A Weekend in Niagara Falls Without a Passport

June 11th, 2015 by Lissa Poirot No comments »

With Niagara Falls resting between New York and Canada, many wonder if it is necessary to have a passport and visit the Canadian side. While there is a lot to do on the other side of the river, it requires a passport to cross the border. There is plenty to do on the New York side to make it worth it for a family without passports. Here’s how to make the most out of a weekend in Niagara Falls, New York.

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour

Day One
Arriving on Friday evening, make your way to Niagara State Park and to the popular Maid of the Mist, the closest way to see the full scope of Horseshoe Falls from the American side. You’ll wear ponchos, but plan to get wet as you take a leisurely boat ride right up to the base of the falls and feel the mist on your face. This attraction is a great introduction to Niagara Falls, and something available in the evening hours, which you can squeeze in after your drive or flight. Purchase the Discovery Pass, which grants admission to the Maid of the Mist, as well as items on your list for day two. The pass is $38 for ages 12 and older, and $31 for ages 6 to 12.

Day Two
With a full day ahead of you, head north of the falls to Youngstown and Old Fort Niagara, where you can roam the grounds of the former fortification of Niagara. On a clear day, you’ll spot Toronto in the distance. Entrance to the fort, which opens at 9 a.m., is just $8 for kids ages 6 to 12, $12 for those ages 12 and older, and free for children ages 5 and under.

Follow the scenic route back toward the falls, stopping in the quaint town of Lewiston to embark on a Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour. The high-speed boat tours takes passengers along the Niagara River to the Niagara Gorge to spin through its class 5 and 6 rapids. The one-hour ride doesn’t see the falls, but it does provide some fantastic views and a promise that you will get wet. Rates for this trip are $51 for kids 6 to 13 and $61 for ages 14 and up. After your ride, dry off and enjoy lunch in Lewiston; an adjoining restaurant overlooks the river with outdoor seating.

On your route back to Niagara Falls, you’re next stop is Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. From this park area, you’ll be able to hike the gorge you just visited by boat for fantastic river views. The Niagara Scenic Trolley is included in your Discovery Pass tickets, so enjoy the ride that takes you back to Niagara State Park and Goat Island’s overlook points for Bridal and Horseshoe Falls. Here is a great place to grab dinner: Top of the Falls Restaurant offers great views of Horseshoe Falls.

Heading into the evening, descend nearly 200 feet in an elevator shaft to enjoy the Cave of the Winds attraction — a must see when in Niagara. Visitors donning a poncho and water shoes emerge near the bottom of Bridal Falls and walk along wooden platforms and stairs for some of the best vantage points of the falls, with mist and water spilling over the platforms to the delight of guests. The stairs and platforms are rebuilt every year, with a special Hurricane platform located just beneath some of the waterfall spray for a real soak.

After this last soak, take in the nighttime views of the falls, which are colorfully illuminated when darkness strikes. Stick around, because every Saturday night, fireworks shoot off above the falls to the delight of visitors on both the New York and Canadian sides.

Day Three
Before heading home after a full weekend, drive to nearby Lockport, New York, along the Erie Canal. Here, two-hour scenic cruises (you’ll stay dry this time!) take passengers along Niagara River and through the Niagara Escarpment, rising 49 feet in the double set of locks on the Erie Canal. Tours through Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises begin at 10 a.m. and are $9 for kids ages 4 to 10, and $17.50 for those ages 11 and older. (Kids under 4 are free.)

And with all that, you got a full weekend out of the Niagara Falls, New York area, without crossing into Canada or needing a passport!

— Lissa Poirot

Explore Washington D.C. by Bike With Kids

June 10th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Washington D.C. is a fantastic summer getaway for families and a visit to our nation’s capital wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the city’s iconic monuments and memorials. Though exploring D.C. on one of the popular hop-on, hop-off trolley tours can be a great way to cover a lot of distance, making your way around town on the back of a bicycle is an even more unique way to see the sites. Enter Bike and Roll D.C.

