Falling for Niagara Falls

The first thing you need to know if you are going to Niagara Falls is…stay on the Canadian side.  There are actually two “falls” areas.  There is one on the US side and one on the Canadian side.  The Niagara Falls you know from pictures is on the Canada side.  You will still see both falls from the US side, so you can’t lose but Canada wins this one. 

What this means is now you need a passport to get there.  For us, this meant the first international trip for my kids.  Yippee, everyone gets a passport!  Getting a passport is very exciting, especially when you are younger.  Speaking from experience, as you get older, it does get less exciting.  I mean, do we really have to change the picture? It’s only been 10 years.

First, go online and check out the requirements for what exactly you need to do for your situation.  For example, divorced parents will need to follow different procedures than those still together.  Another example, we really didn’t need a passport for Canada for our one year-old.  Wait, didn’t I say ‘everyone gets a passport’?   So even though we didn’t need it, we got her one anyway.

We filled out the forms and took them directly to the passport office since we needed pictures too.  Oh, it was all very exciting – really!

Finally, after checking the mail for days, and then weeks, the passports came.  And, after what seemed like forever, our departure date finally came!  We left early on a Sunday morning to board a tiny plane, taking us from Philadelphia to Buffalo.  We had no issues with security, we were becoming quite good at getting through without any major issues or horrible looks from fellow travelers.  The flight was quite short and we arrived into Buffalo on time.  We rented our car and started on our adventure.

Our first stop was in Buffalo to have lunch at the Anchor Bar and get Buffalo wings at the place where they were actually “invented.”  Guess what, the Anchor Bar doesn’t open until 12n.  It was only 11a.  Now, an hour doesn’t seem like a long time to wait however the city of Buffalo doesn’t have much to keep a one-year old entertained.  So, we quickly made a Plan B.  We would go to Niagara and have lunch there.  Then on our way home, we’d stop and have some wings before we left.

GPS updated, we were on our way.

The drive included going through the US/Canadian border.  I don’t know why but I was so nervous.  I was checking and rechecking that we had everything in order while we waited in the long car line.  I just kept imagining that we didn’t have something right and we’d be turned around and not allowed entry.  We pulled our car up to the Canadian representative when it was our turn, she asked us a few questions about our trip, gave us our documents back and we were on our way.  Yes, we were in!  We’d made it through the difficult Canadian customs officers!

We went to Clifton Hill (a popular area in Niagara Falls) but it was so crowded with people and we couldn’t even find parking.  We were starving!  Plan C.  We decided to go to the hotel, park the car, and then immediately find a place to eat.

We stayed at the Hilton Niagara Falls Fallsview on the Canadian side of the Falls.  We left the car, our bags still inside, with the valet; advising we’d be back soon so he wouldn’t park it too far.  We set off to find a place to eat.  Since this was our Plan C, we hadn’t done any preliminary work on where to eat lunch.

We found a couple places located close to our hotel.  They seemed quite expensive but at that point, we needed to make a decision.  We selected Coco’s Pizza.  We found out later, all the restaurants in the area had the same price point – high.  It seems when you’ve got a lock on a great market, you can charge almost as much as you’d like, who knew?

At Coco’s we could have eaten inside or outside.  We choose inside and were thankful; the sun really started to beat down on those people outside.  Normally, I would have loved it but with a baby it doesn’t make for a happy experience.

The food and service was good.  My husband and I enjoyed a Canadian brew and everyone enjoyed their pizza. We walked back and checked into our hotel.  The line was quite long.

When we made it to our room, all the bad line vibes were eliminated.  The room was beautiful.  It was a suite with an awesome view.  When I say awesome view, I mean awesome!  We could actually see both the US Falls and the Canadian Falls from our room.  This hotel (and room) was a little pricier than we normally spend.  However, our trip was only one night so we decided to upgrade to a nicer place and room.  I am so glad we did.

Our room rate included a ticket package with four tours.  The odd thing is, each day you have to go to the ticket office (there are quite a few in the area) for each day’s events.  Since it was getting late in the afternoon, we decided to take the River Walk tour.

We walked down the huge hill from our hotel to the Niagara Parkway, the main road parallel to the river.  One thing I knew already, I wasn’t looking forward to walking back up this hill.  Once down the hill, there is a shuttle bus to take you to the various destination points along the river.  Let me be clear, the shuttle doesn’t go up or down that hill.

We hopped on the shuttle with the stroller, which wasn’t too hard but did require alertness and quickness (and two people on the job made it much easier).  We made our way to the River Walk entrance, waited in line, and went down an elevator to begin.

The walk was great.  It was a wide boardwalk passageway along the river.  You could easily get the stroller along without bothering the other tourists.  The rapids were quite amazing and at the end of the walk is an area where you can stand quite close to the water.  A point of interest (to some, like my teenage son) is the chewing gum wall.  It seems a lot of people chew gum on this walk and have left their very colorful mementos for all to see.  Nice.

When everyone had their fill (of rapids and gum) we went back up the walk, back up the elevator, back to the shuttle, and back to the bottom of that big hill.  Luckily, my younger son thought of it as an adventure to get up the hill.  We invented all kinds of ways to move up the hill, walking backward, hopping, jumping, skipping, etc.  I stuck with pushing the stroller, which was actually easier than walking without it – kind of like your grandmother needing the shopping cart at the grocery store!

Back at the hotel, we all decided to go for a swim.  Another awesome part of the hotel is their indoor pool.  It has a twisty slide into the pool.  We didn’t take the baby down the slide but the rest of us had a great time with it.

