There are advantages to leaf-peeping from the water. The sight of crimson and gold leaves is even more spectacular when reflected on the sun-dappled Long Island Sound or Hudson River. Natural wonders like the Palisades as well as human-made marvels like the George Washington Bridge are best viewed from a boat. With someone else steering the ship, your hands will be entirely free to aim your camera or binoculars at historic lighthouses and water birds. Large cruisers, historic schooners, luxury yachts, and eco-friendly electric boats are among the vessels setting sail this season. Check in advance for up-to-date Covid protocols.
The Skyline Princess is a three-level ship with outdoor viewing decks as well as climate-controlled enclosed spaces on each level. This year it is offering western Long Island lighthouse, fall foliage, and bird-watching tours on Oct. 10 and Oct 24 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The Princess departs from the World’s Fair Marina and sails to Sand’s Point Lighthouse and back. During the journey, you’ll see the Stepping Stone Lighthouse, the Executions Rock Lighthouse, Fort Totten, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, as well as backyard views of Long Island’s storied Gold Coast mansions. An onboard buffet is included in the price of the premium ticket, $62 for adults, $60 for seniors, and $45 for kids ages 3-10. If you’d rather bring your own food, buy a sightseeing ticket, $45 for adults and $35 for kids. Children 2 and younger ride free.
INFO: Skyline Princess: 1 World's Fair Marina, Flushing. Long Island port depature: Town Dock Park 347 Main Street, Port Washington, skylinecruises.com; 718-446-1100
The Glory is a unique vessel, a solar-powered electric fantail launch modeled on a style of battery-powered boat popular in the late 19th century with industrialists and royalty (J.P. Morgan and the Tsar of Russia owned them). The mahogany- and gold-trimmed boat was converted to solar power in 2009. It produces zero emissions and leaves the environment with no carbon footprint. For more than 20 years, Glory’s captain David Berson has been taking small groups on eco-friendly tours of the Peconic Bay, adjusting his itinerary to include tidal marshes, sandy coves, and scenic Shelter Island harbors, depending on weather and boat traffic in the area. He especially loves October on the Bay, when the bright blue autumn sky lends clarity to every nook and cranny of the coast. Because it is electric, the boat glides noiselessly through the waters surrounding Greenport, making for a particularly peaceful ride. In response to the pandemic, Berson has eschewed public tours in favor of private group cruises of 4 to 14 passengers. Rates start at $180 for a four-person private tour that lasts 45 minutes. For additional passengers, the rate is $35 per adult and $20 per child 10 and younger. Reservations must be made at least 90 minutes in advance of departure time.
INFO: Preston's Dock, 102 Main St., Greenport, greenportlaunch.com; 631-477-2515
If you desire a luxurious perch from which to view the leaves, check out The Eastern Star, an elegant 85-foot charter yacht that is available for private group foliage tours throughout October. Twenty to 75 people can enjoy a 3- to 4-hour cruise past the fabulous mansions of Sands Point, Oyster Bay, and Lloyd Harbor or venture over to Greenwich, on the Connecticut coast. Warm up beside a wood-burning stove in the Main Salon, or grab a drink at its mahogany bar. Enjoy a custom menu on the upper dining deck with its wraparound views and potted palms. The Eastern Star generally sails out of Ferry Terminal in Glen Cove. Cruises start about $6,000 for 20, including food and drink.
INFO: 73 Garvies Point Rd., Glen Cove, easternstarcruises.com; 631-368-3565
NEW YORK STATE
Classic Harbor Line offers several fall foliage cruises with vintage flair. The Manhattan, a 1920s-style motor yacht favored by oil barons and Wall Street tycoons, is equipped with teak decks and mahogany trim. The heated cabin features cushioned seating and an all-glass observatory for 360-degree views. The boat travels northbound on the Hudson, passing brilliant displays of foliage as well as the Cloisters, the Little Red Lighthouse, and the Tappan Zee Bridge. Your group will be served brunch at a private, socially distanced table. The three-course menu includes freshly baked pastries, bagels and smoked salmon, salad, and roasted ham. A Bloody Mary, Mimosa, beer, wine, or Champagne is included in the price. The 2½-hour cruise departs from Chelsea Piers at 10 a.m. and costs $124-$132 for adults (larger groups get a discount) and $72 for children.
Also part of the fleet is The Adirondack, and 80-foot 1890s-style pilot schooner and "the fastest resident sail vessel in the New York Harbor" (she held the record finish in the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race for 12 consecutive years). In the fall, the boat sails up the Hudson, underneath the George Washington Bridge, and to the dramatic cliffs of the Palisades. One complimentary drink is included and additional drinks are available for purchase. Passengers are invited to bring snacks or small picnics if they’d like. The 3½-hour sail departs from Chelsea Piers and costs $88-$106 for adults, $64 for kids.
INFO: 62 Chelsea Piers, Pier 62, sail-nyc.com; 212-627-1825
The iconic Circle Line is offering more than foliage this fall. Through the end of October, passengers can join its onboard Oktoberfest, a 50-mile cruise up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain State Park. Enjoy the leaves while indulging in German food specials and Oktoberfest beers (both available for separate purchase), and the stylings of a live German polka band. Outdoor decks provide 360-degree views, with plenty of opportunities to spot hawks and ospreys. On arrival at Bear Mountain, passengers have two hours to disembark to enjoy the park’s colorful trails. Proof of vaccination is required for all passengers. Cruises depart at 9 a.m. from Pier 83 and cost $99 for premier seating, $69 for regular seating.
INFO: Pier 83, West 42nd Street, circleline.com; 212-563-3200