Niagara Falls recommendations?

by DaniGirl on June 3, 2009 · 19 comments

in Away we go

So in the past few years, we’ve ventured to Quebec City, Bar Harbor, Smuggler’s Notch, and Lake Placid on our summer vacations. This year, we wanted something within easy driving range, and in Canada because none of us have our passports. I’d heard a lot of good things about Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. They have indoor and outdoor water slides, water parks for big and little kids, and fun rooms kitted out like cabins. When I mentioned it to my brother and his wife, they were foolishly enthusiastic about joining us. Five kids between one and seven — should be a blast!

We got a great discount for Great Wolf Lodge when we booked back in March. I don’t know if it’s still available, but when we booked we got 50% off any July reservation with coupon code “Tradition.” So the water parks should take up a good portion of our time — we’re only staying two nights — but we’re also planning to visit Marineland and of course, the Falls themselves.

It’s been 20+ years since I’ve been to Niagara Falls, and I really don’t remember much about it. I’d like to really do the tourist thing and try the Maid of the Mist tour, but I’m not sure how that is for kids. Note to self: bring sandwich baggies to protect camera!

Any recommendations for things to do with young kids in Niagara Falls? Thoughts on tackling Marineland with a toddler? Restaurant recommendations also welcome!

(And no, I promise, I did not book this year’s vacation based on potential photo opportunities. Well, okay, maybe just a little bit…)


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrea June 3, 2009 at 7:50 am

Frances and I are planning on going to the Falls this summer. If you’re interested, let us know when you’re going to be there, and maybe we can meet up. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve promised her a boat trip this time.

We went when she was two, and it was great. she really didn’t get the Falls themselves and we didn’t go on the boat (more for time/money than interest, I think she would have loved it) but the gardens and the people and all the other stuff around the Falls still held her interest, so I think Lucas will have a great time. And your older two are definitely a good age for it. We did the tour behind the Falls, complete with yellow rain ponchos, which was great fun.

2 Mom on the Go June 3, 2009 at 8:59 am

Having stayed at, and loved, the Great Wolf Lodge on three occasions, I would plan for lots of time in their pools and on the slides. There will be activities in the lobby in the morning and evening, too. It’s really intended to be a destination in itself. You can check in at 1:00 or so and stay in the waterpark until 10:00pm of the night you check out.

I’d recommend an extra night in a cheap motel to crash one night and then plan for Marineland and the Falls that day and the morning until you check in at the GWL. We took Reid and her cousin (also 4) to the Falls last October and they really weren’t impressed, fwiw. They shine lights on the Falls on the weekend nights, that was always a favourite with my family. Having worked at Fort George for 3 summers, I have to also suggest a trip down the Niagara Parkway for that. The bigger boys will love the soldiers, musicians and the fort itself.

Maybe you could trade off evening parenting and each couple could take in a winery.

Have fun!

3 karen at virtually there June 3, 2009 at 10:45 am

Having grown up just 20 km away from the Falls I can give you a few tips. The walk under the Falls is great. All your kids will love it. Maple Leaf Village has a great ferris wheel although I’m not sure if there is much else there anymore (there used to be a kitchy Elvis museum).

Although your kids will likely love Marineland, you may find it disturbing. The animals there are held for entertainment purposes and it is not like visiting an acquarium where the animals are treated well and given appropriate tanks etc. Just be prepared.

The butterfly conservatory is great too and the kids will love it.

4 Shannon June 3, 2009 at 10:57 am

I’ve been wanting to go to that Lodge place for ages but my little guy is only 1.5 so I think he’s still too young. The fun would be all for me!! I can’t wait until the Ottawa waterparks open!

5 Elizabeth June 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I third the recommendation for the walk behind the Falls. I’m from Niagara, although not living there now, and we always had a great time with our visitors with that attraction. Lots of fun for kids, too. I wish I could recommend Marineland too, but I’ve always found it hugely expensive for relatively few activities, and as Karen points out above, the way the animals are kept there always made me feel sad. The Butterfly Conservatory is a lovely way to spend some time in Niagara; my toddler enjoyed it quite a lot, although I suppose older children would get more out of it. Do try the Maid of the Mist if you can, but even with the rain ponchos, have changes of clothing available for the boys!

6 Marla June 3, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I’m practically from there, and could go on…

This is actually fantastic: http://www.niagarafrontier.com/atrium.html
(and there’s a coupon code to print at this link).

And the butterfly gardens are nice too: http://www.niagaraparks.com/garden/butterfly.php

I can see you wanting to take lots of pictures at both places too.

