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Special Events: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
A few basic rules are in order when visiting Niagara Falls. Rule #1: Expect to get wet. Even poncho-wearing visitors are damp beneath their nylon shields. Rule #2: Do not wear long pants. If you do, they will get soaked beneath the knees, which is where most ponchos end. Rule #3: Stand in awe of Mother Nature. You are here to witness one of the great spectacles of the natural world so feel free to ooh and aah and giggle like a kid. The Falls are that impressive, even more so when the sun shines and forms a colorful rainbow ahead of cascading waves.
It’s worth noting that there are two waterfalls at Niagara Falls. Horseshoe Falls is accessed from the Canadian side of the border while the American Falls are visible from the Canadian side and accessed via the U.S. A visit to the Canadian side makes sense as there is more to see and do. Begin by purchasing a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass at one of the many kiosks located throughout the tourist district. This pass will get you onto the Maid of the Mist cruise as well as three other Falls-related attractions but the big draw is the cruise itself, a thirty-minute boat ride that’s an aquatic thrill. Slip into the standard-issue bright blue rain poncho and soon enough, you and a hundred or two of your new best friends will be in the midst of the mist, surrounded by Horseshoe Falls. The roar of the water is deafening and the mist will blast you with water from all angles. Expect to get teary-eyed, and it’s not the water. Your Pass also includes a Journey Behind the Falls, an elevator ride to the depths of the Falls with peek-a-boo views to rushing water; Niagara’s Fury, a 4-D experience chronicling the creation of the Great Gorge that is tailor-made for kids and adjacent to the area’s best souvenir shop; and White Water Walk, a quarter-mile-long boardwalk astride the Class 5 rapids of the Niagara River. For a few dollars more, you can add two attractions to your Adventure Pass. The Whirlpool Aero Car, a gondola that soars 250 feet over a roiling river gorge, is the yin to the yang of the Butterfly Conservatory, where over 2,000 butterflies are free as a bird and busily flitting from one exotic plant to the next. All of the attractions are accessible via a complimentary People Mover Bus. niagaraparks.com
What won’t cost you a dime is the view of Horseshoe Falls from Table Rock, a flat formation that acts as the launch pad for massive amounts of water. There is a festive atmosphere here as visitors from around the world gather, many for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Revel in the many languages being spoken and the sheer joy of the global citizenry. The nightly illumination of the Falls has water falling in ribbons of green, purple and gold and while it may sound cheesy, you’d be all wet not to appreciate it.
Where to stay: The Doubletree Fallsview Resort & Spa is on a quiet side street yet mere blocks from Table Rock. The Arts and Crafts architecture is a soothing counterpoint to the many out-sized attractions nearby and even better is the Sweet Dreams bedding for which the Doubletree brand is known. More cosseting pleasures come your way via a pool area that features a kids pool and separate adult lap pool as well as a whirlpool and warming sauna. Request an upper floor room for a view of the U.S. Falls. 6039 Fallsview Blvd. (905) 358-3817; http://doubletree1.hilton.com/en_US/dt/hotel/IAGDTDT-Doubletree-Fallsview-Resort-Spa-by-Hilton-Niagara-Falls-Ontario/index.do Rooms with two queen beds are $119 CAD, U.S. Fallsview rooms from $139 CAD.
Where to eat: In the land of the $5 popsicle, restaurants are doing their best to separate you from your money. Bucking the trend is Mandarin, an all-you-can-eat buffet a short ride from the tourist district. Here, the bright décor, unfailingly friendly service and delicious food are the real deal. A salad bar is piled high with healthy eats and treats such as Kiwi Mussels in black bean sauce, deviled eggs and plump prawns while heartier fare includes a spot-on General Tso’s Chicken, Peking pork, barbecued spare ribs (their lacquered sweetness is a hit with kids), Shanghai noodles, Kung Pao chicken, pepper steak and dozens more. Traditional entrees (prime rib, mashed potatoes) are also available and there are over thirty mouth-watering desserts from which to choose (the mango pudding is a winner). It’s no surprise that the company’s many Toronto-area restaurants have been hugely successful. 7555 Montrose Road (905) 358-7000; mandarinbuffet.com. The Hard Rock Cafe is in the house, make that the Fallsview Entertainment Complex, and the sandwiches and salads are hearty if a bit pricey. It’s easier to swallow if you look at it as a meal with entertainment. 5701 Falls Avenue (905) 356-7625; hardrock.com. Newest kid on the block is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, where the beachy troubador and his joie de vivre prove irresistible. Raise a glass and kick back with a Cheeseburger in Paradise. 6300 Fallsview Blvd. (905) 354-1245; margaritaville.ca.
What Else? Marineland is home to sea lions, dolphins and amazing killer whales but the cutest of the bunch are the Beluga whales, albino sea creatures that you can pet and feed for a nominal fee. Sweet as this may be, your kids will thank you for bringing them to the home of Dragon Mountain, the world’s largest steel roller coaster and one whale of an amusement park ride. marinelandcanada.com
A Little Bit More: At Great Wolf Lodge’s Canadian outpost, the indoor waterpark kings are once again Masters of the Universe, this time with rides like the Canada Vortex that will suck you in and spit you out and the Niagara Rapids Run, a rollicking roller coaster guaranteed to get you soaked (“That was sa-weet!” squealed my eight-year-old). That’s half the fun of being here, seeing as how every amusement is aqua-infused. You can slip-slide your way down kissin’ cousins Grizzly Falls, Eagle Falls and Bobcat Falls and break away for hoops at either the indoor or outdoor pool. There’s a lazy river for relaxing and enough buckets, squirters and sprays for full-on water war. Even so, your best bet may be the 18-hole miniature golf course filled with interactivity and fresh as an outdoor breeze. The lunch and dinner buffets are more than pleasing but the start of every Great Wolf day should be at Canoe Coffee, where the double chocolate muffin rates. Spend the night in a Wolf Den, where bunk beds will delight the kids and if they get a better night’s sleep than you, well, that’s the price of being a parent. greatwolf.com/niagara/waterpark
Worth A Detour: The undisputed king of wings is Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, thirty minutes outside Niagara Falls and “home of the original Buffalo chicken wings.” The wings are deep-fried and then coated in a special sauce and I’ll bet you’ve never had anything quite like it outside this kitschy bar – and yes, they’re terrific. Surprisingly, the pulled pork sandwich, in a sweeter sauce, gives the wing-ding a run for its money. Arrange to visit off-hours to avoid a long wait. 1047 Main Street, Buffalo (716) 884-4083; anchorbar.com. In-the-know locals follow a visit to Anchor Bar with a frozen-custard twist at Anderson’s and you should, too. Locations throughout Buffalo; andersonscustard.com.
Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and eight-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.