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Our Niagara Falls Girls Trip

I’ve been visiting Niagara Falls for as long as I can remember. As a child, I found it rather boring. It was a long drive from where we lived, which was 40 minutes east of Toronto. I never understood how we could drive all that way to look at a waterfall and then turnaround and do the drive back. Considering it’s the honorary 8th wonder of the world, I was determined to make Maxwell’s first trip to the falls an epic one and to prove that Niagara can be a really good time for families of all ages. Also, I just desperately needed an escape from the city. My recently acquired CAA membership was actually the catalyst for our action packed falls getaway.

A few months ago I looked inside my wallet and was shocked at the amount of membership and rewards cards I had stuffed in there. There were definitely more than 10. What can I say, I’m a sucker for earning points, air miles and getting discounts. After doing some member and rewards card inventory, I soon realized I wasn’t taking full advantage of them and turns out; my CAA card was the least used card in the bunch. That changed real quickly after taking a deep dive onto the CAA (SCO) website a month ago. Sure, I had confidence knowing that I was protected with excellent roadside assistance should I need it, but I was missing out on tons of amazing access and discounts for members from their thousands of retail and service partners. Last weekend I took Maxwell on a short road trip to Niagara Falls for the ultimate mommy and me getaway that I think would put me in the running for “Mom of the Year” award, but the real MVP was CAA. I used my CAA membership to build our itinerary and for discounts on everything from our hotel stay to our chopper excursion. Here’s the scoop on how I pulled this off.

ROAD TRIP PREP

Just because I have a CAA membership, it doesn’t mean that I want to risk having any issues with my car on a road trip. Especially with a baby on board. Believe me, checking my car’s vitals before hitting the road is not anything new for me. I am actually annoyingly obsessive with vehicle safety, a quality I probably picked up from my Dad. I couldn’t get an appointment with Audi before leaving town, so I ended up getting a last minute appointment close to my house. CAA does all the legwork to create a network of repair facilities that have a high quality of service but at a fair price. It’s a brilliant resource available to members. CAA’s Approved Auto Repair Service AARS facilities also offer Member-exclusive benefits such as 3% in CAA Dollars® on all repairs, which you can use to renew or upgrade your CAA Membership or for items at a CAA.

WHERE TO STAY IN NIAGARA

Obviously there are loads of places to stay in Niagara, but if you’re making the trek out there for a weekend getaway, it only makes sense to choose a hotel with a falls view. My first choice for accommodation was the Sheraton Fallsview because of its close proximity to all the activities I had planned during our day, however it was fully booked the weekend we were going. We ended up staying at the Hilton Hotel at a reduced rate. If you’re a member, you can find a full list of top hotel partners around the world on the CAA’s hotel rewards page. Our suite was huge with a living room area, spacious bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub plus a view of both the Canadian and U.S. falls. The Hilton is currently under renovations, but so far it only affects the lobby level and some of the restaurants. Not a ton of time was spent in the room if I can be honest. We preferred to be out and about because the weather was amazing for this time of the year. We did enjoy having breakfast in bed and staying up later than normal at night giggling and listening to music like I was there with a friend my age, not a two-year-old toddler!

MUST SEE and MUST DO at the FALLS

If you think that the falls is the only thing to see in Niagara Falls, you are sadly mistaken. I am not kidding, there is something for everyone, which also means if the weather isn’t great when you choose to go, there are still loads of things you can do, if you’re not able to see the falls due to rotten, inclement weather. We thankfully had the best weather, minus the two hours of rain on the Saturday morning.

So here’s the deal, I didn’t really know where to start when planning this weekend and truthfully, when it came to the itinerary, I saved myself some time and just went to CAA’s attractions rewards page and checked out all the attractions, theme parks and adventures listed on there. It rounded up not only the best experiences to choose from but it also offered me discounts to the things I wanted to do.

