Mark Mortenson doesn’t have to think very hard during holiday break about where to take his kids for family fun. § It helps when you’re president and CEO of the Buffalo Museum of Science. § Mortenson arrived in Buffalo seven years ago to take the helm at the museum after working 20 years as an executive with the Walt Disney Co. in Southern California. § “I came here with one kid and I have five now,” he said. “They really love it when they say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to dad’s work!’ ” § The museum is among options Western New York families have while schools are closed for the holiday break. Readers helped us put together a short list of recommendations for parents out there who have had too much Christmas on their minds to consider how to spend quality time with their children in the days afterward. § Here are some surefire bets, most of which combine entertainment with education:
1. The Buffalo Museum of Science
What: No longer your grandfather’s science museum, the 84-year-old landmark in Martin Luther King Jr. Park is in the midst of a metamorphosis.
Where: 1020 Humboldt Parkway
Website: sciencebuff.org (896-5200)
High points: Learn more about the human body, geology, weather, gravity, insects and much more in the Explore You, Our Marvelous Earth, In Motion and Bug Works, four third-floor science studios designed to intrigue and instruct. Two of the studios opened this year and two more, Artifacts and Extinction, will open in 2014. A highlight of the holiday break will be open workshop hours from noon until 8 p.m. Friday in the Makeshift Studio on how cellphones work.
2. Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory
What: More than 2,000 butterflies flutter through this indoor tropical paradise along the Niagara River and families can take a self-guided tour in which plants and more than 40 different varieties of butterflies are described.
Where: 2565 Niagara Parkway, north of Niagara Falls, Ont.
Website: niagaraparks.com (scroll over “Attractions,” click on “Adventure”)
High points: On a typical day, about 150 iridescent Blue Morpho butterflies inhabit the conservatory but, until Jan. 5, that number will soar to as many as 600 as part of “Blue Christmas.” The butterflies, shipped from South and Central America, have been bursting from their pupae and taking wing behind “emergence windows” at the conservatory since late November. The team from the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens next door has decorated the conservatory for the holidays, too.
3. Your local library
What: Buffalo and Erie County Public; NIOGA library system
Where: Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square; Main library, 1425 Main St., Niagara Falls
Website: buffalolib.org; nioga.org
High points: The Central Library in Buffalo will host do-it-yourself crafts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday (ornament), Friday (winter pop-up card), next Saturday (snowman), Dec. 30 (mitten garland) and Dec. 31 (calendar craft). Other programs include posing for photos to make your own 2014 calendar from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. next Saturday at the Crane Branch Library, 633 Elmwood Ave. (must register in advance by calling 883-6651), and a free showing of the movie “Smurfs 2,” with snacks, at 3 p.m. Dec. 30. For information on other programs and hours at library locations, visit the websites listed above.
4. New Year’s Eve Celebrations
What: Options include First Night in Buffalo; the Hard Rock Cafe Ball Drop in Niagara Falls; and the Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, Ont.
First Night Buffalo (firstnightbuffalo.org): This drug- and alcohol-free family event celebrates its 25th anniversary from 5 to 10 p.m. Dec. 31 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, 153 Franklin St.; features games, a black light dance party and entertainers which this year will include Nickel City Reptiles & Exotics, Xpogo, and the Red Trouser Show. A new Multi-Cultural Celebrations Stage also is part of the fun.
Hard Rock Guitar Drop (hardrock.com/niagarafalls): Runs from 8 p.m. to midnight outside the Hard Rock Cafe Niagara Falls USA and is highlighted by a free concert featuring Living Colour; A 10-foot likeness of a Gibson guitar will be lowered on the Giacomo Hotel, the city’s second-tallest building, at midnight, followed by fireworks.
Over the border : More than 50,000 people are expected the night of Dec. 31 in Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls, Ont., for a live outdoor concert featuring Demi Lovato, Serena Ryder and Sam Roberts. Portions of the concert will be broadcast live across Canada. The party also includes fireworks over the falls at 9 p.m. and midnight. For more info, visit niagaraparks.com, scroll over “Events” and “Signature Events” and click on “New Year’s Eve.”
5. Slip, slide away
What: Skiing options abound in the region, whether it be downhill or cross-country, as do sledding and snowboarding.
Where: Chestnut Ridge Park (sled hill open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.); Kissing Bridge (kbski.com) Holiday Valley (holidayvalley.com) Holimont (holimont.com) Peak’n Peak (holimont.com).
Closest option: The Buffalo Ski Club operates the former Tamarack ski slope at 7414 State Road (Route 240), Colden. It has 43 slopes and three lodges, according to its website, bscskiarea.com.
Cross-country: The Buffalo Nordic Ski Club offers tips and skiing recommendations on its website, buffalonordic.org. Byrncliff Resort and Conference Center (byrncliff.com) has cross-country trails you may use for a fee.
6. Power Vista
What: Free visitors center for the Niagara Hydroelectric Power Plant includes displays and interactive exhibits about electricity production, energy efficiency and area history.
Where: 5777 Lewiston Road, Lewiston
Website: nypa.gov/vc/Niagara.htm (286-6661)
High points: Festival of Trees, which runs through Jan. 4 in the center’s glass walkway. Features Christmas trees decorated by nonprofit groups and adorned with energy-efficient lights. Make an evening of it until Dec. 31 by stopping at the Holidays of Lights Tour on Robbins Drive in Hyde Park, Niagara Falls. See more than 60 displays; carriage rides are available at a cost from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays. Live in the Southtowns? Try the Festival of Lights at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg. There is a cost; learn more at fairgroundsholiday.com.