Category: Travel

Cruising the NY Harbor and the Hudson River

For the best times of your life, visit New York to participate in its vibrant theater scene and to become active on and around the mighty Hudson River. From Albany to New York’s famous harbor (as well as around all of New York’s coastal boroughs), there are a wide variety of water-based activities, from boating to swimming; far more than most people can imagine.

To help you learn more about your boating options, this article describes five very different types of Hudson River and New York Harbor cruises.

Above, meet First Mate Pam Johnson who was tending the sails of the Sea Feber, a 30-foot Catalina owned by Captain Shell Huber of Sail the Hudson. Our experience on this small craft was the most exciting Hudson River ride we ever had!

With charters limited to six people, plus the captain and a skilled mate (like Pam Johnson, pictured at the beginning of this article), not only do you realistically feel the sea, you might also acquire new friends.

Personal charters like this one provide great flexibility. In the case of the Sea Fever, passengers (like my husband, above) can take turns at the wheel, plus scamper up on the deck and helped tend the sails, personal skills permitting.

Expect a highly casual atmosphere (especially if the ship is booked for back-to-back charters) and salty conversation. If the wind is up, also expect a thrilling ride (and damp clothing). And, if you don’t get damp from sea spray, water balloon fights might finish the job.

Check with the captain before finalizing the charter to make sure you understand what you can bring on board. That said, even though you can try your hand at steering while the vessel’s underway, no prior sailing experience is necessary.

If you aren’t familiar with the majesty of the Hudson River Valley, check out our article, Visit the Hudson River Valley, to see what it has to offer.

Numerous cruise lines offer tours along the length of the Hudson. I am particularly partial to cruising on the historic Commander, owned by Hudson Highlands Cruises, because of its historic appearance, exceptionally smooth rides, and its West Point boarding location, where I recommend that you start your trip. This boat also departs from nearby Haverstraw and Peekskill.

By starting your cruise at West Point, you not only have access to the Hudson River, you have access to historic West Point, itself; something not usually available, unless you join a formal tour (consult West Point’s web site for more information).

To board the ship at West Point, you, your passengers, and your car must pass military inspection, including ID’s for everyone. The bonus is that when you return from your cruise, you can drive through West Point’s grounds.

Skyscrapers, of course, are on everyone’s mind when they visit New York and cruising along its waterfront makes it very easy to see them. The famous Circle Line tour boats, for example, hold hundreds of passengers and employ highly skilled guides who keep everyone informed about the buildings and entertained throughout their voyages (tipping at the end of the trip is encouraged).

On beautiful summer days (sunny or hazy), expect long boarding lines. These lines are made somewhat easier by freelance beverage vendors who help keep waiting people refreshed. For convenience, bring a bottle of water with you. Also consider bringing a small umbrella to shelter yourself from the sun while waiting to board. Do not, however, use the umbrella during the cruise, as it will block other people’s views.

NOTE: Beverages and snacks are sold for cash only during the cruise, so bring money.

Some of the more picturesque tour boats are offered by the Classic Harbor Line, located at Pier 62 in New York’s stunning Chelsea Piers (a must-see even if you don’t plan on sailing).

Pictured above is their beautiful Schooner America 2.0, which offers a particularly exciting cruise during high winds. If motoring is more your style, however, and you want an unusual experience, board one of their 1920’s-style yachts and once on, pretend that you are a part of another era.

Newer tour boats, like the Circle Line’s Zephyr (above), look like ocean-going yachts, although they serve the same purpose as the Circle Line’s standard tour boats. This particular ship, however, provides a climate-controlled, multi-level environment, making it a good choice for people who prefer greater comfort and shorter voyages.

