Anniversary Trip to Niagara Falls

For our first anniversary as a married couple, Dustin and I decided to go on a mini vacation to Niagara Falls.  We chose to drive instead of fly since it was only a 6 1/2 hour drive and because my Ford Escape is really good on gas, so it was a lot cheaper than buying two plane tickets. We worked half a day on Friday and first drove north up to Bay City, Michigan to look at a boat that we’ve been wanting to check out, which was about a 3 hour drive from our house. (We’ll tell you about the boat in detail in the next post.) After Bay City, we continued on our way to Niagara which was about 4 1/2 hours further. A couple hours into the drive, we reached the Canadian border. We crossed at Port Huron, Michigan and had a pretty seamless entry into the country. I was excited to finally be using my passport because when we got married, I had to get a new one and it had been stamp-less and lonely looking for the past 9 months. However, to my disappointment, they just quickly glanced at it and did not stamp it. I told Dustin all that meant is that we would have to go on another trip soon to somewhere that would stamp it! 🙂 There was a currency exchange location immediately over the border so we stopped to get some Canadian money.

By that time, it was raining pretty hard. We had run into a pretty wicked storm in Bay City and it seemed to follow us the entire way, which made the drive slightly more entertaining.

I have always been a storm fanatic and kept a watchful eye on the clouds through the sun roof, secretly hoping to see a tornado develop (and then quickly dissipate!) but we never did. We did however, witness quite a lightning show for most of the drive through Ontario. The bolts that would strike out of the skies were quite a spectacle!

Finally around 10:30pm, we arrived in Niagara Falls, Ontario! I immediately spotted the Skylon Tower, which is a needle shaped tower with a revolving restaurant on top that overlooked the falls. We had made reservations there for the 2nd day of our trip and were excited to be seeing it in person!

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Skylon Tower

We had booked a hotel room ahead of time on Expedia at Admiral Inn, which was located less than a mile from the falls. We wanted to get checked in before driving by the falls, so we drove straight to the hotel. We had purposely booked an inexpensive place so we weren’t expecting a palace by any means, but this place was absolutely repulsive! Every light on the outside of the building was out/off so it looked a little scary right off the bat. Dustin went inside to see about checking in and he was told by the owners that the Jacuzzi suite we had booked had no hot water. At first they tried to convince us to take the room in that condition anyway but when we refused because we wanted to be able to shower (what a crazy request huh?), they offered us a smaller room instead. Dustin asked to see the room before agreeing to it, as they had a huge sign behind the check in desk that said “No Refunds after Check-In. This was immediately a red flag to us because that meant they had so many inquiries about refunds that they decided to post a sign about it, but we followed the man around the corner and headed up a few flights of stairs to see the room. Since the lights were all out, I tripped and fell up the stairs on the way up (I am very graceful). Dustin likes to call me Murphy….after Murphy’s Law since I am constantly hurting myself and being a little clumsy. Anyway, at the top of the 2nd flight, there was a group of drugged out looking people sitting on the floor smoking and we had to walk through their cloud to get to the 2nd flight of stairs. As we were walking up, we looked over the edge and noticed that the swimming pool had been completely drained and didn’t look like it had been full in years. A little perplexed, we finally made it to the top and the owner let us into the room. It was teeny tiny and wreaked of all the disgusting smells that you could ever imagine. With that, we told them we were going to find a different hotel and left as fast as we could, despite their best efforts at coaxing us to stay.

Not knowing where we were going to sleep that night, we started driving around to find a different room.  Given the situation, we remained upbeat because we were just happy to be on vacation. Dustin went into several places but all of them were either fully booked as it was a Friday night at one of the most popular tourist places in the world, or they were too expensive.

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Finally we stopped at a place that we had remembered seeing online when we were searching for hotels called Diplomat Inn. We went in and they had one room left. The owner made us a deal and gave us a little bit of a discount after hearing our story. The hotel was still nothing fancy but was MUCH nicer than the Admiral Inn and was very clean so we were content. Dustin was happy to see that our new hotel still had the heart-shaped hot tub in it that the first one was supposed to have.

We found out that pretty much every hotel in Niagara Falls had one as well, as they are a popular honeymoon destination! We dropped off our bags then quickly drove down to the falls so that we could see them illuminated before they shut the lights off at midnight. The only pictures we got are really blurry because we were trying to snap them as we were driving by and the mist kept clouding things up.

