Niagara Falls: Romance for the Adults, Fun for the Kids!

I had always heard that Niagara Falls was the honeymoon capital of the world and it was one of those places that I always wanted to see. Located between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario, six million cubic feet of water flow over the crest every minute during the high flow.  Niagara Falls is comprised of three distinctive falls including Horseshoe Falls which are 2,600 feet with with the American falls measuring 1,060 feet wide.  The highest drop is 173 feet at Horseshoe Falls.  There are many ways one can experience falls, from walking the path and observing them from a bit of a distance, but still close enough to capture some great pictures, to taking a boat ride right next to them on Maid of the Mist. One can also buy an adventure pack which includes admission to Maid of the Mist, Journey Behind the Falls, which takes you through tunnels behind the falls and an outside spot, where you can observe the immense power of the side of the falls. It also includes entrance to Niagara’s Fury, which is a 4-D movie that will make you feel as though you are in the falls and learn about the history of the falls.  We did not get to explore the White Water Walk which also comes with the pass, because we unfortunately hit Niagara on the coldest, rainiest day of the season, but I hear that is definitely a neat experience as well.  A unique perspective of the falls can be seen from a helicopter and Niagara Helicopters offers a spectacular ride above the falls where you will see the falls, whirlpool, and if you’re lucky a striking rainbow.  If you are there on a Friday or Sunday, be sure to catch the amazing fireworks show over the falls which are lit up at night.

The area surrounding the falls is a perfect playground for both adults and children.  There are two casinos, and if you get a players club and play for a bit, it will entitle you to free parking, which is a big plus if you will be hitting any of the attractions in the area.  Each casino has a variety of table games, slot machines, food and entertainment and is the place to be at night.  If you’re looking for something more interactive, you can check out the Oh Canada Eh? Dinner show.  Your ticket includes the musical show in their log cabin theater as well as a dinner consisting of French Canadian Pea Soup, Homemade Bread, Fresh Garden Salad, Alberta Grade Eh? Roast Beef, Fresh Atlantic Haddock, Manitoba Roast Chicken, PEI Vegetable Medley, Roasted Potatoes and Maple Chocolate Cake for dessert.  Just a ten minute drive from the heart of Niagara Falls, this show is perfect for kids and adults and kids under sixteen are free!   If you chose to stay in the vicinity of the falls, there is everything from bowling alleys to a wax museum and lots of places for the kids to play.  It’s pretty touristy and reminds me of 42nd street in NYC, but you’ll always have something to do!

I would allow one of two days to explore everything around Niagara Falls and then take a day to explore Niagara on the Lake, which is a quaint town about 15-20 minutes away and is also home to many wineries.  The town itself is a great place to grab lunch and some homemade ice cream and desserts and wander in and out of the local shops.  We took a tour and tasting at two wineries, Inniskillin and Jackson Triggs At Inniskillin, we took a tour of the winery and then sat down for a delicious tasting of  renowned ice wines.  I like sweet wines, so I enjoyed them tremendously, as I had never tasted anything like them before.  Because of the climate in the Niagara region, they are able to pick the frozen grapes at the right time and make the wine directly from them as opposed to some other wineries which will actually freeze their grapes before making the wine.  Jackson Triggs, one of Inniskillin’s sister wineries also produces outstanding Canadian wine and is a great place to visit to get a taste of your more traditional wines.  At both wineries, you can enjoy light food pairings to go perfectly with your wine and just relax in their dining area or outside on one of their many benches in or surrounding the vineyards.

There are  hotels overlooking the falls or if you’re looking for a more non-commercial, relaxing, romantic environment that is just a 10 minute walk from the falls, you can choose one of the many bed and breakfasts in the area.  My brother and his fiance’ had stayed at the Emerald Falls Bed and Breakfast, so we decided to follow his recommendation.  When he had told me how friendly the owners, Dan and Brenda, were, that was an understatement!  They immediately make you feel right at home and are full of enthusiasm for your stay in Niagara.  There are four room options, one with a jacuzzi tub and others more basic, but no matter which room you choose, the price is just right.  They are very affordable while giving you all the comforts of home.  They will both give you any advice you may need about things to see and do in the area and are honest when telling what is definitely worth seeing and what you can skip!  Each morning, Brenda prepares an outstanding breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, yogurt, homemade banana bread and either eggs or pancakes.  Healthy, yet very filling!  I can’t say enough nice things about the Emerald Falls Bed and Breakfast.  They will always make sure all of your needs are fulfilled and I challenge you to find friendlier owners anywhere!

