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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Niagara, the Falls and Me: Part 2




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Niagara, the Falls and Me (in winter): Part 2


The last entry about Niagara Falls featured the USA side. As promised, here is an entry about the Canadian side.


Horseshoe Falls, Canada


1. Be ready for the cold. As one might expect, January in Niagara Falls (either side) is (very) cold and there seems to be precipitation every day. But the view was breathtaking and worth the trip. I saw cars with Canadian license plates stopping to get out and take pictures like tourists. Apparently, I wasn't the only one impressed.

Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

2. Be ready to cross the border. As I stated in the previous entry, start from New York, if you are coming from the USA and take the Rainbow Bridge. There will be a cash toll and you will show official ID. Everyone will need a passport or enhanced driver's license (the days of a regular license or your birth certificate are over). For children, pay the extra money and get the passport card and the book. For this trip, the card will be sufficient.

Once across the border, just follow the signs towards the Falls. If you walked, that's pretty easy. However, if you drove, there will be different places to park. There will be plenty of parking garages.  Toward the end of the Horseshoe Falls, there is a parking lot and you can stroll along the sidewalk of the Falls. At the opposite end, near Clifton Hill, there are parking lots and garages near the casinos and other attractions.


3. Be prepared for limited attractions. In winter, the boat tours of the falls are closed. In fact, there are signs everywhere near the Falls themselves that even the sidewalks are not maintained during winter and you are on your own. The spray carried by the wind and consistent rain and snow make walking treacherous, so dress accordingly. Now is not the time to be cute: wear those heavy boots. 

Near Queen Victoria Park is the Skylon Tower, an observation tower to see the Falls from on high. Along with the ferris wheel on Clifton Hill, and a few other buildings, this makes of the skyline of Niagara Falls, Ontario.




The main drag is Clifton Hill, which resembles a wannabe Las Vegas/Times Square when lit up at night.
Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

4. Why people think this is the nice side: Clifton Hill is full of inexpensive family places to eat, lodgings that escalate in price during warmer weather and every wax museum known to man. There are arcades, souvenir shops, the Guinness Book of World Records and all sorts of interesting variations on theme parks such as MGM Studios Plaza and an upside down house museum (seriously). Why? Because, honestly, after seeing the Falls and the Whirlpool, you need something else to do. All of these attractions take money and if you plan to stay a week (which I would not recommend), you need activities and a good amount of cash. But the point is that the so-called "nice" area is very small and it is clear that all tourist attractions there exist simply because of the Falls. 

For those who brave the winter elements to see the Falls, you can enjoy the indoor water park at Great Wolf Lodge, straight up Victoria Avenue (Clifton intersects with Victoria, not within walking distance).  Other than that, look for hotels with indoor pools for all seasons (in case it rains). Some motels are not year round. Don't forget the fireworks schedule and even if it is winter, go see the Falls lit up at night.

The Falls at night


5. What do you do in nicer weather? In tourist season, the Maid of the Mist, the boat that takes you through the gorge and right up to Horseshoe is worth the money. You can take it from the USA or Canada side. Other Falls attractions can be found on the Niagara Parks website, such as Journey Behind the Falls (open in winter), Niagara's Fury (closed for part of January) and, something new to compete with the Maid of the Mist, Hornblower Niagara Cruises, where you sail aboard a catamaran.

Another interesting nature-based attraction is the Whirlpool Aero Car, also part of the Niagara Parks attractions. Located along River Road/Niagara Parkway, not too far off Victoria Avenue, it's about a 10 minute drive from the Falls. The Aero Car will take you over the Whirlpool during tourist season. If you are driving, parking is free and tickets are available there or part of a package sold by Niagara Parks.

Whirlpool Aero Car, Niagara Falls, Canada




Christmas decorations and Skylon Tower


For more information: Fun at the Falls, Clifton Hill, Top of Clifton HillNiagara Parks and Skylon Tower.