There is a road that runs right along the cliff side on the Canadian side of the falls and the views are spectacular from it! There was so much mist from the Horseshoe Falls that it was hard to see them at night but we figured we would see them plenty the next morning so after a few quick attempts to snap some pictures of the falls, we headed back to our hotel room for the night.

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The next morning we woke up excited to go on a jet boat ride near the famed Devil’s Hole Whirlpool on the Niagara River. The power receptacle in my Escape does not work, meaning we were unable to use a GPS, so we had to print old school directions from Google Maps before our trip so that we knew how to get around. About 10 minutes into our drive, we realized the directions had us going in the complete wrong direction from where we wanted to be going so we turned around and went back to the hotel and asked the lady at the front desk to give us more accurate directions. On the way, we stopped at Tim Horton’s for some breakfast and it was surprisingly yummy for a drive through! The woman from our hotel at least sent us in the right direction, but we ended up on the other side of the gorge from where we needed to be. We were looking for a location that had only been opened a month prior so it was still relatively unknown in the area.  After asking for directions a couple more times, we finally made it to the Glen Nature Center, which was where the Whirlpool Jet Boat rides issued tickets and picked up passengers. None of the brochures mentioned the nature center at all, which would’ve been extremely helpful in finding it!

Nonetheless, we finally made it there and after a short wait, a bus picked us up to shuttle us to the boat launch which was a short distance away. All of the seats in the bus were completely enveloped in plastic to preserve them from the soggy passengers on the return ride after being on the jet boats, so we knew we were going to get soaked!

After a short safety briefing, we were boarded onto the jet boat. It was suggested that we partake in the ponchos that were offered to us, as the water was still quite a “refreshing” temperature. We looked like a bunch of rubber duckies with our yellow ponchos and orange life jackets!

Being a bit of a thrill seeker, I wanted to be in one of the first three rows, as we were told that these were the “drown zones” which got the most action in the rapids. To our delight, we were sat in the 3rd row, and let me tell you, drown zone was an understatement! We made several trips up and down the section of class 5 rapids, each time getting absolutely drenched! The ponchos did absolutely nothing to keep us dry but they did help with the sting of the cold water a little.

This was one of the most fun boat rides I’ve ever been on! The boat maneuvered just like a jet ski and could whip around really fast, do donuts, and jump waves, which made it a really unique experience. It was a self-bailing boat which means that there was an opening in the back of the boat and any water that got in the boat automatically drained out the back when we were on an incline. There were times when the water was all the way up to our knees in the boat! Towards the end of the ride, they take you to see the Devil’s Hole Whirlpool, which is a 150 foot whirlpool in the Niagara Gorge. This is as far as the boat goes though because the rapids turn to class 6 at that point and it is actually illegal to go any further. Knowing we were going to get wet again on our next excursion of the day, we decided not to change into dry clothes just yet, plastered our car seats with towels, and headed downtown to find the Hornblower Cruise launch point, which is Canada’s version of the Maid of the Mist.

After a few quick photos in front of the falls, we found the line for the Hornblower Cruise and it was massive! Not having an interest in baking in the sun for a few hours waiting in line, we agreed that grabbing some lunch first was a better idea.

We walked up the street to Clifton Hill and had lunch at the Rainforest Café. This restaurant is extravagantly decorated inside to make you feel like you are in a jungle and they even have life size fake animals that move and make sounds along with man-made thunderstorms while you eat! (Don’t worry, you won’t get wet!). Sections of the restaurant even have starry skies! We had some ridiculously priced sandwiches and drinks while enjoying the atmosphere of this fun restaurant then headed back down to check the status of the lines for the boat. It was significantly shorter than it had been earlier in the day so we decided to wait this time. After being herded through a long cattle rail of like-minded tourists, we finally made it onto the elevator that would take us down to the loading dock. At the bottom, there is a restaurant, sitting area, live music, etc. right on the water to enjoy before or after the boat ride. We made a bee-line for the boat because we wanted to be on the upper deck, which offered the best views. We were given a free plastic poncho and since we were finally starting to get dry from the last boat, we actually decided to wear it!

 

The boat first drove across the river for an up-close view of the American Falls and then drove right into the thundering mist of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

It felt like we were in the midst of a rain storm but it was just the mist from the falls!

When we emerged, it was just as sunny as ever! The entire experience was only about 20 minutes from start to finish but was worth every bit of it because you can’t get that close any other way! We had purchased an Adventure Pass online prior to arriving that included the jet boat ride, the Hornblower Cruise, White Water Walk, Journey Behind the Falls, 2 days on the WEGO public transportation system, and a pass to Niagara’s Fury, as 4D movie. The pass was $76 (USD) and was actually a pretty good deal for all that it included, but we only ended up doing the two boat activities due to time constraints, so we probably could’ve gone without it, looking back.

