The Harbor Excursion business was founded in 1959 by Ted Gozanski, Hyman Kaner, and Jimmy Oreck. Ted Gozanski and Hyman Kaner were both operators of Bum boats within the harbor. Jimmy Oreck owned the Flame restaurant which is now part of Bayfront Park.
Mr. Oreck furnished the original dock sited at the Flame and Gozanski and Kaner supplied the nautical know-how. They began with a boat named the Streamliner with a capacity of 96 passengers. Business increased rapidly and shortly after, the Flame, a 108 passenger boat, was added. In 1961, the Streamliner was traded for the Flamingo, a 144 passenger boat. Under the leadership of Ted Gozanski and because of the interesting and exciting harbor tour, the business continued to grow. In 1968, the Duluth dock site was moved to its present location on the harbor side of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.
In 1973, more expansion was necessary. The Barker’s Island Superior dock was built and a new 256 passenger boat was delivered to replace the Flame. The Vista Queen was the newest, most modern sightseeing vessel on the Great Lakes. The harbor became the focal point of Duluth and Superior’s growing tourist industry.
In 1978, increased demand made the replacement of the Flamingo with the Vista King necessary, giving the Twin Ports a truly royal couple to show off the harbor.
The old Streamliner is thought to be still operating, but its whereabouts is unknown. The Flame is operating in Buffalo, New York. The Flamingo is operated by the Star Line from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island and has been renamed the Nicolet.
In 1979, the business was purchased by Warren Silver, Erwin and Manley Goldfine. Mr. Silver grew up in Duluth and now resides in Phoenix, Arizona. Jimmy Oreck was his cousin. Manley and Erwin Goldfine are life-long Duluthians and active in tourist related businesses.
In 1981, dance cruises were added. A whole new facet was developed in 1982, with the addition of the dock at Spirit Lake landing and dinner cruises all being a part of the new itinerary. In 1988, the 91 foot, 300 passenger “Vista Star” was added to accommodate dinner and lunch cruises as well as moonlight cruises. The company also took on a new promotional name and is now recognized as the “Vista Fleet.”
In 1991, Warren Silver’s stock was retired, and he is no longer associated with the company. In 1993 the Vista Queen was sold to Moore’s Cruise Line. It is located in Highlands, New Jersey. It is now renamed the Royal Teal. It was sold for the purpose of making room for a newer ship.
In the spring of 2005 the new 66 foot, 110 passenger “Vista Queen” vessel joined the Vista Fleet. The Queen made her home at the Barker’s Island Superior dock.
While he was Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura was heard saying that Duluth was his favorite tourist destination in the state; and when in Duluth his favorite tourist activity was taking a cruise on the Vista Fleet. He was not alone. In 50 years, nearly six million passengers from all over the world have been enlightened and entertained by Vista Fleet. It continues to provide a wealth of historical facts and special insights into Lake Superior, the settling and growth of the Twin Ports, shipwrecks, and the inner workings of the world’s busiest inland seaport.
In 2009 the Superior, WI Barker’s Island portion of the operation was shut down due to a decrease in boarding and activity. Later that year the Vista King was sold to a Milwaukee based excursion boat company as ZMC Hotels, Inc. prepared to sell the Vista Fleet in its entirety.
In December of 2011, Justin and Sarah Steinbach successfully completed the purchase of the Vista Fleet. The purchase included the Vista Fleet Gift Shop, The Vista Star, Vista Queen and all Vista Fleet holdings. Justin, a Duluth native, had worked for ZMC Hotels, Inc. for 15 years starting as a housekeeper and working his way to General Manager of the Edgewater Resort & Waterpark. Sarah, from Prior Lake, MN; had spent 7 years as the Director of Sales & Marketing/Assistant General Manager at the Vista Fleet. The husband/wife duo and their four young children have taken on the Vista Fleet as a family business and are planning for a bright future and many adventures on the Great Lake Superior.