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Trip Report Toronto, Niagara Falls, & Letchworth State Park Trip Report - Repost from USA board

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Single Mom w/ 3 sons ages 23, 21, 17- DS1, DS2, DS3. DS1 hasn’t joined us for summer vacation in 3 yrs due to work/college. DS2 just finished summer internship and break before college; DS3 in high school. I have mild case plantar fasciitis and strained knee so walking slow and maybe limited. However, special time since family together.
Planned trip around Niagara Falls, which I wanted boys to see. DS3 said that would take “15 minutes” when 1st heard my plans. (He learned better!) Added Toronto for city experience, but wanted relaxing final place and Fodorites suggested Letchworth State Park. Have never submitted trip report before, but thanks to everyone who helped w/ suggestions and advice for this trip. Hope it will help someone in the future, but apologize now for being long.
1st Day - Arrived Buffalo via JetBlue, picked up rental, and headed downtown to Anchor Bar & Grill – home of original buffalo wings. Lots on memorabilia on walls…ordered 20 medium & 10 mild wings, which should have gotten as appetizers – both good but recommend medium and hot for more flavor but not overbearing spicy. Wings so good; much better than Hooters since not breaded and not as greasy. Boys split club sandwich & pizza rolls & I had Caesar salad. Only complaint was no time to return!
After misreading road signs in Buffalo and wandering in a circle, crossed into Canada via Peace Bridge w/o problem, and headed to Toronto. Horrendous thunderstorm w/ fantastic lightening and cars driving w/ emergency blinkers for 35 minutes. Boys sleeping until outskirts of Toronto and needed help w/ navigating. Cked into Holiday Inn on King for AAA rate $168 CAD/nt – very nice rm w/ modern styling, duvets, flat screen TV great for Olympics, and wonderful showerhead. Signed up for Holiday Inn “Priority Club” so offered free waters, apples and Nature Valley bars saving $$$ on snacks and especially bottles of water each day! Great location and able to walk everywhere except musical but $18/day for parking. Would stay again for location and comfort. Highly recommend signing up for Priority Club before arriving.
Drizzling rain and wanted dinner nearby; Jack Astor’s recommended. DS3 had fish & chips and only one who liked meal – my salad only OK, DS1 didn’t like Thai, and DS2 only chicken fingers ever he didn’t like! Wish I had noticed restaurant across street, which I had read about – Fred something. Watch broke and fell off – maybe symbolism that I’m on vacation and to stop watching the clock!
Cab to “We Will Rock You” – musical based on music by Queen. Not 1st choice but had missed dates for “My Fair Lady” and “Spamalot” and “Jersey Boys” hadn’t come yet, and boys preferred over “Dirty Dancing”. 3rd row balcony but good view in small theater – enjoyed show and music but not fabulous. Tickets $85/each; boys enjoyed and very appreciative.
Olympics on TV from comfy bed. Awaken at 2:15 AM w/ loud noise and arguing in hall, slamming doors, and breaking glass from room service tray. Heard security nearby and tempted but afraid to peek out door. Told in AM next-door guests asked to leave. Boys slept through this entire episode AND beeping cell phone!
2nd Day - CN Tower under clearing skies. Tim Horton’s on way for breakfast sandwiches/juice/coffee but also bagels/muffins available, which read about and eventually, see all over Canada even w/ Wendy’s. Wanted to arrive by 9 but boys moving slowly so bought tickets about 9:45-10 – Observation Sky Pod Experience $26.50/each. Waited in lines 45-60 minutes for Observation Deck but TVs along line tuned to Olympics basketball game – Thank you! Eventually to top at 147 stories. Awesome view – can’t believe tallest building in world. Loved glass floor but freaky standing on it and looking down. Whoever thought of this very smart about tourists!
2 boys raced back to Holiday Inn for Blue Jay’s tickets ($44/each) for 1 PM game w/ Cleveland. Cheapest meal of trip outside stadium - $2.50 hotdogs very good. Seats on 2nd row along 1st base outfield line – lots of pop flys but none in our section. Planned to buy beers but at those prices and boys didn’t ask so settled for cokes and popcorn!
