What an amazing trip we had.  Eventful.  Funny.  Stressful at times.  The weather was gorgeous all week and the kids are still talking about it.  But do you do summarize a 4-day trip into 1 post?  With a slideshow?

How do you also add your round-up of things to do?  Your family travels survival guide?

On this page you’ll find my posts for days 1 through 4 along with my round-up and my survival guide.  I’ve added these nifty little tab things to make navigating through the posts easier.  All of this awesomeness is followed by a slideshow of our best pics!

Have a laugh at my expense and make sure to enjoy the slideshow at the end of this post! And please, do share your own holiday bloopers and survival tips in the comments below!

YYYEEEEEEHHHHAAAAAWWWWWWWWW!

Let’s Giddy-up ’cause Momma’s on VACATION!

That’s right folks – this hard-working momma just got over tax season and has decided to pack up 3 adults, 3 kids, 2 car seats, 1 wheel chair and gear for 4 days including diapers and wipes for the wee ones.  What could go wrong?

Crowds?  Kids are still in school! Plus, we’re traveling during the week so we’re sure to avoid opening weekend mayhem.

Scheduling?  This is perfect!  J-F goes back to work in early from his 3 months of parental leave – it’s now or never baby!

Budget?  Easy peasy!  I’ve been squirreling away 50 bucks here and there and I’ve got the amount for the hotel in my personal account.  I also have a bit more for souvenirs and stuff.

J-F is covering meals and since we’ve got my super-duper-wonder-mom snack packs and breakfast is included with the hotel we should be good for about $500.  He thinks it will be closer to $1000, but what does he know? So $1000-$1500 total for the 6 of us, and we’re not bringing the credit card.

In full disclosure most of our activities have been sponsored by Niagara Falls Tourism and the Clifton Hill Comfort Inn so that definitely helps with the budget! Also, we were very lucky – and extremely thankful – that the MS Society St-Catherine’s Chapter lent us a GoGo Scooter for the week.

I hope everyone has gone pee cause we’re not stopping till we hit Trenton.

The plan is to check in at the Comfort Inn Clifton Hills by 2pm, unload & unwind, have dinner at the onsite Kelsey’s (LOVE their spinach dip so I was excited there was one attached to the hotel), then hit up the hill for some good ole’ fashion FUN.

Ahem.  Like birthing plans, road trips never  go according to THE PLAN. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.  Don’t believe me?  Have a few kids then get back to me!

Things are going along smoothly; we’ve stopped at the customary Trenton OnRoute, spent way too much time getting everyone fed and to the bathroom and the GPS still says we’ll be at the hotel by 2PM.  It’s a holiday Monday so traffic is mild and the skies are beautiful.

We’re cruising along the 401 in the fast lane, about to hit Oshawa and the van in front of us is all over the place.  Suspecting either a drunk or severely distracted driver I grab the phone and dial 9-1-1.

“OPP What’s your emergency?”

I report the drunk driver and our location and as I’m reading off the licence plate…. KAAAPPPOOWWW! “And… we’ve just blown a tire.  In the fast lane.  On the 401.  No ma’am, it’s not safe.  Yes ma’am, please send police.  Yes ma’am, everyone is ok.”

I barely had time to hang up and dial our road side assistance that a truck pulls up in front.  2 emergency trucks are behind us, in 2 lanes, to block traffic and make sure we don’t get hit.  The (very nice) cop tells us there’s no way we can wait for road side assistance we have to use the guy that’s there.

Funny him.  Cause there’s no way, on the median, that we can take out 3 kids, 2 car seats, 1 wheel chair and my mom. 

So Cop-Guy pulls a move out of the movies – we get hitched up to the tow and escorted off the 401, sirens blaring and all.  There has to be a better way to save on gas!

About an hour later we’re back on the road and there’s now a full size tire amongst our gear.  I am SO glad we decided to rent a double stroller and have it delivered to the hotel.

Did I mention it’s a holiday Monday?  That most stores are closed?  I spend the next 1/2 hour mapping out Canadian Tires near the hotel and calling them all and hoping one of them is not only open but will be open at 4pm.

Lovely hotel.  With stairs.  Lots of stairs.  Everywhere.  Shit.  Yes, we got the accessible family suite we asked for… but no there’s no balcony ’cause it’s on the 1st floor ’cause there’s no elevators.

There are work-arounds, and we manage to get our gear in.  Winding down you say?  I check us in while J-F goes to fix the car and Mom goes out with Jasmine to test out the scooter.  I think that’s just a ploy to go smoke a few cigarettes, in peace…

The one thing J-F wants to see is the falls so after dinner we start down the hill.  Victoria Day.  Shit.  This is almost as bad as NYC! Have you ever maneuvered a double-stroller AND a scooter through throngs of people on a freaking hill?  Don’t.  Just don’t.

Cause then you have to go back up.  Oh Yeah!  40lb toddler. 15 lb baby, 15 lb stroller.  My trainer will be proud cause I have to push this thing – without running into anyone – all. the. way. up. the. hill. I’m grunting and sweating and the higher up we go the hotter it gets and sacremento are we there yet?

We take the time to visit the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum and the wax museum.  There’s several of those but we picked the one that was included with our fun passes and other than discovering that my 6 year old is a complete wuss it was actually quite awesome.  Check out the ‘Things to Do” tab for a list of all the cool things you can do.

Tomorrow we go to Marineland then J-F & I get our date.  That means tonight I’m packing up the car for tomorrow morning and getting clothes ready for tomorrow morning.

I crawl into bed way too late and come to the startling realization that there is – in fact – quite a difference between a VACATION and a TRIP.  This is definitely NOT a vacation… but it’s gearing up to be a memorable trip!

The awesome thing about breakfast being included with the hotel is you actually have to get up on time to eat it.  Who knew?

There is not enough coffee in the world for me this morning but off we go to Marineland!  The kids are excited, the adults are stressed, it’s a great day! <insert fake-ass smile>

Today is the real test: We have to fit the scooter – which we don’t know yet how to pull apart – and the double stroller in the van.  Oh – and the humans too.  Ha! 

He said it couldn’t be done.  Well, ladies & gents…. It CAN be doneTa ta-ta Dah!!!!!

Now that we all smell like coconuts (thank you, coppertone!) we’re watching the show first.  We’re just in time so that’s a bonus.

I thought I remembered reading that there was a place to the side for people with wheelchairs but the young fella is directing us to the TOP of the stadium.  Via some steep, long – so long – ramp.  I am thanking my lucky stars we’ve got that scooter ’cause I do NOT want to push that wheelchair up there.

But wait!  There’s still that 15lb stroller.  With the 40lb kid and the 15lb baby.

Make sure you check out the slideshow – I am NOT a happy momma and it’s been caught on camera.  Not my proudest moment…

In my defense, I dropped my 1st coffee, had 2 sips of the 2nd and spilled most of it on my leg.  It’s hot.  I’m sweaty.  My thighs are already chaffing so I’m walking like I’ve got a stick in my bee-hind and damn-it I just want some coffee!

This kids want to go feed the whales so off we go in that direction.  Of course there will be rides and poor Annabelle is not happy when she can’t come along.  Jasmine & I make a pact to only do rides that Annabelle can come on.

And come on them she did!  What a little dare-devil!  I really am a lucky mom… I’m looking at my kids while we go around this little boat for the gazillionth time and they’re a pretty awesome bunch.

The whales!  We’re here!  Wow, what a team.  We were so well received and the kids has such a great experience.  Mom was even able to get close-up with her scooter so she could get up and feed the beluga too!  She’s having so much fun, and the kids are having a blast – I’m so glad I brought her.  We might kill each other before the week is done, but right now, in this moment… I see only happiness in all of them and my heart feels all warm and sappy.

Except for J-F – He’s off looking for shade with the baby and he’s not having much luck.

Check the pictures for my ‘sling magic’.  Even if your kids outgrow the sling bring it with you!  Chloe can’t get away from the sun so I’m using the sling as a cover – it’s great ’cause you can wrap it around the stroller as you would a person, and nothing flies off in the wind!

The rides, the food, the deer – it’s been a long day, the kids are cranky and it’s time to head out.  “Look Maman!  that sign says w h e e l c h a i r s…. o n l y… Wheelchairs Only?  What’s that Maman?”

Wow that kid is an awesome reader – they only taught them to read French in school.  Damn – that’s a wheelchair only sign for the DAMN SHOW! Oh well, can’t blame the kid it could have been his first day.  Shit my legs hurt though.

We might have gotten lost coming back from Marineland, and might have ended up at a family restaurant next to 3 strip clubs.  The kids were hungry, the adults were hungry, and no one wanted to wait 1/2 hour to drive back to the hotel.  And those super-duper-awesome-healthy snack packs?  No one wants to touch them.  Sigh.

By now I’ve got a permanent ‘deer in headlight’s’ look on my face, and I need some me-time.  J-F & I were supposed to have our date but he’s exhausted and Mom is hearing bells – the penny slot kind of bells.  Fallsview Casino… Here we come!

Mom came out even, I lost a few bucks, we may have bought some fudge… This was fun 🙂  I needed this.  We’ve got another big day tomorrow so I’ll finish this glass of wine and maybe have another bite of fudge.

 

We’re taking it easy today!  Since everything we want to see is on the WEGO line, we’re going to walk down to the falls, do the boat thing and go from there.  I’m really excited to have Mom come today ’cause everything is supposed to be accessible.

In retrospect, her day of ‘freedom’ was her favorite day of the trip (probably cause she’s been stuck on the top floor of her house all winter).  Her house is now adapted but it was a rough winter for her.  Being able to go out freely, alone, without having to worry about the battery dying on the scooter or not having the strength to push herself in the chair.  She did her own thing and she was in a great mood when we came back! Sometimes, mums do know best…

I’m pumped, I’m excited, and the kids can feel it.  Of course when we get on the boat I figure it can’t be that bad so I put on the poncho but fail to put on the cap.  I got some great pictures but the closer we got the more the wind picked up.  The more the wind picked up the more we got wet.  The more wet we got the more Jasmine was determined that she did NOT like the boat.

They say the falls will take your breath away – that’s because the wind is so strong down there you can’t breathe!

We hopped on the WEGO and headed out towards the butterfly conservatory.  Of course we missed the stop and it took another 15 minutes to circle around.  I guess that’s a good think – we got to get out to see the flower clock.  These parks we’re driving through are absolutely gorgeous, and I wish I had a day, kid free, to go walk through all the parks.  Next time.

To see the kids with the butterflies was amazing!  A few landed on Annabelle, and finally – finally – one landed on Jasmine near the end.  We went around twice, mostly cause the baby was sleeping and it was easier than going back out in the heat.

Up next is Bird Kingdom.  You have to understand that since Jasmine heard about Bird Kingdom she’s been asking why we don’t have a bird like Grandma used to have.  Teehee.  This kid is in for quite a surprise!

The 2nd floor has 2 encounter rooms plus that really dark section with the bats and the owls.  The second floor isn’t air conditioned.  We’re in a really old building, with really old wood floors that hundreds (maybe thousands?) of birds have shit on in the past.  I don’t care how many times you wash those floors and clean out the habitats: in this humidity the stink is unbearable.  That’s why we don’t have a bird. 

I’m afraid for the 3rd floor and quite frankly I’m ready to turn around but when the elevator doors opened I was speechless.  THIS is what I came here for.  It’s gorgeous!  This huge fella (of the bird kind) & I had a conversation.  J-F says I’m weird and may have muttered something along the likes that I’m not the bird whisperer.

There’s birds everywhere!  Big ones, small ones, bright ones… It’s huge, it’s open, it’s cool, it doesn’t stink – and did I mention the birds are awesome? I’ve got a few great pictures of some of the more impressive ones.

It’s almost time to head back to the hotel and meet up with Mom for dinner and we have 2 options.  Walk down the road, up the hill, and back to almost the same spot we’re in now but 1 road up…. Or take a shortcut.  J-F’s idea of a shortcut.  Up about 100 stairs.  With a 15lb stroller holding a 40lb kid and a 15lb baby.  Shit.  Some shortcut.

