I mentioned that J had a big gymnastics meet recently, but I don’t think that I mentioned that it was all the way near Buffalo. That’s a massive schlep, plus I wasn’t sure how the meet would go, so I decided that we should try to work a mini-vacation in. Before Sunday’s meet, J and I spent Saturday in Niagara Falls. Cute W and M stayed home so that M could go to her friend’s bat mitzvah.
I had somehow never visited Niagara Falls. The closest I came was on a visit to my aunt & uncle’s house. They planned an outing there, but since I was massively phobic about rain and it was a drizzly day, I believe I stayed home. Either that or I blocked it out entirely due to being traumatized by excessive mist. Have I mentioned that I had. . . issues as a child? Many of them have resolved themselves.
Now I know that many will say that the Canadian side is better, but Cute W, who represents cities and villages across New York State, made an impassioned defense of the American side, which is a beautiful free state park, even if they strongly encourage you to buy a $38 Discovery Pass to their many special attractions. He was practically chanting U-S-A as I considered my options, but I was happy to stay on the American side. With my tragic sense of direction and my keen awareness of how cars can kill people, I’d be working hard to act breezy and stress-free without having to worry about reading and speaking Canadian. Yes, I’m kidding. But anyway.
After a little research (including a review of KidsOutAndAbout), I decided to spurn the Discovery Pass but planned to do the Maid of the Mist boat ride and the Cave of the Winds attraction.
I had planned our trip so that we’d arrive in the area in time for lunch and spend the afternoon at the falls. After consulting Yelp, I offered J a choice of well-reviewed places of some of her favorite kinds of food, and she chose Indian, so we headed to Spices of India. This was basically a grocery store with a casual eating area and buffet. We loved the buffet, and we had fun wandering around the grocery store finding many, many items we’d never heard of before. We were tempted to buy them, but knowing that everything would be sitting in a hot car for the rest of the day helped us confine ourselves to a jar of mint chutney. Then when we arrived at Niagara Falls State Park I felt pretty silly, because the place is pretty much surrounded by Indian food–yes, you can pick up a hot dog, but you can also grab a samosa and curry just as easily. Who knew?
The place was also crazy-busy when we arrived, so the park’s parking lot was full, and I headed for a city garage a couple of blocks away. Since I had no idea where I was going, I was tremendously pleased to ditch the car, but J really hated the parking garage. The stairwell we descended to get to street level smelled strongly of sweaty hands on metal (think, playing on old-school monkey bars and then smelling your palms in August, but then imagine you’re a 14-year-old boy and make it six times stronger). In fact, when we walked back at the end of the day, J actually started gagging and convinced me to walk up the car ramps. So, you know: there’s that.
But the falls were lovely! J was impressed.
There was quite a sea of humanity, but they’re clearly experienced at taking care of bulk piles of tourists, because it was easy to find our first activity, the Maid of the Mist. As we approached the boat, J loved looking down at everyone getting ready to go on the boat with their blue ponchos.
There’s nothing like putting on a poncho to whip up a ton of excitement. Once we were on the boat, J was jumping up and down trying to see beyond taller passengers, but of course she’s way too old and mature to allow me to lift her myself. She managed to survive the embarrassment of me asking some guys to let her stand in front of them at the rail.
Our favorite part of the boat ride was afterwards, when you can climb up alongside the falls (if you click on the photo above you can see a snaking trail of blue-poncho-wearing tourists). We got very, very wet.
J, in her thin white shirt, was not super-psyched. I thought that the ponchos would be sufficient, but we ended up lingering on the observation tower to air dry for a while.
Next we headed across the pedestrian bridge to Goat Island on our way to the Cave of the Winds attraction. If I were to go again, I’d plan to arrive early enough to park in the lot, go on the boat ride in the morning, and then linger over a picnic lunch on Goat Island. It had some really lovely and serene spots that were, as they say, far from the maddening crowd. Here’s a map of the park. It’s genuinely a pleasant place to lie on a blanket or throw a frisbee.
