A Quick Review of Legoland

First of all, I’d like to apologize for being completely missing for quite a while. Life was getting a little too crazy, with nonstop doctor appointments for both me and my youngest, planning a big vacation, and my main job, home schooling the kids.  We hit an emotional and physical wall while at Disney World last week that led to a long talk about simplifying our lives and calming down our schedule. The good news is that will give me more time to dedicate to this blog!

Legoland Florida!

Continue reading “A Quick Review of Legoland”

How to Make the Most of the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass

One of the best parts of our recent trip to Niagara Falls was our purchase of the Adventure Pass–it’s a single pass that includes top attractions on the Canadian side of the Falls for a discounted price (on the U.S. side, the pass is called the Discovery Pass and includes different attractions. We did not try the Discovery Pass). The Adventure Pass includes the White Water Walk, the Hornblower Cruise, Journey Behind the Falls, and Niagara’s Fury. It also includes two days of using the public transportation system, WEGO.

Is the Pass a good deal?

Here’s my breakdown of the pricing. You definitely save money buying the pass if you plan to do all four things. And even if you weren’t planning to do the White Water Walk, you still save money with the Adventure Pass.

There are other perks to buying the pass:

  • You get your pass as a plastic card rather than a paper ticket you get for individual attractions. With all the time you spend getting wet, this is a major perk!
  • You get a lanyard to wear your card so you have easy access to all your tickets. However, I would say if you own a lanyard, bring it. In our group of eleven people, I think at least three people ended up with a broken lanyard by the end of day one. They will replace it for you but if you aren’t near the welcome center, that becomes a bit challenging!
  • The Niagara Parks staff will schedule times for all your attractions for you in one place. And since they are knowledgeable about how long each thing takes and how far apart they are, they can help you make a reasonable schedule for your day.
  • You get a bunch of coupons for other attractions, although I have to admit that I didn’t remember to use any of them!
The view of horseshoe falls from Table Rock.

Can I do it all in one day?

No. I mean, sure, you probably could, but I strongly recommend planning to split your adventures over two days. They are NOT all side by side. Two of the attractions are inside the Table Rock Welcome Center (Niagara’s Fury and Journey Behind the Falls). To get to the cruise, you can either walk or take WEGO down the main stretch from Horseshoe Falls to American Falls. It doesn’t look like that long of a walk, but with kids, it is! My biggest regret on the trip was not taking the bus down that stretch. It was really hot that day and there wasn’t much shade along the walk. Anyway… From there, the White Water Walk is about five miles down the river. So everything is not just RIGHT there. This is not like going from ride to ride at Disney World.

We split our adventures over two days. We did Journey Behind the Falls and the Hornblower Cruise on day one, and on our second day, we did Niagara’s Fury and the White Water Walk. This made it a lot less overwhelming. The White Water Walk and Niagara’s Fury don’t take much time, so we were able to spend a good chunk of that day at Clifton Hill seeing all the touristy sites.

What else should I know?

I always find there are so many things I wish I knew about a place before I visit for the first time. Here’s a few things to know about the Adventure Pass:

  • You do not have to use your attraction tickets on consecutive days. We used half on Tuesday and half on Friday.
  • Your WEGO pass lasts for 48 hours from the first time you scan it on the bus. For whatever reason, we never had to scan ours on Tuesday, they just told us to get on and find a seat. So we were able to use ours on Friday, when they were asking us to scan our cards.  But you should plan and expect to only have the pass for 48 hours. I would recommend that if you won’t do it all in 48 hours, that you spend one day doing the attractions inside Table Rock Welcome Center (Niagara’s Fury and Journey Behind the Falls) and do the two that need the bus pass (the cruise and the white water walk) on the same day to combine it all and make use of the bus.
  • Parking is expensive! Parking across from Table Rock was $25 for the day. Parking overnight at our hotel was $60. Gulp. You will want to park once and walk/use WEGO for the rest of the day. If you try to drive everywhere, you will spend obscene amounts of money parking over and over.
  • They give you a new poncho at each attraction, and they do a great job of keeping you dry. My purse over my shoulder wasn’t even damp after our cruise and we got EXTREMELY wet on that.
  • You will have to go in many elevators that have a lot of people crammed in them. Some people have issues with that sort of thing so it’s something to keep in mind.
  • The line for Journey Behind the Falls gets really long in the afternoon–do that early in the day to avoid lines.
  • Keep in mind that all prices are in Canadian dollars. That means if you are from the U.S., everything costs a little less than what the listed price is. If it’s $60 Canadian, it’s probably about $47 in US Dollars. But remember–they don’t take U.S. Money! You have to exchange it for Canadian money somewhere–or get cash from an ATM after crossing the border.
  • Your debit card might not work properly in Canada. Mine didn’t. I could only use it in the ATM so I had to go get cash all the time to pay for things.

