Four day trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto!

May 2017

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Travelers:

The entire crew (four kids, Orlando and Emily) plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We decided to do a road trip from Chicago to Canada. We paid for food, gas and an overnight hotel stay on the way to Niagara Falls.

How did we get there:

We have a 2017 Toyota Sienna SE. If you are familiar with the SE model, the van comes with a wide-screen TV and a Blue ray player. If you have small children then you already know that TV + Blue ray = peaceful drive. If you are thinking about buying a Toyota Sienna, this is how we rate our van:

Comfort: 10/10 – Pretty spacious seats even for the back row. Everyone was comfortable and we had a full van (8 people).

Performance: 4/10 – It’s a van and that is all there is to it.

Gas mileage: 6/10 – Yes, we load this van with 8 people plus luggage. It all fits, but at a cost. We get about 22 MPG Highway.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Widescreen TV, Blue ray player, HDMI inputs, video inputs and nice sound system. Do I need to say more?

Where did we stay:

Our first stop was Toronto. We stayed at the The Westin Prince, Toronto. Overall, it was a beautiful hotel with a good breakfast and good amenities. However, the restaurant staff was limited and it took a while to get an omelet and even a cup of coffee.

Price: $150 per night.

Family friendly rating: 8/10

In Niagara Falls we stayed at the Sheraton on the Falls. The stay came with free passes to a nearby water park. The water park is connected next to the hotel so you never have to go outside to go to the water park. The hotel is a bit outdated, but it’s perfect for the kids. The location is perfect (a few blocks from the falls) and near the tourist area.

Price: $200 per night.

Family friendly rating: 10/10

Recommendations:

The falls during the day and at night:

The falls are beautiful day and night. During the day you get to see the beautiful nature of the falls. At night you get to see the falls illuminated by different colors.  Since we were so many, we did not buy tickets to see the falls up close, but instead walked the boardwalk, which was still plenty misty from above.  Bonus: Go during the winter for an amazing icicle experience.

The tourist area in Niagara Falls:

You will know where this is once you see it. Although it’s full of touristy stuff, it’s worth walking around and watching people.  Our teenagers really enjoyed walking around.  Go to the Hershey store for the ultimate dessert deal ($6 for a shake and a cupcake), but don’t drink it before walking the falls (yikes!).

Downtown Toronto:

Downtown Toronto is easy to walk, but finding parking is difficult and traffic is heavy. St. Lawrence market is nearby and highly recommend you visit the market. Go to the marina and enjoy the outdoor sellers and the music that is randomly played near the food sellers.

Fallsview Indoor Waterpark:

The children had a lot of fun, especially the toddler. The waterpark is smaller than your typical waterpark in the US, but it had enough activities to keep the kids busy for half of the day.

Lessons learned:

We wish we would have stayed a day longer in Niagara Falls. The kids really loved the tourist area and the waterpark. We also wish we had enough time to cross to the US side. Toronto had some attractions that were closed due to the weather and other reasons, so we should have checked ahead of time.

 

Mexico City for the Holidays!

December 2017

 

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Travelers:

The entire crew plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We bought tickets 7 months prior to the trip. We started tracking prices with the Kayak app. We received a notification that tickets were $230 to Mexico City on Delta so we bought eight tickets right away. We did not use any miles, but the tickets were so cheap it didn’t bother us paying for all our tickets.

What Airline(s) did we fly on:

We flew economy on Delta Arlines. We really like Delta, unfortunately, Delta only took us to Detroit and from there we flew on Aeromexico. We decided to give Delta Airlines the following ratings:

Comfort: 7/10 – Pretty spacious seats for economy. Everyone seemed to be comfortable.

Food: N/A since there was no food service.

Service: 8/10 – Flight attendants seemed happy.

Kid Friendly: 9/10 – Delta called for parents with small children and we were not give a hassle about all the kids tagging along for the pre-boarding process.

Entertainment: N/A.

We flew economy on Aeromexico from Detroit to Mexico City.

Comfort: 7/10 – Pretty spacious seats for economy.

Food: 7/10 – Food was tasty for airplane food.

Service: 1/10 – Flight attendants and people at the gate, especially in Mexico City, seemed to be upset at the company which really shows when dealing with clients. When I complained about the pre-boarding with children, I was put on the side for additional screening.

Kid Friendly: 1/10 – No pre-boarding with small children. I was told it is company policy.

Entertainment: 2/10 – The entertainment consisted of a 7 inch, 90’s style, overhead TV with a pre-selected movie.

Where did we stay:

We stayed with family in Mexico City in the Iztapalapa neighborhood. We recommend staying in the Condesa, Coyoacan, Reforma, Polanco or Santa Fe neighborhoods for a more safer, central location in Mexico City.

We also traveled to Guanajuato and Leon. We stayed at the Courtyard Leon at The Poliforum. Breakfast was included and really tasty. The service was excellent and at $110 per night, you can’t beat the value.

Recommendations:

Rent a car:

If you are a big family, rent a car. Make sure your hotel has a free garage to store the vehicle. If you drive to the Zocalo be prepared to spend lots of time finding parking. Better yet, take an Uber or two. If you do rent a car, drive outside of Mexico City. It’s pretty safe as long as you stay on the interstate until you get to your destination and you drive during daylight.

Zocalo, Coyoacan, Xochimilco, Chapultepec Park, Santa Fe Mall and Reforma/Polanco:

There are many neighborhoods in Mexico City and each one offers its own set of attractions. Zocalo, Coyoacan, Xochimilco, Chapultepec Park, Santa Fe Mall and Reforma/Polanco neighborhoods have the most visited attractions. You can’t leave the beautiful city unless you visit most of the neighborhoods in this list.

Teotihuacan:

Another must do activity. Teotihuacan is outside of Mexico City in what is considered the state of Mexico. Teotihuacan is not too far, but the pyramids are worth the trip. Go early!

Leon and Guanajuato:

We drove to Leon to spend New Year’s eve with an uncle. Leon is your typical big city in Mexico with no attractions, except lots of shoe stores. However, Guanajuato is a couple of hours away. Guanajuato is a must see city in Mexico and one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen.

 

Lessons learned:

If you rent a car, be prepared to pay as much as you would in the US or more. Having a car in Mexico is really expensive and the insurance is no joke. We ended spending over $1000 more on additional fees and insurance.

Don’t fly on Aeromexico unless you really have to. The Airline is not doing well, why go through the hassle if you have other options?

Hit the beach instead. Although the weather was beautiful in the city, we felt a little bit sad that we didn’t hit the beach instead. Mexico City would be perfect for September or October.