If you have no idea how to play golf, more swing and miss than hitting targets - Top Golf Gold Coast is for you. If you are a pro at all things golf and enjoy a challenge - Top Golf Gold Coast is for you. And If you are a kid that has never even picked up a golf club before - Top Golf Gold Coast is also for you!
Top Golf Gold Coast is a triple level state of the art golf driving range, the first in Australia, and here are seven reasons why you might like to give it a try.
1. All Automatic
There is no guessing the scores here - the balls are microchipped and the computer system knows exactly where you are landing. Your name comes up on the screen, you swipe your club for a ball to appear and away you go. The chip tracks how far the ball goes, whether it has hit a target or not and provides you with a score. No-one needs to sharpen their pencil or guesstimate how far the ball has travelled. Mind you for those golfers that like to exaggerate how far they can drive a ball you are in for a reality check here!
2. Variety of Games
There are a variety of games available that are programmed into the system. Whether you want to just swing and track, or if you want to be challenged to hitting certain targets, there is something for all levels of experience - and plenty of choices to make you want to come back. There are both men and women’s clubs in each bay (kids clubs are available from reception upon arrival) or you can bring your own. And both left and right handed tees are in each bay.
3. All Ages
Top Golf is an activity for all ages. We visited for a corporate function with adults and then returned as a family. Our Miss 8 barely knew what end of the club to hold, but she managed to hit a few of the targets and not once threw her club over the edge!
4. Great Atmosphere
We visited on a Thursday night for a corporate function and walked into a funky, vibrant, atmosphere for 80s night! There was a DJ on the decks of the roof top bar and there were some great tunes being blasted through the speakers. There was a really good vibe at the venue and, as well as our corporate function of 50 people, the bays were filled with groups of mates of varying ages and genders. There is a bar/eatery on the ground level as you enter the venue and then another on the rooftop level.
Our second visit was on a week day before lunch and although not as vibrant as the Thursday evening, there was still a good vibe about the place.
5. Comfortable Bays
Each bay can cater for up to six people. The bay consists of a six seater lounge area, or high tables, that offer table service for food and drinks. They have self controlled televisions with a range of sporting channels to choose from and self controlled heating, ceiling fan or mist sprayer.
6. Table Service
Everyone loves table service - especially when you are paying for your bay by the hour! The fully licensed venue serves up brunch for the early arrivals and share plates and cocktails for the late night crowd. The attendants were friendly and service was prompt for our pre-lunch time visit.
7. Bays by the Hour
The Top Golf structure is you get to hit as many balls as you possibly can in your allocated time slot - you pay for your bay by the hour. Prices vary depending on when you visit but start at $55 per hour for a midweek day time bay.
When you arrive at your bay you are set up for an hour (unless you ask for more) and when 15 minutes remains you will be prompted to see if you want to extend.
Top Golf Gold Coast is located right next door to MovieWorld on the Gold Coast - a great after theme park day out activity!
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
We love a sunny resort holiday and Mexico has always delivered. We have travelled to Puerto Vallarta and stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and also visited the Costa Maya as part of a cruise out of Florida. Just a few hours flight from the US, Mexico offers plenty of options for a resort holiday to relax and enjoy some local culture - or simply hang out in a full service hotel relaxing and soaking up the sunshine.
This trip we visited the Cabo area with a stay at the Royal Solaris in San Jose Cabo.
The Royal Solaris is actually a time share, so although we simply booked through a normal hotel booking website, we were still exposed to the timeshare sell. Upon arrival at the hotel we received an individual “Concierge” to explain the hotel features to us. However after declining quite sternly for the third time to attend the VIP breakfast, (to find out about the amazing opportunities for time share at the hotel) our Concierge had very little further information to give us! Not a great start to the stay - but thankfully it did not really dampen the experience and we were not bothered about timeshare any further.
The Royal Solaris is an all inclusive resort. This means that all our meals, drinks (including alcohol) and entertainment were included. If you have ever cruised, a resort like this is a very similar experience. Once you arrive there really is no reason to have to spend any money - except for tips if you are wanting to do so.
The hotel had a number of eatery options a pizzeria, snack bar serving hot dogs, burgers and nachos, a sushi station (which was amazing), a buffet restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a couple of specialty a la carte restaurants one of which served Churrasco Argentinian (char grilled meats served to the table on swords and carved at your table). Add to that 24 hour room service (with a delivery fee) and a stocked fridge of soda, water and beers in your room - there was no reason to go hungry or thirsty.