Is the Adventure Pass worth it?

YES! We had so much fun! Here’s an overview of our experience!

We started our first day with Journey Behind the Falls. What is it? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You take an elevator down and you enter the cave BEHIND Horseshoe Falls. You are able to walk about 2/3 of the way around the Horseshoe while you are under and behind the falls. The ground shakes and the rumbling sound is LOUD. It was a tiny bit scary to me but it was incredible at the same time. There is also a lookout point where you can go outside and be almost close enough to touch the water.

The entrance for Journey Behind the Falls is right inside Table Rock. So easy!
Who wouldn’t want to wear this super flattering yellow poncho?!?
Elevator selfie! You go way way down to the bottom of the falls.
And then you get to see Horseshoe Falls from the back side! You are looking out from under ground at the water falling. It made me think of the Disney’s Jungle Cruise “backside of water” joke.
And there was a lookout point where we could go outside and be so incredibly close to the edge of the falls that you could practically touch it.

Next up, we headed to the Hornblower Cruise. Honestly after watching the boats come and go, I didn’t expect it to be that great. I know it’s one of those iconic things that you just HAVE to do, but I had low expectations.

I was wrong. It was amazing! We got so close to the water. The wind was whipping and we were drenched. It felt like standing on the beach during a hurricane, only the weather that day was still, calm, and sunny. We were up on the top deck and loved every second of it. The only negative thing I can say is that it’s such a quick ride–only about twenty minutes total. It’s really hard to describe the overall experience. Just do it. It’s completely worth it!

Ready to get wet!

Eventually we were so close to the water that I stopped taking pictures because you couldn’t see anything in the mist. Incredible.

On our second day of the Adventure Pass, we started off early with a viewing of Niagara’s Fury. This is a 360 degree movie experience. You stand in the center of the room wearing a poncho. There are handles to hold onto. Then it begins to rain on you INSIDE.  The floor shakes and the rains pour down. It can be a little intense for younger kids but overall it’s neat. I don’t have any pictures inside the theater because they were strictly forbidden.

After the movie, we headed over to Clifton Hill to check out the touristy area. This is where you will find go karts, mini golf, the giant ferris wheel, arcades, museums, and on and on and on. It’s overwhelming. I’ve never been to Vegas but that’s the closest I could compare it to. Lots going on and so much to see you almost don’t know where to look. There were so many food choices that we literally couldn’t take it all in and ended up eating at Papa John’s. I wish I were kidding. We just got overwhelmed and went with what was familiar.

Our group split up for that part of the day. Some of them went to the butterfly garden and the rest did the new Niagara Speedway Go Karts. A lot of people refer to them as the Mario Kart go karts. They all had a blast doing that! I chose to sit and rest a bit rather than ride but everyone that did it had rave reviews. And it was reasonably priced as far as Go Karts go, at $12 to drive and $4 to be a passenger.

We walked around a bit more and then hopped on a bus to get to the White Water Walk. Clifton Hill is on a different line than the White Water Walk, so we had to transfer at Table Rock. Unfortunately, it took nearly an hour to get from Clifton Hill back to Table Rock. That particular line on the bus covers a huge distance with tons of stops. Oops.

The path to the white water walk involves a crowded elevator and a tunnel. Be aware if those things cause you any anxiety.

