Since opening in June the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort has been a hot topic. Staff writer Christopher Heard initially wrote about the experience when the facilities debuted to the media, but since then it seems people want to know more about what the hotel has to offer. With that in mind I recently took a weekend trip through the Niagara region – ending with a stay at the Fallsview that I must admit, impressed me in almost every way. It’s inevitably a great trip for anyone looking to gamble a bit, see the scenery, and enjoy one of the nicest areas in Southern Ontario.
While the goal was always to spend as much time as possible at the Fallsview, I decided to make a bit of a trip out of the visit. Heading straight down the Queen Elizabeth Way is the quickest route to Niagara Falls from Toronto, but for a change I decided to take a longer route west along the 401 and down Guelph Line, which eventually meets back up with the Q.E.W. During the fall it’s one of the nicest routes around this area and we caught almost all the leaves in full colour.
Naturally, part of the trip takes you through wine country and you can’t go on a weekend getaway without at least one nice bottle of wine, so the first stop on the trip was at the Kittling Ridge Winery (www.kittlingridge.com) in Grimsby. The wine of choice is of course their amazing Icewine & Brandy that sells for $19.95.
From there we went on to Niagara-On-The-Lake (www.niagaraonthelake.com), a stop I recommend to anyone heading into the Niagara region. You can easily stop and stay here for the night if you don’t mind spending a bit on either a nice hotel or any one of a number of inns or bed & breakfasts, but even just for a couple of hours Niagara-On-The-Lake is well worth the time. As far as hotels go I’ve never stayed there, but there can be no doubt that the Prince Of Wales Hotel (6 Picton Street) is the cream of the crop.
When it comes to shopping there are a lot of great stores that sell anything you might want – from candy, cigars or clothes (including imported items from Scotland or Ireland), to art, books and kitchen goods. And after you’re done shopping there’s another reason to visit… Niagara-On-The-Lake has some amazing restaurants. My favorite among these would be the Buttery (19 Queen Street), but you may also want to check out the Carriage Inn Restaurant (245 King Street), the Shaw Café & Wine Bar (92 Queen Street), or for nice, cheap eats, the Stagecoach Family Restaurant (45 Queen Street).
Leaving Niagara-On-The-Lake the Niagara Parkway offers a scenic trip directly into the heart of Niagara Falls. Along the way you can stop at any number of attractions that will interest most travellers, including restaurants, lookout spots, the Butterfly Conservatory, or a ride on the gondola over the whirlpool.
Once you’re in Niagara Falls there’s a million things to do of course, but we skipped over all of them for our final destination, the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort at 6380 Fallsview Boulevard.
Touring The Facilities:
After arriving the first order of business was a tour of the facilities. That may not sound impressive but at over 450,000 square feet, with three levels to the main building, and situated on 23 acres of land, a tour is a much bigger deal that you might initially think.
First off, there’s the Fallsview Galleria (www.fallsviewgalleria.com) retail space. Right now there are about 15 shops open, but there’s space for 35 stores which will open on a sliding scale over the next few months. There’s a little bit of everything right now, from a smoke shop, an art gallery and a candy store to a few high-end clothing boutiques, and even a regular touristy gift shop. (I recommend coming back after you win your millions on the casino floor.)
You also can’t visit the Fallsview without checking out the “Hydro-Teslatron” fountain in the rotunda. As a fountain it’s amazing to look at, but every night at 9 pm, 10 pm, 11 pm and midnight there’s a special show that you should check out. Basically it simulates a power failure that ends up causing a mini-disaster. Pretty amazing effects and worth 5 minutes of your time to see.
Moving on we got to tour the restaurants, food and other planned entertainment. I didn’t actually end up trying anything more than the fast food during our stay, but there’s something for most people somewhere in the building:
17 Noir is the real hot spot with a wide range of food, but that’s just one of a number of cool places you can grab a bite.
The Famous is an art deco themed restaurant that dominates part of the main foyer, and it’s always busy. It’s also open 24-hours a day and includes a full menu that isn’t bad – it’s basically the safe choice for anyone not sure where to go.
Next, there’s the Asian Pearl, an entirely exclusive affair that serves authentic Asian food at prices that I’ve heard are high, but worth it if you appreciate the real deal.
Then you’ve got Pazzo Matto, a small-ish Italian eatery (with sit-in or take-out) in a rather nice little food gallery that will expand over the coming months. Right now you can grab general fast food, or snack-type food if you don’t want to go to any of the more upscale restaurants.
And finally there’s the Grand Buffet located off of the gaming floor in the casino. They’re open for various menus throughout the day, which includes a late-night (1 am to 4 am) snack buffet that includes wings and things that will interest the night hawks, but you can also go for brunch, lunch or dinner.
(I should mention that a night club is being opened for 2005, which should add a whole new element of entertainment, but so far there’s no word on the style, operating hours, or when the actual launch date will be.)