Add to this all the bars around the hotel that were also included. Cocktails from the pool bar, tequila shots by the beach, wine with your dinner in the restaurant, late night night-caps in the lobby bar - all included. And the free pour serves of spirits put hair on your chest!
Then there was all the entertainment included. There was a kids club where kids could be signed in from 9am - 5pm (our kids chose not to use this but it was still an option and looked like it had a great range of activities), poolside entertainment that ranged from darts competitions, black jack, movie trivia, aqua aerobics, ping pong tournaments and more - there was never a dull moment poolside.
And in the evenings there was a large theatre with entertainment that for us included a Michael Jackson tribute show and a traditional Mexican dancing show. And if that wasn’t enough the entertainment crew also kept patrons busy in the evening at the lobby bar with activities such as karaoke and various game show type entertainment.
On our first night we joined in on the Karaoke at the lobby bar and discovered one of the entertainment staff, a dancer named Holly, was in fact from Adelaide, Australia (our home town). She had only arrived at the hotel in the last week, there was also one other dancer on staff who had been at the resort for 12 months, also from Adelaide.
The girls were comforted by having someone from home at the hotel, they told us in 12 months they had only come across four other Australian visitors at the resort. And they always seemed to be from South Australia! If you visit, be sure to say hello to the girls - maybe take them some Vegemite.
The resort is located on the beach, we stayed just before Hurricane Bud was heading for town so the beach was rough and not swimmable. However we still enjoyed walks on the sand, listening to the sounds of the sea and getting hair braids from the beach vendors.
From the street in front of the hotel a local bus could be caught for the cost of $1USD to take you to downtown San Jose which was filled with restaurants, shops and art galleries. Just beware the local buses stop at about 8pm so if you are going for dinner you may need to get a taxi back. We visited downtown on a Sunday night and got caught out with no buses or taxis around, luckily the restaurant owner gave us a ride in the back tray of his single cab truck - when in Mexico!
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
If you have been to the Gold Coast or Brisbane and done all the run of the mill attractions, here is a day trip with a difference: Get Wrecked with tour operator Sunset Safaris.
So long as you don’t mind a full day out - getting off the mainland and onto the world’s third largest sand island - Moreton Island - is a great adventure for the whole family.
With a 5:45am pick up from the Gold Coast we boarded a tour bus via Brisbane to catch a catamaran across to Moreton Island that departed at 8:30am. It is a long morning, but with a bus driver at the wheel we took the opportunity to catch a few more moments of sleep before our big day.
The ride across to the island took about an hour and was fairly smooth sailing. We were fascinated that the catamaran just pulled up onto the beach, put down it’s front and off drove the 4WD vehicles ready to explore this amazing island.
Upon arrival at Moreton Island this tour kicks into action - the group was split into snorkelers and kayakers and we were kitted up with wetsuits and life vests to hit the water and explore the Moreton Island wrecks.
There are 15 ships purposefully wrecked at Moreton Island that are home to a myriad of sea life, including coral. From the top of the water, through the transparent kayaks, we got a glimpse of what lied beneath.
The sea was a bit rough, this activity is not for anyone afraid of being out on the ocean, but the current was strong and you could go with the flow most of the way. We have done a few kayak tours as a family, most recently in the Norwegian Fjords at Olden, so were excited to try out a translucent kayak - it was fascinating!
Once we had kayaked we were kitted up with wetsuits and snorkelling gear and a Jet Ski ferried us out to the wrecks. Again, the sea was quite rough and the current strong which meant we pretty well had to just go with the flow, fighting against the current was fruitless.
Snorkelling the wrecks is an amazing activity. There is an abundant amount of sea life to swim amongst and the coral forming near the wrecks was impressive. This is the southern most part of Australia that you will see Great Barrier Reef coral.
The kids love the experience of snorkelling and although the seas were rough and it was hard work, the tour guides were great in providing a buoyant ring to just grab onto when we needed a break. We all wore life jackets so although we couldn’t dive down into the sea, not having one in slightly rough waters would have been a struggle.
Post water activities we refuelled with the provided lunch of salad rolls, potato chips and oranges before boarding a 4WD tour bus that took us out onto the bumpy roads/ tracks of the Island towards the Desert. A 20 minute ride along a one way 4WD only track brought us to a sandy oasis of dunes just begging to be conquered.
