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Travel Tips from New York, Massachusetts and Toronto

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As Orlando, Florida residents, we see countless tourists from all over the globe who travel to this area to experience Universal Studios and Harry Potter, Disneyworld, SeaWorld, Gatorland, LegoLand, Kennedy Space Center, the gorgeous beaches and more just a short drive away.

This part of the country is paradise in so many ways. I consider myself a Midwestern girl who “came down from Cincinnati” and now “lives down by the ocean” (cue “Fins” by Jimmy Buffett). We love it here.

However, even Floridians need to get away sometimes. Our three kids, especially our sons, have been wanting to experience somewhere “different.” Somewhere away from the flat, concrete, overcrowded summertime sauna of the sunshine state. Summer is Floridians’ version of winter, where we tend to hibernate indoors, anywhere with air conditioning.

On a side note, which helped fuel my inspiration to explore, our “first baby” suddenly grew taller than me, and our younger kiddos are catching up at lightning speed it seems. We all know how very precious time is, and how brief the time often is before our former little birds fly away to their own new nests. So I started planning and online searching – for a trip the very next week!

The winning vacation?? The Northeast!! Buffalo, Canada, Boston, Cape Cod, and our grand finale in NYC and Long Island! Some of our family and friends have asked for tips for their future travel plans, so here they are!

Shop flight deals! We flew Frontier Airlines for the first time and other than a very delayed outbound flight, we had a great, smooth experience. Our young daughter is obsessed with the adorable animal pictured on the wing of each aircraft. Yes, each airplane is named after a specific animal such as “Flip the Dolphin” and “Rudy the Raccoon.” The flight crew including the pilots were very friendly – and funny!

Bring or rent a large enough vehicle!! Red alert! This one is a game changer! It was no small task to find a vehicle for 5 of us with spacious 3rd row seat AND cargo space (to minimize kids jabbing/poking/antagonizing each other). Heads up – it will cost you big time in NYC to park it, but STILL.GET.IT. Avis finally found us a Dodge Durango after we arrived around midnight in Buffalo. A modern day and much improved family truckster as my sister, Kristin, and I laughed about over the phone today. THANK YOU, AVIS AND DODGE!! LIFESAVERS.

Hotel – Have any points/rewards? USE THEM!



DAY 2- NIAGARA FALLS!! WOW! REMARKABLE!! My husband wins the prize for creating our favorite memory in Niagara Falls…a boat ride INTO THE HEART OF NIAGARA FALLS on “The Maid of the Mist.” This boat has been giving passengers the 20 minute ride of their lives since 1846. Stand below the 18 stories and 600,000 gallons per second of falling water and mist. Fun fact: About 20% of the drinking water in the U.S. goes over Niagara Falls! Also, hydroelectricity is produced by power plants on both the Canadian as well as the American sides of the Falls. Take this boat ride!! You will NEVER forget it and you WILL get wet! Don’t worry; you will also get a poncho! http://www.Maidofthemist.com

HARD ROCK CAFÉ!!– I have always loved stopping in these restaurants all over the world. Check out the autographed guitars, memorabilia, burgers (even veggie) and “the best fries in the world” according to our kids. Oh, and the kids’ meals plates are shaped like guitars! The Hard Rock Café we visited on the Canadian side of the falls even has an adjoining casino. Double the fun! http://www.hardrock.com/


DAY 3 – BUFFALO ZOO!! – As Orlando residents, we thought we had seen it all pertaining to zoos. We were wrong! My father in law, Joe, was kind enough to reach out to his cousin, Dr. Donna Fernandes, who recently retired after serving as president of The Buffalo Zoo for 17 years. The Buffalo Zoo, located at 300 Parkside Ave in Buffalo, New York, is the third oldest zoo in the United States. Donna gave us a private tour of this zoo, which had us in awe from beginning to end! This experience is ONE OF OUR VERY FAVORITE MEMORIES of our entire vacation! Donna is extremely humble about her overhaul of the zoo after being hired in 2000. She completed 11 major projects over 17 years at a cost of $52 million. Donna’s vision and footprint is everywhere throughout the grounds, including “The Heritage Barn,” where a 19th century former Western Erie Canal barn was generously donated to the zoo in 2009. Every salvageable piece was repaired and the barn was restored! Step back in time into this treasure, which is kept immaculately clean and houses truly beautiful animals. Our middle child fell in love with the cuteness and softness of sheep as a tiny infant and finally got the chance to see and pet them live! Another “must see” is “Rainforest Falls,” a breathtaking exhibit inspired by Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, located in Venezuela, where Donna’s talented (and funny!) sister, Marcia, lived years ago. Our kids adored the capybara, resembling a “giant guinea pig” in this rainforest exhibit, along with monkeys and a room of bats, which reminded us of our Austin, TX days and “the bat bridge.” Finally, don’t miss the polar bear exhibit, including “Luna.” Renovation of the soon to be named Donna Fernandes Amphibian and Reptile Center is expected to be completed by summer 2019. A Komodo dragon — the largest lizard in the world, and the most lethal — will be among the new attractions in the Reptile House after the renovations. Congrats, Donna!! https://buffalonews.com/2018/01/26/fernandes-name-to-go-on-buffalo-zoos-new-amphibian-and-reptile-center/ https://buffalozoo.org/ 

