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July 30, 2009


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My folks lived 20 min from Niagara Falls (in Canada). I loved what you had to say about the boarder crossing experience. Those folks are no nonsense.
Glad you liked Canada (I'm a Canadian).
Most people go to Niagara Falls to see the falls, but end up spending their life savings on all the other stuff. Just remember there is a ton of free stuff (as you pointed out).

We went to Niagara Falls last August after a stop to visit family in Rochester. We felt the same thing about the expensive touristy stuff, but we spent a lot of money on food and some attractions that were unique, and didn't regret it. It was definitely a neat thing to see at least once in your life, but I don't know that we'll go back either.
Money was a little more difficult for us because all of our credit cards charge pretty high conversion fees. I need to look at getting a decent one if we do more out-of-country traveling in the future.

No matter where you travel, always talk to the locals about things to see and do in the area. They can tell you the tourist traps to avoid and clue you into some obscure gems that never seem to get much notice.

We went to Niagara Falls over 10 years ago and I can't wait to get back. I never understood the appeal of a giant waterfall until I saw it in person and was blown away!!

I went to Niagara a few years ago but didn't do the Maid of the Mist. I need to go back and do that. I went to Quebec City this summer. Beautiful, very European. I stayed right outside the old city. I saw an exhibit of Cirque du Soleil costumes and ate crepes and fondue. The weather was terrible but that's been true where I live, too (Boston). I still had a great time.

I went to Niagara Falls last year with my wife in March/April. The Maid of the Mist was closed due to ice in the river, but otherwise, we had a great time with fewer tourists at that time of the year. In addition to the falls and the standard tourist junk you mentioned (which we avoided), we really enjoyed the butterfly conservatory, the bird aviary, and the little town of Niagara on the Lake.

Went to Niagara Falls last September for my bachelor party. Niagara Falls is definitely a decent bachelor party destination for east coasters, it's what I'd call Canadian Vegas. I remember the boarder crossing into Canada being far quicker and far less intense than the crossing back into the US. They really don't seem to care who comes in. Seeing the signs for the cost of "boarder crossing on foot" one of my buddies jokingly said he was going to get out of the car and walk across the bridge to "immigrate by foot."

The big trap we got hit with was the CAD$6.99 breakfast buffet place. Seems like good deal right? Well what they don't tell you is that beverages are $4 each and they only have bottled water which is also $4... your buffet is actually $10.99. Sneaky Canadians eh?

You missed the wonderful Butterfly Conservatory just about 30 min away in NY. Well worth it, beautiful grounds and the kids loved it too!

Brian --

We considered it, but we belong to a local botanical gardens that has a great, annual "Butterflies are Blooming" exhibit in their tropical section. We've been for five years in a row and can only take so much of butterflies all over the place. :-)

I don't know when the border crossings tightened up, but it wasn't 9/11/01. In late July 2002, we got a cursory look and had to show documents to enter Canada, but coming back into the US, we weren't even asked for ID.

This summer, we spent four days in the Cumberland Gap area (and a few additional days in central Kentucky), at the intersection of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Four days was about the right amount of time for this area, allowing us a good mix of hiking, tours of historic areas, and relaxing.

I have to echo Lurker Carl's suggestion to ask locals what to see and do. We always build extra time into our travels for things we don't hear about until we get wherever we're going. This is one big benefit of staying at a Bed & Breakfast rather than a hotel/motel: conversation with other visitors about what they did and are planning to do, and with the owner/host. Not only can you learn about things to do, you can find out about bad experiences people have had and what to avoid.

We didn't take any vacations this summer (other than 4-5 trips to our cabin outside Traverse City, MI) but we're going to Napa Valley in the early Fall for a week. We've rented a condo for the entire time and hope to visit a bunch of wineries and stock up on our wine collections. We also were able to get reservations for The French Laundry which has us quite excited. It's not going to be the most frugal of trips but it's been a long summer and will be worth every penny.

Cmadler --

Recently the rules changed and you need passports (or a special card) to go into Canada (and come back) from the US. Maybe this is when things tightened up?

MonkeyMonk --

Cabin? Traverse City? I need to get to know you. :-)

I was there a few years ago, and unfortunately we only spent an evening there, then headed back to Toronto (we were visiting my cousins). Wow - you think our highways are good? I'd hate to see US highways hahaha.

