The Miss Buffalo was here first.
Next time you admire our waterfront, it’s fun to remember that. The Adirondack chairs, the kayaks, the ice cream, the concerts – before any of these amenities were a twinkle in our public servants’ eyes, the Miss Buffalo was there, plying the waters. First launched in 1971, she has been around for so long that now she is the Miss Buffalo II.
The T.G.I.F. cruises are legend, with the boat blaring tunes, full of happy people. But the weekday two-hour sightseeing cruises have their own charm.
Though reservations are suggested, walk-ins are welcome. You can hand them a $20 bill, get your change (adult tickets are $17), and hop on board. I did that once. It was like a mini-vacation. Wednesday, I got to relive that experience. And I wondered – as I often wonder on our 100 Things tour – why I don’t do this more often.
The fun started before the boat even left Erie Basin Marina. In line, I made friends with Betsy Ferguson of Amherst and her sister, Molly, visiting from Charlotte, N.C. Betsy was trying to get Molly to move back here, and was using the Miss Buffalo to help make her case. I chimed in with my own encouragement and advice.
On board, we settled in at a table on the upper deck with several other people none of us knew. As folks found seats and bellied up to the bar, narrator Dennis Galucki took to the mic.
“Where’s everybody from?” he demanded. Someone was from Australia, someone else from Alabama. There were nuns from Canada, and …
“I’m from Africa!” piped up a studious little Kenyan boy. The crowd cheered.
The Miss Buffalo runs rain or shine. The lower deck’s inner section is shielded to withstand the worst of what Buffalo can offer. This day, though, was perfect. The low 80s, sun, a breeze – was there any better place to be?
Marveling at my luck, I lost track of what Galucki was saying as our voyage began. I simply gazed at the scenery. The turreted Colonel Ward water intake, a mysterious little building I’d always seen only from a distance, appeared right next to us, colorful and fanciful. And you know that railroad bridge you drive over, thrillingly, en route to Unity Island? We cleared it by 14 inches.
Passing Riverside, we saw why the old St. Francis Xavier Church, now the Religious Arts Center, is a landmark. It dominates the skyline. Out-of-towners were asking what it was. The marinas, Acqua – even the familiar seemed new.
Galucki, who leads one Miss Buffalo tour a week, was incredibly well informed. He kept up a colorful patter throughout the voyage about the Jesuits, the French and Indian War, E.B. Green, Devils Hole, you name it.
The passengers, for our part, indulged in that popular Western New York pastime, waving. We waved at speedboats, at picnickers, at an industrial barge. Everyone waved back. It was like another great nautical adventure on our 100 Things list, the Maid of the Mist. We headed toward Tonawanda, waving all the way. And then, after an hour or so had slipped past on the water, we began a leisurely loop back.
Our return trip took us through the Black Rock Lock. From the lower deck you could touch the stone walls, 2 inches away. Galucki fell silent, leaving us to savor the experience: the great gates closing, the boat imperceptibly rising, the rippling green water, the cicadas, the leisure of a bygone time.
Then the locks opened, and we headed toward downtown. The magnificent Ferry Street lift bridge, rising to let us pass, was awe-inspiring. The Peace Bridge, soaring overhead, took on a new grace. Galucki said admiringly: “To me, from this angle, its arches are overwhelming.”
Even little kids seemed rapt. Louis and Sandra Madsen of Hamburg bring their grandchildren on the Miss Buffalo every year.
“I’m glad I live here,” Louis Madsen said. “There’s a lot of things to do in the summer. I don’t know if other cities have this.”
The Miss Buffalo’s season is short. After Labor Day, it plays host only to private charters. Until then, call 856-6696 for info, or visit buffaloharborcruises.com. And keep in mind, if you miss this boat, all is not lost. The Spirit of Buffalo sailboat and the Moondance catamaran sail on, typically, into October.
Also, there’s always next year. Who has not smiled, on a gloomy day, at the sight of the Miss Buffalo, chugging along merrily, telling us summer is on the way?