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Choosing A Thousand Islands Cruise From Kingston Can Be Tough!
Want to explore the famous Thousand Islands region in the Saint Lawrence River? How about going on a boat tour? Well, you are in luck – because we did one! As a refresher, the 1000 Islands are a geographically and historically significant area of the St. Lawrence shared between Ontario (Canada) and New York State (United States).
This beautiful region is a piece of classic “Canadiana” – and there’s no better way to explore it than by water on an island cruise! That said, there are a few cruises to choose from and it can be confusing to find the best island cruise for you. Some cruises offer breakfast or dinner while others vary by tour boat prices and lengths.
So, we actually did the 3 Hour Thousand Islands Riverboat Cruise from Kingston and decided to write this guide so you can see what we experienced and choose the best 1000 Island boat tour for you. Eric had already done a similar sunset cruise from Kingston but it was shorter and he wanted to take Lisa out for a longer experience!
Also, just so we’re clear, this post is about 1000 islands boat tours that leave from Kingston only. If you want to leave from Gananoque, you can check here for Gananoque Boat Line. You can even tour from the USA with Uncle Sam Boat Tours.
Oh, and if you are hanging around Kingston (or travelling to Kingston from Toronto), check out these other posts for trip planning – we know LOTS about the historic city!
- 27 Things to Do and See in Kingston
- Great Restaurants + Bars & Pubs in Kingston
- Coffee Shops in Kingston You Should Try
- Where to Stay in Kingston – Hotels and Inns
*Friendly Disclosure: We paid for the boat tour we did ourselves – this is not a sponsored post.
Thousand Islands Cruise – Boat Tour Options
If you know the kind of boat tour you’re looking for, feel free to jump ahead and click through to learn more below. Be sure to make note of the specific details, the reviews, addresses, how to book, etc. All you have to do is book the one you like and show up to the waterfront!
Below, you’ll find more details about the above boat cruise tours so keep reading to make the right decision for you and your group!
Classic 3 Hour Thousand Island Riverboat Tour (Our Tour)
If you want to experience the 1000 Islands, the cruise that we did is probably the best bet. This cruise explored an area called The Admiralty Islands (which was beautiful) and is entirely sightseeing so you don’t get off the boat. Tour times for this longer tour are 10:30 am and 2:00 pm. We did the 10:30 am.
There is also no meal included – but you get live entertainment and amazing views of the historic waterway. This tour also comes with audio commentary (which is really interesting) in English and there are audio guides available for Spanish, Chinese, English, French, German, and Japanese!
Overall, we really liked our tour – it was well organized and enjoyable. There’s a shop on-board where you can buy alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, and even snacks/food like popcorn. This tour can actually be done with a breakfast or brunch add-on but this is a different ticket altogether.
You can read about our sightseeing tour in more detail below – we’ve included LOTS of photos so you can get see what we saw on tour!
Kingston & 1000 Islands: 1.5-Hour Discovery Cruise
If you’re short on time but want to get out on the Kingston waterfront, you can always do a 1.5 Hour Kingston Discovery Cruise. This cruise is on a smaller boat than the Island Queen (what we took) called the Island Belle.
To compare, this cruise focuses much more heavily on Kingston and not so much on seeing the Islands. The tour covers the rich history of Canada’s first capital city and the waterways that shaped our nation – which is admittedly very interesting!
Since the cruise is shorter, they offer more times throughout the day. You can book to leave at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, or 5:00 pm. The 5:00 pm wouldn’t be quite at sunset but close enough and certainly not as hot as midday!
This tour also comes with audio commentary in English and audio guides for Spanish, Chinese, English, French, German, and Japanese!
Sunset Dinner Cruise
If you’re keen to have a meal and experience the sunset on the water, you can book a sunset dinner cruise. These cruises make use of the long, flat, glass-domed roof boat called the Island Star.
Cruises are 3 hours long and tables by the windows book up in advance so be sure to lock in your cruise if you know you want this option!
Our Thousand Islands Cruise Experience
Since there are quite a few options, we went on a boat tour to show you exactly what it’s like. The tour itself is run through Kingston Destination Group – the same group who runs the Tourist Information Centre downtown in Confederation Park and handles lots of Kingston tourism tours/activities like the famous Kingston Trolley Tour.
Overall, we really liked our tour. We knew it was sightseeing which meant 3 hours of sailing around in the sunshine and learning about stuff. That worked perfectly for us – and many others on the boat also enjoyed the tour!
We booked the boat cruise through GetYourGuide (a really good travel company) because the official tour booking website used to be very outdated. That said, you can also book in person when you get to Kingston. However, the summer months are VERY busy in Kingston so some of these tours might sell out if you wait.
Personal advice: If you know the day you want to cruise, we’d suggest booking in advance. After having booked online, we just walked up to the Kingston ticket pavilion before the cruise, showed the email voucher we got and received our paper tour tickets. Simple. If you want to learn more about the tour and/or booking process, you can check out our boat tour here.
