I’m likely to make a lot of Canadian enemies with this post but here it goes… If you ever plan on visiting Niagara Falls, here is what you do. You find a place to park that does not cost money (if possible), you get out of the car, you look at the falls, take a couple of pictures, you collect your stuff, you get back in the car, and you go far, far away because that place is easily one of the top 5 tourist traps in the world. Am I exaggerating, possibly a tiny bit but I don’t thinks so. I’ve been to many other places that don’t even remotely compare. I’ve been to many other places in Canada including Vancouver, Banff, Toronto, and Montreal and again it’s no comparison. Those places were amazing, well worth every penny, but were anything but tourist traps. And to be fair, even though I did not stay on the US side, I have no doubt it is every bit as equal a trap.
Don’t get me wrong the falls themselves are a beautiful site. They are awesome in their appearance and sheer power. I just take umbrage with a place that looks to squeeze every bit on money out of a person and actively block opportunities to get a free glimpse at such at natural wonder. After I checked into my hotel, I wondered down with the intent to walk to the falls. I never suspected there would be no directed route to walk to them even though my hotel was right there. Instead there was a pay to ride elevator/escalator type are that gets you down to the falls. So I went to find a way to walk down. As I walked I passed multiple terrace areas that one would think would have a view of the falls from up high. No dice. Every time I walked to one of them, trees blocked the view. I have nothing against trees at all. It just seemed odd every one of these areas had the view blocked. I had to walk about a 1/2 mile or so before I could start walking down to the falls. The walk was fine. I can’t say it was scenic as the area is dotted with casinos, stores, souvenir shops, etc, and nothing that really celebrated the falls themselves. Once there it seemed that all the areas to park were pay lots and I did not see any place were one could park for free. While the falls themselves are impressive, I just find it shameful all the ways they try to make every bit of money from a piece of nature that should at least have some free ways to view it if not be totally free to view.
I spent my two nights at the Embassy Suites on the Ontario side and I have to say I was not that impressed. The rooms themselves were very clean, the staff courteous, and my room had a very nice few of the falls. I can’t say much more than that unfortunately. First and foremost, they need to do something about their elevator situation. They had five elevators that went to all of the 40 plus floors and since there is such a large volume of guests, waiting for an elevator is almost an exercise in futility. Not only did it take a long time for elevators to get to your floor, invariably they were packed to the brim further increasing your wait time. As I had gotten in late that evening I decided to eat in their high end steak place, The Keg, which boasted views of the falls. While it was a little after 9:00PM I was still realistic and did not expect a table with a great view. That said, I was still not prepared for my seating arrangement. As a side note, it is not unusual for me to travel alone. I actually quite enjoy it. I like the solitude and not having to worry about a group’s itinerary. Likewise I have no issue dining alone but it seems for this restaurant, the lone diner becomes somewhat of an afterthought. Again the staff was nice and I was seated in a decent amount of time… to a high top table right next to the kitchen door… that kept bumping my table every time the door opened… right in view of four other empty tables. I was a bit astonished. I felt like I was in a bad sit-com or being punked. I would completely understand being seated by the kitchen if the place was packed and no empty tables were in sight. I would have no problem with that arrangement. To have my table in place constantly hit by the kitchen door while multiple empty tables were in my view was disappointing to say the least. The meal itself was just OK. Not horrible, not great, very middle of the road. It did take a long time for my server to follow up after I was done eating so I could get my check. Again, had it been busy, I would have understood. The overall experience left one feeling like an afterthought if I may repeat myself. At the very least the bed was very comfortable and I slept well. In the end, I would not recommend this hotel.
Now I can’t say the whole trip was a bust. There were two very good parts that made me glad I took this journey. First was the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory. I was told of this place many years ago and finally made time to see it in person. The conservatory itself is set on the grounds of a botanical garden and houses numerous species of butterflies. The interior is a small man made and maintained tropical environment. When one walks in, you are immediately surrounded by numerous butterflies of various colors flying all around you as well as periodically landing on you. It is somewhat otherworldly, almost Harry Potter-ish. Some species are indeed more photogenic than others with a couple of the more colorful ones opting to continually fly rather than land for a photo op. I actually enjoyed the conservatory more than the falls themselves.
The second fun part of the trip was meeting up with a past friend. On my second day I traveled back across the bridge to Buffalo to meet up with a friend and her family to watch the Bills take down the NY Giants. Many of them are fellow South Jersey residents and Eagle fans such as myself. It was a great afternoon of great food, laughs, and it was like being back in Jersey watching Sunday football. It’s always special when someone you know and haven’t seen in a long time welcomes you into their home. I so enjoyed their hospitality and it was one of the things that made the weekend great.
On the return trip I decided to take the long way home. I guess I should first mention my experience at the border coming back. I gather it’s both the job and training of a border patrol agent to be suspicious of everyone. Still, I was rather perplexed when he asked me in a very suspicious tone, “You drove all the way from Jersey to see the falls?”. I’m really not sure what he was getting at? Don’t people from all over drive to see the falls? Was I supposed to fly or take the train? Has the guy never heard of road trip? Maybe like the restaurant staff, he finds traveling alone an odd thing to do. So I then headed southward to Pennsylvania Route 6 and drove that east then winding my way to Route 15. Both of those roads are quite the scenic drive. If you ever have the opportunity, check them out.
Where to next? I’m thinking some place warm and tropical to visit another past friend. We’ll see…