NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — "I don't see why we need these raincoats," 11-year-old Matt groused, donning the yellow slicker only because it was required for admission. The young attendant at Niagara Falls merely smiled knowingly.
A short elevator ride and slippery walk later, Matt was drenched despite the slicker. We all were, at the same time we were trembling from the thrill of walking right under thundering Bridal Veil Falls, getting splashed and sprayed on the Hurricane Deck and along the wooden ramps that get so much abuse from the elements that they must be replaced every year.
The kids excitedly pronounced the Cave of the Winds walk into the gorge below Goat Island "as good as a giant water ride."
That's a ringing endorsement from them. At $4.50 for adults and $4 for Matt and Reggie (Melanie, who is under 6, was free), the walk seemed a bargain for a memorable experience. Goat Island, part of Niagara Reservation State Park, is a good place simply to walk, fly kites or sit by water's edge. Watching the kids and my husband so thoroughly enjoy themselves one day this fall, I wondered how I could ever have thought Niagara Falls--with its reputation as a honeymoon destination--would be a dull spot for families. I was wrong. Today, 50,000 couples a year still honeymoon here, but a total of more than 8 million visitors keep Niagara Falls one of the nation's top tourist attractions.
They come to see the spectacle of the rushing falls. And they line up at night to see the falls illuminated. (If you're planning to visit this holiday season, don't miss the display of thousands of colored lights, not only across the falls but throughout the city's downtown. For more information about the Festival of Lights or the falls themselves, call the Niagara County Tourism Office at 800-338-7890.)
My gang was also enthusiastic about the tour to the base of Horseshoe Falls aboard the Maid of the Mist boat, where they were sprayed by 185-foot Horseshoe Falls. The kids also had fun exploring nearby Ft. Niagara. The fort has been restored to the way it looked when French voyagers, then British and American soldiers were garrisoned here, on the south shore of Lake Ontario. The fort boasts original 18th-Century buildings and historical interpreters help re-enact military life, firing cannons or muskets and offering other demonstrations.
From the parapets on a clear day, you can see Toronto's Oz-like skyline, 27 miles across Lake Ontario.
Besides a history lesson, a visit to Niagara Falls offers the opportunity to visit the Niagara Power Project visitors center, to see how hydropower is used. (Call 716-285-3211.) The Niagara plant remains one of the largest hydroelectric power projects in the world.
Of course there are plenty of tacky souvenirs to be had--postcards and little globes that snow when shaken. This is a place to give in and enjoy the kitsch. The kids will thank you for it.
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