And absolutely, the Maid of the Mist.

And that’s enough. They’ll be tired. So will you. An evening walk up Clifton Hill could be fun. There’s an M&M’s store/museum type thingy that will make the boys crazy with wanting, even if they’ve never really wanted something like that before. And I like the Ripley’s type museums, but Jo’s still a little young for some of the stuff in there (What’s Prison Art? Is that a REAL shrunken head? Why does that guy have nails in him?). And sadly, I don’t think the Elvis Museum is there any more.

The whole area is family-friendly, really – restaurants will be used to the whining and disheveled hoardes – but there are no “snacks” found easily anwhere, it’s all a production. So pack some. Wear good walking shoes.

As for Marineland? If you must, go on a weekday, if your trip allows it. The weekends are f*ing insane. And it’s expensive. Lousy food choices, so pack a lunch. And, while there’s a ride section just for the little kids not too far from the entrance that’s pretty good and the waits there aren’t awful – there are long walks between other attractions and some of those cost money on top of the admission. We’ve gone, of course, because of the deer park, for Josie – which made me horribly, unbearably sad (on top of the guilt at watching the neurotic swimming things in awful tanks). But little kids don’t see any of that – and I did use it as a jumping off point for talking to Josie about cruelty. Would you like me to send you pictures of the giant tumours on the deer? Because I have some.

7 twinmomplusone June 3, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Marineland: disappointing, lots of walking, animals sad looking
Butterfly world, Walk behind the falls: two thumbs up!!
maid of the Mist: not as fun with little ones
Falls at night: cool ๐Ÿ™‚

8 mrsgryphon June 3, 2009 at 3:27 pm

We did Marineland last year with Bean (she was 2.5 at the time) and we had a great time… part of that being the chance encounter with a bunch of my cousins who just happened to be there for the day, too! (We live in Alberta now, so it was v.cool to see them coming down the path towards us!!) I agree that the adults in our group did find the ‘animal attractions’ to be a little disturbing, but Bean loves all zoos and aquarium-type destinations so she was in her element. Food choices weren’t great, but when you’re on holiday, once in a while a hot dog with fries and an ice cream chaser isn’t so bad, right? The park is definitely large, with lots of walking, but the kids rides were fun and the stadium seal/dolphin show was a huge hit with the kids!!

If you have time, and you like wine, may I recommend Konzelmann winery (quite close to Niagara-on-the-Lake). I love their wines, and have for years ๐Ÿ™‚ The drive along the wine route and the Niagara Escarpment is pretty, too, and a nice “back roads” way to head home, avoiding the major highway!

9 DaniGirl June 3, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Oh wow, you guys rock! My own personal travel guides — I love it!!

I’m so sad to hear Marineland is like that — was expecting a Toronto Zoo type of quality, with interaction. It’s not like that? Hmmm, maybe it’d be better if we did the zoo for the animals and Canada’s Wonderland for the rides on some separate trip. Will have to chew this over with my brother.

Funny how many of you recommended the butterfly conservatory — I don’t know if it’s at all similar, but a few years ago Carleton U had a butterfly exhibit and I was so freaked out I had to leave. Butterflies = bugs. Giant leggy, icky, crawly bugs that have a propulsion system so that they can land on you. No thanks! *shudder*

10 Rebecca June 3, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I have my Niagara review on my blog in my draft box. I had to upload some pics and plan to post tomorrow!

But in summary:

-Go see the Falls themselves, walking along there is a couple hours.
-There are alot of gardens to walk through – the butterflies are in one big garden area that’s really nice.
-check out http://www.birdkingdom.ca the birds are in an aviary that looks like an Indiana Jones city and fly free around you. But, there are bugs in one area – cool but maybe send the kids in to look and you run past…

Niagara on the Lake is very close to Niagara Falls. It has shopping and food for the adults and a gorgeous, huge old park for the kids. The trees beautifully provide shade.

As my son is only 2.5, we haven’t done Marineland or the waterparks yet – we’ve always been so busy doing the other stuff but now I’m sad to hear about the animals.

My post will have more details and some pics ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I will say, you’ll have a blast.

11 ian June 4, 2009 at 8:12 am

O man – my girls saw the Marineland commercial recently and watched their jaws drop! ‘Can we go to Marineland?!?!?’
With a toddler? Not so sure…

12 andrea from the fishbowl June 4, 2009 at 8:13 am

We’re thinking of doing GWL too, but man, is it expensive.

