten back from Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, they were high five-ing each other. “That place has it all,” said Duncan matter-of-factly.
We figured the indoor/outdoor pool would be the Main Attraction. It was. (At Disney Land, to our chagrin, we couldn’t get them out of the pool. “Is this Disney Land?” they’d holler, shooting down the hotel waterslide for the 20th time.) But then there was so much more here to get giddy about. Even the kids remarked on the attentive service, which really is reason alone to stay here.
We noshed on (semi) retired YEW Restaurant + Bar baker Gerhart Weitzel’s decadent Christmas Stollen—creamy and moist, not too sweet, with just the right amount of almondy marzipan. (I think my dad ate the better part of his loaf before dinner.) It’s renowned, and earns its reputation; I lived in Hamburg for five years, so I’ve munched my share of the signature German Christmas cake. Our waiter told us Herr Weitzel starts back in September to whip up 3,000 of these treasured cakes for his fans.
We dined in the groovy wood-and-glass, West Coast-vibe of YEW, toasting our fancy Shirley Temple mocktails and Okanagan Valley Viognier over succulent fillets of Steelhead salmon—over Bourbon-maple squash purée, wilted greens and caramelized apples—and delicate Arctic char. We dipped into Ahi Tartare and Dungeness, celery root, parsley water and grapefruit salad. (Bless you, Executive Chef Ned Bell.) YEW specializes in local, sustainable, in-season seafood and delivers masterful, exciting dishes.
Sabrina and Duncan were mesmerized by the giant glass atrium/wine cellar, open kitchen, flickering flames in the raised stone fireplace, display of mason jar preserves and giant lantern-like light fixtures with twig motifs. Grandma couldn’t get over the great prices and healthy vittles on the kids’ menu (grilled cheese, fries and salad or pasta and grilled chicken with broccoli, asparagus and green beans for $4; a giant smoothie was $2). And then it turned out kids dine free at the restaurant if they bring their parents.
Of course there were holiday menu specials, too, and festive cocktails for mom and dad. Despite the Stollen overload, we indulged in a rich chocolate brownie with ice cream, smoothies and a chocolate tart with a mango ravioli, chocolate crumble cake-caramel ice cream and artisan Cracker Jacks.
We ended up in an après-dinner game of table hockey and ping-pong in the “Kids in the City” Play Zone. (The Kids in the City program is complimentary, with programming daily for kids 5 to 12 from 9:30 am to 10:45 am during school Christmas break and summer vacation.) Sign-up with the concierge by 7:30 am the day of.) This place, set in the former swish Chartwell’s venue—once the city’s It resto for the diamonds and Rolex crowd—is a now a fun crashpad for kids accompanied by their parents.
The Play Zone room is open 7 am to 11 pm. It’s got stuffed-animal beanbags, books, crafts, games, a ginormous flat-screen TV with DVDs and three gaming stations including Wii. Grandpa and Duncan put on a lively American-on-Canuck table hockey demo game. Grandma and Sabrina honed their ping-pong skills.
Though reluctant to leave our perch on the 25th floor, we joined the crowds ice skating at the open-air Robson Square Ice Rink just across the street and took in the festive displays within walking distance at nearby hotels: the Hyatt’s gingerbread men and the Fairmont’s portico o’ candy. There might’ve been some window-shopping along the way: Tiffany & Co., Betsey Johnson, Hermes, BluBird…
Then there was the kids’ holiday baking-with-the-chef, oh my! First, a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen, herb garden, “chocolate room” where goodies for kids are assembled, the room service operation and—the highlight—commercial dishwasher, which Sabrina informed us runs 24 hours a day. Then the kids prepared a tasty yet “Healthy Kid Cookie” with the chef. They baked, sampled and met some new friends: eight-year-old Talia, Guy, six, and Stav Cohen, one, their friend Romi Kariv, 10, plus parents Daniella and Barak Cohen from the Seattle area. The kids were puffed up nearly as high as their fancy new chef’s toques with all the personal attention and backstage VIP treatment.
Really, we needed a week. What with the daily Kids in the City activities (design your own pizza, build your own mini sleigh, scavenger hunt, puppet making and show, hat designing); plus the spa, pool and Blo, the blow dry bar in the lobby for a fab up do or sleek blow-out before your special family night out.
Yes, we’re already mulling over the “off-site plan” for next Christmas. Four Seasons Resort Whistler?
Read more about Vancouver in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read more about Whistler in Four Seasons Magazine.
Michelle Pentz Glave is the Have Family Will Travel editor. Before diving into communications/PR, she was a journalist for 25 years in the US and Germany including stints with The Wall Street Journal Europe, Gruner+Jahr (Bertelsman) and the Albuquerque Journal. Her work has appeared in Outside, Wired, Travel + Leisure, Sunset and Fortune. She has a Bachelor's in English from Yale and a Master's in Journalism from Columbia University. Michelle is passionate about family, food, farmers, her garden and taekwondo. She lives on Bowen Island, near Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two kids: Sabrina, 11, and Duncan, 10.
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