Manhattan doesn't look real from the water. The spires and docks look as if they've been painted on as if for a movie backdrop. The urgent noise and the malodorous summer sidewalks fade away and all that's left is the lapping of water against the hull, and the surreal towers rising above the rock of Manhattan.
At least that's how it ought to be. Unfortunately, many of the harbor tour outfits in town offer nice views, but couple them with antsy crowds shoving to the rail, a constant droning commentary through decrepit PA systems, or worst of all.....dance music. Nothing ruins a trip on the water like a floating nightclub.
So go for Classic Harbor Line instead. Boats depart at all hours from Chelsea Piers and offer a more old fashioned way of seeing the nautical side of the city. The two schooners are a nice fit for 30 or so passengers, each with their own space to sit along the edge. The sunset sails include free beer, wine, and champagne. I really like their policy of offering unlimited drinks, but refusing to allow for overboard boozing. As their website states, the goal is to create a relaxed and refined experience. And once the engines cut and the sails take over the modern world slips away and it's just you, the water, the sunset, and the Statue of Liberty.