Sunday, August 5, 2007

Not Your Grandparents Vacation - Niagara Falls

My family and I must be some of the last people to see Niagara Falls. Whenever I mentioned we were headed to Niagara I would inevitably hear "oh I remember going there when I was ten" or "I went there forty years ago and it was great." Well I have to say I haven't heard one person say they were disappointed, and neither was our family. Niagara Falls is a wonderful getaway vacation for the family or couple. Niagara is home of America's oldest tourist attraction, the Maid of the Mist, 1846, so the park has had time to get everything perfect. The beauty of the falls is indescribable. The roar of 6 million cubic feet of water pouring over the crest every second is quite a rush.

Taking in all the tourist offerings on both sides of the border is part of the fun. Start with buying the Passport to the Falls ticket package on the American side at the state park entrance. This passport is only $28 (a savings of more than 35% over individual tickets) to the following attractions: The Maid of the Mist®, Cave of the Winds, Discovery Center, Observation Tower, Niagara Adventure Theater, Aquarium of Niagara - and you'll find this a pleasure after walking all day - unlimited rides on the Niagara Scenic Trolley.

In the visitor center, where the passports are sold, is an IMAX movie that traces the history and myth behind the falls. You can watch the movie first to get a sense of the history or wait, as we did, to enjoy the cool theater and comfy seats after a long day of walking. Beyond the visitor entrance stroll down to the waters edge and see the rainbows, hear the roar of the falls and watch the never ending flow of water cascading over the edge. The Maid of the Mist boat ride has carried the rich and famous for over 150 years and is the most popular attraction. The boat can be taken from either the Canadian or American side. Once you don your complimentary yellow raincoat and board the boat you will travel past the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and over to the Canadian Falls, also know as the Horseshoe Falls.
The most amazing site for me was the Cave of the Winds tour and the Hurricane deck. Traveling 175 feet through the rock we emerged at the bottom of the gorge and walked over an intricate set of stairs and decking that is removed every November and rebuilt in the Spring. We were as close as 20 feet from the Bridal Veil Falls and felt the tropical storm-like winds buffeting us around. The more adventurous in our party, not me, you get get soaked from the falling water that hit a rock first and then doused the brave. On the Canadian side there is the Journey Behind the Falls that is awe inspiring. As part of the Passport to the Falls there tickets for the Aquarium of Niagara and Discovery Centers located close to the park. The aquarium has a hometown feel with a friendly and informative staff. The seals have been with the aquarium for decades and thanks to the care of the staff have lived longer than their normal life expectancy in the wild.

After hours there is plenty to see and do in the area. We stayed at the Hilton, on the Canadian side, with an amazing view of the falls and of the evening fireworks scheduled regularly throughout the year. One note on the hotel that kept our girls entertained when it was raining outside, was the three story spiral water slide. I even took a few turns and went back for more.
Within walking distance, for the younger healthier set, is Clifton Hill. The area reminded me of a boardwalk, carnival type of atmosphere (without the beach and boardwalk). We visited a haunted house (scary), video arcades, the Sky Wheel, a giant enclosed Ferris wheel, and many souvenir shops. The area is packed with people, the smell of pretzels, cotton candy and fried food. We did stop at the Hard Rock Cafe, one on each side of the river, and had a giant Sundae and appetizers. One of the more interesting places to visit for an evening or rainy day is Ripley's Believe It or Not. It is like other Ripley's in various vacation sposts around the country and is always educational and fun for everyone. For the gambler the Canadian side has a giant casino with rooms overlooking the falls.
We only touched on a few of the many wonderful attractions in the area but hope to return and enjoy more of this historic area loaded with friendly people.

"Although it was wonderful to see all that water tumbling down, it would be even more wonderful to see all that water tumbling up."
-- Mark Twain

All Photos copyright David L. Jennings

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