The wanderings that Sarah and I take are generally very well planned out. I actually spend quite a bit of time researching destinations, pricing travel options, and considering the trip as a whole. Yes, I admit that I am a meticulous planner, which is why it was such a shock when I came home one Thursday evening to Sarah announcing, “we’re going to Canada!”
“Exactly when are we going to Canada?” I asked.
“This weekend!” she smiled.
Surprise! We were headed North to Niagara Falls in just 2 days - which just happened to be the 4th of July weekend.
The Drive North
According to Google Maps, the drive to Ontario from our home in Rhode Island would take 8 hours. That meant we had to get a very early start on Saturday morning. We were up at 2:30am and on the road 30 minutes later. It was early, but we were all excited for our Canadian adventure.
As you would expect, the roads were pretty quiet at this time of the morning and we made wonderful time. In the end, we cut the estimated travel time down by an hour, pulling towards the Canadian border around 10:00am.
I expected that my kids would fall back to sleep once we took off for our drive, but they were both wide awake for the entire trip. My daughter, who was only 4 years old at the time, only fell asleep as we headed over the Rainbow Bridge and crossed the border into Canada.
Amusing side note – when we told Holly that we had to cross the Rainbow Bridge, she thought it was an actual rainbow that we had to drive on. She was very worried that we would “hurt the rainbow” as we made our way across. She was relieved when we told her that no rainbows would be harmed on this adventure.
Making our way through customs, we pulled into our hotel, the Skyline Inn (also known as the Skyline Hotel & Waterpark, before lunch time. After a quick lunch, we were ready to go explore Ontario.
Day 1 - Visiting the Falls
Like most people that visit Ontario, the main focus of our visit was to see Niagara Falls. This entire area is really geared around that iconic natural attraction and our hotel was a short walk from the Falls.
Ontario is an interesting city. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was not a Burger King restaurant featuring a monstrously large Frankenstein holding a cheeseburger on top of it (yes, we saw that in Ontario). Actually, staying on that theme of monsters, we saw at least 4 “haunted” attractions as we made our way through the streets of Ontario. There was also an amusement park area with a Ferris wheel, a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, a Guiness World of Records museum, and a number of other fairly campy attractions, including the Hersey’s store that we popped into to try a few samples.
Taking this walk through the streets of Ontario reminded me a lot of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Ironically, this is where my family spent the 4th of July weekend for many years during my childhood. Ontario had the same sense of fun campiness (in a good way) that I remember from those trips of my youth and I immediately felt a sense of nostalgia, even though I had never been to Ontario before.
We eventually came to the Falls, which is a huge area that was teeming with lots of other visitors. There are actually three distinct waterfalls in this area. The largest is Horseshoe Falls, which is predominantly on the Canadian side of the border. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls sit on the American side in Buffalo, NY.
Our ultimate destination today was the Maid of the Mist tour. This 30-minute boat ride would allow us to get a little closer to the Falls, specifically to the Horseshoe Falls.
The line for this attraction was pretty long, but it moved quickly and we were donning some blue rain ponchos and boarding the boat to set off on our voyage fairly quickly. As you would expect, this is a very popular attraction and the boat was packed. So much so that it was actually hard for us to get a decent spot on the boat so our small kids would have a decent view. Still, although we were packed in pretty tightly, it was a fun experience as the boat made its way over to the Falls. The kids were particularly delighted as we passed through the mist from the falls and they began to get wet.
Day 2 - Indoor Waterpark and Fireworks
Sunday morning started with a quick breakfast and then we were over to the indoor waterpark for a morning of watersliding fun. Growing up, my father always made us get to any kind of amusement park we were visiting super early. His argument was that by getting there for the very start of the day, you would be able to ride many of the most popular rides right away. This is a theory that I still subscribe to and use with my own family, and our visit to this Canadian waterpark was no different. We were at the doors before they opened them. Amusingly, there were only 3 other people in line with us at that time!
