8 Fall-Foliage Cruises
As the masses descend on America's most colorful country roads this season, why not try an alternate route? Autumn's gold-and-yellow leaf show is just as breathtaking from the deck of a boat—and fantastically free of those distracting red taillights.
Casco Bay, Maine
Operating out of South Freeport, Maine—home to the L.L. Bean flagship store—Atlantic Seal Cruises offers passengers the chance to see more than just the changing maple trees. On the nearly three-hour-long outings through Casco Bay, passengers often spot cruisers often spot photo-worthy wildlife like seals basking on the shore, and the crew occasionally hauls up lobster traps along the route to demonstrate how to measure and band the tasty crustaceans. atlanticsealcruises.com, Sept. 15–Oct. 31, $35.
Timing Tip: Check up on how the leaves are changing at the state's official fall foliage site, which starts publishing reports Sept. 15.
Atlantic Ocean, New England and Canada
Talk about making a splash. With 12 departures this fall, MSC Cruises' full-scale ocean voyages cover some of North America's most spectacular leaf-peeping territory. For it's inaugural stateside season, the Europe-based company is sending the 2,550-passenger MSC Poesia between New York and Quebec, with ports of call at Prince Edward Island; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Newport, R.I.; Boston; and Bar Harbor, Maine, to name a few. Not quite ready to kiss warm weather good-bye? MSC's October 23 cruise, Autumn Leaves to Palm Trees, drops travelers at Fort Lauderdale for one last beach fling. atlanticsealcruises.com, select departures in Sept. and Oct., from $599 (price is for a six-night cruise and includes meals). msccruises-us.com.
Timing Tip: For updates on foliage around New England, visit Yankee Magazine's fall foliage chronicles.
Hudson River, N.Y.
Times Square, the Empire State Building¿world-class fall foliage? One of the Big Apple's best-kept secrets comes to life each year north of Manhattan. Circle Line Downtown's five-hour cruises depart from the city's South Street Seaport select Saturdays at 11a.m., bound for the Hudson River Valley, where they sail past a handful of well-groomed state parks and historic small towns like Sleepy Hollow. With an open sundeck and two enclosed lower decks, there's plenty to do on board: continental breakfast and lunch, a complimentary wine tasting, and college football games broadcast on satellite TV. But once the boat passes Bear Mountain Bridge, all eyes turn to the banks. Watching the pops of red, burnt orange, and yellow on either side of the 400-passenger catamaran, you'll feel like New York City is worlds away. Book and arrive early—there's no reserved seating. circlelinedowntown.com, Saturdays Oct. 23–Nov. 6, $120 (includes meals).
Connecticut River, Conn.
It's only been operating for about 40 years, but the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat package transports passengers straight back to the 19th century. After boarding a vintage railcar at the 1892 Essex Station in Essex, Conn., riders sip warm apple cider as the coal-powered train chugs up to Deep River Landing, about four miles north. There, the three-level, 220-passenger Becky Thatcher riverboat waits to take sightseers on a 90-minute cruise from Deep River to East Haddam, providing a spectacular survey of birch, dogwood, sumac, and maple trees—plus the state's trademark white oaks—along the way. Reserve tickets ahead for weekend trips, which often sell out; typically, colors are at their peak for two to three weeks following Columbus Day (this year that means October 8 to 24). essexsteamtrain.com, Thursdays through Mondays Sept. 30–Oct. 25, $26.
Timing Tip: Before the "all-aboard!" peruse the state's foliage reports.
Tennessee River, Ala.
What other afternoon cruise claims a hospitality director as part of its crew? On the Pickwick Belle, that's just one part of its old-school Southern charm. Other genteel touches on the old-fashioned, 149-passenger paddlewheeler: plenty of upper-deck benches for relaxing through a 90-minute ride, and lunches in the lower dining room for longer trips. Bonus¿the state's warmer climate means the trees (mainly poplar, dogwood, maple and hickory) don't hit peak color until late October, so you have more time to plan your departure. Cruises depart from Florence Harbor Marina in Alabama or Pickwick Landing State Park in Tennessee. pickwickbelle.com, select Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday departures starting Oct. 9, $22.
Timing Tip: Check out the Alabama Tourism Department's official website for more details on foliage.