This post compares New York City boat tours and cruises to help you choose the best one. We will provide details about hop-on-hop-off tourist cruises, dinner cruises, sailboats and much more. In addition to these services, we will also cover a free and almost free option.
These cruise options are typically short, sweet and focused on specific areas of the city. 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. Tourist cruises will require you to arrive at a specific time. If you’re looking for a service you can use any time during the day, check our section about hop-on, hop-off ferries.
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 as a number of themed tours, such as a sunset tour.
Cruises run daily and run from 1 – 3 hours in length. The 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!
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.
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 90 min cruise focuses on Lower and Midtown Manhattan, with the highlights being the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Best of NYC Cruise
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.
CITY SIGHTSEEING NEW YORK
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. This is actually their hop-on-hop-off cruise, but in this case, you just wouldn’t get off.
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.
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
TIP: If you are considering purchasing a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket for your time in NYC, then keep in mind that the New York Sightseeing Pass offers free access to their Alive After Five Happy Hour Cruise.
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.
A Hop-on, Hop-off ferry will allow you to cruise around the city at your leisure. The main advantage of this service is that you can use it whenever you wish within operational hours. You won’t be required to arrive at a specific time and plan your day around this boat tour! Many of these ferries are free with tourist discount passes.
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 offers 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 Big Apple Package, which also includes a helicopter ride and 2 days of hop-on, hop-off bus service for $244/person.
Schedule – 2018
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.
NEW YORK WATER TAXI
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.
EAST RIVER FERRY
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.
This section will cover evening and dining cruises as well as other special cruise events. Some options will include a meal, but others will simply provide a cruise around the city after dark. In addition to dinner cruises, we will also provide information about lunch and brunch options. Finally, we will cover a few details about special cruise opportunities during events such as Independence Day. Some of the following companies offer discounts to guests with certain tourists passes. Be sure to check if you qualify!
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
There is also a 90 min Harbor Lights Tour which departs just before sunset so you can enjoy the skyline while the sun goes down! Departs at 7 pm (19:00) from Pier 81 (map).
Harbor Lights Tour
Depart from Chelsea Piers in New York and Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken, NJ. There is no dress code necessarily, but guests are strongly encouraged to wear business casual attire. Services include lunch and dinner cruises as well as special events. Get $10 off dinner cruises and $5 off lunch cruises with the New York Pass.
This company has an overall score of 4 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor. Although some customers report that the food isn’t great, almost everyone enjoys the cruise around New York City. A majority of guests who use this service report that they had an excellent time.
Departs from Pier 40 in the West Village and Pier 15 at the South Street Seaport. In addition to dinner cruises, they also provide lunch and brunch cruise options as well. Hornblower also offers special holiday cruises for events such as Independence Day and Father’s Day. Depending on which service you choose, you will either have the opportunity to enjoy a buffet meal or a 3-course meal with a la carte options.
With an average score of 3 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor, it’s fair to say that guests aren’t as impressed with this service as they are with other dinner cruises in New York. That being said, a majority of reviews indicate that both the food and the cruise provided by this company are excellent. Many guests state that the views are great and the meal options were tasty.
This company departs from Pier 81. Their main yacht is now exclusively used for charters, but they also offer services on their sister vessel known as Hudson’s. This dinner cruise serves a 3-course meal with free champagne and snacks. During the middle of your outing, the boat will slow down and allow you to get a good look at the Statue of Liberty. They also offer brunch and holiday cruises during special events.
Hudson’s from World Yacht has a 4 ½ out of 5 star rating on TripAdvisor. Guests love the fact that this cruise travels very close to Lady Liberty, allowing you to get a very good look at the statue. A majority of customers love the food, the cruise and the music that they play during your trip. Many people indicate that the service exceeded their expectations.
There are 2 speedboat companies, which offer guests a bit of a thrill ride as well as a tour! These speedboats are usually a huge hit with families. If the typical boat tour or cruise doesn’t sound like fun, consider this alternative instead. Although most of these services are not included on tourist passes, there is at least one speedboat cruise that is offered for free with an attraction pass.
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.
