Updated: May 5, 2020
Family vacation 2015 Fl --> VA --> DC --> NY --> NYC --> Niagara Falls
No two trips are alike
Each journey, has its own flavor and this trip we are going to call "The Plan Came Together Bucket List Trip”.
*Note: The underlined items will link to that site if you would like more info
My first "Single Mama Road Trip" under my belt was a success even despite my lack of planning and budgeting. We managed to survive leading to our second trip "Family East Coast Expedition" Where we ran wild all the up to Canada hitting Virginia, DC, NYC, Boston, New Hampshire, The Kancamangus, and Plattsburg NY before returning to Florida. That was a little mix of planning and whirlwind mixed in. This third trip - we made a list. Each person in the family helped make the list. We all had a stop along the way we wanted to check off a list we'd been subconsciously creating on the prior two hit or miss type trips. This time: We were prepared.
We left our home in central Florida and drove straight through to Chester Virginia. This is where my girlfriend Kim and her family live and they had become our favorite pit stop along the way! Kim‘s seven kids and my four kids are all peas in a pod and we have had some awesome memories together. Kim and I have been day tripping and all around Florida since the kids were little. Now as she is two hours from Washington DC we make day trips to our nations capital!
But first... it’s nice to spend a day at her house eating and catching up. There’s always something close by for us to see. This time we did a skate squad night out and took the kids rollerskating!
But our Washington DC day is always a great time, and this particular time I did my research and Kim and I preplanned some of our spots to make the day flow smoothly. Our first time Roger, her husband was our navigator. The second time, we learned why we needed a plan, this time- we knew what we were going to do!
**Knowing and implementing are often two different things** Tip: Get your people to buy in ahead of time so you can prevent any late starts or other challenges to having the perfect day!
A note to the person who likes the spontaneous less planned adventure... this works until the kids grow and want things. And when you want things that don’t work out it’s worth the extra effort. I was never a person who wanted a schedule but I quickly learned that when I’m taking my time to explore an area (and I am always the last ones to leave) I need a map/ plan so I don’t miss anything. That’s the motivating factor - not feeling like you missed out after your experience. I am all about a quality time. Then, I quickly let go of all the things I can't control. Traffic? Jam out to some music. Sudden detour? Good, let's explore. Potty break? Really? Uuugghhh ok (lol) but the objective of the family day is: ENJOY THE FAMILY. Everything else comes secondary. I do like to propritize with in the day. Pick a "nonnegotiable" Something we are making happen no matter what. Everything else is extra and just like the whip cream on top.
Our goal was to be at the corner of 14th St. by 9 AM to ensure we could get a tour booked for the Bureau of engraving and printing. Fortunately, we were able to get as many tickets as we needed for a 1:00 tour!
(They open at 8:30 - but that was unrealistic with so many in our party. I knew we weren't leaving before 7.)
We arrived early enough to spend a little time walking around and going by the White House, Vietnam wall, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and circling back to the Washington monument. We had our Washington monument tour reserved for a 11:30. This is free, but you have to order in advance because tickets do book up. They charge a dollar for each reservation, and it is fairly simple to navigate the site. Kim and I had done this weeks before.
Our Free Time Before the Tour:
One of our favorite things about DC is the mall area, where you can walk around the reflection pond and enjoy several monuments, while reliving history. We have come to look forward to just being here. It is always exciting to run around, while our kids are plotting their secret passage ways and counting secret service man, Kim and I are steadily snapping photos. All the while listening to the newest Illuminati conspiracy theories told by the teens who know everything!
On previous trips we had always tried to get tickets at the box office of the Washington Monument, just checking.... but they were always sold out - so this time we planned for this specifically! We took our time to hang out on the veranda and wait our turn. It was a hot sunny day! We had a great time going up inside the obelisk which stands 555 feet high and has 36,000 stones. There is a lot of cool engineering and historical significance which my kids were just soaking in. I was totally loving the views and seeing the kids so happy.