Wayne Gretsky’s restaurant and Second City Comedy Club pkg. (~$50/each) in evening very close to Holiday Inn. DS3 and I had salmon and DSs 1 & 2 had bbq ribs, all w/ Caesar salads and 2 brownies and 2 vanilla ice creams for dessert from abbreviated menu. Dinner much better than expected, and would return. Tallest cake ever seen – 10+ layers, and tempted to order.
Second City Comedy Club funny and not too racy – boys teasing me I might be offended and have to leave. Funniest part skit about Obama as new President and boys liked ping-pong skit best. DSs 1 & 2 shared 4 pk of beer and even picked up tab! More Olympics and no drama next door tonight but another beeping phone which no one hears but me – and it’s not my phone!
3rd Day - Walked to breakfast at Cora’s which had long line day before - now Monday AM and work wk walked right in. BEST fresh fruit w/ meals – I had raisin bread brioche (too much to eat), DS1 had waffles and DSs 2 & 3 had pancakes. Next time would just order the fruit plate for me.
Discussed w/ boys spending more time in Toronto or heading to Niagara Falls. Wish we had another day/night in Toronto but DS1 leaving 5th day and wanted plenty of time at falls and hope all return to Toronto another time. Headed to NOTL, which had planned for later in the trip but thought could squeeze in whirlpool jet boats today, which DS1 would miss if later in vacation. Expensive ($58/person) but timed tickets so sandwiches at Anchor Inn and returned prepared to get soaked – ponchos to keep you warm on return trip but not dry – told experience like jumping into swimming pool! Changed into bathing suits and t-shirts. Enclosed “dry” boat available but what fun would that be!
Boys chose 2nd row and told by guide later would be the wettest since 1st row some protection from windshield. Boys said they planned this! Headed into Class 5 rapids w/ drops, swirls, and spins w/ water pouring into boat. Different names w/ 1 called “Sinus Flusher” – you get the picture! Last one was a gully washer – spin and looked up to see wall of water! Not scary at all but definitely have to change clothes on return so be prepared. We all agreed it was the most FUN experience of the vacation and well worth the $$$! So glad we did this today so that DS1 could go w/ us. Rated #1 activity.
Cked into Embassy Suites w/ fall view rm on Canadian side - $308.75 CAD/nt. Offered Presidential Suite for $50/nt additional when asked about upgrade and tempted but good decision to stay w/ original rm on 18th floor since 2 beds in main rm vs. king. View of Horseshoe and American Falls to side of floor/ceiling window, which also opened– view not straight on which was disappointing but boys very impressed. Could hear thunder of the falls; would lie on bed and watch the water. Bathrm w/ sink & Jacuzzi – Wish I had some bubble bath! – and separate shower/toilet area plus another sink. Also bar area w/ sink (3 in the rm!) and mini frig and microwave. Queen beds comfortable, but sleeper sofa sinking in middle. DS1 OK sleeping in middle but 2 boys together would not have liked.
Headed out to walk but rain ran us back to hotel since no jackets. Rm included manager’s reception each nt w/ 2 free alcoholic drinks saving me beer $$$ for DSs 1 & 2, and DS3 and I had free soft drinks. This was a nice + but strangest assortment of food – pretzels, bar mix, ranch dressing w/ carrots, olives, and tomatoes, jelly beans, gummies, pickles, and lollipops!
Pooped and boys wanted to order Little Caesar’s Pizza and watch Olympics. Funny to see them propped up in bed each balancing pizza box. Told boys I wanted night’s sleep w/o beeping phones!
Day 4 - Hotel breakfast included in rm price, normally ~ $20/each. (Figure I saved $100/day w/ breakfast and manager’s reception included.) Typical breakfast buffet but also cooked to order lines w/ omelets/eggs/etc. Enjoyed breakfast and prepared for busy day of sightseeing – wanted to be ready at 8:45 but about an hr late – lines not bad. Purchased Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Passes through AAA (~$37.50 each) prior to trip, which we only used for that day. Additional sights/discounts we didn’t use.
Incline railroad outside hotel back door ($2/each/trip) to Table Rock and falls. Free unlimited use of this and bus transportation (People Mover) ONE day w/ pass so turned in coupons for tickets. Some attractions several miles apart so buses are a must. Learned hard way later map not to scale.
1) Journey Behind the Falls – I enjoyed this but boys thought just OK. Could feel the power of the falls in the tunnel and portals to look “through” falls. Some interesting facts to read about falls. Rated this as 4/5th favorite activity.