We stayed relatively close to everything on our agenda for the two and a half days we were there so we didn’t use our car until we were headed to our last activity. We walked to most things but we also had two day access to WEGO, the hop on – hop off bus that picked us up and dropped us off right in front of the Hilton that was part of Niagara Parks package we had pre-purchased online. Here’s the short list of activities we absolutely loved:

CLIFTON HILL – They don’t call it the street of fun for nothing. The Clifton Hill strip is jam packed with activities, restaurants and is perfect for all ages. There is literally something on every corner including it’s newest attraction, the Niagara Speedway, Canada’s first ever elevated go-kart track. Not something we were able to enjoy this time around because Maxie is so young, but we had a blast hitting up the Niagara Skywheel, Dinosaur Adventure Mini-Put, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

I’ve never been to any Ripley’s museums so I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest but turned out to be a good move. It is a bit of a strange place where you’re going to find odd, shocking and dare I say strange exhibits, but that’s part of the fun. You’ll find everything from a replica of the world’s tallest man, a Tibetan skull, a giant Lite-Brite installation and several optical illusions. Max was obsessed and there were quite a few installations and exhibits that even toddlers could enjoy.

You can find everything in Clifton Hill. I loved that we didn’t have to venture far from the action when we wanted to get a bite to eat. There are tons of options around for dining in the area. Some are even CAA preferred dining partners where we were able to receive exclusive offers and discounts only for CAA members.

HORNBLOWER CRUISE AND THE JOURNEY BEHIND THE FALLS – The piece de resistance and the reason why millions flock to the tiny city of Niagara each year, the Falls is obviously an incredible site to witness in person, especially on a beautiful day like we had. We could have totally just witnessed this beautiful wonder from afar but I couldn’t resist wanting to get a closer look so I pre-booked tickets for both the Hornblower Niagara boat cruise and the Journey Behind the Falls. It’s been almost 30 years since I did the Maid of the Mist boat tour so this was definitely a highlight for me. And yes, we got very wet but that’s all part of the fun I think. The cruise travels down to the falls, turns around and heads straight back and the whole thing is done in about 25 minutes. It was the perfect length of time for the activity. Any longer and it could get miserable on a cold or windy day.

The Journey Behind the Falls is quite an extraordinary experience and one we weren’t able to fully indulge in because we were short on time, but it’s something that should be a part of everyone’s Niagara Falls itinerary. You descend 150 ft and get a chance to explore 130 year old tunnels through the bedrock. The observation deck is at the bottom of the 13 storey falls so you get the best possible view of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water crashing down in front of you.

FALLSVIEW INDOOR WATERPARK – This place is a dream for kids, so be prepared to spend the better part of the whole day there because they won’t want to leave. Consider yourself warned. That being said, I would drive back to Niagara in a heartbeat just to see the smile on Maxwell’s face playing in the water. Fallsview Indoor Waterpark is located just a stones throw away from Clifton Hill and right by the Sheraton Hotel, which is why I had wanted to stay there originally.

Shot on iPhone 11 Pro

They have designed the 125,000 sqft water park in a way that families of all ages can enjoy the space. There’s a mammoth play area with a 1000 gallon tipping bucket perfect for toddlers to pre-teens, an age appropriate splash pad for toddlers, Jacuzzi’s for the adults. There’s private cabanas for the anti-social folks that don’t feel like intermixing with the masses, a full sized wave pool, six storey water slides for older kids and adults and a restaurant/bar.

NIAGARA HELICOPTERS – Obviously saved the best surprise for last. The Niagara Heli tour was the COOLEST experience ever. I found this gem of an excursion on the CAASCO member website and booking it was a no brainer. The bonus, is that I was able to receive 20% off the price of the excursion with my membership WOO HOO. Let me tell you, looking at the falls close up is cool, but getting an unobstructed aerial view of this magnificent wonder really is a next level experience and something that we will never ever forget.

Photography by Jess Baumung and shot on iPhone 11 Pro

Now that we are back and settled, I am already started to plan our next girl adventure and I will definitely be utilizing my CAASCO member benefits and rewards to get the best out of our future travel experiences. There are SO many benefits of CAA outside of roadside assistance and I’ve already reaped so many rewards since getting my CAA Plus membership. To register for your membership or to discover how you can benefit from your existing membership head to caasco.com.