Afterwards we went back by the car and pulled out our cooler for a picnic lunch in the grass. We pulled out our sandwich meat and rolls and made some subs for all! And by this time we had worked up quite an appetite. It was a hot day and the frozen Capri Suns really hit the spot :-) Yum
Our next stop was another long-awaited wish list place. In fact my son who is 12 at the time had it on his most wanted list and was crushed went on our previous trip we could not book a tour. It was all he talked about until we made it there.... This was Josh's non-negotiable:
Now you are not permitted to take any photos during the tour but I will say that it is a place worth visiting because it is so interesting and so cool! Definitely worth the wait. Josh has been known to love money, he even purchased (with his own money) souvenir shredded money (this is what happens to the misprints). We LOVED the "How tall are you in $100.00 bills?" and Josh was most impressed with the display of one million dollars. These are all in the gift shop after the tour. But this was a well spent hour and we recommend to families!
We left Washington DC around three and drove to my uncles in Long Island. Kim drove back home to Chester. That is not how we usually do our journey but I was packing a lot in on this particular trip!
Aweeee it's always harder to part than we expect it to be!!!
Next Stop: Long Island!
Once we get to my uncles we roll out the air mattress and set up our sleeping spots and crash. But in the early morning I have a few places I have to go immediately. My first stop is to dairy barn to get milk in the drive-in for my tea. It’s best if I can go home and drink my tea before I start my day but if my energy is high and I can’t control the anticipation I will also stop at Goodwill to grab a few new items for a great price and the Massapequa deli to grab the best egg sandwiches ever!
At some point I will also go food shopping and for dinner or first night is always Phil’s pizza. usually dinner the second night is Tarallos. There will also be a Great American night, a Chinese food night and I will drive to Oyster Bay for Nino’s. Since it’s summer, the Bonanza Stand is also open in Oyster Bay and we will be getting hot dogs and Italian ice from there. these are all non-negotiables. We'd also stated a family tradition of going to a family movie, which is fun to get our Uncle out and about!
There are people to catch up with. I don’t ever get to see everyone on my list but I do try to hit multiple birds with the same stone. So if we are going to be in an area I try to see all the people we can in that area.
And there’s always a city day. To me: I moved out of NY but I still want my kids to understand the culture of this grand city - It’s usually a particular section of the city we cover. on this trip: I pre-booked Statue of Liberty passes! This was another thing I learned in the past the hard way, that in order to go up to the pedestal you really need a few weeks in advance. You can always take the ferry over but I am more about quality and I would be mad to be there and not be able to go all the way up. So I waited for this! And we had really been looking forward to it.
Now I have previously been known to never pay for parking but I’ve had to give that up. In my previous blogs I have written about the parking tickets I have gotten and as the rules have changed in the street parking has changed it’s just not the same anymore. So now I try to find a garage with reasonable rates and if possible pre-book to get a good price and save time. So I prebooked a garage close to the Statue of Liberty and we walked over through Liberty Park to the ferry. We did go to liberty Island first where we got off and took our journey up to the pedestal, they were not allowing anyone higher at that point for security reasons. We took our pictures and we enjoyed the view along with all of the historical facts. The head phone tour is cool but it makes it hard for a family to interact. So I am really not a fan. Our next stop was ELLIS island where we walked around and enjoyed many hands-on exhibits. Although it was cool it is not our favorite museum :-)
Back in lower Manhattan I gave the kids some options. (Yes I know- a plan free block of time- but my goals were met and it is nice to check the group consensus) The Native American museum is right there and one of my favorites, but it really was a perfect beautiful sunny day and the kids wanted to be outside. So we walked around and just enjoyed ourselves. First we walked up to the World Trade Center exhibits. They had just completed the freedom Tower and it was impressive. We walked over to the Trinity church and then went to the Wall Street bull. While the crowds pushed and shoved to get a picture at the front there are also people pushing and shoving to get pictures in the back of the bull LOL.