2)Maid of the Mist – Long line but moves quickly. Enjoyed but not on railing - man in front of me videotaping & raising both arms w/ billowing blue plastic poncho so didn’t have good view. Remember to be courtesy to those behind! Boys taller and enjoyed this but probably have seen better downstairs in front instead of top in 2nd row. Everyone rated this 3rd favorite attraction. Snack of pizza and milk shakes but so inefficient – probably waited 20 minutes for pizza slices. Wanted to go and help them get organized!
3) Walking to White Water Walk since assumed map to scale and didn’t pay attention to km markings between attractions. Boys finally looked at map and decided to return to last People Mover stop. So glad we did! Boardwalk right by the downstream Class 6 rapids. Scary to think of anyone going in which could easily happen; such power in that water. People outside fencing climbing on rocks; stupid for photo op! I probably enjoyed more than boys and rated this as 4/5th favorite activity.
5) Bus to Rainbow Bridge and walked across which was shorter and more pleasant than expected. DSs 2 & 3 spitting over bridge and watching who would “win”! US customs & passports - prepared & no wait. Niagara State Park 1st US state park and beautiful – lots of greenery but also open spaces and trails and trolley along rd. Heading to Cave of the Winds – told 10-minute walk, which was really 20. If DS1 wasn’t leaving tomorrow would have saved the USA side for 1 entire day and used trolley to get to different sites, but we will limit to Cave of the Winds – tickets additional $15 each.
Another plastic poncho but every attraction recycles at end. This one also gives shoes, which recycle for 3rd world countries – better than bringing home cheap ponchos/shoes don’t need and trash later. Down elevator, through tunnel, and boardwalk to edge of fall. Boardwalk taken down and rebuilt each spring due to winter freezing. Wetter on boardwalk than JBtF. Final deck is the Hurricane Deck w/ wind and drenching rain and hard to see in direction of falls. Rated 2nd favorite attraction after whirlpool jet boats. Obviously our family likes the wetter the better. Beware of steep steps but great fun. Snacks and back to bus. My feet are tired.
6) Niagara Fury ($5 discount/each w/ book) – short animated prefilm hokey but young kids might enjoy. Head into rm for 4-D movie and told will get wet. Snowflakes, water splashing, but standing in middle and barely misted, but 1st row definitely wet. Only attraction didn’t think worth the $$$ - $46 w/ discount and $60 plus tax w/o discount. Don’t recommend for experience or $$$. Only disappointment of the trip.
Back to hotel after long day since boys not interested in Butterfly Conservatory; planned to go alone but pooped. Lying in bed massaging ft, watching Olympics and dozing before manager’s reception and dinner reservation. Special since DS1’s last nt.
After drinks and another interesting manager’s reception food (the same), seated by window at The Keg which requested. DS3 & I had bacon wrapped filets ($32) and DSs 1 & 2 had prime rib ($28), Caesar salads, “Keg” size baked potatoes, veggies included. DS3 sent steak back since medium rather than med-rare and manager offered us free desserts! Huge brownie sundae shared by 2 boys and I had bite of DS1’s crème brule- would have loved apple cobbler but boys had to finish my steak and would be up all night w/ indigestion. 2 hr dinner and watched falls lit w/ colored lights. Fun, relaxed, and delicious dinner w/ wine/beer we all enjoyed and boys appreciated.
5th Day - Breakfast w/ DS1 while brothers sleep since heading to Buffalo airport- cked into shuttle but $75 so will drive. No problem getting to BUF but couple of ? turns on return trip so extra hr of driving; should have cked map and now w/o navigator. Boys had been to breakfast so walked to Clifton Hill under iffy skies. Expected tacky and touristy but even the boys didn’t like. Mama Mia’s for lunch - good w/ spaghetti and lasagna and now steady rain. In rush after airport had again left jackets and ponchos in rm. Taxi to IMAX for Legends and Daredevils - $10/each w/ coupon including small museum w/ barrels/etc people used going over falls and rapids. All enjoyed this and recommend over Niagara Fury any time.
Pizza Pizza – another Canadian chain – dinner at Table Rock w/ pizza and chicken fingers – just OK. Forgot about fireworks -disappointed couldn’t see from rm and by time figured this out had missed them.
