a peek inside the fishbowl

25 Aug, 2014

A peek inside a Thousand Islands boat cruise, plus a visit to Boldt Castle

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|travel talk

I like the idea of ending summer on a high note, with an extra special day trip or family activity. At the very least the kids will go back to school with something good to write for their “what I did this summer” essays. :)

This past weekend Mark’s parents took the four of us on a Thousand Islands boat tour, and I have to say, everyone needs to hop aboard at least once in their lifetime.

We decided to do the five hour tour (“THE FIVE HOUR TOOOUUUUURRRR”:)

Note: the cruise was nothing like the video above. (Here’s a direct link for mobile users by the way.)

There are a number of different companies that organize boat tours in the 1000 Islands area but we went with Gananoque Boat Line. It’s a pretty easy drive from Ottawa and although the parking/ticket buying/boarding was painless, I do recommend arriving a little early. Seating is first come first served, so if you have a preference in terms of where you’d like to sit you’d be smart to send someone to buy the tickets while you stand in line to get on board.

Once you nab your seats you’re set. We were impatient to get this party started.

Thousand Islands tour in Gananoque

My tip to you: make sure you bring a sweater or a windbreaker. It’s all about layering people! It’s a few degrees cooler out on the water and you’ll appreciate it if you happen to find yourself sitting in an open area. (And bring a hairbrush, if your coiffure easily veers towards the Unintentional Windblown Look.)

I found the pace of the tour worked well for me. Five hours may seem daunting, but it actually passes very quickly. There are snacks available for purchase on board (I think I even spied someone with a beer, and yes, there are bathrooms too) and the tour narrative was pretty interesting (there’s talk about shipwrecks and rum runners and such). We further broke up the time taking photos, exploring the three levels of the boat, and just watching the sights pass us by.

There's a lot to see on the water

An island of cormorants. And a few osprey.

There is no shortage of things to see. This is, after all, a 1000 islands tour. I bet you won’t be able to get through this tour without pointing out the window and asking your seat mate, “Can you imagine living there?”

Thousand Island living (and tiny lighthouse!)

Cutest island home, ever.

Of course, the grandaddy of all is Boldt Castle, located on one of the U.S. islands. (This is why you need to bring your passport with you.) The story of Boldt Castle is beautiful and sad. Wealthy hotelier George Boldt built the castle for his wife Louise and their two children. She passed away before it was completed and he never returned. The island and the buildings are full of his love for her.

Louise Boldt

Front foyer at Boldt Castle. Note the heart and the B.

The Arch, at Boldt Castle

A view of Boldt Castle from the grounds

A receiving room, Boldt Castle.

The dove cote, Boldt Castle.

The unfinished castle was abandoned, and sold, and abandoned again, and everything was damaged by weather, time, and vandals. A lot of money has been spent restoring it, although restoring is the wrong word to use here since much it wasn’t even finished in the first place.

One of the most interesting things was seeing the unfinished and damaged parts of the building. These were to be the servants’ quarters on the fourth floor:

The servants' quarters, Boldt Castle

A turret with a view, Boldt Castle

The whole thing is hauntingly beautiful. And don’t miss the view from the fourth floor!

Soon it was time to find our kids and grab a bite to eat. We had a surprisingly good fried lunch at the concession stand (although in hindsight, bringing a picnic to eat on the grounds would have been amazing) and then it was time to board again.

Our boat for the Gananoque Boat Lines 1000 Islands tour

The return ride seemed a little quicker, although there was just as much to see on the route back. We were pretty pooped from our exploration of the castle and we swapped notes about the things we saw; the dove cote, and the bowling alley in a MINI CASTLE for the kids (!), the power station, and the underground tunnel. It’s all so fascinating. They seem to have thought of everything, but the story of Boldt has stuck with me. George Boldt thought he had it all, and then he lost the one thing that really mattered. A home is only a home if the people you love are there with you, isn’t it?


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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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