We definitely love New York! I wanted to stay all night but the kids were tired of walking and hungry AGAIN - Time for the drive back to my Uncles....
The next day we went to Rockville center bowling lanes and caught up with my girlfriend Erin visiting her and her girls.
The following day we were up in Glen Head on the North Shore visiting my cousins Ronnie and Roger, and telling stories about the family. We had subs for lunch and ate outside in her beautiful yard. Roger build a car out of locker scraps and the boys were driving it around the neighborhood. Such a fun afternoon! Great to see family and reminisce, looking at pictures and laughing about the good old times.
My cousin/ girlfriend Rochelle and I caught a comedy club in the city. So I took the train from the seafood station and got off at Penn station where I met up with Rochelle and we went together up to 78th St. to the stand up New York comedy club. A good friend of mine recommended the place as his sister was a comedian there. We seriously laughed for hours with tears coming out of our eyes! What a great night. There was pizza for dinner before catching the train back home. It was a late night. Thankfully the trains run late. The LIRR is such an easy way to travel. When so many of us are going into the city it is more economical to drive, but for just myself this was the cheapest and fastest method. And very safe.
The next day I wanted to take the kids down a memory lane walk.
So we drove up to Oyster Bay and went by my grandmothers house, my house I grew up in, and of course we got Chinks as well as Nino's! We were so full! Best food ever. We drove through Roosevelt Park and made our rounds there. All the memories of my childhood came back and it was strange to see how much things have changed.
On to the biggest part of this adventure - and one we had NEVER yet done. This was my wish list item. I wanted to see it... I wanted to know what is was really like up close and personal.
Why is Niagara Falls Cool?
It is made up of 3 waterfalls, Horseshoe falls being the largest. These 3 combine to produce the highest flow rate of ANY water fall on Earth! The largest drop is 165 feet. It was created by glacier activity and is VERY OLD.
What can I say?
As a child I grew up watching woody woodpecker and there was always someone going over the falls in a barrel (this is very illegal) but makes quite an impression on a child!
The year/ trip before I had hoped to do this trip. I had pre-ordered all of our passports to drive into Canada and go see the falls from Ontario where everyone had told me was the very best view. And I had gotten the children’s passports in time however my own passport became an issue when my application was returned due to not submitting the “original” birth certificate.This began quite an ordeal trying to get a new birth certificate. Thanks to a post on Facebook someone told me the best (cheapest and most direct) way: Write a letter and send $10 to Oyster Bay Town Hall and they would process my birth certificate and send it to me,,, however there is a six week turnaround and I didn’t receive it in time for that trip. I was really sad about that and we accidentally ended up going to Canada anyway that was quite an adventure....
But back to this 2015 better prepared trip... we were ready to drive up to Niagara Falls. There was just one problem. My uncle was supposed to come with us. And at the last minute he wasn’t feeling up to it. It is a pretty long ride up to Canada from Long Island, and he was not feeling good enough to sit in the car for hours. At that point I wasn’t sure if we were still going to go and considered just staying in Long Island with him. At the end of the day he insisted that we still go up and stick to the plan so with a little convincing we did. However we did leave much later than we should have and of course it takes forever to get out of the city. So I was way behind schedule. It was 2:30 in the morning when we arrived. The kids barely woke up to go through the Canadian Custom's. Arrival was not good - I had an argument at the front desk because there was an issue with our booking reservation. They put us in a room but I spent an hour on the phone with booking.com as I was being charged the wrong rate. After all that driving and all that arguing I knew I needed sleep but I was so excited to be there I could hardly rest. My blood was boiling and on top of that I wanted to SEEEEEEE and it was DAAARRRKKKK!!!!!
I woke up pretty early (did I even sleep???) I just opened my eyes and wanted to run down to the water. Fortunately these guys were smart enough to insist on some food!