Gina Vercesi and her three children ready to explore D.C. by bike

Unplugged Fun for the Whole Family
I’d first heard about touring D.C. by bike back in 2010 when our family was in Washington D.C. Though I was intrigued by the idea, I didn’t pursue the activity as I figured my kids — then ages 4, 6 and 8 — were still too young. Now I wish I had.

Bike and Roll offers both sturdy trailers for parents to tow little ones and tandem bikes for younger kids to ride safely behind their grown-up. They also have plenty of child-sized bikes for smaller cyclists who are comfortable riding on their own. On the day we toured with Bike and Roll there were two families with young kids on tandems who did just fine. Additionally, Bike and Roll tour participants max out at 15, making the group a very manageable size, allowing guests to cycle at a pace that is comfortable for everyone.

Geared Up and Finding Our Groove
Plan to arrive at Bike and Roll’s tour headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza about 15 minutes before your scheduled tour. After signing in, your guide will get your group set up with all the necessary equipment. We were each assigned a bike that was appropriate for our hikes and our guide Matt adjusted our seats and patiently found helmets for all of us that were a perfect fit.

Bike and Roll offers comfortable Trek hybrids for their tours and each bike has a nice handlebar bag that has plenty of room for a water bottle, wallet, camera and phone, and any small snacks you might want to bring. Our guide had a supply of granola bars to pass around about midway through the tour as well. Participants are also welcome to leave personal items in the Bike and Roll office, so don’t worry about having to schelp your purse or backpack during the tour.

Oh The Places You’ll Go!
Bike and Roll offers three different bike tours around D.C. — the Monuments Bike Tour, the Capital Sites Bike Tour, and the Bike to Mountain Vernon Tour. The Monuments and Capital Sites tours are also offered in the evenings and are a fantastic way to see the city’s most popular landmarks all aglow. We opted for the three-hour Monuments tour, as I knew the stops would be the most recognizable and, subsequently, the most interesting to my kids.

Before we got on our way, our guide gave us a primer in navigating the pedestrian traffic we were sure to encounter, especially around the National Mall, as well as an overview of the route we’d follow. We biked out of the plaza and crossed over a short bridge that spanned Washington Channel on our way to the Potomac Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial. Stops at the FDR Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial would follow before we made our way over to the Mall for stops at the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the White House and the Washington Monument.

All told, we covered about 4 miles — a distance that was quite comfortable by bike but would have been have been pretty tiring on foot. I loved that we were out in the fresh air the whole time and that we traveled almost entirely on sidewalks — I didn’t have to worry at all about my kids pedaling alongside city traffic.

History On Wheels
Being a history buff and former social studies teacher, I was delighted by our guide’s extensive knowledge about each of the sites we visited. He shared both facts and anecdotes about each one and pointed out nuances and details in their design that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. After these brief, yet captivating, narratives, we were given plenty of time to explore the site on our own before moving on. At a few of the sites, National Park Rangers were present, and we listened in on a few of their talks as well. The newfound knowledge we gained about some of our nation’s greatest leaders, heroes and conflicts during the tour was an unexpected bonus.

When You Go
Bike and Roll has four locations around the city, all of which offer bike and trailer rentals. Tours depart primarily from the L’Enfant Plaza location, though there is a tour to Mount Vernon that leaves from Old Town Alexandria. Bikes, trailers and tandems are also available to rent by the hour (with a two-hour minimum) or by the day from all four locations. Helmets, bike pumps, bike locks and handlebar bags are included with the rental.

Planning a trip to D.C. with kids? Consider these family-friendly hotels for your overnight stay.

— Gina Vercesi

Gina Vercesi is a freelance writer with a passion for exploring nature and the outdoors. Gina features off-the-grid family travel adventures on her blog, Kids Unplugged, and writes as the “Unplugged” Traveling Mom for the Traveling Mom Writer’s Network.

Kid-Friendly Can Be Luxurious at the Boca Raton Resort

June 9th, 2015 by Lissa Poirot No comments »

When traveling with kids, sometimes we, as parents, fear that high-end properties are not accommodating to children and we forgo a chance to live it up for a getaway. On a recent trip to Boca Raton, Florida, we discovered that kid-friendly can be luxurious with a stay at the Waldorf Astoria’s Boca Raton Resort & Beach Club.

