One of the best and most unique ways to enjoy New York’s skyline is on the water! There are a number of different cruises and tours that circle Manhattan, offering commentary on many of the major sites around the island. How do you know which New York boat tour, cruise, ferry or taxi service is best? Well, we have come up with a comparison post to help you make your choice. We have also made note of which of our pay-what-you-like tours are good companions to a particular choice.
Each of the cruises and tours listed below have a cost. Many of these choices are included for free or at a discount on the New York Pass, City Pass or Explorer Pass. Read our guide on whether a tourist discount pass is a good fit for you. We also compiled a list of free and almost free, water excursions, including the Staten Island Ferry.
CIRCLE LINE CRUISES –
Probably the most popular of the cruise service companies, the Circle Line offers 3 different main sightseeing tours around Manhattan, as well of a number of themed tours, such as a sunset tour. Cruises run daily, and run from 1 – 3 hours in length. Commentary is provided throughout the tour, and there is a bar on board where guests can purchase drinks. All Circle Line boats leave from 42nd Street on the Hudson River. The cost of the trip varies depending on which cruise you select. However, Circle Line Cruises are included for free on the New York Pass, Explorer Pass, and City Pass, so guests can really save money by taking advantage of one of the tourist passes! Likewise, if you are considering a hop-on, hop-off bus tour for your time in NYC, Open Loop offers land and water combos starting at $41.
This company currently has a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews for all of their tours). Although there are some negative reviews, they definitely don’t represent the typical experience with Circle Line Cruises. An overwhelming majority of customers felt that the views and commentary provided on their cruise were excellent. Most guests report that their excursions are both informative and relaxing. Families and couples were the most likely audiences to enjoy their trip, but there were also thousands of positive reviews from people who took the tour with their friends.
BEST OF NYC CRUISES
This 2.5 hour cruise circles around the entire island of Manhattan and includes commentary on the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Harlem, and Yankee Stadium, among other things. This is their flagship tour.
This 2 hour cruise focuses on Lower and Midtown Manhattan, with the highlights being the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
This 1 hour cruise (which is also referred to as the Statue of Liberty Express) covers the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the One World Trade Center.
This company offers a 90 minute Skyline Cruise that departs from Midtown Manhattan on the Hudson River and travels south, past the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. CitySightseeing also offers both a hop-on, hop-off boat and bus tour and they offer several packages that offer steep discounts.
With an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor, it’s clear that the cruises offered by City Sightseeing are pretty popular. Negative reviews tend to focus on poor customer service, but there are several comments from happy guests suggesting that this isn’t a very big problem. Most passengers enjoyed their experience with this company, indicating that this is an excellent way to see some of the most significant sights in NYC. Families and couples were more likely than other groups to love their cruise.
This 90 minute cruise is the only non-hop-on, hop-off boat tour offered by CitySightseeing. Can also be booked as a night cruise.
Predominantly a dinner and jazz cruise company in New York City, Hornblower also offers a 1 hour sightseeing tour called the International Sightseeing Cruise that includes views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty. This tour departs from South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. Hornblower offers a free app that can be downloaded at home or at the pier that has an audio tour for the ride in 9 languages.
International Sightseeing Cruise
Goldstar is currently offering tickets for $18.75/adult (limited time). If you are considering purchasing a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket for your time in NYC, then keep in mind that Big Bus Tours offers a 2 or 3 day land and sea combo ticket for $57 which includes this cruise for free.
At 3 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews), Hornblower has the lowest review rating on our list. Even so, there are far more positive reviews than negative, indicating that most customers enjoy this cruise ship. Those who didn’t enjoy their experience complained that their boat is getting old and the seating isn’t as comfortable as it once may have been. That being said, an overwhelming majority of guests felt that this trip was worth the price of admission. Many passengers suggest that this is an excellent way to see the sights in NYC. The services offered by this company are particularly popular among couples and guests who joined their friends for a cruise.
NYC – CITY SIGHTSEEING CRUISE
Unlike their typical sightseeing cruise, this is a hop-on, hop-off service with several terminals. This boat makes stops at South Street, DUMBO, the World Financial Center and Midtown. City Sightseeing also offer twilight and night tours. They also offer a rainy day guarantee, which allows you to use your boat ticket at a number of popular indoor attractions. The entire route takes 90 minutes if you do not get off. This is a much better option for anyone looking to explore NYC at their own pace.
The cruise service is also included for free with the purchase of the Sightseeing Pass and is included in their multi-day bus passes. It is also part of the Liberty Package, which also includes of a helicopter ride, 2 days of hop-on, hop-off bus service for $244/person.
Schedule – 2017
Reviews for this hop-on, hop-off cruise are generally very favorable. Although there were a few complaints, the majority of reviewers were very happy with their trip. The only significant complaint was about how infrequent the boats ran, as they only depart once every hour or two. Even with that in mind, most guests enjoyed their cruise. Many customers felt that this was a great value because it allowed them to jump off at a variety of locations to discover New York City.
Like their competitors, New York Water Taxi offers hop-on, hop-off boat service that takes 90 minutes in total to complete. However, you are free to jump off and explore the city at your own pace, hopping back on whenever you wish at several stops throughout the city. NYWT offers 6 piers to explore compared to the 4 offered by City Sightseeing. Although this isn’t technically a boat tour, they do provide recorded narration describing some of the sights you’ll see on the cruise. This company runs about as frequently as similar services.
