The loudest spot in Bear Mountain State Park on a fall weekend isn't in front of the polka band blasting out indecipherable German tunes or among the revelers struggling to hoist their souvenir steins.
Down below the Oktoberfest fun last Saturday, on the park's Hudson River dock, a leisure cruise full of tipsy day trippers were screaming at stragglers, cheering them on as they ran to catch the Circle Line departure back to Manhattan. Miss this boat, which departs every Saturday afternoon at exactly 3 p.m., and it's a long cab ride followed by a long train ride back to the City; hardly a pleasant end to a day filled with sightseeing and beer. Lots and lots of beer.
Framed as leaf peeping trips, the weekend excursions are a relative departure from Circle Line's usual fare of New York Harbor cruises and "The Beast," a ride on a high-powered speedboat -- though the company has offered the seasonal trip since the early '90s. The all-day trip departs 42nd street at 9 a.m. and doesn't return until almost 6 p.m.
While my trip up the Hudson was too early in the season to catch any real fall color, there was still booze...flushed cheeks would have to do.
Before the cruise, I noticed passengers somewhat surreptitiously loading up soda bottles with liquor on the dock and we'd barely set off before the bar started doing brisk business in bottled and draft lager. Not that it should've come as a surprise: Our destination was Bear Mountain's annual Oktoberfest, where drinking was the entire agenda.
As we chugged up the Hudson under steely grey clouds, a cruise director narrated the sights in Manhattan and the Bronx, setting down the microphone as we progressed further north. (The din of the already tipsy passengers provided the soundtrack north of the Tappan Zee.)
After tying up at the dock, just south of the Bear Mountain Bridge, we were set free to explore. Even here, 50 miles north of New York, leaves were still brilliant green, though of course that will change in the coming weeks. While the Oktoberfest offered good food, great beer and the aforementioned live music, it didn't strike me as particularly special. More interesting was the Park itself, a vast tract established 102 years ago that stands as a monument to the era of Frederick Law Olmsted and large-scale public parks.
A few minutes before our 3 o'clock departure, cheers went up as latecomers dashed to the ship. We almost certainly left behind some of our Oktoberfest comrades, though it was impossible to tell as we sailed off whether people were waving for us to wait or simply bidding us bon voyage.
As we ran down the Hudson, the sun finally broke through the clouds. Groups of friends burst into song on the upper open-air deck, the strains of "Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, Bay-Beeee!" overpowering the din of the engines. The cash bar was still open, but even the hardest of partiers seemed to be sputtering by this late in the afternoon.
Pulling up to Pier 83, those of us not taking disco naps got a great glimpse of the Concorde, on display at the nearby Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum -- and a symbol of a much different era of travel than the one we were recalling on our leisurely paced cruise. In its day, the Concorde would fly from New York to London at Mach 2, making the trip to Europe in roughly the same span of time that it took us to sail home from Bear Mountain.
We slowly stepped off the boat, back into the swarm of Midtown Manhattan.