My New York Obsession

The Summer Boat Journey That Makes the Season

The only thing better than the Rockaways is the Rockaway ferry.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

New York Summer™ can be hellacious. Long, sweaty commutes; broken ACs; accidental eye contact with a tourist, then having to tell them where Central Park is; and the scent of hot urine make up just a handful of very rational reasons to get the hell out of this blunderland. By the magic of it being an island (I know, I’m obsessed), you may think you don’t have to leave the city to leave the city, but you do. You feel me?

If you do, then you know I’m talking about the Rockaway ferry. Now hold on! I know what you’re thinking: Nikki, are you trying to tell me you’re pro Rockaway ferry? The same one that seems to always have ferry big problems? Yup, that’s my boo. Look, I’m not saying she’s perfect—nothing in this godforsaken city is, except maybe the Punderdome—but there are ways to make that beautiful mess work for you.

Rockaway Ferry
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Here are a few Nikki-tested, Nikki-approved™ tips:

  • It’s common sense to avoid peak hours, like we’ve been trained to by the MTA.
  • Download the very convenient NYC ferry app so you can buy and activate tickets on your phone and don’t have to wander around the pier looking for a vending machine.
  • Leaving from Manhattan? Get to Wall Street early to ensure you get a seat on the outside deck.
  • Pack—and apply!—sunscreen before you board, because you’ll be outside for around 45 minutes.
  • I repeat: Get a seat on the outside deck, because if you don’t, why are you even taking the ferry?

Follow those tips and I can safely guarantee the ferry to the Rockaways will be the best weekend commute in the city. When service was first announced back in 2016, I was skeptical. What do you mean my MetroCard doesn’t cover this? What am I even paying for? But sometimes you’re reminded just what you’re paying for, like on my 45-minute commute from Harlem to Wall Street two Saturdays ago—that one was bad and I’d love a refund. But the 45 minutes after that? Heaven.

On that fateful day, I was ready for my first ferry of the season, even though no one else I know was, so I went stag. It was 10:30 a.m. when I ran off the A train at Fulton, looked at the Pier 11 line through my fingers, and was relieved to find it was the shortest I’d ever seen it. I nabbed a roof deck seat on the 11 o’clock ferry without a problem. Off to a magical start, Nikki. Talk about summering!

Rockaway Ferry
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

The borough-to-borough cruise—the only kind of cruise I’ll ever take—was exactly as I remembered. Air ripe with scents of sunscreen and freshly cracked Bud Lights, murmurs of “What is that?” as we passed land (Governors Island) and “Oh, my God! Look at her!” (the Statue of Liberty), and the gentle bounce of the ferry atop the water, barreling toward the Rockaways but with a gentle whip into dock at Sunset Park for a second pickup. It’s usually at this stop when I think:

Rockaway Ferry
Photo by Sayaka Ueno
  1. Yeah, I can totally drive a boat—which was confirmed last summer in Vancouver when my girlfriend kinda made me. It’s too much of a story to get into, but TL;DR I’m an excellent driver from years of navigating New Jersey roads, which might as well be the outlaw sea.
  2. Yeah, I totally need a drink.

So I ask my seat neighbors—of course I trust them; we’ve already exchanged pleasantries and made allegiances should we crash—to watch my stuff while I shuffle to the bar. That’s right: There’s a bar on board! I told you this is the best commute in the city, and I wouldn’t lie to you because it’s maritime law, I assume.

Plastic cup of white wine in hand (I said I was from New Jersey), a fresh coat of sunscreen on my skin, and not a cloud in the sky: I’m ready to rock the rest of this cruise. I lean back in my seat; take a deep, cleansing breath of sea air (a deep, cleansing breath in New York—imagine!); and unclench my butthole for probably the first time in months. It’s not quiet, but I can silence my brain and just…sit. And watch. Watch the shoreline, the sky, the other passengers who could be anyone: new friends, old friends, floatation devices should this thing go down. But we’re all the same as this vessel passes under bridges and buzzes along Coney Island. Finally on a seatrain that isn’t breaking down between stations.

Rockaway Ferry
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

After (an estimated) 57 minutes of abiding maritime law, we pull into port at Beach Channel Drive and 108th Street in Queens, on the opposite side of the island from the beach. There’s a buzzing energy of land approaching and a collective sense of excitement about the day ahead, but as I disembark and trudge up the dock, part of me wonders if the best part of my day is floating behind me.

See, this trip isn’t about the destination at all. Sure, I’ll spend a couple hours at the beach, taking in those sights (beautiful people in swimsuits), sounds (N.Y. park rangers patrolling the boardwalk on ATVs), and tacos (I vow to get married at Rockaway Beach Surf Club). Rockaway Beach is great—Boardwalk Bagel is one of the best delis in the city—but it’s the ferry that rocks my water socks off.

Rockaway Ferry
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

I’ll go through the paces of soaking up some vitamin D, swimming in the calm ocean, and reading my one book a year, but I’m secretly biding my time until the return trip to the city. That ride is tied for the best part of my day, since it’s just after sunset and I’ve got another cup of wine while Lady Liberty wears her going-out crown, both of us beautifully, blissfully lit.

Nikki Palumbo is a writer and comedian in New York. She previously wrote about pun competition Punderdome for What Should We Do and tweets @nikkipalll.