BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, which means the boating season is underway. A new ship was christened and cast off bringing a taste of island life to Western New York.

The maiden voyage for the Big Kahuna Tiki Tours set sail Friday afternoon, under the warm May sun. The boat is ready to cruise into the summer season and take passengers on picturesque tours of the waterways, including Lake Erie, the Canal and Buffalo River.

“When the sun starts shining, people want to have a good time. My big thing with taking people out on the water is smiles, the music, the drinks, and just the good times people have out on the water,” Rich Hilliman, captain and owner of Big Kahuna Tiki Tours, said. “What a great weekend, summer’s here and let’s get out and enjoy.”

The vessel was christened with champagne Friday, bringing it good luck on its voyages in the seas.

There are different public cruise options, including a children’s cruise, happy hour cruise, harbor tiki cruise and evening tiki cruise. Private parties can also be booked.

With Memorial Day weekend marking the unofficial start to the summer tourism season and the ship-shape weather in the forecast, Captain Hilliman hopes this is just the beginning of a fun and busy season ahead.

Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson says this weekend is critical to the Buffalo tourism economy.

“It kicks off our warmer months and tourism because us being a border state that’s very important,” Legislator Johnson explained. “We think that is important to get those folks over here to see what Buffalo really has to offer.”

With the changing tide over the last few years in downtown Buffalo, Councilman Mitch Nowakowski says Canalside has become a real treasure along the waterfront that is accessible to all Buffalonians.

“This used to be an abandoned, polluted canal 100 years ago. People weren’t living on Canalside 50 or 60 years ago, besides Marine Drive tenants. Now we are not only seeing people live, but recreate on Canalside. It’s really a story about our comeback,” Councilman Nowakowski said.

If you do decide to stay land-ho or want to set out on the seas of Lake Erie, there is something for everyone to do at Canalside this summer, which local leaders say is a big boost for the city.

“Watching this waterfront grow over the past 15 years has been one of my favorite things to do. It’s every year. It’s the 15th anniversary of Canalside this year, which is fantastic. I just love showing people what a beautiful waterfront we have,” Captain Hilliman added.

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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.