And so it begins: Day 1:
In our quest to clear thru our bucket list of places to go, we settled on this year’s trip as a quick trip to Niagara Falls.
We had originally intended to add Manhattan to the trip as well, but since work was being difficult in regards to time off, as well as myself having a long vacation coming up later this summer, and needing to retain days off (sorry Dragon*con. . . skipping this year), we decided just to stick to the Niagara Falls area, and planned it for Memorial Day week so as only to use 4 vacation days.
I was able to find a fairly cheap flight (Southwest) to Buffalo (routed thru Baltimore on the way there, and thru Orlando on the way back), and was able to cheaply rent a car.
If I had realized that GreyLine offered a drop-off in Canada service for ~$80 per person, might have gone that way instead of renting, as the car mostly sat in the Hotel lot (being charged $14 / day for the privilege). . but oh well, was nice to have the wheels when we wanted them.
We got up at 4am, and made our way to the airport for our 7am flight, and parking in long term and going thru security was a breeze. Since the dog was out, we didn’t even have to take our shoes/belts off, or any liquids out of our bags – although, as usual, I was “selected” for additional screening. Meaning I got to stand there legs spread wide, while I was felt up (quite well, I might add) across my crotch and my buttocks. Funnily enough, an older lady in line behind us, just happened to be on our same flight, and when we saw her in the gate area, she giggled with me and commented how she felt so much safer since my crotch had cleared security. LOL.
Anyways, the flight to Baltimore was completely full (“like sardines” as the desk agent told me – I always check, since Nick likes to sit in the very back row, and if the flight is full, don’t want to be stuck in the smallest row, with all 3 seats full), so we sat just behind the wing, and it was an uneventful flight. We got to Baltimore, and had about an hour ½ layover, so grabbed a light snack and waited by our gate until boarding. Where we watched a young lady freak out, when she realized she was at the wrong gate (yes, after sitting there for an hour, and ignoring every single tv screen that SHOWED what the next flight was. . . yay, people).
This flight wasn’t near as full, so we spread out in the back row for our quick 1 hour flight, and before we knew it, were landing in Buffalo.
Getting the rental was easy/peasy, although the car rental clerk was extremely chatty (she liked that I asked her how her day was going. . and come to think of it, one of the Airline Stewards also lit up when I told her good morning, and said that nobody EVER greets her. . . that’s so dumb, it takes *nothing* to be polite to people). Anyways, rental clerk was chatty, and gave us all kinds of extra perks, and freebies. . all while saying ‘cause I like you two”. . . . and really, I was ready to get on the road, but as long as she’s giving us free upgrades? Sure, I’ll chat.
We eventually got the keys, and following the clerks direction to the Peace Bridge Boarder Crossing (which she advised us taking instead of Rainbow Bridge crossing in Niagara Falls, as that one would be way more crowded on Memorial Day).. .we promptly got lost in downtown Buffalo (yay us!).
Luckily, I had directions from the Hotel, which also happened to have suggested crossing at Peace Bridge, so we were able to correct, and get back on track, and before we knew it, were approaching the Peace Bridge border crossing.
The Customs guard was super friendly, and chatty, and when he asked if there was a reason we were going to Niagara Falls (as the follow up question to “where are you going”), I just said “delayed Honeymoon”. . . I mean, it wasn’t the *reason* we were going, but we actually hadn’t gone on a Honeymoon, so why not? Nick was a little worried I said that, but the guard simply smiled, said Congratulations! And waved us thru . . .welcome to Canada.
The route from Peace Bridge to Niagara falls is really a straight shot, so in less than 25 minutes, we were pulling up the main drive (Victoria street) towards our hotel, the Courtyard Marriott.
we love Courtyard Marriott, as they are all basically the same and we know what you are gonna get, and although this one did not have the little “bistro”, everything else was as expected: Poool, hot tub, large room, computers in lobby, supplied newspaper, large reading area with comfortable couches.
I think this one didn’t have the bistro, because there is a “Keg Steakhouse” attached on one side (with full breakfast buffet from the hotel offered there in the mornings for less than $10) , and just across the parking lot is a TGIFridays and a Denny’s across the street.
Note: Victoria Street was under major construction, making it only 1 way from just before our hotel, down to the Rainbow Bridge, and we were told by multiple folks thruout our visit that they had been working on for several weeks, and it was hurting the businesses there – which I totally believe, as we were one of only two groups of customers when we went to Denny’s one afternoon, and in a souvenir shop the proprietor was so happy to see us, she acted as a personal valet offering suggestions on things we might light and digging for sizes for us (we bought a number of things from her). Several folks noted they hoped they would be done soon before “the season” started. . and yeah, they were rushing it. In our 3 days there, it went from unpaved, to paved, to striped, and almost ready to open back up. So if you go now, it should be back to 2 way traffic.
anyways. . .
When we checked in, I mentioned to the desk clerk that we had never been before, and if possible, we’d like a nice view of downtown (the hotel is not on the falls, which made it significantly cheaper, since no falls view), but is right near the tourist district and is an easy walk to view them. Our room on the 6th floor, was nice, and had a view towards the falls (in the mornings we could see the mist rising from them over the trees), with a good view of the Ferris Wheel on our left, and the Skylon Tower & FallsView casino on our right (both of which change colors thruout the night. . very pretty).
Once we got settled into the room, it was already almost 5pm, and we were getting hungry. I had planned that we’d go to FallsView Casino for the evening, as I knew they had restaurant options, and we could relax and play a bit. I checked at the front desk, and they told us tho we COULD walk it (it was maybe a 15 minute walk), if we wanted to drive they had parking. . but it wasn’t free. One clerk mentioned that last time she was there it was $30 for the 2 hours she spent shopping. They also mentioned that since it was Memorial Day, that there would be fireworks over the falls at 10 – something that excited me, but gave Nick pause. . remember, we had been up since 4am.