With our primitive bits of plank wood we hiked to the top of the dunes to take on the mounds head first! Again, not for the faint hearted, this is an adrenaline run launching yourself off the side of that dune head first with only a thin plank of wood between you and the sand.
“Arch your back, feet off the ground and elbows up” the tour guide suggested as they pushed us off the edge. The comment “Or not” generally followed as tourist after tourist our elbows hit the ground, followed by our faces, as we rolled or tumbled near the bottom of the dune!
It is amazing how sand can find it’s way into every crevice of your body, every pocket on your clothing, every inch of you - following a face plant and tumble in a sand dune at high speed!
Covered in sand and still shaking it out of our ears, hair and nostrils we head back to the beach to catch a 3:30pm ferry back to Brisbane and a long bus ride via Brisbane CBD to arrive back on the Gold Coast at 7:15pm.
This day tour absolutely exhausted our family of four, Miss 8 slept most of the bus ride back to the Gold Coast and she NEVER sleeps in a car! Master 11 stayed awake but was very hungry and tired by the end of the trip.
The time on the island was absolutely jam packed and we were constantly on the go - but with so many activities to get through it had to be that way. There was very little, if any, time to just chill on the beach and enjoy the surroundings. Leaving from Brisbane would cut out the early start and late finish but would still be a full day.
If you have never had the opportunity to visit Moreton Island this is a great option to squeeze in a visit when next in Queensland.
For more details, visit the Sunset Safaris website and check out their Get Wrecked tour.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
*Itchy Feet Family were guests of Sunset Safaris on this day tour.
A trip to the USA is a fantastic family holiday. Flights to Los Angeles from most Australian capital cities can be picked up for around $1,000 if you watch out for specials. There are plenty of blogs and readings on things to do in Los Angeles - here are six tips from us.
Los Angeles is home to a number of theme parks and kids love them all. Of course there is the quintessential Disneyland and Universal Studios but another good one to try is the lesser known Knottsberry Farm. With slightly cheaper gate prices there is plenty of fun to be had here with some awesome roller coasters.
Our most recent trip included a visit to Universal Studios for the day. Many die hard enthusiasts will tell you that one day simply is not enough - but we managed to see every section and ride every ride in one day.
A great tip is to purchase your tickets online before arrival. The tickets are not only cheaper than gate prices, but they also allow early park access. We were able to enter the park at 9am for access to Harry Potter World an hour before general gate opening time. It was fantastic - we were straight on the rides and completed the Harry Potter section of the park (including two turns on the roller coaster as there was no-one else waiting) in the first hour. We were then in a great position to go on the Simpsons ride when Krusty Land opened at 10am, again with no waiting time - we were actually first in the gates! Other rides then opened at 11am and again we were first in those lines.
There is an option to purchase fast track passes - for whatever reason we picked a great day to visit as the most we waited in any line was 20 minutes for the studio tour - all the other rides we visited were under a 10 minute wait - if any wait at all. From what I have heard from others though our visit was a complete rarity and front of line passes although expensive can be worth every dollar.
If you are after a great vantage point of LA the Griffith Observatory, perched high in the LA hills, is a great place to visit. There is free parking in the Greek theatre at the bottom of the hill and a shuttle bus can transfer you up to the top. The bus cost just 50c per person each way (kids were free) and run every 15 minutes. You can park at the top of the hill, but it is crazy busy and charged at $4 per hour - and you are likely still to have to walk quite a way. Alternatively, if you have some time and are after some exercise, there are walking trails to follow from the base car park up the hill.
Once up at the Observatory you will have a vast view of downtown LA and the famous Hollywood Sign. The Observatory is free to enter and there are some interesting displays inside that are focused on astronomy and the history of the location. There is also a planetarium with tickets just $7 per person.
Visit a Diner
There are lots of options for diners in Los Angeles. Milkshakes, burgers and fries are abound and there is something quintessential about sitting in a booth enjoying your free refills on your sodas. If you visit a Ruby's Diner, be sure to take advantage of their offer of not only refillable sodas but also refillable fries!
Shop at Citadel Outlets
You are bound to run into fellow Australians at this location. America is a great place for shopping if you are after brand names at heavily reduced prices. The Citadel Outlet is an outdoor mall with brands such as Coach, Gap, Nike, Calvin Klein and everything in between at heavily discounted prices. In the Nike store we picked up sneakers for $22, Shorts for $15 and t-shirts 3 for $25. And while you are shopping be sure to log into the free wifi and check for coupons at retailmenot.com Americans love coupons and this is a great site for finding even further discounts on your discounts!
