Updated: Mar 23
Continuing on from my recent blog about our 6 week trip across America, I now want to talk about our small excursion to Canada!
We had floated the idea of going to Canada during the planning stages of our trip, but we never totally settled on our plans until we were away. First we had to make sure that we had the time to fit everything in, but we also had to decide how to do it. We could go by ourselves, or we could go on a tour.
We quite liked the idea of going just the two of us, but that would mean we would have to figure out how to get there – rent a car, fly, can we get a bus or a train? Plus how expensive would it be and how long would it take? Once we were in Canada, we would have to either decide on staying in just one place for a few days, or try to get to a couple of different places, which would again mean arranging transport, which could potentially take a long time, plus accommodation. In the end we decided it might be easier to go on an organised tour. As we spent such a short amount of time in Texas, we had plenty of time to do so.
I let my husband arrange it, and we went for a company called Tours 4 Fun.
I’ve tried to find the exact tour on the website, and I believe it was the 4-Day Canada, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto & Niagara Falls Bus Tour.
My husband booked two seats on the bus for us when we were in Maryland. From Maryland we went to New York for one really lovely night and the next morning we were picked up nice and early from China Town to head off to the Canadian border!
Once we were on the bus, we were given the itinerary. You don’t you need to do everything on it, but it consists of sight seeing activities and group meals. You just need to tell your tour guide which ones you want to do.
On our first day, we headed to the border, and en route we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass, in New York State. The museum is really nice, it’s filled with beautiful glass sculptures, plus we got to see a glass making demonstration which was pretty fascinating. Whilst we were there, we also got to eat. The cafeteria is quite nice, we had tasty cheeseburgers and chicken fingers!
After that we went to Niagara Falls! That afternoon and night, we stayed on the New York side of the border. When we got to Niagara, had some time to view it at our own leisure. I must admit, we were both a bit underwhelmed. It is stunning, but after years of seeing it up close on films and in photos, I think we were expecting something different.
That sounds ridiculous, it’s Niagara Falls! So iconic and huge. The thing is, is that we really like nature, and this beautiful waterfall has so much around it – restaurants, hotels, houses, a visitors center. It’s not the waterfalls fault, society has built up things that tourists want to see, but it’s so close to them that it’s hard to capture the peacefulness of nature.
Anyway, it’s still very beautiful and a must see. After that we went to the visitors center, where we had some free time to look around and get something to eat. I had an awful hot dog, and then we all met up to go and see a show called the Spirit of the Mist. We weren’t sure what to make of the show. It tells the story of Niagara Falls, through dance and music. It was very interesting but the people putting on the show didn’t seem to be to thrilled about being there, and in all honesty, it almost felt like some form of exploitation!
From there, we finally crossed the border! It was pretty easy, we got off the coach, waited in line and showed our passports – another stamp, yay! – and away we went! Our hotel was really close to the boarder, which was great. By this point we had been travelling on a bus all day, we just wanted to have a relax.
Our hotel was really nice. We stayed at the Universal Inn and Suites*. It’s a really nice place, we were impressed! Our room was huge, and it’s so close to the falls. The hotel has the look of a quaint motel. That night we had a walk out to see what was near by, grabbed a beer and made plans for breakfast. We were relieved to see that Canada accepts American dollars too!
We were up later than intended, meaning we had no time for breakfast. We had to go straight for the bus, which took us back to the falls. It’s a lot better from the Canadian side in my opinion. We had a little stroll, and then we went on the Hornblower. I’ve always thought of the Maid of the Mist when I’ve thought of Niagara Falls, but it turns out that that is the boat you take from the New York side of the falls, and the Hornblower is the Canadian side.
Niagara Falls. Photo Credit – Ashleigh Nicole
Anyway, we all grabbed our pink ponchos, and boarded the boat! This was an amazing experience. You sail past the smaller waterfalls – American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls – and then into the mist of the bigger Horseshoe Falls, and then you sail back. That’s when you really appreciate the immensity of the falls, and how beautiful it really is. You get pretty wet, so make sure you get a poncho, and be careful with your electronics! Gloves might be a good idea too. After that, the group went to see an Imax movie about the falls, but we weren’t too bothered. We had seen the falls now up close and personal, and we had seen the show the night before. So instead we went off for breakfast!
We found a place called Shoeless Joe’s, but because the next activity of the day was a group lunch, we had to go for a small breakfast, and in fact we ended up having dessert for breakfast! A big cookie with ice cream for my husband, and mini doughnuts for me! Plus coffee, to warm me up! It was so nice!
When we met up with the group, we went to the Skylon Tower for lunch! This tower is 775 feet above the falls, and the restaurant rotates! The lunch itself wasn’t great, but we were full from our dessert breakfast. My stake was quite chewy and gristly, and for some reason we only got one dessert which was just cream and chocolate. However, the views are fantastic! Plus, you have to sit with the other people on the tour group so you get to know them.
Skylon Tower. Photo Credit – Ashleigh Nicole.
