Our trip to Niagara Falls on Niagara Toronto Tours was a nightmare in practically every regard. Please note that most tour companies in Toronto have very similar names, so be careful.
To begin with, it was an unusually hot day in Toronto.
The bus was not a modern, air conditioned coach as we expected for a day long tour. Rather, it was a small, old, rickety bus with approximately 24 seats, and a barely workable air conditioning system. The windows were not tinted, but rather, plain glass that let all the endless sunlight right onto the already stifling bus. The shocks on this vehicle were in very poor working condition.
Compared to the driver, however, the vehicle was a gem. Our driver/ guide, Michael, was so awful that it's hard to fully appreciate all his shortcomings. First, he refused to run the air conditioning early in the day as we drove from hotel to hotel picking up passengers. His response to the heavy traffic was to commit illegal left turns and u-turns -- three in all. He laughed into his microphone and asked us to "overlook" them. He also stuck his head out the window and screamed foul language at other drivers. Once we got on the highway, he also began to blare the radio - claiming we could relax to the music. Unfortunately, all we could hear was noisy racket. We could tell, however, whenever he switched from one station to another because it happened so frequently. At this time, he turned on the "air conditioning." It barely worked and we were all pretty miserable. He claimed it would get cooler as we progressed. It never did.
To Michael's credit he knew the journey well enough that he got off the expressway twice to drive around traffic tie-ups.
Our first stop was at a winery -- actually, all we saw was the retail outlet. Before we could go in, we all had to stand in the very bright, hot sun while he took everyone's credit card information. Many of us wanted to use the restroom, but Michael said it was very important for us to all go in together. The first passenger paid with cash, not realizing that Michael took credit cards. Michael refused to refund his cash when the man asked to use plastic. Inside, there was no winemaking to be seen -- just wine to be bought. Of course, the real purpose of our visit was that such places pay tour companies for bringing in potential customers.
Our next stop was a wasted hour in Niagara On The Lake - a quaint town full of expensive boutique shops. Everyone was back at the bus well before the appointed time. Like the winery, most passengers were unimpressed.
Arriving in Niagara Falls, I noticed the modern, comfortable busses from other tour companies. We were ushered aboard the waiting Maid of the Mist. Michael took credit for arriving "just in time" for us to board. As it turned out, there are several boats with this name. As one boat loads and leaves, the next one pulls up to the pier. No one actually waited very long that day. Overall, our actual visit in Niagara was great and we had more than enough time to see everything we wanted at the falls.
For the return trip, Michael gave up on the air conditioning and opened all the tiny auxiliary windows above the passengers' heads. He explained that the breeze would be cooler. When we got back onto the major highway, he actually drove with the door open -- closing it only when we came to a stop. Thank goodness for seat belts.
As we departed Niagara, Michael pointed to a sign that advising us that the driver's income relied heavily on tips and that fifteen to twenty percent was appropriate. I've been on day tours in three other countries and I've never seen anything so blatant. Michael mentioned the expected tip several times and actually claimed that the size of the tip should be based on the full amount of the fare -- including the 15% tax. He didn't tell us that he was the son of the owner.
As we approached Toronto, he continued to ramble on about his tip -- to the point where it was practically extortion. He interrupted his tip talk twice to scream wildly at other drivers; to me this seemed to be a means of intimidating the passengers. Many of the people who got off before us gave him $20 each. I gave him $10 total and gave him the look that he was lucky to get that. Frankly, I wouldn't have given him anything at all for that miserable trip but I was concerned about the possibility of setting him off. The next day we ran into an English couple that we met on the trip and they said it was the worst experience they ever had while travelling.