Sneak peek at Hornblower tour boats

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Hornblower Cruiselines is working through the winter as they prepare to go head-to-head with the iconic Maid of the Mist Tours.

Tuesday we got an up-close look at how the boats that are taking over the Canadian side of the Falls plan to compete.

PHOTO GALLERY | See more images from our tour here

Hornblower Niagara Cruises CEO Terry MaRae said, “It’s definitely a challenging environment to assemble a ship and have it operational in the Niagara Gorge.”

Starting this spring, three Hornblower Catamarans will become the first direct competition the Maid of the Mist has had in more than 100 years. In 2012, Hornblower outbid the family-run business to take over boat tours on the Canadian side.

“I’m sure there will be competition, I hope it will be friendly, hopefully we will collaborate and be professional and I’m confident in that,” MaRae said.

Each boat was built off-site and then piece-by-piece hauled down into the gorge and re-assembled. Each is 86-feet long, 33-feet wide and weighs about 120 tons.

There will be two 700 passenger catamarans, similar to the Maid of the Mist boats, but with a few add-ons.

MaRae explained, “We have this raised deck center with tiered viewing platforms so even if you’re standing in the middle of the ship you can still have a fantastic view by going up here.”

There will also be a 140 passenger boat that will have a bar and other options for special events, sunrise and sunset cruises, and a special tour of the Falls illuminated at night.

But the CEO admits it’s not the boats that are the main attraction.

“The Falls are so amazing and majestic and everyone wants to see them and if they see them from the American side or the Canadian side, either way it’s a great experience,” MaRae said.

As for the Hornblower ponchos, they plan on going with bright Maple Leaf red in honor of the Canadian flag.

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