By James Kilbert
Welcome Giant Pumpkin Growers! The sum of my life could probably be earmarked by my trips to Niagara Falls,( and boy, it sure has changed!) Just as gazing at my first 1000# + pumpkin was awesome, I guess I could best describe one’s first view of the Falls as “mesmerizing”! Herewith, is my unofficial compilation and guide to some of the best and worst experiences of the area. Many thanks to all those who submitted their experiences of the Falls, especially to Drew Papez for all the help and information he has provided. Thanks, Drew! Here’s hoping you all have a memorable and pleasant experience!
About the Falls
As far as we can tell, the Falls are over 12,000 years old! During the past 12,300 years, the Falls have eroded 7 miles upstream, to their current site. During the Woodland period, 3,000 years ago, the area was occupied by the Iroquois Indians. They subsided on corn, beans, and SQUASH! (I knew I could make the connection somewhere!) As little as 600-800 years ago, rather than American and Horseshoe Falls, there was only 1 Fall. Up until the 1950’s when the Falls spilled unbridled, the Falls were eroding at a rate of about 3’ per year. This erosion has been reduced with the harnessing of the Falls. Probably won’t be in your or my lifetime, but the Falls are destined to once again become 1 Fall.
The current day Falls area is ever expanding and growing. One can only imagine how the Falls must have appeared without Hotels,Skylons, and Casinos.
You may notice a rusted boat or “scow” above the Canadian Falls. In 1918, this scow broke loose from it’s tugboat with 2 crewmembers on board. The men had enough sense to open the bottom of the scow to prevent it from going over the Falls. 29 hours later, the 2 men were rescued. I have thoroughly enjoyed riding “The Maid of the Mist” on past trips, unfortunately for us conference goers, the ride does not open until Memorial Day. The Falls WILL be lit up evenings from 7-10 p.m.
What to Bring
A coat and some warm clothes! It’s still Winter up here, several times I’ve had to purchase hats, scarves, and sweatshirts, when it was “a little colder than we’d expected!” May want to break out those orange long johns!
If your driving to the Falls from down south, (we use 90N), I have found that you can save a lot of time by crossing into Canada at Fort Erie, and taking the QEW to the Falls. On the downside, you will have missed the observation area in the States. Several times, I have had to wait to cross the Rainbow bridge, but I’ve never had to wait at Fort Erie. Also, if you tell the guard your going to the Casino, they usually let you right through! I made the mistake of mentioning “Giant Pumpkins” last year, and had to provide photos,documents, and growing tips! NOTE: Speed limits in Canada are km/hr.( 50 km =30 m.p.h.. and 80 km.=50 m.p.h.)
This is a metric nation. You can’t buy a quart of anything! (try litres). Currency can be quite confusing. They still have dollars, they’re just worth only 74 cents of U.S. cash. It seems like every place you go, they offer different exchange rates. The hotels don’t seem to like exchanging large amounts, the casinos give pretty good rates, but they’re hoping you stop and play on the way out! It still throws me off when I buy something for $16 CD. with a U.S. $20, and you get a $10 bill (CD.) back! One dollar coins are called "loonies", and two dollar coins "toonies!" Could you please give me change for an 845 Bobby?
In Canada, you will find that you’re paying a GST and HST tax. If you’re a visitor spending over $200 (CD) in lodging, or more than $50 in clothing or goods, you may be eligible for a rebate! (Meals don’t apply, not sure about pumpkin seeds.) Save your receipts,and keep copies. More info and a downloadable form can be obtained at: www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca/tax/nonresidents/visitors/tax_e.html.
Don't Go Overboard!
There are many amazing stories of the daredevils who have been enticed by the Falls. Last October 20, Kirk Jones went over the Falls in what he says was an attempted suicide. With no life preserver, he survived with only scrapes and bruises. He was lucky, his fine was only $4400.00!
The Falls on a Budget
If your driving here, consider packing a little picnic basket. Weather permitting, there are some nice scenic tables located down River Road (The Niagara Parkway), just downstream from the Falls. Bring a sheet of plastic to sit on in case it’s wet!
Parking at the Falls, and near attractions can be quite expensive.($12 at Table Rock!) If you park in the residential area behind all the attractions,(for free), and walk , you’ll save enough money for a seed raffle or two! There are also many hiking/biking trails in the area.
Look around! There are free coupon books just about anywhere you go.
Most of us will be staying at the AmeriCana, not bad, but quite a distance from the Falls. They are currently constructing an on-site water park, unfortunately it won’t be open until June.There will be a dinner comedy show here for $37.95 per person on Saturday night. One of my favorite places to stay is the Sheraton Fallsview (there’s more than one Sheraton here.) For $135 (U.S. before tax), you can get a luxury executive suite with Jacuzzi, electric fireplace, refrig., 2 T.V.’s and a breathtaking floor to ceiling view of the Falls. This is one of the closest hotels to the Horseshoe Falls. There are also lots of “cheaper” places to stay. A travel guide for Ontario from AAA will describe many of them for you. There are also many bed and breakfasts below the Falls. Can’t really tell you which ones are best! At post time, I find that the AmeriCana appears to be booked solid!
Many, like the Maid of the Mist ,and whirlpool jet boat rides are closed until Memorial Day. A walk through Clifton Hill can be entertaining, in this area you’ll find Casino Niagara, Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Café, Wax museum, Ripley’s, and all the other cheesy tourist traps you’d expect. I personally think that watching other people pay to see the “oddities” is more enjoyable than the actual venue!
You can fly over the Falls in A Rainbow Helicopter ( in NY) for $51.50 for a 12 minute flight, other companies charge a lot more!
You can also ride an antique Spanish Aero Cable Car over the whirlpool for $6.
My favorite attraction: The Butterfly Conservatory
This is a treat for all ages. Stroll through a lush tropical forest , home to hundreds (if not thousands) of butterflies. Don’t be surprised if a few land on you and hitch a ride. Admission $8.50 (CD) adult. This attraction has been closed for renovation, but should be open in time for us at the end of March.
Casino Niagara –located near the Rainbow bridge. First in the area. I never had any luck with the slots here, one time my wife was hitting jackpots quite regularly, and the management chased her off of the machine until they "recalibrated" it. ( They "adjusted" it so that it wouldn’t hit.) I won’t be back!
Seneca Casino Niagara-310 Fourth St. located across the Rainbow bridge in Niagara Falls, N.Y. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this one. Casino Niagara has noticed a 10% drop in visitors and profits since they opened in 2002.
Fallsview Casino- Located up the hill from the Horseshoe Falls. Still under construction, unfortunately this 800 million hangout isn’t scheduled to be open until April 2004. NOTE: Murray Street (between the Minolta and Skylon towers will most likely be closed due to construction.
Bingo—Americans flock to Fort Erie for the best bingo
Drew’s Tip: Save your money and stay out of the Casinos!
This list has been compiled by those who have actually eaten and had an experience there. No guarantee you’ll be 100% pleased, but this should help to narrow the choices down a bit!
- Cowpie (from BigP) enjoyed breakfast at the UFO restaurant last year. You won’t miss seeing it on Lundy’s Lane!
- The Sundstroms had “waffles to die for” at the Lido just down the road a bit from the AmeriCana. They also report other great breakfast specials at a reasonable price!
- JMattW highly recommends the Anchor Bar at 1047 Main St. in nearby Buffalo. Home of the original buffalo wing ( a historic site?) since the early ‘60’s. Why don’t these guys open up an “outlet” at the Falls?
- If you can’t get you wings “hot enough” The Borer recommends Duff’s in nearby Amherst, N.Y. 3651 Sheridan Dr. 716-834-6234
Dinner and a show!
“Oh Canada, Eh!” is a small dinner club within walking distance from the AmeriCana. Show is O.K., food is good, family style and you can get seconds if your waiter isn’t too busy performing on stage! Reservations are required, book in advance. Cost about $54 per person. More details at www.ohcanadaeh.ca/
Drew says stay away from dining at Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock. Food is overpriced and not that good. Although Rocky Rockwell reports that he enjoyed the Fajitas, I find that these places are enjoyed most buy “just passin’ through” and looking around. All right, I’m cheap!
Drew said he had the best steak ever near the Casino Niagara at The RainForest Café for $24 (CD). He advises to avoid everything else on the menu. ($15 for a hamburger!)
The Club 21 (in the Casino) voted as "Best Restaurant" 5 years running . Three of the World’s best chefs,(expect to drop a bundle!)
There is also a very good buffet at the market in the Casino- All you can eat for $18.
Drew also recommends "On The Twenty" (voted among Ontario’s top 10!) Reservations needed and a 30 minute drive from the Falls.
I heard several poor reports about Denny’s restaurant. I’ve also had some pretty bad "fast food" in the area. Avoid them like Beachy seeds! LOL!
- Cougars (St. Catherines)- for the over 30 crowd
- Penn Center (St, Catherines)-15 minutes away
- Outlet Mall-Niagara Falls, N.Y.
- Blvd. Mall (Amherst, N.Y.) - 20 minutes away
BEER (totally organic!)
Beer can be purchased by the case at the beer store on Lundy’s Lane. I like Labatt's!
This is wine country! JMattW lists some of the best:
- Reif Estates (Niagara-on-the-Lake) 20 min. north
- Vineland Estate-good food but pricey-45 min. drive southwest
- Daniel Lesko Estate-a “must” for the connoisseur
- EastDell Estate-wonderful lunch menu
- Cave Spring Cellars-excellent but pricey food
- Angel’s Gate Winery
- Hernder Estates
HEY! This is a FAMILY site!
I have attempted to make your stay at the Falls a pleasant one. Many thanks to all that contributed. I would now like to announce that Drew Papez has volunteered as your personal guide to drive you to your destination(s) in his 9 passenger van. If you’d like to go somewhere please see me or Drew at the AmeriCana. Enjoy the 2004 Giant Pumpkin Conference!