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Hello From Niagara Falls - Exploring The Clifton Hills Entertainment Area & Doing A Little Gambling

Feb 23, 2008
Yesterday morning my last full day in Niagara Falls, Ontario, had arrived. After a packed schedule the day before that had included a wonderful presentation at the Imax Theatre, my up-close encounter with the Great Falls at the Journey Behind the Falls and an entertaining show at the Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Theatre, I got ready for another full day of explorations in Niagara Falls.

I already got a great start to the day when Kevin Kilpatrick, the gourmet chef and co-owner of Kilpatrick Manor, prepared an absolutely scrumptious breakfast for me: after a delicious fresh fruit platter with yoghurt and freshly made banana bread I feasted on "breakfast ravioli", one of Kevin's unique culinary inventions. This light yet tasty breakfast dish features scrambled eggs, bacon and old cheddar cheese surrounded by thinly rolled out pasta and a home made tomato sauce with garlic, white wine and leeks. Kevin, with his gregarious and outgoing manner, sat down with me and kept me entertained with stories from his international hospitality adventures in France when he and wife Nance were managing a large chalet in the French Alps.

After this great start I rushed out to take my rental vehicle back to Budget Rent-A-Car since my husband was coming in from Toronto to join me in Niagara Falls. Although I had driven only 78 kilometers in two days, my little Toyota Yaris had served me extremely well in getting around Niagara Falls at a reasonable price.

On this sunny yet very cold day we started with a nice walk at the foot of Clifton Hill, strolling westwards along the Niagara Parkway towards the Canadian Horshehoe Falls. A brilliant blue sky bathed the Niagara River in bright light, and some of the metal railings next to the walkway were covered in sparkling ice formations from the mist that is formed by the Horseshoe Falls. Dozens of other tourists were also taking a noon-time walk and were snapping pictures of their friends and families against the backdrop of the mighty Niagara Falls.

Our real destination for today was the Clifton Hill area - Niagara Fall's main tourist promenade. Clifton Hill, the street, extends from the Niagara Parkway next to the Niagara River to Victoria Avenue on top of the hill and features dozens of restaurants, gift shops, fast food outlets, hotels and various attractions such as haunted houses, wax museums and other tourist entertainment. This popular tourist trap is often packed to the gills with people strolling up and down, soaking in the boisterous carnival atmosphere of this area.

Clifton Hill has a long-standing history as an entertainment area: hotels have been in existence here since the late 1800s. During the 1920s this area developed into a popular tourist destination and several additional inns and tourist camps were constructed nearby over the next few decades. Since the 1960s several museums have been built, which include the Houdini Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Wax Museum, the House of Frankenstein, the Guiness World Records Museum, Ripley's Believe It Or Not and several others.

We decided to make our first stop at the Niagara SkyWheel, a recently constructed giant ferris wheel whose 42 climate controlled gondolas provide an excellent view over all the main attractions of Niagara Falls. During the 10 minute ride on this 53 metre high ferris wheel we had a magnificent view over the Canadian and American Falls as well as over all the other attractions and the residential areas of Niagara Falls. Fortunately, the weather was perfect for this experience and our 360 degree panoramic view extended for many miles.

Because of the brisk weather we decided to duck inside and headed into the Guiness World Records Museum. Formerly called the Guiness Book of World Records, this institution has a colourful history: the managing director of the famous Guiness Brewery in Ireland happened to ask himself during a hunting party in 1951 which bird was faster - a grouse or a golden plover? Unable to find an answer to this question in reference books, he figured that there would have to be thousands of other questions that could not be settled by consulting a reference book and decided to create a book to supply answers to these types of questions.

The book became an overnight surprise hit and eventually an updated version featuring new records was published on a yearly basis and has evolved from a text-heavy reference book into a colourful, richly illustrated publication. In recent years several small museums have been created in locations such as Tokyo, San Francisco, Hollywood, Atlantic City, Myrtle Beach and Copenhagen to showcase noteworthy, and sometimes bizarre, world records. The location in Niagara Falls features photos and descriptions of many examples of world records including such curiosities as the world's tallest man and the world's smallest woman.

We explored the many interactive displays that feature world records in the spheres of entertainment, art, literature and sport. Natural disasters and scientific achievements are covered as well. Some of the records on display truly boggle the mind and it makes you wonder who has the time to come up with some of these rather offbeat ideas for world records, and who might have the time to execute those ideas. Images of record holders such as the man with the world's longest ear hairs (4 inches!) were a little scary, to be honest.

