The Niagara River flows north of Lake Eerie to Lake Ontario in Canada. On one side of the river you’ll find Ontario and the other side you’ll find New York in the United States. The river is about 58 kilometers long and includes the famous Niagara Falls in its path. The best part? Niagara is only a short drive (a couple hours) from Toronto and can make for a fantastic weekend getaway.
Recently I had the chance to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake, a cute little town in Southern Ontario known for their vineyards. When visiting, I wanted to take the opportunity to head out on the river and not only did I have one but two experiences along the river that were VERY, VERY different from one another but were both great in their own way. Here are the two ways I explored the Niagara River…
Niagara Sunset Cruises
In 1970 the Niagara Belle was introduced to the Niagara River. The Belle was an authentic Mississippi-style sternwheeler. In August 1970 the boat ran up on a rocky shoal and the passengers had to be rescued by the coast guard, when the ship was repaired the Belle began to sail west on Lake Erie and down to Lake Ontario where she found her new home in Toronto. The Belle lived and floated along the harbourfront in the city for almost 41 years.
However, in 2013, the Niagara Belle made her way back to her birthplace when she was bought by Niagara Sunset Cruises. When the boat was bought it went through a grand makeover and finally relaunched in 2017 sailing from Queenston, Ontario offering lunch and dinner cruises, plus special events.
The cruise today takes visitors along the Niagara River between Queenston/Lewiston and Niagara-on-the-Lake. The starting price for the dinner cruise is just under $75 Canadian and $55 CDN for lunch cruises. I happened to be in Niagara-on-the-Lake on the night Niagara Sunset Cruises was hosting a special Waves & Wine event on the Belle. The night was hosted by Inniskillin and Jackson Triggs (two local wineries) as they brought us through a special wine and food pairing.
The first course we started with was an asparagus salad which had big leaves of Boston lettuce, green asparagus, avocado and blue cheese with a yummy dressing. This salad was paired with a sparkling wine. Following the salad we were brought a salmon and zucchini strudel with saffron sauce which was paired with white wine. Finally, our main course was a cajun style seared flat iron steak with a red wine reduction and parsnip mash and carrots. The main course was delicious and the perfect size. It was paired with a lovely red wine. Last but not least, dessert was my favourite, creme brulee with a local icewine (which the area is famous for).
The boat itself was pretty full, but we were sat at a table together and you had the option to explore the upper deck to take in the sunset or enjoy the sunset from the windows that panned around the entire boat. The decor and overall ambience of the boat was retro and included a cash bar for those that wanted to order more beverages then what was provided. The drinks were well priced and you could also order wine by the bottle for around $35-$40 CDN.
Overall we enjoyed a beautiful evening on the Niagara Belle. We got to see the sunset while listening to acoustic music and eating amazing food paired with local wines. A great evening for those celebrating a special occasion or just looking to treat yourself.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours
The sister company to Niagara Sunset Cruises, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours is quite the opposite of the sunset cruises and a unique way to explore the river. Celebrating their 25th year in operation, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours was inspired by the only whitewater jet boating operation in North America back in 1982 on the St. Lawrence River. The rapids in Niagara boast 4.5m-6m waves and currents with speeds of 20 mph, ranking them class five on a scale of six. With challenging rapids in the area, this is what attracted Lachine Rapids Tours to the area in the 90s to test out the rapids. Two years later Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours was born.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours operates a fleet of custom-built boats that have a triple turbo diesel water jet system and a design that boasts reliability and safety while they navigate the rapids on the river. The tour company offers boat tours out of Niagara Falls, Lewiston and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and offer both a covered (dry) boat tour and an open one. However, part of the fun is getting soaked!
Before boarding the boat, you’ll be outfitted with a poncho, lifejacket and water shoes. You’ll board the boat where you’ll be taken down the river towards the rapids. Once you reach the rapids the boat will weave in and out of them, hitting waves and drenching you along the ride. You won’t leave this tour dry, that’s for sure! Think of it as a ride at an amusement park but it actually takes place in nature.
The boat ride lasts around 45 minutes to an hour and is a ton of fun! However, if you’re not into water sports, getting wet and an adrenaline rush, this may not be for you. Tours cost around $63 CDN (for adults) and children are welcome but must be at least 44 inches tall. Also, they have some awesome package deals available that combine a jet boat tour plus other fun activities in the area. You can check them out here.
I had so much fun exploring Niagara River in two very different ways. The jet boat gave the adrenaline junkie in me a fun activity on a hot summer day while still getting to enjoy the beautiful turquoise waters of the rapids and river. The sunset cruise allowed me to have a more relaxing and peaceful evening while enjoying delicious local food and wine. There truly is something for everyone in Niagara-on-the-Lake and this is just an example of the variety of activities you can do!
Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets for both these boat tours to conduct a review. I only recommend experiences that I enjoyed, and think other travelers would benefit from. All opinions in this piece are my own and 110% honest.