If you’re looking for a great weekend escape, Niagara Falls is definitely a place everyone should see once in their lifetime.  You could drive, but since it would’ve been a nine hour drive from New Jersey and I wanted to see it in a weekend, I decided to fly out of Newark on Porter Airlines. If you are going to visit the falls, you should see the Canadian side, so you can fly into Toronto and then rent a car and drive an hour and half to the falls.  This also allows you the opportunity to explore Toronto.  I’ve said  it before, and I’ll say it again, I love Porter Airlines!  The flight was just over an hour, but in that hour, they served a complimentary sandwich, fruit, and drinks.  What airline does that anymore??  The flight back from Toronto was even more amazing.  The airport is located on an island, so there is a ferry that will take right across, but while waiting for the ferry, you can check in, so as soon as you get there, you can head straight to security.  If the ferry is there when you arrive, you can also check in on the other side.  There was no line at security, as they are the only airline that flies out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport back to Newark, and as soon as you pass through, you are in the lounge at the gate.  In this lounge, you can enjoy complimentary Starbucks coffee, tea, non-alcoholic beverages as well as a variety of snacks.  You can sit in the comfortable seats until it is time to board.  Everyone who works with Porter is very friendly and accommodating as well.  I’d highly recommend flying with them if you are taking a flight within or to Canada, as they fly into many of the cities.

So whether you’re looking for a fun vacation with the kids or a quick escape to celebrate or renew your romance, head to Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake and experience the magical force of nature!




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Fly to Europe in 1.5 Hours!

Ok, maybe it’s not to Europe, but it’s a close second and if you want to feel as though you are there but without the long flight, check out Quebec City, Canada!  Surprisingly, I think there are regions of Canada that are drastically overlooked by Americans.   I had heard of Quebec City for their ice hotel, but I never knew just how romantic and charming the walking city is.  That’s right, it is a walking city, and you are guaranteed a terrific workout with all of its hills and steps, so be prepared!  I decided to go when their summer music festival (Festival d’été de Québec) was in full swing.   For the past 44 years, the festival has offered musical shows for 11 days on multiple stages.   Thousands of people pour into the streets, making for a very lively atmosphere in Québec City.  The main stage is situated in the Plaines of Abraham and when we were there, we saw Ben Harper, Aaron Neville and Elton John.   There were so many other genres of music represented.  I just wish I had more time to see other performances.  However, as you walk throughout town, you will pass other stages and can stop and listen and you venture to your next destination.  The Elton John concert was spectacular.  The sound system was phenomenal and I hear there were over 60,000 people who piled into and around the park to hear him rock out on the piano.  Tickets to the festival are fairly inexpensive, with a day pass going for $30 and other options for multiple days.  We stayed at the Hilton, which was a very nice four-star hotel centrally located and perfect for going to and from the festival and the rest of the city.  Québec City is also known for its quaint bed an breakfasts.

I think Québec City was especially energetic because of the festival.  However, if you choose to go any other time of year, you will have an amazing time.  It is a romantic city with lots of history and fun cafes and shops.  If you like the city life, you can spend the day strolling the cobblestone streets, admiring the only fortified city north of Mexico.  UNESCO names the Historic District of Québec City a World Heritage Site in 1985.  If you like to balance your trips with nature as well, check out Vallée Bras-du-Nord.  Just a 40 minute drive outside of Québec City and you can enjoy mountain biking, canyoning, horseback riding, canoe and kayaking, and hiking to the majestic waterfall.  One can go for the day or stay for a few, as they have lodges every few miles along the trails.  Most people venture out on his or her own, but you can hire a guide.  We had Mathieu who was very informative and also sensitive to our fitness level in deciding what activities to plan and which trails to take. You’ll find 70km of built and marked hiking trails, in seven short and long, all level itineraries. The region is not very touristy, so you don’t have to worry about crowds as you enjoy the nature around you.  It’s very peaceful and loved by many locals.

A great way to see the city is to hire a guide to take you on a walking or driving tour.  We did this on Saturday morning for three hours to get a good feel for the city, which was great because in addition to learning and seeing the various neighborhoods of Québec City, she took us to see the Montgomery Falls, which are around 10 minutes away by car and beautiful.  They are 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls.  If you decide to take a tour, you must take it with Sharon Frenette.  Originally from the U.S. she has been in Québec City for many years and is so much fun and informative.  You’ll have a great time with her.  When you are in Québec, you must try a poutine, which is basically French fries, topped with melted cheese and gravy.  Not exactly a cholesterol friendly food, but I’m a firm believer of “when in Rome…” or when in Canada….that is why I also enjoyed some escargot, French onion soup and a Québec meat pie.  Don’t miss one of the oldest grocery stores in North America, J.A. Moisan, or the Chocolate Museum.  I had the best sorbet and frozen yogurt topped with hardened dark chocolate…to die for!