Resources Mentioned in This Article

  • Sail the Hudson: Enjoy highly personal New York Harbor cruises on a 30-foot, Catalina sail boat. Join others, or charter the boat from Captain Shell Huber for your own friends and family. For discounted sails, as well as lessons, join their sailing club.
  • Hudson Highlands Cruises: Enjoy Hudson River cruising on the antique river tour boat, The Commander (almost 100 years old as of 2011), as it glides along the most beautiful sections of the river. Cruises leave from Haverstraw, Peekskill, and West Point, covering a distance to Newburg and back.
  • Circle-Line Sightseeing at 42nd Street and Circle Line Downtown: Enjoy cruising with the largest tour boat company in New York City. It offers the most available seats on any given day (especially important during great weather) on a variety of ships, including classic tour boats, speed boats, and the Zephyr, which looks like a modern, ocean-going yacht.
  • Classic Harbor Line: Enjoy standard and dinner cruises on the New York Harbor in authentic old motor yachts or stunning schooners. Board at Chelsea Piers, an exciting destination in and of itself.


Ask Karen Little at The article and photos (originally published in 2011 and now updated) are by Karen Little. All rights reserved by

Day Trip to Fire Island from New York City

The Fire Island National Seashore is committed to protecting its environment and the happiness of its residents.

Unlike Jones Beach State Park and Robert Moses State Park (which is on the western tip of Fire Island), Fire Island itself does not promote day-tripping. Instead, its primary visitors and occupants are its landowners and the people who rent from them.

If you want to swim, surf, fish, or simply observe nature in this area, your best bet to do so is in Robert Moses State Park. That said, after you find out how Fire Island’s “natives” live, and if you love the atmosphere, immediately contact realtors to find out what’s for rent!

I so anticipated seeing Fire Island that when I broke my left wrist while walking to the Bay Shore ferry dock, I decided to skip seeing a doctor and, holding my arm close to my chest, continued with the trip. The following day, X-rays confirmed the break and now, almost a month later, I am writing this article single-handedly with my wrist in a cast.

No matter what happened to my wrist, I had a wonderful trip! It helped, of course, that Phil, my husband, assisted by taking photos and waitstaff at two restaurants gave me bags of ice to reduce swelling.

Our destination was the Village of Ocean Beach, which is the largest community on Fire Island and the one most appropriate for day trips. Its commercial district features several small shops, restaurants, a few small hotels and inns, and a few bars with live entertainment.

The ferry building at Bay Shore features ticketing windows, places to sit, and a tiny shop that serves creamy homemade ice cream, moist fudge, and a few necessities. Make a point of sampling its goodies before or after your trip.

Next to the boarding platform are numerous benches, which, under peak conditions, quickly fill up. To get the best seat on the ferry, however, its good to forsake the benches and line up early. On warm sunny days, the first ones in get their choice of top-side seats, and on rainy days, interior seats.

On popular weekends, passengers clutter boarding lines with luggage and huge crates of food and beverages.

The entire trip from the mainland to Fire Island takes about 45 minutes (including boarding). As you leave the pier, you’ll see the wide expanse of water and to the west, the Robert Moses Causeway.

During peak periods, it is better to see the graceful, 8+ mile Robert Moses Causeway from a ferry than to be driving on it. Crowded road conditions can bring this deluxe stretch of highway to a crawl.

On Friday’s, many people head to Fire Island for the weekend or longer stay. Luckily, we lined up and boarded early. Soon thereafter, all upper deck seats filled up.

While travelers brought luggage, most were carrying supplies – food, beverages, cleaning products, and snacks. The island exists for living pleasure, not commerce. If you want the comforts of home (at a low price), you need to carry them in.

The harbor at Ocean Beach is exciting to approach. To the east, you’ll see the Island Mermaid (631 583-9724), where you can get reasonably priced lunches, dinners, and drinks. Make a point of stopping there, or at one of the few other shore-front restaurants.

To the west of the harbor is the dock. Because no cars and only a few motor vehicles are allowed on the island, private carts (formal dollies to kids’ wagons) are used to carry goods. Hundreds of these private wagons are stored next to the ferry dock. As passengers debark, many head straight for their wagons. Soon, the community’s Central Walk fills up with people pushing or tugging carts as they trudge toward their housing.

