Before I even started planning a trip to Niagara Falls, I knew I wanted to do the Maid of the Mist boat ride. It’s the iconic thing to do, right? Well, once I started doing my research, I learned there is also the option of doing Hornblower Niagara Cruises. I wasn’t sure which Niagara Falls boat tour was better or if we should try to do both? I wanted to share my personal experience and research with you to help make the Hornblower Niagara Cruises vs Maid of the Mist decision easier for you.
The biggest difference between Hornblower Niagara Cruises and the Maid of the Mist is the history. You may remember the Hornblower cruise we did to Alcatraz Island last year. While Hornblower has been around over 35 years, they have only been offering cruises on the Niagara River since 2014. The Maid of the Mist first carried passengers across the river in 1846! In 1848, when the bridge across the river opened, demand for the Maid of the Mist fell. They rebranded the Maid of the Mist as a tourist boat and it has been taking passengers ever since.
Honestly, there isn’t much of a difference between the two tours. Both boats take basically the same route on the 20 minutes cruise and go close to all three of the waterfalls (the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls) that make up Niagara Falls. The Hornblower Cruise is the boat tour in Niagara Falls, Canada and the Maid of the Mist docks on the American side, literally across the river from each other.
Niagara boat cruise prices are pretty similar, but the Hornblower cruise is a little bit more. You pay for the Hornblower Cruise Niagara Falls in Canadian Dollars and the Maid of the Mist in US Dollars. Similarly, the Hornblower Cruise is included in the Canada attraction packages and the Maid of the Mist is in the American ones. (More on Getting Tickets Below)
The cost difference for the cruises might be more if you have kids. Maid of the Mists is free for kids 5 and under with an accompanying adult, while Hornblower only lets kids 4 and under on for free. It is a minor detail, but if you have twin 5-year-olds like one of my readers, Pauline, it can add up.
Both cruises provide all guests with ponchos. Spoiler alert: you will need them! The Maid of the Mist poncho is blue and the poncho for the Hornblower Cruise is red. As long as you get a poncho, that should be fine. Color should not be a deciding factor in choosing your Niagara Falls Boat Tour!
Lastly, only Hornblower Cruises offers the Niagara Falls Illumination Night Cruise and Niagara Falls Fireworks Cruise. The weekend we were in Niagara there were no fireworks so we thought about doing the illuminations cruise but just didn’t have enough time.
How to Choose the Best Niagara Cruise
Since the differences between the two Niagara Falls boat tours are insignificant, the deciding factor is which side of Niagara Falls you are on. Border crossing does take time, and there are fees (only a few dollars) whether you walk across the Rainbow Bridge or drive across the border.
If you are on the American side, then do the Maid of the Mist. If you are on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, then it makes more sense to do the Hornblower Cruise Niagara Falls. We were staying on the Canadian side, so we decided to take the Hornblower. We could have also done the Maid of the Mist if we would have done the boat ride the same day we did the Cave of the Winds since that is on the American side of the falls.
Additionally, the season for Hornblower cruises is slightly longer than the Maid of the Mist. Hornblower operates their daytime cruises from April 1st until November 30th, weather permitting. Maid of the Mist ends their season in early November.
Luckily, regardless of what boat you choose, you will have a great time and it will be an experience you will always remember. We really had a great time!
Niagara Falls Night Cruise
Only Hornblower offers cruises to see Niagara Falls at night. You can either do a Niagara Falls Illumination Night Cruise or the Niagara Falls Fireworks Cruise depending on if there are fireworks scheduled that night or not. The evening cruises run from the beginning of May until the end of the October.
These cruises last 40 minutes and do sell out quickly, so you will want to get your tickets in advance. If you like you can save a little money by purchasing a Day & Night Cruise Package, which includes a day cruise and one of the extended night time ones. I should also mention that these extended night cruises do include a cash bar, light snacks for purchase, and music
Hornblower does also offer 20-minute long Voyage to the Falls Evening cruises as well for the same price as the daytime cruise. During this cruise, you would also get to see the falls illuminated.
