Growing up in Rochester, NY, a trip over the border to Canada was a pretty common thing. Living about an hour from another country doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you are old enough to appreciate that you live an hour from another country.
I don’t remember my first visit across the northern border. I was likely a baby. Back in the day, you didn’t need a passport so Canada was a frequent summer destination. Rochester, NY is about 1:15 minutes away from the border crossing at Niagara Falls. Depending on who is driving, could be little more or a little less.
Visiting Canada now requires a valid U.S. Passport, passport card or NEXUS card. Children under 16 only need proof of citizenship. When we relocated from Maryland to New York, my husband and I chose to get the Enhanced Drivers License which allow us to cross into Canada without a passport, by land or sea. We can also cross into Mexico and some Caribbean countries with our enhanced license too.
Exploring Niagara Falls USA
For all of the times that I’d been to Niagara Falls, Canada, I’d never bothered to explore Niagara Falls, USA. In 2020, the borders were still closed so we decided to take the kids on their first falls adventure. A new experience for all of us. Earlier that summer we checked out Letchworth State Park which has some impressive waterfalls, but of course few things compare to Niagara Falls.
When we arrived we found parking to be pretty easy and convenient to the attractions. Parking near the visitor center at Prospect Point is $5 to $10 per car depending on the time of year. We went mid-week in late August.
Unique finds on the American side
The American side of the falls doesn’t have a lot of the same attractions as the Canadian side. There is no ferris wheel, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the epic haunted houses along Clifton Hills or the most direct view of the American Falls and Horseshoe falls. But, there are some unique American side only attractions like the Cave of the Winds Tour behind the falls, Seneca Niagara Casino, the Observation Tower, and hiking trails directly along the rapids and the falls in the park. Other Niagara USA experiences include restaurants, shopping, the Maid of the Midst ferry, the Aquarium of Niagara and Top of the Falls Restaurant.
On the U.S. side there is more nature to experience and explore as the Niagara Falls State Park is designed to embrace the power and beauty of the falls in the most up close ways possible. I’ve never been that close to the top of the falls before this visit. The views, although different from the Canadian side are just as remarkable. And, the power of the water is even more evident when you hear and feel the rushing of the river combined with the crashing of the water pouring over the falls. So, fun fact, the Niagara Falls is where the five great lakes converge!
We spent most of our time exploring the park and the various trails. We did a lot of walking. The kids were 4 and 8 during this visit so we didn’t get into the more exciting attractions like the Cave of the Winds. I know my children, and at the time there weren’t very ready for that experience, however it is kid friendly. Prices range according to the time of year.
The Maid of the Midst is also a another must do for many that we didn’t do this time around. On a previous trip my husband and I have taken the ride from the Canadian side. The rides are very similar no matter which side of the border you are on. The ferry boats from the Canadian and U.S. side actually pass each other often at the base of the Horsehoe Falls. Prices for adults are around $28.25 per person, children 6-12 $16.50 and five and under are free.
We walked a lot. Were comfortable shows. At the time we visited, it wasn’t very crowded so there was space to move freely. There are peak seasons however, when the Observation Decks is too crowded, you have to compete for space and the attractions have long lines. Try to plan your trip around less crowded times or just pack your patience.
We started at Prospect Point which where you catch the Maid of the Midst ferry or take a stroll across the Observation Tower. We stayed a little closer to the ground and observed the falls from the ground level.
We were able to take in the American Falls and the American Rapids as close as you can get. Though it was a hot August day, we enjoyed the midst that blows from the force of the falls as nice way to cool down.
Exploring Goat Island
We headed over the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to check out the island that leads to the more famous Horseshoe Falls. Goat Island sits between the two falls and makes for some of the most impressive views in the park. The island is accessible by car if you go over the American Rapids Bridge. Parking is available on the island. There is a trolly that goes through the park and over to the island that we didn’t catch.
There are plenty to places to stop and enjoy the view and have an outdoor picnic. thought the park. We didn’t have a full picnic but of course, we kept our usual snacks and water for the kids to munch on throughout the day. We spent a little over two hours at the park with was about the limit for Camryn at the time.