See a Soccer Match
Americans, like Australians, love their sport. On previous visits we have taken in baseball and basketball games and whilst soccer is not the first sport that comes to mind when visiting Los Angeles, we thought we would give it a try. With a FIFA mad son (check out our review of FIFA Museum in Zurich), it was a treat for him to watch the LA Galaxy in action and see one of his favourite players, Ziatan Ibrahimovic, who even scored in the match!
The stadium was located in Carson, 23kms south of downtown Los Angeles and holds 27,000 people.
Walk of Fame
A trip to Los Angeles is not complete without a visit to the walk of fame. A strip of stars on the sidewalk commemorating some of the finest movie and music celebrities to make it big in Hollywood. The area is not really Los Angeles finest, it is quite dirty, a fair number of homeless with signs looking for money and just a bit of a seedy part of town. We walked the strip and took some photos, visited the Chinese theatre and saw the hand prints and signatures and then left. There are plenty of cheesy souvenir stores and overpriced restaurants but not somewhere we spent a lot of time. It is one of those bucket list places that did not quite live up to expectations for us.
We hired a car and stayed at the Lexon Hotel North Hollywood. The hotel was brand new having only opened in June 2018 and so was fresh and clean. The hotel had a car park, free wifi and included a continental breakfast. Universal Studios was a $10USD Uber trip each way which worked out more economical and convenient than driving and paying for parking.
Read my trip advisor review here.
If you are flying domestically within the US, instead of flying from LAX airport you may want to consider Burbank Airport. We were travelling on to Seattle and flew Alaska Airlines from Burbank Airport LA. This airport is much smaller, less congested and was close to our accommodation in North Hollywood.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
A great way to explore a city is to take a guided tour with a local and what better way to do that than walking from restaurant to restaurant trying the local food. When we heard about this walking food tour in San Jose it ticked all the boxes for an authentic Mexican experience.
Whilst in Mexico we wanted to explore the local streets and try the food the locals eat, but were also cautious and hesitant as to where we could explore safely. With the help of a local, in our case Francisco, we were guided through a culinary journey sampling tacos, tamales, ice-cream and more at local restaurants and street vendors that we otherwise would not have known existed.
In fact on our first night in San Jose we had visited the same local area the tour took us through but had stopped one street short of all the great restaurants as we had questioned the safety of the area. If only we had done this tour earlier in our itinerary!
Francisco ensured us all the places we visited were places he has taken his family providing an authentic local experience. Each location served us the specialty of the house and provided plenty of variety and options to step out of your culinary comfort zone.
The first three restaurants on the tour all served a variety of tacos in the options of either a corn or flour soft taco or a crispy flat tostada. As we restaurant hopped we tried tacos filled with smoked Marlin (our favourite), Sea Bass and then a marinated pork. A fresh condiment bar at the first restaurant provided plenty of local flavour and the second restaurant offered a fiery sauce to sample - Miss 8 was brave enough to try but instantly regretted the choice. I wish I had videoed her facial expressions they were priceless!
One of the great insights was to discover that real Mexican food rarely includes cheese! And Mexicans do not eat hard shelled Tacos! Clearly our love of Mexican food comes from the American version of Mexican cuisine that has filtered across the world. Can you imagine Nachos without cheese!
The three hour tour included visits to four seated restaurants as well as stops at a Pearl Shop and Tequila Tasting Bar. At the pearl shop Miss 8 picked the lucky door prize and was rewarded with a pearl which was opened in front of us, fresh from the pearl farm.
Our final two destinations of the tour were a Tamales street vendor followed by a local ice-cream store. Whilst the Tamales were not to our taste we were grateful for the opportunity to try them. We had always wondered what Tamales were - and to try them from a street vendor that was being frequented by locals was a great authentic experience.
The Tamales, in my non culinary layman terms, are a thick wrap made from maize stuffed with a choice of filling that come in both savoury and sweet. The wrap is steamed in a maize husk or banana leaf and has quite a distinctive flavour. We tried both a pork and a chicken and neither really kicked goals for our tastebuds.
Overall we were really glad to have chosen this experience. The group of five ladies from the US East Coast that joined us on the tour brought some great interactions to the table and made us feel welcome. The kids appreciated the authentic experience and we all enjoyed trying something new.
