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Buffalo can be a Port of Call for Larger Lake-Bound Cruise Ships

After posting on different ways that Buffalo could participate in waterway excursions (see here), I received a few off-site responses that were very interesting. One of those responses told the story of the formation of the Commercial Slip (Erie Canal Harbor), and how there were originally plans to accommodate larger cruise vessels. In fact, one particular cruise operator, Blount Small Ship Adventures, expressed an interest and even provided requirements to moor its vessels for loading and off-loading passengers. That company does feature a cruise that stops in to Erie Basin Marina at this point of time (see below), but there is an opportunity for even larger vessels to frequent this city.

Looking back, it turns out that the port of call requirements were initially designed into the 2004 Harbor Plan, for vessels up to 250 feet, which would have made the Inner Harbor a destination for Blount-sized lake cruising vessels. Unfortunately, those South Basin designs were ultimately eliminated by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC).

In the 2004 plan, the South Basin would have provided two slips (four berths) for boats such as the Edward M. Cotter Fireboat (118′) and the Spirit of Buffalo (73 foot topsail schooner) – see lead image. There were also potential plans (with identified investors) to build another schooner that would have been significantly larger than The Spirit of Buffalo, at 155 feet. By having all of these “smaller” ships occupy the South Basin, the Commercial Slip would have been freed up for personal runabouts to tie up, which was its original intended use.

2004 Harbor Plan

As for larger cruise vessels visiting Canalside, the 2004 Harbor Plan included 250+ linear feet of bulkhead (seawall just south of the South Basin) that was to be dedicated to the ships. The mooring bollards were already in place. Additional floating dock was to be added, along with docking amenities that could have included immigration facilities. Although the floating dock at today’s Canalside can accommodate vessels such as the 110′ US Brig Niagara (that does make stops to Buffalo), it isn’t set up for larger ships such as the 184′ Blount ships that cruise the Great Lakes.

As far as cruise ships go, there are charter companies (think Chicago) that don’t visit Buffalo at all. In order to attract more ships “Blount size” and larger, we need to start looking at the Outer Harbor. The Seaway Pier at the Outer Harbor would be able to handle vessels that can accommodate 250 to 350 passengers. Now we’re talking. In order to make that happen, the water approaches would have to be cleaned up, and amenities would need to be added. After all, people taking these cruises are not in it to “rough it”.

We lost out on an opportunity to accommodate Blount-sized vessels at Canalside. Now we need to ensure that, moving forward, the Outer Harbor becomes a place that is “passenger ship friendly”. There is a lot of buzz about just how the Outer Harbor will take shape. No matter the direction, it would behoove us to keep in mind that these larger cruise ship opportunities exist. Opportunities abound to include Buffalo as a port of call for ships the size of the new 286′ M.S. St. Laurent. The south wall of Pier 2 (Seaway Pier) is about 700 feet, with water depths of about 20 feet. The SS Columbia, currently moored at Silo City, is 208 feet. Buffalo’s beloved SS Canadiana was 215 feet. It’s a bummer that the Friends of the Canadiana never fulfilled their mission – saving that ship would have been a driving force behind ensuring that our waterfront was able to permanently accommodate the larger vessels that I am describing. 

Buffalo is on the map for smaller cruise vessels (Erie Basin Marina), one of which is operated by Blount currently. Blount offers a lake/canal cruise that starts in Chicago, before visiting Minitowoc, WI (Day 2), Mackinac Island, MI (Day 3), a cruise through Lake Huron (Day 4), Wyandotte, MI (Day 5), Cleveland, OH (Day 6), Erie, PA (Day 7), Buffalo, NY (Day 8), day of cruising (Day 9), Rochester and Oswego, NY (Day 10), arrive in Sylvan Beach, NY (Day 11), Amsterdam, NY (Day 12), Troy, NY (Day 13), Kingston, NY (Day 14), West Point, NY (Day 15), and Warren, RI (Day 16).

Blount ship docked at Buffalo’s Erie Basin Marina

The waterways navigated during the trip are Lake Michigan, Straits of Mackinac, Lake Huron, Detroit River, St. Claire River, Lake Erie, Welland Canal, Lake Ontario, NY State Barge Canal, Hudson River, NY Harbor, East River, Long Island Sound, Rhode Island Sound and Narragansett Bay.

The 16 day, 15 night Great American Waterways Cruise package starts at $4,999. Small ship options are the Grande Caribe and the Grande Mariner. These ships are 184′ and accommodate 84 passengers each. And these are considered “Small Ship Adventures”. 

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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