By the time we make it up there we’ve decided we’ve bought enough fudge already; some shortcut that was.  So up the hill a bit more we go to get to the MGM Studio store ’cause Mamma wants an OSCARWhy?  Cause I want one, that’s why.  Except every time I’ve come by they either weren’t open yet or had just closed down.  The website says MGM fun everyday until 10 pm!!! But he didn’t open up before noon and by 3pm he was gone.  This is like the New Year’s Eve ball adventure I had in NYC.  We’re leaving tomorrow morning so its a dead dream.

I’d promised Jasmine I’d take her to the dinosaur mini-put but the baby needs to nurse and Annabelle needs a nap so J-F takes her.  He also takes her up on the skywheel – AT NIGHT – and to the midway and the XD theatre.

This kid just went on MY DATE I wanted to do the Skywheel at night I wanted to go to the XD Theatre with J-F I wanted to golf with the dinosaurs and flirt like we were 15 again.  Me.  NOT the Kid.  But the KID just snafued my date.

What else is a girl to do but ask her beau to take her to the casino?  His fault.  Got dolled up and off we go… I even got a nice glass of wine!  I.  Had.  A. Blast.  And so did he.  And we still flirted like we were 15.  And we didn’t lose any money – actually we came out a bit ahead.  I’m a lucky womanMy partner in crime is the love of my life and I’m so thankful we found each other again almost 5 years ago.

 

They’re all in the car looking at me through the windows as I check out of our pre-paid hotel room.  “Pretend this is complicated business – they’re watching!”  The poor boy doesn’t have a clue.  “I’m serious – you can’t me go back in there – please! don’t make me go back!”

“Traveling with the inlaws?”

“No!  My 3 kids.  My husband.  My mom.  You can’t make me go back there I won’t go!”

We have a few laughs while shuffling a few pieces of paper back and forth.  I refill my coffee mug.  I think I’m ready.  I can do this.  I can spend the next 6 hours in the car.  This is not a vacation.  Next time I’m running away alone;  I might consider taking J-F.  A cruise maybe?

Shit.  The wax hands.  I promised Jasmine she could have 2 souvenirs and 2 souvenirs only > A dolphin stuffie from Marineland and a wax hand that we’ve yet to do.

I kinda want one too.  I can see it now: A big huge poster with my logo and my hand ‘Need a hand?’… Don’t judge.

So we get 2 hands done – Jasmine has hers together in prayer-like form.  Mine’s standing up.

How long does it take to make 2 wax hands when you’re in a hurry and the crew keeps circling around?  About 40 minutes.  But they’re so cool they were worth every penny.

 And the trip?  Worth every penny.  It wasn’t easy.  It was complicated and messy and normal.  Normal…. Mission accomplished!

Will I do it again?  Probably.  Anytime soon?  Probably not.

As I crawl into my bed with fresh sheets I’m so glad I thought to wash them just before we left.  J-F is snoring, the kids are konked out in their beds, the baby is nursing… Tomorrow, we get back to our routine.

This week?  This week was absolutely amazing. 

Why Niagara Falls?  What Can I do there?

This is my roundup of the best stuff to do when visiting Niagara Falls.  Information and pricing can be found through the Niagara Falls Tourism website.

Niagara Falls is more than ‘just’ the falls.  The falls are great, but you can’t spend the whole week on the Maid of the Mist.  Thankfully there’s plenty to do.

In the heart of it all is Clifton Hill.  That’s where you have the big Skywheel, the dinosaur and glow in the dark mini-put, all the Ripley’s stuff and the Guiness World of Records stuff.  There’s also a few different wax museums.

What I loved about the Hill is that most places had this ‘open air / outdoor market’ feel at the front and you could buy tickets to see more.   Our first tour of Clifton Hill we didn’t actually go into any of the attractions – we just experienced what was right there in front of us and the front-end of the attractions!  Ice cream shops, fudge, souvenirs, games… The whole thing has a carnival feel and it’s all been cleverly built into the landscape of the hill.

The Falls.  The falls are great, and there’s plenty to do and see there as well.  My kids wouldn’t do the white water walk and the journey behind the falls would be too complicated with the stroller but with older children this is definitely a great choice.  And who can forget the Maid of the Mist?  You might think it’s just a boat and some water – but it’s not.  Its experiencing in ‘live HD’ the forces of nature.  It’s an experience you won’t soon forget and is worth getting a little wet for.

