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 how to choose the best Niagara Falls boat tour or if we should try to do both? Our time was limited, so realistically we needed to pick either the Maid of the Mist or the Hornblower.
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.
COVID-19 Notice: The border between the US and Canada is closed for non-essential travel through at least August 21, 2020. Both the Maid of the Mist and the Hornblower are now running at reduced capacities.
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Hornblower vs Maid of the Mist: What’s the Difference?
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 for 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 Niagara Falls tours. Both boats take basically the same route on the 20-minute long 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.
Only Hornblower Cruises offers the Niagara Falls Fireworks Cruise. The weekend we were in Niagara there were no fireworks so we didn’t get the chance to do the evening boat tour.
Niagara Falls Boat Tour Price Differences
Niagara boat cruise prices are pretty similar, but the Hornblower cruise is a little bit more. The Hornblower ticket includes the Niagara Funicular which is $3 CAD if you bought it separately. 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!
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. (If your trip is during the off-season, check out these ideas for things to do in Niagara Falls in the winter.)
Luckily, regardless of what boat you choose, it will be an experience you will always remember. We had a great time!
Niagara Falls Night Cruise
Only Hornblower offers cruises to see Niagara Falls at night. You can either do the Niagara Falls Fireworks Cruise depending on evenings when there are fireworks scheduled. The evening cruises run from the beginning of May until the end of October.
These cruises last 40 minutes and do sell out quickly, so you will want to get your tickets in advance. The evening cruise is more expensive than the daytime ones because it is longer. In 2019, Tickets for adults cost $42.95 CAD and $27.95 CAD for kids 12 and under. These tickets also include the Niagara Funicular (separately it would cost $3 CAD). Click here to check availability and book tickets. 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 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 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 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!
Since you will get wet anyway, it could be a good thing to do when it is raining in Niagara. Looking back it would have been nice to have some waterproof covers for our shoes (like these). Even with shoe covers, you still need to allow time for the rest of you to dry! We were happy we were able 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. Ladies, you will also want to be sure to bring waterproof mascara!
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 cell phone to take photos, you 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 great for capturing action video like this. (Note: We have since upgraded to the GoPro Hero 7 Black and love it – click here to check price and availability for the GoPro 7).
I was also surprised that there were no seats 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 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!
Accessibility of the Niagara Falls Boat Tours
I am happy to report that both the Maid of the Mist and the Hornblower Cruise are wheelchair accessible. There are elevators and ramps to get you down to the boat. The only restriction is that those with mobility issues will not be able to get to the top level of the boat because it can only be accessed by stairs. While we rode on the top deck, others have said the view is just as good on the lower deck.
Hornblower Niagara Falls Video
Having said all that, I 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 like. I keep thinking back on the experience and just laughing!
Buying Niagara Falls Boat Tour Tickets
Unlike many other popular tourist attractions, you do not need to buy tickets for the Maid of the Mist or the Hornblower in advance. The boats run frequently and carry hundreds of people, so that don’t sell out. While you can buy tickets online, you cannot book a specific tour time for daytime cruises. We bought our tickets at the booth in front of the Hornblower Cruise when we were ready to do the boat ride.
It may seem like there is a long wait for the tours, but since boats are large and run every 15 minutes 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 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 here but they are not for a specific day or time. For 2020, adults tickets cost $22.25 USD and children tickets (ages 6-12) are $13.00 USD. Remember children 5 and under are free. 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 you can purchase online in advance to save time. Tickets purchased online here also include a ride on the Hornblower Niagara Funicular (normally $3 CAD). It costs $28.95 CAD for adults and $18.95 CAD for kids ages 5-12 (Summer 2019 pricing). Children 4 and under are free. For the daytime tickets, you can choose a specific day but not a specific time. Your tickets are an email with a barcode which you can either print out or show on your phone (you must be online). If you wait to purchase the tickets until you arrive, you can opt out of the funicular and save $3 CAD, but you may have to wait in line.
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. Get more information about the different passes that include the Hornblower here.
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.
Maid of the Mist or Hornblower Niagara Cruise?
Going on a Niagara Falls boat cruise should be on your bucket list. Both the Maid of the Mist and the Hornblower Niagara Cruise offer similar experiences. Don’t feel like you have to choose the Maid of the Mist because of the iconic name, the Hornblower can be a good alternative especially if you stay on the Canadian side. 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.
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Expert Tips for Your Niagara Falls Boat Tour
- Location is the best way to choose when you are debating the Maid of the Mist vs Hornblower. 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.
- The daytime boat tours do not need to be prebooked, but 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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