Amphibious boat tour booked for harbor


A year after Baltimore's Inner Harbor lost its only amphibious boat tour, a second company is about to launch a boating venture.

Beginning the first week of next month, Missouri-based Ride the Ducks will show tourists city sites from nine-ton, open-air vehicles that can travel on land and water and were used by the Army during World War II.

The 80-minute tour will follow a two-mile loop past attractions such as City Hall, Edgar Allan Poe's grave and Camden Yards. It will end with a view of the Inner Harbor from the water.

"We think Baltimore is primed for a great land-and-water tour," said Kathleen Boozer, the company's general manager in Boston.

Tourism officials said the new tour will fill a void left when Peter Pan Bus Lines Inc. shut down its amphibious-vehicle operation last year. The company, which designed its vehicles to look like pirate ships, said at the time that it faced unexpected capital expenses and had been operating in the red.

The tours were wildly attractive to visitors, however, and tourism officials said they received many calls about the boats after the closing.

"The pirate ships were very popular when they were here," said Nancy Hinds, director of communications for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "Ever since the ships left the city, we were hoping that they would be replaced. It's a much-needed service here."

Peter Pan's primary business is buses, but Ride the Ducks has been running amphibious tours for more than 30 years. Tourism officials hope the company's experience will give it more staying power.

"This is their core business. This is all they do," said Andrew Murray, director of the National Historic Seaport of Baltimore.

Ride the Ducks also offers tours in Boston, Seattle and Branson, Mo. The Baltimore operation will begin a nationwide expansion that Ride the Ducks is undertaking with financial backing from Silver Dollar City, an amusement-park operator.

In Baltimore, the company will start with two vehicles that hold 38 people each, said Boozer. It plans to expand to four boats by the peak summer season and to a fleet of eight to 10 during the next few years. Company officials say they hope to attract 100,000 riders during the first season.

The vehicles, built in 1945, were used by the Army to transport soldiers and supplies from ships to land. The company has upgraded the vehicles with power steering, automatic transmissions and other enhancements.

Although tourism fell drastically after Sept. 11, Ride the Ducks officials say they anticipate increased tourism this summer as families take more day and weekend trips closer to home.

"People aren't traveling as far, and they're not flying," Boozer said. "They're deciding that a weekend trip is the way to go, which should bring more visitors to Baltimore."

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