Every great story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and when it comes to the story of City Cruises, formerly known as Hornblower Cruises & Events, that story is still being written. But, while we are in the middle of writing it, let’s take a look back at the beginning, and see how Hornblower became what it is today!

When it comes to maritime adventures, few names evoke the sense of luxury, innovation, and impeccable service quite like Hornblower Cruises & Events. As a prominent figure in the cruise industry for decades, Hornblower made its name by offering passengers unforgettable experiences against the backdrop of some of the world’s most iconic waterways and cities. Join us as we take a trip down memory lane and embark on a journey through the history of Hornblower Cruises & Events, exploring the origins, milestones, and other chapters of the company that give light to the enduring legacy that has made Hornblower a symbol of nautical excellence.


San Francisco California Hornblower ship


Hornblower Cruises & Events Sets Sail

Hornblower’s story begins in 1980, when environmental engineer and visionary Terry MacRae founded the company in Berkeley, California. At his previous company, MacRae was looking for interesting venues to entertain clients when he came across Hornblower Tours. He liked what he saw so much, that when the company hit the market, he and a partner bought it, and set sail in a new career direction. Initially starting with a small fleet of two ships, Hornblower Cruises & Events set out to redefine the cruising experience, emphasizing top-notch service and a commitment to creating unforgettable memories for passengers. MacCrae eventually bought his partner out, and boat by boat, built Hornblower into the largest dining and charter cruise company in North America.


Company Growth and Expansion

city cruises boat on san francisco bayWhile Hornblower started with two vessels in Berkeley, California, the company quickly expanded to six new California locations, most notably San Francisco. With its success in the Bay Area, the company’s commitment to excellence earned it a reputation as the go-to provider for dining cruises, sightseeing tours, and special events on the bay. This laid the groundwork for expansion into other key markets such as New York City and Niagara Falls. Over time, Hornblower continued to acquire additional fleets and expand its presence into new cities, each bringing an opportunity to showcase the company’s dedication to hospitality and providing passengers with unparalleled experiences on the water. Hornblower Cruises & Events has continually raised the bar, introducing innovative concepts that have become synonymous with the Hornblower experience. From gourmet dining options crafted by renowned chefs to state-of-the-art vessels equipped with cutting-edge technology, the company has consistently demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to maritime hospitality. The following 8 locations were all once Hornblower Cruises & Events locations and are now City Cruises ports.


City Cruises San Francisco (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of San Francisco)

Hornblower Cruises & Events has long been a staple in the San Francisco Bay, offering all types of memorable experiences on the water, and as the company embraces its new identity as City Cruises San Francisco, their commitment to providing top-notch cruises and events remains unwavering. Sail past iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island or enjoy a gourmet dining experience while floating by the San Francisco skyline. No matter the option, City Cruises San Francisco continues to be your gateway to exceptional maritime adventures in this vibrant city.


City Cruises Berkeley (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of Berkeley)

San Francisco Bay with Alcatraz in background

Nestled in the heart of the Bay Area, Berkeley’s Hornblower Cruises & Events has transitioned to City Cruises. Known for its picturesque waterfront views and unique sailing experiences, City Cruises Berkeley is dedicated to providing unforgettable moments on the water. After all, Berkeley is Hornblower’s original location. Whether you’re enjoying a leisurely daytime cruise or a sophisticated evening event, cruises around the Berkeley Marina and beyond offer a perfect blend of relaxation and adventure.


City Cruises Sacramento (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of Sacramento)

In the historic and scenic city of Sacramento, Hornblower Cruises & Events is now City Cruises. Experience the unique charm of Sacramento from the water, enjoy sightseeing tours, dining cruises, and special events. City Cruises Sacramento combines the allure of the city’s rich history with the beauty of its waterways, offering an unrivaled experience for both locals and visitors.


City Cruises Marina del Rey (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of Marina del Rey)

city cruises in marina del reyThis location offers an exquisite Los Angeles area escape into the Pacific, with cruises that showcase the stunning coastline and provide an ideal setting for any occasion. From romantic dinner cruises to lively social gatherings, City Cruises Marina del Rey promises an extraordinary experience on the water.


City Cruises Newport Beach (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of Newport Beach)

The vibrant and charming coastal scene of Newport Beach has served as a perfect backdrop for Hornblower Cruises & Events, and now, as City Cruises Newport Beach, it continues to offer unparalleled dining cruise experiences. Explore the stunning Newport Harbor and the Pacific Ocean with our range of cruises, each promising spectacular views, exceptional service, and an ambiance that’s both relaxing and exhilarating.


