As a lover of Oktoberfest, cruising the Hudson, and leaf peeping, I’ve been curious about Circle Line’s Bear Mountain Cruise for several years now. Wary about how baby- or kid-friendly the trip was, I have simply been sadly sitting it out. But this year, we bit the bullet so that we could put them to the test and let our lovely readers know whether or not it’s a “ticket”, “skip it”, or “get a sitter”! The quick answer is, “It depends on the family”. Read on for my family’s experience and my tips for having a fabulous trip with your fam!
What is the timeline of the cruise?
Oktoberfest Bear Mountain Cruise runs Saturdays and Sundays from the end of September til the beginning of November (2016’s last cruise is Sunday, November 6). They recommend you get there to Pier 83 (42nd & 12th Ave in Manhattan) by 8:15AM to redeem your tickets (you really should purchase them online since most cruises sell out). Boarding is from 8:30AM and the boat leaves promptly at 9AM.
You cruise for 2.5 hours to Bear Mountain with really interesting narration about the city for the first half hour or so, and then the Oompa Band starts pumping out their festive music on the entry level floor, which is covered and the best level if you have a stroller. There are no elevators, and bathrooms are in the basement (no changing tables, and expect long lines for the ladies’), and the 2nd floor is quieter with both outdoor and indoor seating areas, as well as a premium seating area (middle photo in collage below).
Alcohol is offered from noon, which is about what time you arrive at the mountain. The boat stays at Bear Mountain for about 3 hours, and you can leave and return to the boat at any time while docked, and leaves when it’s time, no matter how many haven’t returned yet (our cruise had 19 people who hadn’t come back!!!). So, be careful!! You can expect to be back in NYC around 6PM.
What is the food and beverage situation?
They sell an Oktoberfest menu to eat on the boat, as well as sandwiches and typical snack bar items, and you can pre-order picnics to eat on the mountain. They don’t allow outside food or drinks, but we did run into several families who brought their own picnics for the mountain and didn’t have an issue. They have a full bar on the 1st and 2nd levels, with Warsteiner beer options such as all-you-can-drink mug or mix-and-match 5 bottles of beer bucket, both for $35.
On the mountain, there is a large beautiful picnic area by Hessian Lake if you bring your own food.
The Bear Mountain Inn has a few eating options, including a fabulous “Traditional Sunday Brunch” buffet ($34 for adults, $16 for ages 5-12, free for 4 and under), but you must make a reservation!! The Inn also has nice bathrooms with changing tables.
What is there to do on the boat?
I have to say, there’s not a whole lot of kid-friendly things to do, so you’ll definitely want to bring some amusements to keep your little ones entertained! The seats on the boat are not bolted down, which means you can move them around a bit to give yourself some space to squeeze your stroller in, or even to lay a blanket down for your kids to have a little play space (we saw one family doing this and thought it was brilliant!!). There are also a few outlets around so you can charge a tablet or phone if need be.
There is some open space near the band, and though it is the thoroughfare for people getting food and drinks and moving about the boat, several kids (including our own) were bopping joyously along to the music here, and we didn’t notice anyone getting annoyed by it - phew!
Most kids will also enjoy some time outside taking in the sights, just note it can be extremely breezy and the bow also got quite wet during our cruise.
What is there to do on Bear Mountain?
3 hours, or less if the boat gets delayed, goes extremely fast and I can’t emphasize enough that you need to be back with plenty of time to spare (knowing that getting from point A to point B with kids can take 3 times longer than expected!!). My family only had time for Brunch at the Inn, but the walk to and from is beautiful and great for leaf peeping en route! Other things to do include a Carousel, the Trailside Museums & Zoo ($1 suggested donation), 50 hiking trails (some paved, some not), and letting the kids run about near Hessian Lake.
Should I bring our stroller?
We brought our double stroller because including the 20 minute walk to our station, 1 hour subway ride, 20 minute walk from that station to the pier - and all in reverse after the cruise, it was going to be a 13 hour day for us and we couldn’t imagine handling that with a 3 year old and two 1 year olds and no stroller. Both piers and the boat handled our stroller just fine - they have ramps to get on and off and also some strong men to help if needed.
There’s a large open space at the entrance to the boat, and if you get there early you can get a seat there and have no problem keeping your stroller with you. If you get there later, and all the seats on the entry level floor are taken, don’t freak out… About 10 minutes into the cruise they’ll open up the bow and/or stern and most people will start to move about and you can easily grab some seats! Some people lugged their single strollers up to the top floor, which is possible as well.
If you can get by without a stroller, I recommend it, but it’s totally doable with a stroller. The paved trails leading from the pier to the mountain are steep, and might be slightly difficult for very new walkers or if pushing a heavy stroller or wheelchair, but manageable. One caveat is if there has been a recent heavy rain - there is a train underpass just after the pier that was 2-feet deep with water and impassable. The only other way to the mountain was up a very narrow dirt path and over the railroad. Our double stroller simply wouldn’t fit, but they allowed us to keep it on the boat and we continued on our way to the mountain lugging our littles in baby carriers instead.
So… is the Oktoberfest Bear Mountain Cruise Family-Friendly??
You betcha! I wouldn’t say it’s geared toward families, but there were plenty there having a great time, including me and my brood! My personal recommendation would be to leave the stroller at home or at least on the boat and have a ratio of at least 1 adult per child for the most fun and least stressful outing. It’s a great escape from the city and fun for all! Get more information about the Bear Mountain Cruise on Circle Line’s website.
Location: Pier 83 at 42nd Street and 12th Avenue in Manhattan.
Hours: Boards at 8:30AM, departs at 9AM and returns around 6PM on Saturdays and Sundays from late September through early November (September 24 - November 6, 2016).
Tickets: $65 for adults, $52 for ages 3-12, free for under 3.
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1), focusing on fun and honest product and travel reviews, saving moms time finding the best for their families! Find what you need in the menu bar or search section above!