New in New York: A Bus Ride on the Hudson River
Until this week, tourists in Manhattan who wanted to go for a cruise on the Hudson River had to find the river first. Now, they can simply hail a boat in Times Square.
Librado Romero/The New York Times
Well, not a boat exactly. It’s more of an open-top bus that floats, and it spends more time lurching through Midtown traffic than rolling on the river.
But for now, it is the first and only amphibious sightseeing vehicle to call New York City home. The ungainly brown contraption, known as an AquaBus, is the first of what its owners hope will be a small fleet rolling and bobbing around the West Side of Midtown.
The operators of the Gray Line tour buses and the New York Waterway commuter ferries teamed up to devise a peculiar version of the amphibious tours that have become tourist staples in Boston, Washington and other cities. The service, which they are calling New York Splash Tours, was scheduled for a launch in early June, but it began quietly picking up passengers on Seventh Avenue near 47th Street a few days ago.
For $29 a ticket and less than an hour of their time, passengers can ride one of these hybrids on a minitour of Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen, interrupted by a sudden plunge into the Hudson and a brief cruise. On the water, the AquaBuses loop northward past the most commercial section of the riverfront, offering a view of the skyline and the George Washington Bridge, but only a faraway glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.
In the gray chill yesterday morning, the tour drew few takers. But Tom Lewis, the president of Gray Line New York, forecast in an interview that the hybrids would haul at least 250,000 passengers a year once the whole fleet was in operation.
Mr. Lewis said the company had had three of the AquaBuses custom-built at a small plant upstate and expected five more by the end of the year.
“This is New York City,” Mr. Lewis said. “The streets are filled with people that are looking for something unique to do.”
Amphibious tours have been operating for years in other cities, originally using reconditioned surplus military vehicles known as ducks. But those old floating troop carriers are too weak and unstable to operate in the Hudson’s powerful currents. The Coast Guard has been reluctant to approve their recreational use since one sank in an Arkansas lake in 1999, killing 13 people, said Eric Christensen, a commander with the Coast Guard in New York.
“We’ve been working with Waterway on this for a while to make sure that the vessels meet requirements for the Hudson River,” Commander Christensen said in an interview. He added that other aspiring operators had tested different breeds of amphibious vehicles, but that none had proved stable and powerful enough.
Arthur Imperatore Jr., the managing member of New York Splash Tours, said the AquaBuses were unusually buoyant because their double hulls were filled with foam.
“These vehicles are extremely safe,” Mr. Imperatore said. “There really is no comparison between what we are running and what some of the other operators are using.”
Bonnie Young, a tour guide who identified herself as Barnacle Bon, tossed the occasional “Avast!” into her patter as she pointed out the high- and lowlights along the route, including the spot on the Palisades in Weehawken where Aaron Burr dueled with Alexander Hamilton.
But the best part of the tour was definitely the plunge. The bus had pulled off the West Side Highway into a garage-size tent at the end of 38th Street lined with video screens and filled with speakers. A brief video simulated a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by Henry Hudson, ending with the bus being made to rock as it was virtually sideswiped by the Queen Mary. Seconds later it rolled down a ramp, its front end slapped the surface of the river, and the children aboard let out a collective yelp.
Graeme Clark, a visitor from Puerto Rico, rated the trip a pleasant surprise. “It wasn’t quite what I expected,” he said, “but then I really didn’t know what to expect.”
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