City Cruises Long Beach (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of Long Beach)

Long Beach, with its stunning coastline and vibrant harbor, has been a proud home to Hornblower Cruises & Events. As they transition to City Cruises Long Beach, you can continue to expect exceptional sea adventures. Whether it’s exploring the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, enjoying themed cruises, or hosting special events, City Cruises Long Beach promises an unforgettable experience with each voyage.


City Cruises San Diego (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of San Diego)

Best of the Bay Tour in San DiegoSan Diego is famous for its beautiful harbors, coastline, and sea life, and Hornblower Cruises & Events has been a part of this landscape for years. Now, rebranded as City Cruises San Diego, you can experience the same commitment to excellence and enjoyment. From whale watching to dining under the stars, City Cruises San Diego offers a variety of nautical experiences that capture the essence of this coastal city.


City Cruises New York City (Formerly Hornblower Cruises & Events of New York City)

I’m in a New York state of mind! In the iconic city of New York, Hornblower Cruises & Events has rebranded to City Cruises, offering a fresh perspective on its world-famous skyline. Embark on a journey around Manhattan, witness the Statue of Liberty up close, and experience the sights like never before. City Cruises New York City continues to set the standard for exceptional cruising experiences, whether it’s sightseeing, dining, or celebrating special occasions.


Sailing Towards Environmentally Friendly Initiatives

Hornblower-Hybrid-e1512419780886 (1)In addition to redefining luxury on the water, Hornblower has also been a pioneer in adopting eco-friendly practices within the cruise industry. As mentioned before, in his former career, Hornblower’s founder, Terry MacCrae, was an environmental engineer, and the company reflects that to this day. It has invested in environmentally sustainable technologies, including hybrid vessels and emission-reducing initiatives. Notably, Hornblower designed and built the first hybrid ferry in the United States that reduces fuel consumption by 75%; and is part of Alcatraz City Cruises. Also, City Ferry operates the first zero-emission, all-electric passenger/vehicle ferry in the United States. This continued commitment to sustainability aligns with Hornblower’s initiative to reduce its environmental impact, protect marine life, and help preserve the natural beauty of the waterways it sails.


More Than Excursions and Tours

While the company’s portfolio is filled with daily excursions and sightseeing tours, Hornblower has aligned itself as a go-to choice for hosting special events. Whether it’s a corporate gathering, a wedding celebration, or a milestone birthday, Hornblower’s fleet of luxurious vessels and the locations they sail, provide an exquisite backdrop for creating cherished memories and starting new traditions. The company’s commitment to service, hospitality, attention to detail, and event planning expertise ensures that every occasion becomes a memorable maritime masterpiece.


Corporate party on boat with Boston in background


Hornblower Today

Today, the Hornblower Group is known as a global leader in world-class experiences and transportation and is made up of three divisions – American Queen Voyages ™, City Experiences ™, and Journey Beyond. Their footprint spans 111 countries and territories, and 125 U.S. cities, with offerings including water-based experiences, land-based experiences, overnight cruise experiences, and ferry and transportation services, and marine consulting & services.

While the story officially began in 1980 when Hornblower Tours was purchased by Terry MacRae, the history of brands in their portfolio dates back nearly 100 years! Here’s a list of major milestones and acquisitions that can also be seen on the company’s About page:

1926 – Boston Harbor Cruises is founded in Boston, Massachusetts

1951 – Gananoque Boat Lines is founded in Gananoque, Ontario, Canada

1974 – Potomac Riverboat Cruises is founded in Alexandria, Virginia

1978 – Spirit Cruises is founded in Norfolk, Virginia

1980 – Hornblower Tours purchased by Terry MacRae in Berkeley, California

1980 – 1987 – The company is known as Hornblower Party Yachts

1984 – The company moves its headquarters to San Francisco, California

1986 – City Cruises is founded in London, England

1987 – 1993 – The company is known as Hornblower Dining Yachts

1987 – Mariposa Cruises is founded in Toronto, Canada

1991 – Odyssey Cruises is founded in Chicago, Illinois

1993 – 2020 – The company is known as Hornblower Cruises & Events

1993 – The company spins off Hornblower Marine Services (HMS), a marine management company focused on the operation of casino boats and ferries. HMS Ferries, Inc. expands to government contracting work and the development of high-speed ferry systems.

