Our Best Family Vacation
This past August, we went on the cheapest family vacation yet and it turned out to be our best family vacation ever! We went in August and our children are still talking about this trip! Where did we go? Niagara Falls! We visited both the State Park in New York on the American side and then we went to Ontario to visit Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. In this story, I share our entire itinerary and what we loved about the activities that we chose.
As we planned the trip, I had one goal. I didn't want someone to ask my kids what it was like at Niagara Falls and they only remember "a bunch of water." I wanted them to be so excited at the power and magnificence of the natural phenomenon that they remember, "AMAZING WATER!!" We visited just about every viewing point and aspect of the falls, other than going over them in a barrel. The kids LOVED it. We did too!
Note: The story is a mix of professional quality images mixed with cell phone images because I wasn't taking my Nikon D850 into the waterfalls!! (Good choice on my part. We got so wet!)
Leave Sunday August 11 8:30 am (Lunch packed in car Drive to Niagara Falls, NY and ETA 2:30 pm) There aren't many places to stop on this drive. We packed to save money, but had driven on this route two weeks before to go to Lake Chautauqua and knew there wasn't much!
Check into Hotel (We stayed at the Hyatt Place.) Get snacks for the kids.
We got Discovery Passes on the American Side that got us into the Maid of the Mist, The Trolley, the Aquarium, a movie that we didn't get to see, the Museum, the Cave of the Winds. This was at a kiosk at the entrance of the State Park.
Do a walking tour of vantage points and make our way to the Maid of the Mist
Maid of the Mist Tour (AWESOME!) We got the most wet on this activity and weren't ready. I recommend bringing flip flops. It probably just depends on the wind on the day you go how wet you actually get.
Walk to get Indian Food Dinner at Zaika Indian Cuisine (We love Indian food and so do our kids. There were closer ones that I think looked better than this. There are SO many good Indian and Middle Eastern foods there!)
It was a nice evening, so we walked back slowly through what the boys called "Fun Street" which is actually called Old Falls Street. We played street games like chess, ping pong, and lego-building with the kids. There are giant games and they are quite fun.
First Walking Tour & Vantage Points
Maid of the Mist
Trolley Tour Part 1: We took the trolley towards the museum and the Aquarium of Niagara. The kids had lots of fun doing the Aquarium and watching the sea lion show and checking out the animals and exhibits. Then, we walked back towards the trolley route and stopped at the museum for a video of Niagara Falls. There are some neat exhibits there too. The kids started to get hungry, so we made our way back on the trolley to have lunch.
We had prepared a picnic lunch for this day before we left home. There aren't many picnic tables, but lots of space for picnic blankets.
Cave of the Winds and The World Changed Here Pavilion. (We brought Goggles for the kids here! I borrowed the kids' goggles too because I didn't want to lose a contact! Don't bring any real cameras on this event. It is way too misty.
We ended up doing quite a long walk after that and wandered up through several vantage points toward the American side of the Horseshoe Falls. We loved Terrapin Point best, as you really get a feel for the power of the water. There is a restaurant at Terrapin Point vantage that we considered but it was a little early for dinner at that point and the kids were ready to finish our trolley ride. So, we hopped back onto the Trolley and rode back towards the main entrance for the park.
We drove toward Buffalo to get pizza. (Our Day 2 was on a Monday and not many restaurants were open and the kids really wanted pizza!) Pi Craft Pizza (This was SO good but it is a drive. It is in Buffalo.)
We ended the night with a quick swim for the kids in the hotel pool and then went out to watch fireworks and the Falls lights. For this, we went back into the State Park for a decent vantage point.
Aquarium of Niagara
Cave of the Winds
Switch to the Canadian Side (Kids can go without passports if you have their birth certificates with you and if they are under 16 years old.)
Whirlpool Aero Car (antique suspended car ride over the falls) If you like geology, the Wikipedia page has lots of links to lead you to understand how it was formed and about the other gorges and formations in this area of the world.
