A new attraction is paddling its way around Topsail Island under the name of “Tiki Queen,” a historic 46-passenger paddlewheel vessel that was previously cruising on the Sandusky River in Ohio.
Fully restored and outfitted with a new sound system, dance floor area and handicap accessible ramp, the Tiki Queen is the newest attraction in Surf City.
Owned by Lara Beaudoin and Captain James Ross, the Tiki Queen has joined the couple’s fleet which includes a 6-passenger pontoon boat named “Tiki Time.”
“This is the new addition, this is the big news this year,” Lara Beaudoin said as she gestured to Tiki Queen. “James has been working on her restoring her for two years.”
Wanting to expand their fleet and the Tiki Tours charter business, Beaudoin and Ross began searching for a suitable boat throughout the United States before finding Tiki Queen.
In bad shape with a rusted out hull, Ross had his work cut out for him - literally.
Ross is a welder by trade and spent two years and upwards of $40,000 restoring the vessel to meet Coast Guard standards.
The Coast Guard comes by and inspects the boat first, which is called a rezoning inspection.
“Everything is done by the United States Coast Guard,” Ross said. “They had to do a rezoning inspection because it came from a river, or freshwater, to saltwater and they said it wouldn’t pass. Then they started marking everything that needed to be done and I said, “Well I’m just going to cut the whole hull out and put a brand new hull in it.’”
He did just that, welding 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of steel, 3/16 inch thick and weighing 300 pounds to the boat infrastructure.
The hard work paid off.
Earlier this month, Tiki Queen hit the intracoastal for charter rides two to three times a day alongside Tiki Time.
Brittany Wheatley, 24, of Surf City booked a tour aboard Tiki Queen with her daughter, Aubree, 1, and visiting aunt, Carol McNally, 61, of Boston.
"I was excited when they told me about the tour, I feel like I’m on vacation,” McNally said. “We’re here to celebrate (Aubree’s) first birthday.”
The Tiki Queen tours the intracoastal for two hours and guests have an opportunity to learn about the nature and history of the island, including Native American, pirate and Operation Bumblebee history.
“We’re here to see the island and enjoy the weather and learn a little history,” Wheatley said. “I think we’re actually going to come back for the sunset tour in a few weeks.”
To book your tour, visit TikiToursNC.com. For more information, contact Lara Beaudoin at 910-262-7355 or Captain James Ross at 910-650-3223.
Reporter Naomi Whidden can be reached at Naomi.Whidden@JDNews.com or 910-219-8474.