Central Walk is Ocean Beach’s main street. It is here where you’ll find its shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and bars, along with special events like craft fairs.

I particularly liked The Gallery, a multi-room gift shop that contained enough gift ideas to fill your giving needs for the next few years. On the low-priced end were $1 rubber duckies, each a different character. Many items in the shop were $10 to $20, with my particular favorites being tile coasters. More expensive items included lamps, small furniture, and a nice selection of jewelry.

TIP: Do not get hurt on Fire Island! When I arrived, I tried to buy an Ace bandage or sling for my broken wrist. Not only were none available, the people assigned to assist in medical emergencies did not know what to do with me other than say “head back to the mainland.” As it was a nice day, I remained on the island. But a word of warning – if you have medical needs that can suddenly appear, Fire Island is not the place to visit.

At maximum, the island is only a half-mile deep. While some homes are built along the shore, most are located along walkways that span the island’s width. Here you’ll see residents pulling wagons, riding bikes, or just strolling to and from the beach.

In the areas we visited, the homes along the walkways were mostly cottage-sized; not mansions like you’d see on the mainland such as in the Hampton’s. Many of these homes featured stunning landscaping and gardens.

The picture above shows a small cottage with an imaginative front yard.

For those of you who seek small-yard landscaping ideas, you’ll definitely find them on Fire Island!

A pastime enjoyed by Fire Island children is shell painting. We saw several examples of painted shells placed next to the road that served as signs. I understand that children often sell their work, although I don’t know where.

When pedestrian traffic is low, it is easy to see from one side of the island to the other.

At the end of several walkways on the Atlantic Ocean side are stairs that lead to a bridge over the dunes. On the bridge, you will find a chart containing information about the ocean (tide tables, temperature, winds, etc.) and beach rules.

Not all rules are in print, however. Among the things you need to obey in the Ocean Beach area are:

  • Do not bring food onto the beach.
  • If you must bring something to drink, it can only be bottled water.
  • Snorkeling is not allowed.
  • When coming to or going from the beach, you must be fully dressed. Women must wear a dress or other swimming suit cover-up, and men, a shirt and appropriate pants or shorts.
  • Bikes are restricted to walkways during peak hours at which time they are not allowed on Ocean Beach’s commercial district.
  • Don’t walk on the dunes!
  • Don’t swear (at least not loudly)!

As I’ve seen on residential area beaches in other communities, people often leave their shoes and flipflops by the stairs.

The beach itself is extremely clean and considering its expanse, not particularly packed. Day trippers who are not Fire Island guests, however, usually do not join the locals for a dip as there are no bathhouses or public restrooms.

Larger homes border the beach, all of which had nice yards.

Getting to Ocean Beach on Fire Island

There are five ports on Fire Island, each one serving a small village and its surrounds. Ferries to these ports leave from Bay Shore and Sayville, Long Island. Bay Shore’s ferries go specifically to Ocean Beach and its western neighbor, Saltaire.

If you drive and arrive at Bay Shore on a popular day, park in a free field (parking lot) on West Main Street to avoid the highly congested parking areas next to the docks. Carefully read the field signs. Two fields allow you to park all day, while the remaining fields are limited from two to four hours.

Take the Long Island Rail Road to Bay Shore if you do not have a car.

For more information on Ocean Beach and transportation to and from Fire Island, follow these links:


Ask Karen at, the author of this article. Photos by Philip Little. Originally published in 2009, and updated here. All rights reserved for

Day trip to Ocean Grove and Asbury Park from New York City

The “twin” cities of Ocean Grove and Asbury Park, New Jersey, are neighboring ocean resort communities that share the same stretch of boardwalk. The cities, however, are very different. One is filled with Victorian houses and an “old time religion” tent city, while the other features a sophisticated resort boardwalk, complete with breezy restaurants, bars, shops, and kid’s playgrounds. Both are fascinating!

As the shared boardwalk is approximately a mile long, it is easy to stroll through both communities during a single day trip from New York City. After you’ve seen them, you might want to make plans for an extended stay!