We actually had Starbucks for breakfast. At this point I didn't care about prices or planning - I got my tea the kids had muffins and bagels and we sat out back at a patio picnic table and looked at some of the maps to make a plan. I thought the best thing to do is just walk down and see the falls. The walk is amazing in itself. Street artists and lots of restaurants and shops all hosting happiness. I LOVE good street art!
The water fall is powerful. Magical. Standing there watching all the water rush over the edge I could only imagine the first natives who discovered this and imagine how it got there. No wonder the Natives were so spiritually attached to the earth and land. It felt like a natural wonder. Magnificent. The energy of it all is a rush, and they actually harness that energy to use for electricity. But being that close you feel the energy!!
I wanted to make sure we got on that boat... that was my one non negotiable. So we walked right over to the ticket booth and I got our tickets for the next available time :-)
How to even describe this.... I can still picture each detail perfectly and feel the excitement and wonder in my heart. My children were completely blown away by this one. As you inch closer and closer to this huge powerful waterfall you are quite sure you’re going to end up going over the edge! You are in the mist itself and getting wet. And then you turn to go back. I don’t have a strong enough word for how necessary it is for every person to experience this. Just go as soon as possible!
After getting off the boat we needed to eat. We stopped and got some burgers, fries and onion rings close by. Then, I just thought we should take us a little nap so back to the room we went. I needed to sleep for a few minutes. All of the excitement wore me out! (We all needed that nap)
I am sure this was due to the lack of sleep!
2 hours later it was still a perfect sunny day :-)
We walked around the area and tried to eat dinner at the Rain Forest Café but there was a very long wait. My kids were starving apparently. Ontario is a really nice little town. We played in some of the gift shops and checked out many of the street performers and settled on Wendy‘s for dinner. Don’t judge this was a point that we were still weeding out the occasional fast food stop. I ate a baked potato and the kids got all the stuff they wanted so everyone was happy. It was however the most expensive Wendy’s I’ve ever bought along with a very long wait. (lack of a plan leads to crap food and more expensive meals than necessary - but it's all good I'm not going to dwell...)
Because it’s free and because it’s magnificent we hung out and got good spots to watch the fireworks and waited. The kids climbed and played and tired themselves out and the fireworks didn’t start until 10:00. As they are well worth the wait they can leave people waiting! Afterwords Jazzy and the boys went back to the room while Wes and I decided to check out one of the casinos. Westley was going to turn 21 in a week. However, The drinking age in Canada is 19. Earlier when we had lunch he had bought his first beer and drank it without telling anyone! I was a little disappointed to have missed the occasion and insisted we go out that night.
I quickly discovered I am not one for casinos. I am highly empathjc. I could feel the heaviness and stress in there of everyone as they lost money. Blinking lights all around, different jingles for different machines all going off simultaneously, the roar of emotions all around us.... and spread around there were bars with live music all throughout the casino. I was anxious to go get a drink and get out of the gambling rooms. I had definitely envisioned myself sitting at a slot machine but quickly decided against it. There was a great band playing with some of our favorite music and Wes and I danced a little and each had a drink! The power of a good nap :-)
Back to the hotel for a really good night's sleep.
We knew it was an 11 Hour drive back to Long Island, and I knew I wasn’t getting out of there before noon, but I sure wanted to see the water a little longer and linger some more so we did walk around and take our last pictures before getting on the road.
It was a much more scenic route driving out because it was daylight LOL I was disappointed that they did not stamp our passport books as we entered back into the United States just moments after leaving Ontario. I was sad because that was going to be our first stamps! No stamps yet still waiting.
Upstate New York is absolutely beautiful and has landscapes that you would never imagine. I know when people picture New York in their heads they just picture the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building but there is so much more. So much more! Driving down the road listening to good music, discussing the various street signs and all of the view around us we always have such great car conversations! Until everyone is napping that is LOL
I love Long Island. It’s home. Driving back through the city going over the Throgs neck bridge, catching the Cross Island.... it feels like pure comfort.
