Thursday, June 9, 2011

Niagara Falls

At last, it's time to talk about the day that was the whole reason for this road trip in the first place: Niagara Falls Day! Quite some time ago, Eric and I added "Make a trip to Niagara Falls" to our NYC To-Do List. Eric knew that Cooperstown was on the way there, so we added that into the plan. And as we kept figuring out how to organize the whole trip, we just started adding stops..."well, we may as well go just two hours north to Toronto to catch a Blue Jays game...well, we can stop and have dinner in Buffalo...I heard Niagara-on-the-Lake is gorgeous, and so close...wait, we're passing through Scranton on the way home?" And ta-da! A road trip is born. But the main goal was always to get to Niagara Falls.

As I mentioned in my last post, Niagara-on-the-Lake is only about 30 minutes from Niagara Falls, so we arrived at the falls in no time at all, probably around 11:00 Monday morning. We couldn't check into our hotel until 4:00 that afternoon, and had no intention of parking our car there anyway, so we went straight to the Fallsview Casino and parked there. (Here's a travel tip if you'll be visiting Niagara Falls by car: parking at the Casino is only $5, no matter how long you stay there. You'll have to pay again if you take your car out and then park again, but if you just leave it, $5. Considering that our hotel - the Embassy Suites - charges $20-30 PER NIGHT to park, this was a waaaaaay better option.)

We left our luggage in the car and went up into the Casino. We wandered through the slot machines and such, but didn't stop to gamble. We made plans to do so later (although we never did get to it!) and went out in search of those waterfalls we had been hearing so much about.

We walked down to the river and our hearts sank. FOG. It was chilly (I wished I had worn pants) and wicked foggy. Fog, fog, and more fog. So foggy, in fact, that we couldn't see ANYTHING. The entire river was blanketed, and although we could hear the roar of the falls, we couldn't see a thing. We started to freak out a bit - what if it is like this all day? What if we came all this way, made this whole trip, and we can't even see the falls?

Our first "view" of Niagara Falls

I'm sure the falls are out there somewhere...

But, we continued on, trying to stay optimistic. We walked along the river in the direction of the Rainbow Bridge.

Looking back at our hotel as we walked

True story

Foggy path

As we walked, though, our hope was renewed! The fog was clearing a bit! Still not great, but we got our first look at the falls. Awesome.

Ah, there's the very edge of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls!

Eric admiring (what he can see) of the American and Bridal Veil Falls

Before too long we made it to the Rainbow Bridge, which connects the Canadian and American sides of the falls. You can walk across it from one side to the other, as long as you have 50 cents for the toll and your passport.

Eric is clearly excited to head back to his home country

The Rainbow Bridge

So, we did just that! The views from the bridge were fantastic, and you won't believe it - by the time we crossed back to New York, the sun was shining, the fog had cleared, and it was nice and warm. Score one for the USA!

On the Rainbow Bridge

The sun is shining, the temp is rising (I even took my sweater off!), and we're back in New York. Good stuff.

The New York side of Niagara Falls is much less touristy/"sensory overload" than the Canadian side, as it is actually a state park. And a beautiful state park, at that. Right away we walked over to the water, which put us at the top of the American Falls. We were in awe of the rushing rapids going past us and then cascading down over the falls. Such an incredible sight.

Rapids leading up to a little bit of a drop

American Falls

I mean, at some point you just have to let natural selection take its course.

Enjoying the views at the top of the American Falls

We decided to do the Maid of the Mist boat tour first, so we bought our tickets for that right away. (Another travel tip: The cost for Maid of the Mist is slightly less on the U.S. side than the Canadian side!) Our Maid of the Mist tickets also got us admission to the Observation Tower for more great views of the falls. I swear, this is how our walk along the falls went: we would stop and take a million pictures, then walk three more feet, realize that was a great view/angle, too, and take a million more pictures. Lather, rinse, repeat. Those are some photogenic waterfalls.

Just breathtaking.

On the Observation Deck

When we had our fill on the Observation Deck, we took the elevator down to the dock. They handed out those smashing blue ponchos, and we lined up to wait for our boat.

Ready for Maid of the Mist!

Looking up at the Observation Deck from below

All poncho-ed up and ready to go!

Before we continue, I want to pause briefly to talk cameras. You know how we love pictures, so naturally we came over-prepared for this part of our trip. We just bought a DSLR camera around Thanksgiving, and we used it for most of our photos of the trip, until it was in danger of getting too wet. Then we would switch to our trusty old point-and-shoot, which we care less about damaging. But when it got even too wet for the P&S, we switched to a disposable underwater camera. This was a great system, as it allowed us to get lots of shots, even in the wettest conditions. However, you will notice that each camera "downgrade" is pretty noticeable in the picture quality. I just wanted to throw that out there in case you started thinking "what is up with their supposedly nice camera? What a lousy photo!" Not the case! We used lousy cameras for lousy photos! But lousy photos are better than no photos, I say.

Okay, now that I got that off my chest, let's continue...

