The world is coming to Niagara Falls for the solar eclipse. Officials on both sides of the border are ready

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The Maid of the Mist doesn’t yet know if conditions will allow it to open by April 8 but the company hopes it can, spokesman Kevin Keenan said.

The Buffalo News, Feb. 11, 2024

Call it a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see two natural wonders at once.

Niagara Falls is getting widespread praise as a prime destination for viewing the total solar eclipse, and Canadian and American civic leaders are bracing for hundreds of thousands of visitors on April 8.

The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., said he expects to host the largest crowd in the city’s history for a single event.

“Ever,” Mayor Jim Diodati said in an interview. “By far. By far.”

Eclipse chasers and other travelers have snapped up hotel rooms in and around the Falls.

Governments in Ontario and New York have scheduled special activities for the days leading up to the eclipse. Schools on both sides of the border have decided to close that day to avoid getting caught in the crowds.

And businesses are getting in on the action, too, with everything from a restaurant’s celestial-themed menu to a skydiving trip over the Falls perfectly timed with the totality.

“We know the hotel rooms are already booked,” said Janice Thomson, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism in Ontario. “And we know that the attractions and the restaurants are all gearing up to cater to thousands and thousands of people.”

Uncommon event

Both cities of Niagara Falls are among the North American communities within a narrow band stretching from Mexico to Canada that will experience a rare total solar eclipse on April 8.

The last time this happened in the Buffalo area was 1925, and it won’t return again to our region until 2144.

National Geographic ranked watching the solar eclipse in Niagara Falls at No. 11 on its list of the top 20 travel experiences in the world for 2024 – between hiking a volcano in Panama and trekking a glacier in Chile.

And listed Niagara Falls as the most scenic spot in America from which to view the total eclipse.

“I think it’s because Niagara Falls is one of the great natural wonders of our planet. And we’re going to have at the same time, concurrently, one of the great celestial events of our lifetime,” Diodati said. “It’s two natural phenomena happening and overlapping. And I think it creates a critical mass of curiosity.”

Niagara Falls, N.Y., Mayor Robert Restaino said he’s expecting tens of thousands of visitors to crowd into the best viewing spots at Prospect Point and elsewhere in the Falls.

Key administrators have met regularly to work on crowd control and traffic flow in and around the city, Restaino said, studying, for example, how 70,000 football fans are moved in and out of Highmark Stadium for Buffalo Bills home games.

“I mean, is it taxing in terms of staff and resources? Most definitely. But it’s worth it,” he said. “When you think about the opportunity for us, that kind of advertising you can’t pay for.”

Huge crowd expected

Restaino and Diodati both said the crowd should be far larger than the numbers who saw Nik Wallenda cross over the Falls on a high wire in 2012, the largest event to date at the Falls. Tens of thousands on the American side, and more than 100,000 on the Canadian side, watched that evening.

Diodati said he spoke to an American documentary crew that tracks total eclipses and they said to expect eight or nine times the largest crowd Niagara Falls has ever had. That could push the numbers along both sides of the border to more than 1 million people, Diodati said.

The Ontario city is setting up a concert and other activities to keep people from trying to leave all at once upon the conclusion of the eclipse, said Diodati.

Organizers reached out to Bonnie Tyler – known for the song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – to ask her to perform, but she will be on a European tour in early April. The city has arranged for another performer who ties in well with the eclipse, but Diodati preferred to keep that identity a secret.

Officials also are bringing in a Guinness Book of World Records representative to try to set a record for the most people dressed up in the same sun costume.

“It’s going to be fun,” Diodati said.

Restaino noted Niagara Falls is one of a dozen or so cities along the path of the totality that teams from NASA will visit, offering science workshops leading up to the eclipse.

There’s one element Restaino said he’s looking forward to seeing himself.

“I often joke to people when they’re visiting, ‘I can guarantee you a rainbow.’ But in the eclipse, I’m told that that rainbow will still exist but it will be completely pink during the totality,” Restaino said.

Eclipse fans welcomed

Schools in Ontario have closed for the day. Niagara Falls, N.Y., schools were set to be open on April 8, a Monday that followed the two-week spring break, but Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he’s made the decision to close to students and assign remote training to staff.

He noted the time of the totality, around 3:20 p.m., lines up with when schools dismiss and buses are on the road.

“There’s a million people coming to 16 miles of Niagara Falls. It’s going to be gridlock here,” said Laurrie, who is on the local tourism board and has heard hotel rooms are going for $600 or $700 a night for April 7 and April 8.

Destination Niagara USA put in an order for eclipse glasses to distribute to its members and the wider community in 2022, spokeswoman Sara Harvey said.

“We’ve ordered thousands of those and, actually, recently put in another order just because, as we’ve gotten closer, so many people have reached out,” she said.

The organization worked with an artist, Tyler Nordgren, who is known for his eclipse-themed designs. Destination Niagara USA is selling commemorative viewing glasses, magnets, T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts.

Harvey said umbraphiles – the term, meaning “shadow chaser,” refers to those who seek out eclipses – will travel from near and far to find the totality.

“For someone who is interested in any sort of celestial or scientific activity, this is like the Super Bowl for them,” she said.

Kory Schuler, executive director of the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce and part of the group that has met to plan for the eclipse, said, “We’ve been fielding calls from all over the country.”

The totality comes when the Falls aren’t as busy as during the peak summer tourist season.

“So to have an event like this at a time of year where there’s not normally this amount of traffic is going to be a huge economic driver for these businesses,” Schuler said.

Hotels sold out

The 44-room Giacomo Hotel in Niagara Falls, N.Y., has guests coming in from Houston, Florida and Minnesota for April 8, said Jessica Hald, the assistant general manager.

“We’ve been sold out now for almost a full year,” she said.

The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, at 604 rooms the largest hotel in the region, and the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino, which has 413 rooms, are quickly filling up, said Melissa Free, Seneca Gaming Corp.’s chief marketing officer.

“We know this is once in a lifetime. We knew that we needed to do something,” Free said, noting they’ve booked guests from as far away as Japan and England. Seneca Gaming is hosting family-friendly community events outside its Niagara Falls and Salamanca properties and another party catering to adults at its Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, she said.

The Maid of the Mist doesn’t yet know if conditions will allow it to open by April 8 but the company hopes it can, spokesman Kevin Keenan said.

Savor, the restaurant operated by the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Culinary Institute, is hosting a Space Dinner on April 6 billed as a “gastronomic journey through the cosmos.”

And Sky Dive the Falls, based in Youngstown, is offering the chance to skydivebefore, during or after the totality.

“Make no mistake,” the company states on its website. “Niagara Falls will be a ZOO the day of the eclipse.”

Credit: The Buffalo News