by Stephen Johnson
It started with a television jingle. You know the one: “Everyone loves Marineland.” Last summer at our house, that was the theme song. It was always followed by a question, “Dad, when are we going to Marineland?” I knew, for our son’s pleasure and my sanity, we would have to make the trip to Niagara Falls and Marineland—so we did.
For this family adventure, we decided to travel by train and, upon arrival, we asked our taxi driver to make a short stop at the magnificent, world-famous falls. Sure, they made a splash with the little guy, but he still asked, “Are we going to Marineland today?” Nope. I explained it would soon be closed, so we checked into the hotel where he, undoubtedly, dreamed about seals and whales and sea lions.
The following morning, it was raining and cool so we went to see what else Niagara Falls had to offer. Although somebody (ahem) had dolphins on the brain, I convinced him a place called Bird Kingdom might be cool to check out. Just as its name suggests, Bird Kingdom is home to an amazing variety of birds. Our visit started in a room where it was possible to touch a snake and turtle, so David had a close encounter with a Burmese python. While my wife, Sandy, was squirming, our son was in kid-paradise!
Things did not get any easier for Sandy. We moved on to the nocturnal room where we greeted creepy crawlies such as Egyptian fruit bats and poison dart frogs. Luckily for David, he got to assist staff members with feeding the animals. Still, the final attraction was the most spectacular. In the world’s largest free-flying indoor aviary, hundreds of colourful, exotic birds were soaring around and playing in a jungle-like setting. In Niagara Falls? Who knew?
After lunch, it was time to explore the incredible falls themselves. I had taken the falls’ boat ride about 20 years earlier and still remembered the exhilaration of getting soaked. I wanted David to have the same experience, so we donned rain jackets and climbed aboard. As the boat steered closer and closer to the rushing falls, David and Sandra rushed to the front of the boat to get the best (and wettest) view. By the end of the ride, they were dripping and grinning.
The next day, Safari Niagara was our destination. Since David adores all creatures, he was persuaded to wait another 24 hours to see the wet ones. We started our “safari” with a roar and a great, live view of a white lion and a Siberian tiger. Our attention was then captured by the antics of the gibbons, but when David found out there were giraffes at this zoo, we were soon craning our necks to look up at the tallest mammals on earth. David was thrilled when a giraffe leaned over a fence and stuck out its long, sticky tongue to eat grain pellets from his hand. The hippos were also a hit. Hungry, hungry? How about lazy, lazy? The hefty hippopotamuses did not seem to have a care in the world.
But my young lad’s world definitely lit up when we arrived at Marineland the next morning. I thought he was going to crash through the gates he was so excited. Our first stop was at Friendship Cove where we saw a killer whale. “Look, look: the killer whale, just like on TV!” David enthused, as he mimicked the sociable creature and rhymed off facts. (David is an amateur marine biologist.) Next we saw walruses, whales and dolphins performing amazing tricks in a scheduled show.
After lunch, I promised David a special treat: we were going to feed and touch the beluga whales. Sweet! A trainer gave David instructions, plus a bucketful of fish, and he soon had a playful audience of hungry, happy belugas. David’s interaction with all the different animals from Bird Kingdom, Safari Niagara and Marineland made our trip to Niagara Falls a memorable success.
Niagara Falls is about five and a half hours from Ottawa when you’re travelling by car. For details, visit www.niagarafallstourism.com. We had a comfortable, affordable stay at the centrally located Rodeway Inn in Niagara Falls. Visit www.rodewayinnfallsview.com.