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Following NIU – the road to Toronto

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While some might plan to ring in the New Year locally, many fans of the Northern Illinois University football team will be celebrating in Toronto, where the Huskies will play South Florida in the International Bowl on Jan. 2.

The trip will take drivers across Michigan and into Ontario in just a little over nine hours. But for those fans who want to make the road trip something of an adventure, there are several attractions worth taking the time to visit along the way. Remember that some attractions might not be open on New Year's Day.
Michigan

Kalamazoo

As travelers enter Michigan on I-94, they'll find themselves in Kalamazoo County. In Portage, aviation buffs can visit the Air Zoo, which features more than 50 historic and rare aircraft in two buildings. The museum also includes indoor amusement park rides, full-motion flight simulators, a 4-D theater and an astronaut simulation. Nature lovers can escape the wintry weather with a stop at the three-story tropical rainforest inside the Kalamazoo Nature Center, voted the top nature center in the nation by its peers.

Lansing

A detour north of I-94 on I-69 would take travelers through Michigan's state capital of Lansing. The capital building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the few working capitals in the country that is considered museum quality, said Lori Lanspeary of the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Michigan History Museum contains three floors of Michigan history, including interactive exhibits that make visitors feel like they're walking through a copper mine and an auto assembly plant, she said.

Flint

Throughout Michigan, auto aficionados will find a number of car museums, including the Sloan Museum in Flint, said Chris Everson of the Flint Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The museum is near a cultural center that includes the Flint Institute of the Arts, which has a collection of more than 7,500 pieces, and the Longway Planetarium. With 285 seats under a 60-foot dome, the Longway is the largest planetarium in Michigan, Everson said.

Ontario

London and Hamilton

Just over an hour after crossing the border into Ontario, thirsty travelers 19 and older can stop in London for a tour of the Labatt Brewery and a visit to the Western Fair Casino. In Hamilton, you can take a sightseeing tour along the Niagara escarpment or try hiking the escarpment's trails, said Ted Flett of Tourism Hamilton. Then take refuge from the cold in the indoor exhibits of Canada's largest botanical garden, the Royal Botanical Gardens.

"There's an indoor Mediterranean garden there, where you feel the warmth and see the brilliant colors of the plants though there might be three feet of snow outside," Flett said. "It's a nice sort of oasis from the cold."

Toronto

Toronto is a veritable haven for sports fans in the days surrounding the International Bowl, said Justine Palinska of the Toronto Convention and Visitors Bureau. The city's NBA and NHL teams host home games on Jan. 3 and 5, respectively, and the Hockey Hall of Fame has the entire Olympic medals collection on loan from the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. It's the first time the collection, dating back to 1896, has been available for viewing outside the Olympic Museum, she said.

Family-friendly attractions include the Toronto Zoo, ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square in the city center and tours of Casa Loma, a European-style castle complete with towers and secret passages, Palinska said.

New Year's Eve events in the city include a countdown and light show at the CN Tower and an open-air concert in Nathan Phillips Square, she said.

Passport Required

It's only a nine-hour drive from DeKalb to Toronto, but fans planning to follow the Huskies to the International Bowl need to remember they are leaving the country and will need a passport.

"You definitely have to have a passport. If you're riding the bus, we're checking that when you get on the bus," Northern Illinois University Associate Athletic Director for Development and Marketing Shelley Binegar said. "There's a lot of information flying around out there, but we're just telling people to get a passport. We don't want anything to jeopardize you getting across the border."

Getting a passport for the first time takes an estimated 4-6 weeks, but fans can get an expedited passport for an additional $60 fee. Expedited passports arrive in 2-3 weeks. Travelers can also apply for a U.S. passport card to enter Canada by land, but it can't be used for international air travel. The card costs $45 for a first-time adult applicant and $35 for applicants younger than 16.

People applying for a passport for the first time or for the first time in 15 years or more, people younger than 16 or whose passport was issued when they were younger than 16, and people whose previous passport was lost, stolen or damaged must apply in person. There is a $75 application fee and a $25 execution fee for first-time applicants. Applicants must bring proof of U.S. citizenship such as a certified birth certificate, expired passport or certificate of citizenship. They must also have government-issued identification and two photographs. The photographs must be identical, color, 2-by-2 inches, taken within the past six months, showing current appearance, full face, front view with plain white background and taken in normal street attire.

Visit the U.S. State Department's international travel Web site at http://travel.state.gov for more information and exceptions.

Get on the Bus

NIU is offering fans a choice of two travel packages to get to the International Bowl with the team, Associate Athletic Director for Development and Marketing Shelley Binegar said. Both options include two nights, double-occupancy, in the team hotel, tickets to the game and the official pregame tailgate, a bowl-game T-shirt and bowl-game luggage tags. The hotel is booked for the nights of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

The first option, at $428 per person, includes all of the above plus bus transportation to and from Toronto. The bus will pick up fans at the Convocation Center in DeKalb or in Oakbrook. The second option is for fans who do not want to ride the bus. The rest of the package is identical and is available for $245.

Deadline to purchase either package is Friday. Call 815-753-1923 or visit www.niuhuskies.com and click on "Bowl Central."

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