Located about 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale, the historic 80-year-old resort spans across 356 acres with accommodations in its original pink stucco buildings and tower, and its newer beachfront rooms. An exclusive members-only club, guests are welcome in the resorts multiple restaurants, fitness center, world-renowned spa, swimming pools and more.

Lissa Poirot's daughter on the FlowRider

For kids, you may never need to look beyond the resort’s newest attraction: FlowRider. This surfing simulator offers stand-up surfing and body boarding fun with half-, full-day and nighttime sessions Thursday through Saturday. Kids will let their fingers prune for three to six hours, not wanting to tear themselves away from this water “ride.” (It’s pretty strenuous, so you may want to opt for only a half-day program for younger kids, who will sleep well after the fun!)

If the FlowRider is not enough, kids can swim at the tower pool, overlooking Lake Boca and the marina, or in the multiple beachfront pools at the Beach Club. The Beach Club also features the Watersports & Surfer School, where kids can learn to really surf in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lissa Poirot's daughter doing the Mizner's Map Quest scavenger hunt

For kids who like to explore, pick up a Mizner’s Quest map and search the property for multiple clues. You’ll have a chance to get a good look at the resort, while learning about its past and present. At the end, kids can take their completed maps to Serendipity for a prize and to have their maps hung on the Mizner’s Quest Wall of Fame.

Lissa Poirot's children at one of the kids' programs

Younger kids will enjoy the kids’ programs at the Mizner’s Quest Clubhouse at the Beach Club, offered daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for kids ages 3 to 9. The supervised program gets children outdoors, but inside the club is a token-based arcade and gaming stations. On Saturday nights, tweens can enjoy a special dance party. More kid-friendly activities are located near the beach pool, such as sand art and hair decorating — it’s difficult not to run into something especially for children!

Besides the great activities for the kids, the resort’s restaurants are truly kid-friendly. 501 East Kitchen and Bar, overlooking the golf course, for example, was filled with children and coloring books during our steak dinner, and Lucca Trattoria overlooking the marina served up Italian staples kids will love. Serendipity of New York fame is located in the lobby and provides a place to grab breakfast and treats, and the poolside and beachside restaurants Beaches and Shaka, respectively, have tons of options for children. (Don’t miss the shaved ice at the main pool!)

There is so much to do at the Boca Raton Resort & Club that kids will be all smiles after a visit. However, being a Waldorf Astoria property, your wallet might feel pretty light by time you depart!

— Lissa Poirot

New In-Room Technology for Families at New York’s Ink48, A Kimpton Hotel

June 8th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Looking for a home away from home in New York City for your family’s next vacation? Consider a stay at Ink48, a Kimpton Hotel. Not only does it offer welcome gifts for kids, contemporary rooms and all of the other great amenities offered at Kimpton Hotels (like free bicycles, hosted wine hours and in-room goldfish), but it recently upgraded its entertainment offerings for guests, too.

Hudson River Suite living area

The Midtown hotel’s Better Than Home Entertainment experience offers additional in-room technology – something that tech-savvy teens will surely enjoy during their stay in the Big Apple. The upgrade includes a selection of:

  • Apple TV
  • HDMI cords
  • Wii
  • Logitech UE BOOM wireless speakers
  • Netflix, Hulu and HBOGO recommendations
  • Skull Candy wireless headphones
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Gourmet snacks and in-room Soda Stream
  • In-room gourmet espresso machine
  • Mini-fridge stocked with organic groceries
  • An Instagram printer to decorate the suite with pictures of loved ones or for souvenir photos to take home

The Better Than Home Experience is offered in the hotel’s Hudson River Suites only. Rates start from $390 per night. To upgrade your stay to this experience, contact the hotel at least one week prior to arrival.

Do you have a tech-savvy teen? Check out one of these 12 attractions with them for a memorable experience!

— Hilarey Wojtowicz