The good news is that although we were an hour late for our scheduled time for the White Water attraction, we were able to go right in. They aren’t super strict about it. hooray!

So what is the White Water Walk? You take an elevator way down into the Niagara gorge and get to walk a length of the river to see the class 6 rapids. It is possibly more powerful than the falls themselves and was a little scary to see. At least, it was for me. The walk is about ten minutes each way and it’s shady and cool, even on a hot day. At the end of the path, there are benches. You are not timed in any way–you can stay as long as you’d like. Walk slow, take pictures, read the signs, take it all in. There are vending machines as well, which is good to know in case you do get hot down there. We went in the late afternoon and it was shaded well. It could be hotter at other times of day, I’m not sure.

Kids at the white water walk. This is also a good shot of their lanyards and tickets so you can see what those look like.
I was pretty nervous having the little guy so close to the rapids but the railings and such appeared to be safe. I was still nervous!

Overall, we found the Adventure Pass to be well worth it. It saved us money, it saved us time, it saved our feet from walking everywhere and it got us to do some things we may not have bothered with if it hadn’t been a package deal.

 

Eleven Tips for Exploring Niagara Falls, U.S. with Children

We had an amazing week at Niagara Falls!

We just returned from an absolutely fabulous vacation to Niagara Falls. We spent time on both the U.S. and Canadian sides and I have so much to say about all of it but I am going to try to break it down into less overwhelming bits and pieces.

First of all, for today’s post,  let’s talk about the U.S. side of the falls. I have heard nothing good about it, ever.  I’ve heard that the city isn’t that great, that the views of the falls aren’t that great, that there’s nothing worthwhile at all about the New York side. So honestly, it was a last minute decision to stop in New York at all.

All those claims about Niagara Falls, NY? FALSE. I can’t believe we almost missed out on that experience. What fools we would’ve been to skip it completely!

Overall, my top tip for Niagara Falls New York State Park is to understand that you are going to be out in nature. This park is not heavily commercialized. There is not a restaurant or an arcade or a gift shop every ten feet like on the Canadian side (the U.S. side does have all that, but it’s further back from the falls, not right up on it). This is more like going out for a hike. I was caught off guard by that!  Past that, here are eleven tips to help you plan your trip to Niagara Falls, New York.

  1. Park at the Niagara Falls New York State Park. The lot isn’t huge but it also seems to be somewhat overlooked. We had no problem pulling in and getting a great spot on a weekend in July. It costs $10 to park there and you can use cash or your debit card–but you’ll need exact change with cash. The lot is right by the welcome center and right across the street from lots of food options–and you know the kids are going to be asking for food! (Also note: there are bathrooms in the welcome center!)You can rent a stroller at the park. If you just don’t have room in your car for a stroller and all your luggage, know that if your little one needs a stroller, rentals are available. It’s $20 for four hours and that’s likely plenty of time to see the park, especially with stroller-aged children
  2. Dress appropriately. You will want to be wearing comfortable clothes for a long day of walking. It can get hot, and there are hills and stairs. If you go in the summer, you will sweat.  Wear supportive shoes. I wore athletic pants with a moisture wicking material and Under Armour Sandals.
  3. Expect to be underwhelmed by your first view you get of the falls. When you enter the park and come around the side of the welcome center, you will glimpse the American Falls. I’ve got to be honest, my first thought was, “We drove all that way for… this?” It’s not the best spot to get a good view and unfortunately it’s the first glimpse you get. Keep on walking through the park and you’ll get to better views!

    The first view of the falls.
  4. Follow the signs to cross the bridges to Luna and Goat Islands. You will walk across two bridges (they are walking bridges, no cars will be on them, but staff on golf carts will drive over them a bit). The bridges are a bit slick–hold hands with younger kids! When you get to Goat Island, follow the signs for American Falls and then Horseshoe Falls. You will be able to get incredibly close to the water.
    Checking out the view from one of the islands. I think this was Luna Island.
    American Falls
    American Falls
    We called this the selfie capital of the world. 😉

    And all the way over at Horseshoe Falls!
  5. Pay the small fee to go down an elevator to the dock of the famous Maid of the Mist boat–even if you don’t plan to ride the boat, you can go down and enjoy the view.
  6. Have change on you to put in the view finders! Kids love those things, so be prepared for the constant begging for change!