Okay, so the Cave of the Winds attraction is really just a spot where they’ve built boardwalks and staircases right among the falls so that you can get up close and personal with the water. J and I had loved getting wet climbing the stairway after Maid of the Mist, but by the end we were feeling water-logged and red-eyed, even with our sunglasses and ponchos. Again, if I were planning another visit, I’d leave a little more time for hanging out and playing, maybe getting hot, before doing the attraction, because J was pretty much done as soon as she arrived. This also may have been because she was annoyed with me. More on that later.
For Cave of the Winds, your timing is key. They actually rebuild all of those wooden walkways and staircases every year (or so the staffer told me), because everything get dislodged and destabilized with the winter ice. So when we went, the so-called “Hurricane Deck” was not available. If that access is important to you, you should call ahead. Second, we were fortunate to arrive as roughly a gajillion gulls were nesting and tending to their eggs, and in some cases, their chicks. These birds were very close to the walkways, and it was great fun to watch them. It was by far our favorite part of the attraction. If you’d like to see them, too, keep in mind that we went the last weekend of May, and there were mostly unhatched eggs and just a few chicks when we visited, so early to mid-June is optimal time to visit and see them.
And that’s why J got annoyed with me. Because of this bird:
Well, not exactly because of the bird, who, you’ll see if you click on the picture, is taking care of an egg. It was the tourist guy who, moments later, was trying to touch this bird while this bird was freaking out and flapping its wings to protect its future chick. And the guy just kept trying to stroke the bird and then I told him to stop and then I said it again and then I yelled at him until he backed off. In retrospect, I don’t believe that English was his first language. And I don’t endorse shouting at strangers. But I was definitely on Mama Bird’s side. J, meanwhile, quickly moved a discreet distance away from me so that she wouldn’t be seen with me. I meanwhile, stood there next to the bird with my bitch face on until the man moved along. J was embarrassed and unmoved by my argument that since everyone was wearing hooded yellow ponchos, we already pretty much blended in with the crowd. Frankly, it put a damper on the next half hour or so, which was unfortunate, but it was not like I made a conscious choice to be humiliating to my daughter. It was pure instinct. I am instinctively humiliating. Oh, well.
We ended up staying at Niagara Falls much later than I expected, but not so late that J wasn’t begging to jump into the hotel pool as soon as we checked in. I let her go because I thought that we might meet up with teammates for a group dinner, and by the time I realized that that wasn’t going to happen, it was well after 7 pm. Sadly, my plan to eat hotel food was foiled by the lack of a hotel restaurant, and when J requested Chipotle, I was so starving that I agreed. I left her at the hotel chatting with friends and then watching tv in the room, because it looked like a quick trip.
The GPS said 3 miles, but the drive was a hop on-and-off the highway, just the kind of stuff I hate. I arrived and there was an enormous line, and luckily I’d only waited on line a few minutes when I realized that I’d accidentally put my wallet into my overnight bag instead of my purse when I checked in. That’s right: back to the hotel. I retrieved the wallet, navigated back to Chipotle with one fewer wrong turn than the first time I’d driven there, and arrived to discover that the line was almost exactly as long as it had been twenty minutes ago. When I finally got up to order, I found out that J’s favorite meat was unavailable and I almost started crying right there. Instead, I got two different kinds of burrito bowls made to J’s specifications, then begged them to dump all the other delicious toppings in another bowl so that I could throw them onto whichever bowl she rejected. For the record, J is willing to accept steak, too, albeit grudgingly.
Oh, and the meet went fine. Some successes, some disappointments. It was good to get home.
It’s off topic, but I wanted to let you know about a giveaway for a trip to Rochester. I’ve been to many of these places (see some reviews here) and they’re super-fun, so if you’re looking for a quick family vacation, you should enter.