The Kraeger family road trip to the central coast of Maine included a quick side visit last weekend to the Hurricane Deck at the Cave of the Winds in Niagara Falls State Park. The family of five was soaked afterward, but all smiles, despite a 10-hour drive from home the day before, including an hourlong “mis-navigation” near Youngstown, Ohio.
Such a meaningful stop on their 10-day summer vacation was just the salve the family needed at about the halfway point of their drive. It gave the Chicago Blackhawks fans a chance to stand in the same spot where South Buffalo native Patrick Kane hoisted the Stanley Cup three summers ago.
“We didn’t want to miss this, being so close,” said Joyce Kraeger, who with her husband, Jeff, and their children – Jake, 15, Jill, 11, and John, 6 – are seasoned over-the-road travelers.
The Kraegers, others in the Falls last weekend, and a trio of Western New York travel experts were glad to share advice about family vacation success with those who will embark on trips during the busiest month of the summer travel season. Here’s what they said:
1. Advance planning is key: “Our vacations are precious to us. We took time off of work. We want to get every bit of enjoyment out of it as we can. If it takes a week or a month to plan it, I’ll take that time,” said Traci Schupp, of Tonawanda, mother of three and a travel consultant with AAA of Western and Central New York. Schupp uses an Excel spreadsheet to map out vacations for her family. She also creates lists of what she needs to pack in the family suitcases and snack bags. She’s used the same list for several family trips.
“We recommend as much preplanning as possible,” said Michelle Blackley, communications manager for Niagara USA. The tourism agency’s website, niagara-usa.com, lists information on lodgings, attractions, family vacation packages and an events calendar. Most destinations have similar official, one-stop tourism websites.
The goal is to save time and money, which is why Schupp looks to have lodging reservations and attraction tickets in hand before the family leaves the driveway. If she can’t find a good deal online, she will call an attraction directly to ask where she can get the best discount. That’s how she learned the family could save 50 percent at the Columbus Zoo if she got a membership at the Buffalo Zoo. “I saved $30,” she said, “and we can go to the Buffalo Zoo free anytime for a year.”
2.Create a buzz: Parents who talk up what the family will see and do on vacation, and involve their children in planning, often find more comfort on the road. The side trip to the Falls was worth the time and expense for the Kraegers because of the Patrick Kane connection. Four of the five family members wore Blackhawks gear on the Cave of the Winds visit – and mom got razzed for not wearing hers.
Schupp had family movie nights for her children, ages 4, 8 and 10, who watched “Transformers” and “Night at the Museum 2” before a trip to Washington, D.C., two years ago. The trip included stops to the National Air and Space Museum, where aircraft shown in the “Transformers” movie series are displayed, and the National Museum of Natural History, the setting of the museum-inspired flick.
3.Pack right: Bring the essentials from home or prepare to pay a small fortune. Sunscreen, aspirin, toothpaste, deodorant, a first-aid kit, allergy medication and memory cards are the most common personal items sold at Souvenir Gallery, a shop just outside Niagara Falls State Park, said clerk Kristin Laux. At gift shops inside and outside the park, two aspirin cost $2, a 1-ounce tube of sunscreen costs $5 and a pair of diapers goes for $7. Ouch.
4.Eat well: Healthy snacks and beverages also should be aboard before you leave home. For their trip, the Kraegers brought lots of water (one bottle tends to run $2.50 in Falls gift shops) and reduced-fat Chex mix, as well as fresh fruits and veggies in a cooler.
Schupp packs the same way, and said that when her family all wants a snack at the same time, it’s a signal it’s time to stop for a meal.
5.Safety and security: AAA recommends that you have your car serviced before a trip, ask a friend or neighbor to keep watch of your house while you’re away, and double-check that car seats and seat belts are fastened properly before a trip starts. The automobile club also recommends a roadside emergency kit that includes a flashlight, batteries, jumper cables, fuses, tools, a spare tire and jack, and road flares. A first-aid kit should include bandages, antiseptic cream, children’s pain reliever, a thermometer and scissors.