Voyage Into Niagara Falls’ Boat Touring History

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The ice boom on the Niagara River began its retreat recently which means that the opening of Niagara City Cruises (Hornbower on the Canadian side), and the Maid of the Mist (US side) is here!

Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower) opens March 28th, 2024 for the season and the Maid of the Mist is tentatively opening April 4th, 2024 with bookable dates starting now.

Both of these Niagara Falls Boat Tours are tremendously popular tourist attractions and are not to be missed this Spring!

Continue reading to review the timeline of the original Maid of the Mist boat tour (North America’s oldest tourist attraction), progressing to our current date which includes the addition of the Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower) boat tours.

1846 – The Maid of the Mist Ferry Service Launched

Crossing the Niagara River in order to transport people was unheard of until the introduction of small boats in 1834. On May 27th, 1846, the very first Maid of the Mist boat was first introduced, but not as a tourist attraction. It ferried people, cargo, and mail across the river for a small fee. However, making money in this regard was short-lived after the first Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge was completed.

1848 saw a temporary bridge introduced, and in 1854 a lower deck was opened for pedestrian and carriage purposes. Taking money away from the ferry, it was decided to turn the Maid of the Mist into a tourist attraction, allowing people to get as close to the Falls as possible.

Maid of the Mist Boat Tour – 1st Generation (1854-1860)

On July 14th, 1854, a new Maid of the Mist was launched. This one was 72 feet long and featured a paddle boat engine rather than a sidewheel steam engine.

With business dwindling mainly as the result of the onslaught of the American Civil War (1861-1865), the boat was sold at a public auction to a Montreal firm in 1861.

However, the boat had to be successfully delivered to Lake Ontario, which meant it had to be navigated through the Great Gorge Rapids, the Whirlpool, and the Lower Rapids.

Captain Robinson undertook the frightening task on June 6th, 1861, and successfully made it through the rapids (although lost the smoke stack in the process).

Service was not restored until 1885 under a new partnership: The Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company.

Maid of the Mist Boat Tour 2nd Generation: 1885 – 1955

The second generation Maid of the Mist was launched in June of 1885 which reached closer to the Horseshoe Falls than its previous counterparts.

Then, an additional boat was unveiled in 1892 on the American side. These boats sailed until April 22, 1955, when they burned in an accident on the Canadian side.

Maid of the Mist Boat Tour 3rd Generation (1955 – 1990)

On July 28th, 1955, a third generation Maid of the Mist I (1955–1990) was introduced to replace the destroyed vessels — this time, it was made of steel and powered by diesel engines.

In June 1956, an additional Maid of the Mist steel boat was added to the fleet and was christened the Maid of the Mist II (1956 – 1983)

On July 9th, 1960 the Maid of the Mist II contributed to the heroic saving of 7 year old Roger Woodward, the boy who became the first person to survive a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls wearing only a life jacket. The Maid of the Mist II was just making its turn below the Falls when a crew member spotted the boy.

Captain Clifford Keech maneuvered the boat so the crew could successfully save Roger, who luckily only sustained a minor concession, and was in hospital for only 3 days. In 1983, the Maid of the Mist II was sold and it served as a Missionary ship on the Amazon River.

Maid of the Mist Boat Tour 4th Generation (1972 – Now)

Maid of the Mist III:

Maid of the Mist III takes to the water, carrying 210 passengers. This boat is a 65-foot-long, 65-ton vessel powered by two 250-horsepower diesel engines.

Maid of the Mist IV:

Maid of the Mist IV, a 300-passenger boat, is introduced. The new boat is 72 feet long, 24 feet wide, weighs 74 tons and is powered by two 250-horsepower diesel engines.

Maid of the Mist V:

Maid of the Mist V gives passengers the thrill of their lives. It’s all steel, 72 feet long, weighs 74 tons and powered by two 335-horsepower diesel engines to safely carry 300 passengers.

Maid of the Mist VI:
1990 – Present

In 1990, the Maid of the Mist VI was launched into service. The 145 tonne, 80 foot all steel double deck boat is capable of carrying 600 passengers at a time!

This made it the 10th Maid of the Mist boat to contribute to the Niagara Falls Boat Tours — and the largest, which is still running today. Accompanying boat VI was the addition of the Maid of the Mist VII on July 11th, 1997 (also still running today) at 80 feet and with the capacity to carry 600 passengers as well.

New York State Governor Saves the Maid in Late 2012

On December 4th, 2012, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Niagara Falls, New York to make a major announcement: An agreement between Cuomo’s administration and the Maid of the Mist calls for the company to pay for $32 million in upgrades near the site of the former Schoellkopf power plant to turn the area into a winter storage dock for its two-boat American fleet.

On Thursday, October 26th, 2013, the Maid of the Mist did its final boat tour on the Canadian side. The business continues to operate from the US side of the gorge and departs from its dock just beyond the Rainbow Bridge. The Canadian side was replaced by Hornblower Niagara Cruises, a California-based company at the start of Spring of 2014.

Maid of the Mist Boat Tour 5th Generation (Launched 2019)

New-build emission-free vessels was launched during 2019 season

In 2019, the Maid of the Mist launched the first two new all-electric, zero-emission passenger vessels constructed in the United States. The new catamaran-style vessels will provide more than 1.6 million guests from around the world with an up-close, iconic view of Niagara Falls. The vessels feature a wide stance, resulting in a smooth, quiet ride, allowing them to better enjoy the roar and majesty of Niagara Falls.

ABB, a pioneering technology leader in digital industries, will supply a comprehensive integrated power and propulsion solution for the newbuild vessels, including lithium-ion battery packs and an onshore charging system, enabling sustainable operation with maximum reliability.

Powered by ABB’s zero-emission technology, the two fully-electric vessels will take tourists to the heart of the Niagara Falls, undisturbed by engine noise or exhaust fumes. Batteries will be recharged for seven minutes after each trip to 80 percent capacity, allowing for maximum efficiency and battery life.

Maid of the Mist VI (1990) and Maid of the Mist VII (1997), were removed from service when the new vessels began operating.

Niagara City Cruises (Formery Hornblower): Launched in 2014

Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower) offers two catamarans that carry approximately 700 people, and a third charter boat reserved specifically for private functions that carries approximately 150 passengers.

The Niagara City Cruises official ribbon cutting ceremony took place on Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 which showcased speeches by the Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower) CEO, Terry MacRae, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Mory DiMaurizo, General Manager of Niagara Cruises and the Niagara Parks Commission chair, Janice Thomson. It officially opened the following day to excited crowds.

Niagara Falls Boat Tours

Wearing their red ponchos, locals and tourists alike flocked the Niagara City Cruise Plaza to become a part of history on its grand opening day. The distinct differentiation between the Niagara City Cruises and the Maid of the Mist docked on the US side, is the swarm of customers wearing red (Niagara City Cruises) and blue (Maid of the Mist) ponchos. Both these Niagara Falls boat tours are anticipating another exciting season. This past Winter season saw far less ice form on Lake Erie, which flows into the Niagara River. With the Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower) running and Maid of the Mist soon to launch in April.

This is the 9th season for Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower), and — wait for it — the 177th year for Maid of the Mist.

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