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What Is a Duck Tour?

By Solomon Lander
Updated May 23, 2024
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A duck tour is a land and sea sightseeing tour offered in many cities around the world. The distinguishing feature of the tour is the tour vehicle, a World War II-era amphibious vehicle known colloquially as a duck. The vehicle can drive right into the water and serve as a boat, which allows tourists and sightseers to be taken down city streets and along waterways without having to change vehicles.

General Motors first designed the DUKW amphibious vehicle in 1942. It served as an amphibious landing craft in World War II and played a major role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. After the war, DUKW vehicles and their equivalents spread around the world for military and civilian applications such as use by search-and-rescue teams and supporting abalone fishermen.

Duck tours use a mixture of original WWII ducks, rebuilt ducks and modern duck-like amphibious tour buses. The name "duck tour" comes both from the amphibious nature of the vehicle as well as from the similarity between DUKW and duck. Modern duck vehicles typically seat about 30 people on bus-like bench seats. Although most duck vehicles have rain coverings, some riders experience a little bit of water spray when riding on rivers and lakes.

The first duck tours operated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, right after the end of World War II in 1946. Many cities that have significant bodies of water now feature duck tours, whether they are coastal cities or inland communities on lakes or rivers. Although the duck tour concept began in the United States, it has expanded globally, with operators now offering duck tours in countries such as Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Duck tour operators tend to run lighthearted tours featuring such things as a public address system loaded with sound effects and music clips. Many captains deliver joke-laden spiels, mixing comedy with standard tourist information. Participants in a duck tour should be ready for puns of varying quality, such as having a duck driven by a "conDUCKtor" or "quacking" up with laughter. Most duck tours last for one to two hours and highlight major tourist areas and historical sites.

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