Summer is a time for baseball games, stadium concerts and playing hooky from work. But it is also the season of the booze cruise, a glorious sun-soaked tradition that everyone from big city dwellers to small town locals looks forward to all year long. And while most major cities has their fair share of cruises offering the typical after-work or date night sunsets and cocktails, some stand head and shoulders above the rest. So bust out your finest captain’s dress and head for the high seas with our roundup of the five best booze cruises in America.
New York, New York
With its own fleet of floating concert venues and a packed slate of bands performing all summer long, a Rocks Off Concert Cruise in NYC is something you have to experience at least once in your life. This summer, guests will see acts ranging from the Grateful Dead and Springsteen cover bands to funk acts like Dirty Dozen Brass Band and veteran NYC punks Murphy’s Law on multi-level boats featuring fully stocked bars and outdoor decks that allow smoking. Whether the band is playing on the floating nightclub-style 100-capacity Lucile, the tri-level old timey Paddlewheel Queen or the massive 500-capacity Princess, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time with killer skyline views and plenty of secret spots for whatever floats your boat (pun intended). But just in case things get a little too hairy or you end up hating the band too much to stick with it for the full three hours, there is an escape hatch in the form of dinghies that depart the boats every hour.
Chicago is known as a serious booze cruise town in summer, so much so that there is an entire fleet of floating tiki bar boats that you can rent out to host your own rager on the Chicago River. Most Island Party Hut boats are equipped with their own built-in waterslide, creating the perfect playground for a few buddies on the 43-foot Havana or everyone you know packed onto the 90-person capacity Island Time. If you’d rather not rent your own, sign up for their 75-minute Floating Tiki Bar cruises and gawk at the gorgeous architecture along the river as you sip cocktails while listening to island music. Afterward, keep the vibe alive with live bands, slow smoked pulled pork and games like bocce ball and corn hole at the Island Party Hut dock right on the newly renovated Chicago Riverwalk.
Marina del Rey, California
For an iconic view of that picture-perfect Los Angeles sunset, get off the 405 and onto Hornblower’s Summer Sunset Cocktail Cruise, departing from Marina del Rey Wednesdays and Thursdays through September. The relaxing two-hour harbor cruises feature appetizers and chill background music, plus a massive drink menu offering everything from PBR and craft cocktails to chocolate chip dessert drinks and bottles of Dom Perignon. Wednesday cruises coincide with races held between various Marina del Rey yacht clubs, which creates the perfect opportunity to snap that Instagram-worthy sunset picture with plenty of gorgeous sailboats in full view. Like the best sun-soaked California experiences, it’s about as chill as a stroll through the Venice canals. Unless, of course, you drink too many El Capitan cocktails. Which has been known to happen.
You wouldn’t think it at first glance, but our nation’s capital can more than hold its own as far the booze cruise game is concerned. The most infamous of the bunch is the fire engine-red Boomerang Pirate Ship, a custom-designed 54-foot party barge decked out with water cannons and a DJ booth that cruises the Potomac River and holds up to 90 people. Whether or not you decide to dress up like a pirate (and plenty of people have been known to), this two-hour cruise departing from the Georgetown waterfront can be counted on for warm summer breezes as you cruise past the historic D.C. sights and take in the iconic cityscape under the moonlight. There is, of course, plenty of booze and a busy dance floor on this bi-level pirate ship.
If you’ve ever been on a booze cruise and thought to yourself, “this is fun and everything, but I wish there was a driving range on board,” you’re in luck. Docked off the shores of the popular Guanabanas waterfront restaurant situated along the Florida Intracoastal in Jupiter, Pontiki’s party boats can be rented by the hour as you wait for your table. Each boat comes with a captain so you can focus on the partying instead of the driving. Choose between The Charlie, which has a rooftop driving range, or The Big Bamboo with a putting green in front so you can work on your short game in between beer curls. With the option of either buying beer and wine on board or bringing your own alcohol and food, each vessel also comes with its own waterslide and floating mats so you can drink next to the boat like a drunken manatee.
Jay Gentile is a world traveler and freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications includingSPIN, VICE, Chicago Tribune, Thrillist and Consequence of Sound.