It is a March break unlike any other and, with the entire province in the orange phase of recovery, activities for kids who are home all week are still happening, albeit with a few more rules.
Jenna Morton, mom to twin 8-year-old sons and a 9-year-old daughter, runs Pickle Planet Moncton, a parenting resource website. She says this week, everything will require an extra layer of thought for parents.
"Parents have had to get really creative over the past year in figuring out how to get out and do things without going far and without going into crowds," she said. Her top pieces of advice are to make an effort to go out early, when it isn't as busy, and to always call ahead.
Wendy Hudson, CEO of Broadleaf Ranch in Hopewell Hill, said all of their overnight accommodations, which includes cabins and glamping sites are booked solid for the week.
"We're busier than normal for spring break because people aren't going to Florida and they have to stay at home."
With contactless check-in, she said guests can drive straight to their cabins without coming into contact with anyone.
"They literally can drive to their cabin in the woods and it's unlocked and the keys on the table and the fireplace is on. Enjoy yourself, enjoy the view, enjoy the hiking trails, enjoy the nature — we're lucky to be able to offer that."
Families sticking close to home
Morton and her family will be sticking close to home this March break. She says with young children she is lucky that unexpected treats, such as a "double-movie night," are just as exciting as a more ambitious activity that requires packing everyone into the car.
"Watching two movies in a row is not something they're used to doing," she said. "So when they said, 'Can we watch a second movie tonight?' And I said, 'Yes,' that was a huge event…so really finding those fun little moments — saying yes to little things that maybe you don't usually do."
She said that's also less stressful for her.
Morton warns that if you are hoping to venture out, make sure you call ahead rather than depending on websites, avoid the most popular spots everyone is posting about on social media, and be realistic.
"If it's not something that's booking ahead of time, you're not guaranteed you're going to get in so how well do your kids deal with disappointment? How well do you deal with disappointment?"
Always have a back-up plan
April Morton, vice president of child and youth programs at the Greater Moncton YMCA, advises parents to be ready to pivot.
The newly opened north end Y has an outdoor skating rink and sliding hill along with an indoor splash pad and walking track. The two locations are also offering themed day-camps, open gym times and youth drop-ins.
All of the activities are first-come, first-serve with no pre-booking, so if one activity is at its limit, it is a good idea for parents and children to be prepared.
"Maybe families want to bring their snow gear, and if the splash pad is too busy maybe they want to take in some activities outside at our skating rink or outside on the sliding hill or outside on the playground structure as well."
Silver-linings of pandemic March break
Jenna Morton said there are some up-sides to COVID-19 regulations. With regular cleaning and smaller crowds, many experiences are more fun for kids, and parents, who find busy spots overwhelming.
"Taking my three kids to a place like Hop, Skip, Jump used to be a lot of work. Now it's like, oh, well, they're only open certain times and for a certain number of people. And so it's a much different experience," she said. "It can be really a fun time to take in some of those things."
Hudson said Broadleaf Ranch, which has struggled this past year, is looking forward to a boost in business during the March break, and is still taking reservations for horseback riding and sleigh rides.
She said the worst part has been the uncertainty, although she has her fingers crossed that New Brunswick will make it through March break without an outbreak.
"Things can change so fast, so that unknown is very worrisome and it's stressful especially with the new variants," she said.
"When COVID is under control and people can get out and move around and go on their mini staycations — then yes, business is good. People are wanting to do it, people are wanting what we offer. But it's just a matter of whether they can do it or not."
Jenna Morton encourages families to get creative during the March break. She has heard from many parents who are having theme days at home.
I know one family is doing a really cool challenge among themselves," she said. "Each person picked a day of the week and had a different theme and that person had to come up with a recipe that went with somewhere they'd like to travel."
It may take a bit more planning and work for parents, but Jenna says, "that's kind of what the pandemic has been about for us right?"