Thursday 26 April 2012

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Sailing on the Staten Island Ferry

It's the kind of thing that could give a guy a complex. Every time we go to New York, we put the Statue of Liberty on our "must do" list (along with Times Square), and every time we get to New York, it's closed for renovations. It's like Lady Liberty is avoiding me. Now don't get me wrong...I've had plenty of women avoid me over the course of my life, just never a 112 foot tall one...those ones are usually in to me. I guess we could have gone to Liberty Island anyways, but if I'm going to pay the $50 it was going to cost for the five of us to get there, I at least wanted my kids to be able to climb some stairs. Instead, we decided to take advantage of a free option, and do a sail past on the Staten Island Ferry.

One of the newer ferries
If you're looking for a close up view of the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Ferry isn't your answer. The ferry keeps it's distance from the statue, venturing a little closer on the way to Staten Island than on the way back, but it still provides a good, if distant, view. You catch the ferry at the South Ferry terminal, right beside Battery Park at the very south tip of Manhattan (It's also the last stop for the #1 subway train). It's a huge, well labeled building, and there's almost no chance of getting lost, wandering through a gathering of protesters at Wall Street, then having to stop and ask a homeless guy for directions. Yup...pretty much a zero chance of that happening (no, I don't want to talk about it).

We got to the terminal just as a ferry began to load, so we joined the queue. Actually there wasn't really a queue, just a mass of humanity funnelling itself into a couple of select openings to make their way onto the boat. Fortunately each ferry holds about 4,000 people, so we had no problem getting on the boat. On the other hand, there only seems to be seats for about 1/2 of those 4,000 people, so on our way out we weren't able to get seats. That's OK, since the real fun of the ferry is to be outside where you can see everything, but here's where we learned something we didn't know about the Staten Island Ferries.

There are two different kinds of Staten Island Ferries, and if your goal is to have a good view of the Statue of Liberty, you only want to be on one of them. The older two ferries, built in 1981, don't have outside areas on the side of the boat. This means that the outside areas on the ends of the boat can get quite crowded. In fact we couldn't even get outside on our trip out, and our kids first views of the Statue of Liberty were through a window that looked like the FBI had been using it to record fingerprints. Not quite the experience I hoped for, but I had a plan.

Old Ferry - No outside seating
When you get to Staten Island, everybody has to get off the ferry. The actual commuters head for home, but a large portion of the passengers just turn around and re-board the ferry to head back to Manhattan. We decided to hold back until the ferry we came over on had departed, and then we caught the next ferry, which happened to be one of the newer ones, back to the city. This ferry had outside seating, so we were left with the outside front area of the boat largely to ourselves. Actually it would have been nice to have a few more people up there with us. It might have kept my wife from trying to re-enact scenes from Titanic.

The ride back was exactly what we had hoped for. The kids got a chance to get a good look at the Statue of Liberty, and as an added bonus the views of Manhattan as you pull back into the city are amazing. Of course the best part (free) was the time that we got to spend together as a family (free) experiencing one of New York's most famous (free) attractions. At least that was my favorite part. My kids were probably far more concerned with how much it cost.

Skyline from Ferry