Over the years, our kids have talked us into going to a number of indoor waterparks, and I have to say that this one was the biggest and best we’ve ever seen by a longshot. The rides were actually pretty impressive by any standard, and even more so when you consider that most indoor parks feature slides that are much smaller and tamer than you would find at outdoor locations. Not so for this park. The variety of the rides, and their intensity, were much more than I expected.
We stayed at the waterpark for a few hours and it honestly never got much busier than when we first walked in. The biggest line we found at any ride was one or two riders in front of us. I actually asked one of the attendants if this was normal for the park. I figured that since it was a Sunday morning, perhaps the park was just slower than normal. The attendant did confirm that it was slow that morning, but he also admitted that the park never gets that busy. I’m not sure if that is still the case today, but the lack of lines was pretty awesome since it allowed us essentially free reign over the slides.
We left the waterpark shortly after lunch. Since there were no lines for the slides, we ended up being able to ride pretty much nonstop for a few hours, which was more than enough for all of us.
Getting into some dry clothes, we hoped to visit another popular attraction in the area – the Journey Behind the Falls experience. This attraction allows you to walk behind an area of Horseshoe Falls. It was a decent distance to walk to the area, but it allowed us to get another look at the Falls. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the place where we could by tickets for the Journey experience, the only ones they had left were for much later in the day. This attraction only allows in a select number of people at any given time. This means that they sell timed tickets that allow for specific entrance periods. The next available entrance times were hours away, so we decided to skip the attraction and just enjoy the surrounding area instead. Note - if you want to experience this attraction, you need to get to the ticket office early to get a good slot for the day, otherwise you may miss out like we did.
Heading away from the Falls, we enjoyed some ice cream and spent a little time in a nearby park just running around and enjoying the beautiful area and the wonderful day.
After dinner that night, we headed back toward the Falls for a fireworks display. This was not being done because of the 4th of July, but rather as a regularly scheduled event. The area launches fireworks every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. It was simply good luck that this Sunday fell on the 3rd of July, which allowed us to be in Canada for the weekend while still getting a taste of the fireworks that would be on display throughout our own country for its most patriotic of holidays.
On the way to the fireworks, we came upon a musician that was playing a saxophone in front of a local restaurant. Stopping to watch him for a moment, my daughter became completely engrossed in his performance – so much so that when he noticed her in front of him, he began to play just for her. Holly was unaware of the fact that a large group of people began to gather behind her, watching in delight as this man looked at her and played his heart out for a 4-year old. This went on for close to 5 minutes before Holly realized what was happening and she ran into her mother’s arms. The crowd erupted into applause for the saxophonist and the cute girl who had been his rapt audience.
It’s funny, as amazing as the Falls are, it is this scene that I remember most fondly from this trip. These kinds of unexpected experiences are what make our wanderings so much fun. As much of a planner as I am, there are always these magical little interactions and happenings that take place along the way. To me, these experience are what truly make a trip a unique experience to remember.
The fireworks display went off once it was dark, literally ending our surprise weekend in Canada with a bang and capping off a wonderful spur of the moment adventure that the entire family enjoyed.
Thinking of heading to see Niagra Falls? You definitely want to check out the Canadian side an Ontario. While there are plenty of places to stay, if you have kids, the Skyline Hotel & Waterpark really is a great choice.
There are tons of restaurants and lots of attractions right in the area surrounding the Falls, so as long as you stay in that area, you can get around by walking and do not need to worry about finding a place to park. Just leave the car at the hotel and head out on foot.
If you want to avoid some of the long lines for popular attractions like Maid of the Mist, you can get those tickets online. You will still have to wait in the queue for the attraction, but you can at least bypass the on-site ticket line.
For the Journey Behind the Falls tour, you do need to secure a time slot at the ticket window for that attraction and they do have limited spots available each day. You can purchase a package that includes this tour, but I believe you do still need to secure a specific slot at the window with that pass - so once again, arrive at this attraction early to make sure you do not miss out.