New York Harbor Cruises: See Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty While They’re Closed

December 7, 2012 by

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New York City is home to two of America’s quintessential sights – The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – and a tour of the city is not complete without paying these landmarks a visit.  Unfortunately, a recent visitor wreaked havoc on both historic sites: Hurricane Sandy.  On October 29, 2012, the super storm made landfall approximately 120 miles south of New York Harbor, and the damage to Liberty and Ellis Islands has caused the National Parks Service to close them to visitors while repairs are made. No date has been given for the parks’ reopening, but it will be sometime in 2013.  But there is a great option for an up-close look at these extraordinary sites – New York Harbor Cruises.

The Statue of Liberty, the colossal statue standing in New York Harbor, has become a symbol of the United States. Three hundred and five feet tall (93 meters) from the ground to the top of her torch, she was gift from the people of France, and dedicated on October 28, 1886. Designed by sculptor Frederic Bartholdi, the statue’s iron skeleton was devised by Gustav Eiffel (before his famed Eiffel Tour).  Bartholdi believed the statue “ought to produce an emotion in the breast of the spectator…” and to millions of immigrants passing the statue as they entered the U.S., it did just that: welcoming them with the promise of freedom and opportunity.

A view of Lady Liberty from the water

A view of Lady Liberty from the water

Just north of Liberty Island is Ellis Island, which was the gateway to a new world for generations of immigrants from all over the globe.  Ellis Island served as a United States Immigration Station from 1892 to 1952, and all immigrants arriving by stream ship to New York (the nation’s primary point of entry) were brought to the island for inspection and processing before being allowed to enter the country.  Over 12 million people passed through Ellis Island and as many as forty percent of current U.S. citizens can trace their roots to the site.  For many of these descendants, Ellis Island is more than a national monument; it’s personal history.

Though both islands and their museums are closed for repair, cruises of New York Harbor offer an excellent look at the iconic sights.  The boats come quite close to both islands and pause to allow an awe-inspiring view, as well as incredible photo opportunities.  Here are some cruises that are highly recommended for an up-close experience with Lady Liberty and Ellis Island.

The Manhattan skyline from the water

The Manhattan skyline from the water

New York Liberty Cruise – Great for those with limited time, this 75-minute cruise departs from midtown Manhattan, cruising down the Hudson River to New York Harbor. Along the way there are great views of the Manhattan skyline (dominated by the Empire State Building), the developing towers of the new World Trade Center, and Battery Park. From the harbor there are amazing panoramas of the lower Manhattan skyline, Brooklyn Heights, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The boat cruises quite close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, allowing visitors time to marvel at the monuments before heading back up the Hudson to midtown.  Along the way, a guide will provide informative commentary about the sights and the city. Through March 31, 2013, tickets are 30% off, costing only $18.99.

Manhattan Island Cruise – This 3-hour cruise offers a comprehensive look at Manhattan, as well as the city’s other boroughs.  After cruising down the Hudson River and into the harbor (with a close-up look at Lady Liberty and Ellis Island), the journey continues up the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge and past the United Nations with excellent views of the midtown skyline, the Chrysler Building, and the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, before passing through the narrow channel that separates Manhattan from the Bronx. Rejoining the Hudson River, there are views of the dramatic New Jersey Palisades before passing under the mighty George Washington Bridge.  A guide provides detailed commentary, giving insight and details about the sights. Fortunately, this tour is also being offered at a 30% discount though March 31, 2013 – only $25.99.

New York City Highlights Cruise – Those seeking a comprehensive cruise of the city but with limited time may prefer this 2-hour tour. It includes a cruise down the Hudson, through the harbor and close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, up the East River past Brooklyn Heights and under its monumental bridge. Like the other cruises, the there is informative commentary along the way. Cruises depart from midtown Manhattan.

Those celebrating the New Year in NYC may opt to avoid the crowds and take to the waters for a New Year’s Eve Cruise in New York City.  With the dazzling lights of the Manhattan skyline as backdrop, this 3-hour party includes full open bar, passed hors d’oeuvres, a DJ, party favors, and a spectacular fireworks display.  Beneath the illuminated Statue of Liberty there will be a champagne toast at midnight to ring in the New Year. Tickets for the entire celebration are $149 per person (given the cost of NYC venues and parties, a genuine bargain).

Despite Sandy’s damage to these treasured monuments, New York City harbor cruises offer an opportunity to marvel at them at close proximity while enjoying a fun city tour.

- Jeff Dobbins

Planning a Trip? Browse Viator’s New York City tours and things to doNew York City attractions, and New York City travel recommendations. Or get more tips for visiting New York after Hurricane Sandy

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