    Bring change! Kids love these things!
  7. Pack a cooler of bottled water. You will get thirsty walking through the islands and the little carts and stands charge a whopping $3.50 per twenty ounce bottle of water. For the record, that is more than Disney World charges.
  8. Ride the boat. Whether you ride the Maid of the Mist on the U.S. side or the Hornblower on the Canadian side, it is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. (We actually took the boat from the Canadian side but the price is about the same and the experience identical). You get so close to the Falls, and the mist is in your face and the wind is whipping and you just feel its power. It made me really realize how little control we humans have over nature. We live in a world with so much technology that we think we can control every little thing but getting up close and personal with Horseshoe Falls makes you realize what a lie that all is. (It doesn’t help that I read The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park, during this trip. The theme of that book is also that humans have very little control over nature!).

    A view of Horseshoe Falls from the boat.
  9. Get some kind of device to keep you from dropping your phone. Seriously, you are chasing kids around and taking pictures with thousands of gallons of gushing water. What could possibly go wrong? I have a Loopy Case but I also have a universal waterproof case that I can wear on a lanyard and fits any phone and I also love this little gadget for wearing my phone on a lanyard without being in the waterproof case–but on the boat, you will want waterproof! I was so nervous watching people hang over the side of the boat just holding their phones with no backup plan for dropping it. Eek!
  10. Eat some place local. There are so many chains in the area but skip that stuff. You can eat at Rain Forest Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, etc, anytime and practically any place.  Personally, we enjoyed Mario’s Pizza and Flip Burger.  They were a short walk past Hard Rock Cafe. Prices were not outrageous for a tourist town and the quality was excellent. Mario’s serves real New York pizza. I live in the midwest now and I’m sorry to say, they don’t really understand what pizza should be. New York gets it right! Flip Burgers has fresh cut fries–you can watch them chop the potatoes. And they were sooooo good we wished we had bought more. Also, they are right next door to each other so if two kids are begging for pizza and one kid wants a hot dog and fries, you are in luck! You can grab food from both places and sit at the outdoor tables and enjoy it all!

    New York Style Pizza at Mario’s.
  11. Plan to spend the whole day. Don’t rush. Don’t have a schedule or an itinerary–especially if you also plan to go to the Canadian side. Over there, with the adventure pass, you have to book times for all your experiences. Enjoy the unhurried, unscheduled experience of seeing the falls at a slower pace, out in nature. Walk everywhere–every time you move your car, you’ll pay to park. So take your time and walk. It’s a very walking-friendly area, with wide sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks.

 

I hope you enjoy your time in Niagara Falls, New York as much as I did. Do you have tips for things to do or how to prepare? Share them in the comments!

How to Be A Better Local Tourist

 

Don’t forget to check out local eats. Chains get old after awhile!

Mommas, I am so guilty of not taking advantage of really cool places that are local to me. I think most of us are. We know it’s there so we just kinda push it off the to do list to do “another time”. Want some examples of how that looked in my own life? On the large scale, I lived my entire childhood an hour outside of Boston. I finally walked the Freedom Trail when I was 33. EEK! That’s… unforgivable! Then I lived in Indiana for FOURTEEN YEARS and never made it to any of the beaches in Lake Michigan. And when I did, it was delightful!  In my current town, there’s a laser tag place my kids ask about all the time. I finally took them a couple weeks ago, after approximately six years of asking. GUILTY.

I’ve really been trying to be better about this. We’ve been trying out local restaurants more often and walking around down town and checking out the walking paths at our lovely city parks. But sometimes, I just don’t even know where to go or what to do. I was recently remind of Groupon, because I was looking for a deal on something for an upcoming trip. Then it clicked. Oh wait, I should be checking Groupon for LOCAL things to do, not just travel. DUH! We need to have fun learning experiences and adventures not just when we travel really for away, but also when we travel just down the road.

