It’s been 15 or so years since I last went to see the natural wonder and spectacle that is Niagara Falls; both the cataract and the city that makes its living from it. Since I’m on vacation, I decided to do a day trip and see the Falls again. I didn’t really have a plan aside from travelling there and seeing what I could see and do in eight or ten hours.
That’s how I roll.
I know people who obsess over every little detail of their itinerary, endlessly researching options until every spare minute has something scheduled for it. That’s a short road to insanity, because life generally gets in the way. Oh, I wanted to go behind the Falls, since I’ve never done that before, for some reason that escapes me now. I wanted to try the new MistRider Zipline® that they opened this year, since that looks sort of cool. I thought about going on a Maid of the Mist® trip, before I found out that they’ve been rebranded Hornblower® cruises. I hoped to meet a fellow blogger stationed in Insanity Central Niagara Falls. Finally, I wanted to go to the casino, because I’ve never been there either.
I wanted to do these things, but I was relaxed about whether or not I actually did them. I invited my father, Archon’s Den, along.
What I didn’t realize before I got there was how much money the two of us would go through.
The day started when the alarm went off at the very late hour of ten o’clock. I got up and with Archon’s Den, set out for the Falls. Alas, before the journey even started, I was down one of my hoped-for activities; The Hook couldn’t meet us on such short notice, the press of domestic duties taking precedence. I quite understand. I wouldn’t want to meet me on short notice either; I’d want at least a few weeks warning, what with obtaining background checks and restraining orders.
So, in spite of construction, traffic, and detours, we made it to our destination somewhat before noon. We found a parking lot and there I got my first lesson in how Niagara Falls rolls. Parking was flat-rate, park for an hour or for the day, doesn’t matter $22. In spite of that outrageous amount, I didn’t think it was all that bad a deal. We may have been shuffled to an overflow back lot, but there were some trees to park under and the parking lot had a little eight-person golf cart they used to shuttle people from the very back of the lot to the front.
On we forged, to the Table Rock Welcome Centre, where I got my next lesson. Reading signs and asking questions led me to the ticket counter where we could purchase vouchers for a trip behind the Falls; for two people, $38.30, for 4:20p.m., it was now just past noon. Alas. I asked the ticket-vendor about the zipline, and was informed that it was a separate attraction, but that I could find it a five-minute walk downhill on the right.
I don’t know whose walk the informant was judging, but it wasn’t mine, or my father’s. So, fifteen minutes later we got to the attraction, and with a little confusion found the ticket booth. In the fifteen minutes we had been walking, only seven riders had gone down the line. Oddly enough, I thought that meant that there weren’t all that many people on a sunny, hot and humid Wednesday willing to risk vertigo. I found out that what it meant was that the ride was sold out for the day and they were only putting passengers through about every two minutes. Well, at least learning this didn’t cost me anything but time.
Onward and stuff.
We were now near the base of Clifton Hill; also known as ‘The Strip’, where locals strip tourists of their cash, and occasionally dignity, as quickly and painlessly as possible. There Archon’s Den and I gawped at the freaks, geeks, and weirdos, some of them inside the sideshows, but mostly the other tourists. Twice we were almost run over by Japanese tour buses right there on the sidewalk; they went dashing past afoot, four abreast and thirty long following their leader.
Half-way up the hill, Archon’s Den and I felt in need of sustenance to make it the rest of the way, so we stopped off at a well-known burger chain known for treating you like a king; lunch for two, $28.19. We’ve been here for about two hours and already we’re down almost $90. We made it the rest of the way to the top, explored some of Victoria Ave, turned around and started back down the other side of Clifton Hill. Half-way down we stopped into a souvenir shop to purchase something for Grandma Ladybug, who didn’t feel up to all the walking in the heat and humidity; I got her an attractive little $15.81 dust collector.
Near the souvenir shop is an Arcade. Arcades exist to flash coloured lights, ring bells, sound buzzers, and generally make you think you’re having a good time while at the same time sneaking a vacuum hose into your pocket to siphon off as much money as it can. Archon’s Den and I manfully resisted its blandishments in favour of watching the show; boys and girls of all ages throwing money at machines in return for tickets that can be exchanged for cheap merchandise. We also used the customer washroom in spite of the ‘for patrons only’ sign.
Now, back at the foot of the hill Archon’s Den and I went back up hill on Niagara Parkway to the crest of the Falls to watch the water go over the brink. That didn’t cost me anything but a little time and the willingness to be jostled by dozens of others just like me from around the world. It was now past 4 o’clock, so we descended to the entrance for the trip behind the Falls. Alas, we were informed by an earnest young Parks employee that they were still dealing with the 4 o’clock show and would we please come back in fifteen minutes.
Both Archon’s Den and I are experts in being inert. If being inert were an Olympic event, both of us would be on the couch watching it at home, training, travelling, and completing sounds like way too much work. So, fifteen minutes of inert later, we presented our ducat to enter the attraction. It was like lining up at the bank, or the DMV. Back and forth, back and forth, wait while we count out so many people to send though.
