Summary, History and Founders of City Cruises
The biggest tour boat operator on the River Thames, City Cruises provides tourism and leisure passenger services on the River Thames with more than four million passenger journeys taking place every year on its route through the heart of London between Westminster and the Tower of London, then under Tower Bridge and down river to Greenwich – a journey through 2,000 years of liquid history.
Based at Cherry Garden Pier, a historic location in south-east London that was once a part of London’s huge commercial docks dating back to the 1880’s and part of the setting for many of Whistler’s paintings, City Cruises operate a fleet of 17 passenger boats, along with a small fleet of support vessels and barges.
The story begins some decades ago…
Although City Cruises did not actually come into being until 1996, the company can trace its roots back two decades earlier when Gary and Rita Beckwith OBE, Chairman and CEO respectively, acquired a fuel barge with which to supply the various boat operators on the River Thames in London. It was, however, a further nine years before they entered the passenger-carrying business when they acquired their first sightseeing vessel, The King, in 1985.
City Cruises has always been at the forefront of change in the industry, acquiring smaller operators in a traditionally fragmented industry and consolidating ownership under the City Cruises umbrella. Our growth has been driven through innovation, investment and our commitment to customer service.
City Cruises developed the first brand on the River Thames, built the first new purpose-built sightseeing boat for 25 years in 1996 – named by Her Majesty the Queen – and developed the first GPS-driven multilingual commentary system.
City Cruises now operates a modern fleet of large, comfortable boats with open top decks together with our unique heritage fleet. Our latest addition to the fleet, Millennium Diamond, was built in 2012 and has the largest passenger-carrying capacity on the river at 600 passengers.
In 2002 the company acquired The Yard Arm Club Ltd. and, along with it, the Restaurant Ship Hispaniola to add a static vessel to the fleet and a top-class central London restaurant and events venue to the product portfolio.
Formerly the steamship, Maid of Ashton, she sailed the Clyde and came to rest on the Victoria Embankment by Hungerford Bridge in the 1970’s with spectacular views from the Houses of Parliament to St Paul’s Cathedral. The Hispaniola is now renowned for Al Fresco dining on her large, open decks with an all-day bar and restaurant on the Upper Deck.
In April 2014, City Cruises expanded outside London and now operates in Poole, Dorset. Our two vessels, Solent Scene and Island Scene, sail from Poole Quay, offering cruises across the sea to Swanage, along the Jurassic Coast – a magnificent World Heritage Site with spectacular views – and around Europe’s largest natural harbour which includes Brownsea Island.
In May 2017 City Cruises arrived in York, a small and beautiful city in the north of England, by acquiring York River Boat Cruises Ltd., which is now known as City Cruises York. Our cruises help visitors see one of the country’s most-visited destinations outside London. Sightseeing cruises run from two boarding points along the River Ouse, King’s Staith and Lendal Bridge, and dining cruises will develop a schedule similar to that of London. In addition we offer small boats for private hire.
Gary and Rita are both very active in the London tourism scene. Gary is a Board member of the European Tour Operators Association and Patron of Whoosh, the charity of the Stephen Hawking School. Rita was Chairman of the Docklands Business Club for eight years and has just retired from the Chairmanship of UKinbound after five years. She now sits on the Board of Visit Greenwich. Rita Beckwith received the OBE from Her Majesty the Queen in 2012 for her services to tourism and the regeneration of London Docklands.
At the end of October 2019 City Cruises was acquired by Hornblower UK Holdings Ltd, an American dining and excursion cruise operator based out of San Francisco. Hornblower has been operating for 35 years in the US and runs popular river cruises, harbour cruises, whale watching trips and ferries throughout North America including iconic trips to Alcatraz in San Francisco, The Statue of Liberty in New York and Niagara Falls in Canada. They are the largest river and harbour cruising company in the US