New York Sightseeing Cruises


Sightseeing Cruises Return to New York Waterways 

Boat-tour operators are looking to entice New Yorkers who are eager for something to do as the city enters the second phase of reopening

On a busy day, Statue Cruises, the boat company that ferries sightseers to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, can welcome close to 800 per trip.

But when one of its ships departed Friday from Battery Park in lower Manhattan for an hour-long New York harbor cruise, captain Greg Mocarski could count the number of passengers on one hand. Actually, make that two fingers.

“We’re not making a lot of money, but we’re making people smile,” said Mr. Mocarski, who has been navigating the New York waters with Statue Cruises and its predecessor for close to three decades.

Statue Cruises is offering the harbor tours as an alternative since the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are still closed to the public because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, while most of New York’s major tourist attractions remain shut even as the city has entered the second phase of reopening, at least a couple of boat-tour operators are giving it a go. In addition to Statue Cruises, Classic Harbor Line, which is based at Chelsea’s Pier 62 and offers sightseeing trips aboard vintage-style vessels, began offering tours over the weekend.

Both companies said they have gotten the all-clear from New York state to operate, despite the fact other tourist attractions aren’t permitted to do so.

State officials didn’t respond to requests for comment, though the state has issued an extensive advisory outlining how certain vessels can resume business during the health emergency, provided social distancing and other safety measures are followed. A spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the tour operators are allowed to invite customers aboard.

The challenge for these operators, of course, is that in a city still largely devoid of tourists, who is left to pay—adult fares are $26 on Statue Cruises and start at $48 on Classic Harbor Line—for a sightseeing trip?

The companies’ strategy is to entice New Yorkers who are eager for something to do after months of having little else to occupy their leisure time.

Certainly, that was what appealed to Jazmyne Jeremie, a 25-year-old Brooklyn resident who was one of the two paying passengers aboard the late-morning Statue Cruises sail on Friday.

“We only get summer once a year. I’m not going to let it go to waste,” she said.

Manhattan resident Melanie Gargano, 37, was the other passenger. Her decision to board was a last-minute one: She just happened to pause in Battery Park while she was out for a run, noticed the ship was offering tours and decided it was just the thing she needed to recharge her creative batteries.

As Ms. Gargano, a graphic designer and creative director, took in the sights, from the Statue of Liberty to the Brooklyn Bridge, she said the experience was “very inspirational,” especially since she had the large ship nearly to herself.

“You feel on top of the world,” she said

For Classic Harbor Line, the idea of welcoming New Yorkers to sail is perhaps less of a stretch. The company says a good chunk of its bookings comes from locals, although in many cases it is New York companies renting out vessels for events and special occasions—a piece of the business that might not return soon given how offices are generally far from fully operational.

Still, Classic Harbor Line manager Sarah Pennington said the company has been marketing itself to previous customers as much as possible and about 400 passengers have booked sailings for June and July. The company also plans to offer trips from Battery Park City’s North Cove Marina starting next month

As content as some New Yorkers are to cruise the local waters, Mr. Mocarski, the Statue Cruises captain, may be happier. For him, returning to the ship last week was like coming home, with the added benefit that the waterways were relatively free of much of the usual boat traffic and he had time to converse with passengers before and after the trip.

Plus, he said, “I missed the smell of the sea air.”
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