Rolling on the River
Can’t fit in a leisurely sail around the Greek Islands? No time for a summer cruise on the Mediterranean? Climb aboard a one-day excursion along that spectacular ribbon of water that hugs the Western banks of our county: the majestic, historic Hudson River
By Debra D’Agostino
On a warm and breezy May afternoon, Kevin and Gaylan Sapp of Dallas stand on the top deck of the historic MV Commander as it makes its way down the Hudson River to West Point. It’s a clear day, and the Sapps are drinking in all the sights and sounds of the historic river. While many people might have considered Europe or the Caribbean for their vacation destination, the Sapps chose to visit the Hudson River Valley after hearing of its beauty and rich history from friends. “We were intrigued,” says Gaylan. “The river really reminds you of the Rhine.” Kevin is equally fascinated. “Most Americans read about the Revolutionary War in history books, but they forget about it,” he says. “This rekindles your interest, gives you a lot of perspective.”
It’s easy to forget that some of America’s greatest stories and legends took place on the Hudson River. George Washington spent more time here than anywhere else during the American Revolution. From his riverside home in Newburgh, Washington vowed that the United States would not be ruled by a monarchy. Benedict Arnold committed treason here when he masterminded a failed plot to surrender West Point to the British Army in 1780. And Captain Kidd is rumored to have buried treasure in the foothills of Bear Mountain in the late 1600s before his capture and subsequent hanging in London in 1701.
Luckily, we Westchester residents don’t have to travel far—or even take time off from work—to enjoy a destination too often overlooked by travelers. And there’s no better way to experience the legends and history of the Hudson than by cruise ship. From Tarrytown to Kingston, a stretch of about 60 miles (The river, whose source is the Atlantic Ocean, stretches for 315 miles from the Adirondacks to New York Harbor), makes day cruises the perfect weekend excursion for experiencing the majestic beauty and rich history of the Hudson River.
Up the River,
No Paddle Necessary
Ving Gonzalez, a tour guide for NY Waterway for more than two years, is passionate about the Hudson River. “It’s packed with such rich history,” he says. “No matter where you are on the river, it will have a story to tell—of explorers, soldiers, settlers and spies.”
NY Waterway is known for its commuter ferry service to Manhattan, but it also hosts casual weekend pleasure cruises from its dock in Tarrytown. The North Hudson Cruise is the perfect afternoon treat for those interested in the sights and history of their own backyard. The ship travels for two hours upriver from the Tappan Zee Bridge to Peekskill, while a guide highlights historic sites along the way. While on board, you may learn that the term “up the river” was coined when convicts were sent to Ossining’s maximum-security Sing Sing Prison to serve their sentences. The term “big house,” too, can be credited to Sing Sing. It was used as a euphemism while it was being built because the builders feared local residents would protest a jail in their midst. Other sights include Indian Point, the controversial nuclear power plant in Buchanan, and Bear Mountain, which attracts more visitors annually than Yellowstone National Park.
This stretch of the
Â» NY Waterway ferries feature a fully enclosed lower deck offering bench-style seating and a snack bar, as well as a partially covered upper deck. Tickets cost $16
for adults, $8 for children. For more information, contact NY Waterway (800-
53-FERRY; e-mail: email@example.com; www.nywaterway.com).
Hudson River Cruises
Cruising Through The Catskill Region
The charming town of Kingston may be a bit of a drive—some 90 miles north of White Plains—but it’s definitely worth visiting. Its waterfront district offers the kind of hometown feel that’s straight out of The Music Man. And the Rip Van Winkle, which is docked alongside West Strand Park at Rondout Landing in Kingston, is a perfect way to enjoy a casual afternoon getaway.
Before boarding the ship, a photographer takes your picture, which (surprise!) you can purchase at the end of the cruise, which, as it heads down to Hyde Park, offers plenty of interesting sights along the way. As the ferry pulls out of the dock, it takes you through an old tugboat graveyard of aging and abandoned ships, many of which are being restored for a future tugboat museum. When it enters the Hudson, you can glimpse the recently restored Rondout Lighthouse, an impressive brick-and-stone structure built in 1867. While cruising downriver, you learn about Henry Hudson and about such historic sites as the Vanderbilt Mansion and Esopus Meadow Lighthouse, which sits in the middle of the river to warn mariners of the shallow waters to its west.
Although the ship’s lower deck is enclosed, large windows ensure you’ll get a good view no matter where you sit.
Â» The Rip Van Winkle sails rain or shine from May through October. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, $8 for children under 11 and are free for children under 4. For more information, contact Hudson River Cruises (845-340-
4700, e-mail HudsonRiverCruises@hvc.rr.com, www.hudsonrivercruises.com).
