Marlene and I have been taking the whole family to Niagara Falls in Canada almost every spring for the last 10+ years. At this point we’ve got the NF trip almost down to a science. Here’s a brief summary of our 2016 vacation.
Our hotel of choice is the Skyline Inn. It’s a fantastic combination of family-friendly and economical. With our large, 8-person family, we need two rooms. We like to get two adjoining double-queen rooms. We then leave the connecting doors open for the whole stay, and treat the two rooms like a single suite. One room is the girls’ room, and the other is the boys’. This also provides two bathrooms, which is extremely helpful.
Skyline inn has three indoor courtyards, with a few dozen rooms opening onto each. The courtyards are a great place to let the kids “hang out” to get out of the room for a bit. There are often kids from other rooms playing there too, so they can make new friends.
We always request that our rooms open onto Courtyard 2 because it is the movie courtyard. Every evening at 8:00, the hotel staff drop a movie screen and wheel out a projector. Kids congregate in their PJs, with pillows and blankets in tow. The staff pass out free bags of popcorn, and they play a family-friendly movie. This year, the selections were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Garfield, and Rio.
Another great feature of Skyline is that it is directly connected to the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark. The hotel offers a waterpark package deal, which we purchase for one of the nights that we stay. Because of the way the package works, a single night allows us to go to the waterpark for two days.
We usually stay 3 nights, so we try to purchase the waterpark package on the 2nd night. That way we are not going to the waterpark on the day we arrive, or on the day that we leave.
Our family’s favorite waterpark activity is the wave pool. It works well for all of my kids, from my 2-year-old to my 12-year-old. We spend most of our time here. Tim and Nora both enjoy the water slides, though Nora is only brave enough to try 2 of the 8 available.
Jacob and Jasmin spent a lot of time before the trip bragging about how they would try a slide for the first time this year, but each backed out when they saw them. Ricky seemed quite determined to try the green slide one day, but he got scared when it was our turn to go. Now he is convinced that he will do it “next year.”
There are several wonderful options for meals in Niagara Falls, though most of them are quite expensive.
There is a Perkins restaurant attached to the hotel, and we breakfast there. My family tends to wake up very early, typically no later than 7:00, and it is very difficult to keep them quiet once they are awake. Out of courtesy to the other hotel guests, we try to get the kids ready and out to breakfast as quickly as possible, so it’s convenient to have a nice restaurant so close by.
We dress them, brush their teeth, and shove them out the door. We wait until after breakfast to do any other preparations for the day. The other guests are usually awake by then.
Thursday night, we went to our favorite dinner spot: The Rainforest Cafe. While it’s a bit of a hike from our hotel, most of the trek is indoors. All the kids love wandering around the restaurant to explore the jungle and the animatronic animals. Every 30 minutes there is an indoor rainstorm, complete with thunder and lightning. We always get a “volcano” dessert after dinner, which is a huge platter mounded with brownies and ice cream.
Friday night, we ate in Planet Hollywood. Even though it’s right next to the Skyline Inn, we’ve never been able to try it before. They seem to have somewhat strange hours this early in the season. We very much enjoyed our meal, and I think we are likely to go again. Unfortunately we were seated right near a large monster-skeleton prop from one of the Evil Dead movies, and I think some of the little kids were a bit unsettled by it.
Sunday night we went to Mama Mia’s for dinner. This is another popular destination for the Hentschels. They have delicious Italian food for a (relatively) good price. I had veal parmigiana, one of my all-time favorites.
Since breakfast and dinner are so very large and very expensive, we try to do a small, cheap lunch. Each day I walked down the street to Tim Horton’s to get a muffin for each person in the family, plus a 20-pack of Timbits. We would take this “meal” into the hotel courtyard, sit on a blanket, and eat a “picnic” lunch. Our lunch beverage: free water bottles, provided by the hotel.
There are many activities available for our family in Niagara Falls. Here are some that we did this year.
We took a family walk along the Niagara River to see both the US and the Horseshoe Falls. The kids complained about this because it’s a long hike. They quickly got tired and bored, but it’s my favorite part of the trip, so I insist that we do it every year.
We rode on the Skywheel, a large, enclosed Ferris wheel. It’s pricey, but it’s very popular with the whole family.
We went to Sugar Mountain, a small candy shop that specializes in 80s culture and candies. Marlene and I gave each child a bit of money to purchase candy, which was eaten during the evening movies.
Tim, Nora, and I spent an afternoon at Captain Jack’s Pirate Cove while the younger kids were napping in the hotel rooms. We did laser tag, mini golf, and a few other such activities while there.
I spent another afternoon with the two older kids in the Mystery Maze. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was an inexpensive, entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
Final day activity
On the last day of our NF trip, we always pack up the van and head out to one of two final destinations: either the Bird Kingdom or the Butterfly Conservatory. This year was a butterfly year. We hadn’t been for a few years, and so the younger kids didn’t remember it at all. It was a very nice end to the vacation.
In case you’re considering a Niagara Falls trip, here is a cost breakdown (in US dollars) for our 8-person family:
3 nights Skyline Inn + 1 night waterpark – $770
Perkins breakfast – $105 avg per meal
Rainforest Cafe dinner – $150
Planet Hollywood dinner – $95
Mama Mia’s dinner – $100
Tim Horton’s lunch – $12 avg per meal
Skywheel ride – $50
Captain Jack’s – $55
Mystery Maze – $15
Butterfly Conservatory – $55
Various snacks and treats – $90
Credit card currency conversion fees – $55