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NYC Christmas Cruise — What Is It Like & Is It Worth It

If there’s an activity that combines skyline views, boozy hot cocoa and Christmas decorations, you can count me in! When I heard that holiday cruises in NYC offered all that and more, I pretended like I don’t always get seasick on boats and booked it. If you’ve ever wondered what this experience is like, keep reading!

In this post, I’m going to share my experience sailing with Classic Harbor Line on their Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise. I’ll cover everything from buying tickets (spoiler alert, they’re not cheap) to our experience on board. Then I’ll share my review of the experience, and wether or not the cruise was worth it. Sail away with me and hear exactly what this holiday cruise was like.

Disclaimer: This cruise was not hosted or gifted, and we are not affiliated with Classic Harbor Line. We purchased our tickets with our own money and all of our feedback in this post is our own.

Picking a Holiday Cruise in NYC

There are a handful of holiday cruise options in NYC, but the two main providers that offer cruises throughout the season are Classic Harbor line and Event Cruises NYC. Both of these cruises are pretty similar in that they decorate the boat for the holidays, offer festive beverages and/or foods, and they typically sail around the southern end of Manhattan (including views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governors Island, and Brooklyn Bridge).

Classic Harbor line has pretty wide lineup of different holiday cruise options. The cruises vary in terms of duration, time of day, entertainment and food/drink offerings. Another important difference (which I’d come to learn) is the type of boat that they use. All of the cruises for Classic Harbor Line depart from Pier 62 on the north end of Chelsea Piers.

Another provider is Event Cruises NYC. They offer a streamlined lineup of holiday cruise options, including a holiday dinner cruise, brunch cruise and kids cruise with Santa. These cruises sail from the other side of Manhattan from Pier 36, just east of the Manhattan Bridge.

You’ll also find a handful of other vendors that offer holiday cruises specifically on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, including City Experiences and Liberty Cruise.

The provider I chose was the one most prominently featured in Google search results, which was Classic Harbor Line.

A Quick Backstory

This actually isn’t my first time taking this cruise. I took this same cruise last year, but I didn’t write it about it because it didn’t go exactly as I hoped.

We booked the daytime Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise, and invited my parents as part of their Christmas gift. The weather took a turn for the worst, and they were driving in from update New York they decided the day before to cancel. Since I cancelled more than 24 hours in advance, I was able to get a gift certificate for the full cost of their tickets.

In hindsight, we should have all cancelled. We live just across the river in Queens, and we didn’t think a little bit of rain was going to be that big of a deal. The ship was covered, right? Let’s make the most of it!

As it turned out, it wasn’t the rain that got us, it was the fog. As soon as we set sail, we immediately lost sight of Manhattan entirely. We couldn’t see more than 50 feet ahead of us. It was so bad that they bailed on the pre-scheduled route to the Statue of Liberty entirely. Before we even reached The Battery, the ship turned around and sailed north up the Hudson instead.

Even with the detour, we still had the full experience on board. We got to enjoy the decor, cocoa and cookies, and they didn’t cut our time short. We just didn’t get to enjoy any of the views. Like, literally nothing but fog the whole time.

At the time, I recall feeling like the experience was a bust. Looking back though, I only have fond memories about how cozy and cute that ship was! And since my parents cancelled, I had that gift card which meant I’d have the chance to try again next year, which is the sailing we’re covering here.

Buying Our Tickets

We purchased our tickets for the holiday cruise in August. Since we had a gift card from our cancelled tickets last year, we knew we wanted to put that money toward another holiday cruise this year. We booked early so that we could ensure a date and time that worked well for us.

That said, you don’t have to book quite that early. If you are sailing on a weekend, you should probably plan about 2-3 weeks in advance. However, if you’re flexible with the time and type of cruise, you can often still find tickets just a few days in advance. Weekday tickets often don’t sell out.

We decided to book the Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise at 1 PM, which is the same cruise we took last year. We picked this particular cruise because it was the only daytime, non-meal cruise that offered children’s pricing.

