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Niagara Falls with The Squad - 2016

September 10, 2016

As our final summer trip together, the squad and I took a trip down to Niagara Falls! I can now say that I've caught twelve Pokemon in one day, walked a hole in my good running shoes, and had a migraine in an city over 1000 km from my home. And despite the heat, the large chunk of money we spent, the inability to sleep a full 8 hours, and the heartburn, it was a great time. 

The drive down was a challenge, not only because we took a wrong turn and added an extra hour to our journey, but also because rah person's GPS was telling us to go in different directions. But regardless, we arrived in one piece and got our room sorted before going out to dinner together. 

Before we ate though, we decided to go check out the mirror maze down but he casino. We had a great deal of coupons so most of what we did had to deal with the fact that we had coupons. It was quite fun actually, although if we had to pay full price, there would be zero chance we would have gone. We ate at the Outback Steakhouse to try out their steaks and blooming onion and whooooo boy, was it ever pricey. Also, no where on any recipe or website did anyone mention how damn SPICY that blooming onion actually is! Tisha and I ate more sour cream than onion trying to calm the fire in our mouths, and honestly, my tummy was still hurting a day and a half after. Their steak however was quite nice so I enjoyed that. Solid 7/10

The next day we hit up the aero whirlpool car and butterfly conservatory. The guide whom we bought our WeGo passes from said we had to book times for these but when we called the actual places, we we're informed that we could come whenever we wanted between the hours of operation. The whirlpool aero car celebrated its 100th anniversary this year and the fact that it has never broken down is the only reason I went. Yeah it was gorgeous and I wouldn't have missed it for the world, but I'm terrified of heights. Which is strange as heck because I used to go skiing quite a bit as a teen, but I'm going off topic. We had a great time on the ride, and our guide was absolutely amazing. The absolute perfect combination or informed, sarcastic and upbeat, not to mention that he photobombed several pictures as he spoke and answered many stupid questions (mostly my own) without belittling the person asking them(such a cool dude). Unfortunately it is neither wheelchair accessible not is there an elevator anywhere on the premises. There's a steep staircase to get from the ticket booth and parking lot to the loading station, however there are handrails on both sides. 

Afterwards, we drove on over to the conservatory and had some trouble figuring out parking. The disability parking is right by the front entrance but main public parking is a ways away. I'd google earth it before heading out if I were you, just to make sure you're not driving around in circles when you get there. It was absolutely drop dead gorgeous! By and far the best butterfly conservatory I've ever seen. So many different species are housed their and they have about ten or so education stations before entering the main room. We even sat to watch the 1990's introductory video before the doors to learn more about the history of the conservatory and how to approach the butterflies. You cannot touch their wings EVER as their wings are made of teeny tiny scales and touching them would literally scrape those scales off, so bear that in mind. We had several butterflies land on us, Cody and Ryan must have smelled especially sweet as several butterflies hitched long rides on both the twins throughout the hour we spent there. I would have stayed longer if it wasn't so warm out and as crowded as it was. 

We got back and had takeout before changing and hitting up the Hornblower's Night cruise. Okay, not only did we rush to get there in time, but we found out the hard way that the night cruise was NOT a party 1.5 hour cruise down the Niagara River, but the day cruise with a bar. We got dressed up, spend 40 minutes on our hair and makeup only to get soaked as fire works boomed throughout the cavernous put that lines both sides of the horseshoe falls. Needless to say as pretty as it was, I felt like we wasted $35 for this cruise when we could have gone on the day cruise instead, and watched the fireworks for free from the top of the falls. At the very least is was wheelchair accessible, although all those ramps are steeeeep. We got back to the hotel room a little damp, very tired and some of us a bit seasick. 

We slept in the next day because we were exhausted. We planned to get up early and hit IHOP, but by the time we got out of bed, it was packed there so we went over to Applebee's for breakfast instead. It was quite delicious though and although service was a bit slow and the table tops were melting because of the heat (I kept sticking to it and could have used a tablecloth) it was altogether a cool place. 

We went off to Niagara on The Lake, where there were wineries on virtually every corner. We decided on Diamond Estates and were treated to a very cool and thorough wine tour. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and even though I spent two years in school learning about wine and bev, I still learnt a great deal from her. The wines we sampled were amazing and their grounds are well kept and professional. After our tour ended, even though we hadn't drank enough to be inebriated, we hung around the grounds to refuel our stomachs and bond over a game of Boche ball. Yup, this place had Boche ball. Not exactly what we play as a group EVER but hey, we still had a good time. That was between trying to eat our snacks and trying not to melt in human sized puddles on the grounds. It was so damn hot I was trying to keep my mascara from melting into my eyes. As you can see, I failed. Oh well. 

