December 9 2008 by Julie Drossos
Having spent some of my college years in Eastern Canada (I attended McGill in Montreal, Quebec) I have a lot of friends who have settled down out East, most of them in Toronto. For some time now I've been contemplating taking a trip out to pay them a visit and so I've been researching "things to do" while I'm there.
One might question why on earth I'd choose to visit the harsh climates of Eastern Canada and leave Vancouver's mild winter during the colder months; and well, I don't really have an answer other than that I hate to leave Vancouver during the summer, when the weather is absolutely perfect!
A good friend of mine who lives in Toronto has suggested that my husband and I come out and join her and her husband for a weekend trip to Niagara Falls.... "WHAT?!!?" was my reaction, to be precise. I mean, I hear it is beautiful and all, but why on earth would I want to go to a raging mass of cold water at this time of year? Furthermore, I've been married for a number of years now and we've had our honeymoon - so why would we want to visit what has often been referred to as "The Honeymoon Capital of the World"? My friend laughed at me and my ignorance, and proceeded to lecture me on everything I didn't know about Niagara Falls.
You see, Niagara Falls, Ontario (which is conveniently located a short 30 minutes from Buffalo, New York) is about much more than "the falls" and visions of honeymooners wrapped in rain slickers as they ride on the famed Maid of the Mist. In fact, there is no shortage of things-to-do while visiting Niagara Falls - just a few worth mentioning are visiting local wineries, trying your luck at one of Niagara's two casinos, or taking a jaw-dropping helicopter tour over the spectacular Falls. At this particular time of year, Niagara Falls tourists are especially delighted to be visiting during the Winter Festival of Lights, a highly anticipated event that attracts tourists and locals alike, year after year.
The Winter Festival of Lights is Canada's largest lights festival and it runs from November 8, 2008 to January 5, 2009. It's a spectacle that can be appreciated by all ages and it's a fun and affordable way to get into the holiday spirit. There is actually no admission fee to see the beautiful illuminations, though donations to the Winter Festival of Lights, a not-for-profit organization, are gratefully accepted. A small donation gets you into the general grounds which include 125 animated light displays and 3 million sparkling tree and ground lights. Some of the highlights include the world-famous Enchantment of Disney® displays and the world's largest illuminated Canadian-American Flag. You'll also be able to take in the awesome Fireworks as they explode over the falls on select nights - view the Fireworks schedule here.
The entire Winter Wonderland lighting route is over 3 miles long, so depending on how much you and your family would like to walk (and how appropriately dressed for the weather you are), you may want to park in one of the site's parking lots and walk a short distance to get a better view and/or take photographs of your favorite displays. This map of the grounds should be useful in planning out your time there.
The Festival of Lights also encompasses a number of concerts and events (additional admission fees apply) that might pique your interest. Many local hotels, including the Best Western Carin Croft are offering accommodation packages that include admission to some of the best shows including the Niagara Falls Comedy Fest, Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Seussical® Featuring Cat in the Hat & Horton Hears a Who. Here's a complete listing of concerts and events. If you're like me and you like to plan ahead, you can purchase tickets to the show(s) of your choice ahead of time at this site. Keep an eye on the Festival's Event Calendar to make the most of your time as well.
One last word of advice... a surefire way to dampen your holiday spirits is letting yourself shiver and freeze in the cool weather. Personally, I think the cold temperatures are oddly comforting in a "chestnuts roasting by an open fire" kind of way...very appropriate for a winter holiday celebration. That said, I'm not going to lie - it will be very cold in beautiful Niagara Falls at this time of year. You should expect temperatures between 21 and 55 Fahrenheit and snowfall is likely. So bundle up your family, bring a few bucks for some hot cocoa and be prepared for a vacation experience you'll never forget.
Here's a little video clip I found to help put you in the mood (I enjoyed this video as for some reason I have an odd infatuation with the theme song from Love Boat).