My wife and I spent a couple days in late September exploring the Canadian side of the falls and hosted at on of the area’s premier hotels, The Sheraton On The Falls. (The Bola 88 offers great off-season rates around Valentine’s Day.
After a drive from Toronto, where I had been n business, we were ready to relax and we couldn’t have picked a better location. The hotel booked us into one of their premium suites, complete with sitting area and fireplace, king-size bed, jetted tub, and unparalleled views of both the famous Horseshoe Falls and American Falls. Whether it’s the nightly man-made light show of colors splashed on the falls or a sunrise playing in the mist, the hotel offers a front-row seat.
We arrived in the afternoon and by that eveneing we explored the shops, restaurants and attractions on Falls Avenue and Clifton Hill. The Sheraton is at the heart of the Falls Avenue development, featureing a Planet Hollywood restaurant, Hard Rock Café, Rainforest Café, and attractions, including a simulated “Ride Over the Falls,” “Dino Island 3D” ride, “Elvira’s Haunted Coaster,” a Hershey chocolate shop, and Casino Niagara.
Inside Casino Niagara, it’s evident that this is no longer the Niagara Falls popularized in the Marilyn Monroe movie, ‘Niagara.’ The over-60 crowd lined the blackjack tables and filled the seats in front of the slot machines. In fact, it’s the casino and a steady stream of retirees driving the development on the Canadian side; enough so, that the Canadians are planning a second casino and their envious American neighbors hope to open one of their own to revitalize Niagara Falls, New York’s depressed tourist district.
Around the corner from the casino, Clifton Hill-area streets are brimming with attractions and tourist traps, including souvenir shops, arcades, small thrill rides, fun houses, and fast food joints. If your wallet’s fat enough, you can spend the entire day at places like the Guiness World Records Museum, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum and theater, haunted houses, a thrill ride accompanied by a 70mm film, and Movieland Wax Museum.
On our trip up the hill we ducked into the Rain Forest Café for dinner. The menu items featured Chimi-Cha-Cha, Magambo Shrimp, and Mojo Bones (slow-roasted ribs). The restaurant includes a collection of animatronic wildlife – life-sized elephants and fearsome gorillas, choreographed to a recycling soundtrack of music and theatrics. Sitting amid tropical trees, guests experience simulated rainstorms. A volcano at the entrance of the restaurant “erupts” periodically. It’s a great place for couples, but is certainly among the attractions meant to draw families.
After exploring some shops, we returned to the hotel to find the hotel’s turndown service had left chocolates and robes on the bed. A rainbow of colors played over the water and mist as we opened an unscreened window to provide an unobstructed view of the scene.
The next morning we discovered the Niagara Falls area with the help of Niagara Falls Scenic Tours. The tour operator’s coaches offered a soft seat and a fast way to take in all the Canadian side has to offer. George, our tour guide, filled the ride with facts, figures and interesting stories, like the one about the boy who went over the falls and lived to tell about it. We were accompanied by couples from England and the States.
The tour took us to the Mount Carmel Monastery and then a cruise on the Maid of the Mist. From May to late October, tourists don plastic ponchos and crowd onto four double-decker boats from both the Canadian and American sides for a 30-minute cruise below the American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls.
Along the way, we saw visitors in much heavier rain gear navigating trails, bridges, stairs and platforms near the base of Bridal Veil Falls. Accessible from the American side, “The Cave of the Winds” walk takes visitors on an elevator down a 175-foot shaft to the bulwark of trails . From the highest platform, the Hurricane Deck, the tour appeared to offer heart-stopping thrills as tourists hung on as water rushed around them.
Soon it was our turn for a close dose of Mother Nature’s fury and water as the captain steered the boat close to the cascade.
If Maid of the Mist didn’t get us wet enough, George sent us on a walk through the damp tunnels and onto an observation deck at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls in something called “Journey Behind the Falls.” Despite a descent through thick stone, the noise of the falls is thunderous and the vibration of water pounding rock is ever present.
After drying off, we were escorted a few miles downstream to an overlook above the river’s famous whirlpool and great gorge. We watched as adventurous tourists screamed over the swirling water in jet-powered boats. The so-called Spanish Aero Car also moves people on a suspended cable car system above the treacherous waters.