[NYC] Day Trip: Circle Line Bear Mountain Cruise Review (Fall Foliage Tour)

So, I fell for the "advertisement" style article on Timeout New York for the fall foliage cruise to Bear Mountain on Circle Line.

If you're like me and are tempted by the journey, read on to learn about my experience.

If you want to just see Bear Mountain pictures, set an alarm and come back on Wednesday at 10AM Eastern Time

We went last Sunday, October 21, so the weather was actually perfect temperature-wise. We were a little worried that it was going to be cold, so we dressed in layers (we were also not sure if we were going to be early enough to snag an inside seat).

The tickets were a little pricey - $65 per adult (for non-premier tickets) and $52 per child, but I thought maybe it would be worth it to see fall foliage along the Hudson River. The premier/VIP tickets were sold out already and were more than $100, I'm pretty sure I think it was like $112, but I don't exactly remember, so don't quote me on that - you get guaranteed seats, priority boarding, and I think staff bring your drinks to you.

The tour is 2.5 hours to Bear Mountain with about 3 hours at Bear Mountain State Park and then 2.5 hours back to New York City.

I didn't really do my due diligence, so I didn't look up anything about the cruise before spending my money, which was kind of dumb, but now you get this post out of it.

First off, driving to Bear Mountain from the city takes about 1.5 hours and then you'd have your leisure to explore the park. (Also, you can drive to the top if you're not so in shape <-- that's me).

So, first off this was a really, really unorganized situation. There were just crowds of people ambling about like dodos. The left side is for people who are picking up their tickets and the far side (towards the Intrepid) is for people who already have tickets.
If you're like us and you didn't get the fancy seats, seating is first-come, first-serve. So, you need to arrive at least 45 minutes early (9 AM departure), so if you want to get a specific seat, aim to arrive much earlier. We arrived at about 8:10 AM, so we were relatively early birds, so we got our pick of seats.


NOTE: You are not allowed to bring outside food or drinks on the boat. They do check bags. However, if you have sealed bottles of water or a picnic meal for on the mountain, you will have no problems. I found that out the hard way - I had a bottle of sparkling water that was open..I tried to chug it, but you can't chug sparkling water without burping - TMI, but that's just my experience.

The boat & amenities:

So, I thought that Circle Line would have upgraded the chairs, but nope. They're basically folding chairs set up right next to each other...like literally next to each other, so hope you're sitting next to someone you like or can at least stand being in your space for 2.5 hours.
The ticket says that if you do not arrive 15 minutes prior, "we cannot guarantee your seats on the boat," which is probably the case. You'll definitely have no choice at seats and since the Bear Mountain cruises sell out quickly, then you'll probably not have a seat by your friends/family except maybe outside.

As I mentioned earlier, we were lucky because the weather wasn't too bad. It was above freezing, about like 45 degrees F most of the day. It was extremely windy on the way to the mountain, though, so the people who couldn't snag seat indoors and didn't want to stand inside the whole trip or sit on the floor inside were looking pretty miserable outside when I went out to take pictures of the Palisades (pictures below).

PRO TIP: (From others' ingenuity I observed), there's a little alcove on the outside deck, right next to the staircases to the top top floor for Premier people. If you huddle down there and sit, it's not too windy and you seem to be somewhat protected from the elements like the spray from the Hudson River.

We sat in the upstairs in the inside portion of the boat. It's pretty small up there and it gets full quite quickly since the front third of the inside portion is roped off for "premier" ticket holders.

One annoying thing, other than the super uncomfortable seats, is that there are no curtains on the windows, so it gets SUPER hot and stuffy during the 2.5 hours. We definitely needed more sunblock to sit indoors than we wore.

The downstairs inside portion is SO HOT AND STUFFY. I would definitely recommend not sitting there if you can help it. I think I probably would have gotten sick or passed out down there, especially towards the back section - it's stuffy and kind of had a faint exhaust smell, but I could only smell that when we were exiting/entering the boat.

The ride: 

The ride up there was 2.75 hours and definitely felt like it. We had brought our Kindle Paperwhites, so it kind of kept us occupied and it was kind of nice seeing a new side of the city than we usually see - so it was kind of interesting for about 1.5 hours.

We left slightly after 9, like 9:05 AM. There's a little bit of narration on the ride to Bear Mountain, but it wasn't as much witty banter as you get on the other Circle Line tours. We arrived to the mountain at about 11:50 AM. We had to be back on the boat no later than 2:45 PM, if we chose to get off the boat. Some people didn't leave the boat, so calculate that into your arrival back if you are looking to sit in a certain location.

