Today, the company cruises from seven California port cities and New York City. It also operates two National Park Service concessions and will begin service at the Niagara Falls Gorge in 2014. Guests choose Hornblower for vacations, weddings, corporate outings, galas and more.
Terry MacRae and a business partner acquired Hornblower Coach Tours in 1980. At the time, the two-yacht company was based in Berkeley, Calif., and its assets included a 75-passenger catamaran called the M/V Admiral Hornblower. Hornblower’s early efforts focused on private group charters, but the company also committed to future growth by signing a long-term facility lease in the Berkeley Marina.
In 1984, Hornblower moved its headquarters across the bay to San Francisco. Four years later, the company added new harbor tours and whale watching adventures in San Diego. MacRae became the sole owner of Hornblower Yachts, Inc., in 1992, and he rebranded the company as Hornblower Cruises & Events to more accurately reflect the variety of products and services offered. He also continued enhancing the charter and dining cruises available to Hornblower guests. The company bucked a nationwide recession to post a 10 percent annual revenue increase during the early 1990s.
As MacRae and his team grew the business, several highlights distinguished Hornblower from its competition. The company added a number of noteworthy yachts to its fleet, including the elegant M/V Wild Goose in 1995. Actor John Wayne used the restored 1942 minesweeper as his private getaway for years, and Hornblower continues to operate the historic yacht in Newport Beach. The company’s fleet topped 30 vessels in 2001, with the addition of the 2,200-passenger San Francisco Belle. It remains the largest dining yacht on the West Coast. Since then, the company has introduced the nation’s first hybrid ferry, Hornblower Hybrid, as well as Hornblower Infinity, a 1,000-passenger gem with private event spaces and an open-air deck set 65 feet off the water.
Hornblower leaders also chartered a successful course by adding new port cities. In 1997, the company acquired Lake Tahoe Cruises, Inc., and the vessels Tahoe Queen and Tahoe Princess. Hornblower then added land shuttle services between South Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley Ski Resort, and the Lake Link ferry service across Lake Tahoe. In its day, it was the fastest passenger boat on the lake. Hornblower sold its Lake Tahoe port business in 2002. Two years later, the company acquired Adventures At Sea. With the addition of the Orange County-based luxury fleet, Hornblower became the largest private yacht fleet in Southern California.
Alcatraz Cruises, a Hornblower subsidiary, won a 10-year National Park Service contract and began providing exclusive transportation services to Alcatraz Island in 2006. A separate Hornblower subsidiary, Statue Cruises, also won a National Park Service contract and took over ferry transportation to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 2008. The following year, Hornblower began offering river tours and dining cruises in California’s capital city, historic Old Sacramento.
In 2012, Hornblower brought its private charters and public dining excursions to the Hudson River with the launch of Hornblower New York. And, the Niagara Parks Commission selected Hornblower Canada Co. for the 30-year lease and operation of boat tours in the Niagara Falls Gorge. That contract is set to begin in 2014.
Throughout more than 30 years of operation, Hornblower has made environmental protection and preservation a priority. The company launched its pioneering environmental management and education program, Respect Our Planet, in 2005. The initiative shapes sustainability measures, such as sourcing green products, using reclaimed and eco-friendly materials in new yachts, improving fuel efficiency and incorporating wind, solar and hybrid technology into vessels when possible. Respect Our Planet also educates guests on Hornblower’s green efforts and shares suggestions for sustainable living.
Regional and national organizations regularly recognize Hornblower’s environmental outreach, respected cruise offerings and steadfast commitment to quality. Hornblower Hybrid took Most Significant Boat of 2012 honors from Workboat Magazine. The San Francisco Business Times named Alcatraz Cruises a Green Business of the Year in 2008, one year after bestowing Most Admired CEO of the Year honors on Hornblower Founder and CEO Terry MacRae. The Knot.com users voted Hornblower their top pick for Orange County weddings and receptions in 2007, and Hornblower San Francisco received a 2006 CORY (Commercial Recycler of the Year) Award. The company and its employees have also been recognized by the California Travel Industry Association, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International and a number of meeting planner organizations and tourism bureaus.