Topics Covered:

The Maid of the Mist, Table Rock Restaurant, Journey Behind the Falls, White Water Walk, the Skylon Tower, Minolta Tower, Clifton Hill

By James Glasbergen

For people who love natural wonders and entertainment, Niagara Falls, Canada is a great place to visit. It had been 18 years since I last visited the Falls, even though I live less than 2 hours away. Needless to say, it was high time I made the short drive over to scout it out again. The plan was to spend a full day in Niagara Falls and take in all of the main attractions. We soon discovered that one day was not nearly enough time to take in everything at the Falls!

Parking near the Falls was convenient as there were several lots along the Niagara Parkway. We managed to get a free disabled spot close to Clifton Hill. It was perfectly located within walking distance to all of the major attractions.

Our first stop was the Maid of the Mist, an absolute must-do for visitors to the Falls. There were large ramps at the boarding area for getting on and off the boats, and the lower level of the boats were completely accessible. Free rain coats were handed out to everyone at the boarding area. People in wheelchairs like myself could take as many as needed to cover our equipment--I took three to make sure that I, and more importantly my electric wheelchair, were sufficiently covered.

The boat ride was great. After passing by the base of the American Falls, we made our way to the foot of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. The power of the Falls was amazing! Depending on which side of the boat you were on at any given time, it was incredibly windy and VERY wet. The key to not getting too wet was to stay in the middle of the boat and move from side to side depending which side of the boat was facing the Falls. Of course, those in the upper level got soaked no matter what, but that level was not accessible. We stayed in the basin of the Horseshoe Falls for several minutes before turning around and heading back to the dock.

Next, we made our way over to Table Rock House for lunch. Located directly beside the Horseshoe Falls, the food was a little pricey, but the restaurant offered a great view overlooking the Horseshoe Falls.

After lunch, we took in the Journey Behind the Falls. The entrance was located in the Table Rock Complex. We were taken by elevator deep down to the bottom of the gorge, where we were once again given raincoats. A short walk down the tunnel led to a lookout area located right next to the start of the Horseshoe Falls. There were quite a few steps going down to the lower level of the lookout, but the upper level was entirely accessible. Back inside the tunnel, another tunnel veered off and led to two portals behind the Falls where you could see and hear the powerful water gushing down only a few feet away.

Next, we got back in our van and made the 2-mile drive north on the Niagara Parkway to White Water Walk. There was plenty of parking alongside the road and across the street. After buying tickets, we were taken in an elevator down to the gorge. An accessible boardwalk ran alongside the gorge and offered a great view of the category 6 rapids, the fastest rapids in the world.

Following the White Water Walk, we made our way over to the Skylon Tower for a trip to the observation deck. Upon arrival at the top, I was appalled to discover that the outside viewing area was not accessible. There were several steps down, followed by a sharp right turn through a door to go out to the observation area. So, I was forced to stay inside where I could hardly see the Falls at all. I was quite upset since I paid full price for my ticket, so I got the elevator guy to drop us off on the Revolving Restaurant level hoping to just take a quick stroll around and check out the view. However, when we got out of the elevator, there were a few steep steps going up to the revolving floor where all the tables were. They apparently did have a portable ramp for the steps, but it must have been a steep ramp and we didn't want to bother with it since we did not have dinner reservations. The only remaining level was home to the Summit Suite Dining Room. Fortunately, it provided a decent view and the waiters were nice enough to let us take a stroll around. They were actually quite sympathetic. When I told them our story, they arranged for us to get our money back at customer relations. They also mentioned that the Skylon Tower is in need of a serious upgrade, citing the fact that the Revolving Restaurant level does not have one single restroom on it!

By the time we made it over to the Hard Rock Café and had dinner, it was getting late into the evening and we had not even gotten to the Clifton Hill attractions yet. Since we wanted to spend a good amount of time there, it was clear that the best thing to do would be to return for a day later in the summer so we could see a bit more at the Falls and do Clifton Hill justice.

We started our second day with a quick stop at the Floral Clock, located about 10 minutes north of the Falls on the Niagara Parkway. After a few pictures, we continued on down the road to the Botanical Gardens. I'm not sure if the hot summer had anything to do with it, but the Gardens were a bit of a disappointment. We hoped to go to the Butterfly Conservatory as well, which is located in the Botanical Gardens, but there was an hour wait to get in so we just drove back to the Falls.

After telling people about our disappointing experience at the Skylon Tower, someone suggested we try the Minolta Tower instead. The Minolta Tower was the first tower built at the Falls, and it is much closer to the Horseshoe Falls than the Skylon Tower. It is also much more accessible and provides a better view of the Falls for wheelchair users. Tickets were $7 for the Observation Deck.

After dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, we set off to take in some of the Clifton Hill attractions. Unfortunately, the majority of the attractions are not wheelchair accessible. Haunted Houses are pretty much out due to steps and narrow hallways. Clifton Hill is a challenge in itself as the street is located on a steep hill. People in manual wheelchairs would have a tough time going up and down the street on their own.

There are a couple very worthwhile attractions that are accessible though. We started out at the Movieland Wax Museum which had wax figures of many famous celebrities from television and the movies. Tickets were $10 for adults and the museum was completely accessible. Next we went to the Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum. The museum was full of strange and bizarre exhibits from all over the world. The museum took about an hour to get through. It also was completely accessible and very entertaining. While most of the other attractions are not accessible, there are plans for new development on Clifton Hill, all of which will be designed to be wheelchair accessible.


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