Everyone has a travel bucket list, right? Mine includes Vietnam, Samarkand, Ludlow and the Moon. I suspect it may be some time before I can tick the last one off. The reason I mention bucket lists is that sometimes, when you are part of a family, you end up helping tick off items on someone else’s bucket list. This is what happened at the end of the summer.
My mother-in-law, the lovely Margaret, has always wanted to go to Niagara Falls. Ever since…well, ever since long before the term bucket list came into common currency. She can’t explain exactly why she had always wanted to go – it could have been the backdrop to a film she saw or a school book she read – but go she intended to do.
Yet with a husband who thinks flying is like water torture, Margaret had never had the chance to live the dream.
That all changed this summer. Late in 2013, I was fortunate enough to win two tickets to Toronto in a competition and quickly resolved to go there and spend a few days in Niagara Falls with the whole extended family – including FOFFIL (fear of flying father-in-law).
So in late August, after surviving the flight (much to FOFFIL’s relief), we spent a few days in Toronto (brilliantly surprising), followed by a few nights by Lake Huron. For the last part of the holiday, we spent three days in the Canadian border city of Niagara Falls.
We drove up not quite knowing what to expect. Our two-year-old summed it up nicely. He had been asleep nearly all of the way from Toronto, waking up just as we spotted the Falls.
Seeing the Falls for the first time is certainly a wow moment.
Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls – Horseshoe Falls (a U-shaped waterfall 670 metres wide and 57 metres high), the American Falls (260 metres wide and between 21 and 34 metres high) and the smaller Bridal Veil Falls (17 metres wide and 24 metres drop). The falls lie right on the US-Canadian border, with American and Bridal Veil falls sitting in America and Horseshoe entirely in Canada. The best views are from the Canadian side since you can see all three.
Although the Falls are not the highest in the world, the combination of width and height makes them very impressive and means that around 3 million litres of water go over the crest of the three falls every second. The water that drops over the Falls is the water leaving Lake Erie and entering Lake Ontario as it makes its way to the Atlantic via the St Lawrence River.
Niagara Falls, the city, was something of a surprise – to me at least. It felt as though a little bit of Las Vegas had snuck up to the Canadian border under cover of darkness and slipped across while no-one was looking. Louis Tussauds (presumably the disowned son of Madame) has a waxworks museum in town and there are 4D theatres, a theme park in the centre of town, attractions such as Ripley’s and lots of noise and bright lights. Even the falls themselves have coloured lights on them at night.
Our hotel, the Sheraton on the Falls, could hardly have been better placed. (Disclosure: the hotel gave us a discount on our room rate). The room, on the 14th floor, looked directly onto the crashing water.
On checking in, the kids got a little excited. Reason being, if a child were allowed to design their ideal hotel, it might just look like the Sheraton on the Falls. There is a huge Hershey’s chocolate shop and a Coca-Cola shop selling ice cream floats next door. Let’s not forget the indoor water park and a huge amusement arcade nor the Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe on the same site.
Oh and a room that looks out onto one of the natural wonders of the world. Not that the kids noticed (much). Margaret, my mother-in-law, did, however.
She spent much of the next few days sitting in an easy chair by the window, looking down at the hypnotic foaming, bubbling and crashing of the waters.
The tourists viewing the falls from close up are also oddly amusing. The reason is that people taking a close-up view of the falls from the Maid of the Mist (the boat service that runs tours from the American side) all wear bright blue ponchos. Those that sail on Hornblower (the boat service that runs tours from the Canadian side) all wear red ponchos. The people who go on the Journey Behind the Falls walking tour all wear yellow ponchos. From the 14th floor, these teeming tourists looked like rival colonies of ants, clambering over each other to get the best morsels…or, in reality, Niagara selfies.
aka Grumpy Grandad
|Reuben and daddy
Inevitably, we turned from tourism entomologists to being frantic insects ourselves, taking Hornblower out for the half an hour long jaunt beneath those thundering megalitres of water.
For the rest of our stay in Niagara Falls, the smile never left Margaret’s face. Her one and only bucket list item had been well and truly ticked. FOFFIL, on the other hand, started to look grimmer and grimmer as the return flight beckoned.