The approach to Manhattan from the open sea is a timeless, spectacular, almost sacred procession from the open ocean into the heart of the greatest city in the world. Even now, it has no equal as a thrilling, emotional tour de force. Truth be told, it has always exerted an amazing, hypnotic pull on generations of sea travellers for well over a century now.
For sure, most modern cruise ships now leave from convenient spots such as Cape Liberty, on the New Jersey side, and Red Hook over in Brooklyn. They have their advantages in terms of facilities and location.
But they do not have the unique, magical lore of that stately progress towards the west side of Manhattan. As dawn breaks, the rising sun glints almost shyly against the fantastic, shimmering forest of glass and steel that is Manhattan proper.
You can see traffic rushing along the length of Twelfth Avenue, looking like random strings of maddened insects. Car horns create cracks in the edifice of the still, silent air as you steal slowly upstream.
The new World Trade Centre is a vast, vaulting colossus that stands guard as you glide past Battery Park. Further on, the elegant, tapering spires of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings are timeless tributes to the age of Art Deco, an era that found its finest expression in the same, great ocean liners that used to dock at these same west side piers.
Off to port, the Statue Of Liberty provides an unmistakable welcome, just as she did for literally millions of people in the old days. History is etched into every inch of her tousled, copper green trousseau; on a warm spring day in April 1912, she waited patiently for the Titanic. She is waiting still.
In the early morning light, the water can look like a sea of polished glass. Tugs bumble fussily about around the flanks of your ship as she swings with slow, easy grace into the embrace of the west side piers; the same ones built for the Normandie and the Queen Mary back in the 1930’s. The traffic is louder now; the concrete canyons of midtown Manhattan almost close enough to touch.
Times change, and fads come and go with each new week. But the mere act of sailing into Manhattan is still pure, spine tingling theatre that never fails to move people on some quite deep, intangible level. And, unlike today’s fads and gimmicks, it never gets old.