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Hornblower San Diego Cruise Is First Class Experience

By Johnny Destino

Class is the name of the game on Hornblower cruises. The people of Niagara Falls, Ont. have nothing to worry about when Hornblower takes over.

The food was good, the tabletop, elegant, on Hornblower's cruise.

The Maid of the Mist tours (immediately above) don't serve sardines, but pack you in, as if you were one.

Supporters of the Maid of the Mist claim the company has the class and skill to operate a boat tour below the falls on the New York side, while the new operator on the Canadian side -- Hornblower Cruises and Events -- hasn't the ability or experience.

For decades, the Maid of the Mist on both sides of the river operated the attraction without air conditioning or heat, its 15-minute, daytime-only tour conducted on old steel tubs lacking both restroom facilities and seats.

Riders had to stand. During the high season they were packed like sardines, donning flimsy blue garbage bags with perforations for head and arms, and getting drenched even when the weather and water were ice cold.

A ride on the Maid of the Mist in May left you wet and shivering. And in the height of the summer, people waited for hours since there was no way to buy tickets in advance.

Because he is "grandfathered" in, Glynn does not have to meet Coast Guard safety standards as to seating capacity -- for there are no seats, or for handicapped access to bathrooms, because there aren't any bathrooms.

Here is what the Hornblower San Diego experience is like, based on a recent visit, just to give the reader a comparison.

The pier that Hornblower operates in San Diego was teeming with activity at 6 p. m. as hundreds of people began arriving to check in for one of the five different cruises going out that night.

Our reservationist started the evening off right with her infectious smile and pleasant demeanor and as the numbers of people arriving began to swell, staff walked up and down the lines making sure everyone was in the right place and had their boarding passes.

Every employee seemed genuinely pleased to be a part of the crew and their good nature and attentiveness made for smooth sailing and a wonderful experience unmarred by negativity.

There was a large group of Texas Buffalo Soldiers, an African-American organization honoring the all-black regiments that fought as citizens and professional soldiers after the Civil War during western expansion. Buses full of Escondido High School students, all dressed to the nines, were lined up to take the students to their spring formal aboard the 1,000-passenger Inspiration Hornblower. Members of the Alpha Phi sorority also showed up in style for an evening on the bay and the smallest cruise of the evening belonged to newlyweds celebrating their nuptials with family and friends.

Upon embarking, we were greeted by the ship's captain who engaged us in pleasant conversation after we mentioned that Hornblower was coming to Niagara Falls soon. He indicated that he was aware of the company's expansion into the area, and wished us a good time aboard his ship, the Adventure Hornblower.

The Coast Guard, ensuring that all safety precautions were being observed, inspects each of the vessels in the fleet annually, making sure of their seaworthiness and that all safety precautions are being observed. The ship appeared to be well maintained, and the interior facilities -- including restrooms -- were clean.

Once aboard, we were presented with a complimentary glass of California champagne or sparkling cider and shown to our private table by the smartly appointed maitre d. Next we were introduced to our server who walked us through the prix fixe menu of Caesar salad, selection of a choice flat-iron steak or chicken (each accompanied by au gratin potato and vegetable), or a vegetarian entree.

For a modest additional charge, diners had the option of choosing a surf and turf entree which included a choice filet-mignon and salmon.

Diners also had the option to order appetizers from an a la carte menu for an additional cost as well. Our table selected the spinach and artichoke dip which was served with crackers, and dinner rolls were also served with the salad course.

We went with the flat-iron steak and surf and turf options and the quality of the meal far surpassed our expectations. The food was prepared fresh on board and the steaks were cooked to order perfectly. This was closer to a fine dining experience than a banquet type meal and given that the food was included in the price of the cruise ticket, the value was greatly appreciated by the guests.

In addition to the food, there was an extensive cocktail and drink menu which was reasonably priced and included top-shelf offerings and wines from regions around the world. It was comparable to what you'd find at any fine dining restaurant.

Dessert was also included, and there were several additional offerings for an additional charge. Our party enjoyed the vanilla cheesecake that was included as part of the prix fixe menu and it was the perfect way to end the meal.

The cruise goers were a good mix of ages and ethnicities and they were celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and one young man even proposed to his girlfriend on the bow of the boat as his entire family and other guests looked on (she said yes!). Elsewhere, a couple from New Mexico celebrated their 15-year anniversary.

On the lower deck, the DJ emceeing the night's events took requests as guests danced away. The three-hour dinner cruise was well paced and upon returning to the pier the many happy passengers thanked the crew and captain as they disembarked.




Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Apr16, 2013