Niagara Falls – September 2014

Ah, Niagara Falls…love is in the air…a romantic getaway. My wife and I finally had a chance to visit this place after years of telling ourselves…someday, we’ll have to go visit Niagara Falls. Well, someday turned out to be two days and two nights in early September after my wife’s business trip to Washington, D.C.

First of all, Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls straddling the international border between the U.S. and Canada. The three waterfalls are Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, with the last two waterfalls on the American side. Horseshoe Falls lies mostly on the Canadian side although I don’t think the demarcation line is very clear. Horseshoe Falls is considered the most powerful waterfall in North America and the combined waterfalls produces the highest flow rate in the world.

View of Niagara Falls with the ever present rainbow.

View of Niagara Falls with the ever present rainbow. From left to right are American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls (a small waterfall just to the right of American Falls) and Horseshoe Falls.

LOGISTICS
Prior to visiting Niagara Falls, we did some homework, asked folks who’ve been there before, and based on all that feedback, decided to stay on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls…and so glad we did.

We flew into the Buffalo International Airport as it is the closest major airport to Niagara Falls. We could have rented a car and driven, taken a taxi or a shuttle ride, or taken a bus ride to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Doing some prior homework, we realized that renting a car and driving to the Canadian side, especially when you factor in the parking charges, would probably be more expensive than taking a shuttle van from the airport…and we weren’t really keen on taking a Greyhound bus (or Coach Canada / MegaBus / Coach USA) to Niagara Falls (even though the price, $10 – $14 one way per person, was appealing). Where’s the romance in that? There were at least a couple of shuttle services servicing Buffalo airport and Niagara, Ontario and we opted for Buffalo Airport Taxi Service, charging $65 per person one way or $85 for two people one way.

Cognizant of the fact that we were staying on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, we made it a point to check and double check that we had our passports with us. Everything changed after 9/11 and I was informed that you can’t just go across the border into Canada and back with just a driver’s license like you used to. I suppose you can cross back into the U.S. nowadays without a passport…just be young enough, cross the US border down south, claim you have family in the U.S., be fed, clothed, and housed by American taxpayer money, and seek some sort of asylum to stay in the U.S. But I digress. That would be for another post.

Sunrise over Niagara Falls

Sunrise over Niagara Falls. View from our room on the 30th floor of Embassy Suites by Hilton.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Niagara Falls Fallsview. We chose a 2-room Whirlpool Suite with a King-sized bed and Horseshoe Falls View. The rooms were somewhat dated but the views from this hotel were spectacular. The views alone made it worthwhile to splurge on a falls view room. Our room was on the 30th floor but I was informed that anything above the 15th floor would have great views.

There is a hop-on hop-off bus called WEGO, connecting the hotel accommodations with tourist attractions in Niagara Falls. You may purchase your 24 hour WEGO Pass for $7.00 (Canadian $) for adults and $4.00 for children (6-12), 5 and under are free. We purchased an Adventure Pass when we got to Niagara Falls and a 48-hour WEGO pass is included in what you pay for. However, we found that the WEGO buses didn’t run often enough and we found ourselves walking all over the place instead, except for when we had to take the WEGO bus to and from the White Water Walk attraction as it was about 2 miles away.

ATTRACTIONS
The Niagara Parks Commission operates or co-operates the Niagara Parks attractions, to include Journey Behind the Falls, White Water Walk, Niagara’s Fury, and the Hornblower Niagara Cruises. We purchased the Adventure Pass at the Table Rock House where entry to Journey Behind the Falls and Niagara’s Fury is located.

If the sight of the raging waters of Niagara Falls isn’t romantic enough for you, at night Niagara Falls puts on a more romantic show. Since 1925, every evening beginning at dusk, the Falls are lit in the colors of the rainbow. Additionally, Fireworks over the Falls are held at 10:00 PM every Friday, Sunday and Holiday from early May until the end of November. Check out the Illumination Schedule to see special themes or observation of an event or cause.

Clifton Hill night life

Clifton Hill night life

Clifton Hill is also a popular attraction, with rides, activities for the kids, souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants. Located just north of the Rainbow Bridge, Clifton Hill is sort of like old town Las Vegas or even a run down Atlantic City…just smaller and with less casinos. We thought it was OK albeit a bit cheesy.

