17 JUN 2014: Hornblower Niagara Cruises has made a big splash with the ultimate threesome in the company’s latest and most daring feat to date. Is it any wonder Niagara Falls’ newest addition to hit this side of the border is pegged “Niagara Wonder?” And to boot there’s a Niagara Thunder and a smaller Niagara Guardian, the names of the three new vessels from Hornblower Cruises now plying the Niagara Gorge.

At the inaugural tri-catamaran boat christening which took place last week at the newly revamped dock where the iconic Maid of the Mist once berthed, special guests heard guest speakers relay what the new venture means.

Big news

North America’s largest private passenger vessel company has already snagged hook, line and sinker two other noteworthy destinations: NYC and California. Folks might be familiar with the Hornblower cruises to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco or another Hornblower cruise offering the Statue of Liberty sails.

With a stellar 30+ year sailing track record Hornblower Cruises’ foray onto arguably the most famous waters, the mighty cataracts of the Niagara, didn’t go unnoticed.

“There’s only one Niagara Falls, only one place in the world like it” Terry MacRae, CEO + Founder of Hornblower Cruises & Events

Hornblower Cruises & Events CEO and founder Terry MacRae described the venture as an “expensive, exhausting, and hugely challenging” RFP bid not to mention injecting reportedly some $35-million of equity to come into the project.

Winning the nautical Emmy’s, Oscar and Tony in one

In 2012 Hornblower Niagara Cruises won the lofty 30 year contract to deliver millions of passengers for this truly bucket-list experience. Prior to this the American company Maid of the Mist controlled the passenger vessel sightseeing service as it has done on both the US and Canadian sides since 1846.

When OTMPC president and CEO Ronald Holgerson took the podium he relayed how a provincial tourism study polling focus groups across OTMPC’s global offices revealed the number one landmark international visitors associate when Canada is mentioned is Niagara Falls.

“The number one iconic experience they universally identified was Niagara Falls. Now with Hornblower Niagara Cruises we know in addition to all the other attributes of Niagara Falls we are going to have a wonderful destination that will require several nights’ accommodation,” said Holgerson.

Then there was the Canadian Tourism Commission’s Jon Mamela, chief marketing officer, who cut to the chase. “For many years and for many travellers Niagara Falls has truly epitomized the fondness of Canada itself. While The Falls are recognized for their power and beauty what has made this a successful tourism region in recent years is not just about seeing but doing,” he said noting how travellers visiting Niagara Falls and the region want to have a moment of discovery “to feel an emotional connection.”

“Quite possibly nothing will deliver that emotional connection better than venturing near the Falls aboard Niagara Thunder and Niagara Wonder,” Mamela said adding the region to date already has five CTC Signature programs which are carefully selected experiences like the Hornblower Voyage to the Falls.

Provincial deputy minister for tourism, culture and sport Steven Davidson expressed how everyone knows the Falls are one of the most recognized and cherished attractions in Canada. “Millions of visitors annually come to see this iconic display of natures’ raw power and beauty; the thundering sound of the water, the cloud of the mist, and the daredevil folklore that surrounds this site all come together.”

Davidson added, “The scale of the Falls is particularly impressive aboard one of these vessels. I’m glad their continued legacy is now in Hornblower’s very capable hands.”

Niagara’s new daredevil

The winter of 2014 was the year we all learned what a polar vortex was. Well, it wreaked havoc on the Niagara River too. Faced with unbearable ice jams, Arctic cold extreme temperatures and the most adverse working conditions ever experienced in the past 20 to 40 years, Mother Nature showed no mercy.

Terry MacRae was able to pull off a daredevil’s feat under these weather conditions. The visionary who unabashedly calls himself “sometimes janitor and sometimes guarantor” had a plan.

“Part of what we do is underwater. We actually launch our boat on a railway that goes in the water.”

Special scuba divers were hired to work in the murky frigid waters. The entire ship building process from start to finish was indeed a Herculean task ideal for a 21st century business daredevil like MacRae.

“All the vessels that were used here were constructed in pieces. The pieces and how we brought them down is beyond comprehension really. We had to design and fabricate the docks, we had to gain carnal knowledge about the Niagara River and the Gorge,” he conveyed about the three new builds, two of which are Canadian-made each carrying 700 passengers.

The Experience

Now for this former local who’s been on many Niagara cruises this was a pivotal moment.

As a kid our family dutifully took relatives and friends visiting from overseas to sail the mighty Niagara Falls. Dad was so in love with the Falls years later he used to regularly ask, “Have you seen the Falls yet?” when I ventured home for family visits.

Heck I even worked at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls for the Niagara Parks Commission in a fabulous role I enjoyed immensely, the now sadly retired title: Niagara Parks Commission hostess. We rhymed off stats to visitors, suggested best views, and gave what I thought were insightful firsthand accounts on what it was like to sail the Falls.

The Niagara Wonder

I took my Mom on this one. Clad in Canadian red raingear we hit the revamped lower landing at the boarding dock with its orderly queue line and shook Captain Mark Keith’s hand. He smiled as he waved good-bye and told us to enjoy the ride.

With a clear sky wind-free day, it was smooth sailing past the American Falls and the smaller Bridal Veil Falls as we all stood on the lower deck beholden by the watery Motherlode ahead.

The freshwater of the Horseshoe Falls was eerily calm, no white thundering swirling vats just its familiar green hue with sharply cut ripples. Then it all changed when we approached the legendary crest.

The ear blasting thundering falls enveloped the catamaran. With a blanket of mist shrouding us the water felt more like a spring shower. Mom and I got sprayed as we stood arm-in-arm for the close-up view, marvelling at the beauty, the majesty and the power of the mighty Niagara.

Price tag: priceless. Hats off to Hornblower Niagara Cruises for striking a wonderful balance between man and nature -- May the force be with you.

End note:

If the plan goes full steam ahead prepare to see a glass bottomed Hornblower cruise plying the mighty Niagara. “I’m working on this,” Terry tells me and with that nautical smile only a sailor can muster, he turns around to catch yet another glimpse of one of the greatest wonders of the world.

To Know:

Hornblower Niagara Cruises has three cruises. The 30-minute “Voyage to the Falls” for $19.95; the 1-hour Sunset Cocktail cruise for $35 with snacks and a fully licensed bar serving fine Niagara wines; and the 1-hour Falls/Illumination Fireworks Cruise for $35.

For bookings visit http://www.niagaracruises.com/

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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