“Mommy, come into the jungle room with me!” squealed my four-year old. I had to admit that with its palms, cactus and warm weather plants; it did look like a jungle, not Niagara Falls during winter.
A walk through the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse, located about a half mile south of the cataracts, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is the perfect way to forget our chilly winter weather. An area landmark for 60 years, it’s probably one of the most overlooked attractions in Niagara Falls. However, in my opinion, it’s one of the best deals in town. Admission is always free; in winter parking is also free.
During our late December visit, the showhouse was decked out for the holidays with hundreds of poinsettias. Now, the calendar says February, yet the inside of the greenhouse screams spring, as you walk amid yellow, pink, and blue Schizanthus and other spring flowers.
My kids were intrigued with the turtles that made their home in the small pond located beneath the 40 foot glass dome in the showhouse’s visitor’s center. Tropical songbirds also make their home here; however, we didn’t spot any, since they’re active during the day and we visited in the evening.
Another chill-chasing, must-see attraction is the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, located about 5 ½ miles north of the falls. This 11,000 square foot conservatory, celebrating its tenth season, is the largest of its kind in North America. It is home to hundreds of tropical butterflies, as well as numerous flowering plants that the butterflies feed on.
Butterflies are attracted to bright colors, especially pink or red, so my daughter wore a bright pink sweater for our visit. I was able to snap an amazing picture of her smiling at a butterfly sitting on her shoulder. On the other hand, the constant flittering of the butterflies could make some children uncomfortable.
Of course, no trip to Niagara Falls would be complete without viewing the world-famous cataracts. However, with this winter’s warmer weather, the “ice bridge,” an unusual formation that often forms in the gorge by the falls, has not occurred. Don’t miss the nightly illumination of the falls; 6:30-10 p.m. in February.
Feeling adventurous? Check out Journey Behind the Falls, a 45 minute tour that takes visitors down 100 feet, through a series of tunnels, to an observation platform near the base of the Horseshoe Falls.
Several years ago we enjoyed lunch at the Revolving Dining Room on top of the Skylon Tower, one of Niagara Falls best-known attractions. The yellow bug elevators whisked us to the top of the tower in 52 seconds. It takes an hour for the restaurant to make a compete revolution, which allowed us to view the falls, as well as the city. The kids found it amusing to pick out our car in the parking lot, 775 feet below.
While the restaurant is kid-friendly during the day; a kids menu features items like chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese, at night, couples enjoy the romantic ambience. After lunch, we climbed one flight up to the observation deck, where on a clear day you can see 80 miles.
Another spot you might want to check out is Clifton Hill, a glitzy entertainment district that is in direct contrast with the natural wonder just a block away. All sorts of unusual museums, restaurants, stores, and other amusements await. The Niagara Falls Bird Aviary, located in the Clifton Hill area, is one of the more interesting attractions, with over 400 free flying tropical birds, including a lorikeet feeding area.
During our visit, we managed to steer the kids away from the pricey attractions by luring them into the local Tim Horton’s for hot chocolate, because Niagara Falls is cold during winter!
If you go
Niagara Falls Tourism (905-356-6061, 800-563-2557; www.niagarafallstourism.com) 5400 Robinson Street, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse (905-371-0254; www.niagaraparks.com) 7145 Niagara Parkway. Open daily 9-5 (later in December). Free admission. Free parking in Jan. & Feb. Parking fee, charged weekends March-mid-May and daily mid-May-December, $3 per ½ hour, max. $12.
Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory (905-371-0254; www.niagaraparks.com), 2565 Niagara Parkway. Open daily 9-5. Admission $11/ adults, $6.50 children 6-12.
Journey Behind the Falls (877-642-7275) 6650 Niagara Parkway at Table Rock House. Open year-round, hours vary seasonally. $11/adult, $6.50 children 6-12.
Skylon Tower (905-356-2651; www.skylon.com) 5200 Robinson St. Niagara Falls. Admission to observation deck is $10.95 adults, $6.45 children 12 and under. Revolving Dining Room serves lunch 11:30-2:30, dinner 4:30-10. The elevator ride to tower is complimentary when dining.
Niagara Falls Aviary (905-356-8888, 877994-0900; www.niagarafallsaviary.com) 5651 River Rd. Open 10-5 daily. $17.50 age 13 and over, $11.65, ages 5-12.
Clifton Hill (905-358-3676; www.cliftonhill.com)
Niagara Falls Winter Magic Pass. Niagara Parks offers a special package that allows visitors to visit four attractions for only $27.69 for adults and $16.69 for children 6-12. Included is Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, Niagara Falls Aviary and the Skylon Tower observation deck. Note: All dollar amounts mentioned are in Canadian funds.