Across the island this summer, locals are climbing aboard party boats and private yachts for excursions to view bucolic vistas, brilliant sunsets, historic lighthouses and creatures that populate the sea and sky.
Some are daytime outings offering a course in maritime history and local culture, while others sail into the sunset with the promise of dinner, music and dancing all night long.
FIRE ISLAND SIGHTSEEING CRUISE
The Captree Delta Lady Paddlewheeler departs at 1 p.m. from Captree State Park boat basin (at the fishing boat pier), Saturdays and Sundays through Columbus Day. Info at 631-669-0065,captreedeltalady.com. Cost: $15 ($8 ages 12 and younger). No reservation required.
Listen to the melodic sounds of an air calliope with player piano as you take a leisurely 8 miles per hour cruise along the Great South Bay aboard this refurbished, 149-passenger paddle wheel boat. You'll see Fire Island, its lighthouse and water tower as well as a couple of smaller private islands. Sit on the open upper deck or in an enclosed area downstairs.
STATUE OF LIBERTY SIGHTSEEING CRUISE
The Sterling, from Lady Liberty Cruises, departs at 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through Columbus Day, Manhasset Bay Marina in Port Washington. 516-922-9214, ladylibertycruises.com. Cost: $90-$105 includes food and beverages ($64-$79 cruise only). Reservations required.
A four-hour cruise aboard The Sterling, a 140-passenger boat, from Port Washington to the Statue of Liberty begins on Long Island Sound, then sails into the East River. Sights include Long Island's historic Gold Coast, the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, the United Nations, Gracie Mansion, South Street Seaport, Governors Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. An onboard chef prepares a buffet-style dinner with four entrees with something for meat-eaters as well as vegetarians. A deejay plays music on the upper deck's dance floor.
EVENING MUSIC CRUISE
The Port Jefferson Ferry departs at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays 102 W. Broadway, Port Jefferson (at the north end of Rte. 112) through Sept. 2. Info at 88844ferry.com, 631-473-5138. Cost: $17 ($30 for two); free ages 12 and younger. No reservations required.
The ferry, which can accommodate 1,000 people, offers a roughly 3-hour evening music cruise to Bridgeport, Conn., and back. The entertainment ranges from live bands to deejays. Whenever DJ Sound Wave provides music and hosts karaoke, "that's proving to be a very big hit," says tour director Marjorie Britt. "It seems that everybody wants to be the 'American Idol.' " The next karaoke cruise is scheduled for Aug. 22.
The Moonchaser departs select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 20 from Captree State Park. Info at 631-265-1848, themoonchaser.com. Cost: $38-$70, some cruises include food and drinks.
The Moonchaser's "Bay Jam 2009" series brings a different band aboard the 200-passenger excursion boat for a 3- to 4-hour cruise on Great South Bay. Upcoming band cruises include The Electric Dudes (Aug. 1), Barometer Soup (Aug. 9) and Reckoning (Aug. 14).
At 1 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays through Aug. 28, The Moonchaser hosts 90-minute weekday afternoon sightseeing cruises with discussions of the wildlife, scenery and history of the Fire Island coastline ($12 adults, $8 ages 12 and under; boxed lunches and coolers welcome). At 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays through Aug. 27, cruise to Flynn's restaurant on Fire Island where an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet awaits ($13 cruise, $33 dinner; reserve through Flynn's, 631-583-5000).
HARBOR AND SUNSET CRUISES
The Christeen Oyster Sloop departs from The Waterfront Center, 1 West End Ave., Oyster Bay Info at 516-922-7245, thewaterfrontcenter.org. Cost: $25-$30 ($15 ages 12 and under for harbor cruise). Reservations required.
The Waterfront Center offers three-hour harbor tours at various times on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as 90-minute sunset cruises on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All sail aboard the historic 24-passenger landmark oyster sloop built in 1883, restored and launched in 1999.
The Nautical Empress departs 8 p.m.-midnight select Fridays and 7:30-11:30 p.m. select Saturdays from the Nautical Mile, 395 Woodcleft Ave., Freeport. Info at 516-623-5712, nauticalcruiselines.com. Cost: $97.99
The Nautical Empress, a 160-foot yacht operated by Nautical Cruise Lines, sets sail along Mansion Harbor and Baldwin Harbor. Guests are treated to a Champagne upon boarding, followed by a cocktail hour, sit-down dinner, open bar, dessert and dancing with a deejay providing music.
EAST END LIGHTHOUSE AND HISTORY CRUISE
The Peconic Star II departs around 4 p.m. Aug. 15 and Sept. 26 from the railroad dock in Greeport for a 4- to 5-hour cruise. Info at 631-406-6180, eastendlighthouses.org. Cost: $95, Reservations required
Summer cruises offer views of six to eight lighthouses, mostly in the Town of Southhold. Passengers will hear the oral histories of the structures. Includes a buffet dinner featuring Long Island wine from Pindar winery.
WETLANDS DISCOVERY CRUISE
The Discovery, a 35-passenger pontoon boat departs at noon and 1:45 p.m. on various morning midday and evening times from Stony Brook Harbor through Oct. 25. Info at 631-751-2244, wmho.org. Cost: $25 ($15 ages 5 and younger)
These 90-minute tours motor through the wetlands surrounding Stony Brook Harbor and West Meadow Creek. A naturalist narrates the sites, which include birds, waterfowl and a salt marsh moraine.
The Lauren Kristy paddle wheel boat departs at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 from Bay Shore Marina. Continues various dates through Sept. 15. Info at 631-750-5359, laurenkristy.com. Cost: From $49.95 for dinner (from $24.95 for lunch)
Experience a ride on a replica of 150-passenger Mississippi paddle wheel boat to Fire Island. Cruises last 21/2 to 3 hours and sail past Fire Island communities including Point of Woods and Kismet, plus the Fire Island Lighthouse, Robert Moses and Captree state parks.
TOUR AND TOAST
The Atlantis Explorer Tour Boat departs 6-7:30 p.m. Saturdays in August, Riverhead. Info at 631-208-9200, atlantismarineworld.com. Cost: $29.95, reservations required.
Set sail along Peconic River for a "Taste Long Island Wine Cruise" which departs behind Atlantis Marine World (431 E. Main St., Riverhead). Nibble cheese and crackers while sampling wines from the Raphael vineyard in Peconic.