My aunt and uncle used to run a gift shop in a picturesque West Australian town that sold beautifully made handbags and jewellery that cost a pretty penny.
But those items sold poorly. Most of their business came from what they used to call ‘STS’ which were things like pens, wine coasters and neck ties.
I asked my uncle one day what that meant and he drolly replied ‘Shit That Sells.’
That acronym struck me with full force as I strolled down the main street of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side of this world famous waterfall.
Tourist trap of Niagara Falls
Carmen, our good mate Diana, and I drove there from Toronto and arrived after dark.
We checked into our ultra cheap motel and walked down a big hill towards the waterfalls, passing a menagerie of ice cream parlours, gift shops, haunted houses, 3D movie theatres, all you can eat restaurants, margarita bars, wax museums and pretzel carts.
The traffic and crowds and music and buzzing and beeping was so loud you could barely hear the colossal amounts of water pounding through the air just a few hundred metres away.
Niagara Falls is a tourist trap like no other.
The only way to escape the crush of crowds and capitalism is to actually look at the waterfalls.
But the moment you turn away your eyes will be filled with neon and 2 for 1 offers on lite beer.
It’s a dizzying place that feels more like a franchise of Las Vegas than a place to appreciate the power and wonder of nature.
Niagara Falls’ beauty
There are three waterfalls; American falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls. The latter is on the Canadian side and probably gets the most press because it is the largest and loudest.
Each weekend in the summer all three are lit by spotlights and a fireworks show that draws huge crowds.
The waterfalls are spectacular and just a few seconds of looking at their hypnotic churning is enough to understand why so many people come to see them every year; and why there are so many tourist attractions around them.
Maid of the Mist tour
The next day we walked as quickly as we could through the town and headed towards The Maid of the Mist, a boat service that’s been taking tourists right into the waterfalls for more than a century.
It was the only touristy thing we did in Niagara Falls and it was well worth battling the crowds.
We stood on the top deck of the boat to get a good view and were each given a bright blue poncho to protect our clothes – we looked like futuristic monks with waterproof cameras in hand.
Being under the falls
The Maid of The Mist sailed slowly past American Falls and the Bridal Veil which are quite peaceful.
Then the bow curved toward the thundering vortex created by Horseshoe Falls and the engines throttled up to full power so the boat could push against the colossal current flowing out of the bowl-shaped pool.
We were covered in mist within seconds and then lashing sheets of water that stung any bit of skin that wasn’t covered.
The noise was incredible, like sticking your head into the slipstream of a jet airliner.
Everyone on the boat was laughing and whooping at the power of the waterfall, squinting their eyes so they could take pictures.
When The Maid of The Mist finally turned away from the super soaker my feet and head were dripping wet but everything else was dry – good poncho! It’s one thing to look at Niagara Falls, but quite another to actually go practically underneath them and feel their energy.
We walked down the gangplank and back into the shops and restaurants swirling around the waterfalls. We quickly bypassed the offers to purchase our cheesy photo and decided to hop in the car and go to an attraction more suited to our tastes – the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region.
That’s a tourist trap I was glad to be stuck in!
As always, we welcome your comments!
Have you had a tourist-trap experience? What was it like?
What you need to know:
Cost – An adult ticket for the Maid of the Mist tour is C$19.75 from the Canadian side of the falls.
When to go – Maid of the Mist tours only run in the warmer months, usually May to October.
How to get there – The Maid of the Mist boats in Canada leave at the jetty on the corner of River Rd & Clifton Hill.
Maid of the Mist provided us with two complimentary tickets, but as always our views and work are our own.