What You’ll Need For This Boat Tour
If you do end up on this sightseeing cruise, here’s a short list of the things you might want to have with you for a great day on the water. Some of these items are weather dependent, but in general:
- A hat – with a string to stay around the neck in wind
- A windbreaker jacket (in the spring or fall)
- A water bottle
- Hair tie (if you have longer hair)
- Seasickness pills (it’s not too rough, though)
Thousand Islands Cruise Itinerary
So, to give you a better idea of exactly what we experienced on our island cruise, here’s a detailed breakdown of the day. The boat tour was advertised as 3 hours long and it ended up being a little longer (by about 10 minutes) because the boat had to slow down in the high water around the islands.
We started our day at the Kingston waterfront. If you are unfamiliar with Kingston, head for the massive building called Kingston City Hall. On the side that faces the water, you will see a large green park called Confederation Basin/Park. This is the park full of attractions and the Kingston Tourist Information Centre.
In the water, (that’s Lake Ontario), you’ll see many small boats at the Kingston waterfront docks. Looking at the water, look left and you will see the large tour boats (you physically cannot miss them) and the round ticket pavilion that says “BOAT TOURS” on the side.
The address for this ticket office and island cruise boat pier is: 1 Brock St, Kingston, ON K7L 2Z1, Canada
The tour boats leave from this above address and NOT where you catch the ferry to Wolfe Island – which is located at: Barrack St, Kingston, ON K7K 2X9, Canada.
As expected, we went into the office, exchanged our online voucher for paper tickets, and walked to the nearby pier where a line was forming to get on the boat. We were 30 minutes early and it’s wise to be early so you get good seats on the boat and so you aren’t running down the dock as it sails away!
We got our tickets checked, got a souvenir photo taken, and climbed aboard. We immediately went to the top deck where it’s open to the sun and the air but you can sit on the first deck (shown above) or the second deck for some shade and still have amazing views.
At the end of the day, the boat returned to this exact spot on the pier. We got off, thanked the crew, had a look at our souvenir photo (didn’t buy it but honestly ALMOST did) and walked downtown for dinner and a drink!
Heading For The Thousand Islands From Kingston
Once we pushed off from the pier, they went over safety procedures thoroughly which was really good. With that many people aboard it was good to know there was a plan in place if things went bad out on the water.
The entertainer introduced himself – he was an older gentleman who played classic tunes on both a banjo and a guitar. He was hooked up to the loudspeaker so he could wander the decks and take requests from people. He was really good – and provided some comedic commentary.
Heading out of the Kingston waterfront, the entertainer shared time with the audio guide which was a narration over the loudspeakers. The guide was actually really interesting and shared historical dates, locations of events, shipwrecks, famous battles, you name it! We learned a ton in the first leg of the trip.
We passed Wolfe Island and left Kingston behind as we headed up the Saint Lawrence. The cottages/homes on the shore were lovely and the whole area, in general, is just really, really pretty. It was the perfect day weather-wise, too. We actually went inside for a bit because we didn’t want to get TOO much sun!
If you want, you can grab a snack or a drink at either “shop” they have on both the first and second interior decks. Families with kids were snacking on popcorn and some people even cracked a bottle of wine or a beer. We didn’t buy anything so we don’t know about prices – but many people took advantage of the food and drinks for purchase.
Arriving At The Thousand Islands
After about an hour we arrived at the edge of the Thousand Islands. It does take a bit to actually get there but the ride was lovely (and lively) so we didn’t mind. On this cruise, you learn all about the island chain – and explore a region of islands called the Admiralty Islands.
We learned that different parts of the islands were named by different people or groups and so that’s why there are different naming conventions all through the region! In any case, the Admiralty Islands were lovely.
Read More: Discover Some of Ontario’s Finest Inns
Touring The Thousand Islands
Once “in” the islands, the boat started weaving between big ones, small ones, etc. The audio commentary started up and provided the names of the important islands and the history of it. Usually, there was a historic cottage or building on it built by someone from “back in the day” – each with a small story attached.
The fact that basically every island had a short story attached made the experience so much more rich. If they said “here’s a bunch of islands” it would have been pretty but boring. However, learning the names and getting a sense of the history of the area was very worth the trip… and we just scratched the surface!
It was also easy to see the islands and snap photos from any of the decks so don’t feel like you have to stand at the top the whole time. The large port windows make for excellent photo-taking spots – and these seats are closer to the bar and the snacks!
At one point, we could even see the waterfront of Gananoque in the distance. The small town – being even closer to the actual islands – is also rich with history. We’ll write about Gananoque on this site soon because even Eric hasn’t explored the town in-depth yet!
Returning To Kingston
Once we zigzagged around the islands for a while, we left the grouping of islands to enter the big river again. And back to Kingston we went. The entertainer started up again to play a few songs and take requests – and we enjoyed the sunshine and snapped as many photos as we could.
Eventually, you start to recognize the Martello Towers (the stone towers with red tops built by the British) and know that you are back in the waters near Kingston. You actually learn more on the way back but not as much from the audio commentary as heading out for the day.
Once we got back – as we mentioned above – it was great to see Kingston from the water for a change and snapped lots of photos. We docked, waited not too long to get off, had a look at our souvenir photo, and went downtown for a drink! The captain and crew were there to see us off and it was a great way to end the day.
And there you have it – our experience on a Thousand Islands cruise from Kingston. What do you think? Have you been on any of these boat tours before? We honestly really liked the boat tour we went on. That said, let us know how your island cruise goes – we’re always interested in hearing about the best experiences Ontario has to offer!
As always, Keep exploring, eh?
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