Niagara Falls on a budget

Diane Warren, of Hauppauge, visited Niagara Falls in

Diane Warren, of Hauppauge, visited Niagara Falls in June 2010 and snapped this photo from the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which she says her family "enjoyed tremendously." (Credit: Diane Warren)

The mighty waters are not the only things falling at Niagara.

According to tourism director Victor Ferraiuolo, the number of visitors to Canada's Niagara Falls has plummeted 10 to 20 percent since last year. Among the leading causes that are discouraging Americans from visiting: the strengthening Canadian dollar (now on par with ours) and more restrictive passport rules for crossing the border.

To lure us back over the Rainbow Bridge that connects our two countries, hotel owners are lowering prices and offering deals. If you're willing to forgo the five-star hotels with the prime views of the water (you'll see the falls better outside the building, anyway), a vacation at Niagara Falls becomes even more affordable this summer.


ONTARIO VS. NY

Although there are low-cost motels on the U.S. side of the falls, the more-commercialized Canadian side compensates with more hotel packages and fun activities to do after you've explored the falls. What's more, staying on the U.S. side and trekking across the congested bridge, which includes repeatedly going through Customs, is not worth the trade-off of your vacation time. Most important, the view is better on the Canadian side, where you get the full panorama of the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the impressive Horseshoe Falls.

On your last day, however, it may pay to shop for souvenirs and fill your gas tank (if you rent a car) on the American side to avoid the new 13 percent Canadian sales tax and $4 a gallon gas price.


GOOD TO KNOW

The famous go-to destination for honeymooners in the 1950s and '60s has long since expanded with attractions designed for all ages. You'll find casinos, wineries, water parks, carnival rides, outlet shopping and a flashy entertainment complex on Clifton Hill.

Getting around is cheap, too, on foot or by the Falls Shuttle's $6 unlimited day pass for an adult and two kids. You can save 40 to 50 percent on the price of major attractions by purchasing a pay-one-price pass that includes admission to multiple sights. You should also pick up coupons from the Welcome Centres throughout town.

Here are ways you can enjoy a getaway to the seventh wonder of the natural world without getting soaked.

THINGS TO DO


THE FREEBIES

Stroll the park promenade to see the three falls from different angles. There typically are photo ops of rainbows over the Horseshoe Falls from the upper level of Table Rock. From dusk to midnight, the falls are illuminated in vivid colors.

On Saturday and Sunday nights through Labor Day, there are free concerts starting at 8 at Queen Victoria Park's Illumination Stage. You'll want to grab a spot here, on Rainbow Bridge or at Oakes Garden Theatre to watch the fireworks explode over the falls every Sunday, Wednesday, Friday at 10 p.m.


SAVE ON TOP ATTRACTIONS

Seeing the falls is free. Touching them will cost you. (All prices quoted are in Canadian dollars.)

The $39.95 Niagara Falls and Great Gorge Adventure Pass ($27.95 ages 6-12) is worth the price if you want the fullest falls experience and have enough time to visit at least three of the four covered attractions below. The pass' priority access will help you avoid long ticket lines and includes two days of transportation on the Niagara Parks People Mover bus and Falls Incline Railway.

Each attraction gives you a different perspective of the falls.


MAID OF THE MIST The bouncy, half-hour diesel boat ride is a classic - it goes against the Niagara River current to the American Falls and into the churning basin of the Horseshoe Falls. You'll be given a souvenir rain poncho - expect to get splashed ($8.90-$14.50, maidofthemist.com)


NIAGARA'S FURY AT TABLE ROCK If you enjoy Universal Studios-like simulation rides, this 4-D multisensory show recreates the sights and sounds of the history of the falls. The special effects at the end make you feel like you're going over the edge ($9.75-$15, niagarasfury.com).


WHITE WATER WALK Try it if you want to be near the class 6 whirlpool rapids at the narrow Great Gorge trough that leads to the falls. You'll take an elevator down to walk the 1,000-foot boardwalk that follows along the river ($5.85-$9). For a different vantage point, visitors can ride in a vintage cable car that hovers over the whirlpool ($7.65-$11.75, niagaraparks.com).


JOURNEY BEHIND THE FALLS This is the closest you can get to the Horseshoe Falls - and the loudest and wettest way to see the water. You'll descend by elevator 150 feet through bedrock on a 45-minute tour that involves walking onto two observation decks behind and under the falls. You'll hear the thunder of water charging past you at roughly 40 miles an hour as you stand in the spray ($8.35-$12.75, niagaraparks.com).


CLIFTON HILL FUN PASS Includes six family-friendly attractions at Clifton Hill, ranging from Ripley's Believe It or Not! and the Movieland Wax Museum to a ride on the 175-foot Niagara Skywheel, from which you can see day or night vistas from an enclosed climate-controlled gondola. Passes are $29.95 ($19.95 under 12, 905-358-4793, cliftonhill.com).


CHEAP EATS

Flying Saucer Drive-in

6768 Lundy's Lane, Ontario 905-356-4553, www.fallscasino.com/saucer

You can't miss this diner - it's the huge silver UFO where the locals eat for the generous portions of comfort foods, good coffee and low prices. The menu has an outer space theme with a 99-cent breakfast special. Indoor and outdoor seating.


Betty's Restaurant

8921 Sodom Rd., Ontario 905-295-4436, bettysrestaurant.com

This restaurant makes home-style dishes for all three meals (dinner entrees priced less than $15). Specialties include fish and chips and homemade pies. There are menus for kids and seniors.

HOTEL DEALS

When booking a hotel, be aware that "Fallsview" is the name of a neighborhood, not necessarily a room with actual views of the falls.

Your money will go farther as you move away from the falls and Clifton Hills. There are budget lodgings and restaurants several blocks back in the historic Lundy's Lane area.

SUMMER FALLS AVENUE RESORT WATERPARK PACKAGE

INFO 888-234-8408, fallsviewwaterpark.com

RATES From $179

Available through Sept. 6, a family of four gets one night's lodging at a choice of four hotels, plus two-day admission to the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, which has indoor and outdoor pools, six-story waterslides and 1,000-gallon plunge buckets. The package includes a $40 dining credit and admission for all to seven family-friendly attractions, such as miniature golf and the MGM Movie Experience. Participating hotels include the Crowne Plaza Niagara Falls, Sheraton on the Falls, the Skyline Inn and Hampton Inn by Hilton at the Falls.


RAINBOW MOTOR INN BY THE FALLS

5581 Murray St., 800-238-9407, rainbowinn-niagara.com

RATES $79-$99

Located two blocks from the falls and across from the Fallsview Casino, this three-level motel has a heated outdoor pool and whirlpool spa. The air-conditioned guest rooms have two queen beds. Free parking.


A Night to Remember

6161 Main St., 877-353-8522, an2r.com

RATES $90-$155

This adults-only restored Victorian B&B is the closest one to the falls, a 10-minute walk. Suitable for honeymooners, it is romantically decorated with antiques and has a grand staircase and turret. Free parking.

IF YOU GO

BY CAR Niagara Falls is about a 400-mile drive from New York City.

BY AIR JetBlue flies from JFK to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Fares from $199.40 during peak season. From there, rent a car or take the 30-minute taxi ride to Niagara Falls, Ontario ($55-$85).

NEW BORDER RULES

For re-entry by land into the United States from Canada, citizens must present one of the following forms of identification.

*A valid U.S. passport

*An enhanced driver's license

*A trusted traveler program card (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST)

*An alien registration card

*For those younger than 16, a copy of their birth certificate.

MORE INFO getyouhome.gov

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