1996 – City Cruises develops the first new purpose-built sightseeing boat on the River Thames in London

1996 – Seadog is founded in Chicago, Illinois

1997 – The company acquires Lake Tahoe Cruises, Inc. and adds ferry services across Lake Tahoe

1998 – Mystic Blue Cruises is founded in Chicago, Illinois

2004 – Hornblower Group acquires Adventures at Sea and becomes the largest private yacht fleet in Southern California

2006 – Alcatraz Cruises, a Hornblower subsidiary, is awarded National Park Commission contract for Alcatraz Island in San Francisco

2007 – Entertainment Cruises acquires Baltimore Harbor Cruises

2008 – Hornblower Group awarded National Park Service contract for Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum

2009 – Seaward Services is founded in New Albany, Indiana

2009 – Alcatraz Cruises designed and built the first hybrid ferry in the United States which reduces fuel consumption by 75%

2011 – Cruising Excursions is founded in London, England

2012 – HMS establishes the American Queen Steamboat Company

2012 – Hornblower Group awarded Niagara Parks Commission contract for boat tours in Niagara Gorge

2014 – Niagara Cruises begins tours in Niagara Gorge with two state-of-the-art catamarans

2015 – Hornblower Group awarded the NYC Ferry contract by the New York City Economic Development Corporation

2015 – Shore Excursions of America is founded in Easton, Pennsylvania

2016 – Victory Cruise Lines is founded in New Albany, Indiana

2016 – Entertainment Cruises is formed with the merger of Odyssey Cruises and Spirit Cruises

2016 – Entertainment Cruises acquires Potomac Riverboat Company

2017 – NYC Ferry by Hornblower begins operations on May 1, 2017

2018 – Entertainment Cruises acquires Mariposa Cruises

2019 – The Gee’s Bend Ferry operates the first zero-emission, all-electric passenger/vehicle ferry in the U.S.

2019 – Hornblower Group acquires Entertainment Cruises, Boston Harbor Cruises, Gananoque Boat Lines, and UK-based City Cruises under the Cruises & Events division

2020 – The company is known as Hornblower Group, with Cruises & Events becoming one of the company’s four divisions

2020 – Overnight Cruise division added Shore Excursions of America to its portfolio

2020 – HMS Ferries Inc. named operator of Puerto Rico Ferry Service

2021 – Cruising Excursions is added to the company’s portfolio of businesses in January, expanding our footprint globally to 70 countries

2021 – Shore Trips is added to the company’s portfolio of businesses in February, expanding our global footprint to more than 110 countries and territories

2021 – In April 2021, Hornblower Cruises & Events, City Cruises, and HMS Ferries, Inc. rebrand as one master company, City Experiences. City Cruises and City Ferry are named sub-brands of the division

2021 – In September 2021, American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines rebrand as one master company, American Queen Voyages. American Queen Voyages River, American Queen Voyages Lakes & Ocean, and American Queen Voyages Expedition are named sub-brands of the division

2021 – As part of the expansion of land-based activities Walks was brought on board in Q1 along with Devour Food Tours in Q4. The Walks platform brought in not only Guides from around the world but also a technology platform to elevate the Hornblower Group.

2022 – In February, Hornblower welcomes Australia’s leading experiential travel company, Journey Beyond, into its growing company portfolio of world-class travel experiences

2022 – Venture Ashore launches as the newest addition to the City Experiences portfolio of brands in February, becoming the largest independent cruise excursions provider in the world


city cruises at sunset


What’s on the Horizon for Hornblower?

As Hornblower sails into the future, the company remains committed to its core values of hospitality, innovation, and sustainability. While the cruise industry, like many others, has faced challenges over the years, Hornblower has shown resilience and adaptability. By staying attuned to the needs of passengers and evolving with the times, Hornblower has continued to thrive in an ever-changing landscape. With a portfolio that spans diverse destinations and a fleet that features everything from luxury yachts to trains, Hornblower continues to shape the cruising experience and beyond for generations to come.

In conclusion, the history of Hornblower Cruises is a tale of passion. From its humble beginnings in the Bay Area to becoming a global maritime force, Hornblower’s journey is a testament to the enduring allure of the sea and the company’s vision of providing out-of-this-world experiences on the water. It’s safe to say this story is still writing itself and is nowhere near the conclusion.