Canada is having a 25 percent-off sale on all goods – for Americans only.
The past week, the American dollar has been worth about $1.30 in Canadian money – roughly 25 percent more – and a growing number of those in our region have begun to get a whiff of bargains they haven’t seen in Southern Ontario since the early 2000s, when the loonie fell to 62 cents against the U.S. dollar.
It’s at 77 cents now and the savings is noticeable, even if your credit card company charges a small currency exchange fee.
“When the U.S. dollar goes up, we see the effect right away,” said Vijay Gupta, whose family owns five souvenir shops along the edges of the Clifton Hill tourist district in Niagara Falls, Ont. “The last few weeks were great when some of your communities had spring break. People were happy when they saw the money difference.”
Canadian visitors came in droves to Western New York for most of the last decade as the loonie and U.S. dollar largely traded at about par. Shopping was cheaper because the cost of living is lower in the region, New York businesses have lower sales taxes – believe it or not – and American stores tend to provide a greater selection of products.
The money side of the equation began to change last year as the price of oil, a key Canadian commodity, dropped precipitously and the loonie fell about 15 percent in value against the greenback. There was about a 30 percent difference earlier this year but the two dollars have crept a bit closer since.
Still, the savings are real, so we’ve come up with several ways for Western New Yorkers to save north of the border while our money is hot – though you might as well gas up before you go. Fuel prices in Buffalo are still lower.
All costs are approximations and do not include taxes and fees.
Hit the casinos
Two adults could have stayed overnight last weekend at the Fallsview Casino Resort for $289. Travel websites offered rates at nearby hotels in the $100 to $150 range, and two “mystery” 4-star hotels in the Fallsview district offered rooms at Expedia.com for $137. This is in Canadian currency. Available rooms were closer to $75 to $115 in American currency – plus the 13 percent taxes and fees rate, at 25 percent off, too. Those who look to place wagers, eat in the casino buffet or catch a show in the Avalon Ballroom also can do so for less. No wonder it’s so hard to find a place to park in the casino ramp on weekends. Still, Erwin Ekman, of Getzville, places his slots bets in Ontario realistically these days. The retired Western New York manufacturing manager gets to play longer, he said, “but it still costs the same amount of money.”
A Shaw Festival 2016 Season’s Pass purchased before April 30 is good for all 10 plays in levels that include Blue for $340, Gold for $440 and Platinum for $520 in Canadian money, or $255, $330 or $390 in U.S. dollars. The season kicks off April 9 with “Our Town,” in the Royal George Theatre and “Alice in Wonderland” April 27 in the Festival Theatre.
“Disney’s The Little Mermaid” started a four-weekend run last weekend in the Randolph Theatre on Bathurst Street. A pair of tickets for the matinee Saturday on the theatre’s Facebook page – by far the least expensive option – costs just under $144 Canadian, which amounts to $108 American.
The Stratford Theatre season starts April 19 with “A Chorus Line,” and shows this season include “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Macbeth,” “As You Like It,” and the North American Premiere of “Shakespeare in Love.” The theatre ticket site at stratfordfestival.ca is offering $1.40 per American dollar spent on its sites. They also have a 2-for-1 ticket deal on Tuesday and Thursday night shows for “A Chorus Line” that runs about $50 in Canadian funds, or about $36 U.S.
Food and drink
The Keg, Skylon Tower, and several Fallsview Casino Resort restaurants offer dining overlooking the falls, but maybe it’s time to burn some of that tax refund check on a romantic meal at Windows by Jamie Kennedy Fresh Grill & Wine Bar. The restaurant, on the 13th floor of the Sheraton on the Falls hotel in the Clifton Hill district, boasts dishes with ingredients from the Niagara region and an extensive wine list. You can get a $65 three-course pris fixe meal for less than $50. Those who stay at one of the connected hotels also should ask for a coupon toward dinner when checking in, for even more savings.
More than 35 wineries line the roads surrounding Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake and nearby communities. Dozens more lie farther north in Jordan and St. Catharines. Tastings and bringing bottles home now cost Americans about 25 percent less. So will a visit to the Niagara Food and Wine Expo April 15-17 in the Scotiabank Niagara Falls Convention Center.
Advance tickets run $9 in American money and organizers estimate U.S. visitors will be able to enjoy a wide variety of food and drink for about another $15. See wine options in the calendar section at winecountryontario.ca.
If craft beer is more your thing, there are several spots just north of the border, including Brimstone Brewing Co. in Ridgeway, Silversmith and Niagara Oast House breweries in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Brewing Co. in Niagara Falls, and the newest brewery in the Niagara region – The Exchange Brewery, an upscale stop on Queen Street in Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake which serves flights of its wide range of beers in small, stemless glasses.
The glasses also are sold – for 25 percent less American.
Visit Niagara College
Don’t think about earning a degree at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus of this business institution, just a chance to make two stops where your American money will go farther – the wine-making and beer-making schools.
The Wine Visitor + Education Center near the Taylor Road entrance, near a 40-acre vineyard, already is less expensive than commercial wineries on the other side of the Queen Elizabeth Way – and now they’re 25 percent more inexpensive in American dollars.
Further into campus, around the corner from the Horticultural School, the Teaching Brewery offers 650-ml bottles of Butler’s Bitter, Brewmaster Stout, IPA or Cherry Pilsner for $5.45 to $5.95 Canadian – or $4.10 to $4.50 American.
