Niagara Falls: A Canadian-American wonder, finally checked off

From the Journey Behind the Falls (Canada)

Niagara Falls from the Journey Behind the Falls experience (Canada)

I was asked to participate in the #DoMoreCountry program, sponsored by Country Inns & Suites. Although I have been compensated, all opinions are my own.

Country Inns & Suites

Country Inns & Suites

I’d just landed in Buffalo, and was, in a modest black car, en route to my hotel on the other side of the US-Canadian border: the Country Inns & Suites By Carlson, Niagara Falls, ON. My driver, Don, and I were following our good-natured conversation where it led us—and suddenly, implored by the views from Rainbow Bridge outside, we arrived at the topic of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Don knew very little of the list as it’s most recognized these days, as defined by the New7Wonders, and so I ran it down: Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer, Chitzen Itza, Petra, the Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China—and was I sure, no Niagara Falls? Maybe there was a different list? He couldn’t fathom Niagara unrecognized. Now on the other side of my visit—my first visit—I’d like to tell Don this: All lists aside, Niagara Falls is as impressive a natural sight as any I’ve ever seen, and I’m so happy I got the chance to see it firsthand.

Country Inns & Suites By Carlson, Niagara Falls, ON

My room in theCountry Inns & Suites

It was only by invitation—by Country Inns & Suites—that I finally made it to Niagara Falls. As part of its #DoMoreCountry campaign, Country Inns is right now deep in a push to reinvigorate experiential travel, and to help guests to discover a real and memorable sense of place in their destinations. When you bring your booking intentions to one of the brand’s 465+ properties, that effort translates as the option to purchase a local experience package with your room.

At the Country Inns & Suites in Niagara Falls, I was treated to the Local Experience Package. For about an extra $20 (depends on dates/availability), the package included, on top of my accommodations (plus free Wi-Fi and breakfast):

  • Two tickets to the Niagara SkyWheel
  • 2,000 bonus Gold Points® per stay (it’s free to join; join here)
  • Discounts of up to 20% at local restaurants (you need to have two people, but the staff worked around that for me)

Did I #DoMoreCountry in my two days in Niagara Falls? I think so, because with the help of Country Inns and its campaign, I got all that I wanted from my destination: the chance to experience one of the world’s great wonders—and one that all Canadians and Americans should really make time for—in real, probing depth. I watched it from afar, challenged it from below, listened to it from within, and admired it by day and by night and from the top of the Niagara Skywheel. Plus, I got discounts on food and 2,000 bonus Gold Points, which is almost a quarter of the amount needed for a free night down the road.

Here are a few quick takeaways from my days with the Falls—and below, what I saw in photos:

  • The Canadian side is better; anyone you ask will tell you that
  • Niagara Falls is actually three separate falls: American Falls (US side), Bridal Veil Falls (US side) and Horseshoe Falls (both; mostly Canadian side); 90% of the water goes over Horseshoe Falls
  • Both cities are commercialized beyond belief (the Canadian side much more effectively), but that didn’t take anything away from the sheer majesty of the falls

Tip: Regardless of whether you visit the American or Canadian side, make sure to bring your passport so you can wander between the two

Discovering Niagara Falls, in photos

  • From the Hornblower ($19.95 CA)
    The Hornblower is basically the Maid of the Mist—”basically” because last year a California company won the rights to the famous cruise on the Canadian side and now runs it as the Hornblower. The original Maid of the Mist (blue) still operates from the American side, should you prefer that, but the Hornblower (pink) holds more people.
    Side: Canadian
    Camera:
     iPhone 4S
    More: Posted on Instagram. Here’s a link to the photo on the JohnnyJet account.