There were also a couple of casinos on the Canadian side of the border, Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara, and one on the U.S. side, the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel. We met an elderly couple happily walking from one casino to the other during the light of day, but we, ourselves, didn’t waste our precious time in the casinos. It is worth noting, however, there are shows or concerts being hosted in the Fallsview Casino…although they were mostly popular performers from the 60s and 70s. I guess they cater to a certain age group who frequent the area.

Of all the attractions, we thought the Hornblower Niagara Cruises (on the American side, there is the Maid of the Mist – Maid of the Mist issued blue ponchos while Hornblower issued red ponchos) and the Journey Behind the Falls (Cave of the Winds is on the U.S. side and offers a similar experience although Journey Behind the Falls actually  takes you behind the Horseshoe Falls and not just next to it) were well worth the price of admission. We checked out the White Water Walk but didn’t think it was all that. It was OK but if you had more time and would rather visit some place like Niagara on the Lake, then I highly suggest you do so. We heard some good things about Niagara on the Lake from folks we spoke to while on a WEGO bus returning from White Water Walk. We skipped the Niagara’s Fury attraction as we didn’t feel like getting wet yet again for a virtual look of Niagara Falls.

Rainbow over a Hornblower Cruise boat as viewed from Journey Behind the Falls

Rainbow over a Hornblower Cruise boat as viewed from Journey Behind the Falls

OUR EXPERIENCE
Victor, our shuttle driver who hails from Bulgaria, promptly loaded our luggage after we checked in at the counter by the baggage claim, and we were off for our 45-minute to an hour drive to Niagara. I thought Victor was going straight towards Rainbow Bridge and use that border crossing to enter Canada, but he took us on a different route to avoid anticipated traffic on Rainbow Bridge. Looking at the map, it looks like we crossed into Canada over the Peace Bridge, west of Buffalo. When we came upon the border and encountered the Canadian Immigration Officer, he asked us a few questions while checking out our passports. Here’s how the conversation went:
Canadian Immigration Officer (CIO for short): Where are you coming from?
Me: Hawaii
CIO: Where are you going?
Me: Ummm…Ontario?
CIO: That’s the province.
Me: Ummm…Niagara? I didn’t realize there was going to be a geography test, eh, or I would’ve studied, eh.
CIO: What are you bringing?
Me: Ummm…nothing. Was I supposed to bring something, eh?
CIO: What is the purpose of your visit?
Me: I guess it was to pass a Canadian geography test, eh.

View of Horseshoe Falls from a Hornblower Cruise boat

View of Horseshoe Falls from a Hornblower Cruise boat

The exchange didn’t really go exactly this way, but close enough. It’s a good thing he still allowed us entry into Canada. Our conversation with the American Immigration Officer on our way back into the U.S. was more business like…no lip at all from me.

We generally liked staying at the Embassy Suites and can overlook the dated decor when considering the spectacular views of the waterfalls from our room. With regards to restaurants, the only restaurant that stood out for us was Weinkeller. We found out about Weinkeller via TripAdvisor and they didn’t disappoint, with the quality and taste of their food, the service, and the ambiance all top notch.

All in all, a very relaxing quick trip to visit Niagara Falls. It was just soothing to crack open a window in your room (the Embassy Suites room have a small window you can crack open) overlooking Niagara Falls while savoring some coffee and sweets, listening to the distant roar of water cascading down the waterfalls…all while enjoying the company of someone you love dearly…even better while shedding stresses and worries in the calming and romantic jacuzzi whirlpool tub. I can understand why someone we spoke to commented about how they can be content just staying in their room doing nothing but relaxing with the sights and sounds of Niagara Falls.

NOTES AND TIPS
– You owe it to yourself to get on the Hornblower Niagara Cruise (or the older Maid of the Mist of on the U.S. side) when visiting Niagara Falls. You will get wet…so this prospect might not be as enticing during the colder months. We decided to pack our waterproof camera instead of chancing my DSLR getting wet and damaged during the cruise as well as while exploring Journey Behind the Falls.

– We didn’t walk over to the Rainbow Bridge to take pictures of Niagara Falls…but wished we did. The Rainbow Bridge offers a great vantage point to capture all three waterfalls as well as the structures on both the U.S. and Canadian side flanking the waterfalls.

– If you decide to drive and stay in one of the resort hotels (at least on the Canadian side), suggest you consider parking in one of the casino parking structures as the parking fees would be surely cheaper.

 

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Posted on October 13, 2014, in Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I always feel like I am reliving our fantastic vacations! Thank you for putting our experiences into words that we can read when we are old and sitting on the lanai drinking coffee!

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