Lake George Steamboat Co. readies for season unlike any other
LAKE GEORGE — For more than 200 years, steamboats on Lake George have been a sign that the summer tourism season is in full-swing. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, instead of giving tours to visitors, the Lake George Steamboat Co.’s three ships — the Minnie-Ha-Ha, the Mohican and the Lac du Saint Sacrement — have been docked as the company awaits clearance from the state to resume operations as owners struggle to adapt to doing business during the age of social distancing.
“Our main concern is our employees and the customers,” Patricia Dow, the company’s vice president, said Monday.
The virus, which has killed more than 23,000 New Yorkers and more than 100,000 nationwide, has threatened to up-end Lake George’s tourist-driven economy, and the Steamboat Co. has been no exception.
Lake George business and government officials say more visitors came to the area than they expected, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lake George Shoreline Cruises, which runs a similar operation, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Typically, the Steamboat Co. operates from early May through the fall, but as the state slowly begins to reopen after a two-month “pause,” this year has proven far from typical.
Cancellations have been rampant, and the company has struggled to finalize a schedule for the season as it awaits guidelines from the state on how it can proceed, Dow said.
“You have to obviously have the capacity to warrant going out,” she said.
The company is hoping to begin giving tours aboard the Saint Sacrement sometime in mid-June, or whenever Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plans begins. The 190-foot vessel is used for two-hour lunch and dinner cruises, which is enough to give the ship Phase 3 clearance, Dow said.
The Minnie-Ha-Ha and the Mohican won’t be permitted to resume operations until Phase 4 because they are designated “attractions” under the state’s reopening plans.
“We have no idea about the demand,” Dow said of the company going forward. “We have already lost a month of revenue.”
The Capital Region, which includes Warren County, will begin Phase 2 of reopening on Wednesday, which will allow several non-essential businesses, including in-store retail and hair salons, to resume operations, albeit on a limited basis.
Local officials are hoping the state will move the Steamboat Co. into an earlier phase because of its impact on the region’s economy.
Lake George village Mayor Robert Blais said he hopes the cruise ships would be allowed to resume operations in some capacity sooner rather than later.
“I don’t see any reason to keep them at berth. That’s a very large attraction for Lake George,” he said.
For now, the company is working on ways to ensure guests can enjoy their time on the lake while maintaining proper social distancing and sanitizing protocols, Dow said.
Passengers will only be permitted to board if they are wearing a mask, and the company is working on eliminating contact between staff and guests in places like the ticket window near Beach Road and the dining area on the Saint Sacrement.
Seating has also been reduced in the Saint Sacrement’s dining area to ensure there is a distance of at least 6 feet between tables. The ship’s buffet has also been eliminated and dining patrons will be served individually.
Things, however, are still “a work in progress,” Dow said. That includes developing a final schedule for the now shortened season.
Instead of giving back-to-back tours, there will be a two-hour window in between to allow staff time to properly disinfect the vessel before boarding another group of passengers.
Staffing has also been a concern, Dow said.
The company has yet to hire for the season because of all the uncertainty and is currently not taking bookings as it hammers out a final schedule.
“We have had people start to call and say, ‘Well, if you’re going to be open in July, we’ll be there,” Dow said.
For now, the company is proceeding on a day-by-day basis and is hoping the community will show its support once tours do resume, Dow said.
“We’ve been in business for 200-plus years and we really don’t want this to be the downfall,” she said.
— Reporter Michael Goot contributed to this story.