By Madeline Bartos | Staff Writer
Are Just Ducky Tours really all that they’re quacked up to be? A Pittsburgh staple, Just Ducky Tours take tourists through Pittsburgh in amphibious World War II vehicles known as DUKWs. The duck boats take riders through the streets of Pittsburgh as well as down the rivers that shape the city. The entire time, tourists are encouraged to quack at people on the streets, quite often getting them to quack back.
While Pittsburgh’s duck tours are still waddling, Ride the Ducks in Philadelphia is closing due to a less than perfect record that involves a few fatal accidents in past years. According to Trib Live, in 2015 a Philadelphia duck boat hit a pedestrian in an intersection, killing her. In 2010 a duck boat was hit by a barge, killing two people. Insurance rates for the company have become too high, forcing it to close.
The end of Philadelphia’s Ride the Ducks tours doesn’t mean anything for the unrelated Pittsburgh Just Ducky Tours. As a matter of fact, even at 5:45 on a chilly Monday night, the boats are more than half full with people ready to see Pittsburgh from land and water. Whistles that imitated quacks were for sale inside, and nearly every kid had a whistle in their mouths before the tour even started.
The routes for the Ducky tour can change depending on events going on in Pittsburgh as well as traffic. However, the usual route takes the duck boat through Pittsburgh’s business and cultural districts before heading into one of the three rivers. I’ve seen a lot of Pittsburgh, but with Philadelphia’s Just Ducky tours closing it was time to get in one of the amphibious vehicles, learn some facts about Pittsburgh and quack the duck whistles.
The tour began in Station Square, home of Pittsburgh’s Just Ducky Tours. After a few tight turns, the duck boat started to cruise down Grant Street. The tour guide pointed out a few sculptures that even after several drives down Grant Street, I’ve never noticed myself. Despite being in the middle of rush hour, the traffic going into the city wasn’t bad and the driver seemed to be effortlessly maneuvering the vehicle. It didn’t seem like safety would be an issue like it was for the Philadelphia tours.
The vehicle zig zagged through the city, passing most of the major skyscrapers. The tour guide pointed out how a few buildings, including the Allegheny County Courthouse, have markers that show what used to be ground level of several buildings. Some architects planned for this and laid the basements out like lobbies. Other buildings didn’t plan for the hillside to be dug out, meaning the ground floor of some buildings is actually the basement.
When the boat entered the water, it felt like going down the infamous Kennywood Pittsburgh Plunge, just tinier and with a similar drop in your stomach. The driver offered anyone the chance to drive, but most were too nervous to take the wheel.
The views from the River were the best. I’ve seen Pittsburgh from the Point and several different look outs, but none of them compared to seeing it straight from the river. The vehicle drove to The Point before turning back around. If you’re someone who thinks you’ve seen Pittsburgh from every angle, the one from the river is much different and very eye opening.
The vehicle climbed back out of the water and I became aware of how low we were to the water and how high we were from the ground. The boat crawled back across the Smithfield Bridge, ending at the same place it started. When the tour guide asked the vehicle for one more quack, I couldn’t help but join in with my fellow passengers for a few final quacks and honks. Hopefully the amphibious vehicles don’t swim away from the ‘Burgh anytime soon.