Find out more details here at Juan More Taco Tours.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
If you are taking the family for a holiday to California, a side trip away from Los Angeles to the beautiful city of San Diego is definitely worth considering. Just a two hour drive (depending on traffic) from Los Angeles, this city has so much to offer for families.
San Diego has made the itinerary on a few of our USA holidays and on our most recent visit in 2018 we included a four night stay. Here are just five of the attractions that drew us back to include San Diego in our family travels.
1. Explore Old Town
Located just 33 kms from Tijuana, Mexico, San Diego’s Old Town has a great Mexican Wild West flavour. This neighbourhood, along with being a good base to find a hotel for your visit, has plenty to offer as far as dining and entertainment go.
In the historic park you can stroll the Victorian Village with restored homes dating back to the early 1800’s, visit the old style saloon and general store, climb aboard a wagon and visit the Sheriff’s Museum.
When you are hungry there are a myriad of restaurants - mostly Mexican cuisine - that will serve up some flavoursome favourites of nachos and guacamole to be washed down with a margarita!
2. Visit Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a central hub of activity for families visiting San Diego, celebrating 150 yeas in 2018 there is 1,200 acres to explore. Apart from housing the famous San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park contains some 16 museums along with acres of parklands, gardens, trails and historical buildings providing something for everyone in one central spot.
The range of museums available alone will keep you busy, they include the Automotive Museum, Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum and Museum of Art to name a few. Purchase a day pass for access to up to five museums, or a multi-day pass for access to all 16.
If you have nice weather, walk the trails of the Japanese Friendship Garden or one of the many other trails that weave you through both the botanical and other specialty gardens. There is even an Australian garden to explore! And if you don’t want to walk look out for the free Park Tram, the bright green tram will get you where you need to go or even just a great ride to explore the enormity of the park.
3. Spend a Day at SeaWorld San Diego
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, a visit to SeaWorld San Diego is a whole day out. During summer the park opens at 10am and closes at 10pm and trust me when I say there is plenty to do to fill a 12 hour visit.
A sea animal themed park, SeaWorld offers roller coasters for the thrill seekers, aquariums to get up close and personal with sharks as well as fun and fascinating dolphin, orca and sea lion shows for some light entertainment.
A family that loves roller coaster we timed our trip well being able to try out the latest attraction to be added to the park, the Electric Eel. The tallest, fastest roller coaster in San Diego, Master 11 and Miss 8 loved the loops and speed of this ride. It was our first stop of the day and then we capped off our 11 hour visit with the Electric Eel as the finale of the night.
For those less adventurous with younger children this summer has seen the launch of the Sesame Street Parade where colourful floats and characters parade through the streets of the park.
4. Hire an Electric Scooter
We have all seen the craze of dockless bike rental operators such as Ofo littering our city streets around the world, San Diego has a unique twist on this phenomenon with the offering of dockless communally shared electric scooters for hire. Download the Bird or LimeBike app to your smartphone and you can find an electric scooter to unlock for hire from as little as $1.
San Diego is crazy for these scooters and we saw people of all walks of life passing us by with ease as we unknowingly walked the streets of San Diego!
5. Visit the Fleet Science Centre
If you can only choose one museum to visit with the kids in Balboa park, our favourite was the Fleet Science Centre. This interactive museum allows you to get hands on for an experiential learning experience.
We recently visited the Melbourne Science Works which offers a very similar experience of hands on science facts displayed in a way that intrigues both children and adults alike.
The Fleet Science Centre is also home to an Imax theatre providing a unique large screen cinematic experience - we saw the movie Panda which was fantastic.
Have you visited San Diego with the family? There is so much to see and do there, what are your top tips of places to visit and sights to see.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
*Itchy Feet Family were guests of the San Diego Tourism Authority and Sea World San Diego as part of this visit.
If you happen to take a cruise through Alaska’s inside passage you may well enjoy a port stop in Sitka Alaska. Only accessible by air or boat, Sitka is a quaint village that holds onto it’s Russian heritage and is a great city to explore. Here are five tips for your visit
No Tender Required
Sitka recently built a port for the many cruise ships visiting therefore there is no need to take a tender boat. The port is a little out of the town though, so you need to take a shuttle bus upon arrival to get into downtown. The shuttles are complimentary and provide some great scenery along the way. The port terminal offers some shopping and the crab shack on the wharf offers beer, crabs and wifi.
