BY LAURA KEENEY
You don't need to spend a fortune on airfare to take an adventure with your kids. Just grab your passports, hop in the car, and go explore the great white north: Canada, eh! We've rounded up a few suggested highlights within day-trip distance. With so much to do -- and the fun factor of being in another country! -- there are myriad opportunities to turn these day treks into overnight stays. Niagara Falls and Toronto are just the start. Use the time to explore and have some adventures. And, on a side note, when you're in Canada, grab snack food. Despite our country owning the stereotypes of the fat, out-of-shape chip lovers, those Canadians have cornered the market on awesome when it comes to delicious empty-calorie treats. Ketchup chips, 'nuff said.
Niagara Falls, Canada
Drive time: 100 minutes
Where else can you take the kids to see one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world and check out the Wax Museum of Rock Stars? Niagara Falls, Ontario, of course. Just over the border from the United States, the Canadian side of the Falls caters to our desire to be entertained. Why just look at nature when you can ride the WWE Piledriver, go to Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, get a bird's eye view from the Skywheel, play indoor miniature golf, or attend one of the universe's biggest arcades?
For those of you who are into that whole nature thing, there's always the Maid of the Mist tours (maidofthemist.com), which allow you to get upfront, personal, and wet with the falls. It's one of my family's faves, along with raiding Canadian stores for the aforementioned awe-inspiring selection of junk foods, which, coincidentally, taste delicious while viewing the nightly fireworks over the falls, held all summer long.
A couple of off-the-beaten path Niagara Falls suggestions:
ChamShanTemple, or Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas: About five miles from the falls is this incredible site with a breathtaking seven-story stupa is set on about three acres of land. It is a functioning Mahagana Buddhist temple and retreat center, so please be respectful. Free tours are given all summer long; check chamshantemple.org for details.
Whirlpool Aero Car: Brave souls can climb aboard this suspended cable car, built in 1916, which travels over the top of the Niagara River's Whirlpool Rapids. It actually does a 360 degree pivot mid-suspension. Definitely not for the faint-of-heart.Definitely cool. For details check niagaraparks.com/attractions/whirlpool-aero-car.html.
Indoor water parks:Niagara Falls is home to two indoor water parks, both with hotels attached to them. Great Wolf Lodge (greatwolf.com) or Fallsview Indoor Waterpark (fallsviewwaterpark.com) both have family package deals, and the kids will have a blast riding the waterslides all night -- a great thing to do to beat the summer heat. Return in the winter when the Arctic chill is upon us.
Drive time: 3 hours
There's no better place then Toronto to entice kids' imaginations with the sights, sounds, and ambiance of a multicultural experience. This incredible city is home to people from all over the world, resulting in a vibrant, colorful, and exciting experience. Chinatown, Little Italy are just the beginning. Explore GreekTown and PortugalVillage, head into Kensington Market for thrift stores, or visit the West Indies of the North in July for Carabana, an incredible celebration of Caribbean culture. Of course, there are more. Explore and see what you can find.
Some suggested Toronto attractions:
Ontario Science Centre: I love science, and I think you should too. If you're not convinced, a visit to this gem should fix that. It's filled with so much hands-on fun, your kids won't even realize they're *gasp* learning. Nine exhibition halls, a family fun center, an IMAX dome, and even the opportunity to participate in real research are all highlights. Still not yet convinced? "Harry Potter: The Exhibition" -- the traveling show of props, magic, and wizardry from the blockbuster movie series -- is at the museum through August. Flick your wand and say, "GetyerbutticusTotorontocus!" For directions, hours, and admission check ontariosciencecentre.ca.
Hockey Hall of Fame: Whether your kids are rabid fans of the sport or not, there's plenty to do at the HHOF that should keep them occupied. Sure, there's the museum area that pays homage to the greatest players of the greatest sport ever, and there's all the memorabilia, including that cathedral-like room with the incredible Stanley Cup on display. (Yes! You can have your photo taken with it!) But there's also lots of hands-on fun to be had. Simulated hockey games, stepping into the announcer's shoes to call the play-by-play, and hockey movies are just the beginning. Continue the hockey theme throughout the day by dining at Gretsky's, owned by the Great One himself. For more information visit hhof.com or gretzky.com/restaurant.
TorontoCityPass: One of the best deals is the TorontoCityPass, which grants admission to five sites -- the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Ontario Science Centre, RoyalOntarioMuseum, and the Toronto Zoo -- all for one price, valid for nine days, and you get to cut in line. Huge win. Individual ticket to each attraction would add up to well over $100; the pass is available for $59 for adults, $39 for kids. For more information visit citypass.com/Toronto.
Tours: The City of Toronto has put together several walking tours, and even has a bike trail map available on its website. See toronto.ca/parks/maps.htm or toronto.ca/parks/recreation_facilities/discovery_walks/discover_index.htm for more information.