So if you’re looking for an extremely fun and romantic quick getaway, check out Continental Airlines, Air Canada or Porter Airlines for your escape to Québec City for a great time and wonderful memories!  Check out this video with tour guide, Sharon Frenette from the tourism board to hear more about the great city.  Note she looks gorgeous and I am a mess after having just gone hiking!

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Ottawa Is Outstanding!

After a very easy 3 hour ride on VIA rail, I arrived in Ottawa and transferred to the Brookstreet Hotel.  The Brookstreet is a four star hotel with a great fitness center, saltwater pool and a terrific spa, with very friendly therapists.  If you are traveling for business or would just like some good R and R and don’t really mind not leaving the hotel, this is the place to go!  It is not walking distance to anything, except to some businesses, as it is around 25 minutes outside downtown Ottawa, but if you have a rental car, it’s an easy drive. I was there on a Sunday night when their main restaurant, Perspectives, is closed, but I hear the food is terrific and they also have jazz and sushi some weekdays.  On Sunday, their casual bar and restaurant, Options, was open and I still was able to get a good soup and steak salad.  Since I wasn’t going to venture out anywhere, it forced me to relax and enjoy the hotel’s amenities.   They have a wonderful outdoor sitting area in the back of the restaurants, which offers a lovely view on their golf course.  The spa at Brookstreet was very busy with both tourists and locals and I can understand why.  I experienced an anti-aging facial and despite my hardest efforts, I fell into a deep sleep as she massaged the products into my face.  It was so relaxing and healing at the same time.

The next morning, I transferred by cab to downtown Ottawa and fell in love immediately!  It is such a charming city with magnificent history and beauty.   One of my favorite parts was the huge path along the Rideau Canal and River…it’s a biker’s or runner’s paradise.  The Parliament is a must see as well as many of the other government buildings.  A good way to take in everything is by boat with Paul’s Boat Cruises.  You have the option of jumping onboard for a tour on the canal or river.   A very popular part of Ottawa is the By Ward Market, where you can buy jewelry from local vendors, fresh fruits and vegetables, or enjoy a beaver tail snack, which is basically fried whole wheat dough with your choice of toppings.  The simple one has .a cinnamon and sugar topping.  It’s amazing how many people gathered around the shack to partake in this traditional snack.  In the center of the historical capital city is the Fairmont Château Laurier and I would highly recommend staying here if you can, or at least partaking in their delicious breakfast buffet or just a stroll through this remarkable landmark.    It is the perfect place to stay, as it is right in the center of everything, just steps from the Ottawa locks, where you can pick up the boat tours, walking distance from Parliament and the market.  The view from my room was spectacular as well, overlooking the park right behind the hotel as well as the city’s most prominent buildings.  It was also two blocks away from the Holtz Spa, which is a must do if you are looking to sprinkle in some pampering with your exploring.

The Holtz Spa would be the last stop on the spa train and it was an amazing way to end the trip. I arrived there in the morning for the astroscape treatment customized for each zodiac sign.  The owner is very much into astrology and did all of the research and customization.  I think she’s onto something because I was in pure heaven and in total relaxation mode.

This was the first spa intensive trip I’ve taken and it definitely won’t be the last.  While the whole trip was only four days, I felt completely rejuvenated and definitely need to do this at least twice a year.  Everyone should take some time to unwind and recharge.  Since we are a country of people who don’t take extended periods of time off from work to getaway, this is the perfect escape that can be done over a long weekend but you’ll come back feeling as though you were away for weeks.


Dorset Manor Spa…Beyond Your Typical Hotel Spa

After a short taxi ride to Union Station in Toronto, I hopped aboard VIA rail, which is a great way to travel throughout Canada! It was about an hour and a half ride to Cobourg, which is just outside Port Hope, Ontario, the home of the Dorset Manor Spa.   VIA rail is very comfortable, whether you are riding in coach or business class.  In business class, you will be spoiled with wide seats, free drinks and a great meal.  The food was outstanding.  I had salmon cakes with basmati rice and vegetables and it was better than any airline food I’ve had!  There is also free wi-fi on board, which makes the trip fly by.

