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Jetting over Niagara’s whirlpools

- August 3rd, 2010

WhirlpoolJetBoat300
(Image courtesy Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours)

“Breaking free” to the Niagara region from Toronto proved to be easier said than done over the August long weekend.

I had hoped a Sunday noon-time departure would make for clear sailing down the Queen Elizabeth Way, but apparently many Torontonians thought the same thing. Traffic was literally bumper to bumper from the border of Toronto to Niagara Falls. What is usually a 1 1/2 hours drive took three hours this sunny Sunday.

After the arduous journey, my boyfriend and I definitely needed to cool off. Luckily, we were in for a head-to-toe soaking aboard the famed rapids-riding Whirlpool Jet Boats.

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours has ridden the Niagara River for 20 years. Guests can choose to ride the “Wet Jet” boat tour – which definitely leaves you drenched – or the “Jet Dome” covered boat. Guides with either option take tourists through the 200-foot-tall stone walls of the Niagara Gorge, over class-five white water rapids (known as Devil’s Hole Rapids) and past the U.S. and Canadian power generating stations.

A shuttle bus with seats made soggy by previous guests - foreshadowing our watery fate – took our group of adventure seekers from the Niagara Adventure Centre (located at 3050 Niagara Parkway) to private docks in Queenston, Ont. After a quick safety lesson from our fun and laid-back guide Jesse, and a photo op by our vessel (I later bought our souvenir photo. My camera isn’t waterproof, so had to stay on dry land), it was all aboard the 48-person jet boat.

After a 360-degree spin in the boat and excited cheers for our captain, we said good-bye to calm waters and hello rapids. The 1,500 horsepower engines propelled us through the gorge and sent our bow high in the air before it slammed down against the water, sending a huge wave crashing over the boat and leaving me soaked on our first trip through the rapids. 

A change of clothes is absolutely needed at the end of the tour and I also recommend wearing the provided water shoes. The water our boat took on reached knee level after some of the more intense waves hit.

After that, it was sunglasses in the pocket and an iron-clad grip on the metal bar attached to the seat ahead of us. With no seat belts, and wave after wave crashing against me as we went through the rapids again and again, I wasn’t quite hanging on for dear life, but definitely didn’t want to test out the buoyancy of my life jacket by going overboard.

While Jesse hid out with the boat’s captain when we went through the powerful rapids, she sat at the bow while we travelled the calmer areas of the Niagara River. Donning a hands-free microphone, she gave us some history on the creation of the river and gorge, spoke about the power the generating stations produced as we passed them, and described the depth and movement of the water we travelled over. 

Our tour was the perfect blend of educational sightseeing and heart pounding, white water excitement. I only wish I had worn a swimsuit like some of my fellow passengers.

Tickets for Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours are included with the Niagara Break Free pass. Rates for those without passes are $66 for adults and $55 for children 13 and under. Guests must be six years old and at least 44 inches tall to ride the Wet Jet boat. Tours run from May until October. Visit whirlpooljet.com for more information.

- Nicole Feenstra

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