December 13, 2014 11:00 am
Updated: December 15, 2014 4:09 pm

6 gift ideas for the whole family this holiday season

If you are one of the many people trying to trim back on individual gifts this year, here are some ideas on what you can get for the whole family.

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TORONTO – After our second child was born, my wife and I started the Christmas tradition of getting one big gift we could all enjoy as a family. This has helped take the pressure off shopping during the holidays, has cut down on endless amounts of toys the kids don’t need (and junk we don’t need) and has brought us all closer together over the years.

If you are one of the many people trying to trim back on individual gifts as we have, here are some ideas on what has worked for us.

Nintendo Wii U


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Out of all the next-gen video game consoles, Nintendo’s Wii U is the most kid- and parent-friendly. It’s not as powerful as the PS4 or XBOX One, and most of the popular adult-themed games are absent (you won’t be seeing Grand Theft Auto for it anytime soon), but with games like Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Lego City Undercover, along with access to all the classic NES and SNES games from when my wife and I were kids, the system has kept us entertained for many hours.

While the system has been out for a few years, Nintendo has found ways to keep it fresh. With the recent release of their line of amiibo figures, users can take one of the figures, touch it to the Wii U gamepad and then play as that character in games like Super Smash Bros. (a title every Wii U owner should have), Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and the soon-to-be-released Mario Party 10 and Yoshi’s Woolly World. Figurines become more powerful in games the more you use them, taking the concept to an entirely new level of playing that kids and parents will both find enjoyable.

Characters currently available in the amiibo line include Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Wii Fit Trainer, Princess Peach, Pikachu, Samus from the Metroid games and Link from the Zelda series (along with a few others and more on the way). The figurines are very well made and with a price of only $13.99, each person in the family can have their own.

Another reason my family enjoys the Wii U (especially my wife) is because it keeps us active when we’re stuck inside. My wife enjoys using the Wii Fit while my kids and I are fans of Wii Sports Club (you definitely work up a sweat with Boxing).

WATCH: More on Nintendo’s amiibo line

Weekend Getaway

A trip to Disney World is not feasible every year, but a weekend getaway somewhere fun around the holidays is. One of our favourite places to run off to for a few days (especially in December) is Great Wolf Lodge.

Great Wolf Lodge is a giant indoor water park/hotel that features many different levels of water slides, pools, hot tubs and splash pads for all age groups. Besides the water features, most locations also have an arcade, bowling alley, spa (for kids as well), gift shop, coffee shop, restaurants and the highly-addictive interactive game MagiQuest. They also do a daily pyjama party/storytime in the main lobby that kids love.

Prices range depending on the size of the room you need and when you book (expect to pay between $170-$230 per night). There are always deals to be found and access to the water park is included with the room fee. For the holidays, Great Wolf Lodge goes all out with decorations, including a life-size gingerbread house you can eat dinner inside of. If you’re lucky you’ll also catch an indoor snowfall, which is pretty magical.

WATCH: Building a life-size gingerbread house at Great Wolf Lodge

While the only Canadian location is in Niagara Falls, Ont., the one in Grand Mound, Washington is a only a four-hour drive from Vancouver and there are other U.S. locations close to the Canadian border.

An alternative idea for a weekend getaway is winter camping, which is a great experience many national parks offer, or a weekend away at a family-friendly ski resort.

Tickets to an event

Taking the whole family out to a live show or event can be a great experience. In the past we’ve done Disney On Ice and a performance of How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical as a tie-in to the holidays, but we’re also fans of getting tickets to Monster Jam and other sporting events, like the Harlem Globetrotters or a Maple Leafs game (which, however, can be more expensive than a mortgage payment for a family of four).

Other ideas that have been successful include tickets to an outdoor music festival, Sesame Street Live! and a Cirque du Soleil performance.

We have friends who combine their weekend getaway idea with tickets to an event and head to New York City to take in a family-friendly Broadway show, like The Lion King, Annie, or Matilda.

Membership to local attraction

We received an annual membership to a local kids museum a few years ago that quickly became a monthly, then bi-monthly outing as it was educational, kept the kids active, and was a fun place for all of us to venture to together.

Other annual membership ideas we’ve discovered work well are to zoos and aquariums, science centres, butterfly conservatories and children’s play or arts and crafts centres.

Check with your local tourism board to find other unique places that could work for your family.

Lego

It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or girl, 6 or 60, building with Lego is a creatively fun way for a family to spend time together. Sets like Star Wars, Minecraft and the Lego City series are great for kids, while coming up with something random to build can turn playtime into a friendly game.

We’ve found plans online for complex builds that we work on for weeks at a time and also encourage our kids to come up with wild ideas. This helps build their imaginations while also teaching them hard work pays off (a Lego model that takes two weeks to build is very rewarding when it’s done).

Lego also offers some holiday-themed sets and a line of advent calendars that give a small item to build each day from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25. When done all the pieces of the calendar create a scene.

Family pet

A family pet can be a controversial choice if everyone in your family is not on board. Make sure everyone is, and discuss the responsibility of the pet you choose. A dog needs lots of exercise and attention, kittens can be nutty, birds, reptiles, and rodents can be a lot of hard work you might not have realized. A lot of good can come from a family pet (for one, it helps teach kids responsibility), but the last thing you want to be doing is returning it to the shelter or pet store after the holidays.

SOUND OFF: Have a great gift idea for the whole family this holiday season? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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