We toured Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Boston during the first week of July 2008. Price wise Southwest provided the best option at around $350 per person both ways – we flew into Buffalo, NY from Oakland International and out from Providence, RI. The rental car was picked up from Buffalo Airport and dropped off at Providence Airport. It was surprising that auto rental companies allowed one-way routes like this one without a hefty premium. Even though, the miscellaneous charges (airport and other taxes) added up to $60 for the week, at under $300 without LDW (Loss Damage Waiver), it was a pretty good deal.
The route was planned more around the places where we had close friends and family than sightseeing interest. Both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the Niagara Falls are majestic, providing ample returns on the time spent in the vicinity. On the U.S. side, the major attractions include the Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Goat Island, and Luna Island. Goat Island provides for a leisurely two-mile hike around the Niagara River and has access to the Three Sisters Islands. Luna Island is located perfectly between the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls (a narrower fall on the American side of the Niagara River) with impressive views of both the falls. Maid of the Mist is the world-renowned boat tour that gets one to the front of the falls. Even small kids can sense the grandeur of the falls in the boat ride.
There was plenty of parking right at the park entrance for $10. The Maid of the Mist ticket pricing was reasonable at $12.50 for adults, $7.30 for kids between 6 and 12 and free for kids under 6. The boat tour is also offered from the Canadian side where the pricing is slightly higher. Cave of the Winds, which lets you enjoy the Bridal Veil Falls up close off the Hurricane Deck, the terminus of the walk-way that leads you along the base to the closest point to the falling water, is a real treat. An elevator ride takes you 175’ down to the base of the falls. It was priced at $10 for adults and $7 for kids between 6 and 12.
On the Canadian side, the major attraction is the ‘Journey Behind the Falls’. This is considered as the equivalent to the Cave of the Winds on the American side, but if we were to choose one over the other, we would prefer the Cave of the Winds. While impressive, the ‘Journey Behind the Falls’ falls short in imparting a true sensation of proximity to the falls mostly due to the glass window that separates visitors from the water that is hitting the river beneath. On the Canadian side visitors get to experience the entire life cycle of the waterfall. Undoubtedly, the view is superior on the Canadian side. Parking at the Canadian side is more expensive although there were several options starting at about $4 per hour with a $16 daily maximum.
Next we visited the CN Tower right in Toronto downtown. Underground parking at the Rogers Centre (home of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team) right by the tower came up to $9. Ticket pricing at the tower was expensive and is layered starting with $21.49 for adults and $14.49 for children between 4 and 12 for the Lookout + Glass Floor package all the way up to $31.99 (all ages) for the Lookout + Glass Floor + Skypod + Movie Simulator Ride package. The wait at the line was about 30 minutes. The views were great; the elevator ride was not scary but an acrophobic might find it so. Listed in the Guinness book as the tallest freestanding structure, it is 553.33 meters tall and is used as a communications tower broadcasting TV and FM stations and is owned by the Canadian National Railway. The visitor areas are at 342 meters (seven stories with public access to the main deck area) and the Skypod at 446.5 meters. The antennae extend another 100 meters.
En-route Ottawa is the famed Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River. There are several boat-ride options available from different companies along the 50-mile stretch. We chose Rockport boat lines at Rockport because they offered a 1-hour cruise as we were on a time crunch. Pricing was $16 for adults and $10 for children between 5 and 12 – a $2 online coupon was available as well. The boat-ride was tranquil at best– a lot of the islands have a single house on it – and per the narrator most of the houses are owned and maintained by affluent Americans. There are two giant castles and some boat-ride options include a tour of the castle(s).
July 1st is Canada Day and we were lucky to be in the capital city of Ottawa on that day. We had two days in Ottawa and a couple of things worth mention are
- Public transportation is remarkable and unlike the Bay Area a lot of people utilize it, and
- Canada day is celebrated in good vigor and a greater part of the general public participates.
Two hours from Ottawa is the city of Montreal and as you cross over to Quebec province from Ottawa, the language shifts from English to French and one can see French influence in other subtle ways as well. Not to worry, conversing in English works just as well as French. Known as Paris of North America, Montreal provides a whole different experience compared to other Northern American cities with its exquisite dining, cosmopolitan atmosphere, and pedestrian friendly nature. The Saint Joseph’s Oratory on Queen Mary Road is an imposing structure atop one of the slopes of Mount Royal and the Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal (nominal entry fee applies) with its imposing pipe organ are not be missed. Old Montreal and Old Port areas with its cobblestone paved streets and copper topped buildings dating back to the 17th century are other unique attractions. There are several other attractions that charge an entry fee to get in. Those include museums, planetarium, botanical garden, and the Olympic park. The best bets if pressed for time are the Biodome, with its unique idea of combining a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, and the museum along with Parc des Iles with its two islands that provide a beach, leisurely strolling, etc. for the city dwellers. The area also houses La Ronde, the province’s largest amusement park and the Montreal Casino (children not permitted).
Motoring down from Montreal to Boston, we pulled over at the Ben and Jerry’s factory attraction just north of the town of Waterbury in Vermont. This was a great break along the 6-hour drive and the kids appreciated it very much. The tour fee was nominal and the kids were free. At the end of the tour they offered a “mini scoop”. A whirlwind tour of the Harvard and MIT campuses in Boston completed our road-trip.
Overall, we had a great time although another week would have made it even more so. Some other experiences follow:
- Canada’s most popular fast food place is Tim Horton’s whose coffee is better compared to most fast food places in the US,
- Our Garmin C320 GPS with the 2008 North American maps encountered several problems on the road: Point Of Interests (POI) functionality came up really short with the GPS providing long detours without getting us to the destination, including Tim Horton’s. On numerous occasions, the GPS confused the road/freeway we were on with roads passing above or below us. Typing in addresses also did not work on several occasions. We had printed directions as well and that came in handy. In Montreal, GPS displays continued in English, while the streets were in French, which caused a slight confusion initially.
- Most things were more expensive in Canada, as the US dollar had lost about a third of its value in the recent past, and
- In Montreal, blinking green is equivalent to the green arrow in the USA and one cannot take a right turn on red.
Last Updated: 11/2012.