After the Hornblower Cruise, we walked all the way down to Table Rock, which is where you get the best view of the Canadian Falls from the top. It had gotten sunny out that afternoon and along our walk, we noticed a beautiful rainbow that had formed over the falls because of all the mist. We were able to get some really nice shots of it, and a few silly ones.

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Rainbow over Niagara Falls
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Rainbow over Niagara Falls
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Rainbow over Maid of the Mist
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Horseshoe Falls
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Rainbow over Niagara Falls
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Dustin “tasting” the rainbow 🙂

Once we got to Table Rock, it felt like we could almost reach out and touch the water gushing over the edge from this location! It was such a neat perspective and you could almost imagine what it would be like being one of the daredevils who have voluntarily thrown themselves over the falls in barrels and other objects to test fate.

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Table Rock and Visitor Center near Horseshoe Falls- the sidewalks show you how wet everything gets from the mist!
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Water gushing over the edge of Horseshoe Falls
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Horseshoe Falls

Having our fill of being wet for the day, we walked back to our car, and headed back to the hotel for a couple of hours to clean ourselves up, put on some dry clothes, and relax for a bit. Dustin ran down the street to a store to grab some drinks for us while I showered up. We soon headed back downtown to Clifton Hill for the evening. This area is known for nightlife and is filled with tourist traps, but we couldn’t resist 🙂

We knew we wanted to go on the SkyWheel at some point, which is an over-sized Ferris wheel with views of the falls, so instead of buying just a ticket for that, we spent $12 more and got a Clifton Hill Fun Pass that included the SkyWheel ride, entrance to Movieland Wax Museum of the Stars, a round of putt-putt golf, a 6D roller coaster movie, and some arcade games. We ended up doing every activity on the card except the putt-putt golf just because we ran out of time. This card is probably best suited for people with kids or people like us who like acting like kids occasionally.

I have always wanted to go to a wax museum so we went there first but we were pretty let down with it. The wax statues didn’t look life-like at all and some of them were honestly falling apart. We joked that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ET were the most realistic looking!

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After Clifton Hill, we walked across town to find a nice place for dinner. We ended up on Murray Street, which is a pretty centrally located road with lots of restaurant choices and connects to Niagara Parkway near the falls. We found a restaurant that looked nice called Coco’s Terrace Steakhouse. We were initially drawn to it because of the fun looking outdoor terrace area but it had cooled off that evening and after being wet all day, we decided to dine inside.

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Coco’s

We had a really nice server named Steve who brought us a delicious wood fired pizza and some warm coffee drinks with whipped cream! Canadians are known for being really friendly and everywhere we went, the stereotype kept being proven again and again. We had a nice cozy dinner then walked back over to Clifton Hill to go on the SkyWheel.

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SkyWheel

By this time it was around 10:30pm so it was dark out and the falls were illuminated in several different colors. The SkyWheel pods are completely enclosed and air conditioned. They seat each group privately so you aren’t sitting with strangers for a few awkward spins through the air, which was kind of nice. The ride lasts 4-5 loops and there is plenty of time to take in the scenery.

Once the ride was over, we popped into Ruby Tuesday for a quick night cap. One was about all we could afford. The U.S. Dollar is currently worth more than the Canadian Dollar but their prices are so ridiculous that it cancels out any savings. A little tuckered out from a long day and lots of walking, we headed back to the hotel.

After sleeping in a little the next morning, we awoke refreshed, ready for our lunch at the Skylon Tower. We way overestimated how long it would take to walk there (it was only a few blocks from our hotel) so we got there way too early and we were not allowed to go up to the restaurant until our reservation time. To pass some time, we grabbed a coffee at Starbucks then headed back to the tower to check out the shops inside. When it was our time, they printed us some passes and sent us to the elevator lines. The elevators look like little yellow space capsules going up into a ship and they are neat to watch from the ground. It was much more fun to watch from inside them though! The panels in the elevator are transparent so we were able to enjoy the view the whole way up.

The revolving dining room is the first level at the top so we got off the elevator, fingers crossed that they would seat us at a window table. Luckily, we were given a great table by the windows and all to ourselves. Since we had chosen to dine for lunch instead of dinner, the restaurant was much less crowded. The tables are placed so close together that if we had been there at a busier time, we might have had to sit with strangers a few inches away from us and it just wouldn’t have been the same romantic experience. But we were fortunate and had a lovely time!

