On a warm summer’s day nothing is more refreshing than heading down to the waterfront and cruising the lake, river or canal on a boat with your own private skipper. Okay, most of us don’t have the luxury of owning our own boat, however, we do have the opportunity to be ferried around in style on one of the many boat cruises offered along waterways throughout Western New York.
Relaxing rides on Chautauqua Lake
I find the Chautauqua Lake area one of the prettiest places in our region. To fully appreciate the lake’s beauty, climb aboard one of these boats that cruise the lake.
Take a relaxing ride on Chautauqua Lake on the Chautauqua Belle, a 98 foot long, 18 foot wide authentic stern-wheel steamboat, one of only six high-pressure steam powered public vessels in North America.
My husband and I rode on this a number of years ago and as we were riding it we felt that we had gone back in time to a different era. The vessel, which is docked in Mayville, had been out of service for several years for repairs, but returned to the water last summer.
They offer a variety of daily and themed cruises, including a lunch cruise, sunset cocktail cruises on Friday and Saturday, a brunch cruise on the weekend and even a teen cruise on Tuesday evening.
In Celoron, on the eastern end of the lake, the Summer Wind, which has an open-air upper deck and a climate-controlled interior salon, offers sightseeing, brunch, and lunch cruises, along with dinner cruises, that include live entertainment.
Fun rides in the Finger Lakes
Sometimes you want to take a longer day trip, or even stay over a night or two. Since the emphasis in on the lakes in the Finger Lakes region, there are many water related activities to choose from in this region, including several boat cruises.
Enjoy elegant dining and/or sightseeing aboard the Canandaigua Lady, the only replica 19th-century paddlewheel steamboat in the Finger Lakes region. The 150-passenger boat was built in 1984 and started sailing on Canandaigua Lake in 1989.
On the north end of Keuka Lake the Esperanza Rose is an elegant 65 foot vintage cruising vessel that offers lunch, sightseeing and dinner cruises.
Over 17 years ago, when our oldest was a baby, we enjoyed a cruise on the Viking Spirit Cruise Ship on Keuka Lake, a climate-controlled ship with two open-air decks. I’m happy to report that it is still cruising the lake The vessel was custom built by Ken Christensen and specifically designed to cruise Keuka Lake.
A variety of cruises on the Genesee River
You’ll find a variety of boat rides in the Genesee River, both in the city of Rochester and in the outskirts.
If you crave something more adventurous, take a 5.5-mile-long whitewater ride on the Genesee River through the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park, with Adventure Calls Outfitters. They offer a fairly calm ride, perfect for novices or families with children. They also have a number of special themed rides and events throughout the season, including optional BBQ and camping packages.
The Harbor Town Belle, an eighty-foot paddlewheeler constructed by Al Gilbert between 1995-98, cruises Lake Ontario, Irondequoit Bay, and the Genesee River. They have a special Mark Twain cruise on Thursdays.
You can also cruise the Genesee River on the Mary Jemison, a replica of a 19th-century packet boat, which departs from Corn Hill Landing on the Genesee River near downtown Rochester.
Discover history and more along the Erie Canal
The historic Erie Canal, once a major transportation route, is now a popular recreational waterway. While the majority of vessels you’ll see on the canal are small privately owned boats, there are several larger ships that offer public cruises.
Cruise the most picturesque section of the Erie Canal aboard the Colonial Belle, which departs from Fairport, southeast of the city of Rochester. The boat, which holds over 200 passengers, has a fully enclosed lower deck with a full-service bar and dining area. An open-air upper deck is the perfect spot for scenic viewing.
Also near Rochester in the picturesque village of Pittsford, the Sam Patch, a 54-foot replica of a 19th-century packet boat, offers scenic tours of the canal.
Closer to home, the Lockport Cave Tours and Underground Boat Ride offers a 75-minute guided tour which starts with a walking tour of the Lockport locks, both the modern locks 34 and 35 and the remnants of the “Flight of Five,” part of the canal in 1825. The tours moves on to the cave, originally a 2,400-foot water power tunnel used in the 1860s. Walk through the cave, then ride their underground boat ride; truly a unique experience.
Also in Lockport, the Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises takes you on a two-hour narrated trip down the historic Erie Canal, including “locking through” the 50-foot locks 34 and 35, the only double set of locks on the entire canal.
