Niagara Falls has long been a prime vacation retreat for honeymooners and families. Now with casinos and high-end golf courses, it's expanding its tourist draw. Just avoid the "falls-view" hype.
NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario - Falls view means everything in this town. It's better than oceanfront property, in many cases. The slightest glimpse from a window of those roaring falls that draw honeymooners and families alike from near and far, and suddenly, it's a whole different world.
"You either have a falls-view room or you're second class," vacationer Ernie Cooper said matter of factly. "It's the difference between being in first-class or steerage. I don't understand people who come here and stare out their hotel window at a parking lot."
Cooper's view fits right into an area obsessed with views. In Niagara Falls, falls view is a marketing term that deserves a spot right alongside "Tastes Great, Less Filling" or "Just Do It." Every hotel, motel and campground claims to have one.
And these claims are almost always made in all capital letters and exclamation points: FALLS VIEW! FALLS VIEW!
Only, it's really not that big of a deal. Often literally. Come to Niagara Falls once, splurge for that FALLS VIEW! suite, and you'll realize you never have to do that again. And could have done without it the first time, for that matter.
This is the first secret of Niagara Falls hotel shopping: Falls view ain't diddly and usually less than that.
Getting a hotel room with a falls view automatically jacks the price up significantly. In hotels like the Fallsview Casino Resort, the same room that goes for $189 dollars on the city-facing side of the hotel is $249 on the Niagara Falls side this June. Just last summer the difference between non falls-view and falls-view rates could be as high as $100, but with the American dollar much weaker against the Canadian now, hotels are trying harder to lure tourists with perks. Of course, a $60 per night difference is still significant.
The choice seems like an economic no-brainer. Especially with a new billion-dollar casino and high-end golf on which to spend that extra cash.
Still, it's easy to be tempted: How many times are you going to be able to gaze out your window at one of the world's natural wonders - unofficial or not? It doesn't take long to decide that, what the heck, falls view it is.
That's a mistake because of the reality of most FALLS VIEW! rooms. Unless you're dropping a grand a night for a suite on the very top floor, chances are your look at the falls is going to be more restricted than the attitude of that preacher in "Footloose."
In Niagara Falls, the term "falls view" means any type of obscured, far-off look at the roaring water. A falls-view room at the Fallsview Plaza Hotel (formerly the Renaissance Fallsview) turned out to have the actual falls to the far right of the window, just partly visible over some trees.
It's a view that has as much a shot at taking your breath away as Rosie O'Donnell.
You get your best views of the falls like everyone else - for free by walking down to the railing and staring out.
Once you're over the falls-view frenzy, you can go about making smart Niagara Falls' hotel decisions. Many people still think this place peaked in the late 1970s when "Superman II" was filmed here, and Clark Kent and Lois Lane spent time in a cheesy suite.
Fact is, Niagara Falls' lodging has become a lot more sophisticated in the last few years. The best hotel by far is Fallsview Casino (6380 Fallsview Blvd., tel. 888-325-5788), part of that billion dollar project. It's not only the only five-star hotel in Niagara Falls, it also boasts the best location with all the gaming action and a new mall right downstairs from your room.
Fallsview Casino often sells out, though, which necessitates a backup plan. Fallsview Plaza Hotel (6455 Fallsview Blvd.) is a good one. It's right across the street from the casino-mall complex, connected by an indoor walkway, and while its rooms are less plush, the service is good. There is also a Sheraton Fallsview (6755 Fallsview Blvd., tel. 905-374-1077) a really short walk from the casino.
If you stay at the Fallsview Plaza, be aware that the hotel only offers $20 valet parking to guests. But you can park right across the street at the casino for free if you get a Player's Card (even without signing up for the free card, it's $10, half of the Fallsview Plaza).
"That's the only thing I don't like," vacationer Sally Donohue said, sitting in the Fallsview Plaza lobby. "There are all these little extras that add up. The rooms are pricy enough."
The Fallsview Plaza and Fallsview Casino Resort are in the pricey neighborhood of Niagara Falls. If you go about a five-minute drive from this casino zone, you'll get into the super touristy part of the city - which is saying something. This is where you'll find Applebee's, chain restaurants galore, arcades and plenty of mini golf. Picture a very compact Myrtle Beach. It's called the Clifton Hill district, and it's usually filled with tourists strolling along its crammed-together shops.
The Courtyard Marriott (5950 Victoria Ave., 800-771-1123) is also in this general area, and it offers larger rooms than even many of the high-end Niagara Falls hotels at prices that are sometimes significantly less than Fallsview Casino or Fallsview Plaza.
If you're looking for something completely different from the stereotypical Niagara Falls vacation experience, you can leave The Falls - and those overhyped views behind - and head to Niagara-on-the-Lake. This 226-year-old town with quaint streets, Victorians and church towers is full of bed and breakfast-type accommodations.
The Prince of Wales Hotel (6 Picton St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, tel. 905-468-3246), one of the best, can set you back $400 per night easily.
"The town's going for the well-off tourists more and more," local bartender Taylor Lawson said.
On the complete opposite end of that spectrum, there is Welland. Low on frills and home to a Best Western, Days Inn and Comfort Inn, this little town 12 miles from The Falls is a place to stay if you're a hardcore golfer or gambler who wants to save every extra dollar for his passion.
The clubhouse attendants at golf courses like Thundering Waters and The Rees Jones Course at Grand Niagara aren't going to know or care where you rested your head. Though you might.
"I sort of miss nice pillows," golfer Pak Chung said on trying Welland after staying in the Fallsview Casino area on a previous trip.
He doesn't miss those falls views, though. Neither will you.
May 5, 2008