This post is in partnership with CAASCO but all views and opinions are my own.

Road Trip to PEC’s Drake Dev Fuelled By Costa Coffee at Shell

I’ve done my fair share of road trips over the years and often times prefer the journey behind the wheel rather than flying and spending unnecessary commute time sitting in airports, but having done so many, I have learned through trial and error that there are a few key elements that go into making a road trip not only bearable but fun – a comfy ride, the right company, good tunes (hello XM Satellite radio) and of course coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

In an effort to spend some much needed quality time together, the mister and I took take a day trip to Prince Edward County in partnership with Costa Coffee at Shell to explore the adorable town two hours outside of Toronto and to be amongst one of the first to have a Costa experience here in Canada. So here’s the honest to goodness truth, I quit drinking my daily perquisite of 4-5 cups of coffee a day a little over a year ago, which bummed out my boyfriend because his coffee obsession is next level but from time to time, I still treat myself to a good cuppa joe. Rejean on the other hand my friends, is well known for his coffee obsession and was the perfect partner in crime to taste test hot bevies from the UK coffee chain that has gained a devout following of coffee lovers since opening it’s first shop in 1971. We won’t be expecting stand-alone Costa Coffee shops, well not soon anyways, but instead the brand has installed innovative, state-of-the-art, self serve bars where you can get quality barista style coffee on-the-go at select Shell gas stations here in Canada. I know you’re probably thinking there is just no way coffee at a gas station can rival the premium roasts found in the city’s most loved coffee shops but this is exactly why I had my guy’s discerning coffee palette on hand for some taste testing. To be quite honest, the promise of keeping him caffeinated helped me get him out of bed at 5:30am on a Sunday morning!

The self-serve bar is a far cry from coffee stands in most gas stations with an easy to use, beautiful touchscreen display with more than 250 drink combinations that allows you to easily create any of your fave hot beverages you would normally order during your daily stop in at your local coffee shop like espressos, ristrettos, macchiatos, cortados, cappuccinos, americanos, chai and vanilla lattes. Not a coffee lover? No problem! Costa Express at Shell has you covered with non-caffeinated options like white and black teas and even flavoured hot chocolates. The best part – as you wait for your customized beverage to be created, mini surround sound speakers play jazz music and also mimic normal background sounds one might here in a cafe (i.e. baristas at work preparing drinks) to give you that coffee shop feel which we thought was a hilarious and very cute added touch.

So with both our Cadillac XT5 and our bodies fuelled up with americanos and vanilla lattes at Shell, we were ready to tackle the snow covered 401 eastbound to beautiful PEC. Last Sunday’s snow storm put a bit of a monkey wrench in some of the surprises I had up my sleeve for Rejean with so many of the stores and wineries closed down but we are Canadian so I wasn’t going to let the weather stop us from having some fun at the Drake Devonshire Inn on the Lake. PEC is a magical little place that I discovered a few years back and have made it a yearly tradition to make the trek down in the summer to spend time at beaching at Sandbanks Provincial Park but this was my first time being in the area during the winter season. After taking a look at the current activities the Drake Dev had going on, I was pleasantly surprised to see morning Vinyasa Yoga classes which was truly the catalyst for our ridiculously early departure from Toronto. With hour long vinyasa flows offered a couple days a week with instructor Sam Ravenda in the beautiful “Glass Box” space in addition to their newly offered Devonshire Detox Weekend Yoga Retreats, the Drake Dev is a prime spot for all you yoga lovers to get your zen on. We spent a lot of time walking the exterior of the property, which is lakeside, and during the winter is as close as you’re going to get to feeling like you are in a snow globe. It’s absolutely stunning (if you can brave the cold temps) but we cheated the cold by fire pit with piping hot Costa Coffee.

Known for their 13 kitchy guest rooms, the countryside retreat is equally known for their food and drinks. The hotel boasts five menus that focus on seasonal, crowd pleasing dishes and upscale comfort foods with insanely delicious brunch options, served all day on Sundays that include my favourite- apple compote and fresh creme buttermilk pancakes, chill-maple glazed friend chicken with pecan waffles and a breakfast burger. And oh the drinks…the wine list boasts whites and reds from some of the top vineyards across PEC, natch and cocktails that kept Rejean and our friend Jess content like infused bourbon and maple syrup, classic Manhattan’s and epic caesars.

