The coziest place to drink hot cocoa this winter is on a holiday cruise around Manhattan

Take in stunning views of the New York City skyline during sunset on Classic Harbor Line's Holiday Cocoa Cruise. (Photo: Emily Faber, Sinclair Broadcast Group)

NEW YORK CITY (SBG) — The sky was a murky shade of gray when I stepped on board the Manhattan II, but as I located my assigned booth, I wasn't particularly concerned about whether or not that evening's sunset would be the most gorgeous I'd ever seen. While the sunset will always be part of the draw of taking a sunset cruise, the main attraction of my Sunday afternoon cruise was the boat itself, a 1920s-inspired yacht adorned with holiday wreaths, twinkling Christmas lights, and ornaments dangling from the beams above. Poinsettias added a touch of red to each table, and the green cushioned booths, while not exclusive to Classic Harbor Line's holiday cruises, matched the colors of the season perfectly. For those seeking a way to get into the Christmas spirit ahead of the Dec. 25 holiday, this cruise would certainly do the trick.

And no matter what colors the sky turned that evening, the merry vessel would be taking us on a journey around the Lower Manhattan coastline with views of One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Having lived in New York for nearly a decade, I was no stranger to these iconic landmarks, but viewing them from the vantage point of the water while bundled up in a comfortable booth was going to be a brand-new experience for me. So even as I watched the sun begin to disappear behind a cloudy sky, I didn't feel as though my time on the boat was lacking in any way.

But as we approached the Brooklyn Bridge, the midway point of our voyage, the interior of the boat started to take on a stunning shade of pink, adding an ethereal softness to the holiday vibes within. Several of the guests brave enough to face the windy weather hurried from their seats to the outdoor deck, a portion of the yacht that had thus far remained relatively unused that December afternoon, with the exception of our visit to the Statue of Liberty. It soon became exceptionally clear that we were going to get an actual sunset after all, not just a gray sky gradually growing darker. The boat cut through the East River's purple-tinted water, while pastel colors bounced off of the reflective windows of skyscrapers towering above us.

Even for those who remained seated indoors, the changing colors of the early evening sky provided a dazzling show as they mingled with the boat's Christmas lights to illuminate the faces of the passengers in shades of pink, purple, and orange. The Manhattan II's walls are nearly all windows, so the views were equally spectacular from each of the pre-assigned tables. The boat's route from the west side of the Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge and then back the same way afforded both sides of the yacht with comparably breathtaking views.

Although Classic Harbor Line is regrettably unable to control the weather to guarantee remarkable sunsets, the sightseeing company will ensure that every other aspect of your journey exceeds your expectations, from the moment you arrive until you disembark. Upon checking in at the Chelsea Piers ticket booth, you'll receive your table assignment; boarding begins about five to 10 minutes prior to the boat's departure time. Stepping into one of Classic Harbor Line's 1920s-style yachts this time of year will immediately put you into a festive mood, and even with several of the windows cracked as a coronavirus-related precaution, you'll find that you're much cozier than you might have expected out on the water.

In addition to the sunset trips, Classic Harbor Line also offers holiday cruises in the morning, earlier in the afternoon, and later in the evening. Depending on the route, cruises last anywhere from 90 minutes to just shy of three hours; the longest option fully circumnavigates the island of Manhattan to give guests a comprehensive look at the city's skyline. Each appropriately named "Holiday Cocoa Cruise" includes a complimentary beverage, and the house-made hot cocoa is an obvious choice. You can spike it with amaro for an extra dose of warmth, but if you're more in the mood for beer or wine, the menu has you covered.

As Classic Harbor Line is taking all of the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of guests and the crew and to comply with New York State laws, all beverages must be consumed outdoors as of Dec. 14. The safety measures begin prior to boarding with a contactless temperature check and a health questionnaire, and phone numbers are collected for contact tracing purposes. Once onboard the vessel, masks are to be worn at all times, except when taking a sip of your drink on the outdoor deck. A 25% occupancy limit is in place, and the private tables give each party plenty of space. In addition, plexiglass barriers are placed between each table, and hand sanitizer is readily available. During my sunset cruise, it was evident that the crew took these policies seriously, as they gently reminded guests of the rules throughout the journey.

If you're seeking some extra holiday cheer to help you celebrate Christmas during a pandemic, the holiday cruises with Classic Harbor Line are not to be missed. Reservations for your excursion can be made online, and rates vary depending on the particular voyage that you choose and your group size. The Sunset & Holiday Cocoa Cruise is $86 per person for groups of 2 to 3 adults and $62 per person for parties of four or more. The holiday cruises run through Dec. 30, reserving the final day of the year for two special New Year's Eve cruises for those looking to end 2020 on a high note. The New Year's Eve cruises include a wine and cheese tasting; the boat will stop at three different locations along the way to allow for guests to bask in the views while enjoying the inhouse wine and cheese expert's selections in the warmest possible outdoor conditions.

Can't make it this holiday season? You can hop aboard year-round with one of Classic Harbor Line's other trips. In the past, there have been Fourth of July cruises, fall foliage cruises, and even a Pride cruise benefiting the transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming youth programs of the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Check out their event calendar to see what's available at any given time of the year.

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