Ocean Grove

Main Avenue in Ocean Grove is the business heart of the city where you’ll find most of its restaurants and shops. It is a rare, two-way street that, when driving east, leads directly to the beach. Most of the city’s remaining streets are one-way.

On weekdays, the city lets you park without restrictions. On summer weekends, however, especially when the city is host to first-rate entertainment or special religious events, contact the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce for specific parking information.

Shops along Main Avenue spill their colorful merchandise onto the sidewalk. Goods include beach equipment, local and imported crafts, clothing, and specialty items for the home. Between shops are authentic, small-town, locally-owned restaurants.

Tip: Buy brownies at the Ocean Grove Bake Shoppe at 55 Main Avenue. All their bars are delicious, but their chocolate brownies are absolutely incredible!

Ocean Grove, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features more Victorian gingerbread homes than any other place in the United States. Consider visiting just to tour these interesting buildings and see their stunning floral displays. If you like to sketch architecture and flowers, this is the place to do it.

Tip: Contact The Historical Society of Ocean Grove (732 774-1869) for guided tour information.

Large homes, like the one above, line Ocean Grove’s streets. Many are inns (small hotels) or bed and breakfasts (converted homes).

Ocean Grove is also called “God’s Square Mile at the Jersey Shore.” In 1869, a group of Methodist ministers established The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, bought the land upon which Ocean Grove sits, and began running the area as a Christian summer camp. Since inception, the town has grown to from a private religious retreat to a popular summer destination for religious and secular activities. Many of these activities are held in The Great Auditorium (pictured above), with seating for 6,000 people. Others are held on a long, grassy mall and on the beach.

Tip: Check for a list of religious activities and secular entertainment events.

In the beginning, The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association designated areas for summer tent housing, administration buildings, and The Great Auditorium. Property not used by the Association was leased to individuals in the community through 99-year contracts.

Currently, 114 Association-owned tents are erected in the village between May and September. Campers rent the same locations year-after-year (new leases are awarded based service to the Association), individualizing their tents with flowers, colorful furniture, and cute signs. Each tent is approximately 300 square feet, with canvas living space in the front and a small wooden structure in back containing a kitchen and bathroom.

Make a point of seeing them all, as each one is colorfully different!

Between the Great Auditorium and the beach is a long, grassy mall, surrounded on each side by Victorian homes. Looking away from the auditorium, in the opposite direction, you see the boardwalk entrance and the beach itself.

Ocean Grove’s beach differs from Asbury Park’s in that the area between the beach and the boardwalk contains flower-dusted sand dunes and there is no commercial activity on the boardwalk itself.

Special events related to The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association are held throughout the village and on portions of the beach. If you are Christian, this is a very fun place to congregate. If not, it is still a great place to visit, especially because of its home-spun hospitality, unusually beautiful neighborhoods, high-quality secular entertainment, non-commercial boardwalk, and dune-lined beaches.

Of all the ocean beach cities I’ve seen on my travels, Ocean Grove is the most unique. Best, it is a short day trip from New York City.

Walking to Asbury Park

The boardwalk between Ocean City and Asbury Park is continuous. Between the two communities is a section of white-washed shops that include a popular restaurant where every table has a breezy view of the ocean.

Book-ending each end of Asbury Park’s boardwalk are two pavilions. The southern, non-renovated building (below) is called “The Casino Arcade.” (Casino means “games,” not gambling.) The second, The Grand Arcade at Convention Hall, is at the north end.

This old casino arcade decisively marks the differences between Ocean Grove and Asbury Park. You’ll be surprised at the extreme contrast between the north and south sides of the building.

Inside the casino are several large graphics, including black and white graphical birds framed in orange balls and a female mer-octopus. She is about 12-times life size, with a 1920s flapper head and an octopus body that stretches on for at least 30 feet. This mural was created by, a design house that specializes graffiti-like drawings, many of which commonly depict skulls and crossbones, not cute girls.

