If you want to travel internationally, but have limited time and are on a budget, think Niagara Falls. This spot is a wonderful combination of natural beauty and man-made kitsch. Whether traveling with family or on your honeymoon, there are plenty of attractions to experience. To give your trip some international flair, pack your passports and cross over to Canada! Waterfalls, parks, rides, and more allow something for all. And you won’t break the bank!
Niagara Falls is a destination that conjures up many images. Massive waterfalls, sunsets, rainbows, parkland, tourists in brightly colored ponchos and more. During a recent spring break, our daughter had hoped to travel internationally as a family. While she dreamed of something exotic and far-flung, we had limited time and funds. The solution? A road trip to Niagara Falls. To help scratch her international itch, we crossed the border and stayed on the Canadian side.
We chose the Embassy Suites at Niagara Falls for our stay for multiple reasons. As its name implies, the rooms are suites. (It’s a bonus to have a door to close to a second room!) Kids stay free. Breakfast is included. The hotel has plenty to offer children including an arcade and large pool. The dining room has a clear view of both the American and Canadian falls from most of the tables. So even though we didn’t get a room with a view of the falls, we could easily see the falls from inside our hotel.
Get Out Your Passport
A must-do on the itinerary was to take one of the “cruises” to the base of the falls. We had to choose between the Hornblower Niagara or the Maid of the Mist. Instead of staying on the Canadian side, we hoofed it over the Rainbow Bridge back to the United States. (We could see from across the river the line was shorter on the American side!) So, Maid of the Mist would be our cruise of choice. It was quite a trip to enter and exit through customs by a footbridge. Our daughter enjoyed having her passport stamped en route.
Getting Wet (But Not Too Wet)
No disappointment as we donned bright, blue ponchos and took the river cruise. While drifting by the American Falls we were hit with a fine mist. But as our boat pushed towards Canada’s Horseshoe Falls the mist went from fine to heavy. As we approached the falls (you get within about 50 feet) it was more of a deluge! But, wear the poncho and you’ll find that you stay relatively dry.
Our daughter was nervous on the approach but was thrilled to have gotten so close. She was proudly Instagramming plenty of shots. It was also interesting to learn about all the crazy daredevils who have plummeted down the falls. We learned about one 7-year-old boy who and accidentally went down in nothing but a life preserver—and survived!
The falls offer amazing views in all weather and all times of the day. At night, they are illuminated with multi-colored lights making for a dazzling light show. During the busy season, firework shows occur a few nights a week. The White Water walks are worth taking as well. Watching rapids is mesmerizing. It’s worth seeing falls from all angles – top, bottom and behind!
A Journey Behind the Falls
Traveling through a tunnel network burrowing deep into rock backing up Canada’s Horseshoe Falls is a trip back in time. To “journey behind the falls” we took the incline railroad to the entrance where we then took an elevator underground. It let us off in a maze of tunnels revealing various viewing platforms to see the falls from behind.
Standing behind the Horseshoe Falls, you get a greater sense of the power and scope of this massive waterfall! It was also hard to imagine how the tunnels were even created in the first place!
Something to Savor
Before heading back into Canada we wanted a meal. But instead of eating at one of the tourist traps in the area, we discovered Savor, the restaurant at Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. The prices were only a few dollars more than at the park cafes, but we were treated to a delicious meal.
The children’s menu included homemade pasta, grilled bistro cut steak, hand-cut fries, and fresh vegetables. The Kobocha Squash Bisque, Salad a la Maison, and Savor Burger were popular with the adults. It was so good and reasonably priced that we returned the next night for an early dinner. And with the open kitchen and student chefs, our daughter learned a bit about what they were learning as well.
At 775 feet above Niagara Falls, the Skylon Tower offers some unrivaled views of the falls. A trip to the top of this famous attraction sends you shooting upwards for 52 seconds. You’ll travel in an elevator that looks suspiciously like a “Minion.” The “Yellow Bugs,” as they’re referred to, are glass enclosed and take you to the observation deck.
Once there, you can take in the view. Or if you want to eat, a revolving dining room offers year-round lunch and dinner. Brunch on Sundays is also a possibility. Reservations are recommended, but if you dine there, the ride up is free with your reservation.
Traveling during fireworks season? This would be a stunning way to take in the view. At the “Amusement Level,” you’ll find a food court, a Fun Centre and the Falls 3D/4D movie being shown. (The film also plays at a few other selected venues in the area.)
The Niagara SkyWheel
If you want less height but still want a view, head to the Niagara SkyWheel. This ride is reminiscent of the London Eye or The Big Wheel in Paris, France. You ride in enclosed glass gondolas for about 8-12 minutes. (Ride times vary.) From here you can see the falls, the Niagara River and more. It’s located on Clifton Hill, another very touristy spot you may walk through.
Our preferred throwback spot to visit was the Bird Kingdom. Advertised as the world’s largest indoor free-flying aviary, it displayed some artifacts that were unusual. But, true to the ad, there were hundreds of different kinds of birds walking, flying, nesting, pecking and eating. (There were also turtles, snakes, bats and more!) It made for some great photos and learning more about birds et al. In certain areas, kids are permitted to hold and feed various species. (A bird specialist is nearby to help.)
The Coupons and Discounts
While there are plenty of tourist attractions, there are also plenty of coupons to be had for discounts. Hotel lobbies are brimming with coupon books. The visitor’s center and the attractions themselves offer ample pamphlets and booklets to help you save.
If you typically feel odd about clipping coupons while on vacation, don’t. No one here thinks twice when you present them. Discounts typically range from 5-15% depending on how much you’re spending in the first place.
The Parking Trick
Even if you get a reasonable hotel room rate, there’s a good chance your savings will go toward expensive parking fees. Multiple hotels had on-site valet parking for between $50 and $60 per day. Or $35-$45 to park off -site and ride a jitney back to the hotels. It adds up fast.
Or, you can park in any number of nearby casinos for as little as $5. For your entire stay. It costs nothing to go in, and you only pay a corresponding fee to the day you leave. We left on a Friday which was one of the most expensive days of the week. It cost us $15. So, look around before leaving your car at your hotel!
For Next Time
Unfortunately, we just missed riding the Mistrider Zipline. It opened for the season the Friday afternoon we left. But as we drove away, we could see the wires descending into the gorge towards the base of the Horseshoe Falls. There’s no doubt it would make quite a thrilling ride! Next time in Niagara!