12 Top NYC Boat Rides with Kids

Speed along the Hudson on a thrilling Beast speedboat ride. Photo courtesy of the Circle Line
Speed along the Hudson on a thrilling Beast speedboat ride. Photo courtesy of the Circle Line

Hitting the water during an NYC boat ride with kids lets you see the city from a whole new perspective. Whether you're sailing down one of the rivers, taking a FREE kayak out for a spin, or cruising on the ocean looking for whales, it's relaxing, refreshing, and a great way to stay cool on a summer day with the kids.

While there are all kinds of NYC boat rides, from the Circle Line to the citywide NYC Ferry service, the question for parents is, which NYC boat rides are truly family-friendly? After all, once you're on the water, you're committed to finishing your NYC boat ride with kids regardless of tantrums, seasickness, or boredom.

To help you figure out which boat rides work best for your family, we've highlighted some personal favorites and broken down the best options by type, including the best NYC boat ride for wildlife watching, best for would-be pirates, best for your budget, and more great options for an NYC boat ride with kids. Discover even more family-friendly things to do this summer in our Guide to Summer Fun in NYC.

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1. Best NYC Boat Ride with Kids for Getting Drenched: The Beast

Departs hourly from the Circle Line dock at Pier 83, 42nd Street and 12th Avenue
May-September
If your family's objective is to get a bit wet, then The Beast is for you. This NYC boat ride is a high-adrenaline, 30-minute speedboat tour that goes out into New York Harbor, zips past the skyline, stops for photo-ops by the Statue of Liberty, and races home, splashing loads of water onto passengers. I enjoyed The Beast with my 8-year-old son and his buddy, and it was quite a thrill. Children must be at least 40 inches tall.

RELATED: Best NYC Splash Pads and Sprinkler Playgrounds

NYC boat ride with kids Venetian Gondola Tour in Central Park
Bring Venice to NYC with a gondola tour in Central Park. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr

2. Top European Vacation-Inspired NYC Boat Ride with Kids: Venetian Gondola Tour

Departs from Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, 72nd Street and Park Drive North
May-November, weather permitting
Can't make it to Venice this year? Head over to Central Park for an authentic Venetian Gondola Tour on the lake. This half-hour ride requires reservations, but it's sure to leave a lasting impression. Boats can fit up to six passengers. Call the boathouse at 212-517-2233 to make a reservation.

NYC boat ride with kids the Circle Line
You'll have a hard time taking a seat during your Circle Line tour because there are so many sights to see, including Lady Liberty. Photo by Jody Mercier

3. Top NYC Boat Ride with Kids for Playing Tourist: 42nd Street Circle Line

Departs from the Circle Line dock at Pier 83, 42nd Street and 12th Avenue
Year-round
Yes, it's for out-of-towners, but this ride offers million-dollar views of Manhattan’s glittering skyline and a view even locals can appreciate. From its Midtown location, the Circle Line cruises all the way around Manhattan, pausing for photo-ops near the Statue of Liberty.

4. Best FREE NYC Boat Ride with Kids: Staten Island Ferry

Departs from Whitehall Terminal at State and Whitehall Streets, Manhattan; St. George Terminal, Bay Street, Staten Island
Year-round
See the Statue of Liberty from afar for FREE on the Staten Island Ferry. A one-way trip takes 25 minutes and offers magnificent views of New York Harbor. While waiting for your return ride from Staten Island, check out the Manhattan skyline from the terminal's outdoor patio, watch the fish swimming in the two giant freshwater aquariums in the waiting room, or grab a snack. Better yet, explore all Staten Island has to offer, including the newish Empire Outlets and the Staten Island Ferry Hawks, both just steps away from the ferry terminal.