Bike Niagara Parkway
This is the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Niagara River Recreational Trail, a 33-mile stretch of mostly pavement that runs along the Niagara River from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Those looking to travel the mostly flat stretch between Fort Erie and the Horseshoe Falls only need plan a one-way trip during summer vacation time if they book on the Wego Transportation system. No bike? No problem. Zoom Leisure Bikes (zoomleisure.com) rents bikes in three spots along the northern part of the trail, and also offers bike tours in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake, including a daylong self-guided day tour that includes maps, snacks and coupons. The cost: $49, or $37 American.
Strewn Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake offers five-hour, hands-on cooking classes almost every Saturday from January through November. Each class involves prepping a three-course meal and pairing each course with wine. The classes run $225 each or $375 per couple in Canadian funds; in American dollars, $170 or $280. Reserve online at winecountrycooking.com.
The Whirlpool Golf Course marks its 65th anniversary this year. To celebrate its opening on Thursday, and the soon to be opened Ussher’s Creek, Battlefield and Chippawa courses at the 45-hole Legends on the Niagara Golf Complex in the Falls, the Niagara Parks Commission is offering $55 weekday and $65 weekend spring rates, including a cart, until May 13. That’s $41 and $49 in U.S. funds. For more info, or to buy an all-access golf booklet for 2016, visit niagaraparksgolf.com.
See a show
The Fallsview Casino attracts entertainment bigwigs, specializing in acts that appeal to Baby Boomers. April alone features the B-52s (tickets starting at $45 Canadian, $35 American), Jay Leno ($80, $62), Neil Sedaka ($35, $27) and Grand Funk Railroad ($25, $19).
One spot to start might be the Outlet Collection at Niagara (outletcollectionatniagara.com
Stay and swim
The 3-acre Fallsview Indoor Water Park is directly connected to the Sheraton at the Falls and Crowne Plaza hotels on Clifton Hill. Sixteen slides up to six stories in height and adults-only Jacuzzis make for a family getaway that can help shake winter’s cobwebs. Two nights for a family of four the last weekend in April start at $658 Canadian and an advertised rate of $507 U.S.; paying the Canadian rate on your U.S. credit card may save you about $15 more. Rates at the nearby Great Wolf Lodge are higher, with a greater amount therefore to save.
Cruise the falls
Hornblower Niagara Cruises opened for the season on Friday. A 20-minute daytime cruise to the base of the falls runs $19.95 for those 13 and over, $12.25 for kids 5 to 12 and free for those 4 and under. That translates to $15 or $9 for paying American customers, in each case less than the Maid of the Mist in the U.S., which opened Saturday. The lone exception: 5-year-olds also ride free on the Maid boats.
The Niagara Parks Commission has combined its most popular tourist destinations into package deals. The Adventure Pass Plus, which can be ordered at niagaraparks.com, includes Journey Behind the Falls, the Niagara Fury attraction at Table Rock, Butterfly Conservatory, White Water Walk, Floral Showhouse and Whirlpool Aero Car. Cost: $65 Canadian for 13 and up, $43 for ages 6 to 12 and free for kids 5 and under; or $49 and $32 U.S.
Most parents have felt the financial sting of children begging to go into every “museum,” fun house and fright chamber in the Clifton Hill district. The Big Fun Value Pass for children ages 4 to 17 costs $44 Canadian – $33 American – to visit the Guinness Museum of World Records, The Fun House, Brick City, Bronto’s Adventure Playland and The Haunted House. You can buy them online at funatthefalls.com.
You can hop on one of the climate-controlled gondolas of the Niagara SkyWheel for $11 Canadian ($7 for kids under 12), or about $8.25 ($5.25) American. Cliftonhill.com also offers a $1 discount coupon for this 175-foot-high attraction on Clifton Hill, as well as packages of the SkyWheel with four other attractions at a 50 percent discount.
Tickets for the Friday home opener against the Boston Red Sox were going fast last week but you could grab a pair in the upper deck for as little as $172 Canadian, or about $130 American. Children 9 to 16 also can register for the Blue Jays Baseball Camp July 5-7, in which Roberto Alomar and Sandy Alomar Sr. help instruct. The cost: $279, or about $209 American.
The Ontario Science Centre has a powerful, hands-on collection of educational fun for kids of all ages. The cost for general admission and a ticket for one of five IMAX movies – including “A Beautiful Planet,” “Humpback Whales” and “IMAX Hubble” – runs $28 for adults, $22 for seniors and those 13 to 17, and $19 for those 3 to 12 – or $21, $16.50 and $14 in American funds. Learn more at ontariosciencecentre.ca.
It costs most people $18 to get into the NHL Hall of Fame in Toronto, have your photo taken with the Stanley Cup, and glimpse the names of some former Sabres greats on the Vezina, Calder and Hart trophies. Those 65 and older pay $14; 4 to 13, $12. Those costs in U.S. funds: $13.50, $10.50 and $9.
Think about spending some of the money you saved in Canada at a duty free shop while on the way back at one of the region’s three international bridges. The discounts are always great – and tax is out here, too – but the favorable exchange rate makes the U.S. dollar go even farther.
The store-posted deals last week included two bottles of Stoli vodka for $30, or $23.08 American; a small four-pack of Dior perfume for $76, or $58 U.S.; and a six-pack of 200 ml Pillitteri Estates ice wines for $149, or $115. The exchange here mirrors the actual exchange – and is one of the reasons converting a bit of U.S. cash when coming into Canada is a good idea.