By Lannan O’Brien
New England waters are often associated with salty air, lighthouses, and images of fishermen along rocky piers. We won’t deny it: the ocean is an essential part of living on the East Coast. But further inland are hidden gems that offer welcome escapes from life on land – and, similar to the rocky coastline, make you feel like you could be a world away from home.
Our region’s rivers and lakes are lesser-known natural wonders, and luckily, you don’t have to own a boat to explore them from the water. Cruises in each state offer a fun experience for all ages, with many offering private charters as a unique option for parties and events. These are our favorite river cruises (and one lake cruise!) throughout New England.
Photos Courtesy of Essex River Cruises
Get a close-up view of a salt marsh within a protected bay as you learn about its value to the local ecosystem. This is what makes Essex River Cruises unique: having the opportunity to view local wildlife in their natural habitats, and ultimately, see the point where the river meets the ocean. It doesn’t hurt that the vessels are equipped with restrooms, Bose speakers, and a full bar. Special tours include Friday night Sundown Cruises with light narrative and beer, wine, and “Down River Punch”; Sunday Morning Coffee and Muffin Cruises; and Fall Foliage Cider & Donut Cruises, which showcase views of a dark spruce forest along Choate Island.
Travel back in time as you board this reproduction of a flat-bottom gundalow barge, viewing historic sites as you cruise along Portsmouth’s Piscataqua River. For public sails, passengers have the option of a 1.5-hour daytime tour or a two-hour sunset sail, and are encouraged to participate in raising the sail and steering the ship. But it’s worth clearing your schedule for Gundalow’s evening events: a Tuesday Speaker Series features lively discussions by experts on topics from science to maritime history, while Concert Cruises give passengers a front-row seat to performances by local musicians. In addition, the vessel serves as a “floating classroom,” providing educational programs for schools and other organizations.
Photos Courtesy of Slipaway River Tours
With three locations in Wethersfield, Glastonbury and Rocky Hill, Slipaway River Tours offers relaxing Connecticut River excursions for all ages. Ride along on a 30- or 60-minute narrated public tour, or choose one of their special cruises, such as a 90-minute Sunday serenity cruise or sunset tour on Wednesday evenings. Got kids? The pirate treasure hunt, a cruise from Rocky Hill Ferry Park on Thursday mornings, is fun for the whole family. Private charters are available for 16 passengers (12 preferred for dancing onboard), and guests are welcome to cruise to their own music as the crew points out sights along the way. A highlight of these tours is wildlife spotting: if you’re lucky, you might just see a bald eagle or two! Book your spot on the website and come Enjoy the Ride!
Right off the Naples Causeway, you’ll catch sight of the Songo River Queen II in all its glory — at 93 feet long, 23 feet wide, the Mississippi paddlewheeler replica is not to be missed. With room for 350 passengers, there is no need to pre-book for public tours, where you’ll learn all about Long Lake, pass local sites and view multi-million-dollar homes overlooking the water. Onboard there is plenty of seating, plus restrooms, a food court and even a cocktail bar. In addition to public tours and private charters, the vessel hosts concerts and other themed cruises that make for a fun night out on the water.
Photos Courtesy of Providence River Boat Company
Located in downtown Providence, there is a reason why Providence River Boat Company has earned multiple “best tour” awards in recent years. The 50-minute narrated daily tour — which explores the Providence River, the Riverwalk, Waterplace Park, the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier and the Providence Industrial Harbor — engages passengers in the city’s history from a new perspective, quite literally. The tour is BYOB, and through a partnership with local businesses, has a selection of charcuterie boxes and treats available for pre-order. However, the company’s specialty is its wide range of themed cruises, like haunted boat rides, architecture tours, vineyard tours with wine tastings, and WaterFire boat rides to view the city’s full and partial lightings from the water.
Originally designed in 1904, Whistling Man’s two traditional Friendship Sloops, Friend Ship and Wild Rose, are perfect for those seeking a one-of-a-kind, picturesque tour of Lake Champlain. These small tours can accommodate only 6-10 passengers, offering an intimate experience where guests are free to ask questions and learn about sailing from the captain and crew. There is no set course, making every trip unique: you may expect to see historic battle sites, sunken ships, islands and natural scenery along your journey. With intricate woodwork and bronze hardware, these ships make ideal venues for private events, and are available for two-hour private charters. Why not celebrate your engagement, anniversary or birthday on the water?