Day 6 - Cked out and headed to Welland Canal but just missed ship. Back to NOTL w/ parking at far end in metered lot and window-shopping – lots of women’s clothing shops, gift shops, but didn’t see art shop to buy print. Lunch at Fournos – good food in tavern atmosphere, bought fudge and headed SE to Letchworth State Park. Boys asleep most of trip and I’m wondering where am I taking them…middle of nowhere? Beautiful cornfields, tiny towns, and rolling hills; can’t believe NYC is part of same state. DS2 wakes to ask if TV at SP to watch Olympics. I say, “Sure!” and start to pray for one!
Immediately impressed w/ beauty and layout of Letchworth State Park. My southern home state proud of our SPs but nothing to compare to this and Niagara SP. Glen Iris Inn very quaint – home of original property owner - and we’re staying in Pinewood Lodge up the hill ~$102.50/nt for 3. End rm w/ 1 double bed, single sleeper sofa, and rollaway. 3 of us now, & boys decide we should rotate and take turns sleeping in different beds. 1st night they try to put rollaway in bathrm so rm for my snoring. DS3 said this morning he had slept w/ “wild animal” all night! Bed almost fits, but would have to fold it up for a midnight bathrm run! They will have to live w/ me in alcove by closet. Rm includes coffee pot, microwave, and mini frig w/ grill and picnic tables outside. Window AC but weather beautiful like early spring – breeze, no humidity, and slightly cool in shade w/ shorts. I’m hot natured, but only turned AC on occasionally and used fan for white noise.
Prayer answered w/ TV, but forgot to pray for reception! Only 1 channel and not the Olympics! Cking out local restaurants for future meals and ended up at Charcoal Corral for dinner of sandwiches – local hangout and recommended by Inn. Old cars gathered for “Cruising Night” and site of 2 drive-in movies – small town America. Returned to rm to listen more than watch Olympics due to TV snow and played cards.
Day 7 – Boys slept this AM since 1st time of vacation w/o definite plans for the day while I read, journaled, and played solitaire. Letchworth SP called “Grand Canyon of the East” which is a little grandiose, but it is very scenic. Inn located at middle falls. Walked to upper falls taking pictures and boys throwing wood chips into rapids to “race” over the falls. Snack shack for burgers/hotdogs/fries for lunch and especially ice cream.
While DS3 worked on summer work for high school, DS2 and I drove to Visitor’s Center. Cked out info while he enjoyed cell phone reception, which didn’t have in the valley by the Inn. Only Class I & II rapids so decided not to raft or kayak. DS2 didn’t want to horseback ride, I couldn’t do extensive hiking, and was worried about boys being bored. DS2 assured me he was enjoying some down time, and had brought football & would be fine.
Returned to rm to nap, read, and play cards. Sat by picnic table, listen to falls and watch squirrels & chipmunks. Gnats and occasional mosquito so glad I had bug spray.
Dinner reservation at Glen Iris Inn – enough of sandwiches and pizza! DS2 had prime rib & stuffed shrimp, DS3 had seafood alfredo w/ shrimp/scallops/clams, and I had Greek chicken which server recommended w/ roasted red peppers/feta cheese/spinach/olives. Everything delicious, and would return just for the Greek chicken! Dinner ~ $80 including salads, shared dessert, but no alcohol.
Day 8 – Another sleepy morning which was delightful! Drove to lower falls restaurant for lunch of burgers/hotdogs and walked about 1 hr along trail to lower falls and east side of park. Make sure to bring map since several trails here. Drove to Inspiration Point for pics and Mary Jemison’s statue – talked about book boys read about her in elementary school. Repeat of lazy day of reading, cards, naps, football, and DS3 summer work. Only compliant are small scratchy bath towels but this is a SP & spoiled on vacation at other hotels w/ fluffy ones.
Boys decided on Al’s Subs & Pizza for last vacation meal and ck out local restaurant. Ordered pizza and wings – wish we had eaten at Glen Iris Inn again. Wanted to go to drive-in for movie (I’ve never been to one.) but boys had seen 2 of the movies offered and didn’t want to miss Michael Phelps historic 8th gold medal swim. Another night of cards, snowy TV, and packing for flight home tomorrow.
Day 9 – Early on road w/ breakfast at McDonald’s by BUF after 1 ½ hr drive. Flight home on JetBlue - new favorite airline! Wonderful sights and experiences during vacation, but especially memorable family time together!

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