For generations, the Maid of the Mist has been Niagara Falls’ top attraction, and a “must-do” on any visitor’s list, whether they are visiting for the first time or the 51st time. There’s really no better way to experience the thundering power of the Falls than aboard a ferry boat that brings you right to their base.
While visitors have always been able to board one of the Maid of the Mist ferries from either the American or Canadian side of the falls and have essentially the same experience, beginning in 2014, there will be a significant difference between the two Maid of the Mist operations.
A Historic Attraction, And Modern Business
The first Maid of the Mist boat launched in 1846 as a ferry between the U.S. and Canadian sides of the falls. But when the first Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge opened in 1848, there was no longer a need to cross the river by steamship, and by 1854, the Maid of the Mist was a tourist attraction, giving the ever-increasing numbers of visitors to the area a chance to see the majestic American, Horseshoe and Bridal Veil Falls up close. Service was discontinued between 1860 and 1895, thanks in part to the American Civil War and dwindling interest, but in 1895 the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company restored the service with two brand new boats.
In 1971, the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company was purchased by New York businessman Terry Glynn, who modernized the fleet with several new ships, including the Maid of the Mist IV, V, VI and VII. Maid of the Mist IV and V each carry 300 passengers, while the latter two carry 600 passengers each. These are the boats that visitors enjoyed for nearly four decades, donning the signature blue rain jackets and sailing toward the Falls for a drenching and exhilarating experience — one that is the second most popular water-based excursion in the U.S. after only cruises past the Statue of Liberty.
However, Glynn’s lease on the Maid of the Mist boat operations expired in 2011, and after competitive bidding, the Niagara Parks Commission awarded the contract for tours leaving from the Canadian side to San Francisco-based Hornblower Canada, the same company that operates the cruises of New York Harbor and Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. This marks the first time that any company other than Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company will operate in the Niagara Gorge since boat service began in 1846.
A New Experience
In many ways, the Maid of the Mist experience from the Canadian side of the Niagara River won’t change. The boarding area and docks will remain in the same place, easily accessible from plenty of Niagara Falls hotels. The boats will still pass by the American and Bridal Veil Falls, and sail through the dense spray mist of Horseshoe Falls.
However, according to Hornblower, that’s where the similarities will end. The company plans to launch the 2014 season with brand new, modern vessels featuring amenities that have been lacking in the past, including onboard restrooms, a snack bar, indoor areas where passengers can stay dry and seats for those who cannot stand for the duration of the cruise.
The company also plans to make a significant change to how passengers purchase tickets for their adventures. While in the past, passengers needed to purchase a ticket and then wait in line for the next available cruise — a wait that could be several hours during peak season — passengers departing from the Canadian dock will now be able to purchase timed tickets. This will allow them to more effectively schedule their time in Niagara Falls, and experience more attractions that they may not have otherwise been able to if they were standing in line.
Hornblower also plans to offer additional types of cruises near the falls in the future. Currently, all Maid of the Mist tours are fifteen minutes long and depart and return to the same dock. Under the new management, passengers on the Canadian side may have additional trip itineraries to choose from, including sunset tours, something that has never been offered before.
Tourism officials on both sides of the Gorge are optimistic that having competing tour operators for Maid of the Mist tours will increase ridership. If nothing else, visitors will have plenty of options for planning their Niagara Falls experience, and the iconic boat trip will remain the best way to see Niagara Falls.