RELATED: Free Boat Rides in the City: Where to Go Canoeing, Sailing, and Kayaking in NYC

NYC boat ride with kids NYC ferry
The NYC Ferry makes stops in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Governors Island with more routes in the works. Photo by Sara Marentette

5. Cheapest NYC Boat Ride with Kids: NYC Ferry

Departs from various waterfront locations citywide.
Year-round
For the price of a subway swipe, you can hop aboard an NYC Ferry headed to waterfront destinations from Astoria to Red Hook to the Rockaways, and even Staten Island. These boats are definitely more commuter ferries than sightseeing vessels, but they also provide easier (and more adventurous) journeys to the city's waterfront neighborhoods, parks such as Brooklyn Bridge Park, and beaches. Schedules vary by season. Download the app for paperless ticketing and to avoid any lines.

6. Where to Go Whale Watching on an NYC Boat Ride with Kids: American Princess Cruises

Depart from Pier 3 at 2498 Emmons Ave. in Brooklyn, across from Applebees
May-November
The American Princess cruises depart from Pier 3 in Queens. It also posts recent animal sightings on its website, so you can get excited about what you could potentially see on your cruise. For more options, check out our round up of whale-watching cruises in the city and beyond.

NYC boat ride with kids row boats in Central Park
Row your own boat in Central Park for a fee.

7. Best Row-Your-Own NYC Boat Rides with Kids: Central Park Rowboats

Available at Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, 72nd Street and Park Drive North
April-November
If you want to be the captain of your own vessel, consider a rowboat ride. Four-person rowboats can be rented from Central Park's Loeb Boathouse for $20 per hour (cash-only) and enjoyed on the adjacent 22-acre lake. Children must be at least 3 feet tall to ride.

8. Best NYC Boat Ride with Kids for Catching Dinner: Marilyn Jean IV

Departs from Pier 6, 2200 Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
Year-round
This deep-sea fishing party boat provides everything you need to catch the big one: rod, reel, and bait. Plus, the crew cleans and packs your catch, which, depending on the season, can include striped bass, bluefish, sea bass, or cod. During peak season, the boat offers day and night jaunts, and you can bring a cooler with snacks if you don't want to buy them on board. You must reserve your spot in advance.

RELATED: How to Get to Beaches in NYC by Ferry or Train

NYC boat ride with kids kayaking in the East River
Kayaking is FREE at a number of volunteer boathouses across boroughs. Photo courtesy of BBP

9. Best DIY Hudson River NYC Boat Rides with Kids: Kayaking

Available at various locations citywide
Mid-May to mid-October
A number of volunteer organizations offer walk-up, FREE kayaking to anyone who can swim at locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Rules and schedules vary, so read our in-depth post on kayaking with kids for more information.

10. NYC Boat Ride with Kids for Land-Locked Fun: LeFrak Center at Lakeside

Available at LeFrak Center at Lakeside, 171 East Drive in Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Late March to November
Pedal boating and kayaking have been mainstays at the Lakeside complex on Prospect Park's freshwater lake since 2014. After you're finished boating, enjoy all of the summer fun Prospect Park offers, including the spectacular splash pad nearby.

NYC boat ride with kids raising the sail on a schooner
Pioneer charters sail New York Harbor and afford some of the most breathtaking views of the city and the Statue of Liberty. Photo courtesy of the Pioneer

11. Fun NYC Boat Ride for Playing Pirate: Pioneer

Departs from Pier 16, South Street Seaport Museum, 13 Fulton Street
May to October
Take an NYC boat ride with the kids and embark on a 2-hour sail through the New York Harbor aboard the historic 1885 schooner, Pioneer. Tickets include admission to the South Street Seaport Museum’s historic ships and exhibitions the day of your sail. Ages 5 and up. Check the website for sailing times.

12. Best NYC Boat Ride with Kids for Landlubbers: Model Sailboats

Available at Kerbs Boathouse Cafe and Central Park Sailboat Concession, 75th Street on the east side of Central Park
March to November

If you prefer the kids to do their boating from solid ground, they might enjoy sailing a model boat around the Conservatory Water in Central Park. Miniature boats can be rented for a classic New York scene that was immortalized in E. B. White's Stuart Little.

A version of this article was first published in June 2010, but it has since been updated.

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