Asbury Park

The scenery changes 100% when you enter Asbury Park from Ocean Grove. While the buildings you see to the left look exceptionally modern, they are the original, early-1900s shore buildings that have been recently renovated.

The beach itself also changes in appearance due to the absence of sand dunes.

Businesses along the boardwalk include several restaurants and snack shops, craft shops, an antique shop, and import shops (French, Bali, more!).

Wonder about what to buy for original souvenirs that demonstrate your personal touch while visiting the Jersey Shore? Two shops, Hot Sand and Laplaca Pottery Works, let you make your own glass sculptures and pottery.

There is plenty for young children to do at Asbury Park besides play in the sand. The beach features a nice playground (free) and . . .

. . . the Splash Asbury Park water park. Current rates: Days – kids $9 and adults $5. Evenings (from 4 PM) – kids $6 and adults $3.

The boardwalk also features bicycle and cart rentals (handy if you want to explore more of Asbury Park and the surrounding area), beach equipment rentals, and a miniature golf course. Clean-but-seasonal rest/changing rooms are located near the middle.

As you near the north end of the boardwalk, you’ll pass Tim McLoone’s Supper Club. Dine on the boardwalk or on its beautiful, upper deck.

At the north end is the second pavilion, The Grand Arcade at Convention Hall, with restored sea-green and yellow, terra cotta designs. Inside the arcade are more shops, pubs and restaurants.

Note: The boardwalk continues past The Grand Arcade, but without shops.

Along the beach-side of The Grand Arcade, stretching to the ocean, is the fabulous The Beach Bar, featuring cushions, comfy chairs, and tables along its porch, as well as evening entertainment. Enjoy a drink, snack and/or dinner while enjoying ocean breezes, the sound of crashing surf, and the sight of happy bathers.

This view, which looks south from The Beach Bar’s porch, shows the full stretch of beach, from Asbury Park through Ocean Grove.

Connections from New York City

You can drive to the Ocean Grove/Asbury Park area from New York City via the New Jersey Garden State Expressway in about an hour.

No Car? You can also reach it via a New Jersey train from Pennsylvania Station (between 31st and 33rd Streets), or a New Jersey bus from the NY NJ Port Authority. For more information, consult

Once you arrive, you can stroll to the shore, or take a cab. Google or Bing for a substantial list of services.

Consider staying overnight! The area loaded with stunning inns, bed and breakfasts, and other lodging. Check for special deals.


Ask Karen Little at Karen is the author and photographer of this article, initially published 2009 but is up-to-date as of summer, 2017. All rights reserved by

Day trip to Atlantic City from New York City

If you are visiting New York City for a week, I hope that you can set aside a day for trip to Atlantic City. If you are looking for a week long, relaxing vacation, consider staying at Atlantic City, one of America’s best destinations.Are you on a budget? Atlantic City is the place to spend time. Loaded with cash? All the better! Atlantic City can provide you with everything you need to feel happy and relaxed. It is a true resort town that features many attractions, including, of course, gambling. No other city in America is remotely similar.

What do you like . . .

Do you like green adventures? Well, with over four miles of boardwalk stretching across natural sand dunes and ocean beach, you’ll find it here. Sun. Swim. Surf. Fish. Boat. Like casual dining? The area is flipflop friendly, even in the nicest of restaurants.

Like dressing up? Between the stunning casinos and high-quality entertainment, you’ll have plenty of opportunity. Got kids? Take them to the beach, then change them in a public restroom before returning home (all free). If your budget allows it, buy a roll of tickets and treat them to The Steel Pier, a world-famous amusement park.

Love to gamble? There are more than enough gaming tables and machines to satisfy the most ardent player. Atlantic City, however, is not just a gambling town. Unlike Indian reservation gambling and Las Vegas, when you step away from your game and its shimmering casino, you step into an authentic, sea-side resort that’s been going strong for over 150 years.

In my opinion, Atlantic City as a vacation destination gives you the most bang for your entertainment buck. It features every type of amusement imaginable, from beach pleasures to Broadway Shows to gambling, with prices that fit anyone’s budget (yes, there are really penny slots!). With its close proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, it is sophisticated, too.

