Toronto and Niagara Falls
This is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ trips that you look forward to for years – it had better be good!
We joined the Trans Canadian Rail Odyssey package from Titan Travel – 14 nights from Toronto to Vancouver, including three nights aboard The Canadian sleeper train plus two further days on the prestigious Rocky Mountaineer.
Anyone travelling with Titan knows the vital attraction is the included door-to-door service, picking up you and your luggage at home to transport you directly to your airport departures. For us, Cardigan Bay to Heathrow is a mammoth journey, so we opted for the extra overnight stay at Park Inn Hotel near Heathrow, especially as our flight was the day after Bank Holiday Monday – definitely a bad day to travel along the M4. This is still part of the door-to-door package as you are picked up again at the hotel in the morning and taken to departures so definitely the most relaxed way to start and end a long-haul trip.
The airport hotel was good with a convenient pub The Three Magpies just over the road, highly recommended by the Titan drivers, and the whole process of checking in was easy. You can check-in online but only 24 hours before so no good if you have already left home, but the gate was open early and our rep at the airport was excellent. Pleasant flight, plenty of drinks and a reasonable in-flight meal, so watching three films and dozing meant the time went quickly.
However, arrival at Toronto airport was the worst ever! Only just off the plane and making our way to security when we were held back, packed together in a hall-way 10 deep, very hot with no air-conditioning not allowed through as “too many people going through at once so a safety hazard to let us through”? Other planes landed and these passengers joined us in a 2-hour ordeal just to get to security hall. It was another hour before we got through the longest queue for passport control I’ve ever seen.
By the time we got to collect our luggage, the carousels had been emptied, our suitcases strewn all over the floor with those from other flights and new lots going round. Think Heathrow and “any unattended luggage will be blown up”!! We finally found our luggage, and each other, and the Titan rep worked exceptionally hard to keep us together so that we could finally transfer to the Sheraton Centre Hotel.
The hotel is very good, comfortable rooms, and a helpful concierge. We found it very expensive though – a beer and a glass of wine in hotel bar was 25 Canadian $ approximately £15. Beware – prices shown in restaurants, bars and shops are without the local and national taxes (like our VAT) so this will add anything up to another 20% to the price displayed.
Free tour of Toronto in the morning is really helpful to get your bearings. We didn’t go up the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure, but walked down to the Bay and had brunch sitting outside a little café. It was interesting to see groups of small children learning to paddle canoes, not generally allowed on this scale in UK due to ‘health and safety’. The rest of the day is free so we wandered off to see an exhibition of work by ‘The Canadian Seven’, artists from early 20th century (brilliant) at Ontario Art Gallery, then had a drink at the Village Idiot pub (yes, that is its’ name) over the road.
Toronto centre is a fascinating mix of modern high-rise glass fronted buildings and the occasional traditional buildings in the old part of town. We did see the home of the Maple Leafs hockey team, the famous St Lawrence Market, impressive public buildings, and lots of green space with black squirrels dashing around. It is beautiful lit up after dark, especially the central square opposite the Bannock Restaurant, in Hudson’s Bay Store, where we had a great meal (see review).
The next day is a full-day trip to Niagara Falls. Wonderful! This is where the use of words such as stunning, amazing, awe-inspiring is unavoidable! It was a perfect sunny day to see the Falls and it was even more spectacular than we expected. Very busy, and clearly making the most of its commercial potential, but we loved it.
We had pre-booked the Hornblower Cruise (optional) so the rep made sure we had our tickets. It was a long queue to board, but it moved very quickly. Donning red ponchos, we chose a spot on deck where we thought the best views would be. Those who nonchalantly threw their poncho on thinking they would tough it out soon covered up as we were engulfed by spray. This does not save you from wet feet, of course, as the water comes in under the rail.
It was a brilliant experience, under the edge of the Falls with clear views and a real feel for the power of this tremendous flow of water. We didn’t do the optional helicopter ride, but those that did agreed it was an awesome sight from above. There is also a zip wire down to the base …OK, I resisted the temptation (read my previous review of Zip World). The other optional event, which most of the group went for, is lunch at the nearby Sheraton Hotel. It is buffet style and includes a drink and was fine though a bit rushed.
We finished the day with a visit to Niagara on the Lake. What a pretty village with beautiful, two-story buildings, fascinating little shops and lots of restaurants. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have time to enjoy this stop so all agreed it would have been great to stay overnight near the Falls, maybe enjoy an evening cruise, and spend longer at the village. The day ended going back to Toronto rail station to catch VIA Rail’s sleeper train, ‘The Canadian’ for the next stage of our adventure crossing Canada from Toronto to Vancouver.
Find a Holiday to Canada.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Titan Travel – Escorted Tours.