My Family Does the Falls
Maid of the Mist
By Shari Hartford
A multi-generational vacation is usually difficult to plan. Someone wants the beach, someone else craves culture and there's one in every crowd who pushes Disney World. But in our case the suggestion of Niagara Falls got a unanimous "Yes!"
We started our four-day trip by rendezvousing in Buffalo, New York — cheaper and easier than flying into Toronto (the closest major airport to the Canadian Falls). We took a car service across the border and in less than an hour we had reached our base of operation, the Embassy Suites Fallsview Hotel. It's centrally located (a superb buffet breakfast is included), with stunning
views of the Falls and a pool. In other words, a great family hotel.
My sister-in-law, Alice, and I did our homework before we left home so we were familiar with the multiple attractions surrounding the main event. We came up with a game plan that would please both the kids and us older folks. We tried to plot out each day, but left room for spontaneity.
There are must-sees and should-sees. The mother of all must-sees in Niagara Falls is Maid of the Mist. That was our first stop. Yes, we really did don a blue plastic poncho (almost useless), stand on a boat with hundreds of others and get soaking wet going through the Falls.
And we all loved every second of it! The Maid of the Mist has been in continuous operation since 1846 and is the number one tourist attraction on the Canadian side of the Falls. It's a well-deserved title. In addition to the obvious gleeful splashes and spectacular scenery, the voice-over narration is actually interesting and educational. One thing we learned on our ride is that Niagara Falls is actually a combination of three falls: Horseshoe Falls and American Falls,
separated by Goat Island and Bridal Veil Falls separated from the two major falls by Luna Island.
Also on our list of must-sees was Journey Behind the Falls. Once again we suited up in the prerequisite poncho (this time in yellow) and snaked our way through a series of underground tunnels to periodically emerge under the Falls to hear the roar of the water and experience its power.
However, Niagara Falls isn't all about getting wet and wearing ponchos. We spent time at the Bird Kingdom, a fantastic bird and reptile exploratorium where the colorful tropical birds were free-flying high in their habitats that include a multi-story rainforest environment. We were just their guests. We also ventured a bit far afield for a dry, but interesting, tour of the Sir Adam Beck 2 Generating Station, a working hydroelectric power station, where the science behind the
conversion of the Falls to electricity was enthusiastically explained. Our guide sheepishly admitted that a malfunction of a 35-cent switch at this power station caused the massive East Coast blackout in 1965.
On our last afternoon, the Butterfly Conservatory sounded great to some of us, while the Whirlpool Aero Car (a cable car ride above the swirling whirlpools of the Falls) sounded game to the rest. We compared notes on our way to our last-night treat — the Greg Frewin Magic Show. Complete with live tigers, show girls and Vegas-style theatrics, the show is not exactly what you come to Niagara Falls expecting, but we, especially the kids, sat enthralled.
As our mini vacation drew to a close, we bid a fond adieu to the mighty Falls. We all know we will be back and when we return the Falls will still be there — a still powerful and majestic presence separating the U.S. and Canada.
* You will have bad hair days; there is an ever-present mist that continually blows over the area. Just deal with it.
* Although there are fine restaurants in the area, when traveling with children the chain restaurants made more sense. Embrace them and chow down. Bloomin' onion, anyone?
* Niagara, Canada is not a driving city. We purchased an all-day pass each day for the People Mover. This trolley system hits all the attractions back and forth all day. Just hop on and off. The pass also gets you transport on the Incline Railway, a tram that goes from street level down to the Falls. The waiting time for the People Mover can be a bit infuriating, but hey, you're on vacation.
* There is a light show over the Falls every evening and fireworks twice a week
throughout most of the year. Skip the light show if you must, but see the fireworks.
* As with any tourist town, there are tacky attractions in Niagara Falls. If celebrity wax museums, a haunted house and a mystery maze are your idea of a good time, then by all means go for it. One thing you won't find, surprisingly, is an abundance of tee shirt shops. Most of the souvenirs are cute and tasteful.
* There are hiking and walking trails, bicycle rentals, golf courses and loads of parkland and recreation areas. If weather permits, explore the outdoors.
For more information: InfoNiagara