As a recent immigrant to Canada, my first trip ever to Niagara Falls was unforgettable.  This majestic, iconic wonder of the world, that I had only seen on TV and pictures, was just something way beyond what I could have ever imagined.  But having just immigrated to Canada, at that time we didn’t really know much about the area and were not really able to afford many of the hotels and attractions.  So we would go visit, spend the day, and then head back home late in the afternoon.

As the years have gone by, we have gone back again and again whenever we had a chance, and the more times we visit Niagara Falls, especially when we travel as a family, we discover more and more things to do and enjoy.  It truly is a great destination for a short family vacation, and those of us who live in Toronto and the surrounding areas are lucky enough to have the opportunity to do this on any given weekend.  So based on my personal experience, here are some great places to stay and fun things to do while visiting Niagara Falls.

Great Wolf Lodge: Well, actually, this place could be right in the middle of a desert, and it would still be a great family destination.  It’s located a little out of the way of Clifton Hill and the falls and all the fun spots in the city, but you don’t really need to leave this resort at all during your visit because it has everything you could possibly need within its grounds: an indoor waterpark, outdoor pools, hot tubs, restaurants, a spa, arcades, mini-golf, the new MagiQuest adventure, great activities for the kids when they’re not having fun at the waterpark (like StoryTime under the big tree in the lobby every night) and so much more.  It really is a pretty complete water park and entertainment centre all in one.  It can get a little pricey, especially for a family, but every once in a while you can find some decent deals through the Great Wolf website or different wholesale travel sites.

Fallsview Indoor Waterpark
: This indoor waterpark, just like Great Wolf Lodge, is pretty complete and spending the day there with the kids is really all you need to do.  It has some long, scary slides for the most adventuresome, a wave pool, an play area structure with smaller water slides for the little ones, a giant tipping bucket (so much fun!), a heated outdoor pool and a nice lounge area with access to a restaurant and bar and an arcade.

The beauty of this waterpark, though, is that is right in the middle of all the action, steps from Casino Niagara, Clifton Hill and all other attractions and restaurants.  Unlike Great Wolf, there’s just so much to do, whether you decide to spend the day inside or out.  The waterpark has direct access from 3 hotels (Skyline Inn, Crowne Plaza and Sheraton on the Falls).  They usually have very good deals right within their website, and through other websites like Teambuy and TravelZoo.  Costco has also had some great deals on day Waterpark passes as well.

Americana Hotel
: Home to the Waves Indoor Waterpark, another nice waterpark, but on a smaller scale.  It has a beach entry wave pool, tube slides, children’s pool play structure, hot tubs, lounge areas and food and bar services.  The temperature inside is very hot, very tropical and they boast the only waterpark in Niagara with a retractable roof… the perfect place to get a nice tan in the summer!

Best Western Cairn Croft
: This one is a favourite of mine: it feels like you’re in a tropical forest, the pool is somewhat small (compared to the other giant waterparks) but it’s very nice and warm.  The rooms in the Courtyard all surround the pool and play area.  There’s a Pizza Pizza, a couple more restaurants and a lounge right on the premises and there’s a McDonald’s and a No Frills next door to the hotel.

 They also provide a free shuttle bus if you want to visit the falls.  We found it to be a very nice, relaxing place (not on March Break, though… in their busy season it can get really, really loud).  There are also rooms in the tower, and those are pretty quiet, but the kids prefer to be in the courtyard, which is where all the fun seems to happen.

There are many other hotels in Niagara Falls that offer very good and attractive packages, but we’ve found that these are the ones that are more exclusively geared towards families, especially if all you want to do is go down and spend most of your day lounging by the pool while the kids are busy having fun.  But there’s also plenty to do outside of the resorts and Niagara Falls is just chockfull of activities for those hard-to-please active little ones– and the not so little ones as well.

Dave & Buster’s: We had a blast at Dave & Buster’s in Niagara Falls.  This place is arcade heaven; it’s like Chuck E Cheese, but here kids AND grown ups can be kids (there’s also a bar upstairs).  The last time we were at Niagara Falls we bought a package through TravelZoo and it included a $40 Dave & Buster’s card.  Many of the packages being sold through Deals websites like TravelZoo include a voucher for Dave & Buster’s.  We spent a whole evening playing pool and games in the arcade and the fun lasted for hours.

If you’re planning on visiting Clifton Hill, buying attraction tickets in advance will save you some money.  Buying the Clifton Hill Fun Pass online, for instance, will let you enjoy 5 attractions, including the Niagara Sky Wheel, for a lower price than buying individual tickets. Buying the Adventure Pass online, where you can experience very popular attractions like Maid of the Mist and Journey Behind the Falls, will save you about $20 per adult rather than buying it on site.

Websites that provide a lot of information on other things to do and events in the area include Niagara Falls Tourism and Info Niagara.  For those who own pets and can’t keep them with them at their hotel, the Niagara Falls Humane Society provides boarding facilities for $15 per day.  And last, but not least, if transportation is an issue, you can always take the Go Train or a Via Rail train from Toronto’s Union Station, or you can travel by bus via Coach Canada, Megabus or Greyhound.

And if you’re planning to visit soon, don’t forget that this June 15 Nik Wallenda will attempt to make the tightrope walk of the century, crossing the Canadian falls on a 5-cm. steel cable aided with nothing but a balancing pole.  The 550-metre walk should happen sometime in the evening.