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Niagara Falls from down below and way up high; plus great food & outlet shopping

NIAGARA FALLS – The power is indescribable and the majesty almost impossible to comprehend.

I managed a trip to the base of Niagara Falls with the folks from Hornblower Cruises on the weekend, and it was better than ever.

I also got a chance to see the falls from the top of the wonderful Niagara Sky Wheel, had a fine lunch on a shady patio on a perfect summer’s day and took in a bit of shopping at the Outlet Collection at Niagara.

A view of the American Falls from a Niagara River cruise. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

I’ve seen Niagara Falls probably a dozen times or more. But nothing prepared me for the first time I visited the base of the falls on one of those cruise boats. That job is now handled by Hornblower Cruises, and they do a fantastic job.

It’s a catamaran, so it’s very, very stable. You take an elevator down from the lip of the Niagara River gorge near the bottom of Clifton Hill and are handed a poncho to wear to keep the mist away. You’ll start by cruising past the majestic American falls before you reach the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, which are wider and even more impressive to me than the U.S. side.

To see that amount of water (they say it’s something like a million bathtubs a minute!) leaping over the lip of the rock at that kind of speed and power is something you just can’t appreciate until you’re at the base of the falls soaking it all in, so to speak. I took a short video on Instagram if you want to have a look.

My wife has lived in Toronto for more than five decades and hadn’t done the trip until four days ago. She was overwhelmed by the beauty and sheer force of nature, as was my sister-in-law.

You’ll stay pretty dry if you wear one of the free ponchos the Hornblower Cruises folks give you on a visit to Niagara Falls. – JIM BYERS TRAVEL

As much as I love watching the water, I also get a huge kick out of the sheer variety of people on the boats. I bet if you did a survey you’d find people from 40 or 50 countries on each of those boats; folks from Iraq and Indiana, as well as Manitoba and Melbourne. It’s quite amazing, and also kind of inspiring, to see folks from around the world getting splashed and gazing up at the falls with the same “can you believe this” look on their faces.

It’s no wonder Niagara Falls is one of the wonders of the world and an iconic world tourism spot.
Oh, and they also do evening voyages to see the falls lit up at night. That would be sensational. They also do 40 minute fireworks cruises, so check those out as well.

(FOR A LIST OF GREAT THINGS TO DO ALL AROUND THE AREA, go to visitniagaracanada.com)

We weren’t hungry for lunch yet but the Hornblower folks have built a wonderful patio near the river’s edge, with good food and drinks available just a few feet from the water. The views are tremendous.

The Niagara SkyWheel is an impressive and fun attraction in Niagara Falls, Ontario. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

Following the Hornblower cruise we took the elevator back to the edge of the river and walked up the hill to the Niagara SkyWheel. The lineup was maybe 10-15 minutes; not bad for a perfect summer’s day. (I was told it can be a lot longer at night, especially when there are fireworks, so be aware of that).

I don’t like heights AT ALL but I loved the SkyWheel trip. It’s a large pod that seats five or six people and it’s very stable so I had no problem whatsoever. And the views are sensational of both the falls and the surrounding countryside on both sides of the border, as you’re 54 meters (175 feet) in the air at the top.

We went around four times and had a great trip. Just watch for the dinosaurs rearing up at the mini-golf spot next door.

The Niagara SkyWheel offers great views of the American and Canadian falls. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

We enjoyed an excellent pizza at Boston Pizza, just a few steps from the SkyWheel. Again, it was a perfect day for it; with a nice breeze on the covered patio area and a view of the fun attractions and people walking by.

The Clifton Hill amusement area scene isn’t for everyone, I guess. But I love walking around the area and listening to the voices of the public address people hired to lure folks into Dracula’s Castle or the Temple of Doom or Ripley’s Believe it or Not: “Are you brave enough to enter the chamber of horrors? There’s no turning back now. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA!”

It was my first visit to the Outlet Collection at Niagara. I was quite impressed by the shops (I’m a big fan of J. Crew and Banana Republic) and by the landscaping and pedestrian-friendly design. They had a lovely central courtyard with shady resting spots, picnic space and orange Muskoka chairs for folks to relax in. I also spotted a beautiful shop selling a variety of Ontario wines, many grown only a short distance from the shopping centre.

There’s a cool mini-golf course right next to the Niagara SkyWheel in the CliftonHill amusement area. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

We didn’t have time, but on previous visits I’ve taken a wonderful helicopter tour of the falls, wandered behind the waterfalls and scrambled on the rocks below them with the Journey Behind the Falls trip and taken a ride to the top of the Skylon Tower for wonderful views.

I also can attest to the fine food at Elements on the Falls Restaurant, where you’ll get great views of the falls and a terrific meal.

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