Fortress of the bear
If you fancy getting up close and personal to both Brown and Black bears, but want a different experience than viewing through the glass at the Zoo exhibit, Fortress of the Bear is a great option.
The sanctuary that rescues orphaned bears can be access via a shuttle bus from the cruise shuttle drop off point. We paid $10USD per adult round trip for the shuttle and $10USD per adult for entry to see the Bears.
The shuttle will drop you at Fortress of the Bear and return one hour later. You then have the option of taking the shuttle to the Raptor Park, or back to Sitka.
For more details about Fortress of the Bear read my full review here.
New Archangel Dancers
At 12:30pm on our visit a local volunteer all-female dance group - The New Archangel Dancers - performed at the Harrigan Centennial Hall. Entry was $10USD adult and $5USD children for a 30 minute performance. The group showcased traditional Russian heritage folk dancers and also gave some great insights, through an emcee, on the local history.
Also included was a presentation on the story of the Alaskan flag, how and when it came about and a recital of the State song.
Just visiting the Centennial Hall was a highlight, the facility has a floor to ceiling glass wall with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Main street stores and sites
Sitka has a really quaint main street with wooden stores housing local arts, crafts and furs. If you have a spare USD$15,000 you may want to buy a fur coat that the sales lady tells you will last your life time.
Walk the streets of the tiny town made famous by the Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, film The Proposal. A walk along the main street will stroll you past St Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral, Totem Square and The Sitka Pioneer’s Home and take the stairs up to the lookout where the official ceremony took place when Russia transferred Alaska to the US.
There is plenty of free wifi access at this port. Upon arrival the crab shack offers access at the port terminal and once in town the library and community centre both offer really strong, free connections.
Enjoy your day in Sitka - such a pretty part of the world. There are so many other great things to do there that we did not get a chance to see - leave your comments below for any other tips or ideas to share with us and other readers.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Fortress of the Bear is located in the small Alaskan town of Sitka. When I first heard about this place I was sceptical. I did not really want to visit bears in a zoo, however Fortress of the Bear is actually a Sanctuary for orphaned cubs and provides a great opportunity to see bears up close and personal.
It is law in Alaska for an orphaned cub to be euthanised. It is believed it is more humane to kill the orphaned cub as it is unable to fend for itself in the wild without it’s mother. Fortress of the Bears actually rescues the cub bears on death row and gives them a second chance at life.
What is a little sad is that the law in Alaska does not allow for the Bears to be released into the wild once they have been brought into captivity. It is one of the few US states that does not allow it.
The Sanctuary does however run a program in the hope that one day the law will be changed and the bears will be released. They therefore feed them randomly, increase their food intake in the lead up to winter and provide areas for them to hibernate. They are treating the bears in a way that would allow for them to be released should the laws be changed. In the meanwhile they remain for the term of their natural life. In the wild bears live for an average 25 years, at the Sanctuary they may live up to 40.
We spoke to Chris, the operations manager originally from the UK, who had been working at Fortress of the Bears for some five years. He gave us some great insights into the work they are doing here, the expansion plans they have and the lobbying work they do striving to change the laws. If you visit - make sure you say hi to him!
The bears are kept in a large area with fresh water running into a stream. During salmon season they release fresh fish in the stream for the bears to catch their own food. They have water to swim in, mounds to climb and cave areas away from the public for them to retreat to.
Unusually there are both black and brown bears located here. The bears are kept separated and a new area was due to be opened just a few days after our visit for the black bears. The new area provides natural forest for the black bears to roam.
On our visit there was just one viewing platform to view the bears, a new black bear viewing area was due to be opened. The Sanctuary is raw, with just the one area to visit we wondered how we would fill the hour we had here - but it went really quick. It was fascinating being able to see the animals so close up and watching their habits.
Another great feature of this location is that Bald Eagles frequent the area. Scavengers, they swoop on the bear’s meals to feed themselves and then perch back on the trees in the surrounding forestry. We saw at least ten on our visit including junior eagles yet to get their white head feathers.
Entry was $10USD for Adults and $5USD for children, however we were not charged for our eight and 11 year olds only paying $20USD for the family to enter. The venue receive no funding other than that which they make from entry fees, shop sales and donations.
We took a bus from Sitka - $10USD per person round trip. It was about a 15 minute drive from town to the location and we were not charged for the kids.