TORONTO, CANADA!!  Right when my husband was ready to call it a day in Buffalo, the kids and I got our second wind, knowing we may never have the chance to see Canada again, and insisted we head farther north! (He thanked us later.) We didn’t have time to see the Hockey Hall of Fame or Rogers Centre (formerly Skydome) because they closed early on Sunday, but we LOVED going all the way up to the highest possible level on the CN Tower, which was completed in 1976 and remains the tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. The topped-out One World Trade Center in New York City has a pinnacle height of 541.33 m (1,776.0 ft), or approximately 12 m (39.4 ft) shorter than the CN Tower. Due to the symbolism of the number 1776 (the year of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence), the height of One World Trade Center is unlikely to be increased. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CN_Tower

DAY 4 – RETURN TO NY FOR THE ORIGINAL BUFFALO WINGS!!  My husband and our teenage son voted this one of their favorite meals! Anchor Bar in Buffalo, where Food Network happened to be filming a live interview with the owner as we dug in to our delicious lunch! As they say here at Anchor Bar, “you all call them Buffalo wings, but here we just call them wings.” We smiled and felt right at home as we saw the “Murph” and “Ms Murph” license plates next to Ohio and Florida license plates attached to the hostess stand. Coincidence? YES. But fun nonetheless. In case you are wondering about the validity of Anchor Bar’s invention, here is a fun read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_wing. If you find yourself near Buffalo and have an appetite, head to Anchor Bar! https://www.anchorbar.com/

BASEBALL HALL OF FAME, COOPERSTOWN, NY: This stop was worth the long but beautiful, tree filled drive. Don’t miss the 15 minute baseball movie played on the hour. (It even made me tear up!) The baseball themed scavenger hunt is GENIUS to keep kiddos interested and avoid potential meltdowns, as there is no shortage of baseball sights to see. My husband, a former college pitcher, cherished seeing that Jim Rice, his childhood Red Sox hero, has been inducted into the prestigious list of Hall of Fame members. I loved seeing the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” headlines about game 7, when I was a baby. My mom, Jeanne, tells a great story of when my dad let Johnny Bench borrow a quarter back then to play pinball. I have also had the privilege to meet some of the greats such as Hank Aaron and Nolan Ryan, so I truly enjoyed this experience. We all marveled at the honor, tradition and memory of Cooperstown. Play ball! https://baseballhall.org/

DAY 5 – MASSACHUSETTS!!  My husband, Scott, left Boston when he was a young boy, but Boston sure hasn’t left him! Our kids have no shortage of Boston sports apparel either. Starting our gorgeous morning at Gillette Stadium to see the home of the New England Patriots NFL team was a touchdown for sure. Then we stopped in nearby Norton to visit Scott’s dear family, and we will always cherish this quick reunion and the chance to laugh with “GG” (Great-Grandma Mary), Scott’s Aunt Cathy, Cousin Julie, Ginny and of course the pups! Next, we drove to the cemetery nearby to show our children where their very loving and thoughtful grandma, “Grammie Denise,” was laid to rest just a few years ago. Grammie was always a huge Red Sox fan, so we decided in that moment to head to Fenway Park that night for a game! But first, a lightning fast trip to the old Fernandes Cape House on Cape Cod. If you can make it out here to this sandy, hook-shaped peninsula full of quaint villages, seafood shacks, lighthouses and beaches, head to Monument Beach Pizza and then crush a “coal car” ice cream sundae at the Whistle Stop!

For a bit of an academic twist, we stopped off on the way to Fenway Park to catch a glimpse and a few photos of Harvard University. Don’t miss the spectacular Memorial Hall, designed in the 1850’s and located in the triangle-shaped area between Cambridge, Kirkland, and Quincy streets in Cambridge. https://guides.library.harvard.edu/hua/MemorialHall.

