Christmas of 2016 we promised the kids a trip to Great Wolf Lodge for the following year. Our intention was spring 2017, however, when spring came I decided since we were studying Canada, we should take a trip to Canada instead… I know, mean mom right?!? Don’t worry, the kids did get their trip to Great Wolf Lodge later in the year but they had so much fun in Canada, that at almost a year later, they are still asking when we are going back! I would say our family trip to Canada was a success!
To those of us that homeschool… taking trips like this is the dream, the reason why we love the idea of homeschooling! We can be flexible, we can actually see what we are learning, we can just pick up and go… but it still costs money and often we take these trips less often than we would like. Other than visiting some zoos and museums in our state, we really hadn’t ventured much and that is a reason I decided that heading to Canada was a must!
My husband and I went to Niagara Falls for New Year’s Eve in 2007 and had a blast! We took a helicopter ride, we visited some casinos, and we enjoyed alot of delicious food. We also stopped in St. Catherines and London while we were there and overall really enjoyed ourselves. Experiencing this with the kids meant alot to us and so we started to plan our trip.
I went to Groupon and found a very good deal for a hotel, it was reduced by more than half and we booked our stay for the second week in March. Being that we decided to go so early in the year was a big factor in the room rate, it was also the reason why some attractions, like Maid of the Mist, were not running but we were fine with that. Our Groupon also came with some freebies, like 2 for 1 miniature golf, $200 to be used at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, free breakfast at IHop, and some others, and while we didn’t use them all, a few of them came in handy! Once we booked with Groupon, we told the kids… they at that point didn’t care about Great Wolf Lodge, they were SUPER excited!
When my husband and I visited Canada before, we didn’t need passports, however since then it has been required or at least strongly recommended. I did some research and found that while Canada strongly recommends those from the United States to have a passport, having a birth certificate, social security card, and photo ID can get you into Canada, and so that is what we went with. Our family of 6 packed 6 social security cards, 6 birth certificates, 2 photo ID cards, and because I never legally changed my last name (though I go by my husband’s) our marriage certificate. We were full aware we might not get into Canada, we were warned by so many people we wouldn’t get in, and so we came up with a plan B should that happen. My husband decided plan B would be to see the falls on the American, spending the day there, then making the trip to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty, spend a day or 2 there, and then head home. That might sound crazy to alot of you, but we are fairly spontaneous people! Well, we got in and more on that later, but my suggestion… get passports!
We opted to rent a car instead of using our own and this is mainly because we had a friend who, while driving from Florida to Michigan, had their car breakdown, and they were stuck in Kentucky or Tennessee for a week or better waiting on a part. This has brought fear to my husband, so anytime we drive more than 5 hours and Niagara is about 8 from us, we rent a car, however, this could be a spot where you could save money.
I ran to the library the day before we left and grabbed some books on Canada for the car ride, we picked up the car, got everything packed, and tried to sleep! The next morning the kids were so excited but were a little skeptical when they found out that Niagara Falls was 8 hours from our house, they had never been in the car that long, but when they learned that we would be going through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York to get there, they were even more excited because those were places they’d never been! The kids were great in the car and at the beginning my husband and I were sure we would be stopping every 5 minutes for the kids, in all actuality we stopped more for us than we did them, but we still made great time and when we pulled up to the border, we knew it was the moment of truth!
So, we pulled up to the border, my husband rolled down his window, and when we were asked for passports we told her we didn’t have any but that we had the recommended documents on the Canadian government website. She looked them over, typed in a few things, and within a minute or 2 we were told to enjoy our stay! You might wonder why I recommend passports, stay tuned!
We made it into Canada
We were excited to get into Canada and made our way to the hotel. We honestly didn’t have an itinerary, we just wanted to see Canada with the kids, have them see and feel their money, eat a couple of Canadian treats, see the natural wonder of the Falls, and have some fun of course!
After we checked in, we all decided we were starving, the kids wanted something fun, and so we took them to the Revolving Dining Room at the Skylon Tower. The views are spectacular, the food is good, though some reviews say it may not be worth the money, in my opinion, when you factor in the views while eating and the fact that you get to go to their indoor/outdoor observation deck with the purchase of a meal, it is well worth the price. Oh, and the dining room revolves… hence the name Revolving Dining Room… plus kids are going to get a kick out of the elevator ride!