We were near the front of the line, so when we were able to board the boat, we had our choice of spots. We went up to the top deck, right in the front of the boat, which was great for pictures. When we got moving, we passed the American and Bridal Veil Falls on our left first. It was cool to see them from that angle, and we started to get a little "misty!"

Approaching the American Falls

I like Eric's force field hood.

Right in front of the American Falls

Loving it already!

We then made our way into the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, which were INCREDIBLE. It was so misty, we could barely see a thing. We were just getting sprayed by water, and our voices were drowned out by the roar of the falls. We could just feel the power of the falls, and it was so intense and so amazing, I couldn't help but just laugh. Definitely an exhilarating experience, unlike anything I have ever done before.

Approaching the Horseshoe Falls

Up close and personal with the Horseshoe Falls (it was so misty, we were definitely using the disposable underwater camera at this point!)

Overcome, yelling, laughing.

So happy to be there with this guy!

VIDEO: Heading into the Horseshoe Falls on Maid of the Mist

It was such a rush, I was sad it was over as quickly as it was. But the ride back to the dock was still fun - we were giddy, wet, and happy. Plus, you got another fabulous view of the American Falls on the way back.

American Falls (left) and Bridal Veil Falls (right)

Wet, but having a blast!

When we got off the boat, there was this walkway/staircase alongside the American Falls that you could walk up. Naturally, we did that. We had already seen them from the top and bottom, why not also check out the side?

Eric WILL get the picture.

The results of Eric's hard work!

After Maid of the Mist, we were pretty hungry for lunch so we grabbed something quick from the snack bar back in the park. We found a nice shady spot to eat and then were back on our way.

Our next destination was Goat Island, the small piece of land between the Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Once again, it is a beautiful park and one could certainly spend quite a lovely relaxing afternoon there. We were on a mission though, so there was no time to sit around. As a partner at Eric's firm wisely puts it: "We vacation like somebody's chasing us." Always on the move!

We started off by walking to the Three Sisters Islands, an island trilogy named for the three daughters of General Parkhurst Whitney, one of the early settlers of Niagara Falls. Everything was just so pretty and peaceful.

Passing through the Three Sisters

Gorgeous view of the Upper Rapids

I wanted to put my toes in the Niagara River!

What a pretty place. No wonder this is the honeymoon capital of the world!

After the Three Sisters we continued on to Terrapin Point, which is right at the top of the Horseshoe Falls and has fantastic views of the rapids, the falls themselves, and back down the Niagara River to the Rainbow Bridge (with the American Falls on the right).

Crest of the Horseshoe Falls

Quite a drop, with a Maid of the Mist boat at the bottom!

Looking back from whence we came, towards the Rainbow Bridge, with the American Falls on the right

Terrapin Point

Next up on our list of things to do was the Cave of the Winds trip. Cave of the Winds originally was an actual cave behind the Bridal Veil Falls, but rock falls made it unsafe for tours in the 1920s. Now the tour takes place on wooden walkways built on top of the rocks at the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. Apparently they rebuild the decks every year to make sure it remains safe, and the wooden beams are not secured to the rocks, but rather are just wedged in. That's something I'm glad I didn't know until after the fact.

We bought our Cave of the Winds tickets, and they gave us our free yellow ponchos and fetching (required) footwear. Then we got in line. We had about a half hour wait or so, but it wasn't so bad. We're New Yorkers - we're used to waiting around for things!

After the fact, we realized how laughable this sign really is. "Damp?" Ha!

Snazzy shoes

We finally took the elevator down to the start of the walkways, and saw the coolest thing: gulls nesting. Apparently, it was nesting season for the ring-billed gulls, and there were literally THOUSANDS of them on the rocks at the base of the falls, making quite a racket and sitting with their young (or eggs) under their wings. I saw more baby gulls at the base of the falls than I will ever see for the rest of my life combined, I'm sure. They were quite fluffy and cute, and if you could get past the feeling that you just might be in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, it was an incredible sight.

VIDEO: Gulls at the base of the Bridal Veil Falls

Thousands and thousands of ring-billed gulls and their babies

Mama bird with her two babies, and one egg left!

After checking out the birds for a bit, it was time to finally get going onto those perilous walkways. Let me tell you, it was AMAZING to be standing right at the base of the falls, with water crashing down above you and rushing along below the decks under your feet. It was beautiful and powerful and unforgettable.

Ready to do this thing!

Eric at the start of the Cave of the Winds walkways

Cave of the Winds

We were amazed at the water rushing over the rocks underneath the boardwalks

What a stunning sight!

At Cave of the Winds

VIDEO: Looking up at the falls from Cave of the Winds

The most incredible part of all was the Hurricane Deck, aptly named considering it is merely a number of feet from actually being directly underneath the Bridal Veil Falls, with winds reaching up to 68 miles per hour. If you stand on that deck, you WILL get soaked. (Another travel tip: If you're planning to do both Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds, do Maid of the Mist first and hang on to your ponchos and rewear them for Cave of the Winds. The Maid of the Mist poncho is like a maxi poncho [reaches your ankles], and the Cave of the Winds poncho is a mini poncho [barely covers your backside]. When those winds pick up on the Hurricane Deck, that mini poncho is a sad thing. You want coverage!)

