Photo Credit : Via the Boston Harbor Cruises website
On a visit to Boston Harbor during the 1988 presidential campaign, Vice-President George H.W. Bush called the city’s waters the dirtiest in America and a “harbor of shame.” But Boston Harbor, which had been fouled for decades by pollution, was already on the road to becoming a stunningly successful environmental story. The $4.5 billion cleanup effort that had stemmed from a 1985 lawsuit officially came to an end in 2016. The result? Some of the cleanest urban waters in the nation, which today beckon boaters and other recreationists. No trip to Boston would be complete without some time on the water, be it the city’s harbor or its famed river, the Charles (another cleanup success story). One memorable way to do this is to book a Boston sunset cruise, which adds the romance of pastel skies and twinkling city lights to the water vista. A number of cruise operators offer sunset outings; here are a few favorites to get you started.
Notes: Prices include surcharges and fees and have been rounded to the highest dollar. Schedules and prices are subject to change, so check with the tour operator before planning your Boston sunset cruise.
Founded in 1926 with a single boat that offered tourist excursions for 10 cents, Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) is today the grand dame of the city’s waterfront. Its fleet of nearly 60 vessels — the largest of its kind in the nation — comprises MBTA boats, charter boats, ferries, water taxis, and a number of sightseeing cruises. For those looking to take in the Boston skyline at sunset, BHC has a 90-minute narrated cruise departing from Long Wharf every evening from May to early September, before shifting to Thursday through Sunday until mid-September. On the round-trip from the inner harbor to the islands and lighthouses beyond, passengers also get to see the USS Constitution firing her cannon and lowering the flag to mark the end of the day. Plus, BHC adds a grownup option to the mix with its 21-and-up cocktail sunset cruises — featuring beer, wine, cocktails, light snacks, and music — which sail Thursday through Sunday from May to September. (Boston sunset cruise rate: $35; discounts for kids and seniors. Sunset cocktail cruise: $45.)
As any visitor to London or Paris knows, a major urban river can open up whole new ways to look at a city. To sight-see from the Charles River, which runs between Boston and Cambridge, the name to know is the Charles Riverboat Company. Its fleet of five boats includes three variations on its namesake vessel: the classic riverboats Henry Longfellow and Charles I, plus the charming paddlewheeler, the Lexington. Every day from late May until early September, 70-minute sunset cruises depart at 5:30 and 7 p.m. from the Lechmere Canal Park, near the CambridgeSide mall. (For a little more nighttime drama, there’s also a twilight cruise that departs at 8:30.) Music and a full-service bar round out the experience. Note: Tickets are available online two weeks in advance, and early purchase is recommended for these popular tours. (Boston sunset cruise rate: $22; discounts for kids, students, seniors, and military.)
Whether you fancy yourself an old salt or an upper-cruster, Classic Harbor Line has the ride for you. From Rowes Wharf it operates two classically styled vessels: the 80-foot Adirondack III, inspired by an 1890s pilot schooner, and the 110-foot motor yacht Northern Lights, which recalls luxury transportation of the turn of the century. Both ply the harbor on sunset cruises (operating season and dates vary by boat) that provide up-close views of such landmarks as Fort Independence and the USS Constitution. The tour schedule is packed with a number of other options, too, such as a Sunday evening jazz cruise, a champagne twilight cruise, and a twilight sail. (Boston sunset cruise rates: $45 for the Northern Lights, 90 minutes, and $62 for the Adirondack III, two hours; discounts for kids, seniors, and military.)
A two-decade-plus veteran of Boston Harbor day sailing, the Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships is dedicated to keeping alive the romance of the Age of Sail. Both the majestic flagship, the 125-foot Liberty Clipper, and its little sister, the 62-foot Liberty Star, are 19th-century gaff-rigged schooner designs built with modern know-how. From mid-May into October, these graceful tall ships sail from Central Wharf, next to the New England Aquarium, on a variety of cruises (including the Clipper’s lively “Rum and Revelry” sail, for grownups only, on select Saturday evenings). A sunset sail lasts between 90 minutes and two hours, and the route can vary by wind direction: toward the outer harbor and the Boston Harbor Islands, or toward East Boston, with views of the Charlestown Navy Yard and the North End along the way. (Boston sunset cruise rate: $51; discounts for kids.)
We get something of a swashbuckling vibe from this operator, whose fleet includes a replica square-rigged tall ship, the Formidable, that Mass Bay Lines dubs its “pirate ship.” And indeed the Formidable’s daytime harbor cruises are sprinkled with tales of pirates and privateers, sea chanteys, and a cannon firing. Narrated sunset cruises range from two hours on the Formidable to 90 minutes aboard one of the motor vessels (operating season and dates vary by boat). Among other highlights of the Mass Bay Lines schedule are moonlight cruises and a weekly “Thirsty Thursday” cruise spotlighting the beers of regional brewers. (Boston sunset cruise rates: $53 for the Formidable and $26 for a motor vessel; discounts for kids, students, seniors, and military.)
Dinner and a sunset — what could be better? For a memorable sightseeing feast, check out the dinner cruise offered aboard the Spirit of Boston, a sleek multideck cruise ship that docks at the Seaport World Trade Center. The cruise, which is regularly offered in two-hour and three-hour versions, features a buffet meal, cash bar, and DJ, dancing, and games. For a more formal dining experience, check out the similarly impressive Odyssey, parked behind the Boston Harbor Hotel: Owned by the same company as the Spirit of Boston, it serves up two- and three-hour outings with three-course plated meals. (Dinner cruise rates: Starting at $100/two hours and $125/three hours on the Spirit of Boston; starting at $112/two hours and $144/three hours on the Odyssey.)
Have you been on a Boston sunset cruise? Let us know!