OUTDOORS: Whatever floats your boat 

Fall boat tours offer relaxing views of Rochester's past and present

When fall rolls in, and the temperatures cool down, spending time outdoors becomes even more enjoyable. No more sunburns, no more sweating, and no more humidity. It's not time to go inside just yet. Now is your chance to throw on a light jacket, and do things it was too hot to do just a few weeks ago.

Spending the day on a boat with the sun beating down on you may not be ideal in July, especially when you can't jump in the water mid-cruise. But in September, it can be just about perfect. Imagine spending a perfect fall day eating lunch, having a few drinks, and seeing the red and orange leaves reflected in the water. Rochester's boat tours are definitely worth checking out during the fall. Cruises take place on the Erie Canal, Irondequoit Bay, and the Genesee River. Some of the boats have special fall foliage tours, along with other events like wine tastings and even magic shows.

Many of these boat tours are designed to send you back to a time when the Erie Canal still defined Upstate New York. The Sam Patch boat in Pittsford is a replica of an 1800's Erie Canal packet boat. The boat has an enclosed main cabin where lunch, dinner, and drinks are served. The front of the boat is open, so you can step out and enjoy the breeze.

The Sam Patch cruise boards at Schoen Place in Pittsford and travels down the Canal. Then, the boat goes through one of the canal's famous locks. These mechanisms were designed because of the change in elevation at certain points along the waterway. An exchange of 3 million gallons of water allows the boat to be raised or lowered 25 feet. The tour then passes back through the lock in the opposite direction and heads back to Schoen Place. Dinner cruises are longer, and go farther down the canal, while private charters can go even further into Fairport.

If you want to turn these scenic Erie Canal views into a party, look for the Sam Patch wine-tasting cruises this fall. You can have happy hour with the girls or go on a romantic date. And it's educational, right? You're getting connected with Rochester's rich history while throwing back a few. Wine cruises will take place Friday, September 20, and Friday, October 4. These cruises are $26, and include between six and eight wines, refreshments, and a 90-minute boat ride. You must be 21 or over to attend these events.

While Sam Patch is a replica, its sister ship, Mary Jemison, is a true piece of history. It was built in 1931, and was first used by fisherman along the Chesapeake Bay to carry oysters. It was converted into a sightseeing boat in the mid-1900's, and Rochester has been its home since the 1980's.

The Mary Jemison is a larger boat with two levels. Its rides begin at Corn Hill Landing, at the intersection of Exchange Boulevard and Plymouth Avenue in the city, and head south on the Genesee River. The boat travels under the Ford Street Bridge and past Mount Hope Cemetery before turning east onto the Erie Canal. If you want to get a beautiful view of Rochester's skyline in the fall, this is the tour for you. Longer dinner cruises and private tours continue east, where you can experience the Erie Canal's lock system.

The Sam Patch and Mary Jemison cruises are both operated by Corn Hill Navigation, run on the same schedule, and have the same prices. Both boats offer multiple daily cruises Monday through Sunday, from May until the end of October. Regular tour ticket prices range from $7 for children to $11 for adults. Food and drink prices are separate.

More information can be found at samandmary.org or by calling 662-5748. Some of the cruise schedules may change or become more limited as the weather gets colder, so check the website for updates.

The Colonial Belle (colonialbelle.com, 223-9470) in Fairport also gives tours of the Erie Canal, and has some unique events coming up this fall. Its regularly scheduled cruises occur three times a day Tuesdays through Saturdays, and twice a day on Sundays. These tours range from a two-hour lunch cruise ($16) to a three-hour dinner cruise ($19). Food and drink prices are not included with these ticket prices.

The Colonial Belle is a large, double-decker boat with an entirely open top deck. Tables and chairs are set up on the deck, and during each tour the driver narrates the trip with Erie Canal history. Daily boat tours depart from 400 Packett's Landing in Fairport, and travel along the canal to Schoen Place in Pittsford. The longer, three-hour tours include a trip on the canal's lock system.

If you want to go big with sightseeing, boating, dinner, and entertainment all in one, check out the Colonial Belle's special themed tours. An Erie Canal murder-mystery tour will take place Thursday, September 19, and Thursday, October 10. This three-hour cruise includes a show and a chicken dinner for $52. The event boards at 6:15 p.m. and returns to Fairport at 9:30 p.m. Reservations are strongly suggested.

There will also be a jazz and wine tasting cruise on Saturday, September 21, 7-9 p.m. ($34), and a fall foliage tour of downtown Rochester on Sunday, October 13, 12:30-4:30 p.m. The fall foliage tour departs from Schoen Place, not Packett's Landing, and includes a meal and entertainment for $70. Reservations are required for these tours.


Rochester's water cruises can also be a great family trip. Taking your kids on a boat to see a magician will make you the coolest parent ever. Charlotte's Harbor Town Belle, a large, two-story paddle wheeler, offers a magic show every Thursday night through October. Illusionist Brian Baskin puts on a show that involves everything from comedy to escaping from a straightjacket. This weekly magic show cruise lasts two-and-a-half hours and departs at 6:30 p.m. from the Port of Rochester in Charlotte. The event includes a ham and chicken buffet, and costs $29.

The Harbor Town Belle offers daily tours that travel to Irondequoit Bay, but in October that route changes to get a better view of the fall scenery. The October fall foliage route travels up the Genesee River for a view of downtown Rochester. Both routes depart from the Port of Rochester twice a day, seven days a week. Monday through Friday, tours take place at noon and 6 p.m. Saturday rides occur at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Sundays are at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. All tours last two hours (except the magic-show tours on Thursdays) and cost $12 for adults, and $6 for children aged 10 and under. Lunch and dinner options are available at an extra cost. For more information, call 342-1810 or visit harbortownbelle.com.

If you have a big event coming up this fall, most of these boats are available for private rental. Note that all boat schedules are determined by the New York State Canal System, and have the chance of being cancelled due to bad weather. All of these tours run through October, and may run a few weeks longer based on the NYS Canal System's decision. Keep up to date on schedule times at canals.ny.gov. Be sure to catch these tours and enjoy the outdoors while you can. Fall arrives quickly, but it will be gone before you know it.

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