River Rose Cruises
Big Easy on the Hudson
For a truly unique experience, take a ride on a paddlewheel. River Rose Cruises offers two ships that are new to the Hudson Valley this season, the Tahiti Queen and the River Rose, both paddlewheels that sail from Newburgh. With sightseeing cruises from Newburgh to West Point, the Tahiti Queen has a lovely, friendly atmosphere. Crew members are extremely affable, and they almost always allow a few lucky guests to steer the boat. The ship is entirely enclosed; still, large wraparound windows let in cool river breezes. The upper deck has a dance floor (There’s dancing on selected cruises) and long tables and chairs. The captain’s quarters at the front end of the ship is encased in glass, so you can watch Captain Dan Ortone and his crew navigate the ship. The wood-paneled lower deck, which puts passengers a mere three feet above the water, offers a beautiful, fully stocked bar from which you can sit and admire the views.
The Tahiti Queen’s paddlewheel is just for aesthetics, but its engine room has portholes to let passengers peek inside and watch it purr. Frank Palmoitto, the Tahiti Queen’s first mate, best summarizes the mission of the boat: “We’re just out here having fun.”
Passenger Matthew Tether of Newburgh agrees that the cruise is fun—and breathtaking. “The Hudson is beautiful; it looks just like a painting.” He and his wife Alicia enjoy taking their four-year-old daughter, Zoe, on river cruises. “We love learning the history and seeing the natural beauty,” he says. “The Hudson changes with the seasons and the weather.”
While weekend cruises attract families, the company also offers specialty tours such as dinner-and-dancing cruises, fireworks cruises, and, on Halloween, a costume-party cruise. This season, the company will launch midnight cruises.
The 90-foot-long River Rose, which is used mainly for private charters but offers some public cruises, is an authentic New Orleans paddlewheel that was built in 1984. It offers a partially covered top deck and an enclosed and air-conditioned lower deck.
Â» Prices for regular weekly cruises are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and children. For more information, contact River Rose Tours and Cruises (845-562-1067, www.riverrose
Hudson River Adventures
The Pride of the Hudson
Newburgh Landing, 45-miles northwest of central Westchester, is right on the Hudson River and offers a lovely boardwalk overlooking the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. The views here are stunning, and restaurants such as Torches offer seafood and steaks with plenty of waterfront dining. Local artists sell watercolor paintings along the boardwalk, and freight trains periodically chug over the stone-raised rail tracks near the water.
The Pride of the Hudson, a large, sleek yacht, cruises between Newburgh and West Point, a distance of about 13 miles round-trip. Its main deck, air-conditioned and heated, offers a fully stocked bar serving light snacks. A partially enclosed upper deck also serves drinks, and you can watch as crewmembers navigate the ship downriver.
After the two-hour cruise, you’ll return home with plenty of information about the history of Newburgh, where Thomas Edison built one of the world’s first electrical power plants. (In fact, Newburgh was the eighth city in the world to have electrical power.) You’ll learn about South Mount Beacon, which was used during the American Revolution to send warning signals of approaching enemy ships to American troops and is the highest point between the Catskills and the Atlantic Ocean.
Perhaps the most interesting sight on the cruise is the century-old Scottish-style Bannerman’s Castle, which sits on Pollepel Island. It is the former arsenal of Francis Bannerman, who bought and sold surplus military stock cotton at auction.
Â» The Pride of the Hudson is available for private charters and also for summertime fireworks cruises. Tickets cost $15.75 for adults, $13.75 for seniors and for children. For more information, contact Hudson River Adventures (845-220-2120, e-mail Hudrivad@frontiernet.net, www.prideofthehudson.com).
Hudson Highlands Cruises
Further south on the Hudson at West Haverstraw, a historic naval ship traverses the brackish Hudson waters. The MV Commander is a stunning vessel with a unique story to tell. Built in 1917 as a passenger ferry for Rockaway and Sheepshead Bays in New York City, it was commandeered by the Navy in 1917 and served to defend New York Harbor during World War I, earning a Victory Medal, which today hangs in the ship’s lower deck. It returned to ferry service in 1919 and spent 80 years with the Rockaway Boat Line. The Commander is the only World War I navy ship still in continuous operation. Today, it is owned and maintained by Kathi Krom, who bought the ship in 1997. The Commander, a must-see for any history buff, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Commander’s stately lower deck offers benches, table seating and room for dancing. The space’s charming framed photos of historic ferries that once sailed around New York Harbor offer passengers a glimpse of the Commander’s bygone days. On the upper deck, you can enjoy the sun or sit in the shade beneath a green-and-white-striped canopy. A full bar and buffet
Â» The Commander offers cruises during the week and on the first Sunday and last Saturday of every month from May through October. Daylong tours are offered from West Haverstraw to Bannerman’s Island with a stop at West Point, taking passengers through Bear Mountain State Park. Shorter cruises between West Point and Bannerman’s Island are also offered, as is limited service from Peekskill. Tickets cost $12 to $26, depending on the length of the cruise. For more information, contact Hidson Highlands Cruises (845-534-7245, e-mail RIDEABOAT@aol.com, www.hudsonhighlandscruises.com).
Debra D’Agostino is a Westchester native who writes about travel, business and technology. She lives in New York City.