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Metalhead Money Goes to Niagara Falls

The Heavy Metal Husband and I took a very belated honeymoon to Niagara Falls last week. It was great to get out of the house for a few days! We live in Connecticut, so it was about a seven-hour drive to Niagara -- and New York is one of the few states that we're allowed to visit due to the current tri-state travel advisory. (In fact, we had planned to play a show in Canton, Ohio on Friday, then make the four-hour drive up to the Falls the next morning -- but we had to drop off the show about two weeks prior when Ohio was added to the no-travel list.)

Let me back up for a minute. Our wedding was in November 2019, but I was only able to take Friday and Monday off from work at that time. As awesome as it is to have the summers "off" as a teacher (if you don't work during the summer, which I have for 11 out of my 13 summers thus far), it means you don't get to pick when you go on vacation during the rest of the year.

So we scheduled a (long, expensive) honeymoon to Disney and Universal Studios during my spring vacation in April 2020. Of course you know that the entire world shut down in March.... We were able to get refunds on everything except our plane tickets, which I'm still fighting a losing battle over.

Fast forward to the summer. It was time to find an alternate honeymoon destination! We picked Niagara Falls because neither of us had been there and our planned Ohio show would be taking us somewhat nearby.

I'll admit, I am not a "travel hacker." I'm sure HMH and I could have spent less on this trip, but I don't go on vacation to save money -- rather, I take trips to escape my daily hamster wheel of washing dishes and pinching pennies! That being said, here are some ways we saved a little:

  • We used AAA member discounts when booking hotels. I don't know if our AAA Plus membership actually pays for itself or not, but it gives me peace of mind in case I get stranded on the side of the highway somewhere. And occasionally, we get to use it for travel discounts! So if you are a member of any group that might get a discount -- AAA, union, veteran, senior... -- make sure to use it!

  • I booked one hotel through Rakuten. (Yes, that's a referral link.) Usually this cash back site helps me get a buck or two off cat food. But I've found that the rewards really add up if I start at Rakuten when booking hotel stays. For instance, let's say you're going on a five-night trip at $150/night with 3% cash back.... And perhaps you use a credit card with cash back rewards to pay for it.... As long as you pay your credit card bill before it accrues interest, you could be getting anywhere from $20-$45 back on your stay.

  • We brought brown-bag lunches for our first day of traveling, as well as snacks, bottled waters, and sodas from home. Whether you're driving or flying, chances are you'll be in transit during at least one meal. If it's not included, bring it with you. Apples, PB&J, and nuts/granola bars are a couple lunch items that travel well; since we had a little cooler with us, we also brought some string cheese. Yum!

  • We stayed in places that served "free" breakfast and had fridges in the rooms. This meant there was one less meal to purchase during each day of our travels, and we were able to save to-go boxes from dinners. Our lunches consisted of either leftovers from the previous night's dinner or snacks from the breakfast buffet. Dinner was the only meal we ended up having to purchase out!

Now onto the actual trip.... Niagara Falls was really cool! I'm glad we got to see this natural wonder of the world. If you're making the trip during the pandemic, you won't be able to cross over to the Canadian side -- but other than that, all the main attractions were open with reduced capacity. In fact, it was probably a much more pleasant experience to take the Maid of the Mist boat ride with only 175 people, rather than 500!

Here are a couple pointers for your visit:

  • The park is free to enter and stroll around, although you will pay for parking. There are restrooms throughout, and a centrally located cafe and gift shop.

  • You HAVE to ride the Maid of the Mist! The classic tourist boat ride takes you past the American and Canadian Falls. Adult tickets were $22.50 when we went. Expect to wait in line for 2-4 hours on weekend afternoons, first come first serve -- don't worry, you can hop out of line to visit nearby bathrooms -- and expect to get wet! Totally worth it.

  • Cave of the Winds is another must-see part of the Falls if you have the mobility to navigate slippery steps. This network of stairs and platforms is located at the base of the American falls, so you are just feet away from having the rushing water come down on top of you! Getting up close and personal with the falls was a highlight of the trip for both me and HMH. Tickets are $17 for adults and you have to sign up for a time in advance. Visit here to learn more about Cave of the Winds tickets.

  • Take a walk through the park at night to see the Falls illuminated! Very scenic.

HMH and I participated in a tour; it probably wasn't necessary in hindsight, but I'm glad we did for two reasons. First, our tour guide took us to Terrapin Point, which is the section of the park where you can stand next to the Canadian Falls (which are the most impressive). I think we might have missed that without him. Second, the tour guide was a crafty guy -- he had a secret stash of ponchos to give us when we were waiting in line for Maid of the Mist, which saved us from getting rained on as we waited our turn in the stormy afternoon.

There's plenty more to do at Niagara Falls, like going hiking or visiting the Aquarium of Niagara, but were were only there for a day and a half. If you want to stretch out your Niagara stay, visit the park website for more information!

PS: Don't forget to bring cash on a trip for tipping tour guides and hotel housekeeping!

What are some of your best travel hacking strategies? Leave a comment! (Who knows, you could be helping me out on my next trip!)

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