By Suzanne Ferrara
There is nothing in the world like sitting on the banks across from one of the biggest wonders of the world, Niagara Falls. You are in awe. In fact, once you sit there, it will be hard to leave this surreal scene, and as you look at our fellow onlookers—also in serene, trance-like states–you’ll know you’re not the only one who has quickly fallen under Niagara’s spell. (Fact: Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Ontario, Canada and the New York).
The banks of the massive Niagara Gorge provides one stunning vantage point, but you can get even closer to the thunderous roar created by more than 280 tons of water plunging over the falls each and every second. Getting as close as possible to the Falls at its base is a must, and you can do what onlookers have done for more than a century: board the Maid of the Mist, which will give you an unforgettable sensory experience as you feel the power of the Falls. While on board, although they give you a rain poncho to wear, be sure to get wet from the roaring falls. (Fact: The rushing water from the Falls comes from four of the five Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie).
Captains have safely navigated the mighty waters of the gorge since 1846, and you won’t believe how close you will get to the base of the powerful falls; it is truly a humbling vantage point. The half-hour ride is accessed from the park’s Observation Tower on the United States side; from there, the captain takes up to 600 passengers along the Niagara River to the base of the American and Horseshoe Falls. (Tip: If want to get wet, position yourself in the front of the main deck).
Another ‘must’ is experiencing the rushing waters of the Bridal Veil Falls on the Cave of the Winds tour. Once you are in the provided rain gear– including special footwear– you descend 175-feet deep into the Niagara Gorge. From there, you follow a tour guide on a chain of wooden walkways to the thrilling Hurricane Deck where, from that point, you will be only 20-feet from the thundering falls, and yes, you will get drenched. Be sure to look for the rainbows which are seen day and night at this site.
(Fun Fact: Niagara Falls has long been visited by honeymooners. As legend has it, Niagara Falls’ honeymoon trend began in 180I when the daughter of future U.S. Vice-President Aaron Burr, Theodosia, traveled to Niagara Falls with her fiancé Joseph Alston a few months before their marriage. According to documented history, Jerome Bonaparte, (Napoleon’s younger brother) also honeymooned at the falls with his American bride, Elizabeth Patterson.
Niagara Falls State Park –America’s oldest state park– has more than 400-acres of lush landscape awaiting your exploration. While in Niagara Falls, don’t miss the Aquarium of Niagara where there are more than 1,500-aquatic animals including Humboldt penguins, California sea lions, and harbor seals. Another captivating place is The Niagara Gorge Discovery Center which highlights the mesmerizing natural and local history of Niagara Falls and the Niagara Gorge. There are interactive displays, a simulated elevator trip, and a 180° multi-screen theater presentation of how the colossal Niagara River carved the gorge and the falls, which is a 12,000 years process that continues to this very day! Want to get your body moving? The Discovery Center is also home to the Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center, which has some of the best hiking and biking trails in the region.
Don’t miss the one-of-a-kind experiences to be had on the Canadian side of the Falls! (Important Tip: You will need a passport or passport card to cross over into Canada). Consider the Whirlpool Aero Cable Car ride over the Niagara Gorge; this cable car has been in operation since 1912, is suspended from six sturdy cables and offers stunning views of the Niagara Whirlpool and the roaring whitewater rapids.
For the thrill-seeker in you, get strapped into the MistRider Zipline and travel 670-feet into the gorge, past the American Falls, and towards the base of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. This experience and the view is breathtaking! For a more relaxing experience, visit the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory where more than 2,000 brightly colored butterflies live amid the lush vegetation and tropical surroundings. Having these butterflies land on your arm or hand is super cool!
Hungry? For a one-of-a-kind dining experience, head straight to the Top of the Falls Restaurant on Goat Island, where you will not only get an unforgettable view of the Falls, but you’ll also enjoy some farm-to table dishes. The restaurant overlooks Terrapin Point, and offers panoramic views of Horseshoe Falls. The fantastic views are possible thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, plus there’s awesome outdoor dining decks. (Menu Tip: Among their popular lunch items are the Bistro Burger and Chilled Asian Noodle Salad, followed by a slice of melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake).