Cruise the Niagara River
Sometimes you want to take a boat ride on the spur of the moment and don’t want to travel too far. You’re in luck, as there are several boat cruises to choose from in both the upper and lower Niagara River.
The Miss Buffalo II (Buffalo Harbor Cruises) cruises the Niagara River under the Peace Bridge and “locks through” the historic Black Rock Canal. During the narrated tour you’ll see Buffalo’s lighthouse, the city’s skyline, the navy vessels U.S.S. Sullivans and U.S.S. Little Rock, and many other local landmarks. I find it a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
The 80 foot long Grand Lady cruises the Niagara River from the Holiday Inn on Grand Island. You can view the passing scenery from outdoors on the deck or from the glass-enclosed dining area. My husband and I enjoyed a cruise on this vessel last summer and it was a delightful ride.
In Niagara Falls, the Maid of the Mist Tours is on most visitor’s to-do list, however many locals have never given it a try. The ride originally started in 1846 as a ferry service across the Niagara Gorge between the United States and Canada. However, in 1848, after a newly built bridge across the gorge caused business to decline, the owner turned the operation into a sightseeing venture, which continues to this day. It is one of the oldest tourist attractions in North America. Hooded raincoats are provided for the 30-minute cruise to the base of the American and Horseshoe Falls.
About seven miles north of the falls, the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours offers a jet boat ride to the whirlpool through the Lower Niagara rapids. Enjoy great scenery and an exciting whitewater adventure. Choose either the wet-jet option (rain suits, ponchos, and life jackets are provided) or the jet dome ride (same exciting whitewater ride but in a fully enclosed boat).
Whirlpool Jets depart form Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Glen in Canada, and from Lewiston in the United States.
For the less adventuresome, the Lower Niagara River Boat Tours offers a ninety minute, seventeen mile round trip tour of the Niagara River in a 26 foot boat. Climb aboard in Lewiston; the boat heads south past the power plants, then turns around and heads north to Lake Ontario.
Most of these rides operate Memorial Day-Labor Day, although many stay open into the fall for foliage cruises. See their websites or call for schedules and pricing. It’s strongly recommended to call ahead to make reservations. All of these boats are available for private charter.
Chautauqua Belle (716-753-2403; www.chautauquabelle.com) 15 Water Street, Mayville.
Summer Wind Cruises, (716-763-7447; www.thesummerwind.com ), Lucille Ball Memorial Park, Celoron.
Canandaigua Lady (585-394-5365; www.steamboatlandingonline.com ), 169 Lakeshore Drive, Canandaigua.
Esperanza Rose (866-927-4400; www.espeeranzamansion.com) 3456 NY 54A, Bluff Point.
Viking Spirit Cruise Ship (315-536-7061; www.vikingresort.com ), 680 East Lake Road (NY 54) Penn Yan. Daily 5pm cruises during the summer.
Adventure Calls Outfitters (585-343-4710 or 888-270-2410; www.adventure-calls.com), Letchworth State Park.
The Harbor Town Belle (585-342-1810 or 800-836-8930; www.harbortownbelle.com ), Departs from Charlotte Pier at the Port of Rochester, near the Ontario Beach Carousel.
Mary Jemison (585-262-5661; www.samandmary.org ), 250 Exchange Boulevard (Corn Hill), Rochester.
The Colonial Belle (585-223-9470; www.colonialbelle.com ), 400 Packetts Landing (at Main Street), Fairport.
Sam Patch (585-262-5661; www.samandmary.org ), Schoen Place, Pittsford.
Lockport Cave Tours and Underground Boat Ride (716-438-0174; www.lockportcave.com ), 2 Pine Street, Lockport.
Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises (800-378-0352; www.lockportlocks.com ) 210 Market Street, Lockport.
Buffalo Harbor Cruises (716-856-6696; www.buffaloharborcruises.com ), 79 Marine Drive, Buffalo.
Grand Lady Cruises (716-774-8594; www.grandlady.com ), Located at the Holiday Inn, 100 Whitehaven Road, Grand Island.
Maid of the Mist Tours (716-284-8897; www.maidofthemist.com ), 151 Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Falls.
Lower Niagara River Boat Tours (716-622-8354 or 754-1309). Tours are limited to six people or less.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours (888-438-4444; www.whirlpooljet.com ) 115 South Water Street, Lewiston.