Upon arrival into Cobourg, a representative from the Dorset Manor Spa was there to greet me and take me to the spa.   As soon as I stepped into the old Victorian home overlooking Lake Ontario with beautiful lush views, I knew it would be easy to relax.  I began my day with a delicious lunch full of fresh vegetables from their gardens and a delicious potato and leek soup followed up by a fruit cup for dessert.  After lunch, I changed into my robe for what was going to be a day full of two treatments, the first called Caribbean Therapy in Which Rob, who is an awesome therapist, exfoliated my skin and then massaged seaweed all over!   After he wrapped me up, he proceeded to massage my neck and scalp, which got me into total relaxation mode.  After showering off the seaweed, he followed it up with a 20 minute massage which focused on releasing the muscles around my shoulders and pulling them back, which most people should get done since they sit at a computer all day or drive a lot.    After my session with Rob, my skin was as smooth as butter!  I definitely need to exfoliate more often!  I had an hour before my next session, so I had some of their homemade tea and an apple as I took in the sun on my room’s balcony.  It was then time for my 90 minute Swedish massage which was just as out of this world as the last treatment.  I told her the area on my body that was hurting and I wish I could tell you what she did throughout the session, but I fell into a deep sleep!

After dinner, which was also extremely good, especially the trout over warm apple appetizer and the sorbet for dessert, I relaxed in the outdoor whirlpool and sauna before settling into my Victorian style room full of antiques and soft classical music playing in the background.   Dorset Manor Spa is the sister spa to the widely popular St. Anne Spa, which has been voted Canada’s number one spa for five years in a row.  I am told this is just a smaller version of that spa.  It doesn’t have the wellness classes of St. Anne’s, but instead of being set on a large property, you have the quaint town of Port Hope to work to.  The therapists work at both, so you are going to get the same caliber of treatment no matter where you stay.  It’s really the perfect place to go if you’re looking for a quiet retreat.  It has just nine luxurious guestrooms, making for a very intimate setting. 

I slept like a baby and while I didn’t sleep long enough in what was such a comfortable bed, the nutritious breakfast woke me up.  The multigrain pancakes topped with apples were delicious!  Every breakfast also comes with a continental bar including fruit, yogurt, granola and pastries and your choices or juices or tea/coffee.   After checking out, I did a quick tour through Port Hope and Cobourg and was back on VIA train for my next stop in Ottawa.

Hop Onboard the Spa Train!

I have trouble relaxing and I’m always running around, so when I heard about the opportunity to jump aboard the spa train in Canada, I was very excited.  Not only did I want to explore parts of Canada I have not seen, but the idea of being pampered for a few days with no choice but to relax, was very inviting.  What a perfect escape for you to rejuvenate or escape on a romantic trip with your partner or grab some friends for the perfect girlfriend getaway. I flew into Toronto aboard Porter Airlines, a Canadian airline with great service and one of the few airlines that serves you a meal on board!  Many of the airports have lounges where all passengers can relax before the flight.  I flew out of Newark and was in Toronto in a quick hour and a half!  After arriving at the lovely Delta Chelsea hotel in the heart of downtown, I walked next door to the Elmwood Spa for what would be a day of complete relaxation.  After changing into my bathing suit, I enjoyed their water therapies for an hour, swimming and sitting in the steam room.  After that, it was time for the three course lunch which was made with all fresh, healthy ingredients, and even thought it was supposed to be “spa food,” the portions were enough to have me leaving there very full from the spinach and avocado salad, salmon with asparagus and the rhubarb pie with a side of mango sorbet.  (normally comes with ice cream, but I substituted!)

After lunch, I had the elmline facial, which was out of this world!  The esthetician evaluated my skin and decided to go with the hydration line.  The combination of the face massage while applying the products, and the hand and feet massage while I was getting steamed was enough to put me into a very deep sleep! I left there looking very refreshed for someone who was on three hours of sleep and the wrinkle lines between eyebrows were not visible!  I liked that fact that she told me every step of the way what she was doing and explained a lot to me about how to take care of my skin after leaving there. If you are looking for a peaceful oasis in the middle of a big city, this is the place to go as part of the spa train or as part of your Toronto visit.

I would highly recommend staying at the Delta Chelsea for any occasion if you are in Toronto.  The hotel has every amenity, including two pools, one in the adult fitness center, which also houses top of the line equipment, a whirlpool and sauna.  There is no shortage of restaurants and bars, including everything from a gourmet serve yourself restaurant to their elegant bistro.  It is the largest hotel in Toronto and if you are traveling with kids, this is definitely the place to stay!  With a kids and teen center, there is plenty for them to do, from playing with the in house rabbit to video games and billiards.  If parents would like some time to themselves to explore the city or to go see a show, they can pay a nominal fee for babysitting.

I finished my stay at the Delta Chelsea with their great breakfast buffet filled with fresh fruit, yogurt, and eggs benedict.  After a quick taxi ride, I was at Union Station and hopped on VIA rail for my trip to Port Hope and the Dorset Manor Spa.  Could it get any better than this?