Last night we camped out near Niagara Falls with plans to hit the falls early in the morning to take in all the sights. Last night was amazing, so we knew that it would be amazing during the day.

One issue we had with Niagara Falls was the cost of parking. Some lots were $20 for the day; street parking was $10/hour and enforced 24 hours a day. But we found a solution…a FREE one!

Morning

It was sunny and bright today, perfect for visiting the falls. We booked tickets to the Hornblower Niagara cruise and to the Skylon Tower observation deck. But we needed to get an early start to find parking for the day. And Juju Jr. seems to always look good in the morning.

We read some Google reviews about a free parking lot that not many people know about, so we went to check it out. It was going to be a 20 minute or so walk to the falls, but we felt it was worth it because we would save $20 on parking. Fortunately, the reviews were correct and the parking lot was empty, except for two vehicles that looked like they’d been there for a while. So, we were set for the day. Juju Jr. even got a view of Skylon Tower.

Now that parking was sorted, we had time for breakfast, which was yesterday’s leftover soup. Soup always tastes great the next day, and it was slightly chilly, so hot soup was welcome for breakfast.

And Dong Eun even prepared lunch for the day so we wouldn’t have to eat out. We’ve saved a significant amount of money by preparing almost every single meal on the trip. And with Ethan eating a lot more nowadays, that’s a good thing. (He wants to let you know that he eats a lot of gummies, too)

After breakfast, Ethan helped with cleaning up, like he’s been doing for a while now. It’s great how he’s always so helpful.

After getting ready for the day, it was time to get over to the falls. The walk wasn’t that far, but as you’ll read about later, I somehow messed up how to get back to the van.

As a treat, Ethan ate a gummy shark candy and told us that his tongue is blue because of food colouring.

On the way, a couple gave Dong Eun a ticket for free mini golf and mirror maze. That got Ethan excited and gave him something to look forward to. It wouldn’t turn out to be quite as free as we thought, as you’ll see later.

When we got to the falls, we were greeted with a nice view of the American Falls. Seeing it again during the day gave us a greater sense of scale. All three falls are impressive sights.

First stop for us was the Hornblower cruise and their free ponchos.

At the entrance before you board, they take your photo on a green screen. We were curious how much they’d want for the photo and were surprised they asked for $30 for two pretty tacky pictures.

Even worse is that they print the photos and likely throw them in the trash if people don’t buy. We felt like this was being wasteful. They could have just as easily showed us the photos on an iPad and printed them out when requested.

I get the marketing ploy of having the photo in your hands, but considering the number of people that go through there each day, they should find a better way of selling the photos.

One nice thing about the cruise is how they talk about the falls and try to impart a bit of an educational experience. Not sure how much Ethan caught, but he knew before we arrived that 85,000 cubic feet of water fall every second over Horseshoe Falls. But like most people, we were there for the experience.

We don’t have a bucket list, but if we did, the cruise to the falls would certainly be on it. It’s definitely worth the price of admission. Just skip the photo to save paper and resources if you know you won’t buy it.

Afternoon

After an exhilarating boat ride, it was time to play. We headed over to Fun Zone, the place where we got that free admission. It was a hot day so we needed a bit of a break. Ethan definitely got enough exercise today, and so did we.

Ethan found a piece of bark that looked like a heart so he gave it to Dong Eun.

On the way to Fun Zone, we noticed a coupon for $2 off the Skylon observation deck fee. We also noticed that the regular price was the same as the so-called discounted price I paid online when booking the tickets. More on this later.

Fun Zone was fun for Ethan, as he loved the mini golf. He got a bit disoriented and dizzy in the mirror maze, but who wouldn’t, right?

But here’s where we started feeling like everything has an angle or scam, making it less pleasant, overall, for tourists. When we got to Fun Zone, they told us that the “free” admission required a $5/person facility fee. It was in the fine print and I should’ve looked more carefully. We paid the $10 and had fun, but learned our lesson.

Before heading up to Skylon Tower, we had the spaghetti Dong Eun prepared in the morning. That was followed up by some Timbits for dessert once we got up to the top of the tower.

Remember the $2 discount and booking the tower tickets online? Well, this was lesson two. They advertise the discount online to get you to book, but they charge a $0.99 processing fee. So we paid more than if we had just walked up to the ticket counter.

Second, the ticket agent insisted that the discount coupon, which is $2 off person, only applied to the group. She told us we only paid a dollar extra. The point isn’t how much but the fact that there is so much misinformation and seemingly deceptive practices aimed at getting an extra buck or two from tourists.

Yes, the view from the top of the tower was cool. But we couldn’t help leaving with a bit of a bad taste in our mouth.

And of course, before you get on the elevator, they ask to take your photo. We knew what this was so we declined. The attendant seemed surprised when we said no, but we weren’t doing that again.

The Timbits were delicious, though, and the sugar rush led to some dancing. But reading the fine print and doing more research into tourist attractions was our lesson learned.

As with most things, there’s always something positive. In this case, it was walking by a glass shop in the tower shopping area where the owner was blowing glass right before our eyes. Ethan was fascinated, as were we, because it was a very cool sight. Also, the heat was intense so it was a great experience for Ethan.

We then went out to look at Horseshoe Falls and it was lucky that we had those ponchos from the boat ride because the mist from the falls was like being in a rain shower.

Now it was time to go because it had been a long day and we were all pretty tired. On the way back to Juju Jr., Ethan found something interesting, as usual.

This was a day of lessons, and there was another as we walked back… I was leading us in the wrong direction, even though Dong Eun asked a couple of times if I knew the way. I really need to double and triple check things, not just assume.

We decided to go to Mississauga, as there was a Walmart we could potentially stay at. When we got there, we were happy to find a Whole Foods. Ethan and I had some pizza and I got some work done because the wifi at Whole Foods is usually pretty fast.

Dong Eun wanted Korean instant noodles for dinner, and so did Ethan, so they had some while I stayed until Whole Foods closed at 10pm.

After dinner, we found out that the Walmart didn’t allow overnight parking, as the lot was owned and patrolled by the mall. We left and arrived just outside of Toronto at another Walmart. It was after 11 when we got there, but at least we could stay the night.

Today was an adventure, full of ups and downs… and a lot of water spraying on us. There were also plenty of lessons learned, mainly on my end in regards to being more attentive to details. We get to try again tomorrow, as we make our way to Ottawa.

If you’re just reading this blog for the first time, we are a family of three traveling across Canada (and likely beyond) in a 1994 VW Westfalia camper van called Juju Jr. Our son Ethan, age 9, is unschooling and so we want him to learn from being on the road and traveling. So he’s also now a roadschooler and we are documenting the trip and his learning on this blog.

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