If you ever wanted to see brown or black bears up close and personal, and not through a glass exhibit at a zoo, Fortress of the Bear is a great option for your visit to Sitka.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Melbourne is a great city, any time of the year, and one that has plenty of attractions for families. We have been fortunate to take a few trips to Melbourne, and each time we try to do something different. Here are eight activities to consider for your next family trip to Melbourne.
1. Catch an AFL Game
The Melbourne CBD is home to two Australian Rules Football Stadiums, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and Etihad stadium. The MCG holds some 100,000 people and we were fortunate enough to be there for the ANZAC day match which saw a full house attend the game. There was something special about observing a minute’s silence amongst a crowd of that size.
Both stadiums are easily accessible via the city tram system and offer a truly authentic Melbourne experience for the whole family. You can pre-purchase tickets online to avoid the queues and get there early enough to enjoy the family zone activities on offer.
2. Explore the City on the Free Trams
Melbourne has a fantastic tram network and, within the city centre, an extensive free tram zone. There is a brown city circle tram that does a loop of the city and can get you to all the major attractions, however any tram within this zone is free. Criss cross your way across the city using any of the trams - at no cost.
3. Visit the Melbourne Museum
The Melbourne Museum is located amongst Carlton Gardens and is accessible within the Free Tram Zone. In fact you can catch a tram from Bourke Street Mall that will take you straight to the Museum stop.
Be sure to set aside at least two hours - more if you can - as there is so much to see. We were fascinated by the Forestry that included huge Mountain Ash and walkways to take you underneath the forest, the mind and body exhibition that certainly challenged our thoughts and the Melbourne Fashion exhibition that showcased some great local talent.
The Museum also holds special exhibits, when we visited the feature was the Vikings which encompassed all things Nordic. We really could have spent all day here and will absolutely return.
4. Eat Dumplings in China Town
As with most major cities, Melbourne city centre houses a China Town. Whilst I would normally recommend side stepping the main China Town street, we have actually found a few good dumpling houses on this strip. Get there early, or book a table because locals will queue for a good serve of dumplings. We are early diners so normally don’t have any trouble walking into a restaurant, it is always fun to walk out after your meal and see the big line ups waiting to get in for where you have just eaten! We visited the Empress of China on Little Burke Street and filled up on dumplings, with leftovers to take home, for just $60. The restaurants are not fancy, it is cheap and cheerful, but the dumplings were good!.
5. Try the Patisseries at Brunetti on Lygon Street
If you have a car, or are happy to travel outside the free tram zone, Brunetti’s is a Melbourne icon known for their amazing pastries and coffee. It is a truly Italian experience ordering your coffee at the bar and savouring one of the melt in your mouth cannoli filled with Italian custard. The signature store is on Lygon Street, but there are also now Brunetti stores in the CBD and at the airport.
6. Spend half a day at Sea Life
Here is a great activity for the family that will entertain you for at least three hours - more if you have the time. Located on the banks of the Yarra, there is so much to see and do at the Sea Life Aquarium. The aquarium allows you to get up close and personal to the marine life and be amazed by the sheer size of the stingrays and sharks that swim above your head as you walk through the aquarium tunnel.
The penguin playground provides plenty of entertainment as they seemingly dance and perform for and with the kids, the crocodile lair puts you up close and personal in a way that perhaps you would not really want to be to a creature that size, and the 4D Ice Age movie offers a few fun surprises. Buy your tickets before you go.
7. Take a trip to Spotswood to visit Scienceworks
If you have a car, or don’t mind a $20 Uber ride out of the city, head to Spotswood for a visit to Scienceworks. This Museum will entertain you for a whole day with interactive exhibitions that get the kids learning in a fun environment.
While you are there you can also enjoy a visit to the Melbourne Planetarium which shares the premises with Scienceworks. The presentation in the dome shaped theatre provides a great commentary on what can be seen in the Melbourne night sky and will have you picking out constellations and planets that evening (if the city lights don’t block your views!). Read more about our visit to Scienceworks.
Shop at the DFO South Wharf
Whilst Melbourne is home to many great boutiques and stores, it is good to know that there is a Direct Factory Outlet (DFO) within the free tram zone/ walking distance of the CBD. There is a great range of stores at South Wharf ranging from sporting apparel Nike, Adidas and Puma through to higher end stores including Furla and Coach.
There are so many things to do in Melbourne, every time we visit we discover something new. Read more about our Autumn visit for other ideas. What are some of your favourite Melbourne activities? Book your activities before you arrive.