I’m working on a list of places we need to check out locally this summer. Small things, like an ice cream stand, a park we have never been to, etc. Groupon is a great place for ideas because honestly sometimes the places listing coupons there are places I didn’t even know existed. Score!

Click Here and Head to Groupon to Check Out Deals in Your Home Town!

Get Your Family Road Trip-Ready

 

Enjoy the view!

 

We are two weeks away from heading out on a short road trip. We’ll be doing a test run of traveling on Route 66 to help us over the next year as we plan for our big cross country trek on the famous roadway. From all my reading and research so far, it’s a little complicated to follow and stay on the route, so we want to get a couple hundred miles under our belts.

So over the next two weeks, I’ll be getting us ready to road trip! It’s important to be prepared before heading out. Here’s my top  tips for getting ready to hit the road! Continue reading “Get Your Family Road Trip-Ready”

How to Spend a Week in Santa Claus, IN

Museums and national parks and roller coasters, oh my! It’s always Christmas in Santa Claus, IN–but the area has a lot more to offer than just a jolly fat dude in a red suit. We spent just about five days in Santa Claus, and we probably could have stayed at least ten and not been bored! One of my biggest frustrations while planning to head there was how little information I could find online about the area. I found a couple of blog posts but they were outdated and not as helpful as I had hoped. So, here’s my tips, tricks, and suggestions for a lovely week in Santa Claus, IN.

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Our Niagara Falls Reading List

There’s so many books on Niagara Falls–here are a few of our favorites!

In July, we are headed to Canada for the week to experience Niagara Falls. We are “camping” (translation: staying in a nice cabin with air conditioning and a bathroom) and plan to do many of the super touristy attractions around the falls.

One of the best ways to prepare for any trip is to read anything and everything you can about the location. I’m the queen of travel books–I have read just about every Disney travel guide ever written and if I’m completely honest, I read the revised versions every year, too. Continue reading “Our Niagara Falls Reading List”

The Top Ten Places We’ve Taken the Kids (So Far!)

We take the kids as many places as possible within our work and school schedule and other commitments (sports, activities, etc.). Some are just nearby museums or historical sites and some are major vacations.  All of them add to our educational experience, but some stand out more than others as favorites.

I’m sure this list will change because in the next fifteen months we have plans to visit a whole lot of new places, including Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Legoland, and Disneyland.

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Plymouth Rock: Plymouth, Massachusetts

One of the main themes of classical education is repetition. We re-learn things over and over and each time, hopefully, we understand it better and make more connections to others things we’ve learned. In elementary school, we do that through a three year cycle. Every three years, we start over at the beginning and re-learn the same things again. But we do different projects and we take different field trips and make it all interesting again. Plus, the kids are three years older each time and understand it a little better. One of the greatest things about this model is that all the kids can be learning the same thing. While my four year old might be learning to recite a short poem about the pilgrims, my ten year old may be writing a short, factual paper about the journey on the Mayflower. Meanwhile, my twelve year old is learning to write persuasive essays, so she could write an argument on whether or not the Pilgrims should even have come at all.  Their assignments are all different but we can all sit together and listen to The Story of the World chapter on the Pilgrims. Classical education draws us together as a family rather than segregating us by age and grade.  There is no “you are too little for this” and there is no “I’m too old for this.”

And because we can all learn the same things together regardless of our age, we can take really awesome field trips that are interesting to everyone because we are all focused on the same subject matter!

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R.E. Olds Museum in Lansing, MI

On our trip to Port Huron last month, we decided we wanted to stop somewhere fun about halfway to break up the drive. Plus we had all day and didn’t really need to get to Port Huron until 5pm or so.  I asked around for suggestions and the winner was to come up through Lansing instead of through Detroit and check out the R.E. Olds Museum.

Something you need to know about my family: we love museums. We go to as many as we can, as often as we can. Whenever someone says they just aren’t a “museum person” it makes me sad. It’s one of our favorite family activities–even my four year old tends to enjoy it (although he gets bored faster than the rest of us).

Continue reading “R.E. Olds Museum in Lansing, MI”