The Bird Kingdom is a must. It is VERY cool, as is the Butterfly conservatory. But then again, we’re bird & bug people. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s not for the squeamish!

13 Mom on the Go June 4, 2009 at 9:45 am

Can I pop in again about the GWL? It *is* expensive but I think it’s worth it in the gray month of November when the humid air is a welcome relief. I hope that the summer benefit is playing in the waterpark without fear of sunburn (though there is an outdoor pool area). I think all of the rooms have microwaves along with the standard fridge and coffee maker. Plan to eat at least 2 meals a day in your room. The restaurants are expensive and the food is blah. The GWL is not close to other restaurants.

And Dani, you might consider whether you want to ride in a helicopter or have an answer to why not, because there is a helicopter sight-seeing company right across the road.

14 DaniGirl June 4, 2009 at 10:13 am

Thanks for the tip on the food. We’ll definitely be doing a simple breakfast and lunch, whether at ‘home’ in the hotel or packed to go…. and then maybe we can justify the helicopter ride? *wink* Wicked cool!

I agree that while it is expensive compared to your average Holiday Inn, from what I’ve heard it’s more of a “resort” than simply a hotel. If you factor in the price of an average day at Mount Cascades, for example, it seems more reasonable. I think we paid in the neighbourhood of $175 per night for the five of us — more than reasonable, IMHO.

15 mapsgirl June 8, 2009 at 8:54 am

I *am* from there and used to work on Clifton Hill (in a hotel, i wasn’t actually “working” the Hill. eek).

I will second everything Marla said. She summed it up quite nicely. Especially about Marineland on a weekend; It really is that crazy busy.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you about GWL as we haven’t been there. My mom lives in NF so the idea of paying to stay down the road (practically) from her is kinda silly. Tho those slides do look very fun.

If you do venture away from the Lodge, look into this http://www.niagaraparks.com/nfgg/discountpass.php . Tho that might be for your next trip as GWL might take up all of your time.

What ever you end up doing, you’re going to have a great time!!

16 alison June 9, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Ditto Marineland (not my Fav) and Butterfly Conservatory (awesome) My family lives in Niagara on the Lake and it is worth a little side trip for an afternoon if you have time. Lots of nice shops, fun to just get an ice cream and go for a stroll or a horse drawn carriage ride. The park across for the Prince of Wales hotel has a decent play structure, lots of shade and a little wading pool, great for a picnic and some down time (not that you need it staying at GWL) It is a nice change of pace form NF. If you go, drive along the river through Queenston, awesome views and great houses. There is also a nice park and wading pool at the Brock Monument in Queenston. We also like visiting the Fort in NOTL….back to NF, I’m a fan of walking up Clifton Hill just to see all the crazy places and people. The falls at night with the changing lights are gorgeous. I love the maid of the mist and the walk under the falls but not sure how your youngest would like it???

NF has all the usual chain restaurants, NOTL has more fine dining. There is a well known family restaurant in Chippewa with amazing home cooked dinners, it’s called Bettys’ and it’s a bit of an institution. Great fish and chips, hot turkey sandwiches etc. If you want to try the famous Anchor Bar original chicken wings it is a very short trip across the border.

If I think of anything else I’ll get back to you….

Have a great time!

17 yvonne June 10, 2009 at 9:59 am

don’t eat at the Rainbow Cafe – very expensive and not worth it.

18 Joel Dombrowski June 12, 2009 at 7:29 am

As a tour guide at the Falls (with 4 kids under the age of 12), I can tell you that the Great Wolf Lodge is the way to go. It is not cheap, but it is worth it. Too many great things to list for the kids, but there are excellent things for moms and dads who need a little adult time. There are services that allow you to have your children supervised while mom and dad chill out.
Just like a regular hotel, you may bring food from the grocery store to save on meals. Would recommend the Butterfly Conservatory as well. A no cost attraction is the Glen Park which allows you to walk down into the gorge. This is a hike and requires a little effort on the way up, but if you are a camping family this should be a great fit.
Niagara on the Lake is scenic, but save that for a trip when there are no kids. Do that as a romantic getaway in a Bed and Breakfast.

19 David Wardle October 26, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Savvy travelers know to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake when visiting the Falls. Hotels and B&Bs are located right downtown just a short walk from shops, great restaurants and world class theater. The town is beautiful with its preserved historic buildings and profusion of flower gardens. It is both safe and friendly. Placed in the middle of wine country there are over 20 wineries in the area. Ice wine is a specialty of Canadian winemakers and they have won awards in competitions all over the world. Many tourists like it so much they return year after year.

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