  • From the Journey Behind the Falls ($13.95 CA)
    On the Canadian side, a ticket into the Journey Behind the Falls experience (the Cave of the Winds is the American version) takes you by elevator 150 feet down into the rocky heart of Horseshoe Falls. A narrow passageway (lined with Niagara fun facts) connect the entry to Cataract Portal and Great Falls Portal, which let you watch water thunder down from behind. You can also step out onto the Lower and Upper Observation Decks for intimate views of Horseshoe Falls from the side and straight on.
    Side: Canadian
    Camera:
     Olympus OMD-EM5

    From Journey Behind the Falls (Canada)

    From Journey Behind the Falls (Canada)

  • From Rainbow Bridge ($0.50 CA or US)
    The bridge that connects the two sides is walkable, and from afar, it affords pretty spectacular views itself. You have to pass through low-key, walking customs and throw in 50 cents (Canadian or American) into the turnstyle (plus the cost of a visa depending on your citizenship) to cross, but as you should check out both sides anyway, this is kind of a bonus.
    Side: Both/neither
    Camera:
     Olympus OMD-EM5

    From Rainbow Bridge

    From Rainbow Bridge

  • From Goat Island (free)
    Despite both preferring and recommending accommodations on the Canadian side, Goat Island on the American side was my favorite vantage point. Exploration grants you serene scenery (away from the bustle of commerce in town) and a glimpse at the Niagara River on its way to one of the world’s most famous precipices, and it culminates in spectacular views from Terrapin Point with the falls all around you. Luna Island, which was closed off for repairs when I passed by, offers a similar experience between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
    Side: American
    Camera:
     Olympus OMD-EM5

    From Terrapin Point on Goat Island (US)

    From Terrapin Point on Goat Island (US)

  • From the Canadian side at night (free)
    Incredible as it may be by day, Niagara Falls should not be missed at night. All three falls glow with the power of artificial lighting (various colors) beneath the starry Niagara sky, and the result is a very surreal scene better experienced in person than in photo. Here’s the lighting schedule year-round.
    Side: Canadian
    Camera:
     Olympus OMD-EM5

    The illuminated falls by night from the Canadian side (Canada)

    From the Canadian side, by night (Canada)

  • From the Niagara SkyWheel ($10.99 CA or free with the Local Experience Package)
    As just one guy, I put only one of my two Niagara SkyWheel tickets to use, and I did it at night. The views of the illuminated falls from a temperature-controlled 175 feet were great (though they’re not of the falls the entire cycle)—but tough to photograph. So: No falls photo here, but still recommended.
    Side: Canadian
    Camera:
     Olympus OMD-EM5

    Niagara SkyWheel

    Niagara SkyWheel (Canada)

What to eat

  • Weinkellar — 5633 Victoria Ave; (289) 296-8000
    TripAdvisor’s #1 restaurant in Niagara Falls. I enjoyed a nice discount here through the efforts of the very generous Country Inns staff, but would have paid the full $55 for the 5-course fixed menu had that been the option. The food was really nice (the soup of the day, a corn bisque, was incredible), and part-owner/manager Chris was a warm, knowing character. They also have wine on tap and let you switch out courses for wines by the glass, which I though was cool.
  • Antica Pizzeria & Ristorante — 5785 Victoria Ave; (905) 356-3844
    No discount here, but the brick oven pizza was really nice. It wasn’t quite as quaint and local as I was led to believe (the locals were big on it), but I think that’s more a reflection of the town—and comparatively speaking, it’s not Applebee’s.
Ian Livingston

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About the Author

Ian Livingston

Traveler and writer Ian Livingston has lost his bearings in 59 countries, six continents and five NYC boroughs. He is better for it. Now living in Brooklyn, he reports on the world’s lesser-known quantities as a self-calibrating writer and by way of his roles as Editor at JohnnyJet.com and Chat Manager for the weekly #TravelSkills Twitter chat with Johnny Jet and Chris McGinnis. In his sights now: the polar regions.

2 Comments on "Niagara Falls: A Canadian-American wonder, finally checked off"

  1. Visiting Niagara Falls is included in my wish list. I traveled most in Asia only for business trip but i hope to make a check off for Niagara Falls soon for pleasure trip and not for business. Thanks for the info here very useful.

  2. Niagara Falls is one of those places I always thought I’d get to eventually but haven’t yet. You make it so tempting too. Great photos! Thanks for all the info!

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