Growing up, the few family vacations we took were not centered around amusement parks, luxury resorts, or current cultural trends. They were centered around iconic natural and historical landmarks: the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore, Gettysburg, and Washington D.C. We did not travel to relax; we traveled to explore. This is still how I like to travel. I have no desire to lounge around poolside or on a sandy beach. I want to see new places and be active within those environments. We kicked off our first summer trip with this spirit, taking in the iconic Niagara Falls. I was only there once twenty-five years ago and that trip is only a hazy memory.
My husband was reluctant to travel there, worrying about the tourist trappings that formed around the natural wonder. It was not a concern without merit. The surrounding area boasts of many “must-see” attractions that are low-rate productions, and it is hard to find a reasonably priced meal among the cost-inflated chain restaurants. Thanks to a Groupon deal we ended up staying at a tourist city staple, the Waterpark hotel. While it did detract a bit from the larger purpose of the trip, it’s hard to deny the value of active water play. I had a larger problem with the arcades, which my children think are a vacation requirement and I think are gaudy money pits. Still, we were never bored and entertained ourselves into a zombie-like state of fatigue every day.
Even with all the money grabs and tourist traps, the integrity and wonder of Niagara Falls shined through. Thanks to the fact that my son and I are early birds by design, we were able to sneak into the Niagara Falls parking lot before the gates came down and had a perfect, unobstructed view of both the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls without any parking fees. The children were properly awed, and we enjoyed breaking out a selfie stick for the first time. However, after taking in the sheer scope of the falls, it took a lot of convincing to get them on one of the boats they saw braving the waters. When we went to the American side to take in the New York state park, we bought an attraction pass to climb along side the waterfalls, take a voyage on the Maid of the Mist, watch a movie on the legends of Niagara Falls, and visit the aquarium. My favorite part was getting close to the waterfalls and really experiencing their power. I did not remember getting that wet when I took the boat ride many years ago, but both the Cave of the Mists and the Maid of the Mist soaked me pretty well. The only real disappointment was the aquarium, which is quite small and centered on one attraction, sea lions.
Overall, it was a great trip. The children enjoyed entering another country and were fascinated by how many different languages they heard spoken by the tourists. It wasn’t the Disney Cruise my son wanted, but I think it was a much more valuable world experience. I would definitely go again.