Reporting Jay Lloyd
You can’t beat free. The Staten Island Ferry is the best deal in the Big Apple and rivals many sightseeing cruises that come with stratospheric price tags. Ride (again) free and take in the sights of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, a parade of cruise ships and, of course, Staten Island. When I was a kid and money was tight, it cost a nickel a ride for adults, but it was bargain enough for parents to take the family for a weekend “cruise.” Now, it doesn’t even cost a nickel. Here’s what you’ll find. – Jay Lloyd
WHAT TO EXPECT
Ferry boats have been moving people between Manhattan and Staten Island since the Union Jack flew over New York. But only since the 20th century have they been viewed as more than just transportation. Romantically inclined couples found the moonlit decks and dark corners, the icing on the “date-night” cake. Then families began crowding on for weekend sightseeing cruises, and eventually, visitors to the city discovered how much they could see while enjoying the thrill of a waterborne passage. Where the boat went mattered little; it was all about the scenery. For an hour coming and going, you’ll take in the full panorama of New York’s storied harbor.
First in view is the skyline of lower Manhattan and the new, nearly completed World Trade Center. Then the eye takes in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The waterscape is punctuated by the constant flow of commercial traffic heading to and from the ports of New York and New Jersey – tankers, freighters, cruise ships, fireboats, water taxis and pleasure boats. Take a peek into the East River to catch the full impact of the bridges that span the water, including the celebrated Brooklyn Bridge. The view is breathtaking, and the picture-taking opportunities are endless. There is indoor and outdoor seating, but most riders prefer a spot at the rail. Five boats out of nine keep a daily schedule that runs about every half-hour each way. Check the full schedule here.
The ferries and their terminals are operated by the New York City Department of Transportation at no charge to pedestrians. Since Staten Island is no longer home to its early 20th century amusement park, visitors disembark at the St. George Terminal, then turn right around and re-board for the return trip. One tip: Try to avoid the weekday rush hours, as the ferries from Staten Island are typically filled with commuters. Eleven o’clock trips are popular because they put you back in lower Manhattan for lunch.
WHERE TO EAT
While lower Manhattan isn’t thought of as a culinary destination, it has a restaurant row on nearby Stone Street plus a profusion of eateries that span from traditional to eclectic. There’s everything from exotic food truck offerings – think Trinidadian – to historic restaurants.
Speaking of historic, Fraunces Tavern took a cannonball hit during the American Revolution, and George Washington said farewell to his officers here. The menu has a colonial tilt and includes a signature chicken pot pie. It’s pricey, but think of what you just saved on the free cruise!
This is a favorite Irish pub with all the traditional favorites at prices considered reasonable for New York. Add pizzas, salads and a few other non-traditional items and the whole family can find something to chew on. Personally, I can’t resist their Guinness and beef stew.
For other choices including rare Scandinavian treats, just stroll Stone Street, which is often lined with tables for outdoor dining in this historic and picturesque section of Manhattan. It truly is a unique “restaurant row.”
From the Ferry Terminal, visitors can walk to The World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. Look for information about the memorial and museum here.
Visitors can also stroll to historic Battery Park and the nearby docks for ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Unfortunately, the Statue of Liberty will remain closed until July 4th, and Ellis Island will be closed indefinitely because of Hurricane Sandy damage. For reopening info, keep checking back here.
For anyone who wants to visit their money, Wall Street is also nearby.
The Staten Island Ferry is easily reached by subway. Depending on where you are, take: the R train to Whitehall, the 4 or 5 to Bowling Green, the 1 to South Ferry or the J and Z to Broad Street.