When my daughter was two or three, she was obsessed with waterfalls and we used to go on day-long waterfall hunts where I’d research and map out falls around Rhode Island. Seven years later, we went on the biggest waterfall hunt of all and it wasn’t just her that was enthralled. The first stop on our Canadian Roadtrip 2013 was Niagara Falls, ON. Visiting Niagara Falls with kids is a pretty classic family vacation destination and we wanted to check it off our bucket list.
Where to Stay when Visiting Niagara Falls with Kids
We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton on Fallsview Boulevard in Niagara Falls, ON. While we didn’t splurge on falls view rooms, we did get an excellent deal using Groupon Getaways, which included food and game vouchers in the package. We arrived around 10pm so the border crossing was a breeze (but every other crossing we made that trip was a very long wait so be prepared!)
The hotel was well located near the Fallsview Casino and just a short walk down to a perfect view of both the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls. The Hilton Fallsview and the Fallsview Casino also seem to be centrally located. The Sheraton has a great view of the American Falls but is quite a walk away from the Canadian Falls. Similarly, the Marriott and Embassy Suites are located just above the Canadian Falls but the funicular that brings you down the hill to the falls is currently out of order so you might have to walk around the long way and therefore be better off with the centrally located hotels.
Seeing Niagara Falls from the NY and Canadian Sides
We had always heard “you have to stay on the Canadian side” when you go to Niagara Falls but I didn’t really get why until our first morning. Yes, it has more kitsch and entertainment, but what really makes the difference is the view. From the American side you are kind of straining your neck to see the Horseshoe Falls and you are essentially right at the top of the American Falls. Meanwhile, after a short walk down to the falls from our hotel, we were looking dead-on at the American Falls.
Just down the river and in full view are the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. This trip we got to experience the falls from both sides since we had family staying on the NY side. We walked across Rainbow Bridge to meet up with them (first time walking across an international border — though I have to say my husband didn’t like the high bridge much). We took the Maid of the Mist from the American side (it is run by Hornblower Cruises on the Canadian side.)
Let me tell you, if you think the thin poncho they give you on the boat is going to keep you dry you are completely wrong. You get absolutely soaked, especially in the front. Also, the wind blows the mist and water into your face so much it is almost hard to look directly into the falls and get some good pictures but we did capture a few. It was an amazing experience and a complete thrill. It may sound cliche and too touristy but you don’t go to Niagara to be highbrow so go and enjoy it — the Maid of the Mist is a must do!
We also enjoyed seeing the rapids in the river above the falls on the New York side and climbing up close to the falls for a great side view. The Cave of the Winds experience looked really cool but we split up from our family and headed back across the bridge for lunch. If we go back I would want to try the newly opened MistRider Zipline!
Exploring Niagara Falls with Kids
When you cross Rainbow Bridge you are right near the Sheraton and the Clinton Hill area of Niagara Falls — think Vegas meets Times Square meets NJ Boardwalk. This area is chock full of theme restaurants, arcades, waterparks, and other kitschy entertainment such as Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Not our cup of tea but I’m sure very entertaining for kids if you are staying more than one or two days. We gave in to our tired feet, hungry bellies, and eager child and had a typical expensive and unappetizing lunch at The Rainforest Cafe because hey, what else can you do when you are in Niagara with kids but make them happy too?
After my husband’s panic over the walk across the Rainbow Bridge, we also thought it a good idea to skip the elevator ride to the top of the Skylon Tower. And even though we didn’t visit the Botanical Gardens (we were saving this for Montreal), we were so impressed by the landscaping and botanical displays as we strolled down to the Horseshoe Falls.
After taking in the falls, and getting the treat of an afternoon rainbow above the falls, my daughter, mom and I did venture down to the Journey Behind the Falls. I had heard this was an amazing experience and I was thrilled to have a chance to see what it is like behind these powerful falls. Unfortunately, I found it pretty disappointing. I think I was expecting a guided tour of sorts but really your timed entry ticket just got you down the elevator and from there you were on your own. The main viewing platform is very close to the falls and you can see what it is like from the side. From here we were able to see the Maid of the Mist heading directly into a rainbow.
Other than that, you just followed a tunnel to two portals, which look out behind the falls to a haze of water and mist. You feel the pounding percussion in your ears as you walk along the tunnel, taking in the poster displays that explain some of the history of the falls.
Once we’d taken our fill of pictures of the falls from every angle, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for dinner. Every Wednesday and Sunday they shoot off fireworks above the falls at 10pm. Since we didn’t book falls view rooms, I wanted to see this display and the evening illumination of the falls from a good vantage point. Therefore we were splurging for a nice dinner at Windows by Jamie Kennedy in the Sheraton Fallsview. In addition to an amazing view by the window directly overlooking the American Falls, the restaurant also features delectable cuisine utilizing local ingredients and local wines. I started with the Heirloom Tomato Salad with Huron Whitefish Brandade, followed by Pressed Cornish Hen. All of our meals were delicious and the service was excellent.
I had booked at 7:30 reservation on Open Table but we had no trouble stretching out our meal to get a chance to see the falls lit up upon nightfall. We left just in time to see the fireworks display up close before heading back to the hotel and our comfy beds. We needed our sleep because the next day we were heading to Niagara-on-the-Lake before driving up to Toronto.
So that is how we spent our 24 hours in Niagara Falls. If you have longer, there is plenty to see and do, but you can still get a good experience in 24 hours.
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Note: This post contains an affiliate link to Groupon, a service that I use frequently when traveling.