Itchy Feet Family
*Itchy Feet Family were guests of ScienceWorks, Melbourne Museum and Sea Life Aquarium during our Melbourne visit.
I have travelled to Melbourne many times but never taken the time to head out of the CBD much. On a recent trip we were lured 15 minutes out of the city to visit the town of Spotswood, home to Scienceworks - and aren’t we glad we did! A whole day of educational fun awaited us, I had to drag the kids out at the end of the day.
Here are five reasons to take the journey out of the CBD and let the kids enjoy a day at Scienceworks Melbourne.
1. Race Against Cathy Freeman
My kids love being active and have been involved in Little Athletics since they were toddlers. Scienceworks includes a fascinating sports exhibition that was like the holy grail for our sports mad kids.
One of the fun displays provided the opportunity to line up at a race start line and run against a video wall featuring Cathy Freeman in action. The track was only about 15 metres long - the race took 2 seconds - but they did it over and over and over again!
Other highlights of the sports exhibition included rock climbing, virtual soccer goal keeper, a virtual wheelchair racing game and a balance beam to try out some gymnastics.
2. Discover the Tallest Buildings in The World
One of the intriguing exhibits I found as an adult was the display depicting the tallest buildings in the world. It is fascinating the engineering that has gone into building architecture that has allowed modern society to achieve such heights.
In 1931 the Empire State Building, New York, was considered an amazing accomplishment at 381m but in 2010 when the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, reached heights of 828m it makes it seem insignificant. When Jeddah Tower, Saudi Arabia, completes construction engineers will reach yet another milestone with the building planned for a height of 1008m.
The exhibit was presented pictorially and really made you appreciate how modern engineering has changed the landscape of modern society.
3. See the Lightning Shows
Apart from the interactive displays, the lighting room provides some cool kids science shows. We were entertained with Bolt from the Blue. A great interactive display explaining how lightning is created and how to avoid getting struck during a storm!
The presenter was theatrical and enthusiastic and aimed the content right at the kids. From producing storm clouds in a plastic bottle, making balloons statically stick to a child’s head and showcasing how the hair on your head can point straight to the sky, there were plenty of educational takeaways from the session.
4. Visit the Planetarium
If you have never been to a planetarium, it is likely you may not even know what it is. A planetarium is a domed shaped theatre designed to view projections of the night sky. Additionally, specially created films are produced to be shown on the unique shaped screen. The Melbourne Planetarium holds a 16 metre dome with reclining chairs for pretty comfortable viewing (or a nap if you are worn out from all the activities!).
We attended a viewing of the film Blackholes, which was interesting if not a little unusual, followed by a live commentary of current Melbourne night sky projections. It is the live commentary that we enjoyed. Being able to see the constellations that are in the Melbourne night sky that evening was fascinating for the kids.
5. It’s Great Value
We arrived at about 10:45am and did not leave until close at 4:30pm. There is so much to see and do here and the kids loved every minute of it. We visited on a weekday, it was quite busy with school groups when we first arrived, but by about 2:30pm the crowds resided and we had free range of all the exhibits. If you only have a few hours, you may want to visit in the afternoon otherwise be prepared to deal with the crowds.
Tickets for Scienceworks are priced at just $15 for adults and free, yes FREE, for kids up to 16 years old. Additional extras are the Planetarium and Lightning Room which are priced at $8 each or $12 if you do both. For a full day of activity and learning Scienceworks offers great value.
If you have a car, this is your best option, however if you are like us and staying in the CBD then Spotswood is about 15 minutes out of the city.
My first option was to catch the Williamstown train from Southern Cross Station to Spotswood, it seemed a simple and affordable idea. However it turned out that Melbourne does not have a very visitor friendly transport system outside of the free CBD tram system.
In order to purchase a day fare for metro train travel at a cost of $8.60 adult and $4.30 a child, we first had to purchase a Myki Card each at a cost of $6 per card. So I had to buy a $6 card to load with $4 of travel! What!!!!!
I decided that by the time we purchased the transport cards and loaded them with a day fare, an Uber would be around the same price and much more comfortable. An Uber from the city cost $18 and that is how we got there!
Let us know if you have visited, what was your favourite exhibit?
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
*Itchy Feet Family was a guest of Scienceworks on this visit.
Penny, an avid Trip Advisor Reviewer, is the author of ITCHY FEET FAMILY. A family of 4 living in Adelaide, Australia, and taking every opportunity to travel and explore the world.