Montreal's cold comforts

Dinosaurs like this T-Rex come alive at the Montreal Science Centre thanks to some pretty realistic...

Dinosaurs like this T-Rex come alive at the Montreal Science Centre thanks to some pretty realistic animatronics. The Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit runs until March 11. (PHIL RABY/Special to QMI Agency)

ANNA RODRIGUES, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

The day we arrived in Montreal, snow began falling fast and furious. As it piled up on the streets, the temperature was dropping quicker than a politician's approval rating. By the time we woke up to our first day, it was an extremity-numbing -18 C outside -- not counting the wind chill factor!

We thought about hunkering down in our comfortable hotel with its warm pool and access to underground shops, but then it occurred to us there is still much for families to do in Montreal that doesn't require thermal underwear or arctic parkas.

A visit to an indoor tropical rainforest is the perfect cure for the winter blues and something Montreal offers at the Biodome -- a unique structure containing five different ecosystems, complete with animals and plants.

The tropical rainforest is one of the most popular systems on display, and with temperatures hovering around 24 C, it provides a welcome respite from the cold. Inside, visitors have can see cotton-top tamarins and majestic scarlet macaws, along with a plethora of aquatic life, reptiles and tropical plants.

Another ecosystem that shouldn't be missed is the Laurentian Maple Forest. It's a lot colder in this area -- around 9 C -- but well worth a visit to see the antics of river otters and beavers swimming underwater. You may even catch a glimpse of an elusive lynx.

Across the street from the Biodome is the Insectarium, considered North America's leading museum devoted to the study of insects. It contains many exhibits where families can learn about the complex nature of social insects like bumble bees, listen to an insect "symphony" and learn about the natural defense mechanisms of bugs. But it's the live collection that gets all the attention. There are several tarantulas, scorpions and giant cockroaches in glass vivariums, making it easy for guests to get up close and personal to these amazing creatures.

And speaking of amazing, the Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit, running at the Montreal Science Centre until March 11 should not be missed. There are fossils, life-size skeletons and interactive displays with great information. While these are all compelling, the huge lifelike animatronics will take your breath away.

Hold on to the little ones as you go through this exhibit, as some may decide to make a run for it after encountering the life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex replica, complete with a full set of menacing teeth and realistic sound effects. Standing in front of it without flinching takes some nerve as the T-Rex bends down to human eye level and roars in anger while opening its huge jaws.

An activity everyone will really enjoy is controlling the movements of one of the replicas. With a touch of a button, visitors can make a life-like Stegosaurus move its head, breathe or swish its tail.

By mid-afternoon, families will probably be ready for a bite to eat and some low key activity.

A great place to do both is the Ceramic Cafe Studio in the trendy Mont-Royal area, where children and their parents can choose an unfinished pottery piece and paint it however they wish. While creating these exceptional works of art, families can nibble on nachos and healthy sandwiches, and cap off the afternoon with delectable desserts.

The pottery pieces are available at different price points (starting at $3) and there is an hourly charge for each participant who paints ($8 for adults, $6 for children). Keep in mind that the pieces need to be fired in the kiln before they can be taken home, and that process can take up to a week. If you are not going to be in town that long, for a $5 fee you can have your work of art in two days.

tripswithkids.ca

IF YOU GO TO MONTREAL

PLAN

For more information on visiting Montreal, see tourisme-montreal.org or bonjourquebec.com.

STAY

The Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain is a great place for families to stay, especially if they want to have a car-free vacation. The hotel is connected to an underground maze of stores, a the Metro (subway) station and the main train station. At different times of the year, the Marriott offers family packages. Possible deals could include free meals for kids under 12 or a second room for 50% off. Packages start at $159 plus taxes.

For more on family deals, see montrealchateauchamplain.com.


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