Once upon a time, almost three years ago in the fall of 2014, I witnessed the majesty of Niagara Falls for the very first time — from the American side in New York. This month, though, I discovered why people tend to say the view is better from the Canadian side.
After our two-night stay in the grand city of Toronto, my traveling companion and I followed the highway as it curved around Lake Ontario and, about two hours later, wound up in the Clifton Hill "neighborhood" of Niagara Falls. If you're at all familiar with the area, you'll know what I'm referring to is really just a street filled to the wazoo with family-friendly attractions and restaurants, as well as Casino Niagara.
To be perfectly honest, the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking of how to describe Clifton Hill is "tacky". In its purest and simplest form, it is a tourist trap. Having said that, I must keep the honest streak going by also telling you that I had a grand time there.
Between the Niagara SkyWheel; the Movieland Wax Museum; the Ghost Blasters ride; the mini golf courses — Dinosaur Adventure Golf (outdoor) and Wizard's Golf (indoor); and the 4-D rides — "Zombie Attack" and the "Wild West Coaster" — this little bit of Canadian Niagara Falls has "family vacation" written all over it. Of course, that's not a bad thing in and of itself — you gotta be able to take the rugrats somewhere; plus, it allowed us to feel like kids again, albeit kids who down craft beer and blow their cash on slot machines.
And now is when I must tell you that, despite my honest statements above, I have not been totally forthcoming with you in this post — or, more accurately, the title of this post is not being as honest with you as it could be, for while we did stay in Niagara Falls on Saturday night, we also spent a large chunk of Sunday afternoon in the area, as well. That was when we checked out the main attraction, the falls themselves.
Donning my recently-acquired Toronto Blue Jays T-shirt, and full from a somewhat overpriced IHOP breakfast, my traveling companion and I made way for the overlook of the falls located along Niagara Parkway near Rainbow Bridge. We had stopped there prior to our shenanigans at Casino Niagara the night before when the falls were illuminated in an array of multi-colored light, as they are every evening at dusk, but I assure you that daytime makes for better photos (unless you have a super-duper fancy camera).
The plan was to skip attractions like the ride on the Hornblower Niagara (the Canadian Maid of the Mist, as it were) and the WildPlay Niagara Falls MistRider Zipline (which has much too long of a name), and head straight for the Journey Behind the Falls, which lets you meander around in the 130-year-old tunnels carved into the bedrock behind Horseshoe Falls. So, after a quick stop at Fallsview Casino, that is just what we did.
Armed with our transparent yellow ponchos, we descended the elevator leading to the corridors behind the falls, speaking briefly with a woman who told us she was slightly claustrophobic but was curious to explore the tunnels all the same. (Good for her, right?)
Spaced along the walls were informative plaques/placards/signs with words on them telling us much of the history of Niagara Falls, such as the volume of water gushing over them every second (3,160 tons), the amount of kilowatts of electricity they're capable of producing (4 million), and the first time someone went over them in a wooden barrel and survived (Annie Edison Taylor in 1901). So that was neat-o, gang, but even neater? Walking out on the viewing platform.
That's where the ponchos really come into play as you stand right next to Horseshoe Falls with all those tons of water rushing down just a few yards away from you. The droplets and mist start pressing buttons on your touch-screen phone while you're trying to capture a photo, but you risk it anyway because this is the age of social media and Instagram and you have a blog post to write that will need sexy images.
A number among the yellow poncho cult, I watched the Maid of the Mist sail into the falls with its pink-poncho-ed passengers from the American side, all the while remembering Jim Carrey wearing a rainbow-colored umbrella hat as he verbally abused a hapless old woman in a fit of rage brought on by being picked over for a promotion. (That's a Bruce Almighty (2003) reference, in case you're sitting there scratching your head.)
We would explore the tunnels some more and return to the viewing platform a second time before ending our Journey Behind the Falls (it's a self-guided kind of thing and there was no set time limit, as far as I know), adding a not-insignificant amount of water weight to our wardrobes in the process. We even saw slightly-claustrophobic-woman-from-the-elevator-ride again; she appeared to be handling the small space just fine.
It was after a total of about 23 hours or so in Niagara Falls, Ontario, that we decided to hit the road, Jack, and head back to the Great Lakes State. Thus, the road trip prematurely and inaccurately entitled "The Great Lakes Expedition" (which had included our two-night stay in Toronto, as well) came to a close.