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May 20 - May 28, 2014

Sleek, Modern Hornblower Fleet A New Standard in Niagara Basin Elderly Maid of the Mist tubs harken back to 1970s

By Mike Hudson

May 20, 2014

Hornblower boats (above) have restrooms and seats. Something Maid of the Mist lacks.

Let's look at where things are at between the two boat rides below the falls: the Niagara Falls Ontario and Niagara Falls New York boat tours.

In terms of technology, it's like a battle between the 21st Century and the 19th. All you have to do is look at the websites.

While the site for Hornblower Niagara Cruises features interactive maps, 3-D imaging and other bells and whistles, the Maid of the Mist site doesn't seem to have been updated since the company lost the right to operate on the Canadian side of the Niagara River back in early 2012.

In fact, the technology it employs might well be as old as one of the Maid of the Mist tour boats, the most recent of which was launched 17 years ago.

Hornblower Niagara Cruises operates two 700 passenger, state-of-the-art boats launched for the first time this year. The new boats feature on-board amenities including tiered decks for 360 degree unobstructed viewing, retractable glass nano-walls for dry viewing areas, on-board passenger washrooms and for evening and nighttime cruises an on-board licensed bar.

The variety of different cruises offered by Hornblower is a reason for tourists to opt for the Canadian attraction according to Mory DiMaurizio, Hornblower's general manager

"We offer early-morning sunrise cruises, evening cocktail cruises, fireworks cruises, illumination cruises; we're available for charter," he said.

There's also Hornblower's 150-passenger Guardian of the Gorge boat available for private charters, functions and events.

By contrast, the Maid of the Mist operates just two boats, built in 1990 and 1997, run by diesel engines, with no restrooms, and no seats - standing room only for passengers often packed in like sardines on the 600-passenger tubs.

The Maid of the Mist boats are based on designs dating back to 1972 and their lack of restrooms, seating and handicap access are grandfathered in because of their age.

Technology aside, the sheer variety of cruises, and ease of access offered by Hornblower blows the Maid of the Mist experience out of the water.

The Maid operates on a basic schedule of one ride every 15 minutes from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays, and until 6 p.m. on weekends, a schedule that hasn't changed for decades.

While you can buy tickets online you cannot make reservations. That is, you buy your ticket and you get in a line that you can easily be waiting in for one to four hours, depending on the time and the day. Weekend waits are longer, and holiday weekend waits are brutal.

By contrast, the 21st Century Hornblower operation allows you to buy your tickets in advance online for the exact date and time you want to set sail. There are no lines and no waiting.

In addition to the standard 15-minute daytime excursion, a full slate of new cruises are being offered on the Canadian side.

Hornblower's Sunset Cocktail Cruise is an extended 30-minute evening tour. Set to evening sunsets this half-hour cruise offers an on-board licensed bar and light snacks.

Then there's the nightly Falls Illumination Cruise, a 30-minute cruise, featuring on-board licensed bar and snacks, provides panoramic views of the city lights on the Canadian side and the famous colored illumination of the falls.

The Falls Fireworks Cruise sails at 9:30 p.m. This half-hour cruise promises one-of-a-kind views of the colored illumination of the thundering falls and the stunning fireworks display above.

This year marks the start of competition on the water, about a week after Glynn's Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company kicked off its 44th season on the American side.

For the standard 15 minute daily excursion, the Maid of the Mist is charging $17 for adults and $9 for children while the Hornblower experience, is $19.95 for adults and $12.25 for the kids.





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