All the evening cruises are described as a “light mist experience” rather than the “full mist experience” of the daytime cruises. I am guessing with the “light mist experience” you would still get wet. The boats do have indoor areas, if you want to make sure you stay completely dry. I’m not sure you would really get the full experience if you stay inside the whole cruise though.
What to Expect on a Niagara Falls Cruise
My experience on my Niagara boat tour was different than I expected. I thought that as we got close to the Falls the water would get pretty rough. That really wasn’t the case. The water seemed to be pretty calm but the mist and wind were much more powerful than what I expected. You really need that poncho and you need to tie it tight. I had to hold on to poncho in order to keep my hair somewhat dry. Even with holding onto my poncho my hair did get wet though!
I should mention there is no storage for your belongings. Please don’t bring things (i.e. electronics) that are not waterproof. If you plan on using your cellphone to take photos, you really should bring a waterproof phone case. You can actually find some good quality ones that are affordable on Amazon (click here to check price and availability). We used a GoPro Hero 5 Black for our video. It is waterproof and is great for capturing action video like this. (click here to check price and availability). Ladies, you will also want to be sure to bring waterproof mascara!
Check out my practical tips for visiting Niagara Falls for more helpful information to plan your trip.
I was also surprised that there were no seats at least on the top deck of the Hornblower. Luckily, we got a spot in the front by the railing so that we had something to hold on to. Plus, I didn’t expect the visibility to be so bad. There were times I really could not see at all and the noise from Niagara Falls was loud. I had no idea where on the river we were or how close we had gotten to the Falls. Looking back, that is all part of the fun of the experience. The Maid of the Mist got its name for a reason!
You should take into consideration that you will get wet on your cruise even if you are wearing the poncho. We were happy we had time to go back to the hotel and change before dinner. If you do your Niagara boat tour on a chilly day, you will want to get out of your wet clothes as soon as possible.
Having said all that, I really enjoyed my Hornblower Niagara Cruise experience and would do it again in a heartbeat. It was quite the adrenaline rush. Our video will show you what the Niagara Falls boat ride was really like. I keep thinking back on the experience and just laughing!
Buying Niagara Falls Boat Tour Tickets
For daytime cruises, you cannot book a specific tour time. The boats are large and can carry hundreds of people so the lines will move reasonably fast. During peak days, I would recommend going early to minimize your wait time. It wasn’t crowded when we went, so we could have gotten right on when we got to the dock but we decided to wait and be the first people to board the next boat. That way we could get the best seat – well, place to stand. You really don’t need to worry about where you end up standing though. Visibility is limited and you’re going to get wet anyway!
Maid of The Mist Tickets
For Maid of the Mist, you can purchase tickets online in advance but they are not for a specific day or time. If you are looking for a Maid of the Mist discount and plan on seeing other attractions on the New York side of the Falls, you may want to purchase the Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass.
Hornblower Niagara Cruise Tickets
We purchased our tickets at the terminal right before the cruise, but it’s probably a better idea to purchase online in advance to save time. For the evening cruises, I would recommend booking as early as possible because tickets are limited and they do sell out. You can also save money by buying the Day & Night Cruise package.
For the daytime tickets, you can purchase your tickets online for a specific day but not a specific time. If you prefer, the Hornblower Journey to the Falls Boat Tour is also included in the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass along with other attractions on the Canadian side of the Falls.
Going on a Niagara Falls boat tour should be on your bucket list. Whichever boat ride you choose, I am sure you will love it. Have you been on either the Hornblower Niagara Cruises or the Maid of the Mist or both? I would love to hear about your experience.
Expert Tips for Your Niagara Falls Boat Tour
- Choose your cruise based on the side of the Falls you will be on. If you are on the American Side of Niagara Falls, choose the Maid of the Mist. If you are on the Canadian Side, go with Hornblower Niagara Cruises, it’s basically the Canadian Maid of the Mist.
- Do not bring electronics that won’t fit inside your pocket or purse on your cruise. There is a high probability they will get wet from the mist. If you are bringing your cell phone to take pictures, consider also bringing a waterproof case.
- If you want to do one of the Evening Niagara Falls cruises, I would recommend booking in advance as those will sell out.
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