Following this we moved on to tour the Avalon Ballroom, the Fallsview’s performance space that offers 1500 seats and have seen the likes of Julio Iglesias, The Barenaked Ladies, Howie Mandel, and will shortly feature LeAnn Rimes, Wayne Newton, and the Pointer Sisters. (Other on-site entertainment venues include the 365 Club and Splash Bar, both are located off of the gaming floor.) It’s a beautiful space and I definitely need to head back to catch one of the upcoming acts – it’s also one of the most high-tech spaces I’ve seen recently, which is nice to see.
Last of all we took a walk by the Fallsview’s conference facilities, which are supposed to be just as high-tech as the rest of the building, and then walked outside to the path that winds around the building – which has a great lookout over the Canadian falls. It nicely wrapped up everything we’d seen before moving on to the real highlight of the building.
Inside The Casino:
Touring the casino can’t easily be summed up in this little review. It’s a massive 200,000 square foot space with 150 gaming tables and 3000 slot machines, which also includes a high roller area. Right now there’s really something for any gambler, but there are plans to bring in penny slots – which should open up things even wider for would-be slot machine fans.
What’s most striking though about the casino isn’t the size of the floor or the number of people, but rather the whole use of space and how it’s been put together. No matter where you want to go it feels like there’s a lot of room to move, and you never really get the feeling that you’re lost in a giant space because there are landmarks everywhere you go (like a multi-sided clock near the high-roller entrance). Most amazing of all though is how quiet the room seems next to any other casino I’ve ever been in. There wasn’t a single point where I had to fight to talk over the noise, and that could mainly be because coins aren’t really used that much when people cash out. Instead the Fallsview uses printed tickets that you can print out and either use at another machine or cash out with. It eliminates all of the noise that usually drives me nuts in a casino this size, and it also means that you don’t have to get your hands filthy when you decide you want to leave.
You also can’t help but marvel at the whole casino design. Every ceiling has been painted to match the area and every time you see gold, it’s not just paint – all the frescos were made with real gold leaf. It’s a beautiful space and even timid gamblers should be able to enjoy going for a visit. Non-smokers and smokers are also welcome as the whole space is shared, but one entrance is exclusively for non-smokers. With the amazing ventilation system that the whole facility runs on you needn’t worry about stray smoke either, although I would say that there’s no clear barrier to where you should and shouldn’t smoke, but I expect it’s enforced nonetheless.
I ended up playing slots for a while and finishing on roulette and while I felt a tad over-crowded at the tables, I still enjoyed the experience. The dealers could be friendlier, and they could stand to open one or two more tables now and then when the rush gets intense, but it was still a great experience and I’d far rather go to the Fallsview now than the older Casino Niagara, which suffers from being too small and a notch too shabby.
Finally, with everything else behind us, we checked into our hotel room. The first notable oddity for any traveller is that the hotel isn’t branded, aside from being the Fallsview Hotel. This isn’t a bad thing however as you can’t tell the difference once you’re inside. It’s a beautiful space in-line with the rest of the facility and nicest of all, every single room looks out over the falls (in the suites at the top you can sit in your hot tub and look out at the falls, or so I hear), and I can tell you that the view is amazing.
You do pay for this luxury though and you may find lots of local hotels that are cheaper, especially considering the small-ish room sizes, but it’s not a bad price if you’re actually looking for a weekend away. Best of all, you can easily just stay inside the building for the length of your stay since everything you might want to do is provided inside.
As far as the quality of the rooms go, I enjoyed almost everything. In-room controls let you set how warm or cold you want it, the view is obviously nice (nicer than the lookout on ground-level, actually), and the bathroom and bed are fairly nice. My only real complaint is that there currently is no high speed internet in the rooms, and the TV really doesn’t offer enough stations. Honestly, in a building that runs 24-hours a day this shouldn’t be an issue, but at the cost it is a shortfall that should be considered.
If you want to get a little exercise, swim, or get pampered there is also a decent little gym, pool, and spa that you should check out. The pool room also has a nice little hot tub, and it’s all kept very clean and tidy. The spa prices are also very competitive when compared to a place like the King Edward in Toronto, or any similarly priced hotel.
Currently you can check in for $198/night with a minimum 2-night stay which also comes with dinner and breakfast. If you get a Players Advantage Club membership (which is free) parking is also free, which is a decent little deal considering parking generally costs around $15.
I really enjoyed the entire weekend and have to recommend going to anyone, but I would warn weekenders to plan on bringing enough cash with them. Even if you only spend/lose a little gambling the cost of food alone is much more than you’d see anywhere else (breakfast generally is $15 a plate anywhere in or around the Fallsview) and the hotel isn’t a steal, but it is worth the price.
The facilities are beautiful and it doesn’t so much feel like a little piece of Las Vegas as just a twist on the Vegas idea with a Canadian focus. Vegas may be the originator for this sort of place, but the Fallsview isn’t stuck on trying to imitate that. It’s also a brilliant step forward for the Niagara region, and a necessary push to bring more high-end spaces to Niagara Falls.
After spending two days there I wondered if I would want to go back again and the answer is a big yes. I’d love to visit just for a night at the casino, but I’m also thinking that a trip back to stay at the hotel is a must sometime soon. If I’m lucky a couple of good spins at the roulette wheel should pay for the trip.
Thanks to Kevin & Melissa for their help with this article.