By Mark Bradley
To see Niagara Falls properly you’ve GOT to get wet. Introduce yourself to the Falls aboard the aptly named Maid of the Mist boats which take you within a few yards of the spectacular Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and soon be drenched in their ever present cloud of mist.
Then proceed to Goat Island on the US side and take the elevator down through ancient bedrock to the Cave of the Winds where a boardwalk beneath Bridal Veil Falls allows you to stand on a wooden “Hurricane” deck looking straight up feeling the winds and spray of the mighty cascade in your face.
Or if you prefer, take the Walk under the Falls on the Canadian side which offers a similar experience from an observation deck extending from a tunnel carved directly underneath the Horseshoe. Hear the thunderous sound and experience the awesome power of the Niagara River crashing down on its twenty mile journey from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
No longer just a destination for honeymooners, Niagara Falls, NY and its bustling Canadian sister city just across the Rainbow Bridge now provide a variety of family attractions along with brand new casinos, restaurants, and my personal favorite Jet Boats. For a complete listing of things to do in Niagara Falls USA go to www.niagara-usa.com and on the Canadian side check www.DiscoverNiagara.com or www.niagaraparks.com.
Jet Boats depart from both the US and Canadian side of the river with the same destinations, the Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole. The Whirlpool is where Niagara’s whitewater transforms from towering waves into swirling currents and is too dangerous to run but Devil’s Hole will provide a thrill no amusement park can duplicate. The river requires the powerful Jet Boats to use most of their 1500 horsepower to navigate waves such as Flash Flood and the Big Kahuna(www.whirlpooljet.com) .
Back on dry land, I enjoyed a fabulous view of the Falls lit at night from the 17 Noir fine dining restaurant at the Falls View Casino and Resort. Then a spectacular nighttime view of the Falls from my room at the Sheraton Falls View Hotel.
This brand new Casino offers gaming and amenities on par with some of the best casinos in Las Vegas. The beef tenderloin I ordered was perfectly prepared and melted in my mouth accompanied by a fine glass of red wine from their ample wine list (www.FallsviewCasinoResort.com).
My next destination was the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York where I envisioned a relaxing road trip among its eleven thin, parallel lakes which resemble a giant handprint on the map.
My starting point was the city of Rochester where I soon found myself entranced by this City of Culture (www.visitrochester.com). Having worked in my family’s camera shop growing up, I knew Rochester as the home base for Eastman Kodak but now found it offers so much more. History and the arts play a large role in Rochester which is located just inland from Lake Ontario along “The Best 100 Miles of the Erie Canal”.
I was introduced to the scenic canal firsthand on the replica packetboat Sam Patch (www.samandmary.org) named after a legendary Indian figure who had been known to hurtle across the top of Niagara Falls. A series of lock and dams still operate for the benefit of watercraft and a recreational path along the canal is in progress. The pace and style of travel reminded me of my trips along the Illinois River by steamboat.
At the nearby Genesee Country Village and Museum you’ll find the pace of life to be decidedly 19th century as you step back in time to experience an authentic village of historic structures complete with re-enactors and even vintage baseball games. This living history museum is open May-December with a schedule of events sure to satisfy the entire family (www.geneseecountryvillage.org).
Modern day Rochester is alive with a vibrant new arts community highlighted by an art aficionado’s paradise called Artisan Works located in an old factory that manufactured cannons during WWII. The visionary founder of Artisan Works, Louis Perticone, has succeeded in immersing his guests in one of the largest, most diverse, art collections anywhere (www.artisanworks.net).
Ah, but now I longed to see the Finger Lakes themselves (www.VisitFingerLakes.com). Lake Canandaigua offered me the chance to try some “soft adventure” by trying out a kayak and a hydrobike which is like riding a bicycle on a pair of pontoons. Both were easy to operate and provide a great way to see the lake.
A short drive to Seneca Lake and the new Pearl of Seneca B & B provided a welcome stop for the night. This brand new secluded lakefront property is a great place to relax along the shore or try hiking the nature trail on their nearly 14 acres (www.thepearlofsenecalake.com).
Of course, no tour of the Finger Lakes is complete without sampling their excellent wines and I began that night at Veraisons Restaurant at Glenora with an outstanding Cabernet Sauvigon (www.glenora.com). Wagner Vineyards (www.wagnervineyards.com) is another popular vineyards on the east side of the lake offering their own beer along with wine and panoramic views.
The next morning began with a tour of Watkins Glen Raceway where world class auto racing has been conducted since 1948 (www.TheGlen.com). Located just outside the tiny village of Watkins Glen, it attracts 150,000 plus on race weekends.
Still the largest attraction remains Watkins Glen State Park. Over a half a million visitors a year walk the 1 ½ mile Gorge Trail crisscrossing Glen Creek via a series of tunnels and stone bridges while observing waterfalls and deep natural pools (www.nysparks.state.ny.us).
Just across Seneca Lake is the Skyland Farm Craft Gallery & Café. This 3,000 square foot “art barn” displays one of a kind works by local artists with its trademark Garden Room Café built around a two story white oak tree with a spiral staircase winding through the branches to a second floor view of the lake. It’s a must see for shoppers (www.skylandfarm.net).
My final Finger Lake visit was to Conesus Lake where I was hosted by the Stoney Grove Bed & Breakfast (www.stoneygrovebandb.com). Owner Sharon West and Livingston County Tourism Director Lisa Burns had a trick up their sleeve for my visit to Letchworth State Park known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”.
It seemed I had been scheduled to whitewater raft but the river was too low so I was to try my hand at an outdoor hide and seek known as geocaching. This sport is a high tech version of orienteering and utilizes GPS coordinates along with clues to find a “cache” of goodies.
Although the hand held GPS unit I used could pinpoint coordinates of latitude and longitude to within 20 feet I still struggled to find the hidden ammo box which served as the cache. Nevertheless, I could see where the entire family could enjoy this game and the sport is growing by leaps and bounds around the country. Go to www.geocaching.com and type in your zip code and you will most likely be able to find geocaches in your area.
Now all that remained was for my trip back to Rochester where I would catch the high speed catamaran ferry, The Cat, across Lake Ontario to the city of Toronto and a visit with my friend Action Jackson who was there on location teaching his latest childhood star Josh Hutcherson.