After the success of our Washington D.C trip excitement was high for our 2 day trip to Niagara Falls. We had packed up all of our luggage the night before and were just taking backpacks for the 1 night/2 day trip. We left our luggage at our hotel and headed to Chinatown for the first time to catch our tour. The company we had booked through was a Chinese company and although I was aware that none of the attractions were included as they had been on the D.C tour I was not expecting what happened next.
We all boarded the bus and then did a few other pick-ups in New Jersey before driving out into New York State. We had our first toilet stop at a service station an when we got back on the bus our guide explained that we now each had to pay $109 for the attractions that we would be stopping at. At no point did she explain what to expect from the attractions or any alternatives, or even give us individual prices. She also explained that $16 was a service fee charge for the driver and her guiding services which the booking had not mentioned anything about. I was pretty annoyed but there didn’t seem to be a better alternative at this stage so we paid the money and settled in for the rest of the journey hoping the rest of the tour would go more smoothly.
We did a stop off at another service station where we had some of the Famous Famiglia Pizza for lunch. The great thing about the US is that you can order pizza by the slice and so try lots of varieties. We had a pepperoni, mushroom and plain cheese. They were surprisingly good for a service station and with full stomachs we got back on the bus to our next stop – The Secret Caverns.
I was quite looking forward to this stop and as we approached our guide – Vicky- explained that the cavern had been found because a local farmer had lost 2 of his cows and went out to search for them. He came across a deep hole around 100ft deep and so discovered the caverns. The thing about being on a large tour meant that our one guide who lead us down the cavern was at the front of 55 people and as we were further back we heard nothing of what he said. The cavern was quite cool, it had water dripping down through the porous rocks at some points and a lot of ducking and diving was required to get round each of the rock formations that jutted out into the pathway. Right at the bottom there was a famous waterfall which the farmer had found and the guide had told us how amazing it was. I was a little underwhelmed when I saw the small flow of water – especially since this was a tour to one of the great waterfalls of the world! We climbed back up and enjoyed a few minutes in the beautiful sunshine before boarding the bus. In hindsight we would probably rather have just enjoyed the scenery of the area and maybe did a short walk rather than exploring the cavern – but it was fun to see all the same.
After the cavern it was a long 4 hours more driving before we arrived into Niagara Falls town on the American side of the border. We both enjoyed the chance to rest and read but were glad to get off the bus and get some dinner. We decided on Indian and had a really tasty chicken curry, rice and naan from one of the food vendors at the welcome centre. After having a look around the gift shop we made our way to the Native American show upstairs. The show consisted of some of the traditional dances of the Native Americans who live around Niagara and the voiceover explained the significance of each dance. It was interesting to see and allowed us to learn a little bit more about the falls – our guide Vicky was not great at explaining about the areas we were visiting and it was clear she felt a lot more comfortable explaining in Mandarin than in English. One of the dances showed how the Princess of the local people Luella felt so sad after a snake poisoned her people that she decided to ride over the falls and was rescued by the thunder god. Local people say that her spirit is now represented by the permanent rainbow over the falls. Niagara was actually named by the local people and means ‘thunder of water’ which is why they believe the thunder god to reside here.
After the show we made our way into America’s oldest National Park to see the view of the falls at night. I can see why people say it is better to view the falls from the Canada side as from the American side you get more of a side view and the Horseshoe Falls section is tucked around a corner. It was still great to see and hear the thundering power of the water though and the light show of different coloured lights reflected against the water was very pretty. The skyline of Niagara Falls City in Canada is also nice lit up.
We were staying in Byblos Niagara Resort and Spa which is a gorgeous hotel on Grand Island – the largest island in the Niagara river and 3rd largest in New York State – which was a about a 20 minute drive from the falls. The hotel was so nice and although we didn’t have much time we made the most of the luxury on offer while we could.
It was an early start as our wake-up call rang out at 5.50a.m. We opened the curtains to a beautiful sunrise view over a gorgeous lake and our tiredness immediately dissipated. We had some Starbucks breakfast we had bought the previous day before joining the bus for the day ahead.
The morning consisted of a ‘scenic tour’ of the downriver area. We had not however, been informed what this consisted of. The first stop was at Whirlpool State Park which was a sort of woodland walk for about 5-10 minutes around the edge of a high gorge. A river ran through the gorge and the ‘highlight’ consisted of a sort of rapid which was what they called a whirlpool. This might have been Grade 3 if you were lucky and we were a little underwhelmed. However, the morning walk was lovely and although the whirlpool wasn’t very special the walk itself was a nice start to the day
The next stop was Niagara Fort. As we arrived we entered in through a museum and learned about the significance of the Fort due to its location on the Niagara River which led up to the great lakes. This was first colonised by the French and then the English and finally became American during the revolution before the fort fell into disuse due to the expansion of the road network. After the museum we entered the old fort which had been restored back to its former glory and set up as it would have been while being occupied by soldiers. A dressed up soldier explained to us how to use a gun and then we had the opportunity to explore the buildings that made up the fort. The living quarters of the officers compared with the soldiers were hugely different with the officers having 3 fully furnished rooms each and the soldiers being expected to share a long bed that stretched across the entire room between 10 to 12 individuals. There was also a gorgeous view across Lake Ontario one of the great lakes to Toronto.
After our morning ‘scenic tour’ which although interesting wasn’t particularly scenic we made our way back to Niagara Falls to watch an Imax movie about the falls. It explained how the falls were discovered, the story of Princess Luella who went over the falls in her canoe but also more recent stories. Such as a lady who was a widow and so to raise funds decided to do over the falls in a barrel wrapped in a mattress. She did a trial run with a cat who survived and then did it herself, again with the cat for some reason and managed to survive the fall. However, her agent swindled her so she still died in poverty, even after her crazy escapades. There was also a boy who fell out of a boat up-river and was swept over wearing just a life-jacket. Remarkably he also survived and holds the Guinness World Record for being the only person to survive going over unprotected.
After the film it was time to view the falls again in the daylight. As it was still winter the Maid of the Mist boat tour up to the horseshoe falls was not yet running due to ice however, they had opened their viewing deck to that we could walk right out over the river to get some great views of the 2 falls on the American side as well as the Horseshoe Falls in the distance. The view was great and although some may say it is better to view Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, I was really happy with the view we got even though it was from a distance.
In no time at all it was time to make the colossal journey back to New York City. We stopped after a few hours at the Corning Museum of Glass for a lovely healthy chicken wrap and soup lunch. Entrance to the museum was included in our attraction fee we had paid the previous day and after lunch we watched live hot glass shoe where they demonstrated live how they mould hot glass into different shapes. It was amazing to see how using all of the different techniques the guy managed to make a beautiful orange vase! We spent way too long in the gift shop and so had to rush around the exhibits. The museum was not something I was particularly excited about but it was actually fantastic. Some of the shapes and statues they had managed to make out of glass were unbelievable.
After a brief toilet stop in Pennsylvania we arrived back in Chinatown and decided while there to have some Chinese food. Another recommendation from Corey was Great NY Noodletown where we ordered soy bbq chicken and rice, roast pork congee and roast duck lo mein. Neither of us were big fans of the duck, it was on the bone and really fatty and the noodles tasted like Maggi. However, the bbq chicken which they had roasting in the window was amazing and the congee super tasty. There was just so much food we had to get some of it packed to take home with us!
We had been told about a great ice-cream shop in Chinatown right around the corner from where we were eating and so we decided to check it out on the way back to the subway. I had lychee and mango and my mum had strawberry. They were very yummy although there was no inside seating and so we had to walk with all of our bags and eat the ice-cream on the way to the station. The sight of our hotel filled us with happiness, these tours really take it out of you. We would be sleeping in for sure tomorrow!!!