We were sent down a flight of stairs, we were told to stand in a green square in front of a green wall and smile at the count of three. More back and forth, patrons were issued a yellow trash bag disposable poncho and told not to open it or don it until we reached a flight of stairs going back up. The attendant issuing these glamorous couture accessories might just as well have saved her voice; easily 90% of the half-wits had theirs on once they’d left the counter.
Although, to be fair, it took most of them several minutes to figure out top from bottom and back from front. One brain donor candidate couldn’t find the opening for her right arm, so she poked her hand out through the back, whereupon her more observant friend said, “There’s the armhole.” several inches away from the impromptu opening; you had to be there. I had to turn away or laugh right in their faces. The pre-show is getting to be worth the price of admission. Still more back and forth to the stairs heading up.
At the top of the stairs they had an elevator going down to the tunnel behind the Falls. The elevator attendant, yes they had one, tried to make her spiel bounce, but having to yammer it out 17 000 times a day kind of flattened it out a bit.
Now it’s time for the main attraction. In the tunnels, which were a claustrophobe’s nightmare, you could feel the power of the water falling. There are three lookout points, one near the edge of the Falls, and two separate ones right behind the cataract itself. I dutifully walked to each portal and looked, oohing and aahing the whole while, taking pictures of water falling from behind. An hour of this was sufficient, so we returned to drier land.
At the end of the attraction, you get to go back up the elevator to where the Parks Service has a recycle-your-poncho station, whereupon I sadly parted company with my very own shower curtain fashionable protective garment. The pictures they took near the start of the tour have been processed and are now ready to be picked up. I thought that having charged us almost $40 for the privilege of walking through the damp, humid tunnels, they could have thrown in the photos. Shake your head, boy, they want $33.90 for two cheesy touristy portraits, plus two digital downloads; I paid.
At this point, with all the walking we’d done, Archon’s Den was feeling his bad hip, and I wasn’t all that much better, so we prevailed upon the better nature of one of the elevator operators to take us all the way to the top. They can and will do this, but you have to know about it and ask nicely.
Now out on the surface again, I wanted to go to the Casino to look around. Just outside the Visitor Centre there is a funicular up the side of a steep hill that gives out onto Portage Road, two-way ticket $5.50; from there it’s a short walk, more walking, to the Niagara Fallsview Resort and Casino. A high-end mall with a twist, there’s a casino and hotel inside. Finally finding the casino entrance, we were stopped and looked over by a security guard before they allowed us to wander in.
I was carrying a messenger bag with a couple of travel mugs inside, Grandma Ladybug’s present, receipts from the places I’d spent money, a notebook for jotting things down, etc.; no weapons, no booze, no illicit drugs. The guard asked me to open it, asked a few questions as to the contents of the containers, my age, slipped a coloured band through it to show that it had been checked, and waved us past.
Trepidatiously, we entered the sanctum. Flashing coloured lights, ringing bells, and buzzing buzzers. It was like being at the Arcade except that, since they serve alcohol, no one was under nineteen. People were throwing money away just as quickly, but without getting tickets to redeem for cheap plastic merchandise; although there was a patrolling server with a drink cart dispensing caffeine to the patrons glued to stools in front of slot machines so that they didn’t have to interrupt their
losing money playing. After a wander through this terrifying parallel universe, Archon’s Den and I escaped without losing any money, internal organs, or self-respect.
Archon’s Den and I decided to look for a nice sit-down meal before heading back home. We chose an unpretentious sit-down family-type restaurant and were seated quickly. A thorough perusal of the menu later and we ordered, according to our individual taste. Archon’s Den ordered a beer to sustain him, I stuck with a soft drink, and we both drank copiously of the glasses of water; dinner for two, with tip, $71.41.
Refueled and ready to go home, we retraced our steps to the funicular and then to the parking lot. We sat at the shuttle stop waiting for the jitney to take us back to the overflow lot, when we fell into conversation with the elevator operator who had returned us to ground level. It’s always interesting to talk to people in the service industry about their particular slice of life. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, it’s often interesting.
Archon’s Den and I had noticed that there were several dollars worth of coins cast beyond the barricades behind the Falls, our informant told us that individual employees occasionally used a broom to rescue as many as they could. The Park Service doesn’t consider the money as belonging to the park, so it’s fair game to whoever retrieves it; like a gratuity. The number of cell phones at the bottom of the Falls is unknown but likely at least a few dozen, including one lost by a tourist that very day; along with the lady’s newly purchased selfie stick and car keys.
It was then that someone deigned to inform us that the parking lot shuttle had stopped for the day, so we were on our own getting back to the car. Limp to the car we did and shortly we were on our way back home. We had to retrace the detours, in reverse order, and in the dark, but with the judicious application of Zen driving, we managed. As defined by me, Zen driving is finding a car that looks like it knows where you’re going and following it. We pulled into the driveway not quite twelve hours after we left in the morning. The tally for the day, not including the Timmie’s we bought just outside Hamilton was $218.11.
Final conclusion, the visit was worth it, but if you go take more money.