Children are allowed on any of the cruises, but they don’t always get a discounted ticket. (Children 2 and under are always free.) The Sunset & Holiday Cocoa Cruise, which departed at 3:30 PM, would have worked better with our nap schedule. However, we didn’t want to pay $96 for a full-price ticket when a children’s ticket on the early Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise was only $26.

I was easily able to redeem my gift card and then pay the remaining balance with my card. The total cost for two adults and one child on the Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise the first Saturday in December came to $170. I received an email confirmation immediately. I didn’t receive any PDF tickets, and it said to just bring a photo ID to check in on the day.

Getting to Chelsea Piers

One of the downsides to this holiday cruise is that the pier is not easy to get to by train. The closest subway stop is at 23rd Street, which serves the C and E trains. The station is at 8th Avenue, so it’s still a 0.7 mile walk to the pier. (If you’re using maps, you can use this address for Classic Harbor Line in Google Maps as your destination.)

Personally, we were coming from Rockefeller Center. We decided to combine our holiday cruise with ice skating at Rockefeller Center for an ultimate Christmas-in-Manhattan day. Google Maps said that it should take about 30 minutes to get from Rockefeller to the pier by taking the E from 5th Ave 23rd Street.

We decided to cut the commute into two legs and break for lunch in between. We took the F train from Rockefeller to 23rd Street, and then got pizza for lunch at Andiamo. (Their white pizza is amazing, by the way.) From there, it was a long-but-doable 1 mile walk to the pier.

Check-in and Boarding

The check-in desk for Classic Harbor Line is located at the edge of Pier 62 just across the sidewalk from Bluestone Lane Chelsea Piers Café. I checked in at 12:30 PM for a 1 PM sailing. I received three laminated tickets, one of which was labeled with our table assignment. Seats are assigned in advance and boarding is done by table location, so there is no need to queue early.

Boarding began at 12:55, which was 5 minutes before our scheduled sailing time. They boarded the ship by table, from back to front. We were in the very last boarding group, and our table was at the front of the ship. (Based on this assignment and the fact that we booked in August, I would believe that tables are assigned at booking and filled from front to back. That is unconfirmed.)

Onboard Experience on the Northern Lights

We sailed on the vessel named Northern Lights. This ship has a capacity of 130 guests. Our specific sailing was probably pretty close to that, as it did feel quite tight.

There were tables along each side of boat that sat up to 7 guests, and then smaller tables down the center that sat 4. Most tables were shared with multiple parties, with a plexiglass divider splitting the table. All of the tables had chairs, as opposed to booth-style seating.

As promised, the ship was festively decorated for the holidays. However, I would call it pretty light of the decor. There was lighted garland along the overhead beams, with a splattering of red and white poinsettia. The same garland lined the windows, which were also adorned with small Christmas trees and decorated wreaths. At the front of the ship was a small bar, which was decorated with a larger wreath and hot cocoa sign.

There were several young children on the cruise, our 3-year-old toddler included. High chairs were available, but we chose not to use one. They did allow strollers on board. Most were folded and stowed (which seemed pretty tight at those tables), but some parents were actively pushing children in strollers around the front of the ship during the voyage. (From the looks of many of these young kids, my guess is that the cruise was over their nap times, too. We get it.)

The temperature-controlled seating area opened up to a small outdoor viewing deck on the lower level at the front of the boat. A stairwell led up to the upper deck, which had the most spacious outdoor viewing. The upper deck was open air and uncovered. There was a lot of bench-style seating facing in all directions. None of the outdoor spaces were decorated.

There were bathrooms onboard, but I did not see a baby changing table.

Food & Beverage Service

Shortly after the boat left the pier, we were greeted by our server. There was a large waitstaff that served the entire boat in sections, so it didn’t seem like anyone waited too long. After the first service, you could either order from the server (who came around throughout the trip) or you could order a drink at the bar.

The basic ticket came with one complimentary drink, including beer, wine (red, white or sparkling), or spiked hot chocolate. Non-alcoholic drinks like hot cocoa, soda and coffee were also available. Cocktails were not complimentary, but the first one was half price. After that, all drinks were available for purchase.

I got a sparkling wine, my husband got a seasonal winter beer, and our toddler got a hot cocoa. I’m not a wine person at all, but even I could tell this sparkling wine was not very good. The beer was probably the better the choice, because you know exactly what you’re getting. The hot cocoa came with optional whipped cream, so that was a win for our 3-year-old. It was very hot, so they got antsy waiting for it to cool.

Also included in the ticket price was a plate of cookies. We went outside to see the Statue of Liberty, and when we returned the cookies were at our table. For our party of three, we received three cookies, one macaron and one Ferrero Rocher chocolate.

At the time, I was perfectly happy with this selection. However, when I compared this cookie plate with the plate we got last year, and it was much smaller. Now, it’s worth noting that we were not at our table when the cookies were distributed, so maybe they didn’t realize how many people were at our table.

There was also a small menu of snacks available for purchase. This included things like a cheese plate ($18), veggie and hummus plate ($14) and bruschetta ($14). We didn’t order any food this time, but we got the cheese plate last year.

Sailing Route & Views

All of the holiday touches aside, the cruise alone was an absolute delight. I loved seeing the skyline from the water at a variety of different angles. This was also my very first time seeing the Statue of Liberty up close and it was pretty incredible.

We started in from Chelsea and sailed south on the Hudson with Lower Manhattan to our left and New Jersey to our right. After we passed The Battery, we sailed on to Ellis Island and then the Statue of Liberty. The boat stopped for a little while here so people could enjoy the view and take photos. (This definitely felt like the peak of the cruise.)

From here, we passed Governors Island and took a short jaunt up the East River for a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge. We turned around just short of the bridge and looped back around the southern tip of Manhattan. Finally, we came back up the Hudson and returned to Chelsea Piers.

In case you were wondering, I did not get seasick on this boat! I am prone to motion sickness, and have a hard time on everything from small glass-bottom boats all the way up to cruise ships. The water was calm enough and the boat was big enough on this particular boat right that I didn’t feel too bad.

Departure & Leaving Chelsea Piers

Our cruise was scheduled to end at 2:30 PM. We were a tad late and got off the ship at 2:45 PM.

We were in the same train desert leaving Chelsea Piers as we were getting there. This time though, we were headed to our home in Astoria, Queens. There are a few different public transportation options to cover that distance, but we decided to take the 7 to the N.

We walked north up 11th Avenue toward Hudson Yards, which was just under a mile. We stumbled across a La Colombe at 27th Street, so we happily ordered a few gingerbread lattes and let our toddler rest for a minute.

By the time we got to the station, we were pretty tapped and hopped right on the 7 to Queens. However, the Hudson Yards shopping mall is nearby and is an absolute delight this time of year. If you have some time, pop inside to see the pretty lights and maybe grab a treat at Magnolia Bakery. (Of if you’re really ambitious, head on up to Edge, the observation deck in the building above.)

Closing Thoughts On the Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise

Overall, I enjoyed this cruise, but not for the reasons I expected. I came into it looking forward to a cozy and festive holiday experience. As it turned out, the cookies and cocoa were average and the Christmas decor was fine, but the real highlight was the city views from the boat.

With that logic, this cruise would be just as good any other time of year. Classic Harbor Line feels that way too, because they offer this exact same cruise sans Christmas decorations for the exact same price throughout the year.

Another thing that certainly impacted our experience was the timing. This cruise sailed at 1 PM, which is typically when our toddler goes down for a nap. At age 3, they can handle occasional no-nap days, but 1 PM is kind of our witching hour. For the second year in a row, a grumpy toddler definitely led to some at-times grumpy adults. That’s not the the fault of the tour provider, but it is worth noting here if you’re planning to bring children of that age. (They did perk up after the cookies though.)

