Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Beautiful Niagara Falls Video


This time lapse photography video of Niagara Falls offers a unique night time view of the Falls area.

Niagara Falls in Motion from Matthew Wartman on Vimeo.

This video was shot by Matthew Wartman, a local gifted photographer. It runs just over two minutes and is well worth viewing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Canada Day Celebrations Niagara Falls


We say 'huh', they say 'eh'.
We spell
theater, the spell theatre.
We have Fourth of July, they have Canada Day.

As is typical with US-Canadian relations, things are similar on both sides of the border, but not exactly the same. T
his is the case for July 1st, AKA Canada Day. Canada Day is much like our Independence Day, but it celebrates the unification of Canada, rather than its separation from Great Britain. Either way it's a national holiday filled with picnics, fireworks and trips to Niagara Falls.

My morning tour was a lovely group visiting from Vallejo, California, a community near Sacramento. Although they were from the opposite side of the country, our home states share a certain amount of political turmoil. Just like the US-Canada relationship, the California-NY relationship is similar, but not exactly the same.

And t
his is one of the lessons I've learned as a tour guide, that people separated by geography frequently share the same hopes and problems. The group was kind and generous and I wished I had more time to spend with them.

On my evening tour I hosted a family from Cleveland, Georgia and husband and wife team visiting from Des Moines, Iowa.

For better or worse I introduced the Georgians to Buffalo Wings, which is a delicacy we eat here from the parts of the chicken that normal people throw away. They seemed to like them and asked about whether we call soft drinks 'soda' or 'pop'.

I believe I did a good job of touring because by the end of the evening Seth (our always energetic young one) was pooped out and fell asleep.

One of the highlights of the evening was the excellent fireworks display that celebrated Canada Day. Our view from the Observation Tower was perfect and we were wowed by the beautiful barrage of colorful (or is it colourful?) firewworks.

My heart was warmed to see out Des Moines couple, married for 30 years, holding hands and embracing as they enjoyed the display. Watching them from a distance you could tell they were enjoying this simple pleasure together and that they are deeply in love.

It is these moments that remind us of what really is important in life-times shared with family, enjoying and exploring this wonderful planet.

Happy Canada Day, eh!

Monday, June 29, 2009

A hot day at the Falls


Saturday was an unexpectedly busy day on the American side of the Falls. I say unexpected because the morning tour was fairly smooth. Minimal lines at the attractions allow guides to pack more stuff into the tour. Temperatures in the low 70's greeted our 9 AM group, which is just about perfect.
Stephanie, a young lady on our tour is a dead ringer for the young gifted actress Miranda Cosgrove, who starred on Drake and Josh and I, Carly. What do you think?She traveled with her mom and grandmother. For some reason her brother stayed back at the hotel with Grandpa, something about not liking to go on a boat ride. Stephanie thought the tour was "...pretty awesome."

Afternoon Tour

Temperatures went from the 70's to the mid 80's for the afternoon tour, which is not surprising for this time of year. The number of tourists at the Falls, however, was unexpected. The first surprise was a 50 minute wait for the Cave of the Winds attraction. The staff at the Caves tries to make the best of it. They use barricades to lead people to areas that are in the shade, which makes the wait more pleasant.
Our group was eclectic to say the least. We had a Connecticut couple that was celebrating their honeymoon as well as two sisters and a brother who were visiting from Jakarta. One gentleman's home was Poland and another family originated in Romania.
Here's a snap of them on the Observation tower after a refreshing ride on the Maid of the Mist. The two little ones in the foreground are the children of Romanian parents. The kids have been thoroughly 'Americanized' and were much fun to interact with.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Stay-Cations" and Niagara Falls


For a variety of reasons, it appears that fewer people are crossing the US-Canadian border to vacation at Niagara Falls. The biggest losses are experienced by Canadian attractions that rely on vacationers from the States. Americans used to provide 70% of the visitors to The Ripley's Believe it or not museum in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Now U.S. citizens account for about 33% of the business.