We went back to the room, relaxed, and got ready for dinner.  Another part of our hotel package was a voucher off the hotel restaurant, the Marconi Grill.  What a mistake.  The food was expensive and bad.  The service was fine although the restaurant was quite crowded (lots of people paying a lot of money for bad food) so it made for slow service.

That night we just hung out in our room.  We had seen signs for fireworks.  They offer them only three nights per week and one of the nights was actually that night.  What a lucky break for us, right?  Wrong, are you forgetting we have a baby who goes to bed early?

Guess what though, the hotel paid off one more time.  We could see the fireworks from our room and it was probably even a better view then from below.  Can you believe it?  This hotel was quickly becoming one of my favorite hotels of all time.  The room was a suite and the baby was sleeping in the far room, away from the view, so she didn’t even wake up.

The next morning we got ready early and headed down for our free breakfast (included in the room rate).  Did I mention I loved this hotel?  Breakfast was great and we were off to the Maids of the Mist.  This is a boat tour that takes you directly in front of both falls.  It’s quite amazing.  Back down the hill, back on the shuttle, back to waiting in line, down the elevator, and finally onto the boat.

Let me tell you, wear the poncho they give you – you are definitely going to get wet.  I don’t think there is anywhere you can stand on that boat without getting wet.  If there is, I couldn’t find it.  Leah didn’t like the boat or the water so we were looking hard for somewhere to stand.  Um, needless to say, she was wet.  Even with the lack of dry space I would highly recommend Maids of the Mist, it really is a must.

Our third attraction was a 4D movie.  As we entered the area, they gave us ponchos and let us bring the stroller.  I was a bit nervous about having the stroller and could only imagine it getting drenched and Leah running loose for the rest of the afternoon but I went with it.  First, you stand to watch a movie.  If you have children from three to seven, they will enjoy it.  Any younger or older, it’s not interesting.  After the movie, you move into the “ride” area.  Standing area again, you watch another movie, more like nature scenes as opposed to a kid’s film.  It’s quite dark and spooky and you’re thinking, here it is, we’re going to get wet now!  It’s coming so wait for it, wait for it.  What’s that bright light?  The doors are opening?  It’s over?  That’s right, we didn’t get wet at all.  Even the stroller was bone dry.  This was one of those rides where you have to be in the exact right spot to even feel the water.  Good luck.  (To note:  they may have changed this movie, for your sake, I hope so.)

We grabbed a quick lunch at the main area cafeteria.  It was crowded and the only option was outside.  Luckily, it was covered – no sun or rain to worry about and it wasn’t too windy – so we ventured outside.  The food was good.

We then made our way to the Behind the Falls attraction.  Guess what we did next?  We waited in line, got a poncho, and went down an elevator.  There’s not much you can do in Niagara Falls that doesn’t involve a line, a poncho, or an elevator.  At least this was close enough to walk so we didn’t need to take the shuttle.

Behind the Falls is quite exciting.  You actually walk behind the falls (as the name suggests) and they have little openings where you can see and feel the water coming down.  If you go near these openings, you will get wet.

We ended our tourist attractions with a ride on the Falls Incline Railway that takes you up the hill (yeah!).  We went back to the hotel and got our car.  We drove back to the border.  This time I wasn’t even thinking about it, no nerves at all.  I mean we’re going back to the US, no problem.  Silly me, I guess this is where I should have expected a problem.

As we pull up, the officer looks over our documents and asks my husband a few questions.  Then he asks him to put down the window so he can see in the back.  I’m back there with my son and my daughter who is in the car seat.  He asks me why the last names on the passports are different.  I explain to him, I’m divorced and remarried.  We have the baby together but I haven’t changed my last name yet.  He asks me how he’s supposed to know if I have the passport from before I got divorced.

Now, I don’t mean to be disrespectful but this is a really stupid question.  I don’t tell him this, I think for a minute and say well, the pictures were only taken a few weeks ago, you could tell from that.  And, I give him a big smile.  He hands the documents back and tells us next time we should be prepared with documentation from their father.

Okay, I get it.  There are parents who try to steal the kids from their spouse and take them out of the country.  We’ve all heard the stories but come on – we’re going into the US.  If anything, I’ve changed my evil, kidnapping mind and I’m bringing them back.  You can also see from the date of the passports (and the pictures) that they are recent.  Remember, I couldn’t get the passport without their biological father’s signature.

All that being said, I’m glad he was trying to do his job.

After our big border incident we stopped back at the Anchor Bar.  It was open!  We got a table and ordered a variety of wings.  Hhhmmm, what I can say.  I’ve had better wings in a better place with better atmosphere and better service.  I guess there are some tourist traps you just have to experience but I’d advise against this one.

We made it back to the airport, through security, and onto the flight without an issue.  We were home on Sunday evening.  This was a great short trip.  I wouldn’t have wanted it any longer.  It is possible to have an awesome time, see a wonder of the world, and be home before the weekend is over.  Give it a try!


5 thoughts on “Falling for Niagara Falls

  1. Pingback: Niagara Heritage Study » Blog Archive » Falling for Niagara Falls

  2. Niagra Falls is a beautiful place to visit. Thanks for sharing your experience and warning us about the Anchor Bar. A friend of ours had a similar experience coming back into the U.S. It is a good idea to have a certified letter from the parent giving permission to travel to and from Canada. In a way, you were lucky that you did not have your name changed. It would have been more difficult if neither of you had the same last name as the child. Glad you had a great time.

  3. Great article. I was always scared when we went into Canada because our daughter was born in Australia. We carried her Report of a Birth Abroad document.

    I love waterfalls.

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