Ever since we had Maria and Kalynn RV with us for a couple of days back in June, we have been looking into the possibility of Kalynn travelling with us a bit longer before the summer ended. After a few false starts, we made arrangements for her to fly from NYC to Syracuse on a one way, non-stop flight on Jet Blue. As we solidified our travel route we would lock in a return flight.
Incidentally, the unaccompanied minor fees most of the airlines charge are outrageous considering that they don’t do much of anything in terms of additional labor or assistance. They don’t escort the child, the person dropping them off is the escort all the way through security until boarding. The only thing they actually do is seat them on the plane and walk them from the arriving gate to the exit point to verify the identity of the pick up adult. Hardly worth $100 to $150 for each direction! Ah well, at least we were able to get both tickets for a very low point value from our various mile stashes.
So Friday morning had us up early and headed from our last campground at the southwest edge of the Adirondacks over to Syracuse airport in our RV. Yes, in our RV. Turns out SYR is very easy to get into even with a big rig, and we pulled into the cell phone lot with no problems. Rosemarie walked across the short parking lot and road directly into the terminal to meet Kalynn as she exited while I waited with the vehicles, and then we were on our way to anther New York campground.
Having an 11 year old with us meant we needed to keep her entertained (for our own sanity), and that meant changing our general RV park selection criteria. Now all those “family and kid friendly” type amenities switched from being negative qualities to strong positives in our prioritization. And we would need more than ever to keep the costs down, so ideally we were looking for Passport-America participants with a lot of free child oriented activities. Unfortunately we would be staring our RV experience with Kalynn on Friday, and were unable to find a PA park in the region that did not exclude the weekend, so we would have to spring for full price.
Our first selection was Cherry Grove Campground in the very small town of Wolcott, less than an hour from the Syracuse airport. This is exactly the sort of property we would usually skip over, but for this situation it was ideal. Affordable at only $33 and change a night ($34 plus $3 AC charge minus 10% military discount) with playgrounds, a pool, jumping pillow, putt putt golf, an ice cream shop, planned activities and, perhaps most importantly, other kids.
We filled the two days we had there with pretty much all of those activities, along with an hour of math tutoring every day (you can imagine how much “fun” that was) and casual swimming lessons. Rosemarie got to play a bit of bingo, and the local publication from the chamber of commerce led us to a very small farmers market where we scored a big loaf of fantastic banana zucchini bread, and fresh fruit and veggies from the young Amish pair there. Cash only, of course.
For our next private park, we needed something in the Niagara Falls region, and again we just couldn’t find a Passport-America participant in the area that did’t have exclusions for our time frame. The best deal we found was about 40 minutes from The Falls at Niagara Hartland RV Resort. We locked in two nights at the AAA 10% discounted rate of $30 a night. This park had a few less amenities than Cherry Grove, no pool for instance, but it did have a nice sized chain of man made ponds, a playground, and a chicken coop. We were fortunate enough to be there at the same time as a family with two daughters and their friend, all very close to Kalynns age, so that worked out pretty well.
Our second day we made the run to Niagara Falls. Here we employed a couple of common sense tricks that have served us well to avoid overpriced tourist traps: don’t park right next to the destination, pack your own lunch and snacks, and don’t buy from the first vendor. The parking closest to the falls charged a flat rate of $20 a day! I found a metered spot just a couple of blocks away and spent only $6 for our three hour stay. We would later enjoy our own prepared meal in a nearby park, avoiding the overpriced stands next to the falls. And rather than the $45 tickets offered by the first vendor, which included an unnecessary bus ride between the points of interest, we just purchased out tickets for the Maids of the Mist boat tour directly at the gate for about $18 each for us adults, and less than $11 for the child.
We only had a 15 minute wait to board; they have a really efficient system, able to pump through close to 20,000 visitors per day on peak days. The boat tour is totally worth the price of admission, putting you right up next to the major falls, especially the Horseshoe Falls that are not nearly as easy to see from land on the US side. The power from them is amazing; as you approach in the boat the massive volume of water pouring over the cliffs creates its own wind system, blowing cool air and mist across everything. The boat pilots make sure to give both sides of the boat a turn to experience each angle of the falls before returning to the landing.
Two excellent private parks started our kid-oriented RV adventure off quite well, and if you are in those regions with children we can recommend both Cherry Grove and Niagara Hartland. Next up, four NY state parks.