Here’s a partial list of the things I learned Wednesday on a 90-minute duck boat tour of Boston: a North End molasses flood in 1919 killed 21 people, the back of the downtown FBI building has a children’s playground, and most importantly, not all duck tours are created equal.
On Wednesday, five Brazilian tourists and I took a late-morning trip with Super Duck Tours, led by a pleasant guide named Linda and her witty captain, Ed. On its website, the company touts their paired tour guide system as a way to “provide more information and more attention to [the] customer.”
Yet in light of last weekend’s fatal crash involving a duck boat run by Boston Duck Tours, the approach seems as much about safety as anything else. Drivers for Boston Duck Tours conduct the tour as they navigate the streets.
But Ed, the Super Duck Tours captain, drove the duck boat. That’s it.
Linda handled the sight-seeing, doling out fun facts and wisecracks as she faced the passengers. Ed, using a driver’s microphone, would periodically chime in (we randomly saw Bill Russell!), but kept his eyes firmly on the road.
After Saturday’s crash, which killed 28-year-old Allison Warmuth, critics have decried duck boat tours whose drivers double as tour guides, dangerously dividing their attention.
There were no such distractions here.
During the tour, I asked Ed about the shape of the duck boat, and whether it made it harder to drive and see other vehicles. Ed, not knowing I was a Globe reporter, said the company does not model its vehicles after former World War II tanks, like Boston Duck Tours.
Critics, including a personal injury lawyer who commissioned a 3-D laser scan of the tour vehicles, say the large bills in front of Boston Duck Tours vehicles creates dangerous blind spots that could make it impossible to see mopeds, scooters, or motorcycles.
But Super Duck Tours uses vehicles with a shorter front, and even from my second-row seat, the difference was obvious. I could see all vehicles in front of the driver, and there were multiple mirrors on each side of the driver, similar to double-decker trolleys or other sight-seeing vehicles.
As a bonus, Linda was completely engaged with the audience, which made for livelier conversation.Astead W. Herndon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.