WASHINGTON, DC, December 21, 2012 - You’ll have to forego a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist, but a visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario in the winter has its own rewards. The Falls, surrounded by thick shimmering ice formations, is somehow grander and more wondrous. If you add to the frosty eye-candy deeply discounted accommodations and uncrowded attractions with virtually no line-ups, a winter getaway becomes even more appealing.
A View to Remember
Rink on the Brink - Located next to the Horseshoe Falls, this outdoor skating rink has one of the best views of the Falls around. The best time to lace up your skates is in the evening, when you’ll see the rushing water lit up with glowing colours as you glide on the ice. Skate & helmet rentals are available. Open daily Nov.28 – Feb.28 (subject to weather conditions).
Journey Behind the Falls - With its ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of the falls, this quintessential Niagara Falls attraction has been wowing visitors in one form or another for over 100 years. An elevator takes visitors down 150 feet to a tunnel that gives access to outdoor observation decks and portals, where you’ll witness the spectacle of 1/5 of the world’s fresh water crashing into the basin below. Note that babies and toddlers may be frightened by the thundering roar.
Niagara Skywheel - A view from above this time, 175 feet above to be exact. This Ferris wheel on steroids (with enclosed gondola-styled seats) delivers a stunning spectacle along with a thrill.
Chills and Thrills
Nightmares Fear Factory - The Cataract Coffin Factory is the setting for this ultimate haunted tour that is not for the faint of heart. Over 100,000 people have chickened out to date, but if you make it through, bragging rights are yours for life.
IMAX Theatre -Less taxing on your heart is the Legends and Daredevils IMAX show, spotlighting fascinating accounts of the brave and crazy folks who have tight-roped and fallen over the Falls. The daredevil exhibit has a collection of barrels and other paraphernalia used in the stunts. If your kids are anything like my ten-year-old son and a little too interested in all of it, be sure to let them know that it’s now illegal to intentionally go over the Falls.
Bird Kingdom - Winter couldn’t seem further away in this rainforest aviary with over 400 free-flying birds of nearly 80 species. Daily shows let kids get up close and personal to birds and creatures of all kinds. Feeding the parakeets was the highlight for my daughter who squealed in delight when three of the colourful birds landed on her.
Butterfly Conservatory- Another ‘cool’ tropical experience for kids, this 11,000 square-foot sanctuary boasts over 2000 species of butterflies. Spotting them among the tropical flowers, hidden pathways and waterfalls is a thrill and if the kids are lucky, the winged insects may even land on them (wearing bright colours help).
Rainforest Café - It may be a Disney-esque version of the tropics, but the massive aquariums filled with sharks, snakes and tropical fish along with life-size replicas of gorillas and other jungle mammals keep the kids occupied. And if the kids are entertained, parents can eat in peace. A glass of Niagara wine, perhaps?
Hershey Store - The kids spent all their allowance at this store as they bounced from shelf to shelf oohing and ahhing at 50lb chocolate bars, ¼ pound Reese Pieces cup, milkshakes, fudge of all flavours and other chocolate creations. They continued to talk in awe of the sheer quantity of chocolate long after we had returned home.
Clifton Hill – It’s been described as tacky, cheesy and a tourist trap. That may well be true, but this strip full of kitschy museums, haunted houses, arcades and glow-in-the-dark miniature golf is also a whole lot of fun. The Guinness Book of Records Museum was a hit with my son, with its crazy facts, sports records and the truly bizarre. And then there’s House of Frankenstein, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Houdini Hall of Fame, among others. Sure, some of these attractions have seen better days and it’s easy to spend too much money, but no trip to Niagara Falls is complete without experiencing its over-the-top carnival atmosphere.
With so much for families to do in the winter, you may not even have to return in the summer, except, of course for the Maid of the Mist.
Sheraton on the Falls – Prime location, terrific views of the Falls and 3-acre Fallsview Indoor Waterpark with 16 waterslides and two adult-only Jacuzzis make this hotel a family favourite. Specials that include complimentary water park passes and attraction passes are often available on their website. The Crowne Plaza and more economical Skyline Hotels are also connected to the water park. Rates including water park passes are approximately $220. Look for packages that include meals and other attractions.
Great Wolf Lodge- This resort is an attraction itself, and you’ll have a hard time dragging the kids out of their epic (as kids say) water park even with one of the great wonders of the world outside. An indoor wave pool, tree-house water fort, a four-story water slide, and a lazy river are just a few of its features, and grandma-temperature 80-degree water is a perfect antidote to the cold weather outside. There’s plenty for younger kids, too, and after they’re splashed out, be sure to put them in their pajamas for a bedtime show and stories in the lobby. The resort’s latest innovation is MagiQuest, a one- of-a-kind interactive game that turns your family into cast-spelling mystery-solving wizards who reveal hidden treasures and defeat a fire-breathing dragon with magic wands. The water park is for guests from 1pm on the day of check-in until 10pm on departure day. Rates vary depending on dates. Winter prices are significantly lower than summer with last minute specials and packages available. Early bird packages for January are approximately $250.
The Niagara Magic Pass gives you admission to Niagara’s Fury, the Butterfly Conservatory, Journey Behind the Falls and two days of bus transportation for an on-line price of 29.95 per adult and 24.95 for children. Valid until April 14th 2012.
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