Hornblower makes a splash in Niagara
Story by Ilona Kauremszky
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO — Fingers crossed, the clouds finally lifted but that didn’t matter because within minutes the rain shower of a lifetime would happen.
The mighty Niagara Falls was ready to drench these sun seekers.
Confession: I have done countless cruises of the legendary Niagara Falls. As a born and raised Niagara Falls gal (ask me about my high school alma mater) it was a favourite family pastime to ferry relatives from overseas aboard the seaworthy vessel which then was known as The Maid of the Mist. “We really wish to take the boat ride,” we heard our relatives say again and again.
So off we went donning the signature blue rain jackets to make our way to the ship’s bow hugging the steel rails the entire way. Now fast forward a few decades later with a couple of daring nephews in tow and the topic came up yet again.
“Hey would you like to take the boat ride at Niagara Falls?” I asked them with their parents’ within earshot distance.
“WOW, can we?”
How could I not? With a pair of prepubescent eyes that were more likely interested in gazing at their iPads mesmerized by some digital distraction, this dear auntie took the bull by the horn and realized if this excitement was to continue I had to act fast. I knew the challenge was made.
Date set, parents on board (so to speak), our car load of Niagara Falls cruisers arrived to the touristy scene by Clifton Hill. We saw a couple of daredevils spin contortionist acts suspended high on a pole swinging into thin air. We took their fearlessness with us to descend the famous street of museums and gift shops ready for our own blast.
Inching through the crowd that snaked past the Hornblower Niagara Cruises admission gates, we took this promontory of zig-zags downwards until we faced some elevators. The kids were ducking between mom and dad, whispering to each other as we waited for the elevator to open. It did. In we went and down we descended in no time. My brother sees the oncoming cue of sopping wet boaters who just finished the nautical ride and points to the double-decker boat full of patrons in red raincoats.
“Hey that’s probably our boat and it looks full,” he said.
A Thrill Ride on the Falls
Geesh, I’m thinking well there goes our chance of standing in the front row ready to get sopping wet. It was after all the height of the tourist season. Earlier that morning Hornblower Niagara Cruises, the company that now leads Canadian tourists on a mind-bending journey into the Horseshoe Falls, tracked its one millionth customer.
Now there we were amid a sea of raincoats making our own way to the dock, our final point from the mainland before boarding. The boat was named Niagara Thunder. With the thin shells on, the boys did as boys do and recreated some characters from horror flicks in their new red, hooded ponchos. I took it as two kids ultimately getting themselves psyched for the moment of awesome as they tried to outdo each other with zany hijinks.
For centuries the thundering Falls have captivated all who have seen them. An aboriginal legend known as the Maid of the Mist involves a grief-stricken widow who plunges over the watery cliff in her canoe but by some magical powers from Heno, the God of Thunder who lived in the Falls, she survives the ordeal. Then there are the daredevils who performed fearless acrobatics, some like Blondin known for his tightrope walking skills, and the others who plunged over the Falls by barrel, some more successfully than others.
A few years ago world renowned high-wire artist Nik Wallenda shattered records as he walked on a hair-thin rope suspended over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and lived to tell. I had an exclusive interview with him after his successful walk and learned one of his main intents was to get lost in the mist as he walked above the Falls. His walk was absolutely mesmerizing.
Meanwhile I selfishly hoped we could score a front-row standing spot by the bow of the lower deck close to the waves and closer still to the Horseshoe Falls. I wanted us to get lost in the mist too.
“Enjoy your ride,” welcomed our deck staff as we proceeded to the front by the captain’s wheelhouse. There was strangely not a soul around so we secured our positions, clenching the steel rails and eagerly waiting for the boat’s departure.
“Hey Mom, look, there are fish here,” says Cannon. His older brother, Hunter, quips, “See the yellow raincoats by the Cave of the Winds. They look like minions.”
But the laughter that followed his joke was quickly cut out.
The American Falls spilled above pounding white water as the boat passed by the craggily cliffs. The sound intensified yet the emerald river had an eerie calm, glassy look. If you were only catching the sun rays off the water without staring ahead, you’d think you were on a quiet river.
But looks are deceiving. We all stared ahead. “Okay, boys, get ready to really get wet. It’ll come fast and it’ll be super loud,” I belch knowing any moment we’d be facing one of the world’s great natural wonders head on.
The shadow from the Horseshoe Falls darkened our journey as we approached the rocky crest that jets out on the American side. The water turned foamy white leaving patches of melted snow looking like marshmellow swirls floating around us. A tsunami wall of water poured down hard. There was nowhere to hide.
Cannon yells: “Quick look over there — it’s a rainbow.”
A full rainbow cascaded its colourful spectrum shimmering against the mist. For a moment it felt like we had all disappeared into the foggy haze.
I scanned the faces — saw how sopping wet everyone was and realized it doesn’t matter how much you have aged. Seeing the mighty Niagara Falls face to face never gets old and tired.
“Hey, you want to do it again?” I later blurted as we walked through the Niagara Parks.
In unison: “Yeah.”
It looks like we’ll have to give the evening cruise a go next.
MORE ABOUT HORNBLOWER NIAGARA CRUISES
Phone: 1-855-2-NIAGARA (1-855-264-2427)
Address: 5920 Niagara Parkway