There's a lot to do in Niagara Falls but there's one attraction that was there before all the rest. Don't get caught up in the hype, get down to the water instead! Maid of the Mist is the aptly named boat ride that has been getting to the heart of the falls since 1846.
Niagara Falls is a town with something for everyone. Do you love generic stuffed animals that are made in China and have the words “Niagara Falls, CANADA” printed asymmetrically across their flank? They’ve got it. Do you get giddy at the sight of franchised wax museums and oddity emporiums? That’s here too. Hankering for another Hard Rock Cafe. Have it. Do you just have really poor taste? They’ve got you covered. But wait, it’s not ALL cheese; the reason that tourists flock here in the first place is the reason it’s called Niagara FALLS – and the falls are the best thing to see here. If you are only here with time for one thing, head straight to the falls and skip the atrocities of Clifton Hill. Go down, down, down to the water and hop on board the Maid of the Mist.
The Maid of the Mist has been helping tourists of all shapes and sizes get wet for most of the last 150 years.
Past the ticket booth and a long descending walkway are four elevators that will bring you to river-level, where you pass through a tent where “raincoats” (transparent blue plastic bags with sleeves and hoods) are distributed. It’s not that you might get wet, you WILL get wet, you might get soaked.
I was the first one in line for the next departure (which is an optimistic way of saying I just missed the last boat), and I quickly made my way to the very front of the top deck. I started taking a few pictures right away when I felt a nudge at my elbow. I looked down to see a little man, under five feet tall, making his way to the rail. “I have to push my way to the front, or, at my size, I won’t see a thing,” he said with a wink. I asked him if he had been on the Maid before, and he responded quickly in his distinctive Boston accent, “Once. Fifty years ago on my honeymoon. We’ve been all around this world since, but we had to come back, ’cause this is the real thing.”
I smiled and told him that this was my third time, and then we both began shooting with film. I was using the Golden Half, Horizon Perfekt, Holga, and LC-A+. He was using the “Maid of the Mist” branded disposable camera that he had just freed from its giftshop shrinkwrap.
The boat pulls out slowly and crosses the river to the American Falls, which magnetically attracts every camera lens in the vicinity. We don’t find ourselves downwind from the water, and the “raincoats” seem like overkill at this point. As we leave the American Falls and travel upstream to the Canadian Falls the namesake mist starts to get heavier.
At first it’s a refreshing spray, varying with gusts of wind. Blue plastic hoods find their ways from backs to heads. Then the spray becomes heavier and constant. Hoods are pulled snug around faces. Cameras tucked under plastic covers. Then it is no longer spray but a relentless wall of mist. Those who keep their face up to the wet wind find that their breath is taken away. Glasses are opaque with water droplets; rivulets run down necks, backs, arms. The roaring water is thundering on both sides as the small boat nears the centre of the horseshoe.
This is where you feel the smallest. Nature has power that you cannot fathom.
Then, the Maid emerges from the mist. My glasses are an object lesson in surface tension. My smile is unrestrained. Cameras come out again, hoods are lowered, glasses are dried. The captain looks down at us from his transparent booth; he loves this.
As the sun warms, blue plastic and moisture condenses on sweaty arms, everyone is smiling. No one is disappointed. Niagara Falls is full of tacky things, but this is the real thing.
Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry rode the Canadian icon 20 years ago on their visit to our country. You should too.
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