The trails the run through Niagara Falls State Park run along side the river rapids right to the falls. When you are on the Canadaian side, you get the complete view of American Falls and Horseshoe Falls all at once. When you are in the U.S. side, your direct view is mostly of Canada. Not a great trade off, but still cool.
If you are within a few hours of the falls and have never been I definitely suggest adding it to your stops. If like me, you’ve been there but only explored one side of the great wonder, go back and take a different view. You won’t disappointed.
Visiting both sides increases your appreciation for the wonder of nature that is the falls.
A short 30 minute ride from our home in Rochester, NY, Letchworth State Park has been voted one of the best attractions in New York State. Sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” for the magnificent scenery, it was also in the past named the “Best State Park in the US”.
Our family is down for riding bikes, walking, easy hikes, and just taking in the views. I wouldn’t say we are the “most” outdoorsy people around, but we definitely enjoy nature. In a time where it’s very easy to be distracted by electronic things, I’m happy that our kids are engaged and enjoy exploration around parks and trails. Western NY is full of some of the best parks in the country including, Letchworth State Park.
Exploring Letchworth State Park
I can’t recall having ever been to Letchworth State Park before this visit. I wanted to take the kids especially so they could get a glimpse at their first major waterfalls. The Genesee River runs through the gorges that host three major waterfalls and a bunch of smaller ones as well. In addition there are 66 hiking trails, a massive outdoor pool, and a nature center. You can go kayaking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, ride a hot air ballon and in the winter skiing, and snowmobiling. You can even camping at the park in a cabin, RV or tent. The Glen Iris Inn is a restaurant and Inn located on property in the park. Not really what I would consider to be kid friendly, but a nice place for a date.
All about the waterfalls
We didn’t intend to do all of the wonderful things they have at the park, we just wanted to hike an easy trail and see the waterfalls. Luck would have it, we chose an extra hot day, so the mist from the waterfalls was a welcome reward when we got close enough.
We entered the park at the south entrance. Just driving through the 17 mile park can take about 20-30 minutes. If you stay on the main park road, it is easy to park and get out at the various overlooks, which is what we did. Getting in and out of the car also allowed for water breaks and AC on a 90 degree and humid day. Throughout the park, bathrooms were easy to find. We brought snacks from home so we didn’t visit the concession stands.
After stopping at a few of the overlooks to check out the views, we made it to Middle Falls. Parking is easy near the Glen Iris Inn and a short walk down to the falls. It’s a pretty cool view to be able to take in how massive and powerful the Middle Falls are. Measuring in at 107 feet, it is the tallest of the falls in the park. It’s not Niagara Falls but pretty impressive!
You can also park near Upper Falls and take a bit of a walk to get a closer look. We didn’t have a stroller and on the return trip up the stairs the three year old gave up on walking. So the husband ended up with an extra 30 lbs weight to carry (aka Camryn). Nonetheless, since it was our last stop for the day, it was a nice way to end things.
After a year long delay, LEGOLAND New York is open for business. In addition to Legoland, the LEGOLAND Hotel also opened in August 2021.
Legoland New York was made with kids in mind
LEGOLAND New York is the 3rd Legoland resort in the United States, joining California and Florida. There are a total of ten LEGOLAND Parks across the globe.
These theme parks were all designed with kids age 2-12 in mind. Since the Kent Krew littles are 8 and 4, this was a perfect place for us. Even if your kids are not LEGO fanatics (mines are not), there is something for all adults and kids alike. You know because at LEGOLAND, everything is awesome (pun intended).
What you will find at LEGOLAND New York
Located in Goshen, NY, LEGOLAND New York is just 60 miles north of New York City. You can catch a flight to any of the major NYC or NJ airports and drive to the park in 1-2 hours (of course traffic could make it longer). You can easily extend your trip and spend some extra time in NYC or in the gorgeous green (in the summer) Hudson Valley.
