Niagara Falls can be a great destination for a family vacation! We have been to Niagara Falls many times over the years – but only once with our family. Here we offer some tips and insights we gained from our recent trip.
USA or Canada – Duh!
OK – most of you are probably aware that Niagara Falls straddles the US / Canadian border. But which side offers the experience you want to have with your family?
Um – unless you want to just hike / bike some trails somewhat near the falls – you are probably going to have a better experience on the Canadian side. As I mentioned above – we have been Niagara Falls many times – and I honestly cannot think of a single time that we did NOT go over to the Canadian side! The Canadian side offers a lot more to do and see!
From our perspective it really is only an issue of whether or not you have the proper identification and paperwork to be able to cross over the border. If not – it is an easy decision for US residents – you are confined to the US side. If you DO have the proper identification and paperwork – it really is a no-brainer – you really SHOULD go over to the Canadian side! (hence the “Duh” – in the heading).
Crossing the New York / Canadian Border
To cross the border you are basically going to need either and enhanced driver’s license or your passport. Melani and I both got our enhanced diver’s license just a month or so before our trip. For the 4 kids (ages ranging from 2 – 10) we just brought certified copies of each of the kids’ birth certificates. Information for all 6 of us was logged as we entered the Canadian side, and by US customs as we re-entered the US.
Tips & Insights
Suggested Destinations & Activities
- The Falls (another “Duh”) / Niagara Parks Pass (Adventure Pass “Classic”)
- Historic district of Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL)
- Various vineyards in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region
This was our first trip with the family to see one of the natural wonders of the world. My goal was to blow the kids’ minds and expand their horizons with a strong nature theme – and I believe we accomplished that! Until they actually got to see the falls up close and in-person, I don’t think the kids could comprehend just how big and impressive the falls really are. Experiencing the enormity & magnificence of the falls just might have humbled them a little too, and help them realize that there is a fascinating world, and indeed universe, out there just waiting to be explored!
The Niagara Falls region is a great place for a family vacation because there is the nature / natural wonder aspect of it (the Falls themselves) along with plenty of other things to do there that you expect to find in popular vacation destinations.
Niagara Parks Pass: Adventure Pass “Classic”
We found the Niagara Parks Pass (Adventure Classic) to be of great value. I purchased the passes before we left – and just needed to find a kiosk @ the falls to have them activated. I paid $65 CAN for the adult passes and $43 CAN for the kids passes. With the exchange rate at the time – this corresponded to roughly $48 USD for the adult passes and $32 USD for the kids’ passes. Sophie (2 at the time) was free. My understanding is that kids aged 5 and under are free when accompanied by a paying adult.
We went with the Classic pass – since we were only going to be at the falls for about 3 days. Had we been there longer – we may have considered the plus pass – but it still may have been to much for a single trip.
The Classic Adventure Pass included the following:
- Hornblower Niagara Cruise
- Journey Behind the Falls
- White Water Walk
- Niagara’s Fury
- 2 Day WEGO Bus Access
We all had a lot of fun on the Hornblower tour – which is really just the Canadian side’s equivalent to the Maid of the Mist. Gracie wasn’t happy with me as we settled in on the boat – towards the middle of the upper deck. She was afraid we were going to miss out on getting sprayed with some of the mist! As we entered into the Horseshoe Falls we were all getting drenched which what seemed to be a downpour – I looked over and asked how she was doing! She was smiling then!
The Hornblower cruise does travel the same route that the Maid of the Mist takes – going by the American Falls and then into the Horseshoe Falls. As I indicated earlier – it is really the Canadian equivalent of the Maid of the Mist – and it is fun to watch them alternate turns occupying the same exact spot in the Horseshoe Falls. We enjoyed watching this from our Embassy Suites hotel room on the 32nd floor.
Journey Behind the Falls
We did the Journey Behind the Falls too. It’s pretty amazing to be so close / under / behind the falls – but it is a wet and cramped environment!
White Water Walk
The White Water Walk was also something I REALLY enjoyed a lot! It was very enjoyable to be walking along the wooded path and just watching that tumultuous water churn its way down river. That water is really moving! Class 6 rapids!
The Niagara’s Fury 4-D Movie was pretty good. The kids really enjoyed it a lot. It explained the formation of the falls and used water, snow and movement to make the presentation a little more exciting and immersive. I did like that the main character of the “movie” was named Chip!
All the activities where you might get wet provide ponchos when & where you check in for the activity. By the end of the second day we had ponchos, ponchos and more ponchos! There were blue ponchos, red ponchos and yellow ponchos!
Transportation Around Niagara Falls
The WEGO bus pass made it easy to get around to all the attractions. We still walked a lot – but it was nice to be able to use the buses when we needed to – or it just made sense. Included with the Niagara Parks bass was a 2 day WEGO bus pass.
Historic District of Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL)
Melani and I had been to the Niagara-on-the-Lake area a couple of times before we had any kids. We really enjoyed the historic part of the town, which is very quaint and pedestrian friendly. Our kids enjoy shopping for souvenirs and sampling ice cream – and there is plenty of both to be done there!
There is also a couple of parks that are very close and a golf course (Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club) that fronts on Lake Ontario. In addition to spending time in the historic district, we spent time at both Simcoe Park and Ryerson Park.
Ryerson Park is a very small park located on the shore of Lake Ontario – but it provides a wonderful view of the lake and is great for taking pictures! But mind you – parking is very limited near the park!
If you are looking for free parking near the historic district of Niagara-on-the-Lake – I would recommend parking on Byron Street – right behind Simcoe Park (between King Street & Wellington Street). It is a very easy walk less than one block to the historic district.
Vineyards Around Niagara-on-the-Lake
There are many, many vineyards and wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area, and we have stopped at several over the years. This trip we had a very pleasant lunch at the Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. We introduced the kids to some new foods (specifically the Lamb “BLT” and the Tuna on Toast) – which was definitely a mixed experience for them! I thought both the food and service were excellent!
Please Note: When we travel – we tend to spend a little more on accommodations – and find other ways to save a few dollars (like parking, transportation and eating). Just our philosophy – yours might be different.
We really wanted to stay where Melani and I had stayed before at Queen’s Landing – but we were unable to, due to my reluctance to book things up until after I had all the documentation we would need to cross the border. Melani and I applied for our enhanced drivers licenses and we had make sure we had certified copies of all the kids birth certificates. Next time, I told the kids, we will be sure to stay there.
Queen’s Landing is a vintage hotel that is located right in the historic part of Niagara-On-the-Lake. It is literally a block or so away from the strip with all the shops. The entire historic area is just bursting with flowers and color – and Queen’s Landing is no different. We actually took the kids inside to show them around and for nostalgia. There is a library in the place that looks like it is straight out of the game Clue! (I think Mr. Pipher did it in the library with a pencil!)
White Oaks Spa & Resort
So this time we stayed out a few miles @ the White Oaks Resort and Spa. Very nice – but a little modern for my tastes! Ironically – even though most of the decor was modern – it still had poster beds!
I did like that White Oaks Resort & Spa was its close proximity to the eatery and shopping center that was located right across the street (Outlet Collection @ Niagara). There were many outlets stores, a food court / open air eatery and even a Bass Pro Shop! There was a pretty good selection of food choices within the eatery.
Embassy Suites: Fallsview
On the second part of our trip we stayed at the Fallsview Embassy Suites right @ Niagara Falls. Here we paid a premium – for what I consider to be just a stunning view of the falls! (Remember – one of our goals was to blow the kids’ minds – and they had never been in a hotel suite with such a remarkable view!) We were on the 32nd floor and really enjoyed the view. For our first anniversary Melani and I spent our vacation at Niagara Falls and stayed @ Embassy suites on the same floor! So a lot of nostalgia here too! We used this as our launch pad to do all the activities we had planned with our Niagara Parks Pass (Adventure Classic).
Money Saving Tips
Park @ Walmart & Walk to Niagara Falls Hotel
We tend to splurge on our accommodations- and find other places to save money when we are travelling. I am an avid walker – and walk about 2 – 3 miles every morning before work (and have done so for about 10 years). So saving between $100 – $200 for parking just by walking a couple of miles – seems like a no-brainer for someone like me! I found this to be an enjoyable walk – and I was very surprised to see just how close a very middle-class neighborhood was to the actual falls! I did ask @ Walmart before leaving the car there – and was instructed to park it on the far left side of the parking lot – closest to the highway. We estimated that parking at the hotel for 2 nights would have cost something close to $140.
Niagara Parks Pass
We found the Niagara Parks Pass to be a great value for our family! Specifically – the Classic Adventure Pass was the right fit for us. The pass saves you 27% of the retail prices for all of the included activities. Had we not bought the pass – we probably would not have done Niagara’s Fury. I would like to say we wouldn’t have used the bus either – but I could not be certain – because travelling with a 2 year old can be unpredictable – and we did have a lot of geography to cover! So it was definitely worth it for us – especially since the kids ended up really enjoying the 4-D show that is Niagara’s Fury. It was also nice to have the convenience of paying only once – as opposed to at each activity or site.
The savings would have been even greater – utilizing the Plus Pass. However, we really did not feel it was realistic to think that we could possibly do even most of what was included with the Plus Pass over our 2-3 days at the falls.
This is something we figured out years ago – so I will just pass it on here as well. We are not particularly big eaters and we do not like to waste food. And with growing kids – it is sometimes difficult to predict just how much food is necessary to feed everyone and satiate them. So we usually start with a couple of entrees whenever we sit down to eat, split them up – and then go from there. If we have to order an additional one – so be it – it is easy enough to do! It has worked out well – and allowed us to get the most bang for our buck – while eliminating any waste!
If you are traveling in a north western direction to arrive in the Niagara Falls area (From NE Pennsylvania, New York City / Long Island, New Jersey) I woulds highly recommend considering going through the Montour Falls / Watkins Glenn and Penn Yan areas, up 14 A (or 14) and then on route 20 across western NY. It was on of the most enjoyable drives I have had in a long time!
Additionally, there were plenty of places to stop – for children needing a bathroom break or additional stops. It seemed that every 30 miles or so there was an easy stop available at a Walmart, Target or a grocery store.
I love Niagara Falls as a family vacation destination! I think it offers a wonderful balance of nature and other activities for a family to explore and enjoy together!
If I had our trip to do-over, I would probably spend 1 or 2 nights @ Queen’s Landing followed by a couple of nights – up to potentially 3 nights- at the Fallsview Embassy Suites. Although I enjoyed the White Oaks Spa & Resort, its fitness centers, and it’s close proximity to the eatery and shopping center – I think I would prefer the more classical setting that Queen’s Landing offers with its proximity to the historical district of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
I would also travel the same route that we suggested above hitting route 14 one way and Route 14A the other way.
Since Niagara Falls is just a few hours away for us – I do plan on returning within the next couple of years with the kids – even if it is just for a long weekend. Probably when our youngest is around 5 years old – so she will be able to appreciate the trip a little more!
I hope you have a great vacation – wherever you choose to go!
P.S. If you would like to read more about our trip to Niagara Falls you can do so here: Adventure Update 023 Unplugging to Recharge!
Check out or back-to-back comparison of Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos Versus Kalahari to see which one is better for your family in The Poconos Showdown 2019: Great Wolf Lodge Versus Kalahari!