The Butchart Gardens, Victoria BC (with toddlers)
If you've ever googled "What to do in Victoria BC" then you know that The Butchart Gardens is the #1 suggested attraction. We love Botanical Gardens so when we saw Victoria had a stellar one, we were all in. For some reason we didn't equate #1 tourist attraction with busiest botanical garden ever. We were super surprised by the crowds but we braved them anyway to get our fill of beautiful flowers and a carousel complete with an orca, and we learned the international language (selfies) on the way.
We got discounted tickets when we booked our ferry ride with Blackball, (you can find info on that here). There were a lot of other attractions in Victoria you could get discounted tickets on too, so if you'll be riding with Blackball I'd recommend looking into it.
One reason we like botanical gardens is that they're usually empty enough for our kids (age 3 and 1) to run free. They always prefer walking over being in the stroller or car, and I like the sense of independence and curiousity that letting them get out and walk encourages. However, Butchart Gardens was for the most part, way to crowded for this. (note: we did visit in August, which is prime tourist season).
Since we hadn't brought our stroller we were able to borrow two complimentary ones from guest services. You put a $10 deposit (CAD or USD is accepted) that is returned when you return the stroller. These were lifesavers.
Apparently all the other tourist toddler parents realized the gardens would be super crowded and opted out, or visiting botanical gardens is something that only appeals to those in a different st(age) of life than me, because the one place kids are sure to be drawn to was almost empty. I'm talking about the carousel. It's really a beautiful one, too.
We had just seen orcas on the Washington coast a few days earlier and our three-year-old had been talking non-stop about them. So stoked is kind of an understatement when he saw the orca on the carousel. He would blow a gasket if we took him to Sea World.
We found that the food cart next to the carousel had surprisingly delicious sandwiches and that the grassy patch right there was a perfect place to eat lunch. An open, empty green field to watch the crowds pass by.
The day we were there the Rose Gardens and the sunken garden (above) were the busiest. These were beautiful and very manicured. My favorite though was the Japanese garden (below). I thought it was the prettiest and the crowds were thinner. Win-win.
It's funny, because the garden was full of people from all over the world, but everyone was doing the same thing: taking selfies on their phones in front of the flowers. Apparently the selfie transcends race, religion, age, nationality, language. To be human is to selfie.
I'm glad we went to Butchart Gardens, but it wasn't the most relaxing part of our vacation. I'm not taking my toddlers again until they are teenagers. Or maybe adults.