For another great dining option, head to the Canadian side and enjoy a great meal at the world-famous Revolving Dining Room Restaurant at the Skylon Tower. The tower offers two levels of fine dining which are both 775-feet above the Falls. Before or after your award-winning meal, head to the Indoor/Outdoor Observation Decks; as you ride inside the exterior glass-enclosed “Yellow Bug Elevators”, you will enjoy spectacular views of the Falls. (Tip: The restaurant offers a family-affordable Summit Suite Buffet Dining Room and Early Dinner specials).
After all this adventure, you will be ready for a good night’s rest, and while there is no lodging with the Niagara Falls State Park, there are a handful of hotels nearby. The Comfort Inn The Point is the most convenient because it is directly across the park entrance and is also a 15-to-20 minute walk to the entrance to Canadian side. (Room Tip: Request one of the only four corner rooms with views of the Niagara River rapids; these are single rooms with a king bed). Another option is to make your lodging base two blocks away at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Niagara Falls New York which is located alongside the Niagara River in downtown Niagara Falls. (Tip: Request a room with views of the Niagara River that offer a whirlpool).
For an historic experience, stay overnight at The Red Coach Inn, an English Tudor inn which sits alongside the Upper Rapids of the Niagara River. This cozy inn has been serving guests since 1923, and there’s a romantic, old world ambiance which simultaneously boasts Jacuzzi tubs and a full-service restaurant. The Inn is just a fifteen-minute walk to the American Falls.
For the absolute best views of Niagara Falls from your hotel room, head straight to the Canadian side where there are nearly a dozen hotels that offer stunning vantage points in and around Fallsview Boulevard.
The room views from the Embassy Suites Niagara Falls are considered the best among many hotels because there aren’t any other hotels in front of it. Be sure to request rooms from the 16th-to-20th floors that offer full-views of both falls, and at times, you can see the reflection of the river as the sunrises. (Huge Tip: Be sure to request “Full View of the Falls” rooms when making reservations). (Breakfast Buffet Tip: Arrive around 7 a.m. to avoid the 9 a.m. rush). The Embassy Suites Niagara Falls also has The Keg Steakhouse Restaurant which overlooks Niagara Falls and has stunning views. (Menu tip: Be sure to order the mouthwatering, slow roasted Prime Rib, the succulent Steak and Lobster (Atlantic lobster tail), or the Prime Rib Sliders. (Tip: Because of the restaurant’s awesome window views, window tables are snatched quickly, and while they take reservations, they do not reserve specific tables. For dinner, it is highly recommended you arrive as early at 4 p.m. to get one of the more than a dozen window tables, and for lunch, be at the door when they open at 12:00 p.m. sharp).
Another option is The Tower Hotel, which is truly unique because it starts at 300-feet in the air and the windows are from the floor to the ceiling. Be sure to request a Luxury Falls View room, and if you can get it upon check in request, a Center View Room. Hungry? There’s an Ihop on the 26th floor.
If you want an awesome view and a balcony where you can stare at one of the world’s natural wonders, head straight to the Four-Diamond Sheraton on the Falls. Book a corner suite from level 17-to-21 because there are no balconies on the corner suites on the 16th floor; these suites have floor-to-ceiling windows, king-sized beds, pull-out queen sofa beds, oversized soaker tubs and electric fireplaces.
This Sheraton also has the luxurious Christienne Fallsview Spa (with a Hydrotherapy Infinity Tub) overlooking Niagara Falls. (Tip: One of the top spa services here is the Couples Retreat which includes a pair of 55-minute massages and private use of the Hydrotherapy Jacuzzi for two).
Want some water fun for the whole family? The Sheraton on the Falls is home to the Falls-view indoor waterpark and is North America’s largest indoor waterpark. The park boasts sixteen waterslides–up to six stories high–including the Niagara Extreme Slide Racing slides. There’s also a giant wave pool, two oversized adults-only Jacuzzis, Beach House Play Area and Rain Fortress with the famed 1000-gallon tipping bucket, and rope ladders.