The Hurricane Deck

We finally saw a rainbow! Really, they were all over Cave of the Winds. It was awesome.

It was absolutely outrageous to be standing on that deck, with the Bridal Veil Falls crashing down on your head. There are just no words. It's the kind of thing that, no matter how many adjectives I try to come up with to describe it to you, you just have to experience it for yourself. There simply aren't words to convey that feeling.

On the Hurricane Deck!

My poncho was blowing up, I was getting pelted in the head with water, and water had made it's way into my hood (how???) and down my shirt, but I was loving every second of it.

Eric, on the other hand, was not impressed. (But look how soaked his shorts are!)

As you may recall me mentioning after my cruise stop in Trinidad, it is on Eric's bucket list to kiss me under a waterfall, so a kiss on the Hurricane Deck was a must. I think this counts, do you?

After Cave of the Winds we dried off a bit, then walked over to Luna Island (the island between the American and Bridal Veil Falls) for another view of the Bridal Veil Falls, this time from above. More pretty scenery!

Looking down at the people walking through the Cave of the Winds from up top!

Beautiful view of the falls, Observation Deck and Rainbow Bridge from Luna Island

By that time, it was getting a bit late and we still had to walk back to Canada, retrieve our luggage from the car, check into our hotel and get ready for our 7:30 dinner reservation. So, after stopping for some quick souvenirs, we picked up the pace a little for the walk back - although we did find time to stop on the Rainbow Bridge for fun with the Boundary Line sign.

View from the Rainbow Bridge on our way back to Canada

Crossing from the U.S. back into Canada

Check me out! I'm sitting in two countries at once!

No offense, Canada, but Eric prefers the good ol' U.S. of A.

We got checked into our room at the Embassy Suites, which was quite a nice...well, suite. We had a separate living room (that we only used to walk through to get to the front door), a wet bar with mini fridge, jacuzzi tub (which I WILL have in my house someday), and a nice sized bedroom with floor to ceiling windows, overlooking the Horseshoe Falls. Niiiiiice.

Bedroom of our suite

The most glorious bathtub there ever was

View of the Horseshoe Falls from our suite

Our room included a "manager's reception," which meant two free drinks. I had to hurry to get ready for dinner, so Eric went out and picked up our drinks and brought them back to the room. So sweet! He got a glass of sangria and the biggest cup o' wine one ever did see, which I basically chugged. Good times.

Our room also included a coupon for The Keg (steakhouse within the Embassy Suites), so that's where we went to dinner. The restaurant had--you guessed it!--a great view of the falls, and Eric and I enjoyed wine, salads, filet mignon wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, veggies and potatoes (garlic mashed for me, twice-baked for Eric). Oh, yumminess.

Dressed for dinner

View of the falls from the restaurant

Dinner! My caesar salad, Eric's wedge salad, and my steak/beans/potatoes. Mmm, mmm.

After a lovely meal

After dinner we went back to the room to relax for a few minutes before heading back down to the river to see the falls illuminated at night. It was really beautiful!

American Falls all lit up

Horseshoe Falls trying to be lit up through the mist!

We found a good spot along the water, and before too long, the fireworks show over the Rainbow Bridge was underway. I love a good fireworks show.



VIDEO: Niagara Falls Fireworks Finale

After the fireworks, the falls lit up in a rather patriotic fashion for a few minutes, then returned to all white.

American Falls looking quite American

Beautiful, classic white

We walked around for a bit more after that, and considered hitting the Casino to do some gambling. Ultimately, we decided to just head back to our room and relax there with our Icewine for the night. It was an incredible but exhausting day!

I was just blown away by Niagara Falls. Eric and I had such a fabulous time exploring it together, and it was such an awe-inspiring sight to see. It is something I am so grateful to have experienced, and I would not hesitate to go back. Plus, we now feel inspired to continue our "natural wonder" sightseeing - the question is though, where to go next? Volcanoes in Hawaii? Grand Canyon? Great Barrier Reef? Oh, the possibilities!

And thus ends our time in Niagara Falls. Tomorrow I'll wrap things up with our return to fabulous Hoboken, by way of Scranton. Oooh, exciting!

Note: Of course, there are many, many more pictures of Niagara Falls on my photo share site here, so take a look!


KT @ KT's Refinishing School said...

That looks amazing and makes me want to go there myself so bad! As for your next trip, I vote for the Grand Canyon. It is really quite a sight to see. Then again, Hawaii is amazing too. And I hear the Great Barrier Reef is to die for. Ahh just can't decide :)

KSK said...

Stunning photos!
I vote for the volcanoes in Hawaii! I've ALWAYS wanted to see that!

Dad said...

Great post Meg. Natural selection...hah!

Steph said...

Love it! And that tub... yes, glorious indeed!!