We only stayed a couple more days before driving back to Florida but the last few days were spent cleaning up and relaxing. We caught lightning bugs, we walked in the Tackapusha Reserve and just chilled. We had our great American night and enjoyed more hamburgers, we ate egg sandwiches for breakfast, and made sure we got all the bagels we could get with fresh cream cheese and also chicken salad. It’s good to switch up your bagels!
Our Uncle is always sad to see us go and tries to make us stay forever. There is always a split-second where I am 100% considering his offer. It’s so hard to leave.
We have a running joke that when my sugar bowl runs out it’s time to go home. I always bring a little tea and sugar with me for all of our trips because I like my own. The bowl was empty. I took that as a sign.
With the roof rack loaded up with all our clothes washed (the best part about staying with family) a clean house and a bunch of items freshly checked off our list, we waved good bye and drove toward the belt parkway (my favorite race track to drive on).
Items we were happy to check off:
-The Washington monument tour (DJ and Josh from previous trip)
-The Bureau of Printing and Engraving (Josh's choice)
-The Statue of Liberty (Wes and Jazz request)
-Niagara Falls (My choice)
To think we hit all of these in the same trip felt really productive. They are VERY spread out. But family trips are so much more than the bucket lists. The friends, the laughter, the dancing, the eating.... so much love is shared. I always say I enjoy my kids so much more when we are not at home. Although as I write this we are “sheltering at home” due to Covid 19. I am calling it a pizza night. (I’ve cooked more in the last 6 weeks than I have in the last year) and I have learned how to balance home better. I just needed practice. More time actually at home. No where to go. No hurry. More time. At. Home. Period. And I’ve gotten to the point where I can just sit and enjoy my family with out needing to be doing things. That’s a hell of a lesson to learn. I've been gardening and spending a lot more time in my yard and just being here. (My blog on this ordeal is here: https://www.savvysinglemamatravels.com/post/when-savvy-mama-stays-home)
I am also looking forward to our next trip: Lake Lure - this summer.
You can also see the previous Summer adventure here: https://www.savvysinglemamatravels.com/post/the-east-coast-expedition-family-vacation-summer-2014
So what tips/ changes would I make to this Bucket-list trip?
** STAY IN NIAGARA FALLS LONGER!!!!
I had no idea how much there is to do in the area. There are caves you can explore behind the falls and other excursions we did not have the time/ budget for. We went because I needed to see it - and I am so glad we did. I think we could have stayed longer and had more money set aside if I'd known there was really that much to see and do there. They've really made it family friendly. Big Parks, mini golf, wax museum, and lots of options for entertainment. I hope to return one day.
*If you need to stay in a Hotel, stay in a place with a pool. After a hot sweaty day it is refreshing to cool off and helps to reset your mental state!
*I can't claim credit for the weather - but July was a perfect time for ALL of these stops. We were never stopped due to a rainy (or snowy) day, and while it does get hot there is always a cool refreshing drink somewhere close by. I have become a fresh lemon water drinker!
*Picnic Lunches for the win! I love to save money and time by bringing food for the car ride. Having to stop to find food can be time consuming and you always pay more for the "convenience". Often those foods are less healthy as well, leading to less energy or cranky people.
*Cultural appreciation: We talk about the places and notice the subtle difference in cultures. I love this and as a family we appreciate diversity and celebrate this in our travels.
The photo journal:
#savvysinglemamatravels #WashingtonDC #NYC #Virginia #Chester #ChesterVA #Statueofliberty #EllisIsland #Bureauofprintingandengraving #WashingtonMonument #yourheightinmoney #Niagarafalls #Canada #Ontario #LongIsland #familytimes #roadtripping #goodsnacks #funtimes #familymemories #justgo #bucketlisttrip #2015tripitinerary
Until Next Time.... Safe travels, stay positive and where ever you are enjoy your family! Savvy Mama