I thanked them for the advice, and knowing that we’d be doing a LOT of walking over the next couple of days, we asked them to call us a cab – which was only $7, and the driver was thrilled we paid in American, as that was extra $$ for him.
He dropped us off right in front of the Casino (literally a 3 minute ride), and we headed inside to what looked like something transplanted from the Vegas Strip.
The property is absolutely beautiful, with a steam-punk vibe thruout. With a large shopping promenade (similar to the Wynn shops), long pathways that go along the falls (makes sense, the place is called the FallsView Casino), and the largest casino floor I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it was at least 3-4 football fields long. . just huge.
Since it looked like a Vegas casino, I followed the standard plan, and we went directly to Players Club to sign up as first thing.
and just like in Vegas, the Player’s Club offers some perks – including validated parking for members (d’oh!!). . oh well, the cab wasn’t too bad, and we were able to leave the car there.
New members also got $5 off on the buffet (which cinched it for where we’d eat that evening), and a pretty good cashback program for players. Which in Canada is 19. . tho really, I don’t think we saw anyone under 40 playing on the casino floor. Interestingly there seems to be no liquor service at the Casino in Canada. While there’s a bar, I don’t recall seeing one waitress serving drinks or walking around taking orders. A big plus tho is that no smoking is allowed, so we didn’t have any eye or breathing issues at all while at FallsView.
She also mentioned the fireworks at 10. . since it’s just before the start of the season (in June), I guess it’s a big deal as the fireworks aren’t happening every night yet.
We asked for recommendation to go look at the falls, since that was the reason we had come to Niagara, so I wanted to at least LOOK at them before doing anything else, and she directed us to the end of the shops, and out to the scenic overlook pass. . . . which although we were hungry, we headed out that way.
And got our 1st look at the falls. LOL. . . and too be honest, we thought, nice. But smaller than we had imagined they would be. (but we also knew that we were looking at them from a ways away, and that tomorrow we’d be right up in them). But they most certainly were beautiful, and after doing a quick look around the overlook, and the grounds, we headed back into the casino to make our way to the Buffet.
How was it?. . . well, with the discount, it still came out to about $50 Canadian (so about $42 American?).. .and I’d rank it as a mid-level Vegas one. It was along the lines of what you’d get at Planet Hollywood, or MGM Grand. Lots, and lots of offerings, that were OK, but nothing terrible. And a number of standouts – the Mussels were quite good, as was the Lamb Schwarma. I found the deserts to all be way too sweet for my tastes, but there were a lot of variety available.
Since we were both so hungry, ate way more than we should have. . tho I wouldn’t really recommend this place for the food. However, for the view? If you can sit near a window (and the hostess kindly sat us with a lovely view of the American & Bridal Veil falls). . . totally worth the cost of the buffet for the view. And everyone that was sitting around us, not all US tourists, as we seemed to be surrounded by Canadians from other provinces, was very friendly and wanted to talk about where we were visiting from, the view, and for the most part. . NOT about US politics. . tho several Ontario folks brought up politics, and we declined to engage in that topic
As we waddled out of the buffet (told you we ate too much), we had to go to the Cashier to exchange US $$ to Canadian, as you have to play with Canadian Dollars. It’s actually a little more thrilling, as with the exchange rate, they hand you back a much bigger wad of money than you hand them – even if the money looks odd to Americans (there is a large “clear” section on the bills. . it kind of looks like it got burnt, and someone put tape over the spot). But It’s very colorful, and you feel like you have way more money than you have -- something that works opposite when you go to convert it back to American, and your large stack of Canadian turns into a few $20’s. . LOL.
No cameras allowed in the Casino, so no pics of that, but we did end up playing for almost 3 hours, and although Nick didn’t do so hot, as usual, I held my own. After 3 hours of playing, I walked out of the Casino with $80 more than I had started with. So that’s “winning” in my book – not only did I get the entertainment which ended up costing me nothing, but even ended up with more than I started, so could use that for souvenirs!
it wasn’t dark yet, and it was feeling like there was no way we’d make it to the fireworks (lots of food + sitting at a slot machine will sap your energy), so I reluctantly agreed we wouldn’t stay for the fireworks, but we’d go back outside to look at the falls again, and then we’d walk the whole overlook pass (with multiple viewing platforms), back around to the front of the Casino to grab a cab back to the Hotel. The weather was beautiful, mid-70’s, and we saw all kinds of birds, black squirrels, and even a big skunk (we SLOWLY went around him as to not startle him), while admiring the views, and the plants/flowers around the landscaped grounds.
It was close to 9, I’d guess but we easily found a cab to get us back to the Courtyard Marriott (even cheaper than the trip there, at only $5 back), and when we got to our room, we realized that hey. . we can see the casino from our sliding patio doors.. so maybe we’ll be able to see the fireworks anyways? Oh, and there was a beautiful full moon up too Monday night.
In a nod of how perfect the universe had made our day thus far? Not only could we see the fireworks, but they were over the American Falls.. which is the direction our room faced.
So we were able to stand at our patio door, and watch the fireworks from the comfort of our room! They didn’t last long, but they sure were pretty.
And that wrapped up an almost perfect day 1. . . we set a wake up call for 8am the next morning (full day of sightseeing tours planned!), and turned in, and were asleep by 10:30.
On to pics from day 1: