Newest Review: ... I was able to show my daughter on skype via a video call the entire ride on the Staten Island Ferry she was able to see the Statue of Liber... more
Ferry to the Forgotten Borough
Staten Island Ferry
Member Name: Hishyeness
Staten Island Ferry
Advantages: Free! Great views of Liberty Island and Lower Manhattan.
Disadvantages: None to speak of
We often take things under our noses for granted. As a Londoner, it usually needs a foreign visitor to lift me out of complacency to visit places like the National Gallery and the Tower of London. It was much the same during my thirteen years in New York during the Eighties. An unexpected opportunity to visit the Big Apple arose last week, and I was determined to scratch a seventeen year itch by finally taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry (the Ferry).
Staten Island (also known as Richmond County) is one of New York's five boroughs (along with Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan) and is geographically situated on the New Jersey side of New York Harbour. The Ferry has been operated by the City between lower Manhattan and the northern tip of Staten Island for over 100 years, first commencing service in 1905. The route covers just over five miles, and takes around 25 to 30 minutes depending on harbour traffic.
It is, first and foremost, a commuter ferry, carrying around 20 million passengers a year to and from New York's so-called "forgotten borough". It's the most direct route to the City for most Staten-Islanders, whose only other connection to New York is over the majestic Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the gateway to New York harbour. However, given the fantastic views of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the East River Bridges and the Brooklyn riverside, the Ferry has become a practically mandatory destination for tourists.
The downtown Whitehall ferry terminal, next to Battery Park was completely refurbished in 2005, and is easily accessible from the South Ferry (1,2, & 3 train which runs up Manhattan's West Side) and Bowling Green (4,5 and 6 train running up the East Side) subway stations. The instantly recognisable orange-liveried Ferry offers a twenty-four hour, free (yes, that's completely free) turn up and go service every fifteen minutes during busy times and thirty minutes, most other times.
Visitors from the UK will despair at the lack of obvious queuing system. There is usually a fairly inelegant rush to get on board. Although the main deck is wheelchair and pushchair accessible, the upper decks are not. For commuters, a seat, or position, on the bow is the holy grail (quickest to get off) and for tourists, the starboard (right) side outbound and port side (inbound) narrow outside decks are prized for the best views of New York, Lady Liberty and Jersey City. It can get very windy and nippy in the winter months, so warm clothing is essential if you plan on braving the elements.
Once on board, there is generally plenty of space and seating available (depending on time of day) for those not fussed about the coveted vantage points. A full service snack bar operates on board, providing much needed coffees and snacks. Information points around the deck exhort the charms of Staten Island, but as an ex-New Yorker I remain to be convinced. The half-hour ride is relatively smooth. The ferry we took on both legs was the newest in the fleet, the MV "Spirit of America" which has been in service since 2006 and was built to deliberately echo the more traditional designs that have plied the route for a century. It is one of eight ferries currently operating. More information on each of them (if you're interested) is available at www.siferry.com.
Before docking at either terminal, its popularity with tourists is evident from the announcement requesting that all passengers making an immediate return journey leave the Ferry and re-board at the gate. This is easily accomplished (the route is clearly signposted) and is done for both security reasons, and to give waiting passengers an equal chance of getting on board.
The Ferry is well worth the time and effort and makes a great budget alternative to expensive ferry tours such as the Circle Line. My voyage was at sundown on a clear day, making for some spectacular light behind Lady Liberty on the return journey. By the time we approached lower Manhattan, the skyscrapers in the Financial District were twinkling with light, with the still-unfinished Freedom Tower (the replacement for the fallen Twin Towers) festooned with multicoloured Christmas lights from top to bottom.
Unmissable and highly recommended.
Summary: An unmissable free ferry ride for Working Girl and tourist alike...
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