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Austin's party boats see burst of bookings in time for summer

With loosened pandemic restrictions and a revived tourism economy, Austin's party boat businesses are anticipating a busy season—and letting out a sigh of relief. (Raudel HInojosa/Premier Party Cruises)

Lake Travis's party boat industry, rocked by the pandemic last summer, is experiencing record-high demand. Local businesses are all hands on deck as the tourism industry swells to pre-pandemic levels, bringing in increased bookings and reducing the stress of the past 14 months.

Austin's Boat Tours is booked solid this Saturday. Each of its 10 double-decker barges, which come with a water slide and cost up to $300 an hour, will take out two groups of up to 20 passengers to popular party spots such as Devil's Cove. "Things are definitely coming back together for us," co-owner and captain Angel Edwards told Austonia.

Angel and Austin Edwards are the husband-and-wife team behind Austin's Boat Tours. (Angel Edwards)

This is a welcome change from last summer. Austin's Boat Tours lost nearly all of its out-of-town business, including the East Coast bachelor and bachelorette parties that make up much of its customer base. Of the nearly 180 reservations booked in January 2020, almost every single one was canceled and either refunded or credited toward a future visit. "We barely—barely—made it through the pandemic," Edwards said.

Now the business's phones are ringing off the hook. Booking inquiries include not only boat parties but also related services, including a food and bartender service on the boats; a party bus that can transport tours from central Austin to their private marina on Lake Travis; and two lakeside rental properties, where parties can go while visiting town. "Our overhead is so high," Edwards said, citing property taxes as a particular concern. "Thank God we're back in business."

Passengers feel similarly. Edwards, who runs Austin's Boat Tours with her husband, the business's namesake, was recently serenaded by a bachelor party, whose members sang Shaggy's "Girl, You're My Angel" in harmony. "People are just so thankful to get out and have fun again," she said.

Austin's Boat Tours is not alone in reporting an uptick in demand. Brian Hill, owner of Premier Party Cruises, has booked 550 tours through August, more than any year on record. The company's next best year was in 2019, when it booked 380 tours. "We've already surpassed our mark," he said of the 2021 season. "Let's keep our foot on the gas."

Lake Travis Yacht Rentals is asking customers to book online to minimize unnecessary phone calls and emails. "OUR STAFF IS OVERWHELMED!" the business wrote in a recent Facebook post.

(Background photo: crownsdown/Reddit)

Cody Jones, assistant commander for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, anticipates this summer will be even busier than last, when boater and swimming volume spiked, and that party boat businesses will benefit from the rising tide. "I certainly believe they're going to see a large increase this summer," he said.


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