Travel Tips

Planning Family-Friendly Experiences in Canada, Niagara and Beyond

Locations in this article:  Toronto, Canada

Smiling familyWith the U.S. dollar holding strong in Canada, Loretta Copeland embarked on a family adventure to Toronto.  

Read on for her four-part series of their adventures, where she discovered the trials of traveling internationally with a 7-year-old, explored the family-friendly activities of Niagara Falls and beyond, and ran into both a knight in shining armor and Rob Lowe in one short trip.

Step One: Planning Ahead

Though the idea of traveling to Canada with my daughter was exciting, it was also a daunting task. After all, traveling internationally with a 7-year-old is not just a case of packing a bag and hopping on a plane.

First, the passport. As of June 1, 2009, all American travelers are required to have a passport to return from Canada and Mexico, whether traveling by air, sea or land.

Get tips on Getting Past the Passport Crunch.

As anyone who has applied for a first-time passport knows, it requires filling out lots of forms, meeting certain travel requirements and acquiring specific documents … not to mention a good amount of patience to sort it all out.

American passportWord of advice: Send the application as early as possible to avoid the last-minute rush. Although there are dedicated passport agencies, such as It’s Easy Passport Services or Zierer Visa Service, to expedite delivery process, applicants still have to fill out the paperwork. And of course, those agencies also require additional processing and delivery fees.

The most cost-effective method is the U.S. Post Office, which takes between eight to 10 weeks and costs about $80. There are rules for mailing your application from the Post Office as well, so check the State Department’s Web site ( for guidelines.

Since we didn’t have enough time to wait for the U.S. postal service, we had to apply for Noelle’s passport in person. However, because we were opting for expedited service, we had to apply within 14 days of departure, and bring documents showing our travel dates (i.e., the airline tickets) to the appointment.

Get more help in our Family Travel section.

When applying on behalf of a minor, there’s another wrinkle: Both parents and the child must be present. If both parents are not available, don’t worry, it just requires filling out yet one more form: the DS-3053 absent-parental consent form. That form has to be notarized and presented with the application.

All details for obtaining a passport for a minor can be found here: US Department of State Passport Services. Ultimately, even though the application process was tedious, my daughter was thrilled to receive her own passport and it made our impending trip that much more anticipated.

Traveling Solo with the Kiddo

Not wanting to fight crowds waiting for shuttles or spend an exorbitant amount on taxis, the easiest way to get to the airport was to drive our own car and drop it off at an off-airport lot. At $7 a day, it was a far cheaper option than the official airport lot, but more convenient than a shared-ride option.

Cranky at the airportThe day was upon us, we were primped, packed and plunked right outside the doors of Air Canada’s terminal ready to go … or so we thought. Seemed that though we were ready, our plane was not. Our hour and a half wait turned into four.

And after a long breakfast, a few strolls around the terminal (hauling our carry-on luggage around), a visit to the gift shop, and a couple of strong cups of coffee for me, the inevitable happened. My daughter Noelle’s usually chipper, go-with-the-flow attitude waned right around three hours and forty-five minutes into the delay.

Fortunately the plane gods divined to let those of us with mini-passengers (who were just about ready to stage a coup) do a beautiful thing known as pre-boarding. Coup averted— mini-mercenaries returned to happy-children status.

Traveling to Toronto? Try the Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Toronto, Canada.

Keeping the Kids Entertained

Happier on the flightAny parent who has flown with children will tell you that keeping kids entertained on a long-haul flight without having the other passengers want to strangle you requires feats of ingenuity, acts of diligence, of course pre-planning, and a pinch of old-fashioned good luck. Once the portable game console and Littlest Pet Shop toys were no longer interesting, the crossword puzzles and coloring books were pushed aside, and horrors, we were in between snacks, Air Canada swooped in to the rescue.

They filled in a healthy dose of those “I’m bored” moments with their onboard interactive video/audio entertainment screen.

Air Canada screensThe on-board entertainment provided not only children’s programming, but also a wide variety of movies and shows as well as varied radio stations for all ages.

Plus, my daughter (OK, and mom too) found it great fun to just navigate around the touch screen monitors viewing all the different available shows.

As an added bonus, there was an electrical outlet incorporated into their entertainment unit on the back of the seats. (Speaking of the seats, I also have to mention that I had quite a bit more legroom than the carrier I usually fly on, *cough* American *cough*.)

Finding Family-Friendly Accommodations

From Pearson International Airport in Toronto, it’s a 30-minute drive to the outlying city of Markham to reach our hotel, Hilton’s Homewood Suites, Markham Ontario.

Homewood Suites roomWhy stay so far from downtown? Just think of the amenities of an extended-stay hotel that caters to business travelers and how that can apply to traveling families:

For starters, the rooms start at about $120, including free Wi-Fi, daily breakfast AND a light meal in the evenings, Monday through Thursday. In addition, extended-stay hotels generally have kitchenettes, and this one had yet another perk: a daily grocery-delivery option. Simply leave a grocery list clipped to the refrigerator in your room before heading out for the day, and when you return in the evening, the perishables will be neatly placed in the refrigerator and the rest sitting on the counter. Don’t worry about having cash on hand as the tab is added to your hotel bill, unless otherwise requested. An additional perk is the hotel’s recycling program, which would prove to be a common theme throughout our Canadian stay.

Oh, Canada! Don’t miss our Canada Travel section.

The main drawback about the non-central location, of course, is that a rental car is necessary—not just to get to and from the airport, but to reach downtown Toronto.

But when traveling with children, schlepping around on foot, shelling out for multiple taxis and navigating public transportation isn’t always the best option. And on this particular trip, with Niagara Falls and other activities on the agenda, the city center wasn’t our only destination.

Next up, discovering Toronto’s family-friendly activities that aren’t necessarily on the brochure…

By Loretta Copeland for

Loretta Copeland also headed on an RV trip with her family–check it out in The RV Chronicles: First-Time RVers Hit the Road.

Related links on Canada on