Despite the rain blowing back in our faces, it’s still a nice view of the Hudson River as we cruise south on it, gazing off the upper deck of the Rip Van Winkle out of Kingston. “You just have to have a good spirit about it,” says Sandy Henne, who has owned and operated the 300-passenger vessel since 1986, and a smaller excursion boat in Kingston before that (before there was even a dock at the waterfront, she says).
I don’t need much convincing, because I don’t really mind the rain. Maybe it’s a quirk of character, but I’ve always liked the moody drama of being on the water under gray skies. Apparently I’m not alone in this, because Henne says that the weather doesn’t play as big a part in how crowded the ship gets as one might think. “There are sunny days when things are quiet around here, and rainy days when we have a crowd.”
During the height of the summer season, from mid-July through the end of August, the Rip Van Winkle departs from the Rondout Landing twice a day, at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, for a two-hour narrated sightseeing excursion on the Hudson River. From August 28 through October 28, the ship makes one trip daily Tuesdays through Sundays, departing at 2:30 p.m.
Cruises are subject to cancellation due to private charters, so even though you can buy your tickets an hour before departure at a booth on the dock, calling ahead is advised. Tickets cost $21 for adults, $19 for seniors and $13 for children ages 4 to 11. Kids younger than 4 ride for free, and there are discounts available for groups.
The cruise is a leisurely one-hour-out/one-hour-back journey on smooth waters past lighthouses and historic mansions, with clear narration by the captain of the ship adding background to what one sees. Two lighthouses are observed from a clear vantage point on the water: the 1837 Rondout Lighthouse, still working and fully automated, and further out, the wooden 1871 Esopus Meadows Lighthouse.
Along the shores are views of luxurious mansions dating back to the era of the moneyed gentry who came up to the Hudson Valley to build their great estates. Among the manor houses seen are Wyndcliff, Dinsmore, Wilderstein and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Some of the properties are more visible than others, given the nature of the landscape growing around them; but even so, it’s a unique viewpoint to see these estates from the water, as we cruise gently past them.
One of the properties, Rosemont, belonged to a former chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Alton Brooks Parker, who prior to that practiced law in Kingston and later ran as the Democratic candidate against Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 – the only presidential candidate ever from Ulster County, according to our guide. The original house there was known as the “Tank & Tummy” when it first opened as a tavern in 1740.
The Rip Van Winkle offers a variety of themed event cruises, including fall foliage tours, murder mystery cruises and a variety of party boats with live music and dancing. It also charters private excursions for every event that you can name, from weddings to memorial services.
Henne has recently added a water-taxi service to expand her business. The Lark, a 45-foot-long, 47-seat vessel, allows passengers to travel between Rhinecliff and Kingston for dining and shopping, and makes excursion trips out to the lighthouses. It runs between Rhinecliff and Kingston waterfronts Friday and Saturday evenings from 5 to 10 p.m. through September 2, with the water taxi leaving the Kingston side on the hour, the Rhinecliff side on the half-hour. Tickets cost $10 round-trip, cash only, and may be purchased on board. The Lark takes excursion trips out to the Rondout Lighthouse and the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse on alternating Saturdays through mid-October from 1 to 3 p.m. to dock and explore the lighthouses. Tickets for those trips cost $12 round-trip per person, cash only. For more information, call (800) 843-7472, or visit www.hrwatertaxi.com.
The Rip Van Winkle departs from the Rondout in Kingston at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays through August 26, and from August 28 to October 28, Tuesdays through Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $21 for adults, $19 for seniors and $13 for children ages 4 to 11. For information on murder-mystery-solving cruises, fall foliage tours and excursions with live music and dancing, visit www.hudsonrivercruises.com or call (800) 843-7472. The Lark water taxi runs between the Rhinecliff and Kingston waterfronts on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m. The cost is $10 round-trip, cash only. On alternate Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. excursion trips go to the Rondout Lighthouse and Esopus Meadows Lighthouse at $12 round-trip, cash only. For more information, call (800) 843-7472 or visit www.hrwatertaxi.com.