Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Power of the Pride: As the pandemic winds down, Harrisburg’s riverboat sails on

Illustration by Ryan Spahr

The riverboat tried to do all the right things.

It deferred to the experts. It followed the science. It practiced patience. It was respectful of others.

While the recovery has been slow, it is now on the mend. The worst seems to be in the past, and the new normal is in sight.

Like other local businesses and nonprofits, the Pride of the Susquehanna continues to bounce back from the debilitating coronavirus pandemic. Certainly, the last 16 months have been a rough go for “the Pride,” but there appears to be smoother sailing ahead.

“COVID-19 did not sink the Pride of the Susquehanna,” said Melissa Snyder, director of development and events for the Harrisburg Area Riverboat Society, which operates the vessel. “Our paddles are continuing to turn during 2021. We’ve been able to keep the boat afloat.”

Still, there may be some choppy waters left to navigate.

From its port on City Island, the Pride’s season typically runs from May into October. But the lingering effects of the coronavirus have caused both a delayed and a slow start to the 2021 season.

Most of the delay was caused by increased difficulties and higher costs associated with materials and parts needed to perform the yearly maintenance, a necessary step before its annual inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Did we err a little bit on the side of caution? Yes,” said Snyder. “We were sort of in a state of limbo for awhile. We knew we were going back into the water—we just didn’t know when. It was a guessing game. We’re hoping by 2022 to be back on our regular schedule.”

Last year in March, the Pride was shut down by Gov. Tom Wolf’s mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. In June 2020, the boat resumed operations, but at reduced capacity of about 50%.

“In previous years, we’d have dinner cruises with 65 to 68 people aboard,” said Deb Donahue, board chair of the Harrisburg Area Riverboat Society. “With the restrictions imposed, we had about 22 to 24 people for similar events, based on our square-foot capacity. During all of last year, we had reduced capacity. It’s been a struggle, just like it’s been for every nonprofit.”


Have to Do That

The Pride of the Susquehanna has been operating for 33 years. In the late 1980s, local entrepreneur Mike Trephan built the 120-passenger, double-decked, red-and-white riverboat from scratch.

Since then, it has drawn passengers from the Harrisburg area, central Pennsylvania and from across the state. The Pride helps keep City Island the vibrant destination that it is.

“We’re bringing in people from across the area, and even from outside the state,” said Snyder, of Harrisburg. “Our visitors are everybody from infants all the way up to senior citizens. We’re on the tourism end of the spectrum, but on the opposite side of that is our education program called the Susquehanna River School. It’s this floating vehicle that gives people an opportunity to learn the history of the Susquehanna River.”

In season, the Pride typically offers four or five guided tours a day, seven days a week. The cruises last about 45 minutes, costing $12 for adults over the age of 13 and $7 for children between the ages of 3 and 12.

It also offers special events like dinner and entertainment cruises, group and family tours, and seasonal cruises.

“I think people are jonesing for things to do, so now is the time to get in front of them,” said Snyder. “Sometimes, you think people from around the area have forgotten about it. Kind of like, ‘Yeah, I have to do that.’ The Susquehanna River is a very mild river, so it provides a very slow, smooth, relaxing and enjoyable cruise.”

In 2016, it hosted its 1-millionth passenger.

“Tourists will come here just to ride The Pride of the Susquehanna,” said Donahue, who lives in Camp Hill. “So, in that way, it helps the area in terms of economic development. Even people who live here can learn about the history of the river boat, and the history of the Susquehanna River itself.”

It’s questionable whether the Pride of the Susquehanna’s future is any more secure now than it was in the past. But it certainly seems that weathering the COVID-19 storm can only make it stronger.

“For me, the Pride of the Susquehanna is exactly that,” said Snyder. “The pride comes from what people who live here know about the boat, this rare symbol of the Susquehanna River.”

For more information on the Pride of the Susquehanna and to book a cruise, visit or call 717-234-6500.

If you like what we do, please support our work. Become a Friend of TheBurg!


Continue Reading