I liked the wax museums and touristy stuff. We didn't go on the Maid of the Mist - wish we had, but we were only there for a few hours so it wasn't really possible. The Falls at night were really nice all lit up. I really enjoyed it. I think it would be fun to spend a few days there and check out the restaurant & night life.

Agree it's a good trip to do once, pretty fun weekend but nothing more than that. More of a tourist trap now than anything being there are casinos and clubs and weird shops there catering to it all.

There's also the casinos. I agree you only need to see Niagara Falls once, but there's a town a half hour or so away called Niagara On The Lake which is worth visiting too if you find yourself up that way again. It's also something of a tourist trap, but in different ways and attracting a different crowd - they have a GB Shaw theatre festival every year, lots of vineyards you can tour, some olde worlde style hotels and a very pretty main street with lots of high quality stores. Some good (expensive) restaurants in NOTL too - the godawful chain places in N.Falls are terrible.

Oh also, I have a deathly fear of butterflies - I knew someone was going to bring them up and give me the shivers. Eek!

Every spring break I would go with my buddies family to stay at Niagara Falls. Although the falls are incredibly beautiful, the place is a total tourist trap.

Michigan roads are horrendous! I wonder if they are that bad in other states... I haven't traveled out of state in awhile.

Border guards between Canada & the U.S. are very intimidating. They make you feel like a criminal just for passing through... sad in my estimation.

Glad you had fun!

I visited the American side 2 summers back. We ended up getting a "discovery pass" - basically, you buy a ticket that gives you full access to five of the things to do on the American side: Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, the discovery center, the aquarium, and some movie thing (we didn't do that).

My family liked the boat ride and the cave of the winds. The aquarium is debatable - it's not spectacular.

FMF - what a week, first Niagara Falls then the WSJ... what's next!? Glad you had fun.

Slightly off topic but regarding getting the best exchange rate: If you travel abroad a lot, it pays to figure this out.

Hotels and banks are probably the worst.

Most credit card companies charge a 3% foreign transaction fee. And also have a minimum - I got a surprise recently when a 50c bottle of water in a foreign airport cost me a $1.50 foreign transaction fee.

Some credit unions do better - only 1%. I have a Capital One card which does not charge any fee at all. I have verified that there really is no fee for foreign transactions, i.e., it is not built into the exchange rate.

Another alternative is certain ATM/debit cards. E-Trade allows no-fee withdrawals. Possibly not on all accounts.

Did Niagara with the wife last summer- the border crossing into Buffalo isn't too bad.

We didn't do maid of the mist but we did behind the falls and saw the 3D show. Both were fun. My wife really loved seeing the falls from the Canadian side- just ambling along the patch along the river. The cloud the falls produces is pretty impressive, and I'd recommend hanging out near the bottom of the falls - it is one of the points from Behind the falls as it goes from dry to soaking wet in just a few seconds. My wife is from Thailand and the Thai's love their waterfalls. I can say without doubt, that Niagara blew her away as it pales anything Thailand has to offer!


I've done the border crossing several times and I can say this: the Canadians may mean business but its still nicer than coming back into the US. I'd say avoid the detroit/windsor crossing if you can. the last time I came back from Canada to Michigan we crossed over at Sarnia which was a much nicer experience but no matter what I'm paranoid now. One time we came back (after 9/11) via Windsor and we had some fruit in the car. They literally freaked out and I had 4 guys screaming at my all pointing in different directions as to where I needed to pull off. All this over some cantaloupe. Now when I have to cross over I get freaked out.

Jason --

We came over at Sarnia too.

Funny you mention fruit. As we were pulling up we see the sign saying we need to declare any fruit we have. I ask my family if we have any (I didn't think we did, but I asked any way.) Turns out we did -- an apple from the hotel that my daughter was currently eating. I told her to chow it down quickly, which she did while we waited our turn with the guard, so we didn't have anything to declare. I didn't want the potential hassle associated with bringing one apple from Canada to the US.

Yeah that one apple probably would have caused a minor international situation ;)

It's funny, a couple of months after this post my wife and I visited Niagara Falls - staying on the Canadian side at the same hotel as you! My wife thought the hotel smelled funny though.. like old smoke or something..

Like you we enjoyed the maid of the mist the most, and most of the rest of the stuff in the area you can get by without doing. All touristy garbage for the most part. See the falls, take the boat ride, but the rest of the stuff you can get by without doing.

We also visited the cute little town nearby - Niagara on the Lake - which was fun - and free!

Peter --

I think there was a funny smell too. Maybe from the fact that the pool was in the lobby area?

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