RIB New York
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. If you’re interested in a RIB ride in NYC, this company also provides high-speed cruises around the city. With speeds of up to 50mph, there’s a good chance that you’ll get splashed while seeing such popular sites as the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, The World Trade Center and more. This boat will also slow down near popular landmarks to give guests the opportunity to take photographs.
If you’re not in the mood for the usual cruise or a ferry ride, consider the more traditional route with a sailboat trip. These services will allow you to sail around the city and go wherever the wind takes you. Ticket prices are a bit higher than some of the other options on our list, but you can also enjoy some of these services for free with various attraction passes.
There are 3 types of boats available, including the Luxury Yacht Manhattan, the Schooner Adirondack, and the Schooner America 2.0. Each offer different tours of surrounding sites, as well as a brunch option. You can expect sails at sunset, around the Statue of Liberty and providing views of the NYC skyline.
Reviews for this service are pretty good, with most people giving Classic Harbor Line at least 4 ½ out of 5 stars (read reviews here). The only complaints anyone seemed to have were that the boats can get crowded at times. Aside from those issues, most people report that the views are spectacular and the service is excellent.
Manhattan by Sail
Manhattan by Sail has 2 different types of boats including the Shearwater and Clipper City, and each runs a huge variety of tours. Manhattan by Sail is a good option for those using a tourist pass, as several different attraction passes include this service. Sailing adventures include trips near the Statue of Liberty, NYC Skyline sightseeing and sunset outings around the city.
Much like their competitors, Manhattan by Sail has received respectable reviews with an overall score of at least 4½ out of 5 stars (read reviews here). Guests note that the prices are very reasonable and they provide excellent service. Customers also report that it’s pretty easy to get around on the boat despite there often being pretty big crowds.
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. This service is included with both the Explorer Pass and the New York Pass.
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.
Circle Line Cruises
As stated above, this company does not take you directly to the island. Instead, Circle Line provides cruises which travel nearby the statue. They offer a wide variety of tours, but the three most popular that include the Statue of Liberty are:
This 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. Get $3 off list price with Trusted Tours. The Liberty Cruise is also included for free with several tourist passes and the Big Bus Tours Adventure Pass.
Best of NYC
This tour circles around Manhattan and includes commentary on the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Harlem, and Yankee Stadium, among other things. Much like their Lady Liberty cruise, this one is also free with many attraction passes in New York City.
Also operated by the Circle Line Cruises, the Beast travels at 45 mph and gets within 100 feet (32 m) of the Statue of Liberty. If you’re looking for a more exciting trip around the waters and sights of NYC, this is definitely an excellent option.
Statue by Night Tour
Highlights include one complimentary glass of champagne for adults and a cash bar. You’ll also have the opportunity to hear recorded narration describing the history of this landmark.
Almost all of the reviews for this service are very positive. Some customers even suggested that this was the best way to see the Statue of Liberty. This is a popular activity for both families and couples.
This company specializes in dinner cruises, but each of their trips from Manhattan includes views of the Statue of Liberty. Anyone looking for romantic views of this magnificent landmark should consider a dining cruise. Although it may be costly, some reviewers recommend this excursion for date nights. Many customers appreciate the fact that this cruise ship drifts by Lady Liberty.
New York Pass holders can get $10 off of a dinner cruise and $5 off a lunch cruise.
Manhattan by Sail
There are both daytime and sunset tours that sail very near the Statue of Liberty. Manhattan by Sail is a good option for those using an attraction pass as it is included with several of them. Depart from the Battery Park (map). Most people who use this service to see the Statue of Liberty are pleasantly surprised. Several reviews indicate that this is a relaxing and peaceful way to discover one of our nation’s most significant landmarks. This sailing adventure is popular among both couples and family audiences.
This is by far the most budget-friendly option, as it’s completely free! If you’re running out of money on your vacation to New York City, we recommend using this option to check out the Statue of Liberty. While you’re at it, you could also enjoy one of our free walking tours! This ferry service has received a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor. Most reviewers agree that this is one of the best and most affordable ways to see Lady Liberty. To learn more, check out our post on the Staten Island Ferry.