Niagara Falls

The way baby Cheska is behaving, it looks like my 11-month old niece is having a blast herself getting wet from the mists. She squeals in delight, perhaps thinking the whole experience is akin to her daily routine of bathing, only this time, she's in a much larger bath tub. Way too large in fact that it can fit a boatload of poncho-clad thrill seekers. Welcome to Niagara Falls!

We're aboard Maid of the Mist IV, one of the boats that take visitors to a very close encounter of the two main sections that comprise this massive natural wonder: Horseshoe Falls and American Falls. We start out at the calmer section of Niagara river at the American shore and the excitement is palpable on each one as we move upstream and pass by the American Falls. As we got nearer to the much wider and higher Horseshoe Falls, the awesome power of nature gave me goose pimples... and a wet face. To stand at the bow of the boat and feel the roaring thunder of falling water and the resulting plume of mists is quite an extraordinary experience. This is truly the highlight of the visit.

The Maid of the Mist started operations in 1846 as a means of ferrying people and goods between the American and Canadian sides. However, the construction of the first suspension bridge two years later stopped the ferry business. This paved the way for paying tourists to go on the boat and see the falls up close instead.

Between 1894 and 1991, the boat docks were accessed via a funicular railway down the gorge from the street level above. This became insufficient in time as more and more visitors wanted to experience the boat ride. Nowadays, visitors at the American side go through the Prospect Point Park Observation Tower where a bank of elevators bring down visitors to the riverside.

I remember my first visit to the falls in May 2003 during a visit to Toronto. The Canadian side of the falls afford a wider perspective for visitors as it faces Canada directly. There are hotels with casinos to boot and towering viewdecks with restaurants, giving a Las Vegas feel to the Canadian shoreline. The American side meanwhile has a more natural look as there are less buildings to compete with the view - either behind or astride the falls. As for baby Cheska, she obviously doesn't care whether it's the American or the Canadian side that is better, it's all the water that matters. She's even smiling at my wet camera!

Niagara Falls is a long drive from New York City - more than 8 hours - but affordable bus tours are available at http://www.gotobus.com/ either as a two-day or three-day escapade. Avoid the urge to go during a holiday as interstate highways are bound to get stuck with monstrous traffic jams.

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