Tween travel week continues today with a look at Niagara Falls and Fort George, the hidden gem we found nearby. Niagara Falls is more than your grandparents' honeymoon destination, it's a wonderful place for a family vacation. I was surprised when my tween said that she wanted to go to Niagara Falls, but we opted to follow her lead and made the 9 hour drive from Chicago to the Falls over Columbus Day weekend.
Plan to spend some time to just look at the Falls. They truly are breathtaking. Niagara Falls encompasses three distinctive falls that include: Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side. The falls are located between twin cities of Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. (When planning your trip, be sure to pay attention to the country listings.)
Once you are taken in by the majesty and power of 750,000 gallons pouring over the falls each second, you're tween will be ready for the Fall-centric activities.
The Maid of the Mist may seem cheesy, particularly given the blue ponchos that guests wear, but it is absolutely worth doing, especially if you have a tween in tow. The term "mist" is a bit of an understatement, in my opinion. This is a very wet boat ride, and my tween loved it more than she's ever loved any amusement park water ride. We were able to be in the very front of the boat, which meant we got the full brunt of the falls as the boats are able to get up very close to them. Over the roar of the water, I heard her scream, "THIS. IS AWESOME!!!!!!" Her pure glee and amazement at nature delighted my very soggy heart. The boats leave from both Canadian and American shores. Cost: $15.50 per adult and $9 for kids 6-12, those 5 and under are free.
Journey Behind the Falls takes visitors down 150 feet, where they can to get right next to the falls on the Upper and Lower Observation D
ecks. Visitors can also, as the name promises, see Horseshoe Falls from tunnels inside of the rock, that give you a view of the well, behind the falls. No false advertising here! Going in, I wondered if it was really worth doing both the Maid of the Mist and Behind the Falls. It was. None of us were sorry that we did both. Journey Behind the Falls is on the Canadian side of the falls. There are ponchos here, too, this time in a stylish bright yellow. Before going on Cost: $15.95 Adults (13+ years), $10.95 kids 6 to 12 years, children 5 and under are free. You can walk from Maid of the Mist on the Canadian side to the Journey Behind the Falls, and enjoy being next to the falls the whole time.
I loved the different slogans these companies used. Maid of the Mist goes with "Explore the Roar" and Behind the Falls says, "Feel the Thunder." These feel like they are targeted at tween boys, and they are both true.
Evening Illumination The falls are lit up at night, and it is beautiful. The lights change colors, and are strangely mesmerizing. My tween and I could both just site and watch the falls and lights, for a lot longer than tweens usually sit still in a hotel room with their mom. On Fridays, there are fireworks at the falls. In the summer, they take place on Friday and Sunday nights.
There are many other activities to do nearby, including the Butterfly Conservatory and the Botanic Gardens. We, however, opted to head half and hour north to Fort George. Fort George is a historic military structure at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, that was the scene of several battles during the War of 1812.This was the most surprising part of our trip. Everyone was looking forward to seeing the Falls. My tween, however, was not excited for the old British Fort. As we pulled into the parking lot, she wondered if the car in front of us carried a "similarly disinterested child." I was worried. I should not have been. The folks at the fort won us all over, and at the end, the tween was a big fan of Fort George and she admitted that yes, it was in fact fun.
There's something at Fort George for everyone, from a musket demonstration to a hidden tunnel to fresh-baked cookies in the officers' kitchen. The staff is bilingual, which fascinated my tween. There are men and women working at Fort George are dressed in period costume of 1812 and both officers and enlisted men are represented. They were all very friendly, very knowledge and very eager to interact with anyone who wanted to talk with them. Those working at Fort George welcomed all questions, and when my tween asked the officer about the sparkly part of his uniform (not a real precise question and not related to the cool talk he had just given about the war). He graciously took his time to explain how the silver lace was made, what it meant on his epaulet and how those in the British Army had to pay for their uniform and what that meant for them economically. He covered all this in a way that engaged my girl who is drawn to shiny things. We also learned from a girl who was supposed to represent a soldier's wife where the phrase "don't throw the baby out with the bath water" came from and about instruments of the time from a young man playing the flute in the officers quarters. When I mentioned that my daughter also plays the flute, he quickly engaged her in conversation. The Fort succeeds in its mission of teaching visitors what life was like there 201 years ago. We may have jut benefited from a slow day at the Fort. Not many people were there, and while we enjoyed the attention, it's a shame that such a great place wasn't mobbed with people, or at least moderately full. Admissionis $11.70 for adults, $5.80 for kids, and those 5 and under are free.
Not only did we learn about the War of 1812, which none of us knew very much about, but we also learned about history from a different perspective. Rarely do Americans hear about a war from the viewpoint of those they were fighting, but we did at Fort George. Everyone was very respectful, but the officer in particular made it clear that Ontario, Canada as they know it would likely not exist today as it does had the war gone differently. It quite possibly would be a state now. That lesson on perspective alone was worth the trip. The fact that it was fun was just icing on the cake.
Fort George is just minutes from the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. It is on the shores of Lake Ontario. It's worth checking out this great lake and particularly taking in the view of Toronto on the other side. Though you can see a modern metropolis, Niagara-on-the-Lake is anything but. This is a cute town full of quaint shops and we thoroughly enjoyed the lunch we grabbed at a local cafe. There's a very large park which would make a great location for a picnic and a place for younger kids to just run and play. Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to the Shaw Festival, a major theater festival that runs for months and features plays and musicals for both adults and kids, as well as behind the scenes tours.
Note on International Travel: When traveling to Canada, check out the State Department website for information on travel documents needed. At the time of publication, it says "U.S. citizens must present either a U.S. passport, passport card, NEXUS card, Enhanced Drivers License, or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)-compliant document. The only exception to this requirement is for U.S. citizens under the age of 16 (or under 19, if traveling with a school, religious, or other youth group) who need only present a birth certificate (original, photocopy or certified copy), Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or naturalization certificate." When we went through customs going into Canada by car, the customs agent wanted to speak directly with my tween. Give your kids a heads up on what customs are and prepare them for a possible conversation about why they are entering the country.
Niagara Falls is very close to Rochester. If you have time to make a stop there, this article offers suggestions: Rochester, NY – Family Fun Ideas for Teens and Tweens
See prior Tween Travel Posts:
Tomorrow: Tips from a Pro on doing Disney World with Tweens!