What happens when you can’t take the family to Los Angeles because of the Pandemic? You take the family to Niagara Falls!
I remember vividly on January 4, 2020, booking 3 return flights from Toronto to Los Angeles and happily paying the 1851.00 on my credit card as I had already begun dreaming about the California sunshine glistening at the Santa Monica Pier. I love traveling with my kids. We have traveled all across North America as well as the Caribbean and Europe. We have gotten up to all kinds of adventures between the three of us, as well as our occasional fourth, my mom. I look forward to describing each of these trips in some detail in future posts. Traveling is a big part of our family’s life and we love to do it. California in particular is one of our favorite destinations. Luckily for the three of us, I have two cousins who live in LA who are more like brothers to me and welcome us into their home very warmly. On the day I booked the tickets, my son asked me:
“Dad, you don’t think the problem in China is going to be a problem for our trip to LA, do you?
“Don’t worry, I think it’ll be just fine…”
Or so I thought.
As early March arrived it was becoming more and more clear that it would not be a wise move to leave Canadian borders. The government was warning all Canadians to reevaluate their travel plans and to not leave the country unless it was essential. The Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, did say he thought it would be okay if Ontarians kept their March Break plans to go to Florida but quickly pivoted as it was quickly becoming clear that Coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it was referred to at the time, was taking a hold in Ontario as it had taken hold in places like Italy, New York, and China in the early months of 2020. It was clear that we would not be going to California and I would spend endless hours negotiating a refund or travel credit for the money I had spent on our California trip. We would have to make our trip at a time when it was safer to do so.
So the big question was: What would a family do who loves to travel but really couldn’t because of the worldwide pandemic?
The answer for us was an hour away in Niagara Falls.
Now I know what you might think:
“Really, Niagara Falls?”
“Isn’t it kind of corny?”
“I don’t gamble, so what could I do at the Falls?”
These thoughts went through my mind as well but between July 2020 and November 2020 we went to the “falls” three different times and over the first 6 months of the pandemic, this short getaway which is about an hour and half from downtown Toronto was really our family’s saving grace that felt we were on a getaway even though we were still close to home.
Our first time was in July and we were into the fourth month of the pandemic. At this point we still had not really gone anywhere but on warm day in July and I proclaimed:
“We’re going to Niagara Falls and we’re going on the Maid of the Mist!”
The kids were excited and so was I. I had not been on the Maid of the MIst since I was a child and was actually very excited to go as well as take the kids who had not been on a boat tour of the Niagara Falls for at least a few years. I quickly realized as we arrived that on the Canadian side of the falls, the boat tour was the “Hornblower” and not the Maid of the Mist but we were very excited all the same. Getting in line to buy tickets, then to line up and wait our turn to get on to the boat took about 45 minutes but we were all pumped as well a little nervous as we did not know really what to expect. As the boat tour/cruise began it was clear that we would get very close to the falls and my fatherly instincts kicked in as I held the kids tight by my side and it was not a simple “mist” that was coming upon us but what felt like a torrential downpour! The kids yelled and laughed as well trying to find a dry spot on the boat but really couldn’t. We were covered by our rain ponchos, but not. At the end of the 20 minute ride, we were exhilarated as well as a little shaken at how thrilling our little boat ride had been.
About a month later, as the new 2020-2021 school year was about to dawn on us, we made a return trip to the Niagara Falls area, this time in honor of my daughter’s birthday. To ring in her new year, the whole family would zipline besides the Falls. As we arrived early in the day, we bought our tickets for 3 PM and realized that many besides us had made the same plan. We were all doing our first adventure on the zipline and once again a mixture of nerves and excitement filled everyone. First, the birthday girl would zip across the line and second my brave son. They both went smiling and laughing as they both fully enjoyed the ride. I was the last. I was surprised by how nervous I was taking this ride. As I harnessed, the 18-year-old (or what I estimated him to be) smirked as he buckled me in. I asked:
“This is not REALLY a dangerous ride, is it?
He looked at me and without a beat responded.
“If today was the last day of your life, would you have lived a good life?”
Great. A smart alec who was relishing my anxiety. All I could muster was a nervous laugh as he counted me down from 3-2-1 and let the safety go and I was screaming all the way across the line and could see the kids in the distance taking their harnesses off. Another full day at Niagara Falls. Such an adventure. Pushing through comfort zones and enjoying different experiences together as a family.
Our third trip to Niagara Falls was in November 2020 on the cusp of another provincial lockdown. It was announced that another shutdown would be occurring that would affect restaurants, gyms, malls, and other businesses and would severely restrict capacity or outright shut these businesses down. This would be our first overnight visit at DoubleTree Hotel close to the heart of Niagara Falls. This time we would not be going on the Hornblower nor would we go about ziplining our way across Niagara Falls but instead we would simply enjoy a view of the Falls at night from our favorite restaurant, The Keg at the Embassy Hotel. To be clear we arrived at the hotel as 615 PM for dinner but were told there was a 2 hour minimum wait to be seated. The kids and I were resolute. As long as there was a chance, we would wait. And wait. And wait. The view of the Falls at night from that restaurant is something special. Eventually our patience would be rewarded and a little before 9 PM we would be seated. We would relish our experience. Because of provincial guidelines, the restaurant was restricted to 10% capacity but the silver lining of this was that we had the undivided attention of our server who waited on our table as well as one other. The view of the falls and lights that reflected off of them was something to behold. If you have never dined here before and have the means to do so, I highly recommend it.
Sure Niagara Falls isn’t the sunny warmth of Los Angeles,California. We had missed going on our family vacation to see my cousins and enjoy beautiful places like Malibu, Santa Monica Pier, and going on the Runyon Canyon hike in LA. Instead we went to our little Niagara getaway 3 times in the span of four months. We did not tire from it and instead built new memories. We were able to enjoy different experiences as well as one of our favorite dining memories, all close to home. Even if you don’t live in Toronto and live close to Niagara Falls, I highly encourage you to find your own spots that are close to home that you may not have explored or have not explored in a while. In the end, it is family time that is the most important. And when it is safe to do so, we will definitely make it back to California.