Next! The chocolate factory!!!! Hitting up Chocolate FX was pretty cool. Did I mention that Tisha and I have been learning about chocolate for the past four years? No? Well, if YouTube counts as school, than yes, yes we are. But either way, it's a very educational and amazing experience. It's not as huge a facility as Willy Wonka's factory, but it's a pretty decent size. I especially liked the constant flowing chocolate mixer that always keeps on working. So pretty to just stare at. They also have a great deal of variety for purchase so we all got some truffles to see how'd they taste. I'm still kicking myself in the butt for not buying some of that coco shell mulch for my garden because it was cheap, it smelled like chocolate, and the birds are attacking my corn crop (they can't stand the smell of chocolate). But live and learn I guess. The wineries and Chocolate FX are a short drive apart, but they're not bus accessible from Clifton Hill, and a taxi would be very expensive so if you don't have a car, maybe skip Niagara on the Lake this time. 

After such a long day of walking, we decided to stay in for dinner. Tisha and I went over to St Catherine's to get ice cream cake (and belted out songs off key the entire way there and back) and the twins went to get pizza. We all got into our onsie pajammas (because of course the AC was stuck on high) and watched Gravity Falls while we stuffers our faces and oooooooooh man. I wish that could be my night every night. 

We awoke on our final full day exhausted yet determined to have a great time. We finally got into IHOP and ate far too much. To be honest, our waitress was very pushy and was trying to get us in and out faster than we'd like. I understand that restaurants are a fast turn around business, but come on! There were at least 10 empty tables in the room we were in and no patrons coming in for at least 30 minutes. I scarfed down my food scared she'd come back and try to kick us out, and ended up with an awful tummy ache. 2/10 would not go in an IHOP ever again. We then made our way to Pirates Cove which is directly under IHOP to play some arcade games since we again, hey! had a coupon. I've found out that Tisha and Cody are obsessed with the coin pusher game and I regret ever showing them how it works because I kept loosing them, only to find that they were there, at the coin pusher game, throwing tokens like it was going out of style. YEESH. We pooled our tickets in the end and got matching friendship bracelets so I guess their technique in the end won but man, I've never been so jealous of a machine before in my life. 

Afterwards we went back to 

 

I had to stay back in the hotel room because my headache took a quick and ugly turn into a full scale, face melting, eyeball exploding migraine. The extreme heat of the weekend plus me overdoing it physically were definitely contributing factors. I stayed back while I told the rest of the gang to head out to the casino. Apparently the didn't end up coming home with any money, but ah well. I don't recall what happened but apparently I was so delirious with pain when they got back that I kept acting like a fool, so you missed ridiculous Theresa folks. 

We grabbed brunch at Pip's Diner, where you can get Gouda and blue cheese on your grilled cheese and your fries are fried in beef tallow, Belgian style. I still sometimes dream of that meal even though my arteries are still crying. Ryan wanted to do the zip line but he was so turned around that when he got there, he was not only late, but didn't know that he was in the wrong line for about 20 minutes. He then went back to the registration building, which by the way is a 20 minute walk from the zip line launch, waited in the long line to register, walked 20 minutes back to the launch to get his gear, then waited even longer to go up in the elevators. You're not allowed to film as you go down for safety reasons, so Tisha, Cody and I stood by the guardrail a bit further down to grab a few shots of Ryan as he went down. Unfortunately we were left waiting 40 minutes, 50, an hour, two, and after that first hour and a half Tisha and I were so pooped we sat down on the grass. Cody kept going back and forth from the loading line to the gear waiting line, even climbed the stairs to the launch pad to ask several times if Ryan was up there. He wasn't answering our calls and we got worried. But of course, the second we looked away, Ryan zipped down that line. We didn't catch that photo, so here's a doodle for how it MIGHT have looked had everything gone on schedule. Ah well, he still had fun. 

On to the Bird Kingdom! Trying to find this place was a pain in the ass because the water park and a casino looked like they shared the it parking lot with the Bird Kingdom so I kept getting turned around. If you're going there, take the main road that runs along the river so you don't get lost, or walk from the falls on that road. Anywhoo! We got there and at first I was very underwhelmed. I was expecting birds flying everywhere and landing on people much like the butterfly kingdom, but that didn't happen. You do get to meet a beautiful blue macaw at the front but he does not like to be petted. The elevator here is very unpredictable unfortunately, so I had to take the stairs a few times which was very painful for me at this point but I powered through because BIRDS. There are a couple rooms where you can walk around as birds fly and there is a photo op to get your picture taken with a toucan of your choice. Sadly, you cannot take photos with your own camera with the toucans so to get your pic you have to pay $15-30 for a hard copy at the gift shop on your way out. Shame it costs so much because having pictures with the gorgeous Arthur was pretty high on my photo wish list for the day. However, later on I got some nice shots of the smaller birds flying overhead in the next room above us, as well as so awesome slow mo shots of the bats. But, the main event awaits you as you walk into the bird sanctuary room on the top floor. Now THIS is what I'm talking about! Hundreds of birds flying overhead, nesting in trees, and walking alongside us on the path! I was so giddy and happy. There was a lorikeet feeding opportunity where for $2 you got a cup full of nectar and they would land on you as they fed. Tisha decided not to participate, but the twins and I did and oh man! I don't have much experience with birds sitting/standing on me so that felt so weird, but it was $2 well spent! I had one chilling on my backpack for a while there too, content on not getting any nectar, just hitching a ride on the Theresa express. I was so tempted to say "peace out!" and take these little sweeties home but that's fairly frowned upon (ie illegal) so I had to bid them adieu. Frank and Lorenzo the blue birds (that's not their real names but w/e) kept following me though as soon as I left the lorikeet cages and oh man. I'm so getting me a pair of these birds when I'm rich enough to own my own animal sanctuary because these guys were so sweet! 

Afterwards, we were all very tired, hungry, and (in my case) cranky, so the squad went to the Hersey chocolate store while I got the car to bring it around then jet off to dinner. Let me tell you something that peeved me off throughout this entire trip: driving here sucks. I get that it's a literal tourist trap in this neighbourhood, and everyone here walks how they please, but come ON! All these parking lots look like they all join into one another, the signage is tiny AF, and me trying to stop in front of any store to pick up my friends is impossible. I had my hazards on and not three seconds later, everyone is staring at me or honking their horns at me and some really big, buff, scary looking dude was staring at me like I just skinned a squirrel in front of him. Not to mention parking is atrocious here. No I'm and out privileges, 3 hour max limit, and some places charge upwards of $20 FLAT RATE! I should have asked my parents for a parking lot in Niagara instead of going to college because it probably would have made me more money by now. 

Anyways, we wrapped up our night at East Side Mario's, that is after I got us back tracked, AGAIN. I promise you, I'm usually much better at direction, but every street there seems to run into one another and curve in all different directions because of the falls. Anyways, we got to East Side and after a TNT powwow in the car (Tisha and Theresa, duh), we ordered, using our coupons, and got some big ass portions and stuffed ourself. I am so glad I got the salad instead of that pasta I was eying because HOLY HELL I forgot how enormous these portions were! I mean, Tisha's chicken parm alone was at least the size of both my hands! Feeling full and still a bit cranky, we hopped on the highway and finished our journey home. That is we got gas for the car, teas and snacks for us, got turned around not once, but three times, hit a bunch of construction and THEN made it home. Tisha sleep on my couch so she wouldn't have to drive up back home the same night and we stayed up late to watch Steven Universe together. 

So to recap, here's what you need to keep in mind when going to Niagara Falls:

- parking is rarely free and can cost upwards for $20

- the butterfly conservatory is the bomb-dignity (people still say that right?)

- the night cruise is a waste of money

- the fireworks go off every Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and holiday

- the falls are magnificent whether you see them at night or during the day

- the WeGo pass is worth it only if you're bussing everywhere and actually have the time AND energy to do every single thing on the pass in two days 

- the best souvenier prices are at the whirlpool aero car

- the whirlpool aero car is worth it for the commentary ALONE (plus you know, the view is AMAZING!)

- the Quality Inn is great, but not amazing (breakfast was meh, and housekeeping is just two people so that's slow)

- the mirror maze is worth it only if you're easily entertained and have a coupon

- bird kingdom is overpriced so buy a groupon if you can

- there is an additional tax since this is tourist central

- WEAR COMFORTABLE RUNNIG SHOES

- bring a sturdy refillable water bottle and lots of sunscreen

- beware of Pokemon GO- ers

- go with people you love and try not to sweat about the small stuff

Until next time duckies!

-Theresa

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