For detailed information about what to do, consult, where you’ll also find special deals for those of you who wish to visit for several days.

What you will see . . .


This is the Atlantic City Visitor Center. The main road leading into Atlantic City is The Atlantic City Expressway. At the end of it is the main Atlantic City Visitor’s Center. Stop there to pick up a city map, brochures, and coupons, as well as use the rest rooms. Tip: When you leave town, the rest rooms in this visitor’s center are handy, too!


Casino parking is very inexpensive, however, we parked on the street very near to the boardwalk on Dr. M.L. King Boulevard for free. I recommend that you begin exploring from around this area, heading southwest for surprising views, then double-back northeast for equally surprising views.


Very strong people, not motors, push carts along the boardwalk for your distant riding pleasure. If you are on a very tight budget, take a $2 bus trip along Pacific Avenue.


Beach access is easy via any of boardwalk bridges that branch off the main boardwalk. In the picture above, you see typical sand dune vegetation, followed by the ocean, then the sky.


Bally’s Bikini Beach Bar is one of two restaurants located on the sand. Here, the pace is relaxed and prices are reasonable.

In terms of beauty, interest, and extent of investment, Bally’s outdid itself at Atlantic City. After buying up several properties, it transformed the area into the casino-version of Victorian Painted Ladies. The structure to the right (above) is the former Dennis Hotel, one of the original Atlantic City structures. On the left is Bally’s Wild Wild West.


Bally’s highly-detailed buildings extend for three blocks, followed by Caesar’s (the gold-colored buildings to the left of the picture). I love this area as it looks stunning and provides interesting things to do on the opposite side of the boardwalk.

The picture above provides a close-up of Bally’s detail work.


Caesar’s casino, next to Bally’s, features The Pier Shops at Caesar’s, a unique shopping center built on a long pier. Step inside to browse among its stunning stores, then continue walking toward the ocean where you’ll see a platform with many holes or The Water Show spraying fountains in full force. This watery-version of sparkling fireworks (pictured above) plays on-the-hour every afternoon, complete with music.


We watched The Water Show from the third floor, which also features decks that overlook the ocean and the beach by Caesar’s. Possibly because this area of the beach is protected by the pier, it appears to be the best place for very young children to play as the surf is more graduated. It won’t pull kids back out to sea.

Continuing along The Pier Shops’ third floor are picture windows fronted by beach chairs seated in sand. What a great place to rest! Further along this windowed hallway are several fabulous restaurants, which, I understand, showcase Atlantic City at night.

More, more, more . . .

There is much more to see along the southwestern portion of the boardwalk than what I’ve highlighted. These include boardwalk shops, several monuments, an amphitheater, a miniature golf field, great places to have fudge, taffy, and ice cream, plus a lovely outdoor restaurant named Flames.

The remainder of the pictures I’m featuring are of the northeastern portion of the boardwalk, an area which is home to the over-the-top, breathtaking Trump Taj Mahal.

Looking toward the northeast, you’ll see The Steel Pier amusement park peaking up above the sand dunes.

Immediately across from the Trump Taj Mahal is the entrance to The Steel Pier; an exciting tunnel with carny games on either side. Inside the park is The Rocket, one of the most scary rides in America (it catapultes you into the air at over 100 MPH), plus rides for children of all ages.

Also near the Trump Taj Mahal is the unusual Believe It or Not building, a must see!

Visit, visit, visit . . .

Under all circumstances, I highly recommend day trips to Atlantic City. If you plan to spend several days, take a few day trips to check out the casino hotels in person before making your reservations. Room prices differ and are generally lower (to much lower) than New York City rates, plus you can often find excellent deals that will make your stay particularly attractive. Consult for more lodging choices and special deals.

. . . and hey! If you stay in Atlantic City for a week, you can always make a day trip to New York City.


Ask Karen at

Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 7/27/2009 and re-published June 2017. All rights reserved by