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What Is a Boat Tour?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A boat tour is a unique way to experience a given area by water. Often taking place on a multiple-level boat, passengers taking a boat tour will often have the choice of sitting on an exposed upper deck or a more confined lower deck. Unlike a cruise, the typical boat tour takes place on a river or inland lake and does not include overnight occupancy, although some stern wheeler riverboats can offer overnight passage on designated extended tours.

There are several boat tour options available, ranging from drift-type or inflatable white water boats to large, stern wheeler steamships. The most frequent type of vessel used on a boat tour is a double- or triple-level boat with an open upper deck. Commonly diesel-powered, these boats provide conveniences, such as air conditioning and refrigeration for cool drinks. Many of the boat tour crews consist of a captain and a tour guide. There are, however, many tours that utilize the captain as both the boat captain and the tour guide. Some of the boat tours are linked to another tourist attraction, such as an amusement park, while others are independently-operated and compete for business against other boats and tours.

Some of the white water tours include a one-way trip on the water, with the passengers and tourists receiving a ride by vehicle back to the point of the tour's origin. Other tours that use diesel-powered vessels often include a round-trip ride, and many of these tours take place at night on so-called romance tours. This type of tour commonly includes a beverage, such as champagne, and a dinner for two complete with an elegant dessert. Depending on the size of the boat, a band or single violinist may be along on the ride to help set a romantic mood for the trip.

Many of the boat tour operators offer excitement by maneuvering the boats very close to stones, cliff walls and other naturally-occurring features. Some of the boats move in so close that passengers are able to touch the feature. Some boat tours, such as those that operate at Niagara Falls in New York, US, and Ontario, Canada, move so close into the falls that the nose of the boat actually moves into the waterfall and gets wet. Skilled captains and crew make these maneuvers possible and offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience for passengers on the tour boat.

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