Roaming the city on foot and via public transportation has its perks, but when you’re craving a completely different view, it’s time to hop on a boat. Kids will get a kick out of the best boat rides and summertime tours along the river. And with quick cruises offering sightseeing and historical tours, trips to the beach and family attractions, even free rides across the boroughs, it’s definitely worth signing the family up for a cool ride.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC
Best boat rides NYC
The Shark Speed Boat Thrill Ride
Yes, there's a longstanding rivalry between the Shark and the Beast as to which is more thrilling. If you find yourself downtown (and are dressed appropriately for getting a little wet), hop on the green and blue boat painted to resemble its deep-ocean namesake. It’s perfect for those with a need for speed, hitting up to 45mph on its trip along the New York Harbor. The 30-minute, scream-inducing thrill ride also has a splash zone for those who really want to get soaked (a.k.a. your kids). Pier 16, South Street Seaport, 89 South St (212-563-3200, circleline42.com). $29, children ages 3 to 12 $24. Ages 3 and up (must be 40 inches tall).
Circle Line Landmarks Cruise
Get a view of the city like you’ve never seen with this Landmarks Cruise—you’ll ride down the Hudson, around the southernmost tip of Manhattan and up the East River to Midtown before turning back to 42nd St. Learn about local US history, local landmarks and even see celebrity residences on the way over an hour and thirty-minute journey. Be warned—toddlers will probably get a little restless on this cruise, but it’s the perfect length for most school-aged children. Pier 81 (212-563-3200, circleline42.com). $36, children ages 3 to 12 $30.
Staten Island Ferry
This ferry system is one of the last remaining traces of a ferry network that transported people between Manhattan and the city’s future boroughs, long before any of our favorite bridges were built. The nine-vessel fleet offers rides to 22 million people per year free of charge, and with those rides come beautiful views of skyscrapers, bridges and more in Lower Manhattan. The trip lasts 25 minutes, so it’s a great free way to give your curious little ones a great view of the Statue of Liberty without spending a dime…well…unless you’re in the mood for snacks, in which case ice cream and snacks are available for purchase onboard. Whitehall Terminal 4 Whitehall St (siferry.com). Free.
Governor’s Island Ferry
This quick ferry ride transports people to the shores of Governors Island where families will find fun activities to last the whole day. Check the calendar for music, art installations, nature lessons and cultural events or spend time exploring the island’s permanent offerings, including mini golf, bike paths, and ballfields. Children’s park areas feature play fountains, slides and a junkyard playground. A few moments spent resting on the hammocks under the sun is a must. Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St or Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 6, Atlantic Ave (govisland.com). $2, children 12 and under free. All passengers ride free weekends until 11:30am.
This bright yellow ferry will glide passengers on over to IKEA’s Red Hook location, but if you’re just looking for an easy boat ride, then hop right on. A one-way trip is just 20 minutes long, which is perfect for antsy little ones who love to run around on land. An open-air upper level offers a delicious breeze on sunny days and unobstructed views of the surrounding skylines while an enclosed lower level provides shelter on cooler, rainy days. Pier 11, Slip A (nywatertaxi.com). $5 weekdays, weekends free.
Manhattan By Sail
Kids can fulfill their dreams of being a pirate when they hop aboard old-school schooner cruises from Manhattan By Sail. Choose from two way-cool boats, the Shearwater Classic Schooner, which patrolled the Chesapeake Bay during WWII, or the Clipper City Tall Ship, a 158-foot schooner with billowing white sails. Both welcome families for daytime sails lasting an hour and a half, with views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. The Shearwater departs from North Cove Yacht Harbor (12:30pm and 2:35pm daily) and the Clipper City departs from Slip 2 at The Battery (2:15pm and 4:30pm daily). For nighttime views of NYC, grab tickets to special sunset and twilight sails, or those focusing on the city and harbor lights, offered on select dates. Daytime sail schedule may vary, check website for sail times. (212-619-6900, manhattanbysail.com). Shearwater $45, children ages 3–12 $25, ages 2 and under $15; Clipper City $39, children ages 3–12 $17, ages 2 and under $5.
Circle Line Liberty Cruise
Youngsters will love the chance to see Lady Liberty in all her glory on this cruise that brings you within 100 feet of NYC’s leading lady. As the Circle Line Manhattan makes its way across the water, professional guides will sound off interesting facts about the statue, plus point out other landmarks including One World Trade Center, the World Financial Center and the Ellis Island Historic Immigration Center during the one-hour journey. With comfy seating, food and drink available for purchase, plus onboard restrooms, it’s easy to keep little ones happy. Pier 83 (circleline42.com). $30, children ages 3–12 $25, under 3 free (ask box office for infant ticket).
If a speedy ride is what your kids are asking for then book a spot on the BEAST Speedboat where they’ll be treated to a 30-minute ride on a 70-foot speedboat flying at 45mph. Music and funny guides will accompany passengers, all 40 inches or taller, on this splashing adventure. Pier 83 (212-563-3200, circleline42.com). Cruises run daily through Sept 27; 10am–6pm, every hour on the hour. $29, children ages 3–12 $23.
City Sightseeing Daytime Cruise
Though this sightseeing cruise is aimed at tourists, the "Hop-on, Hop-off" setup makes it easy for locals to see cool city landmarks via an efficient boat ride. Hop aboard at one of four locations: Pier 78 on the Hudson, the World Financial Center, DUMBO or Pier 11 and take your time exploring the sites at each stop before continuing to the next destination—tickets are valid for the entire day! Depending on your family's preferences, plan to check out landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Statue of Liberty and more. If it rains on your parade, swap the boat ride for one of 10 on-land attractions including the Met, the 9/11 Tribute Center and Museum of Natural History. Check website for departure locations and times (212-445-7599, citysightseeingnewyork.com). $35, children $25.
Making the trek to the beach for a day of family fun in the sun is made easy thanks to the Seastreak ferry. Pack up the sunscreen and beach towels, then head to the dock at either E. 35th St or Wall St in Manhattan to climb aboard—much simpler than dealing with traffic. Kids will love the 360-degree panoramic views during the ride, and climate controlled cabins, bathrooms and free wifi will keep everyone comfortable. At Sandy Hook Beach in Gateway National Park, you'll find on-duty lifeguards to keep an eye on youngsters as they splash in the waves. As if it weren't easy enough, the ferry includes complimentary shuttle service between the dock and various beaches in the area. Ferry runs daily, May through September; see website for departure schedule (seastreak.com). One-way weekday $27, ages 5–12 free; one-way weekend $27, ages 5–12 $11. Round-trip weekday $46, ages 5–12 free; round-trip weekend $46, ages 5–12 $18. Kids under age 5 free.