I also think my lackluster response to the holiday components on this cruise is because I’m comparing to a previous experience. Last year, I took this same cruise on a different ship and it was so much more festive. I think that is why I left this year feeling a bit disappointed. So let’s talk about that.

Classic Harbor Line Vessels: Northern Lights Vs Manhattan

I have taken the Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise twice, and each time was on on a different ship. My first experience was on the Manhattan, and the second was on Northern Lights. One is definitely better than the other.

The Northern Lights is a much larger vessel; it can hold 130 passengers, compared to only 80 on the Manhattan. You might think that bigger is better, and I suppose it is if you weren’t among the first 80 passengers to book your ticket. However, this particular experience is much better in an intimate setting. The larger ship didn’t capture that feel.

The seating is also much more comfortable on the Manhattan. The Manhattan has plush, wrap-around booth seating, with only a handful of regular chairs. In most configurations, every table on the Manhattan is a window seat, which is not the case on the Northern Lights.

On the Manhattan, our family of three was seated at our own booth table with a window (and a ceiling window) view. Meanwhile on Northern Lights, we were seated in chairs at a shared able, without a window view.

The one thing that was better on the Northern Lights was the outside space. The Northern Lights has a full open-air upper deck, which covered the full length of the boat. There was lots of seating and endless views. It was very roomy, so everyone had a great spot to view the Statue of Liberty and skyline. This is nice to have, but for a Christmas cruise that is often chilly, you’re not likely to spend too much time outdoors.

The Manhattan only has a single deck level, and the only outdoor space is at the front of the ship. I can imagine this space does get crowded when it arrives at the Statue of Liberty on a clear day. (During our sailing on the Manhattan, there was literally nothing to see, so it was pretty empty.)

Overall, I have to say that the Manhattan is significantly better for a holiday cruise. The Northern Lights is a perfectly nice ship, but it’s better for a summer skyline cruise.

A Misleading Posting

This was extra frustrating because of the misleading posting. The main page says that this cruise should be on the Manhattan or Manhattan II, two similar vessels.

It’s not until you click into “Buy Tickets” and read the fine print that it says that most December cruises will be on the Northern Lights. Presumably this cruise is more popular at Christmastime, and they wanted to accommodate more people.

Would I have still booked it this time if they were more transparent about the ship? Probably. Would I book it again now, knowing that it was going to be on the Northern Lights and knowing what the experience on that boat was like? Probably not. Moving forward, I would only take this cruise if I knew for sure it was on the Manhattan or Manhattan II.

Is the Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise Worth It?

I’ve sailed with Classic Harbor Line on this same cruise twice now. The first time had poor views, but a great onboard experience. The second time had great views, but a disappointing onboard experience. I think the fact that it’s hard to get both of those things right is why this cruise is tough to commit too, especially for the price point.

Regardless of which ship you end up on, I do think this cruise is worth it for first-time NYC tourists. If you’re visiting New York City for the first time and it happens to be at Christmastime, this is absolutely worth doing. The reason being that you’ll probably want to sail to the Statue of Liberty anyway, and this is a good way to do that and get some extra holiday cheer at the same time.

For everyone else, I think this cruise is generally worth the price point only if you sail on the Manhattan or Manhattan II. Presumably they know which boat they plan to use for which sailing, because they can sell a different number of tickets for each. I would recommend calling to confirm the boat in advance before booking tickets. If it’s on the Northern Lights, honestly I’d probably save my money for a different holiday activity.

Overall, I’d say this is a splurge activity. I definitely think it’s a bit overpriced for what you get, but that can be worth it if you’re a first-time visitor or if you get the extra coziness of the smaller Manhattan ship. Due to the high price tag, I wouldn’t call it a must-do. It is good for a fancy date night splurge or a special holiday family outing, but you can probably otherwise save your money.

Looking for more holiday things to do in NYC? Be sure to check out our Christmas in New York City Bucket List.