The views were second to none and it was so neat to be revolving!

It moves so slowly that you barely notice and it does one full rotation per hour. We found out that the outer ledge near the tables does not rotate with the floors when I set my purse on it and it slowly started escaping behind me! Glad I noticed before it ended up at someone else’s table or their dinner might’ve been on me that day!

Since we were in a fancy restaurant and we were celebrating our first anniversary, we decided to try one of their custom cocktails and they gave them to us in a souvenir glass shaped like the tower. Dustin ordered a seafood platter (salmon, shrimp, scallops) and I ordered salmon. He also tried the clam chowder and it was to die for! Both meals were very good, but the portions they gave Dustin were a little skimpy, as compared to the huge plate of salmon that I was given, and for a cheaper price.

When we were situated in front of the falls, a photographer came to the table and took our photo with the falls in the background. They printed the photos and came back to offer them for sale at the end of the meal. It cost $30 for 2 but they are nice quality and come in a souvenir booklet.

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Lunch at the Skylon Tower

When you dine at the Skylon Tower, they include admission to the observation deck on the top, so after lunch we walked up a few flights to check out the view. The observation deck was open air so there was a tall fence and wall around the perimeter. The view was honestly better from the restaurant because the view was unobstructed but it was still neat to be a couple of levels higher.

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Observation Deck on top of the Skylon Tower

After lunch, we drove about a half hour to Port Colborne on Lake Erie to look at a 36′ Islander Freeport sail boat that was for sale. We had been wanting to look at one of these boats in person because the layout of the boat and it’s large interior windows really appealed to us, but there weren’t any close by. We found this one near Niagara so thought we would take advantage of it while we were in the area. We spent about an hour and a half checking out the boat and chatting with the owner and his son aboard the vessel, and then headed off to do some more exploring in the area. Lake Erie was the only Great Lake that we hadn’t seen so we finally got to see it and check all 5 off the list! It was a beautiful day out so we decided it would be fun to drive into New York to see the American side of the falls. We had always heard the Canadian side was better but wanted to be able to judge it for ourselves. The road we were on in Port Colborne led us straight into Buffalo, New York. It was faster to go this way rather than backtracking to Niagara so we decided to do a circle and see some new scenery.

Immediately upon crossing into the U.S. the friendliness that we had gotten used to from the Canadians came to a screeching halt as we got interrogated by a grumpy border patrol guard on the American side of the bridge. He couldn’t understand why we wanted to cross into Buffalo to see the falls instead of Niagara Falls so we had to explain the whole story about going to look at the boat. After firing a bunch of unnecessary questions at us, he finally let us through. Every time we have gone to Canada, their border patrol has been nothing but pleasant and then it never fails that we get treated poorly by the American border patrol when we try to go home! You would think they would at least be decent to their own residents, even though they should be to everyone!

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Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY were both pretty run down looking from what we could tell. We were glad we didn’t have to stop along the way. We went over a couple bridges and ended up out at Goat Island a short drive away. The U.S. side had very nicely manicured parks with lush landscaping all along the falls.

On the Canadian side, the roads and the city are situated on a cliff so the river is far below and you have to pay to do the White Water Walk if you want to get down close to the river. One nice thing about the U.S. side is that you do not have to pay to walk alongside the rapids and there are lovely places to sit and relax by the water along the way.

Parking is $10 if you want to park and walk over to Goat Island. There is a pedestrian path to walk out on Goat Island to both the American Falls and the Canadian Falls. Terrapin Point is the U.S. side’s equivalent to Table Rock on the Canadian side. You can get really close to the Horseshoe Falls from here as well.

The views were definitely better on the Canadian side, just like we were told, because you get a full view of both waterfalls, rather than just slices of them from the U.S. side.

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The view of the American Falls from New York

From the U.S. side when you look across the river, all you see is a cliff and the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario. It’s still a pretty view but chances are, if you are going to Niagara, it’s because you want to see the falls. So you may as well get the best view possible, right?

After an hour or so of checking out both sets of the falls on the U.S. side, we decided to head back over to Canada to spend our last night having a nice dinner and enjoying the evening. The Rainbow Bridge is the closest bridge to cross back into Canada from Niagara Falls, New York so we got in the traffic line to merge onto it. Apparently, we chose poorly when selecting which lane to be in because the lanes to the left of us kept moving fluidly but we were stuck at a standstill for over an hour. After about an hour and a half of going nowhere, we started getting aggravated because we were literally watching our last night there pass us by. It was extremely frustrating being able to see Canada less than a mile away but not being able to get to it. We ended up sitting in traffic for 3 hours!