Helicopter Rides.  The best view of the falls – We almost went on this but by the time Date Night rolled around we were too exhausted.   Our hotel had special pricing tickets available and it was about 50% off!  Definitely worth it.

The Parks.  Botanical gardens, butterfly conservatories, flower clocks, walking trails – A few minutes on the WEGO and you’re there.  The kids will love the opportunity to run wild and spend some pent up energy and you’ll enjoy the tranquility of the parks.

Fallsview Boulevard.  Upscale restaurants, the Fallsview Casino, higher-end hotels… If you want to indulge, this is the place to do it!

Lundy’s Lane.  If you love to shop this is the place to do it! Factory outlets, boutiques, originals… you name it!

Theme Parks.  Marineland, Safari Niagara, Waterparks – something for everyone!  Bring sunscreen and enjoy the attractions and unique experiences!

The Wine.  I’ve had these tickets for a private wine tour for ages but we never seem to get around to it.  Last year I was pregnant so we cancelled our trip, and this year we didn’t have time!  A short drive away you’ll find some of Ontario’s finest wineries.  Many offer free tours, with deluxe  / private tasting tours available.  Cheers!

Whatever your tastes, whatever you decide – there’s something for everyone.  Check out my survival guide in the next tab for smooth (er) traveling with kids!

You’ve picked a destination and decided it was time for a vacation.  What’s next?

Choose your dates wisely

We went in May because kids were still in school and the crowds wouldn’t be as bad.  Also, we went on a weekday.  If you get overwhelmed in large crowds avoid long weekends.  If you’re on a budget travel during the week.  Be strategic, it will pay off.

Choose your venue wisely

We chose the Comfort Inn Clifton Hill.  It was comfortable, clean, and the staff was amazing.  Breakfast was included with our stay, there’s a nice big pool, and a Kelsey’s attached to it.

More importantly, it was within walking distance of almost everything we wanted to do.  The only time we took the van was to go to Marineland.  We walked on the hill, walked to the falls, hopped the WEGO from there – it was great.  Thank goodness too because we not only had 6 people to fit in the van but also a scooter and a double stroller.  Bonus, we didn’t spend our week looking for parking.

Road tripping?  Don’t overstuff the car!

Many cities have baby gear rental businesses and most hotels have basics like playpens and cribs.  Don’t spend 6 hours in the car wedged between a car seat and a double stroller, and don’t try to navigate narrow airplane aisles with the limo on wheels.  Rent what you can and arrange for pick up and delivery to your hotel.  We rented a double-stroller from Baby Travels and it cost us $50 for the week.  It was dropped off at the hotel and picked up there as well.  Worth every penny!

Adult:Child Ratios

Bring as many adults (or capable teens) as you have small children, specially when there are gender and age differences.  Makes it easier to split up when each child wants or needs something different.  If you have 3 or more kids, consider paying the way for a grandparent, and older niece or nephew, or hire a local babysitter for the week.  They get a trip and you get an extra set of hands.

Itinerary

Plan ahead.  Find out what there is to do, choose what you want to do, figure out the budget, and stick (mostly) to that list.  Once you know what you want to do you can find the best deals and plan out an itinerary for the family.

Down time

Kids get tired, big people get cranky, and no one has fun when you’re rushing around.  We stayed 3 nights instead of 2 so we could sleep in if we wanted to.  It also allowed for extra flexibility as we were road-tripping AND the weatherman was forecasting doom and gloom for the whole week. Ends up the weather was perfect but I was glad we had that extra time to shuffle things around.

Kids will be kids

And kids will get hungry.  Plan ahead and pack some snacks for each day.  Having healthy food handy squashes the cravings and the whining that follows cause you’re stuck in a lineup for the ride and everyone decided they were hungry.

Have fun.  Laugh.  It will be over soon.  I promise 😉

Bring a bottle of wine.  There are openers and glasses at the hotel.  Have a glass after the kids are in bed.  You’re welcome.

What are you best travel survival tips?  Please share in the comments below!

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