If you did some solid advance planning for your family vacation, chances are better that you’ll have less stress and more fun. But after you arrive at your destination, there still are other things you can do to make the time count in meaningful, relaxing ways. Here are a few tips:
1. Continue to eat well: Tony and Beth LaMagna and their granddaughter, Sky, 14, who live near Newark, N.J., visited the Falls for five days last week. They tended to eat smaller meals, and often split entrees and sides, including fries and other treats best eaten in moderation. They also carried small, healthy snacks for between meals.
Traci Schupp, mother of three and an AAA travel consultant, and Michelle Blackley, spokeswoman for the Niagara USA travel group, also recommend eating at local restaurants families can’t find at home. Schupp says she uses the “On the Road” section of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” website, foodnetwork.com/diners-drive-ins-and-dives, to help find local fare.
2. Safety and security: The Niagara Falls Police Department recommends that after you pull into your hotel parking lot, and while you’re at your destination, you hide away GPS devices, cellphones, power cords, purses and cameras.
3. Keep savings in mind once you arrive: The LaMagnas booked a family hotel in Niagara Falls, Ont., but made no advance plans when it came to sightseeing. They just wanted their granddaughter to have the same kind of fun they recalled having with their two daughters, Sky’s mom, Tricia, and aunt, Christine, on a similar trip more than 20 years ago. They asked about package deals on attractions and dining at their hotel, and said they got solid advice.
The family bought an Adventure Pass, which included bus service and admission to the top four attractions on the Canadian side of the falls for $47 (or $35 for children 6 to 12), a 30 percent discount. The pass also includes coupons for restaurants and other sites.
Niagara Falls State Park on the American side offers a Discovery Pass – with different attractions but also including the Maid of the Mist – at $33 for adults and $26 for children 6 to 12, also a 30 percent savings.
It’s helpful to remember that in many top destinations, tourist trap entrepreneurs will take advantage of the truly confused family. That’s why it’s good to ask for advice at your lodging or an official tourist visitor center, like the one USA Niagara operates on Rainbow Boulevard, which can help you sort through the attractions and package deals that are available.
Sometimes, the trappings is worth it, said Schupp.
“Take Pittsburgh,” she said. “Primanti Brothers is a sandwich shop down there. Is it a tourist trap? Absolutely, but they make darned good sandwiches. Just because they were on TV, which made ’em famous, as far as their prices, they were not unreasonable.
4. Get around: The LaMagnas were thrilled that they could take a trolley around Niagara Falls State Park for $2 each last weekend. State park “ambassador” Julia Lauchner suggests families consider alternate transportation arriving at a destination. Can you take a trolley, bus or subway?
You can rent bikes in the Falls, which also is one of many tourist destinations where walking will get you to a lot of great places.
5. Explore, have fun, then relax: Don’t get too set in your ways on vacation. If you have outdoor plans, what if it rains? You may have to change your itinerary, so it’s good to have a Plan B.
“I plan trips to the Falls for the media with a lot of flex time,” Blackley said. “That’s when the real story happens, where the real memories happen, when you get off that beaten path.”