We went, by accident, for the early dinner which costs $39.95 for adults and $16.95 for children (Canadian) before tax and attractions fee (3%). FYI, I have read that the attractions fee or “Niagara tax” can be asked to be taken off, but I never asked, many cities have these type of fees, Chicago for one, and I just roll with it, but if it is successful for you let me know! Anyway, we spent $147.70 (Canadian) before drinks, taxes, and tip… that is $119.71 (US) and honestly not a bad deal for 6, given the menu, which you can see here, and again the views were amazing. Our service was great, the smiles on my kids faces were enough, and it was a great way to start the trip!
After dinner it was getting dark, so we drove over to the falls and walked around a bit. We learned quite a bit about the Falls just from the informational displays that were there. The kids got close enough to get some spray from the Falls, but once it got too dark to see we headed to the hotel. Our hotel had a pool, and I would recommend highly to all parents, wherever they travel, make sure there is a pool and especially an indoor pool during the winter months! We spent a couple hours at the pool, ran to the shop in our hotel lobby, grabbed some Ketchup chips (a Canadian favorite), some maple cookies (think Oreos but with maple filling), and drinks… and we had a movie night! Our hotel took our American dollars and gave us Canadian back so I had the kids pay for these items, they were thrilled with how colorful Canadian money is!
After everyone fell asleep, I started looking for things to do the next day. Niagara is very touristy, there is plenty to do… you can take a helicopter ride, there is an amusement park nearby, there are black light golfing places, among many other things, however, some of it was off limits because of the weather and some of it is there to just pass time… I wasn’t interested in that… so I turned my attention to Toronto.
Day Trip to Toronto
Toronto is about an hour and a half from Niagara Falls and since we were there to see Canada, it made sense to me that we see as much of it as we could. The kids naturally woke up early and excited to start their day. We used some of our free vouchers from our Groupon booking and had breakfast at IHop. There are quite a few IHop locations in Niagara, I don’t know why, but we had one in our hotel. It was a little more expensive than what you would expect in the U.S. but with the vouchers it was more reasonable, and it was very good. You can see Landen, my youngest, was enjoying his breakfast and I had some cinnamon pancakes that were sooo good!
At breakfast I looked at my husband and asked him what he thought about a day trip into Toronto. He said sure and so we jumped in the car and went on our way! Should you not have a car though, there is a bus and a train that go this route, so looking into that could be helpful.
This was only a day trip and so time was limited. We looked up some choices on the way, of course an obvious choice was the CN Tower. Toronto has a hockey museum, a zoo, an aquarium, art museum, lots of museums in fact, and so picking something short notice was hard, but we opted to visit both the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.
The CN Tower is 1,815 feet and is the tallest freestanding structure in the world. Admission is $36 for adults and $26 for children (Canadian). If you are thinking of visiting there, consider making reservations at 360 Restaurant. Much like The Revolving Room in Niagara, 360 Restaurant has spectacular views and the dinner comes with a ride to the top of the CN Tower. We did not eat at 360 Restaurant but should we go back and decide we want to go to the CN Tower again, I would highly consider it, the menu looked awesome!
At the CN Tower, and because they are located so closely to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, there is an option to buy tickets to both attractions for a reduced rate, which was awesome for us because those were the 2 attractions that we wanted to do. We were able to get tickets to both for $58 (adults) and $37 (children). That’s 2 big attractions for $264 Canadian or $214 American.
The CN Tower had alot of information about how the structure was built, and though busy, we got lucky and didn’t have to wait in line too long. The kids loved the glass elevator, and though they were scared at first, they LOVED the glass floor section! I just could not get any of my pictures to turn out of the glass floor but it was really cool for the kids. When we were done, we visited the gift shop, I always buy magnets, and we told the kids they were allowed 1 gift during the whole trip (under $20), 3 of the 4 kids chose a small stuffed animal from here.
Next we went to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and while it isn’t especially Canadian, it was very educational! This aquarium is done very well and we all had a blast!
Here you can see sharks, like to the right, jelly fish, turtles, and so much more. We do learn about animals when we study locations, so while not completely Canadian, like I said, we were able to see and learn more about some North American and even just Canadian aquatic animals.
Because our breakfast had been so big, we really didn’t eat lunch, though you can grab lunch at the aquarium, however, we opted for snacks instead of lunch. As we were finishing up at the aquarium, we decided to head back to Niagara, it was getting late. So, overall our trip into Toronto was awesome! We spent $25 to park, $264 for both the aquarium and the CN Tower, and $35 for snacks. That would be $315 (CA) about $255 (US), that number doesn’t include gas or the purchases at the gift shop, but prices at the gift shop weren’t any worse than any other gift shop. All in all, it wasn’t really any added expense given we’d have spent money in Niagara too!