By time we finally made it back into Canada, it was almost 10pm. We were starting to get hangry (hungry and angry)- not at each other but at the situation, so we decided that we would still go have a nice dinner, no matter how late it was. After finding several places were already closed since it was a Sunday evening, we ended up parking and walking back over to Murray Street where we had been the night before. As we were walking up the hill to the downtown area, they started shooting off fireworks over the falls behind us so we stopped and watched for a bit. How neat it must have been for the people in the revolving restaurant at that time to be eye level with the fireworks! We decided on Shoeless Joe’s, another restaurant with outdoor seating.

They had pretty decent prices and more than just burgers for dinner. I ordered a Thai Shrimp Quesadilla with a spicy chipotle sauce and Dustin had pecan encrusted chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. Both were very tasty! They also had a few unique drink choices so I tried the one they called “Pucker Up” which was lemonade mixed with one of their brews. It was really good! All in all we ended up having a nice night together despite the 3 hour delay in getting to that point.

Monday morning we woke up and checked out of our hotel and went next door for breakfast at IHOP. We hadn’t been able to have a nice sit down breakfast the entire trip yet so we decided to take our time and enjoy a good meal that morning. After eating, we headed towards Toronto. We had heard of a place called African Lion Safari that sounded fun so we wanted to stop at it before going back to the states. Along the way, we stopped in Niagara-On-The-Lake to check out an old ship that we had passed on the way in a few days earlier. It was massive and looked like it had been beached for a long time.

We got off of the highway and parked at a small lot near exit #55 on Queen Elizabeth Way and then walked over to the ship.

It was completely abandoned and looked like an old pirate ship, but was constructed from metal instead of wood. It even had the old crow’s nests and was kind of neat to see for two boat lovers! We snapped some photos then hopped back in the car.

About an hour and a half later, we arrived at the African Lion Safari. We drove through miles and miles of farm land and then suddenly out of nowhere, this huge place appeared that made you feel like you were making a turn into Africa. The whole basis behind why we wanted to stop here is that they allow you to drive your own vehicle through the park on a road that winds through acres and acres of land where wild animals such as lions, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, monkeys, etc. are roaming free. When we first pulled in, they gave us the option to ride in their safari bus or drive our own vehicle. We of course chose to drive our own vehicle, despite the warning signs that “animals may cause damage to the vehicles” and we “enter at our own risk”.

When we first drove in, it felt like we were entering Jurassic Park or something. There was a huge sliding metal gate that was opened and once we entered, it was closed and locked behind us.

We kept rolling our windows down to get better pictures even though the signs said to keep windows up.  It was a much more exciting experience than walking past animals locked in a cage to see them living freely.

When we got to the area where the baboons were, one of them walked right up to our car. Another crawled on top of the van behind us and then just sat down on the roof so they had to just wait until it left. It was pretty funny to watch!

Then when we got to a more wide open area, an ostrich ran up to a car that was a few vehicles in front of us and starting pecking at the hood and at the window where the driver was sitting. I could definitely see how they could cause some damage. She had to just sit there until the ostrich got bored though because it was blocking her way.

It was really neat to be so close to the animals and it was fun seeing how curious they were about us as well.

After the drive through portion of the experience, we left the animal area and parked to go to the main area which is set up more as a zoo. They have several shows each day to demonstrate the skills and intelligence of the animals so we went to a Bird of Prey show, an Exotic Bird show, and the Elephant show. The elephants were my favorite and did all kinds of stunts. One of them even painted a canvas with it’s trunk holding the paintbrush! They are very clever animals.

There is also a waterpark for small children and a river where they take people on a pontoon boat ride to see the monkeys in the trees. All of this was included in one admission for only $34 (Canadian Dollar) which is about $25 USD! It was very fun as an adult but I can imagine it would be like wonderland for a child! We were glad we stopped and really enjoyed our time there!

A few hours later, we again reached the U.S. border, this time in Port Huron, Michigan. We wanted to spend the last night of our 4 night trip stateside since it was much cheaper. We planned to spend the final day of our anniversary trip exploring the Nautical Mile in Saint Clair Shores and looking at sailboats, which we will tell you about in a separate post, coming soon! 🙂

Overall, Niagara is easily doable in a 2-3 day span and makes a great weekend getaway for couples or families! We really enjoyed our time together there.

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