New Hornblower cruise lets you get up close and personal with wild waterworks.
Published in Hamilton Spectator in July 2014
I grew up just a few kilometres from the Falls and took the place for granted simply because of its close proximity. What did appeal to me, however, was the beguiling kitsch of Clifton Hill, with its models of the world's tallest man (Robert Wadlow at 8 feet, 11.1 inches) outside the Guinness World Records Museum and funambulist Charles Blondin, jauntily perched on a wire high above the street.
The tawdry side of town seemed more enchanting than the natural purity of the waterfalls, but my parents resisted the pitch. Some 12-year-old part of myself still resents the fact that I never did get to see the shrunken human heads at Ripley's Believe It or Not.
It's fashionable for grownups to dismiss Niagara Falls as a tourist trap and make fun of it as a cultural wasteland with cheap motels featuring heart-shaped Jacuzzis, high rise casinos with has-been entertainers, and gimmicks galore, including cheesy wax museums, rip-off arcades and a flying saucer restaurant.
It's easy to forget there's pure gold under all that razzle-dazzle. Our family goes in search of it on a recent summer weekend, making the 50-minute trek east and bypassing Clifton Hill entirely in our quest to focus on the precious nugget of Niagara - the majesty of the falling waters that cascade like liquid glass - and not be distracted by trashy amusements.
As a result, we'll get drenched during an evening cruise on the new Hornblower ferry, pelted as we take the Journey Behind the Falls and stand just metres from the thundering showers of the Horseshoe Falls, and sprayed by the class six rapids along the Niagara River during our White Water Walk.