We live in Rochester, NY so the trip to LEGOLAND New York was a quick 4.5 hour ride south for us. We actually drove to NYC first. It was the first trip to NYC for the kiddos and their chance to see the “city” with the big buildings. The highlight was an view of the Empire State building from the sunroof and an authentic slice of NYC pizza.
LEGOLAND New York has seven themed lands spread across 150 acres: Brickstreet, Bricktopia, LEGO NINJAGO World, LEGO Castle, LEGO City, LEGO Pirates and Miniland.
We did explore all seven lands. We spent about 4 hours at the park before the kids started to wear down. The majority of our time was spent in LEGO Pirates, Miniland and LEGO City.
Making our way through the park
We arrived a few minutes before the park opened. Although there was a line, it moved rather quickly to get inside. You have to go though the security scanner of course. We were able to have a backpack with two water bottles and some snacks with no problems.
Parking was simple and easy. You actually just drive right in and follow the directions and parking lot attendants to the next open spot. You pay on your exit. Parking is $20 when you pre-pay and I was told $25 if you pay on exit. If you pre-pay, you can scan the barcode on your receipt to get out, otherwise you can use a debit/credit card to pay and get out.
You enter the park on Brickstreet. You are greeted by the Lego store, or The BIG Shop as it is called. There you can find unique LEGO sets and items that are only available in the store. I fully intended to purchase sets for the kids but they didn’t seem too interested. The prices weren’t too bad, but since the kids didn’t ask I didn’t offer!
Brickstreet is also where you can find things like stroller rentals, locker rentals and guest services. The first ride of the day you see will be Brick Party, or what most people would call a merry-go-round. Camryn and I happily hopped aboard.
We then moved into Bricktopia where Camryn enjoyed the Duplo Express train. I’m pretty short so I was able to squeeze onto it with her. On our way out of the park, we made another pass through Bricktopia to ride a few more attractions including DJ’s Dizzy Discor Spin which did make me a little dizzy.
Miniland Will Blow Your Mind
Miniland is a collection of miniature Lego builds of landmark places in the world. I think it was likely my favorite of the parks. The details, the intricate nature of the builds, the complexity was so good. Even while walking slowly and taking your time, it’s just so much to take in. From the NYC skyline, the San Fransisco Bay Bridge, the Las Vegas Strip, monuments in Washington DC, and so many others.
We found the pizza in LEGO City
My son is a super picky eater. We eat pizza multiple times per week. So, his favorite thing was no surprise, eating at Brickolini’s Pizza and Pasta found in LEGO City. The pizza and pasta restaurant is a buffet. It costs a little over $50 for the four of us to access the buffet and unlimited soft drinks. A bit pricey considering the day before we had 2 slices of NYC pizza for $9 and feed all our of us!
The pizza selection was good and pretty tasty. The pasta was bland. They do have Coke machines that let you create and mix any flavor of Coke products you like. I wasn’t too impressed by the dessert options either. The food definitely wasn’t the high point for me. There are other eatery options in the park that we didn’t try.
I’ve heard great things about the famous Apple Fries, but unfortunately didn’t get to try them.
The other highlight of LEGO City were the Driving School and Junior Driving School. After looking at YouTube videos of the park before visiting, my son had already determined he wanted to ride that ride and the Fire Academy Ride. The Fire Academy wasn’t opened due to staffing.
The Driving School attractions allow little drivers to make their way around and through obstacles all while driving mini cars. At the end, they get their “driver’s license”.
Get a little wet at the Splash Battle
Moving into the land of LEGO Pirates I was excited to see a few water rides. While we didn’t get on Splash Battle, the ride is set up so that you can engage with the riders. They can spray you with water cannons and you can try and spray them at the same time. It was a fun way to interact with the ride without going through a line.
The other pirate themed rides like Anchor’s Away! and Rouge Riders looked fun as well. The kids spent a fair amount of time running through the Shiver Me Bricks playground.
