Everything You Need to Know about the African Queen Canal Cruise in Key Largo

The Florida Keys have quickly become a favorite for Steve and me over the last few months, especially during the lengthy winter in D.C. this year. The first stop on our seventh anniversary trip to the Keys this year was Key Largo, so you know this classic movie lover had to take the African Queen canal cruise! Here’s everything you need to know to plan your own canal cruise on your next trip to Key Largo.

About the Movie

If you’ve never seen the 1951 Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn flick, The African Queen, the premise is that a woman (Hepburn) and her brother are missionaries in Africa at the outset of World War I. When her brother dies, Hepburnā€™s character must escape with a fugitive boatman (Bogart) on his steamship, the African Queen. They fall in love and fight the Germans, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out what happens to the ship that gave the movie (and book) its name! It’s currently available on Amazon Prime here.

Bonus points if you know this reference from the movie!
More here: What to Know Before you Visit the Florida Keys

History of the African Queen

The boat from the film, the REAL African Queen, was built in England in 1912 for the East Africa British Railway Company. She shuttled cargo, missionaries (like Hepburn’s character and her character’s brother in the film), and hunting parties between Belgian Congo and Uganda for many years. She starred in the film alongside Bogart and Hepburn in 1951, then went humbly back into service until 1968.

After that, she made her way to the USA, serving in San Francisco, Oregon, and Florida before settling in Key Largo in 1982. In 1992, she became registered as a National Historic Site, and in 2011, Captain Lance Holmquist and his wife Suzanne restored her in time for the boat’s 2012 centennial birthday! For more about the restoration, check out their website.

Why is she in Key Largo? You may also be familiar with another Bogart movie, Key Largo, based on the Labor Day 1935 hurricane that shocked the Keys. There is a Bogart film festival in Key Largo every year, so the Bogart connection is all you need!

Just cruisin’ the canal!
Essential info: A Few Things You Forgot to Pack for Your Beach Vacation

Booking Your Tour

It’s very easy to book your tour online, and booking in advance is highly recommended. We booked our tour about three weeks before our trip and got the date and time we wanted. Because the tour operators offer no refunds, I recommend booking this cruise early in your trip in case inclement weather forces you to reschedule. Here are the specifics:

  • Times: Four daily cruises start at 10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm, and 4:00pm
  • Cost: $59 per adult ages 13 and up, plus taxes and fees ($133.93 for two adults); children ages 4-12 $25 plus taxes and fees; no exchanges or refunds; tickets sold in quantities of 2, 3, or 4
  • Check-in Location: In the Holiday Inn parking lot; 99701 Overseas Highway, at Mile Marker 100 (parking is FREE for cruise guests)
  • Length of Tour: 90 minutes; water provided, but no food
Look how much fun my cute husband is having!
More here: The Most Common Travel Planning Mistakes

Know Before You Go

As always, it’s best to know a few things in advance!

  • Arrival Instructions: Please arrive 15 minutes before your cruise time, and check in at the kiosk at the Holiday Inn. Parking is FREE.
  • If You’re Running Late: Please call your tour operator at (305) 451-8080.
  • What to Wear: Comfortable shoes and clothing are recommended. Also please dress for the weather!
  • What to Bring: Water is provided, but you are welcome to bring food or other beverages with you.
  • In Case of Inclement Weather: The African Queen operates in light rain and other reasonable weather conditions. In case of inclement weather, the tour operator can cancel up to an hour before your start time. If your tour is cancelled, you will have the opportunity to reschedule according to availability, or you will receive a credit to use on a future trip. Sorry, no refunds. This is why I recommend scheduling this cruise early in your trip!
  • Where to Use the Restroom: Use the restroom at the Holiday Inn before you go. There are no bathroom breaks on the boat!
Don’t miss this fun photo-op!
Important info for after your tour: The Best Places to Eat in Key Largo

Highlights of the Tour

Here are the top highlights of your boat ride:

  • Captain Eddie: Our captain was so much fun! He gave us loads of information about sailing, the boat, the movie, and more!
  • Movie Trivia: I’m a classic movie lover, so finding out so many fun facts about The African Queen and its filming was right up my alley! Did you know the writers were still writing it even as filming was ongoing? I didn’t either!
  • Seeing Canal Houses: I’m not a real estate guru (or even a wannabe), and I don’t really care about how nice anyone’s house is or isn’t (no judgement here), but I really enjoyed seeing the different canal houses throughout the cruise. Some are fun colors, some have special features to take advantage of the canal-side location, and some have multiple boats at the ready.
  • Steering the Boat: That’s right! You can steer the African Queen yourself if you want!
Yep, that’s me driving that thing!
Also helpful: Staying at the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort

Want more? Check out all my posts on the Florida Keys on my United States Page!

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