Post brunch we lounged in the “living room” which houses the Drake Dev’s permanent and rotating art exhibits that are commissioned by both local and international artists that create work which visually reflects, interprets and enhances the Drake Dev experience. The exhibit’s current rotation on now is called “About Face” and will run until March 14th, 2017. It features pieces from artists shedding new light on the faces that surround them, in the forms of various portraiture; painting, photography, textile and sculpture. After the rest of our property tour, we headed back to the Glass Box for a several rounds of ping pong, cocktails (Mocktails only for this designated driver!) and many, many laughs before heading safely back to the city.

Photography by JessBaumung.com

Want to elevate your commute with quality Costa Coffee now available at Shell? Click here to find a Costa Coffee at Shell location near you!

My Luxury Road Trip to the W Hotel Montreal with Cadillac

W Montreal

The W Hotel brand has gained notoriety across the world as the ultimate luxury hotel and last week I had the absolute pleasure to call their Montreal property home for a few days. Located in the city’s historic Banque du Canada building and just blocks away from Old Montreal/The Old Port, it’s a phenomenal location for out of town visitors and for locals interested in a chic stay-cation! Staying within the theme of luxury, we traveled in Cadillac’s new 2014 XTS sedan, which turned out to the best road trip vehicle. With room for four long-legged adults with excessive luggage, 2 rear TV’s with wireless Cadillac headphones, the ingenious CUE (Cadillac User Experience) interface for all our entertainment, navigation and technology needs, our smooth and comfy ride was even better than taking a flight in my opinion. And we weren’t the only ones in love with the vehicle. The XTS’s finely crafted exterior gained so much attention on the streets in Montreal, the valet and hotel guests.

Cadillac XTS

Cadillac XTS

Cadillac XTS

W Hotel Lobby

W Hotels prides themselves with taking their guests through a journey that awakens and engages all of their senses during the course of their stay. Upon entering the dimly lit lobby, I was engulfed in the most sweetest of scents, which turns out to be the brand’s signature mist that is sprayed throughout the property. It has become so popular and synonymous with the hotels, that is now available for sale through W location lifestyle boutiques and online. The music played in all the common areas is unlike what you normally hear in hotels and sets the mood for an ultra chill vibe. When I inquired about the trendy playlist I was informed by the property’s PR & Marketing Manager that the W actually has their own Musical Director, Michaelangelo L’acqua, who carefully curates soundtracks for each location.

Wunderbar

Visually, each square foot of the W Montreal exudes comfort and luxury and with 2.5 bars, home to one of Montreal’s best restos, Otto; and the tranquil Away Spa…let’s jus stay it was sensory overload in a good way. Sidebar, 2.5 bars in fact isn’t a typo. The hotel actually has one of the smallest bars in the world, Bartini, hidden on the ground floor behind the elevators. This tiny space is perfect to kill time waiting to check-in, a quiet pre-dinner drink or even ideal to rent out exclusively for a small bachelor or bachelorette party before hitting the Montreal streets. Directly across from Bartini is the sleek designed Wunderbar, where you will find amazing cocktail concoctions created by highly trained mixologists and music that will have you stumbling to your guest room wee into the early morning. And as if the bar wasn’t already super cool, the gorgeous staff all wear custom dresses by Canadian designer Travis Taddeo. If you’re looking for a more laid back vibe then Plateau, the mezzanine level bar, is just the space for you. Taking some design cues from other W properties in other markets, they definitely made it a point to integrate a Canadian theme with the usage of maple leafs etched into the beautiful bar. And with it’s unique design, wood plank flooring, high ceilings and furniture, it creates the illusion of chilling outside on the perfect summer night!

