Tiptoe through Ottawa tulip fest

Large crowds were on hand at Major's Hill Park for the first weekend of the Canadian Tulip Festival...

Large crowds were on hand at Major's Hill Park for the first weekend of the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. Paola Parenti takes a picture of her five year old daughter Juliette Quarell on May 7, 2011. (ERROL MCGIHON/QMI AGENCY)

ILONA KAUREMSZKY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

Q: When is Ottawa's Tulip Festival, and can you suggest a hotel nearby?

-- E. Wong, Scarborough

A. Running May 4-21, the Canadian Tulip Festival is marking its 60th anniversary this year and it promises to be a festive occasion. Each spring since 1953, the Netherlands showers our Ottawa with tulip bulbs as a thank you for our contribution to their country's freedom during the darkest days of the Second World War.

Now, more than 3 million tulips bloom throughout the National Capital and the Tulip Festival has become one of Ottawa's most popular events. For more, visit tulipfestival.ca.

On the accommodations side, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier is celebrating its centennial year. Pomp and pageantry accompanied the opening of the legendary chateau on June 1, 1912. Sadly, hotel founder Charles Melville Hays didn't live to see the opening of his grand creation. Hays perished in the Titanic disaster.

Vintage photos of the hotel opening are on display throughout Ottawa's Grand Dame, and there will be packages and special events year-round. See fairmont.com/laurier.

In addition, Ottawa Tourism has a sizeable roster of accommodation listings at its website -- ottawatourism.ca-- where you will find information on Tulip Festival deals.

Q: We're trying to avoid driving on a trip to Quebec this summer. Do you know of any interesting alternatives?

-- S. Smith, Toronto

A: Here are a few ideas for touring without a car:

* Cirque du Soleil cofounder Daniel Gauthier, with help from the federal and provincial governments, has rolled out the Train of Le Massif de Charlevoix between La Malbaie and Quebec City. The route takes passengers on a 3.5-hour ride aboard refurbished vintage train cars while Jean-Michel Breton, executive chef for Fairmont's Le Manoir Richelieu, creates culinary sensations using local ingredients.

Gauthier also has plans for a shuttle between Baie St Paul and Le Massif. Service is expected to start in June.

* In the Eastern Townships, a new gastronomic cruise excursion was launched last summer aboard the Escapades Memphremagog. The cruise starts in Magog and takes hungry travellers on a whirlwind tour of magnificent Lake Memphremagog.

* Croisieres AML, another Quebec cruise company, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012. Company representatives say details on the summer season will be rolled out soon. The five-course dinner cruises from Quebec City or Montreal are popular. Picture dining on filet mignon and lobster as you watch the Quebec City skyline go by. In Montreal, depending on the evening, guests could see spectacular fireworks or catch glimpes of Robert Lepage's Image Mill multimedia show.

For more on tours, contact the Quebec Tourism Office at bonjourquebec.com.

Q: When I was a kid, we went camping whenever the mood struck but since Ontario Parks started online booking, I haven't been able to just pitch a tent with my kids without planning ahead. My lifestyle doesn't allow me to plan that far in advance. Any suggestions?

-- E. Leal, Toronto

A: With camping fees ranging from $15.25 to $46.50 per day, depending on facilities such as electrical supply, showers, etc., it's easy to understand why Ontario Parks welcomed 10 million visitors last year.

But according to Ontario Parks, while some parks do book up fast, not all sites are booked far in advance.

"Less than 30% of all reservations made in a year at Ontario Parks, are booked before March 31," reports the Ontario Parks blog. And more than "50% of total reservations made between Jan. 1 and Feb. 29 are generally for Ontario's busiest provincial parks."

You can view a list of less visited parks at parkreports.com or read the full blog at parkreports.com/parksblog.

And if you camp at one park, you can use your park permit for daytrips to check out other parks in the area. Who knows, you might stumble upon the perfect undiscovered campground for future outings.

Ontario Parks also has a a toll-free phone reservation system at 1-888-ONT-PARK.


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