The ride back:

Since we knew we wanted to get indoor seats, preferably on the top deck, we set an alarm for 1:45 PM, so we had ample time to get back to the port, taking pictures along the way, etc.

We JUST made it. We got the two last chairs next to each other on the top floor inside. We got back to the boat around 2:20PM, just for your reference.

Just as we pull away from the pier, some lady started to get really rowdy and aggressive towards the staff and the security guard because they wouldn't allow her to bring the outside deck chairs into the inside. They made an announcement on the ride there saying as much and also telling people that there were limited indoor seats, so if she was going to get upset, she should have done it then or when we were still at the pier...because the rest of us had planned accordingly and cut our outside time short. Anyway, she ended up throwing chairs around, screaming about a refund, and security did a great job diffusing the situation.

Actually, everyone on the way back seemed slightly miserable - maybe they had drunk too much on the ride there? Don't know. I know we didn't drink anything other than my sad coffee, so I know our general "blah" feelings were not due to alcohol.

There was a guy sitting next to me for a while that kept making voice memos into his phone about how miserable this cruise was and how it was the "worst cruise he's ever been on," so maybe search the web for his review because I feel like he's also a blogger. 

I don't have such strong feelings, but I definitely won't be going back on that trip again. I would go back to the mountain, but I would drive or take the Metro North next time.

I think I would have hated life and also been miserable if we would have been late either time and had to either stand the whole time, sat on the bottom deck, or else sit outside (except on the way back, it was quite mild on the way back). Also, if the weather would have been colder I'm sure the misery factor would have been much higher on everyone's part.

We got back to Pier 83 around 5PM. 

The food: 

So, here are the food and drink options on the boat. Note that it is an "Oktoberfest" themed journey, so you can find some "German" themed foods like sausages, schnitzel, and comically large pretzels.

There's also unlimited beverages for $35 with the purchase of a "Souvenir Mug." The guy in front of me in line as I was buying my coffee was quite upset that the mug purchase didn't include hard liquor, but including that would have been reckless. You can also get a "Travel Cup" for $10 for unlimited non-alcoholic beverages.

That being said, most of the 21+ crowd on the top floor indoors section had purchased the unlimited refill alcoholic beverage "Souvenir Mug." I am not sure about the bottom level, which seemed like there were more young families, so comment below if you know. Luckily, no one got like violent or rowdy (they also had security officers on board and plenty of staff), but it was definitely a scene I wasn't totally expecting when I boarded the boat.

As I said, I hadn't researched as I said...so I didn't know there was an unlimited alcohol option. Had I known this, I probably wouldn't have booked my ticket.

I got a coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. The bagel with cream cheese was necessary because we weren't going to touch land for like 3 hours and I was too scared of authority (the security officers) to eat the Larabar I keep in my purse (I've been keeping the Carrot Cake bar in my purse these days). Honestly, they probably didn't care because I saw others eating fruits and other snacks, but I like to follow the rules.

The coffee was basically like free hotel coffee, so it was pretty tasteless, but it was hot and had a little bit of caffeine in it, so that's what I needed. The bagel was necessary, but again, obviously nothing special.

VERDICT: I would NOT recommend this trip to people who enjoy the outdoors and wanted a trip away from the city. It is also probably not the best trip for families with young children - it's basically a drinking party. There are not good seats, so it's NOT good for people who have back problems or maybe for older folks.

So, overall DO NOT recommend, but I could see this being good for people who enjoy drinking. The $35 all-you-can drink option is a pretty decent deal, especially if you live in New York City - as long as you have like 4 beers throughout the day, it would have been worth the fee, but to get the money for the $35 all-you-can drink option + the boat ticket, you'd need to drink about 8 drinks, so take that as you may. (People definitely had more than 8 drinks.)

In total, spent about 6.5 hours in the boat for like 2 hours outside at Bear Mountain

Here's some pictures:
I took them during the trip north - sorry about them, it was too windy to really check anything as I was taking them and retake, etc. So, what you see is what you get.

This is the view, just as you leave Pier 83.

This is a pretty impressive building - there's a courtyard in the middle.

The George Washington Bridge with downtown Manhattan in the background.

The Palisades are beautiful. Have you done a hike there? Is it strenuous?

My timing was seemingly perfect. I got this shot just as the train whizzed past.

This is the the Bear Mountain Bridge.

This is the "port." We arrived around 11:50 AM. From the port to the zoo is about a 15 minute walk, depending on where you are in the crowd of "boat people." I am just going to use this term because the state park employees used it and I think it's fitting.

It took us about 20 minutes because there were a LOT of drunk people and people who seemed to be smokers, wheezing the smoker wheeze as we walked up the hills.

*FTC Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which means, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through the links provided and make a purchase.*