The North Tonawanda-based Niagara River Cruises are back for a second year, offering residents and tourists a chance to experience life on the water, with cruises that take riders between North Tonawanda and Grand Island or Niagara Falls or on cruises for special events.
The 42-foot Queen of Peace is a custom-built white cedar Harker Island tour boat, which has its primary docking space at 84 Sweeney St. across from the Remington Tavern and takes up to 45 passengers on rides along the Erie Canal and upper Niagara River. Owners and licensed boat captains are Robin Hoch and Tom Hauser.
Both are boating enthusiasts who developed their friendship as members of the Sandy Beach Yacht Club on Grand Island and then became business partners.
“We are absolutely enjoying the experience and are excited to be beginning our second year,” Hauser said.
Hoch said there are other rides and charters on the water, but the Niagara River Cruises fill a niche that hadn’t been addressed, which was one of the reasons they decided to begin their business.
“We kind of connected that last dot. From Lockport, they have the canal going north. From Lockport south, we fill that void (on the canal) and also the upper Niagara. There are a lot of businesses in Buffalo that are flourishing doing the same thing. We have completed the circle,” Hoch said.
She said seeing all the development, both in Grand Island and Niagara Falls, and all the new businesses in North Tonawanda, they couldn’t believe that someone hadn’t already been doing tours and water taxis.
“You get an amazing perspective of our area from the water. People who don’t own boats get to enjoy that aspect. They also get a lot of our local history. Anytime the boat is running, we are always giving history information, points of interest and pointing out facts,” said Hoch. “We can actually show them part of a submerged shipwreck.”
She said they knew history had to be part of their attraction and said the boat’s name, Queen of Peace, goes back to the early 1600s, when local Indian tribes were governed by the Queen of Peace, who preserved the neutrality between the Hurons and the Iroquois.
North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt said the first year went very well from the point of the view of the city.
“I thought they fit in very well,” Ortt said. “Anytime you have a business whose sole objective is to bring people into North Tonawanda, that’s something we want to encourage.”
Ortt said owners Hoch and Hauser came in with a good business model, and it is good to see them back for a second year.
Hoch said that for a second year they are continuing water shuttles.
In addition to the dock in North Tonawanda, the boat also docks at the Four Points Sheraton in Niagara Falls and at the Byblos Resort and Spa, (the former Holiday Inn) on Grand Island.
“There are two aspects to our business,” Hoch said. “One is that actual shuttle or water taxi service. Reservations can be made directly on our website. People can pick their board location and decide how long they want their ticket to be. If they just want to do a round-trip cruise it’s a 2½-hour trip.”
She said the ride from North Tonawanda begins at the mouth of the Erie Canal and then goes to the upper Niagara River.
“They can also hop on and hop off from any of the hotels and have dinner and go to a festival and then get on one of our later boats to go back to their destination,” she said.
Hoch said their cruises have appealed to both a mix of tourists and local residents who come out for special events.
“It takes awhile to get the tourist trade going, but people who come to spend a day at the Falls are looking for something to do. They spend a day at the casino, and then they have chance to go on a river cruise and see the falls from a vantage point of the water. It’s a unique experience for those who don’t have access to the water,” Hoch said.
She said some people ride the cruise to reach a destination, while others will ride the whole circuit with their families, bringing a picnic lunch.
“An example is that they will get on in North Tonawanda and maybe go to Niagara Falls and have a bite to eat on the beautiful patio at the Four Points Sheraton, get back on the boat and head back, or people in the Falls jump on and come to Tonawanda, where there’s a multitude of restaurants in North Tonawanda. There’s just so much to do in North Tonawanda, and they get to enjoy the canal as well,” Hoch said.
She said that after concluding their first season, she can say, “We made it.” But in their second year, they will concentrate on what has succeeded. Water taxi shuttles will be offered only on Saturdays and Sundays this year.
Hoch and Hauser said they have seen the most success with charters and private tours.
“We hosted corporate events. We did a wedding. We’ve done bachelorettes and senior cruises. We allow people to do just a river cruise or a just a canal cruise,” Hoch said. She said the private charters can vary from a few hours to up to eight hours.
She said groups at any of the boarding stations can be shuttled down to concerts and wouldn’t have to drive. On their music cruises, they bring live music right onto the boat.
“The energy is just very positive. We are very fun and keep things light on the boat. We make sure everybody is comfortable,” Hoch said.
Shuttle prices range from $14.95 for a five-hour pass to $19.95 for an all-day pass. People also can bring their bikes along for an additional fee. Specialty cruises that are open to the public are $25 per person, and private charters vary depending on the length of time and number of riders. There are reduced prices for senior citizens and children.
More information on tickets and reservations is available at www.niagararivercruises.org.