W Montreal Bartini Plateau Bar

W Montreal Wunderbar

The chic decor and ambiance of Otto is the perfect setting for the restaurant’s elegant italian cuisine. There, you will find seasonal dishes infused with local ingredients created by Executive Chef Yves Lowe and a pretty extensive wine list with bottles from all over the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed my dining experience there and noshed on delish seared scallops with chorizo, soya beans and honey mushrooms to start, followed by black cod and honey cake for dessert.  I finished off the meal with a Chateau Faillefer Lafon 2012 ice wine made specifically for the W Montreal – how cool is that? Not to be outdone by the restaurant,  the in-room dining service is pretty phenomenal as well. The signature W Montreal breakfasts in bed were the perfect way to start each morning!

W Montreal

If you have yet to stay at the W Montreal, or any W for that matter, guest room accommodations are available in three general categories and are all very generous in size. The basic guest rooms, which believe me are not basic at all range from 252-328 sqft and the mid-size suites range between 422-580 sqft. All these rooms have oversized windows, ultra-modern design, the ultimate mini bars, open concept bathrooms and plush white robes. The ridiculously stunning penthouses; appropriately named the “Wow” and “Extreme” suites are exactly that and range between 1000-1336 sqft with a multi-level layout, dining area, 20 foot ceilings and large outdoor terraces. Ever left your face wash or fave body lotion at home when traveling? You will be happy to hear that the hotel has Bliss Spa amenities. It is the only hotel I can travel to where I would feel comfortable leaving my Korres face wash behind at home because their amenities and beauty products are so amazing!

W Montreal

W Montreal

W Montreal Mega Room Accommodations 

E Wow Suite

E Wow Suite

E-Wow Suite

E Wow Suite W Montreal

 E – Wow Penthouse Suite

Other Services/Amenities Worth Nothing:

  • FIT Fitness Centre, a beautiful workout environment with state of the art equipment for strength training, pilates and cardio. Open 24/7 for guests convenience
  • Certified “Green” Hotel that practices waste minimization and practices environmental excellence. Each day a guest declines housekeeping services, they are rewarded with 500 Starwood Preferred Guest Points. More in here 
  • The good life at the W Montreal isn’t only for us humans. Your fur babies can also get the star treatment during your stay. With dog walking, grooming services and pet birthday cakes and even an in-room dining menu from Otto, this is a vacay your pet will never forget. More info on the W’s pet policy, fees and menu items here 
  • Away Spa, located on the lower level of the hotel, is a place where guests can restore harmony and balance in a space designed to help you decompress. I enjoyed a few services during my stay and highly recommend the Aroma Polish, which is a 90 minute treatment that includes a full body exfoliation utilizing a volcanic scrub and a 60 minute massage. During my massage my amazing therapist detected some my problem areas due to excessive stress and running and was so kind as to take me through some exercises that I can do at home to help relieve the pain.
  • W Hotel Worldwide App: If you’re a fan of the W properties, then you need to download this free app immediately, which allows you to find and book a room, see special offers, shop the W Store and even download special W Hotel music playlists created for different moods and activities by Musical Director Michaelangelo D’acqua and the brand’s fave DJ’s from around the world.

Here’s the skinny…the property is approximately 10 years old and although it looks aesthetically pleasing to the eye, I think they will be due for a few updates in the next little while. Rumour has it that the property will be undergoing some renovations this Fall to the guest rooms. They do not have complimentary wifi in the guest rooms and it must be purchased for $15/day however, wifi is available for free in the lobby lounge. Minus these two small issues, our stay at the W Montreal was pretty amazing. Going forward it will be difficult to stay at any other hotel property in Montreal as the W’s hospitality game is ON POINT! It’s a hotel that is family friendly but still cool enough for celebrities and stars alike – during my stay I saw Actors/Comedians Seth Rogen and Chevy Chase. Travel Tip: Summer time in Montreal is extremely busy with concerts, conventions, film, music and comedy festivals so it can become a difficult task to find accommodations. I suggest when traveling between May through August, you book as early as possible.

Click here for more information on the W Montreal and follow them on Twitter and Instagram. For more on W Hotels Worldwide, destinations and events, head to WHotels.com. Stay tuned for my full review on the Cadillac XTS

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