"Back in 1999 and 2000, we had a wonderful rubber-tire market, wonderful U.S. visitation," said Tim Parker, general manager of Niagara Falls attractions for Jim Pattison Group, which owns Ripley's.
In fact, the Canadian government recently released figures that say since 2001, day trips by Americans across the border have declined nearly 70%. Ontario's Tourism Minister Monique Smith has recognized the trend and embraced the so-called 'stay-cation'. At a recent luncheon Ms. Smith said the provincial government is seeking new solutions to the new problems facing tourism.
Today, the tourism industry is facing challenges beyond its control," said Smith. "This means we as a government are being challenged to bring forth solutions."
Smith told the audience that the government is spending $11 million to help promote 224 festivals and events taking place in Ontario this year. The Niagara Region will see approximately $1 million of those promotional loonies. On the U.S. side, a similar story. 13% fewer Canadians crossed the border in April when compared to last year. Some are blaming it on the sluggish economy, others say the new passport policy of the U.S. is the cause.

There is some bright news on the horizon. Web travel portal has just published its top destination for Canadian travelers. Niagara Falls came in at number 7, beating out Chicago and Boston.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Breaking the language barrier-Japanese Tourists in Niagara Falls


I barely speak one language so I am greatly impressed when I see somebody who can command two, three or more languages. Such was the case this weekend when I hosted a small group visiting from Tokoyo, Japan.
Because I do not speak Japanese, all communication was coordinated through the one group member who spoke both languages.

As I tried to proceed with my regular tour, I could tell it was difficult on the interpreter. After awhile I learned to shorten my sentences and to speak in a measured cadence. I jettisoned specific dates and exact figures for more relative terms like "...around the turn of the century."

I discovered that the use of hand gestures, especially exaggerated gestures, helped the narrative. If there was one thing that I learned from this group it is that the Japanese are a very courteous people (at least the ones on my tour). They were very concerned with the welfare of the group and were always prepared so that they were on time.

I hope they enjoyed the tour as much as I did.

Friday, June 19, 2009

No Doubt we had fun


Life as a tour guide is a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. One day it's an Amish Family visiting from Pennsylvania, the next day it's a group from Mumbai, India. And then the next day you're hosting a super cool rock band.

I had the pleasure of escorting members of the group No Doubt around Niagara Falls yesterday. The weather was overcast and drizzly, but the group's spirits were high.

We did all the typical things, Maid of the Mist, Cave of the WInds, etc. as well as a brief tour of Buffalo. What can I tell you after my brush with celebrity? This group was comprised of the most down to earth people. They were polite, generous and tolerated my jokes.

Ken, their manager, is a calm man with an excellent sense of humor. Although there was not much time to chat with everybody, I did have some other individual conversations. Adrian seems like a really involved dad! He was intrigued about some of the history of the Falls, especially the contributions of Nikoli Tesla. Stephen is flat out funny. He is very quick witted and charming.
I also met some of the band members from one of the other groups touring with No Doubt. Band members and crew of the group Paramore are young and having a great time while touring. It's amazing how much they've accomplished and most of them aren't even 25 years old.

So if you're a fan of No Doubt and wondered what they are like off stage, I can tell you they totally rock!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

50 Fifth Graders at the Falls


Excellent weather greeted my group today, 50 Fifth graders from St. Christopher's School. The group had limited amount of time and needed to fit in all the essentials--the Maid of the Mist and lunch.
School groups are excellent tours because frequently children ask questions that you've never heard before. After discussing some of the daring funambulists, a child asked why anyone would want to walk across Niagara Falls on a rope? It's an extremely reasonable question when you think about it.

Onward we pushed on to the Maid of the Mist. The sun was hot and the mist was cool and invigorating. Some of the intrepid students decided to ride bareback--sans blue rain poncho. It is an experience the drenched kids will likely remember but not repeat. You can really get soaked riding on the top deck of the Maid.
We pushed on to Goat Island where the parents/chaperons went to work cooking hot dogs, pouring drinks and cutting watermelon. We were camped right across from the Three Sisters Islands which is an ideal spot to picnic. There's plenty of shade, park benches, grills and bathrooms are nearby.
We toured the Three Sisters Islands which gave the kids a chance to get closer to the rushing water of Niagara. If you visit these small, beautiful islands make certain to stay on the paved paths. The water is seductively welcoming on a hot day, and many people have found themselves in trouble by venturing into cool waters.
Soon enough it was time to pack-up and head home. I hope the kids had as much fun as I did on this beautiful day to be at the Falls.