Back to Niagara
As we headed back to Niagara, Adam and I decided to order the kids some pizza to our room and head out for a date night! We decided to use another one of our vouchers that came with our Groupon and headed to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. There were plenty of places to eat, many alot cheaper, but Adam really wanted a nice steak, we had the voucher, and so we went there. It was a great meal, more expensive than Ruth’s in the U.S. but we had a great evening. When we got home, we took the kids back down to the pool for an hour or so and headed back to the room to snuggle in. The boys were enthralled with a border show on Canadian television, basically showing the issues with border crossings between Canada and the United States. It was actually interesting!
The next morning we slept in a bit but it was our check out day. We sent our oldest down to the pool with the others, while my hubby and I packed everything up. We got ready, got the kids ready, put their suits in a bag and put the suits in the car, along with most of of our other belongings. It was right at 11am and we were all starting to feel hungry, so we checked out and headed to grab a bite. We found a yummy looking pizza place and since my kids could eat pizza every meal, that was a unanimous decision.
After lunch we walked down to the Falls again, got some pictures, walked around some of the streets a bit and at about 2 we started for home! We went home a different route, through Ontario into Michigan and since we had such an easy time getting into Canada, we never thought twice about getting back into America! Mistake!
We pulled up to the border and was asked for passports, when we said we didn’t have any, the guy asked us how we got into Canada. I explained what I had seen on the Canadian government’s website and we handed him all of our documents. He was not happy but you could tell he just wasn’t a happy person, hated his life maybe, and he yelled at us. I told him that I’ve had a passport and I got it with all of those documents right there. He began telling us we probably faked our documents, made both of our daughters cry, and had us pull over. Well, I wasn’t happy to say the least. As we were walking in I tried making light of the situation, explaining to the kids that we might be on one of the border shows that we had watched the night before, because as luck would have it, this very spot had been on the show we had seen. The officials overheard me and laughed and that is when they saw my daughters crying. They asked what happened, I calmly explained, and they told me to file a complaint, so I did. I realize that border officers MUST take their jobs seriously, it was how it was handled that became the issue. The gentleman answered my then 7 year old daughter, when she asked me a question, in a way that was intentionally to scare her, that’s not ok. Anyway, long story short, we were out of there in 10 minutes, but that situation is why I recommend a passport, for at least the adults. Not necessarily to get into Canada but to get back home!
We didn’t want that to ruin our trip so we stopped a few exits later in Michigan, at a Tim Horton’s no less, that is the Canadian equivalent to Starbucks, and we got hot chocolates and cookies and laughed! We had a really great time but were glad to be heading home!
Expenses and Tips
Here is our breakdown of our expenses… Groupon was $70 a night=$140 – Revolving room dinner $209 (includes tip and tax and a ride up to the observation deck) – Snacks $70 – Breakfast $65 (includes tax and tip and some free meals) – CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium $298 – gift shop $110 – Pizza for kids dinner $25 – Ruth’s Chris $450 (with tip, tax, and voucher for $ off) – Pizza lunch $38 (includes tax and tip) = $1405 (CA) but only $1138 (US).
We also rented a car in the U.S. for $389 from Budget (don’t use Budget) and I don’t know how much gas we used but there is that to consider too, but if you could cut out the rental and our big Ruth’s Chris dinner this trip comes to under $800 (without gas), but honestly there are many ways to cut expenses… pizzas are great for the pocket book and there are many different pizza places in Niagara. Wearing a backpack with snacks is a great way to cut costs AND as you eat the snacks you can carry anything you might purchase along the way. Free entertainment is always a plus… the pool was a lifesaver for us, we used it each day, and it was fun!
Here are a couple tips beyond the passport… check with your cell company to make sure your service covers Canada. Also call your bank and credit card company about any fees you might incur during your trip. We used a debit card and didn’t really have a problem but I have read companies charging fees everytime they used their card out of country.
The kids are ready to go back to Canada but I think we would stay in Toronto and take a day trip to Niagara next time, or maybe a few days at each, hopefully in warmer months! We will be studying Mexico next… honestly that doesn’t seem like a possible trip but I guess you never know!
Bet + Fam 🙂