After lunch we got back on the bus and went to Toronto! Once there, we went to the CN Tower, which was by far one of the most impressive towers we went up whilst we were away. It’s over 1000 feet above Toronto and the views are amazing. My ears popped on the way up. Once you’re up, you have some time to just look around and do as you please. We had a beer whilst we were up there, it was really nice!
Next the rest of the group went to an aquarium. We aren’t really into aquariums and zoos, I worry a lot about the animals being mistreat. So instead we went for a walk and stumbled upon the Steam Whistle Brewery. We popped in and had sadly missed the last tour of the day, but still got to enjoy a beer. It’s a really nice place, with lots of atmosphere.
Steam Whistle Brewery. Photo Credit – Ashleigh Nicole
That evening we opted to go for another group meal in China Town. I didn’t realize it was a fish dinner, and I’m not that keen on fish but it was an interesting experience. We had two tables, and we were by far the youngest ones at our table. The food was actually quite nice, they just kept bringing out big plates of different things – rice, beef with broccoli, soup, lobster, crab, chicken, tofu, it was all quite tasty!
That night we stayed in the Travel Lodge Toronto East. It was very nice, the room was big, with twin beds. I have no complaints about it.
On this morning we had to be up at 5.45! It was worth it though, we went on a beautiful Thousand Island Cruise, where we also had a breakfast buffet. It was really peaceful and beautiful and we learned a lot! It really is a fascinating place, an absolute must see! The breakfast was nice as well.
Thousand Islands. Photo Credit – Ashleigh Nicole
After the cruise, we got back on the bus and went to Ottawa. Once we got there, we had some time to have a look around Canada’s Parliament buildings and just have a little walk around. The buildings are really beautiful and you can also see the Centennial Flame. From there we went to Montreal.
Montreal isn’t at all what I thought it would be. I had visions of this really romantic, beautiful French city. I don’t know if we just weren’t in the right place so we didn’t see the best part of it, or if it was off-season but it was very… quiet and closed off. There was no one around, and all of the stores were closed! It was such a shame. It was really pretty though, I’m sure that under the right circumstances, it can be a really great place.
Once we were there, we went to the Montreal Tower (which is at the Olympic Stadium) which is an interesting place. It’s the tallest inclined tower in the world, at a 45 degree angle. Going up in the lift is very interesting, but once you’re up there it’s not actually that interesting. We only stayed for a few minutes, and then we went to the Biodome!
I wasn’t entirely sure what it was when we went in, and once I realized that it has animals in it, I was a bit apprehensive, but then I found out that it actually houses and protects a lot of endangered species. It’s really interesting, we saw alligators, monkeys, birds, fish, beavers and all sorts!
On the evening we went for a nice group dinner, at a French restaurant. It was much better than the previous meals, the food was delicious – salad, duck and tiramisu – and there seemed to be a lot more conversation. After dinner we popped along to Montreal’s own Notre Dame, which is really nice.
That night we stayed in the Travelodge Montreal Airport, which is really nice.
This was our last day. As much as we had enjoyed our tour, we were looking forward to being off the bus. We spent hours at a time on it. We had to be up at 5.30 – no breakfast again – to get to the border. Once we were there, we stopped at Duty Free. I was tempted to buy so much stuff, but in the end we came away with a fridge magnet – wild, right?
Once we had crossed back over the border, we stopped at a service area for breakfast. We opted for Dunkin’ Doughnuts – coffee, bagels, and doughnuts. It was nice. Then we had a few hours on the bus, and stopped at Ausable Chasm.
Ausable Chasm, New York State. Photo Credit – Ashleigh Nicole
It’s such a beautiful place, we really enjoyed it. It’s a must see! Even though we were actually in New York state by this point, this was my favorite part of our Canada trip. It’s absolutely stunning.
From there we went to Albany, but we didn’t really see much of it. We stopped for lunch, and had the option to go to a big buffet, but we opted to have a walk around instead and grabbed some bus snacks.
After that, it was back to NYC, and our trip ended.
We really enjoyed the trip, although at the same time it was literally a whistle-stop tour. We were constantly on the move, so we only saw snippets of Canada. It was enough to know that we want to go back!
The tour group that we used – Tours 4 Fun – was a good choice, but of course we can’t compare it to other tour groups. It was really well organised and our tour guide, Vicky, was really nice. We didn’t realize that you had to pay for all of your activities up front. We thought you would pay as and when, so we didn’t have all of the money. Thankfully Vicky was happy for us to pay when we got back to New York.
We didn’t know what to expect at all, and we were shocked when we discovered we were the only English people on the bus! Everyone else spoke good English though and it meant we met people from all over – Germany, Spain, China, Vietnam, Mexico – which was great!
It was really a lot of fun.
Tips For The Trip
You aren’t allowed to use the bathroom on the bus, so watch the fluids and be careful of what you eat. You do stop every few hours, so there are plenty of opportunities.
Pack bus snacks, especially if you can’t get up early enough for breakfast.
Take entertainment, you’ll be on the bus for hours at a time. We had kindles, a laptop and a tablet!
Wear comfortable clothes.
Follow the bus rules, don’t be that person who leaves rubbish or talks over the tour guide! Make the journey fun for everyone.