Taking a weekday ride to avoid the crowds on the Maid Of The Mist at Niagara Falls
by Chris Clemens
One of the primary concepts throughout this site is that you don’t have to seek an exotic destination for adventure. You can, of course, but you don’t have to. There’s a long list of cool things in Upstate New York that make it a perfect place to explore. I’m yet to meet one person that’s done it all.
I live in Rochester about an hour and a half from Niagara Falls–one of the premiere natural tourism destinations in the northeast. Upwards of 8 million people visit the New York side of Niagara Falls each year. Most of them are looking to experience one of the most unique boat rides you can find.
The Maid Of The Mist takes visitors on an open-air boat to ride up the Niagara River for a solid soaking as it sneaks up on the base of the most powerful waterfall on the continent.
Mikhail Gorbachev rode the Maid of the Mist in 1983 long after Marilyn Monroe rode it in 1952. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales rode it way back in 1860. When Jim and Pam got married on the hit NBC show The Office, they honeymooned on the Maid Of The Mist.
After living a 90-minute drive away for the last 40 years, why had I never done it?
How The Maid Of The Mist Started
The first version of the boat wasn’t intended as a pleasure cruise. Back in 1846 when it first left the docks, it was simply a ferry to get people across the river. At that time, travel from New York City to Toronto wasn’t so easy, and this ferry allowed passage.
Just two years later, a bridge was built allowing for a more drier method of transit over the Niagara River. Since the bridge cut into the ferry ticket sales, the boat became a sightseeing operation.
With the boat serving as a tourism vessel rather than for transportation, things were looking real good. They added a second boat named Maid Of The Mist II in 1854. An official corporation was formed in 1884 and then a brand new Maid Of The Mist I was built. The newer boat allowed riders a trip closer to Horseshoe Falls than either of the previous boats.
More Mist History
But, today’s boats aren’t, of course, the same ones built in the 19th century. Since those early days of the first voyages, the Maid Of The Mist fleet has expanded.
Those boats actually met their demise on April 22, 1955 when they caught fire during a pre-season accident. Both Maid Of The Mist I and II were rebuilt within a year. Over time there’s been a III, IV, V, and now a VI and VII. Each of the current boats use a powerful diesel engine to move up to 600 riders at a time.
In spring of 2019, the Maid Of The Mist owners announced they’d soon be retiring Maids Of The Mist VI and VII. After decades of use, they will be replaced by two fully electric, emission-free boats by the end of the year.
Riding On A Monday
So, why had I never taken a ride on one of the most iconic tourist destinations in our region? A couple reasons.
I’m impatient and not a fan of crowds. A few years ago I did a full day of all the New York-side Niagara Falls activities except the Maid of the Mist. It was a hot, summer Saturday and the line for the Maid looked to be a few hours long. I know myself well enough to know that there’s nothing in the world I want to experience badly enough to wait that long.
While sharing that in discussion, I was tipped off that weekday mornings are a very different experience. That makes sense, of course, but I didn’t know just how different of an experience it was.
Since my friend Kelly was the one who joined me on the previous Niagara Falls trip, it made sense for her to join me on this one, too. Together, we have now completed all-things Niagara Falls USA!
It was 11:00am on a Monday when we arrived after pre-purchasing tickets online. We were the first ones in line at the booth where they scan your tickets. After a quick and painless ticket exchange we walked straight up the observation deck to the elevator where there were a small handful of people. From there, we exited the elevator at the bottom, walked passed the shed where you get a poncho and onto the dock.
While on the dock waiting for the next ride, we might’ve been 8-10 people back from the gate. It was painless, and almost seemed too easy. Like, almost too-good-to-be true easy.
First Ride On The Maid Of The Mist
While most people know the term Niagara Falls, that name refers to the combined collection of all three waterfalls in the U.S. and Canada. Since the boat is just north of Niagara Falls, you’ll travel up river past the base of American and Bridal Veil Falls before approaching Horseshoe Falls.
The boat passes the system of docks that allow visitors on the New York side to stand right at the base of Bridal Veil Falls. Known as Cave of the Winds, taking a walk through is easily one of the coolest things you can do on the New York side of Niagara Falls. Seeing it from the Maid Of The Mist provides a sobering perspective for just how massive the tumbling water system is.
Admittedly, the first minutes of the boat ride are ordinarily dry. For the ride up, it seemed like maybe we were on the wrong side of the boat, but we clung to the railing that ensured we got a good shot should the boat turn around.
Within minutes the Maid Of The Mist has successfully nestled up to the thunderous base of Horseshoe Falls–also sometimes called the Canadian Falls. Nearly 90% of the Niagara River flows over this waterfall dumping six million cubic feet of water every minute. As it tumbles over the 170 foot drop, it earns itself the distinction of being the most powerful waterfall on the continent.
So, at this point, the flimsy blue poncho is no match for the experience of standing in a constant downpour of Niagara water. And, honestly, it’s just as cool as it looks in photos. There’s a few bucket list items that most people have for travel experiences, and it makes sense that this would be one of them.
Definitely A Monday Morning
We spent the day hanging around playing tourist in the area and started for home around 5:00-ish. By that time, we could see the line for the boat rides had backed up the dock, and was filling the observation deck right back to the ticket booth.
That line was easily a couple hours wait. A weekday might be the best time to check this bucket list item off your list, but I can confirm that doing it before lunch should mean beating the lines.
For more info about Maid Of The Mist and to snag your tickets online, checkout their website here.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens