Monday, 9 July 2018

Waterfall Chasers: Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls was the raison d'être for our entire trip: I had asked the kids what they would like to see in the US before we left, and they both said Niagara Falls. I hadn't been since I was about ten, so I was very much up for this. We left as early as I could manage... The kids were exhausted by this point, so I packed while they slept in. Then we dealt with interstate traffic as we left Toronto—including a crash that happened right in front of us. We were fine, despite a moment where it looked like the hit car was going to rebound into our lane, but I'm always a nervous driver, and I was in a high state of nerves for the rest of the drive.

A Hornblower boat in the middle of Horseshoe Falls.
As we were coming from Toronto, my plan was to do the Canadian side first, where you get the view of both the Horsehoe Falls (the main event, as it were) and the American and Bridal Veil Falls, then cross to the American side to scramble around Goat Island, between American/Bridal and Horseshoe Falls. I figured we could do the ticketed experiences in Canada, and then spend the peak time of day just wandering. Which, in retrospect, was assuming far too much of my kids. If I had really wanted to do both, I should have done two days: a morning in Canada doing the Falls and an afternoon doing touristy stuff; then a morning in the US doing the Falls and an afternoon driving away.

As it was, we spent $25 Canadian dollars to park, which was an immediate deterrent from moving the car until we were ready to go home. Canada and the United States have a similar range of must-do experiences: a walk behind the falls, and a boat trip into the mist at the foot of them. I'd done behind the Falls as a child (can't remember which side), but not the boat trip, so I figured we'd do both.

Looking under Horseshoe Falls.

The children were impressed with the Falls but underwhelmed by the Journey Behind the Falls. It was exciting for a few seconds and then they realised that they couldn't touch the water and they couldn't see anything... There's a fun observation deck, alongside Horseshoe Falls, and it's less of a scramble than the US Cave of the Winds which goes behind Bridal Veil Falls—I actually thought the US version looked more fun, but the children would probably not have appreciated the extra walk to underwhelming results.

The wooden walkways for Cave of the Winds, at the foot of Bridal Veil Falls.

Afterwards, we walked down to the Hornblower Boat launch, choosing to enjoy the scenic pathway along the gorge's rim rather than taking the bus that shuttles people around the area. This meant we got to watch the zipliners go flying by. We couldn't justify the cost of ziplining with everything else we were doing, but we would have loved to do it.

Waiting for the boat was a long but fast-moving line. The main objective when boarding was to get to a rail on the top deck, which we managed: the kids right on the rail and me behind, with a clear view over their heads. While the top front must undoubtedly be the best view, the boat pulls in close to American and Bridal Veil Falls on both the outgoing and return trip, so both sides get a good view and feel the mist. At Horseshoe Falls, it turns around anti-clockwise, so that the starboard side (which we were on) gets the panoramic sweep as it turns back for the dock.

I loved the whole experience... from the view to the incredible surging as we got in the middle of Horseshoe Falls and that column of mist that rises above it. My son enjoyed himself too, but my daughter found that her regulation poncho did not offer enough protection from the cold and the wet and was done with it long before it ended.

Also on the dock, this falcon, who works to keep other birds away.

We ate at the Grandview Restaurant, set above the boat dock. It's a limited menu and expensive, but the view is not under-rated. Sitting there and just watching the Falls is mesmerising. I had hoped that the kids would get their second wind once they were refueled. That often happens, but not today. Instead, all I could do was coax them to walk up to the viewing point by the Welcome Center to see the very brink of the Falls. At that point, it was the only Canadian angle we hadn't done.

In retrospect, I wish I'd let the kids watch the movie about Niagara's history instead of going Behind the Falls. I recall watching one as a child, near the start of our Falls visit, and it really brought the Falls alive for me. I was also tempted to take them to the elevated go-kart track, though they were too young to drive and I wasn't sure I could do it justice. I chose to do two up-close-to-the-Falls experiences instead, which were amazing for me, but became too much of the same for the children.

So our last view of the Falls came from Rainbow Bridge as we drove back into the States and to our NY friends. My daughter slept through most of the hour and a half drive. Yet when we arrived, we all went down to a park at Canandaigua Lake (exchanging the Great Lakes for the Finger Lakes), and the kids found a sudden burst of energy, running around the playground.

Sometimes kids just need to do kid stuff.

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