Butterfly Conservatory (pretty close to the Whirlpool Aero Car) This was SO amazing!!! There are lots of garden pathways and neat things to do here. Though you can't take perishable foods into Canada, you could pick up other foods for a picnic or grab something in the cafe attached to these gardens. It is definitely a lovely picnic spot. There was a $5 Canadian fee for parking but they took credit card. We hadn't exchanged any money at this point so that was helpful.
We checked in to our hotel and let the kids rest a bit. They were pretty tired from walking on Day 2.
Dinner: 5:30 pm at Queen Victoria Place Restaurant
Get a reservation here in advance. We got a seat on the patio. It allowed us to relax and the food was local (we love this) and SO good. We also had the most fantastic waiter (Cam) who told us about other things to do in the area.
Golden hour tour of falls. (We also used this time to buy tickets for the Journey Behind the Falls Tour for the next day.) Not a bad gift shop there either near the ticket office.
We watched Fireworks view from our hotel (We stayed at the Sheraton and requested a Falls View room for little extra money. Its worth it! Amazing. Though parking is totally confusing here.)
Whirlpool Aero Car
Panoramic Image from the Aeropool Car
Queen Victoria Place Restaurant
Golden Hour Casual Walking Tour
We cleared out our hotel room and put luggage into our car and then walked to nearby Perkins for breakfast. (There is a Starbucks in the hotel lobby but we did this a little later and wanted it to be more of a brunch for the kids because we had a busy afternoon before we headed home.
Adult Tip: There is a casino there if you're into that.
12:00 Noon we had scheduled our Journey Behind the Falls. Christopher, who is 6, was really tired at this point. We had a stroller with us but didn't want to bring it, so we took turns piggy-backing him to and from the Journey.
We had a nice walk back to the parking/hotel area and got ice cream at Sweet Jesus. This is soft-serve ice cream dipped/rolled in delicious themed bits.
We packed everyone up into the car for the drive home.
Travel home (We stopped somewhere after Ellicotville at a farm stand that was pretty good and got corn and tomatoes and beets that were locally grown and such a treat when we came back.) We were back in time for dinner on Day 4!
Journey Behind the Falls
Panoramic Photo of the Journey Behind the Falls
Better than Disney:
Our kids both said and continue to say that they enjoyed this trip more than Disney! They appreciated that they actually went to another country, as opposed to the pretend countries in Epcot. (What can I say? We're all nerds in this family!)
The boys loved little details like using Canadian money, calling restrooms "Washrooms" and things that most of us adults wouldn't think too much about! I appreciated the great diversity the was present at Niagara Falls.
It feels way more diverse than New York City and everyone is much kinder than other major tourist places (like Disney or like the Vatican). We had so much fun.
The kids are still talking about it. Now, I need to make an album to remember all of the details!
With a Little More Time:
I would have stopped to see Art Alley and checked out the street murals.
I might have checked out Herschell Carrousel Museum where carrousel horses were produced. Now, visitors can ride an antique carrousel and see the history of production.
If I Wasn't With Kids:
I'd do the Niagara Wine Country Tour
I'm anti-kitsch in most areas of my life. However, when it comes to these goofy photos that you can buy at amusement parks and tourist traps, I'm all in. Its honestly one of the only ways that my kids will remember that I was around, since I'm usually the one taking photos and I'm not in very many. It is also just fun! My friend, Jeri, loves the progression of everyone's intensity of expression in this image. It makes me laugh! I highly recommend splurging on one of these fun photos if you end up making this trip! :)
Travel with Minors: Generally children under the age of 16 traveling by land into Canada only need to present proof of U.S. citizenship (usually a birth certificate). The Canadian government and immigration officials at Canadian ports of entry (to include land, air and international borders that cross shared bodies of water) have sole discretion who to admit into Canada and what citizenship documents they require regardless of age or means of travel.
What am I about?
My business is about providing art opportunities in the Altoona community as well as portraiture photography work. As a creative person, I like to dabble in other areas that allow me to bear witness to others' lives and explore what brings us all together. Though If you would like to follow along, you can check out my last blog article or join my newsletter!
Grace and Peace,