Another great stop in Cambridge is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Our favorite sight was The Great Dome of the Barker Library, inside the McLauren Building, built in 1916, when the Institute moved to Cambridge from Boston. https://libraries.mit.edu/barker/about/.

Then we headed to my husband’s favorite place on earth, Fenway Park, home of MLB’s Boston Red Sox. Fenway Park remains much like it did the day it opened on April 20, 1912. It really does feel like a trip back in time, and the jaw dropping left field wall “Green Monster” is impossible to forget. My family got a kick out of the loud Red Sox horn that blows after every “homah” (home run in Bahhhston lingo). Make sure you stay to sing “Sweet Caroline” with stadium energy like you’ve never seen before! https://www.mlb.com/redsox/ballpark.

After we saw the Red Sox WIN the game, we drove by Berklee College of Music in Boston. In addition to offering 12 majors, Berklee now has a campus in Spain and offers a study abroad program. Wow. One of my most cherished memories is when I studied abroad in Spain (to earn my Spanish degree from the University of Florida). Studying music there would surely be amazing. I’m sure that Scott’s second cousin and proud Berklee grad, Jay Fernandes, would agree! https://www.berklee.edu/

DAY 6 – NEW YORK CITY!! We arrived in “The Big Apple” exactly in time to see “School of Rock” on Broadway!! (Well, Scott actually arrived a bit after us as he had the pleasure of trying to park our oversized SUV in the city.) We watched the movie starring Jack Black about a week prior to our trip in order to familiarize ourselves with the plot. I searched online https://tickets.broadwaybox.com/school-rock-musical/12310/calendar/ and called the phone number for tickets and saved on service charges. What a highlight!! All 5 of us were in absolute awe as we watched and heard these very young performers!! I’m actually looking at my paper playbill right now as I write this article, and I’m recalling the boundless energy and talent in the Winter Garden Theatre. Don’t miss it!! You’ll likely be singing “Amazing Grace” or perhaps a bit of Stevie Nicks in your head as you walk out the door, and you’ll truly feel like “You’re in the Band!!” SENSATIONAL!!!

While Scott was moving the car to a less obscenely priced parking spot, the kids and I walked to Central Park and explored this magnificent park in a covered pedicab (bike taxi) that our guide rode around while explaining the sights to us. This is a must do! Our guide was informative and very funny as he pointed out skyscrapers, the Central Park Zoo, celebrity tidbits and memorable sights from famous movies filmed in Central Park. I have attached a photo I snapped as our guide pointed out The Dakota, an apartment building famous for being the home of former Beatle John Lennon from 1973 to his death outside the building in 1980. Note: There are many pedicab companies and drivers in NYC, and prices vary, so shop carefully. Thumbs up!!

Tavern on the Green!! My fabulous travel connoisseur friend from Cincinnati, Ann Michel-Gibbs, recommended this former 1800’s sheep fold turned restaurant in 1934, situated in Central Park. As Ann mentioned, make sure you make a reservation in advance as this upscale, historic restaurant is in demand! Our very dear friends and former Orlando neighbors, Scott Perry, General Manager of the New York Knicks and his lovely wife, Kimberly Perry, who are now Manhattan residents, joined us for a delicious and truly cherished dinner in the Crystal Room of this iconic restaurant, overlooking Central Park. What a perfect way to congratulate them on their big city move and catch up on old times! Check out the list of famous films where Tavern on the Green has been prominently featured or mentioned! https://www.tavernonthegreen.com/history/

DAY 7 – NYC, PART 2!! After one of our children accidentally left a cell phone in a crowded Target store in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, which we miraculously retrieved through the use of modern technology and the good faith of a few Target employees, we started this morning off with a very emotional but worthwhile visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. We knew this visit would be a very difficult one to experience and we also weren’t sure how our children would handle it. Fortunately, there is a museum guide for visitors with children ages 8 to 11, to help them understand what happened on 9/11, and how the site has been rebuilt. The 110,000 square foot museum itself is located belowground, because remnants of the original World Trade Center buildings are still visible belowground, so the museum preserves them. The museum tells the story of 9/11 through interactive technology, archives, narratives and a collection of artifacts. The Memorial’s twin reflecting pools, which sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood, are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. The names of every person who died are inscribed in bronze around the twin memorial pools. https://www.911memorial.org/

