More than a year after first floating the idea, plans to build a Titanic museum in Niagara Falls are steaming ahead with no icebergs in site.
Fuelled with a $3-million commitment from the Niagara Angel Network, proponents of the attraction hope to welcome aboard their first passengers by the middle of next year.
While celebrating investments made in the past three years totalling just more than $12 million to help establish 29 businesses including several in Niagara, Angel Network executive director Terry Kadwell also announced plans to pitch in for the Experience Titanic interactive museum planned for Niagara Falls.
The former Niagara Falls Memorial Arena could be demolished and replaced with a museum dedicated to — and modeled after — the Titanic.
The city’s committee of adjustment approved an application from businessman David van Velzen this week for minor variances to a bylaw that would allow for a new facility to be built in the shape of the historic British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 after colliding with an iceberg.
The Centre Street building, which most recently housed a sand sculpture attraction, was put up for sale in November 2014.
In last week’s “Center Gift Shop” torn down for a parking lot posting, regular visitor Drafty left a comment about another potential development in the city. Apparently the old arena on Centre St may be torn down to make way for an attraction that is a big boat (Drafty guess the Titanic). The a document on the city web site (or here if the city website link changes) indicates the application came from a David van Velzen. I searched for his name on Google, and the top result is a link to a LinkedIn profile. his title is “Owner/Director at The Titanic Project Inc”
I drive by the old arena twice a day on my way to and from work, and I’ve never noticed any notice of public meeting. After Drafty linked to the document, the next time I drove over I pulled over to check out the building. As you can see by the pictures, I don’t imagine there were many people who could see the “Notice of Public Meeting” behind the glass on the door third from the right!
Twitter can be a great thing. I’ve been able to get in contact with many operators that I otherwise might not have. One of those is Brad Billard, Director of Marketing & Promotions for Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. I was in contact with him much earlier in the year about possibly getting some passes so I could write about the attraction. Brad was quite willing to arrange that, and a week and a half ago I made the trip.
Before I get into the details of my own trip, let me give you just a bit of background. The main dock for the boats is in Niagara-on-the-Lake. There was recently some controversy over whether the lease on the dock would be renewed. Some residents complained that the boats were too loud. In the end, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours won, and is able to continue to operate. I don’t live there, but based on my limited time at the dock, I don’t see what all the fuss was about. The boats are very careful to respect other boats in the river, and since they aren’t going very fast, they don’t make nearly as much noise as they do when in the rapids.
The engines are made by HamiltonJet out of New Zealand. If you browse their site, you can see some pictures of other boats, as well as pictures of engines, and how the “waterjet” works. The hull of the boat is crafted in Clayton, NY. It is transported to the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours shop in Virgil where their licensed welders and mechanics assemble the boats and build the rest. The guy running our tour mentioned that the boat is built like the Titanic. It has compartments in the hull. The Titanic’s problem was that the walls of the compartments didn’t go all the way to the top. They do on the jet boats. Apparently there are 8 different compartments, so even if there is a breach, the boat should still be safely above water.
When you first get to the attraction, the first thing you do is check in and sign a waiver. You then have a short safety orientation. The dock is just a short walk down the block. They give you a life jacket that you have to wear. They also want to make sure that you have footwear that won’t come off and will provide you with water shoes if you need them (no extra charge). There is also a poncho that can be worn.
When I was speaking to Brad before the ride, he asked what kind of a ride I wanted. I’m not really much of a thrill ride guy, but I said it didn’t matter. Brad explained that the best spot to get really wet is the 3rd or 4th row on the right side. There is a small “windshield” at the front of the boat so the people don’t get quite as wet. He also explained that the back seats were called the “Oh my gosh” seats as you have enough time to say that before you get splashed. As I boarded the boat, I was hoping to sit closer to the back, but somehow ended up in the 3rd row, on the right side.
The experience truly is a tour. There is a person who sits at the front of the boat and tells you a bit of history as you are going up the river. Our tour guide’s name was Jason and he was fantastic. He joked with us (he was truly funny) and he was incredibly excited and pumped up. Two of my sisters came with me (both adults). One of my sisters was quite nervous, and she said that listening to Jason and enjoying the banter helped her take her mind off her fear.
It takes 10-15 minutes to make your way up the Niagara River. It surprised me how far up we went. It’s a long way from Niagara-on-the-Lake, up past Queenston Heights, up to the whirlpool. The main destination is a set of rapids just before the whirlpool called Devil’s Hole Rapids. This is where the ride really gets wild. You go through the rapids several times, and it seems as if the whole boat fills up with water. At one point I understood why they have you sign a waiver. I got hit with a wave that seemed to be the size of a house and it took a few days for my hearing to be back to normal! Even with that little scare, I’d do it again in a heartbeat 🙂
The end point is the actual whirlpool. They can’t take you up any further than that as the rapids beyond that are too strong. However, you stop right at the edge and certainly get a sense of the power of the water and the speed of the current. You then head back through Devil’s Hole Rapids and then go quite fast on the way back. I don’t know how fast the boat actually goes, but it sure seemed very fast.
When you are planning on going on a tour, they tell you to bring a full change of clothes. That seemed excessive to me, but I did so anyway. Am I ever glad I did! I was soaked from head to toe, with not a single spot of dry area on my clothes. Thankfully, they have some change rooms at their location where you can get out of your wet clothes when you get back.
There is an option as part of the tour (at an additional cost) to get some pictures. There is a person along the way who takes pictures from the shore of you going through the rapids. The pictures turn out quite nice, and are worth the extra cost.
For more information on the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, be sure to check out their web site. You can find out the cost, their history, and see pictures and videos. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
My sister has a waterproof camera that I used and was able to take some pictures when I could. As usual, you can see some of the thumbnails below, or see all of the thumbnails and full images in the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours in Summer 2010 gallery. There are several pictures that I took, as well as some pictures that were provided by Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours.
I was also able to get some video clips as well that I’ve put into one longer video (still only a couple of minutes long). You can watch the video Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours in Summer 2010 below or on YouTube. The video is made up of clips which I think will give you a good feel for what the tour is like. You can see and hear Jason, the tour guide. You also experience two of the Hamilton Turns (the 360° spins). You also get a feeling for how fast the boat can go. I don’t have any shots of the big waves, as we were supposed to put away the cameras and hold on at that point.