Our next destination featured similarly off-beat human feasts: Ripley's Believe It or Not!, built to look loke a collapsed Empire State Building with King Kong standing at the top, is a true collection of human oddities. Robert LeRoy Ripley (1893 to 1949) was a cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist whose newspaper panel series featured odd but true facts from all over the world. Ripley travelled a lot and became a collector of unusual items from all sorts of exotic destinations around the globe. From 1929 onwards Robert Ripley fascinated readers of seventeen national newspapers with his Believe It Or Not syndicated newspaper panel series. At the height of his popularity he was said to have received more mail than the American president. Ripley became a true media giant of his time and expanded into radio and early television before his death of a heart attack in 1949.

At the Niagara Falls Ripley's Believe It or Not! we continued our exploration of strange and exotic things and were greeted right away by a three-dimensional sculpture of the world's largest woman. True oddities such as vampire killing kits, a collection of macabre yet funny gravestones, two-headed piglets and a variety of life-sized optical illusions transported us into the land of the surreal and bizarre. To round out the collection of oddities, Ripley's also operates a Moving Theatre and Louis Tussaud's Waxworks in Niagara Falls.

After these explorations of the strange and unusual we decided to head back to our cozy bed and breakfast, the Kilpatrick Manor B&B. Chilled to the bone we decided to relax on the comfortable king-size bed, turn on the fireplace, watch a bit of TV and warm up under the soft cotton covers. A luxurious shower in the multi-jet Neptune shower helped to warm up my frozen bones. Now I understood what the owner Kevin Kilpatrick was referring to when he told me that guests just like to "nest" at their bed and breakfast. It was indeed a supremely comfortable relaxing environment that got us ready for our last evening in Niagara Falls.

We decided to have dinner at the Frontier Grillhouse which is located adjacent to the Best Western Fireside Hotel with a great view overlooking the Niagara River. This modern casual restaurant features an extensive menu with a variety of freshly prepared breakfast dishes or an all-you-can-eat breakfast. The dinner menu has a large selection of appetizers, soups and salads and a wide range of grilled dishes including prime rib, New York striploin, Filet Mignon, T-bone steaks. Pastas, seafood and desserts round out the offering at the Frontier Grillhouse. I enjoyed my piping hot French onion soup and garlicky escargots with gratinated mozzarella while my husband treated himself to a very generous plate of Fettucine Alfredo. We couldn't have added dessert even if we had wanted to.

We could have relaxed for even longer at the Frontier Grillhouse, but one more adventure was waiting for us: a bit of gambling at the Fallsview Casino Resort. Niagara Falls has long been a popular destination for gambling. On the Ontario side there are two large casinos: Casino Niagara, located in the Clifton Hill area, and the recently opened Fallsview Casino Resort which has been enticing gamblers since 2004. As we had already explored Clifton Hill, we decided to visit the Fallsview Casino which is an impressive hotel, shopping, gaming and entertainment complex located on a hill with an amazing view of the majestic Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

The entire complex is mind-boggling - with a 100,000 square foot gaming floor it impresses even the most experienced casino-goer. Since it was our first time here and neither one of us is a casino regular, we were astounded by the seemingly never-ending gaming floor which features 3000 slot machines and 150 table games. Everywhere lights are blinking and the chime-like sounds of the slot machines fill the air. My husband is quite a talented hobby poker player, and he checked out the amazing array of table games, which include poker games like Let It Ride and Carribean Stud. Other table games include Baccarat, Blackjack, Craps, Roulette and Spanish 21 as well as more exotic varieties such as the ancient Chinese Sic Bo game of dice, Pai Gow Tiles - a Chinese version of dominoes, and Pai Gow Poker which combines elements Asian Pai Gow and Western-style poker.

I decided to just watch the action and sit back as my husband tried his hand at different types of poker. Lady Luck was shining on him for a while, but as the evening progressed he gave back all his winnings and lost a bit of money. But I could see from his face that he had thoroughly enjoyed himself and had a great evening. We resolved to come to Niagara Falls again and next time we were going to bring my mother-in-law as well who loves playing the slots occasionally.

Nicely tired from a full night of entertainment we got back to our cozy B&B and just fell into bed for a great night's sleep. This morning it was time for us to leave, but before our departure we enjoyed one more delicious breakfast at the Kilpatrick Manor B&B. Chef Kevin had prepared an absolutely scrumptious strawberry crepe with Grand Marnier sauce (absolutely heavenly!) while my husband enjoyed Kevin's "full-on fry", featuring eggs any style, bacon, sausage, potatoes and toast.

We regretted to have to leave Niagara Falls, but fortunately our adventures were set to continue with a trip to Buffalo and a subsequent flight from Buffalo for a quick tropical jaunt to Puerto Rico. But this three-day adventure in Niagara Falls has been a great entertaining winter getaway from the city. Despite my tightly packed schedule in Niagara Falls I have only scratched the surface of things to see and do and I plan to come back some time in the summer to see enjoy some of the outdoor activities that Niagara Falls and the surrounding region have to offer.
About the Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions. Travel and Transitions deals with travel to foreign countries and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travelers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features.
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