Detroit Duck Tours offers sightseeing on land and water

Erica Hobbs
Special to The Detroit News

You might have seen them roaming around places like Boston, San Diego and Seattle, and now Detroit joins the roster as the latest American city to offer duck boat tours. The distinctive tour vehicles – resembling an ark on wheels – travel on both land and water, offering riders a combo bus tour and boat ride. 

Haitham Abu founded Detroit Duck Tour – which had a soft opening April 16 – with Noor Kestou in 2019 after finding two Pittsburgh duck boat tour vehicles for sale at auction. 

“I travel a lot, and I’ve seen stuff like this in other cities,” he said. “It shocked me with all that Detroit has, they didn’t have something like this.”

Detroit River Tour vehicles are on display in this photo illustration.

Abu, 25, grew up in Georgia after moving to the United States from Jordan at age 6. He worked and traveled extensively across the country as an adult, eventually moving to Detroit in early 2019 for a purchasing manager job. He said he had people visiting all the time and was always exploring and searching for things to do in Detroit.

The tours, he said, are meant not only to point out sites and to educate riders on the history of Detroit, but to also highlight the latest events and activities happening in the city, especially now that people are starting to go out more.  

“New businesses are showing up all the time, you don’t know what’s in and what’s out,” Abu said. “You need a company that kind of tells you what’s in Detroit, and that’s kind of where the whole idea for the business came from.”

The non-stop ride takes about an hour and a half and is currently all on land. The route takes riders through downtown, midtown, New Center, Eastern Market, the Riverfront, Belle Isle and the Heidelberg Project, pointing out sites like Campus Martius, the Guardian and Fisher Buildings, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and more. 

Abu said he aims to include the water component later this spring, which will add a boat ride from Belle Isle’s MacArthur Bridge to the Ambassador Bridge, discussing Detroit’s history and relationship with Canada, especially the Underground Railroad. The land tours will be offered year-round and the water route available during warmer months, he said.

“Finding locations wasn’t so hard,” he said. “It was [about] finding ones we couldn’t let go of, that we have to include.”

Detroit Duck Tour vehicles take people on tours on Detroit on land. It plans to host tours on the Detroit River some time this spring.

Abu said he also hopes to offer private and specialized tours that focus on specific aspects of the city, like arts and culture or industry, or seasonal for holidays like Halloween and Christmas. 

In addition to guiding riders through the city, the vehicles themselves offer a piece of Detroit, built by General Motors in the 1940s (and since updated). 

“You’re literally riding on a piece of history,” Abu said. “They’re built in Detroit, and they’re coming back to give tours around Detroit.”

Abu’s team currently includes two full-time and two part-time tour guides, as well as drivers, who specialize in their own unique part of Detroit, he said. While he worked with them on developing the route and topics to highlight, Abu said he is mostly letting them create their own scripts.

Lead tour guide Tyler Neeley, 25, grew up in Detroit and Southfield and said he is most excited to talk about the Heidelberg Project. He said he loves showcasing how a neighborhood in shambles was turned into a work of art and the power individual people have to make positive change.

He also said he is looking forward to taking visitors to downtown, showing off its parks and free attractions and how much it has changed in his lifetime. 

“I love the renovations and seeing the growth of it,” he said. “When I was a kid there weren’t too many things here.”

Driver Terry Bradley, 39, worked with Abu on creating the route over the winter and said he is most looking forward to showing off the beauty of Belle Isle. While he was born and raised in Detroit, Bradley said they thoroughly researched the city’s history, visited sites and spoke with local businesses, especially to learn about places that might not be as well known. 

He said he learned so much in the process, and the tour is great for both visitors and locals alike.

“I hope that if [riders] are from Detroit, they get a feeling of ‘My city is coming back to life,’” he said. “But for people who haven’t been here, they get to see the good side of Detroit and that it’s not everything you’re hearing about on the news.”

Abu, Bradley and Neeley agree that Detroit is so much more than its negative reputation, and they want to share its positives with the world. 

“Detroit has changed dramatically in the past five years, and no one’s talking about it,” Abu said. “I feel like it’s just a whisper, and we’re just trying to shout about what’s coming and what’s here already.” 

Detroit Duck Tours

Tours run seven days a week at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., with an added 1 p.m. tour Fridays – Sundays.

Tickets: $24.99 for adults; $19.99 for veterans, seniors (65+) and children (3-11); and $8 for kids younger than 3.

Visit here.