For our family summer vacation this year, we decided a long plane trip wasn’t necessary. Perhaps I’d worn out my wife and kids on long-distance travel so we planned to just head north of the border and enjoy the sights of Ontario, Canada, specifically Niagara, for a change of pace.
We checked into the Sheraton on the Falls Hotel and immediately appreciated the spectacular view from our 11th-floor room situated directly across the Niagara River from the American Falls.
My wife Kim and sons Connor and Logan couldn’t wait to get out and explore the natural beauty of everything we could see from our window. The view was really that marvelous.
Unfortunately, between the hotel and the actual falls is an area of the city that was hidden from our view until we started walking. Clifton Hill's World Famous Street of Fun by the Falls. Looking into the area I almost became afraid to enter, not because of personal safety but in fear for my wallet.
We could see haunted houses, arcades, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! lining one side of the street while down the other was a wax museum and other carnival-type attractions. Interspersed were restaurants like the Rainforest Cafe and an IHOP.
From where we stood on the corner of the street, we couldn’t see all the attractions, just the closest ones. We knew that somewhere within the maze was an expansive waterslide park the hotel had advertised. We could even see towering over the top of the buildings a Ferris wheel.
And we had preteen boys.
With a promise of returning later to the carnival atmosphere, Kim and I successfully steered the boys away from the pitfalls of coin-operated machinery and back on course to the reason we as parents had picked Niagara as our destination — the stunningly awesome display of nature that is Niagara Falls.
We quickly found there are many ways to view them from both sides of the river.
Of course, no visit to the falls would be complete without a cruise on America’s Maid of the Mist or Canada’s Horatio Hornblower boats that offer an up-close-and-personal view.
Even though there are inside portions of the boats, we elected to stand on the upper outside deck for the best view and experience possible.
And we soaked it all in — literally. There was a reason why plastic raincoats were issued when we boarded.
In the midst of the roar and the spray of water, I took as many pictures as possible before too much moisture would have damaged my camera if I left it exposed. I tucked it under my raincoat, hoping that would be enough to protect it. Unfortunately, my arm was lifting up the plastic from the bottom and my shorts became drenched, but it was well worth it.
Up against the surrounding Canadian Falls, I felt like a cork in a bathtub with the water still turned on full blast. I was sure if we got any closer we would be sunk. Yet the pilot of the boat held us there for several minutes, fighting the current while we tried to view God’s spectacular work through the blinding spray.
I was both humbled and awed.
It’s a good thing the sun was shining and we had the chance to dry out once we disembarked.
In addition to cruises, there are other ways to enjoy the falls.
On the Canadian side, for a fee, visitors can access an area right to the side of the falls and see behind the cascading water.
On the American side, visitors can take stairs and a walkway literally to the bottom where the falls meet the gorge. They can also have an alternative view from the observation deck that was a source of controversy when it was built, if I remember correctly. Whether visitors are for it or against it, the platform definitely offers a unique panoramic perspective they can’t get from anywhere else.
If a visit to Niagara Falls is in your future, be prepared to spend some money. It’s not just the attractions you pay for; the food sometimes costs three times what it would at my home in Texas. Parking a car can also potentially drain your resources if you’re not careful.
After dark was an entirely new experience for our senses. First, the rainbows of the daylight hours give way to the falls being lit with a kaleidoscope of colorful lights that change periodically.
There is also a nightly firework show over the Horseshoe Falls, which we enjoyed from the large window of our hotel room. Viewing both was spectacular.
Is it worth it? Just like the roar of the falls, the answer is a resounding "yes."
We thoroughly enjoyed everything we saw and did. We highly recommend the Hershey store adjacent to our hotel for dessert.
And for discerning parents of preteens, the falls are enough to distract children away from the commercial endeavors of the Great Canadian Midway if spending an abundance of money is not in your plans.
Chris Hale is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline and has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time, he writes novels inspired by places he's been. Find out more about his books and other articles at chrisahale.com.