Niagara Falls, NY Trip Report

We embarked on an 8-day/7-night trip to the East Coast mid-July 2009. Unlike the week-long Eastern Canadian road-trip we did the previous year, this time around the trip was more detail oriented as we had company. Grand parents and a great aunt and uncle added to the merriment. The flight tickets from Oakland to Buffalo with Southwest came to around $195 per person each way – Southwest’s “Wanna Getaway” fares varied between $109 and $189 (plus around $34 in taxes and fees) but given our inflexibility in flight schedule this was the best we could net.

Getting good accommodation on the American side of the falls for a reasonable price for one night is an exercise in futility. Our group was a party of eight and reserving a suite was not easy. The imposing Seneca gambling resort is the only newer hotel in the area. If gambling is in the plans (even slot machines) then Seneca Niagara is the best option. The rooms are nice and the pricing especially the week-nights are pretty good – they are the only game in town and hence payouts and service are just average. Some hotels have a two-night minimum stay restriction in place which they were not inclined to waive in favor of a larger group size. Most of the hotels, even the well-known brands, are located in really old buildings and are saddled with age-related problems. Our reservation was at the Crowne Plaza – the location was ideal (few blocks away from the falls), but everything else was below par -
  • The elevators and the lobby area were constantly jam-packed with teenagers and luggage (as one of the few available options, this is a popular choice for youth soccer and other teams),
  • The suite itself fit six people with two of us having to use portable beds (subject to availability),
  • The almost $600 per night tab was lofty for our frugal standards.

In fact, if there is no visa problems (US citizens need to show passport, others need visa) in getting across the border, our overwhelming recommendation would be to find accommodation on the Canadian side even though there are interesting attractions on the US side.

A quick run-down on the naming of the three different falls for the novice:
  • What the world identifies as the Niagara Falls is the Horse-Shoe Falls (aka the Canadian Falls) and it carries more than 90% of the water that cascades down into the gorge. The brink measures at 2500 feet and sits about 170 feet high.
  • The American Falls that carries less than 10% of the water sits 180 feet high, and the brink measures around 1200 feet.
  • The Bridal Veil Falls is the smallest with brink measurement under 60 feet.

The view of the waterfall from land is undeniably better on the Canadian side, but there are a few things that make a trip to the American side worthwhile. We visited the Observation Tower, Cave of the Winds, Maid of the Mist, and the Niagara Falls State Park areas. Here is a description of the attractions:
  1. Observation Tower: It is a platform that extends over the Niagara Gorge and provides a great view of the falls. Granted this view is not comparable to the one from the Canadian side its beauty is that both the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls, the two narrower falls on the American side can be observed. Admission to the observation tower is a dollar from April through October and free the rest of the time – the Maid-of-the-Mist boat tour (a must in our opinion), includes in its price the admission to the Observation Tower.
  2. Cave of the Winds: This tour, located on Goat Island, takes one down to the Gorge. The entire-tour is open May through October and the Gorge-only tour is available in April. A 175-foot elevator gets the visitors to the permanent deck located about 75 feet from the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. The walkway that leads up to the Hurricane Deck, the proximity of which is 20-feet close to the Bridal Veil falls, is reassembled every year in April to avoid damage to the deck due to inclement winter weather. The deck is aptly named for it does simulate tropical storm conditions. This unique experience lets one appreciate the wonders of nature in all its triumphant glory - in our opinion a far better value for money compared to the ‘Journey Behind the Falls’ attraction on the Canadian side as the Hurricane deck gets you closer to the falls. Admission is $11 for adults and $8 for kids over 5 and includes the souvenir yellow poncho and sandals.
  3. Maid of the Mist: This world renowned boat-tour takes tourists to the front of the falls. The tour is offered both from the Canadian side and the US side April through October and is priced reasonably at $13.50 for adult and $7.85 for kids over 5 (the US side pricing includes admission to the Observation Tower, Canadian side pricing is slightly higher).
  4. Niagara Falls State Park: The most underrated attraction on the US side is the Niagara Falls State Park area around the falls (see the green area in the map). The all-day hop-on/off trolley service that covers the 3-mile loop is again affordable at $2 per adult, $1 for kids 6-12, and free for under 6 (Service Hours: 9AM-10PM, subject to change). The service starts from Prospect Point conveniently located very near the Visitor center. If time and spirit allows, walking the scenic park is a great alternative - compared to the Canadian side, the park area is far less crowded and one gets to appreciate the beauty of the place – American Rapids Bridge, the scenic walk by the side of the rapids in Goat Island, the Terrapin point with one of the best views of the Bridal Veil Falls, and the Three-Sisters Island all make the experience memorable and will be cherished for years. And the icing is, the entire experience comes free and at one’s pace…
  5. Others: There is an IMAX 40-minute movie offered at the lower level of the visitor center on a 45-foot screen about Niagara Falls Explorers, Settlers, and Dare Devils. It is $11 for Adults and $7.50 for kids between 6 and 12. For visitors interested in geology, this is a great option, otherwise it can be given a miss.The place is located on Robert Moses Parkway at the tip of Bath Avenue. It also has the Trailhead center which is the starting point for hikes – the trails vary in difficulty and can take anywhere between one and three hours.
If the plan includes all six major attractions on the American side (Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Scenic Trolley, Adventure Theater, Discovery Center, and the Aquarium), taking advantage of the discount using the Discover Pass is recommended. But, keep in mind that only the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds involve the Falls per se...

Last Updated: 02/2011.


1 comment :

Shana said...

Sounds like fun!!

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