Winter plans do not always have to include warm weather climates. For the first time in well more than a decade our family did not spend the Christmas holidays in South Florida. It was not in the cards for us this year, yet we wanted to nonetheless get away and a find an opportunity to take advantage of the strong Canadian dollar.

We zeroed in on Buffalo, New York, where friends of ours from the States would be visiting as well. So now it was time to actually plan the trip. By the time I was done, a 10-day itinerary had been completed. It was a luxury to be able to be in control of our destiny by car. We actually made Niagara Falls, New York and more specifically the suburb of Grand Island our base for most of our stay.

I always believe in breaking trips up from start to finish. To drive to Niagara Falls in a day, you are looking at about eight hours. We decided to make our first stop ever in the city of Oakville (www.oakvilletourism.ca). This is just 30 minutes past Toronto as you switch from Highway 401 to the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). It was a wise choice as the QEW leads you directly to Niagara. We chose the Staybridge Suites Extended Stay Hotel Oakville-Burlington (www.staybridge.com/oakvilleon) as our base for the night. With spacious accommodations, a superb restaurant next door (the Marquis Bistro and Grill) and a mouth watering free breakfast, we would have been happy to stay on a bit longer.

We spent the next five days based in Grand Island, perfectly located smack in between Buffalo and Niagara Falls (www.niagara-usa.com). The Holiday Inn Grand Island Resort and Conference Centre (www.holiday-inn.com/grandislandny) was our choice for accommodations. This 263 room property located at 100 Whitehaven Road is an excellent spot year-round. During a cold winter day, their large indoor pool and workout facilities are great. The hotel is an easy drive to the large Walden Galleria in Buffalo and outlet shops in Niagara.

Niagara Falls, Ontario has a few excellent indoor water parks, just perfect for the winter. The Fallsview Indoor Waterpark is in fact the largest of its kind in North America. We managed to get a reservation at the Sheraton on the Falls Hotel (www.niagarafallshotelsheraton.com). The novelty here is that it is directly connected to the waterpark. That worked out just great. There are a lot of activities going on in the region this winter. In fact, I was surprised at how alive the streets were and what can beat that electrifying live view of the famous Falls? Check out www.niagaratourism.com or www.wfol.com.

On the way back we spent a few days in Toronto, a city I might add that I always love visiting. We stayed at the Radisson Toronto East (www.radisson.com/torontoca_east). It is directly off the 401 and an exit away from the Don Valley Parkway, making the trip downtown a mere 20 minutes. Great if you want to catch a show or check out the Eaton Centre.

So I don’t have a tan, nor was I able to walk around outside in shorts and a t-shirt. We were particularly lucky that it did not snow once while we were there and the driving was therefore very easy. I would strongly recommend this itinerary for families looking for a drivable alternative in contrast to bloated airline fares. I will detail each leg of this trip in separate columns over the next few months.

Mike Cohen’s email address is info@mikecohen.ca.
Follow his travels at www.sandboxworld.com/travel and on twitter at www.twitter.com/mikecohencsl.