When I first started to write this article, my intentions were primarily to highlight what was good about the carnival and all the things we enjoyed about it. Yet, with each stroke of the pen, I realized just how frustrated we were with the whole experience and had to add our concerns and constructive criticism as well.
The day began with a two hour drive from the Eastern Townships to Quebec City, it was considerably cold, but the weather was cooperative and the roads clear. Once we crossed the bridge into Quebec, we took a detour to pick up a discounted pass or effigy that was offered at participating Metro, Uniprix or Couche Tard stores (within the city of Quebec). The discount offered a $15.00 savings when purchased at the store level. This turned into a goose chase however, since every store we stopped at was sold out. One lady went on to explain that they had been sold out since the very first day that they went on sale, and yet the website still encouraged visitors to buy them. A simple sold out sign would have made all the difference. After driving around for almost an hour, it would have been nice to know this bit of information beforehand. Consider ordering them online prior to the event, but once the festival begins this option is no longer available.
The next challenge we anticipated was the search for parking. This however proved to be easier than we thought.
Our GPS guided us to an underground parking garage, located at the Palais des Congres building. It was located a mere 5 minutes by foot from the festival grounds. It was a heated garage and the charge for the day was only $10.00 ($17.00 on weekdays). This good fortune reminded me of our similar parking situation at the Winterlude festival in Ottawa. The weather however, was very different to the week prior. The high was -15°c plus a frigid wind chill factor. When visiting Quebec City, one must always consider the wind that whips up off the St-Lawrence River. Full snowsuits, hats and neck warmers are a must.
The cold certainly didn’t deter the festivalgoers though; there were a good 10,000 people on sight when we arrived. The grounds are definitely more saturated on weekends versus weekdays. The wait at the ticket both was not very long and we were surprised to learn there was no tax added to the effigy like the store counterparts. When it comes to planning our outings, our lifestyle allows us to have a more flexible schedule to avoid crowds on weekends. We came to the festival on this Saturday however, in order to take part in the spectacular night parade that we greatly anticipated. This being said we would never again attend this carnival on a weekend. The amount of people that were there was unprecedented, and to our dismay the grounds did not seem to have the capacity to adequately support such numbers.
After promoting the Quebec carnival over the last month or so, I had based my opinion on our last visit back in 2004, when the grounds were better managed, the admission included more activities and most importantly, there was more focus on accommodating children. Fast forward to 2012 and a very different Carnival de Quebec exists today. Much of the traditional flare that had already began to fade back then had been replaced by a bombardment of corporate sponsorship, taking away for the classic feel. The Mr. Christie / Kraft Village for kids was an extremely generic throw together of wooden props, a couple of games and 4 small structures for kids to climb on which became very icy and dangerous. What happened to the giant ice castle with multiple slides the kids loved so much? Well, there certainly was an ice palace on site, but it belonged to the infamous Bonhomme du carnival. The line up just to take a look inside was over 2 hours long and once you finally made it in, the narrow ice corridor led to a giant white tent shaped like a dome where half a dozen ice sculptures and a few pieces of winter art were on display. The juice certainly wasn’t worth the squeeze, as they say, to warrant a 2 hours plus wait out in the cold.
The dome tent would later be the site to the Night Dance party, which is advertised for all ages on the web site, but was actually only for people aged 18 and up, but we’ll get back to that later. Over all the kids area was a let down. The organizers could certainly learn a thing or two from the set up at the Winterlude Festival in Ottawa, where multiple ice slides were set up all over the grounds. With both single and group slides, kids could slide down on their bums and climb back to the top to do it all over again. At the Quebec Carnival, the only slides offered required the use of tubes or sleds which incurred horrendously long lineups that extended well past an hours wait. As my son put it “ Who wants to wait in line for an hour just to slide down one time? “ The Uniprix ice slides, which boasted 400 meters of ice sliding fun, had a 1 and a half to 2 hour wait. That was our first stop and I have to say that it was really hard on the little ones. To wait that long in line for anything, let alone an experience that lasts a mere 20 seconds.
Another annoyance was the additional charges for some of the more interesting activities that were on site. For example the Valcartier rafts and sleigh rides charged additional fees. After paying each 13$ admission (for 8yrs. and over) one would expect everything on the grounds to be free. You would think with all the corporate sponsors, admission would be free, at least that would justify the additional cost to feature events. Also, Remember to pack a lunch since the prices for food are pretty high, but keep some money aside to enjoy a Beaver Tail or maple taffy on the snow, some authentic Canadian treats.
Then like magic, at the stroke of 5pm., the grounds seemed to empty out and everything became accessible and the lineups none existent. This put the smile back on our children’s faces and calmed our feelings of regret. From that point on we rediscovered the joys of synchronicity and finally joined in to the festivities full hearted.
We capped the night with a spectacular night parade, the best parade I have ever witnessed in the province of Quebec. Brilliantly illuminated floats lit up the night sky while performers dressed in thematic costumes, dancing to the music that echoed through the street. The kids marveled at the marching bands, acrobats, and curious characters like the mad scientist, the alien-robots on stilts and the giant man eating plant. The kids were especially pleased when the iconic Bonhomme du Carnaval appeared on the scene, waving to the children and dancing to his theme song. They had been searching the grounds for him from the moment they had arrived. I highly recommend watching the parade from ‘parc de la Francophonie’ located on la Grande-Allee, which is on the parade route. The kids can play in the snowy park while anticipating the parade.
**Note the parade did not arrive at this point before 8:30pm. When the parade began at 7:00pm.