Free with the purchase of the Go Card Explorer Pass or Build Your Own Pass.
With a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor, New York Water Taxi might even be more popular than their competition. Reviews for their hop-on, hop-off service are very favorable, as only a handful of guests have had any significant complaints. Happy customers suggest that this cruise is both convenient and worth the price of admission. Several comments indicate that the NYWT is a great way to get around New York City. As you might expect at this point, this excursion is particularly popular among both families and couples.
This is the most economical choice for hop-on, hop-off service. As the name suggests, this ferry service rides the East River and is a commuter boat, with single ride tickets costing the same as the subway – just $2.75. If you’re looking for transportation that will allow you to enjoy a self-guided tour of NYC, this could be one of the most affordable options. You can also check here for more free (and almost free) options to get out on the water.
Despite the fact that they aren’t a cruise company, the East River Ferry actually has a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor. Most passengers are very pleased with this affordable service, indicating that the ferry is an easy way to get around the city. Some customers have even stated that this is the best $2.75 you can spend in New York. Many people use this service for commuting, but you can use it just as easily for seeing the sights. Being that guests use this boat for so many different purposes, it is popular among pretty much every type of crowd.
Dinner cruises are great because they allow guests to really relax and enjoy the facilities of the cruise, while also seeing different sites around the city. The tours last between 2-3 hours. Prices are typically higher for a dinner cruise, but keep in mind that you are getting both a meal, live music and a tour, so often it could be a good value! Also, consider booking a reservation for a weekday evening, as prices are usually cheaper (and less busy!) than Friday or Saturday night cruises. Another great way to save, is to take a brunch or lunch tour instead of a dinner tour. Lastly, some of the dinner cruises offer discounts to guests with certain tourists passes. Be sure to check if you qualify!
There are 3 speed boat companies, which offer guests a bit of a thrill ride as well as a tour! These boats travel very fast, make sharp turns, and guests are often splashed with water. These speed boats are usually a huge hit with families. Additionally, The Beast and The Shark are included on all tourist passes except the City Pass. Be sure to watch the video below so you have a good sense of what to expect!
Operated by the Circle Line company mentioned above, the Beast travels at 45 mph (73 kph) and gets within 100 feet of the Statue of Liberty. This boat tour service has earned a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews). Very few people have left negative reviews, indicating that this is a pretty fun experience. This is an especially popular attraction for families.
This service is very similar to the Beast. Guests get to enjoy guided commentary, music, and an intense thrill ride! This speedboat is run and operated by New York Water Taxi, a company that gets very good reviews. As you might expect, families are the most likely group of guests to enjoy this particular boat tour.
THE SEA WOLF
A new and incredible way to experience the New York City skyline by riding a RIB. This “Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat” is safe, exciting and perfect for sightseeing. Get close to the water, feel the wind blow past you and see the skyline of a fantastic city. Tours start from multiple departure points. This service currently enjoys a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor with no negative reviews. Thanks to the size of the boat, it’s perfect for either families or friends.
Many of the cruise companies that we’ve already listed also offer sunset and evening tours! The New York City skyline is beautiful at all hours, but it’s especially nice when lit up at night. Remember, this is the city that never sleeps, so a night cruise is a great way to see New York really come alive after dark!
This 90 minute twilight/night cruise is probably the most popular choice for visitors to NYC. See some of the most wonderful sights in New York after dark! Cruises depart at 7:30 pm (19:30) from Pier 78 (map). As of yet, this company has yet to receive any negative reviews on TripAdvisor for their night tour. Many passengers felt that their night cruise was a great value which provided a different view of the city. This tour is especially popular among couples and families.
This company offers a 60 minute Statue by Night Tour. See the Statue of Liberty after dark! Highlights include one complimentary glass of champagne for adults and a cash bar. Cruises depart at 7:30 pm (19:30) from Pier 16/South Street Seaport (map). Although there are a few negative comments on TripAdvisor, most reviews for this cruise are positive. Some customers even went so far as to describe this experience as “spectacular.” Families and couples were the most likely to appreciate this excursion.
Statue by Night Cruise
Statue Cruises is the only company that is allowed to drop guests on Liberty Island. They depart from 2 locations. The first is in Lower Manhattan, and the closest subway stations are Bowling Green, which is accessed by the 4 and 5 trains and South Ferry Station, which is accessed by the 1 train. Read our post on how to get to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
If you are not interested in actually visiting Liberty Island, but would still like to get a close up look at the Statue of Liberty, then consider taking one of the many boat tours that cruise nearby. They do not allow guests off at the island, but do offer great views and commentary on its history.
If you interested taking both a boat and bus tour while visiting New York, it’s often cheapest to purchase those two tickets as part of a combo deal.
CitySights is offering a pretty good combo deal. – $225/adults + $215/children – includes a 15 minute helicopter ride, 2 days of hop-on, hop-off bus services, a 90 minute boat cruise and free entry to both the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Historical Society. Many of CitySights packages include boat tours.
Big Bus — With the purchase of a Deluxe Big Apple ticket, guests receive a “free” sightseeing boat tour.