What better way to spend a warm summer afternoon than on a boat, casually coasting along the sun-dappled waterfront with friends? With more options than ever to hop onboard a tour boat bound for Buffalo’s waterways, you don’t need to be a yacht owner to enjoy some of the area’s most relaxing and picturesque experiences.
Cruise past the places where history happened
Shipwrecks. Extraordinary wealth. Native American heritage. Industrial innovation. Naval maneuvers. Boomtowns. Busts. The Queen City waterfront is an open history book full of significant people, places and events that shaped the region’s status as a transportation and industrial hub for centuries. What better way to hear these stories than from a boat navigating those very same waters?
One of the more popular offerings from Buffalo Harbor Cruises, a company that has been sharing area waterways with explorers for more than 40 years, is the Buffalo Harbor Cruise ($18 per person. $30 with lunch). The narrated two-hour tour aboard the Miss Buffalo II travels through four international waterways to explore lighthouses, forts and significant events. Some tours are led by Explore Buffalo and feature captivating themes — like the 2-hour Disasters of the Buffalo Harbor tour ($20) in June and September that regales audiences with tales of maritime calamities that took place long ago.
For a focused look at the maze of grain elevators along a once-bustling industrial corridor, a 90-minute narrated Buffalo River History Tour ($21) meanders past the towering silos and tells the tales of the people who worked in them.
The Grand Lady Cruise is a floating dining room that offers sights and savory meals on a vessel with both outdoor and windowed indoor spaces, a bonus for Buffalo’s unpredictable weather. The 90-minute lunch cruise includes a three-course plated meal with choice of entrée ($45), while a narrator points out historic and scenic points of interest along the Buffalo Harbor and River.
Farther east, Rochester’s Corn Hill Navigation invites visitors to tour the Erie Canal aboard the Sam Patch, a replica 1800s packet boat. The narrated 90-minute tours ($16) pass through a lock and a restored canal town, offering an immersive look at travel along New York’s famed water highway.
Get on board for an afternoon of fun in the sun
If history doesn’t float your boat, opt for a tour that puts the emphasis on sips, sails or silliness. One of the newest ways to enjoy Buffalo’s Inner Harbor is to do it the island way — seated at a floating Tiki bar. Launched from Buffalo River Works, Buffalo Tiki Tours captains round, barge-style boats that feature a thatched-roof bar surrounded by six carved wooden Tiki bar stools, from which revelers can enjoy a slow-moving sunset cruise. Prices start at $30/hour; food and beverages can be purchased at Riverworks and brought on board to enjoy.
Set sail on the Spirit of Buffalo, an iconic 73-foot schooner with four bright red sails, to experience the romance and adventure of the high seas on the waters of Lake Erie. The ship offers tours for just about every occasion — photo-worthy picks include 2-hour breathtaking sunset sails ($32), craft brew and wine cruises, and even a pirate cruise for families, complete with professional pirates, stories, a treasure hunt, music and swashbuckling (kids $20, adults $25).
For a quick, leisurely spin on the waterfront, Buffalo River History Tours hosts a one-hour un-narrated Harbor Cruise ($15) that features a cash bar and a relaxing float around the Buffalo River and Harbor.
Human-powered tours put passengers in the driver’s seat
Want to add a little more activity? Many tours forego motors and sails in favor of a little passenger sweat equity. Similar to the pedal-powered booze cruises you see on city streets, cycleboats are human-powered catamarans with a big paddle wheel that’s powered by 10 people sitting on bike seats around a canopied bar.
Travelers peddle leisurely and sip drinks as they spend two hours meandering through Buffalo’s waterways (five more people can hitch a ride without peddaling). Buffalo CycleBoats and Buffalo Pedal Tours offer voyages for maritime cyclists ages 21 and over, starting at $40 per person; BYOB.
To be the captain of your own vessel, opt for one of the many tours offered by paddlecraft. Explore Buffalo partners up with Elevator Alley Kayaks to offer historic tours ($45) of the grain elevators from the cockpit of a kayak just feet away from the base of these towering relics. BFLO Harbor Kayaks takes paddlers on 90-minute guided scenic tours along the Buffalo River aboard solo kayaks, tandem (two-person) kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards ($30) every weekend; opt for sunrise, sunset, or daytime sojourns.
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper explores local waterways from an ecological perspective, with docent-guides to point out wildlife, history and the natural or man-made features that affect water health along the way. Take the three-hour tour in your own kayak or canoe ($15) or add a rental to your tour ($35).
Reservations are required or strongly encouraged by most tour operators, especially around holiday weekends. Each website offers additional details that address accessibility, suggested attire, age limits, tour highlights, photos and more, and many companies also offer private charters.
This might just be the summer to find your sea legs and see the city from a whole new perspective!
Story topics: Out & About