Backpacking in the USA: Doing the The Circle Line Cruise in New York

Backpacking in the USA: Doing the The Circle Line Cruise in New York

Thinking again recently about my magical whirlwind world trip in 2007 made me realise that YES I was actually in New York!! I did a lot of sightseeing when I was there. A few weeks before I left the UK I asked some work colleagues for advice and ideas for my travels, and Lisa Brailsford (who sat beside me at Bite Communications) told me about the Circle Line boat cruise. A relaxing 3 hour cruise all the way round the island of Manhattan, New York, and its called the “circle line”, the same line that i often used to get on at Embankment Station on PR days and nights in London during the 2006 – 2007 busiest period of my life so far. At any rate, people in work were feeding me ideas, I was buzzing with enthusiasm and as I wrote these ideas down, it would only ever fall into place when I arrived at those major world cities I’d booked (Berlin, New York, Beijing, Auckland, Los Angeles and Moscow would all be included on my world trip)

On my second day in New York, I was alone and free on the afternoon, and walking down towards the harbour via Times Square. This is where I spoke to some random street PR guys and girls asking for ideas, and one of them had a voucher for the “Circle Line Cruise” but I would have to do the next sailing which was at 4 pm, I had 25 minutes to make it. The discount wasn’t much and it still cost 27 dollars for the trip, but with the sun beating down on my Northern Irish skin, a world of opportunity in front of me and my eager mind, I had to do it. In fact it was the same street PR people that gave me the free beer tokens for Mr. Biggs bar and for The Aces and Eights Saloon bar, which I would use later that week. It was very spontaneous actually, I hadn’t planned to do the Circle Line Cruise. It just happened. Life is fate and chance you know…

The walk to the Circle Line cruise was along 42nd street I think, and I felt somewhat overaud by the whole “New York appeal.” I wasn’t scared, but I was alone walking my way round the world without any friends. Despite being alone, I never felt lonely, or empty, or without people. Just inspired and sentimental. I’ll talk to anyone, they only listen if they find it interesting or useful to their lives. It was a fantastic experience to do this alone, next time hopefully I find someone to go with me. If there ever is a next time, and if there ever is a someone. The day I did the Circle Line Cruise I wore dark blue jeans and a 2003 Glentoran top. I never forget my football roots from Northern Ireland. And nobody would have known who on earth “Glentoran Football Club” were, never mind why a blond haired Ulsterman was dandering nonchalantly along these busy buried streets just to get a boat round an island. Who cares? I was having fun, and finally I arrived at Pier 83 on 42nd Street by the beautiful Hudson River. Little Jonny Blair was about to embark on a boat cruise.

I got the timings slightly wrong and ended up on the 4.30 pm sailing where I joined the queue after collecting my ticket from a different queue, paying another dollar for a bottle of water (trust me it was needed!!) and then paying 3 dollars for a crazy foam green hat! That hat was excellent, and looked like the spiky part of the lady who is the statue of liberty. I thought I could take it round the world with me, and later wear it to Northern Ireland matches in my zany little world of being an eejit of a football fan. I put the hat on, and caused some discussion in the queue!! Strange really, I was just another tourist like everybody else. For some reason I stood out. “I stand out from the crowd because I stand out from the crowd.” A gentleman took a photo of me against the river, and New Jersey in the background behind the port and boats from Manhattan. The same gentleman asked me “hey man, what sport is that top from?” “Its one of Belfast’s finest football teams, Glentoran”, I replied. Or it was “soccer” to him, but he eventually understood. The people that organised the cruise also take photos of everyone on the way onto the boat, and they later charge ridiculous prices to buy them in a frame. I cut the costs as a traveller by getting other people to take decent photos of me in similar positions. Easy tip to save money. Some people are big big suckers to souvenirs. I used to be, but have wised up a bit over the years.

So I was on the 4.30 pm sailing that day, which would arrive back at 7.30 pm to the same place, after circling the whole island. There was a bar/shop on board the little cruise boat and it was packed that day, hardly surprising as the sun was beating down, it was July peak season and the blue blue sky welcomed smiles from all around. It was a perfect day to do the cruise. I found myself a seat by the edge of the boat and at the back, next to a French couple, who I conversed with. They took most of the photos of me, and me of them. We chatted at the start as the boat left the Manhattan island and suddenly we were in the middle of the Hudson River, where our host, Malachy Murray came onto the microphone and introduced himself as our tour guide for the day. He was a born and bred New Yorker, very very clear in speech and very very intelligent. His guide was already intriguing me, as he threw facts and quotes into the trip. I love facts and I love quotes myself. I wrote a lot of notes on the boat cruise, and I recall one of his early quotes as “you are who you make people believe you are.” I liked that, even if it denies a bit of honesty from the person in question.

Another of Malachy’s quotes was “80% of us never realise our own genius in life”, another nice touch as we sailed past the former World Trade Center. Not scared of shying away from September 11th 2001, Malachy pointed the entire boat into the lower Manhattan skyline, where the most noticeable gap made it glaringly obvious where the “twin towers” once stood. A gaping whole of terrorism and a moment to think, ponder and savour. What a wonderful life we have and should cherish with people we like and enjoy, because in ANY unknown or unpredicted instant, it could go and we could die. Being in New York definitely enhanced my passion for living and indeed re-ignited my old catchphrase “Don’t Stop Living. Life’s better that way.” I don’t want to waste time with anything or anyone, we simply don’t have time to waste. Let’s do it all now! And I was. Soon we were sailing past Liberty Island where I donned my ridiculous green spiky hat for a photo in front of The Statue of Liberty itself!

