In preparation for my 25th wedding anniversary trip to Niagara Falls, New York, I did what any proper superhero geek would do.
I re-watched Superman II.
And I thought, sure, I could definitely love a tacky, sexed-up hotel room near one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world.
What I got was way better than that.
In just three days, we visited the absolutely gorgeous Niagara Falls State Park, rode right under the mist of the Falls, had lunch at the Red Coach Inn, which dates back to the times when portage was a main industry, learned about Tesla and how he revolutionized hydro-electric power, visited the historic and beautiful Lewiston, New York, toured several local wineries along the Niagara Falls Wine Trail, and watched the fireworks over the Falls from our hotel room at the Giacomo Hotel, a newly renovated 1929 Art Deco hotel and residence.
To set up the trip, I approached the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation and asked if they might be interested in providing access to a Wired.com writer. They helped me make most of the arrangements and they didn’t steer us wrong once.
Superman II showcases an entirely erroneous impression of Niagara Falls.
Even a factually incorrect one, surprisingly. If you have ever been to the Falls, it’s immediately clear that Clark and Lois are on the Canadian side of the Falls. It’s obvious why the filmmakers choose to showcase the Canadian side as it’s more spectacular. The American side has the remains of a large rock slide at the base of the waterfall, as you can see from my photo at the beginning of this post.
There is no hotel filled with all sorts of tacky romantic trappings. Maybe on the Canadian side, which reminded me of Atlantic City’s skyline. The Giacomo Hotel, where we stayed, features rooms with large bathrooms, a comfortable couch, great beds, and the view of the Falls that I mentioned earlier. It’s the tallest building overlooking the Falls on the American side, though it’s obviously dwarfed by the Seneca Niagara Casino several blocks away.
There are also more family-oriented hotels on top of Niagara Falls State Park, including a Quality Inn and a Comfort Inn. Wherever you stay, the best part of the visit is free: the state park, which offered what was, in my experience, unprecedented access to something like the Falls.
Remember the scene in Superman II where the little kid is on the other side of the railing, playing at letting go with one hand as his parents ignore him? He falls and Superman has to catch him.
This can still happen.
It’s incredibly easy to end up in the water either above or below the Falls. There are no wire mesh barriers in the park, designated in 1885, and designed by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. If you walk over the bridge over to Goat Island — which is in the middle of the American Falls and the Canadian Falls — there is a dirt trail down to to the water just above the Falls.
We encountered people walking their dogs close to the water. The dogs wanted to go in and one obviously had been in already but he was small and easily pulled back. The owners of the larger dog had him in a harness to control him from going in. Apparently some dogs aren’t wary of strong currents.
This is a bit disconcerting but a blast. However, I would advise those with rebellious or non-obedient children to be aware and keep a close eye on their kids while walking in the state park.
It took us two hours to walk around from the Discovery Center at the entrance of the park to Goat Island and back and we didn’t even walk the entire park. We did, however, take the Maid of the Mist boat ride right under the Falls that leaves from the park. It’s like a roller coaster ride only, you know, real. The boat almost disappears into the mist, and you will get very, very wet, despite those blue ponchos they give out. It’s well worth it to feel the power of nature.
The Maid of the Mist ride is one of five experiences that cost in the park. The others are the elevator to the Cave of the Winds which lands at the base of the Falls (another place where you’ll get very wet), a trolley service that will help those with less stamina get around the park, the Aquarium of Niagara, and, in the Discovery Center, the Niagara: Legends of Adventure movie. A $33 Discovery pass covers all of them.
We had lunch at outside patio of the Red Coach Inn with Chris Stoianoff, who runs the local website Niagarahub.com. Chris filled us in on the history of the town and the Falls. I had the impression that the Falls were always a tourist destination and that’s true. There are even remnants of an arcade and a Wax Museum which reminded me of one I visited on childhood trips to Lake George, New York.
What I didn’t expect to discover is that Niagara Falls is also an old mill town. Because of the early abundance of electricity, factories quickly sprung up at the beginning of the 20th century. With the manufacturing industry moving more to overseas toward the end of that century, many of the factories closed and the town hasn’t quite recovered economically, although the casino is viewed as a help. And there are a steady stream of Indian (not Native American) visitors who consider the Falls sacred, which explains the abundance of Indian restaurants around the state park.
And because this is an area famous for pizza and wings — Niagara Falls is only about twenty minutes from Buffalo — great meals can also be found for those who love pizza. Chris recommended Mister B’s on Hyde Park Boulevard. They deliver to the local hotels for a fee or $1. Sadly, we didn’t have a chance to try the pizza while we were there. We were still stuffed from our dinner in Lewiston.
But more on that in the next post, about the wine trail, how one can use leftover beta testing CDs in making wine, and about a terrific farm to table meal.