Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises has a passion for showcasing the history and beauty of the Kingston waterfront to local Kingstonians, a passion which has become much more challenging in the context of COVID-19. This summer, adhering to Public Health guidelines, they are offering tours for up to 10 people, maintaining social distancing. “Private Pod” cruises aboard the Island Queen are being offered until Jul. 15, 2020.
According to Hugh MacKenzie, the director of 1000 Islands Cruises, the company wanted to take advantage of the beautiful summer weather and get out on the water while fostering local love for the Kingston skyline.
“We wanted to take this period of uncertainty and say, ‘How do we reach out to our communities and give them an opportunity to rediscover Kingston and the water?’”, MacKenzie said. “Probably very few members of the community have actually been out on the boat to see that beautiful late afternoon view looking over Fort Henry and Cedar Island, Martello Tower and RMC. It’s one of the most iconic views of all of Canada.”
MacKenzie also mentioned that COVID-19 has shuffled many community celebrations to the side and he is hoping to renew some joy with the Private Pod tours.
“We want to provide opportunities for our local community, our residents, our groups, and our families, recognizing that COVID-19 put a damper on the community activity engagement and the ability to celebrate things like graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, even weddings,” he said. “We had 18 weddings booked on board our boats this summer that won’t be able to happen in the format that they were planned.”
MacKenzie said that 1000 Islands Cruises received an overwhelmingly strong response from the community after they posted a contest for a free Private Pod tour, asking participants to share comments about what they would want to celebrate. After reading through almost 1,200 entrees, MacKenzie noted that many of the stories were deeply emotional. A 90th birthday, a Grade eight graduation, and a gathering place for a mourning family were among some of the responses.
“We recognize that it’s essentially a lost season in the perspective of being able to run a profitable business; we are going to lose a lot of money this year, no matter how we spin the wheel,” he said. “So our focus is not about maximizing our opportunities or revenues but rebranding ourselves.”
Managing the risk of spreading COVID-19 has been a primary concern in the development of the Private Pod tours. In keeping with 1000 Islands Cruises’ slogan of “guests first, safety always”, MacKenzie and his crew have created a thorough health-protocols document for staff to use as a training and reference manual to ensure the safety of passengers and employees.
Guides aboard the Island Queen will share stories and educational anecdotes to illustrate the rich history of the city. “It’s a beautiful thing and a great inspiration,” MacKenzie said. “Being out on the water should be a rite of passage for every Kingstonian.”
The Private Pod tours will only be running until Jul. 15, 2020, when 1000 Islands Cruises will regroup once more in anticipation of Phase 3 of community-reopening. However, MacKenzie doesn’t expect cruises to be operating at full capacity for another two to three years. Despite the challenges, MacKenzie is looking ahead to develop creative ways to maintain the tourism industry in Kingston and the 1000 Islands.
“We want to make sure that we’ve sustained strong relationships with all of our tourism attraction partners, because we’re going to collectively rebuild this year and the year following,” he said.
Depending on the preferred day and time, Private Pod tours on the Island Queen can be booked for $350-$650. There is a bar on board as well as pre-packaged snacks for purchase. For more information visit the Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises website.