I was a traveller on a budget, so to get the ferry cruise round the island and be that close to the Statue of Liberty was enough for me. I couldn’t justify spending even more money to go to the island itself. I took myself another obvious moment of pride though, displaying my Northern Ireland fleg against the statue for a photo, where I also took time to explain the cultural, religious and historical differences between my beautiful Northern Ireland and the foreign soils of the Republic of Ireland to the earful French couple. They also gave me some ideas on Paris, where I would visit the next month, when I returned to Europe via Oceania and Asia. People will forever inspire me, and in an almost arrogant way I hope I can help inspire some people. So I saw the statue of liberty. I thought of those songs which mentioned the statue, mainly an old Simon and Garfunkel song called “American Tune”, where they imagined the Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea…but also a little known Manic Street Preachers song called “Enola/Alone”, taken from their 1996 album “Everything Must Go”. I always remembered that lyric “the statue of liberty looks so solemn on my TV.” Lyricist Nicky Wire hadn’t even left the house to think that up…

It was a present from the French, this statue, as the French couple reminded me. As the cruise went on we passed yet more islands, including Staten Island (which has a free ferry to it, and is included in a previous blog post I did on the White Stripes tour to Staten Island – that was another fantastic New York moment from my amazing time there). There, Malachy Murray our host pointed out the Baseball ground, the bird sanctuary and Icon Stadium (where once famous footballers George Best and Pele played). This was all to our right, as was New Jersey in the background. I had met two New Jersey Girls in 1996, when my parents took our family to America. They inspired me to write a song about them and I hummed it to myself before our eyes were cast back to Lower Manhattan for the pointing out of Wall Street, the busy New York banking districts and the upcoming Brooklyn Bridge. A fantastic city and by being on a boat gives it an extra dimension and another way to view it all. It looked amazing and we went under the Brooklyn Bridge. Malachy announced that all travellers should walk along the bridge at some point as its free. I remembered this, and later that week went there with two friends from the hostel. He also kept giving out facts such as:
1. Manhattan translated means “island of prosperity.”
2. Ex US President Thomas Jefferson invented the coathanger!
3. Ex US President George Washington is on the back of a $1 dollar note.
4. Manhattan is only 22 square miles of madness and is the smallest county in the USA.
5. On a typical day there are 3 million people on the island of Manhattan. Only 1.5 million live there, the other 1.5 million are visitors that day.
6. In 1931, the Empire State Building was the tallest in the world, and was unoccupied at the start, being jokingly referred to as the “empty state building.”
7. Pier 54 is reckoned to be haunted, and no boats ever dock there. The ill fated Belfast built Titanic was due to dock there.
8. New York has the world’s TWO largest China Towns!
9. Brooklyn Bridge took 20 years to build and over 100 people died during its construction.
(PLUS many many more quotes and anecdotes!!)

Soon we went under the Brooklyn Bridge and could see the Chrysler Tower and Empire State Building from the other side, as well as the Rockafeller centre (where the famous Christmas tree is every December). There were more and more stories coming from Malachy Murray. We saw an old prison on another island on the right hand side, the are of Brooklyn and later the river split until we got to The Bronx, a dodgy area of New York where the world’s most famous Baseball team, the New York Yankees have thie Yankee Stadium. Further up, the river got wider and wider and we went under a few more bridges. Washington Bridge was one of them, and another bridge had a guard who had to open the bridge up in order for the boat to fit in underneath it. The sun was still hot and I was drinking a lot of water. I also had some snacks with me (my usual type, sandwiches, bananas, nuts and a big muffin I had bought earlier!). It was peaceful and relaxing. The river on the other side of Manhattan is actually called the “East River” and we sailed up and back round via more stories from the New York archive from Malachy. Malachy also used this time to (reasonably) promote his book, Unique New York. Certainly this guide could talk, he had wisdom and stories and he knew every nook and cranny of his home city. I later read parts of his book in a bookshop, but didn’t buy it.

It wasn’t long on this dreamy day till we docked back, having encircled the entire island, and I had learned a host of new things, been yet more inspired and was looking forward to FIVE more days to explore New York, on my own. Though that night I went to the World Trade Centre Site on my own and later met up with Argentinian Juan Costantini for beers. I met Juan in the hostel. We enjoyed a beer in the trendy piano bar. Cleopatra’s Needle before I was given great hospitality and free beer because I wore a Northern Ireland shirt into the “Parlour” Irish Bar. I would definitely recommend the Circle Line Cruise on a hot sunny day for a relaxed and knowledge enhancing tour of New York. Of course its 30 dollars and not cheap, but like many things in life. Do it. And worry about the costs later! Take some food and drink with you, make notes, take photos and enjoy the views. It will take your breath away. I was in love with life once again…

What is it? – The New York Circle Line Cruise which takes you the whole way round the island of Manhattan with a guided tour (in English)

Who does it? –
(all the information on there)

Which person takes it? – Malachy Murray, an author and a really nice guy

Malachy Murray’s website/blog –
(I also added him on MySpace and Facebook and received a message from him)

Buy Malachy Murray’s Book, Unique New York –

How much is it? – About 30 dollars

Where does it leave from? – Pier 83, 42nd Street

When was I there? – July 2007

Me passing Twin Towers on the Circle Line Cruise, July 2007:

Me passing the Statue of Liberty from the Circle Line Cruise, July 2007:

Me crossing the Brooklyn Bridge:

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