The Dragon Coaster
Since LEGLOAND was made for smaller kids, you won’t find a bunch of big thrill rides. If you are into thrill rides and coasters, check out my review of Cedar Point Amusement park, the roller coaster capital of the world.
There is one roller coaster though, the Dragon Coaster. Open to guests who are at least 4 years old and 42 inches tall. Camryn was big enough, but mommy might have convinced her otherwise (shhh). Although the coaster looks pretty tame, I just wasn’t up for it, or the line. She was a very understanding 4 year-old though. It’s a great first coaster for kids, and we will be riding it when we go back. If you have a smaller little, the Dragon’s Apprentice is for riders as small as 36 inches tall.
The other rides in LEGO Castle like Merlin’s Flying Machines and Tower Climb look like fun too. We did explore the gift shop in the castle to find a few keepsakes. Also, there was another food court in this section of the park.
Unfortunately, many of the smaller food stands throughout the park that have drinks, popcorn and ice cream were closed due to understaffing.
Back to Bricktopia
When we reached Ninjago, we didn’t spend a lot of time there. There were some ninja training obstacles that my son found interesting but my daughter wasn’t entertained by. We passed through and headed back around to Bricktopia.
The Factory is a ride exclusive to LEGOLAND New York! You get to experience what it’s like to be a Lego toy, getting boxed and shipped to your new home. We didn’t actually know it was a ride when we started walking in. We figured it out pretty quickly though.
While waiting to get to the ride, The Factory has neat Lego builds that give you the idea you are in the Lego factory. When we reached the ride (which was quick because there was almost no line) we were a little concerned.
The ride is dark and loud. For most kids, that’s fun but for some kids with sensory processing challenges it can be overwhelming. Luckily, I was able to offer my son a pair of shades and we ear buds and we made it through the ride okay. The ride itself was pretty cool and my husbands favorite part.
Perfect Timing for a Visit to Legoland New York
Our visit was in late August 2021, about a month after the park opened. We chose to spend a few days in the Hudson Valley region of New York State and dedicated a full-day to LEGOLAND. I picked a Tuesday because according to the website it’s usually a less crowded day. Also, there was also a promotion on tickets for Tuesday visits at the time.
Tickets for adults (13+) are $79.99 and ages 3-12 $69.99. There are some discounts and promotions I saw on the Legoland website. Annual passes are $229 per person for a year. You can also get a discount when you book a package with a stay at Legoland Hotel. We did not stay at the Legoland hotel for this visit.
I scored tickets through an employee portal at work at a huge discount! I paid $188 for all four tickets (including tax and an administrative fee). That was by far the best deal I found.
Although the LEGOLAND Hotel looks awesome, it was a little pricey for the amount of time we would be there. We stayed at a nearby Fairfield Inn which hosted a lot of families visiting LEGOLAND that week. It was only about 1.5 miles away. There are a number of hotels within a few miles of the park.
Visiting LEGOLAND New York During COVID
During our visit to the park in late August, it was busy but not crowded. We were able to move freely without being shoulder to shoulder with large groups of people I attribute that to the time of year (most other schools outside of NY were already back in session) day of week and many people still not knowing it’s open.
Masks were not required but recommended. Given the park is mostly outdoors, I saw high levels of mask wearing by many families. The park was very clean and well stocked with hand sanitizer at rides, at bathrooms and throughout the park. While in line, there wasn’t too much social distancing, however, it wasn’t crowded so no need to be right up on each other.
LEGOLAND is completely cashless. You can use credit cards or Apple pay only, which limits contact. Coming into the park, you can print your tickets to be scanned or just download your tickets to your phone to be scanned.
Overall, we had a good time at LEGOLAND New York and we plan on going back. The staffing issues meant that there were a few rides that were closed. Also, it seemed live the rides that were operational, went very fast. The rides lasted 45 seconds to 2 min. Since there was only one person to operate the ride and do the safety check, I fee like they sped up things keep it moving.
We will make a return visit at some point. And, Camryn has already told me we are going to ride the roller coaster next time.