Next, we headed to nearby Battery Park to catch a distant glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States, dedicated on October 28, 1886. The Statue of Liberty is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Due to limited time and a very tired family, I was completely outvoted in taking the ferry to Liberty Island and the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island to climb up the statue, as this can take most of a day. If you have the opportunity, please let us know what you thought of your visit! Please note! Tickets to the pedestal as well as the crown are limited and by advanced reservation only. https://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm

Take a stroll around the city! Our daughter couldn’t get enough of seeing all of the adorable NYC dogs walking their owners around town, especially the one we saw wearing shoes! One World Trade Center’s symbolic 1,776 ft., the same number as the year of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, is truly astonishing and MAGNIFICENT! One World Observatory is at the top of this tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. https://oneworldobservatory.com/en-US/faq

Don’t miss a Wall Street photo with “Charging Bull/The Wall Street Bull,” the grand 7,100 lb. bronze sculpture. The bull is the symbol of aggressive financial optimism and prosperity, leaning back on its haunches and with its head lowered as if ready to charge. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charging_Bull. Also, stop by Radio City Music Hall as well as the 12 feet in diameter, 11,875 pound Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball, covered in 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles. The website http://timessquareball.net/ shows you the countdown to the next ball drop!

As for dinner, Scott offered to take the kids while I had a chance to finally catch up live with one of my dearest friends since childhood, Sarah Ward.

We walked from our hotel in Midtown, Manhattan to Simon & the Whale, a brand new neighborhood restaurant in the Freehand Hotel. The 80-seat restaurant “offers elevated yet simple American food with Italian inflections.” We sat at the bar, ordered a glass of vino and enjoyed a unique and delicious bite for dinner, while our bartender added to the fun ambiance of it all. Sarah’s husband, Christian, arrived shortly thereafter and within no time, the three of us were chatting it up and laughing about life, love and parenthood as if time had stood still since our last visit. What a memorable mini reunion. Plan one here for yourself!  https://www.satw.nyc/  https://www.foodandwine.com/news/simon-whale-new-york-freehand-hotel



The American Museum of Natural History is one of the best kept secrets we discovered on our vacation, especially because of the fine print regarding the pricing! General admission to all 45 halls and the Rose Center for Earth and Space is listed at $23 for adults, but pay-what-you-wish admission is available only at ticket counters, where the amount you pay is up to you! (Special exhibitions and shows not included.) Our favorites: The Titanosaur, an astounding 122-foot-long dinosaur cast, a new exhibit in the fossil halls of a new species of a giant, 70 TON herbivore announced in August 2017! Also, The Giant Blue Whale Model! At 94 feet long, this massive beauty is a 21,000-pound fiberglass model of a female blue whale found in 1925 off the southern tip of South America. Blue whales have been hunted to near extinction and this mammal species is the largest animal alive today. Finally, see the real exhibits behind the characters featured in the “Night at the Museum” movies on the self-guided tour, or just zip around to a few of these fun exhibits on your own, as we did, and Google the movie scenes for fun reference! Thank you, fabulous Kim and Chelsea Perry, for meeting us at the end of our museum visit for a quick hug!! https://www.amnh.org/

Hungry?? You MUST visit our final NYC stop, home to the future stars of stage and screen, Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where you will meet the world famous singing waitstaff and some of the best diner food in the country! Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as you listen to truly outstanding and dazzling live performances from your own server! We will always smile when we remember one of the servers belting out “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” soundtrack on the microphone and confetti falling from the ceiling! You can make special music requests too. Heads up!! Make sure you time this one right because the line can wrap around the exterior of the building here in the Broadway Theatre district! http://www.ellensstardustdiner.com/

And with that, our truly fabulous time in NYC finally had to come to an end, so we hopped back in our rental Durango and headed out to Long Island, where we checked in to another hotel. (Yes, it was our 6th hotel in 7 nights as I recall, but we are thankful for hotel reward points.) In what felt like the blink of an eye, the alarm clock went off as our signal to head to the airport before dawn. Our daughter was so excited to see which animal would be on the wing of this particular Frontier airplane as we flew home to the sunshine state. (“Buddy the Badger” turned out to be pretty darn cute!)

We hope you have the chance to check out these Northeastern sights, perhaps even this summer!! If you do, we hope these highlights and tips help. Please let us know!

Finally, THANK YOU for your loyalty to Fresh Lifestyle Magazine! Because of your support, Fresh Lifestyle Magazine now has over 30,000 Facebook likes and MORE THAN A MILLION VIEWERS!!!!

As always,

“Happy Times,”


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