The Essex Steam Train & Riverboat offers Friday and Saturday Night Sunset Cruises aboard the Becky Thatcher — a lovely ride down the Connecticut River from the boat’s dock in Deep River to the Baldwin Bridge and back again. The experience includes a 15-minute diesel engine train ride to and from the train station in Essex to the boat in Deep River; a 2-hour cruise on the river, and 360-degree views of some of Connecticut’s prettiest countryside. Food and beverages are available for purchase at the Becky Thatcher’s Snack Bar.
- Board the train at Essex Station at 6:00 p.m. for a 6:15 p.m. departure
- 2-hour cruise down the Connecticut River aboard the Becky Thatcher riverboat
- Train brings you back to Essex Station approximately 9:00 pm
- Food and beverage service are available at the fully stocked bar
(Due to our liquor permit, no BYOB permitted)
- Due to the time of day and duration of the cruise, the Sunset Cruise is not recommended for children under 10
- Tickets are $30.00, advanced tickets recommended
NEW FOR 2017 – Friday Night Live Music on the Riverboat scheduled for June 23, July 28 and August 25.
Sunset Cruise on the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat inspires new adventures
By Renee Martin
As we drove across the tracks and into the parking lot at Essex Station, Roger’s expression brightened for the first time since we’d landed in Connecticut. My husband was apprehensive about leaving his buddies back in Chicago, but a new job opportunity was something I couldn’t pass up—plus, his best friend was already excited to visit.
“OK, this is a cool surprise,” he admitted, as we picked up the tickets I’d reserved for Essex Steam Train and Riverboat’s Saturday Night Sunset Cruise. So far, so good.
Boarding the Vintage Train
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat preserves two historic forms of transportation in the Connecticut River Valley. Valley Railroad Company has operated these tourist excursions out of Essex since 1971, but the company actually traces its origins to 1868, when a rail line linking Hartford and Saybrook Point was first envisioned. Visitors can choose daytime sightseeing trips, dinner train adventures and even holiday-themed train rides. Friday Night Sunset Cruises appeal to work-weary grown-ups ready to unwind.
Early evening sunlight glinted off the vintage diesel locomotive poised to take us away from the 21st century to a time when travel’s slower pace gave passengers time to reflect and to converse from the heart. As I glanced at other couples in the crowd waiting to board, I wondered if any of them were struggling to find common ground like Roger and me. I never dreamed we’d leave Chicago, either, but being recruited for a documentary producer position at ESPN is the fulfillment of my career aspirations. The dream. Could I convince Roger we should uproot our family? I needed to appeal to his boyish sense of adventure.
Roger was all smiles as we settled into a comfy bench seat by an open window in the 1920s-era Pullman coach car. The warmth of his arm around me, the reviving breeze, the slow-motion parade of scenery—backyards and woodlands and billowing marsh—melted my angst. We caught glimpses of small town life in Connecticut and of the state’s rugged side, too, as we rattled past glacial rocks and tangles of wild grapes. A symphony surrounded us: The choo-choo of the train whistle and clang-clang at road crossings and the squeakedy-squeak of this long-serving passenger car made me think of all those who had ridden these tracks since the Connecticut Valley Railroad opened in 1871. Surely, many had faced more difficult decisions than ours.
Cruising the River
In 15 minutes, we had departed the Essex Steam Train and were at the dock in Deep River, where the Becky Thatcher, a Mississippi-style riverboat, was waiting. We chose railing-side seats on the second deck, and as soon as she rumbled to life, Roger winked and asked, “Can I get you something from the bar downstairs, Ms. Hotshot Producer?” I laughed and answered, “Your turn to surprise me!” He was back in a flash with pulled pork nachos and two glasses of wine. Captain Paul was pointing out strutting egrets and mated white swans with their cygnets as we navigated into the Connecticut River’s main channel.
With soft, recorded music playing and the captain’s occasional narration, we were content just to absorb the wonders of this perfect night. Being on the water always fuels my optimism. As we journeyed south toward Old Saybrook, the town where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound, we passed stately homes and Native American landmarks, yacht clubs and old ferry crossing sites. I snapped photos as we glided along.
The Becky Thatcher rocked gently in the wake of boats we encountered, and it seemed as though every Jet Ski rider, fisherman and motorboat driver was an ambassador for Connecticut. “Did you pay all of these boaters to wave and make this seem like the world’s most welcoming place?” Roger joked. I could tell from the teasing glint in his eyes, his stance was softening. My plan was working.
I wasn’t surprised when the man I love pulled out the notebook he always keeps handy, as Captain Paul described a phenomenon that occurs on the lower Connecticut River at twilight each night in the fall. Roger is a freelance tech writer by day, an aspiring novelist by night. His ability to work from anywhere is one of my best bargaining chips. I listen intently, too, trying to imagine what it’s like on September and October Friday eves, when the Becky Thatcher is the ideal vantage point for observing nearly a half-million tree swallows, as they converge in a tornado at dusk, then drop from the sky to roost on a reedy island for the night.
I was thrilled I had my telephoto lens when a bald eagle family’s nest came into view. These majestic birds are free to call anywhere “home.” They chose Connecticut. Emboldened by that thought, I reached for my sweetie’s hand and said, “Let’s go up to the top deck.” The boat had pivoted north. The sun was setting. It was time for “the talk.”
A New Chapter
River and sky were turning the inkiest blue. Golden ripples glittered, as the sun dipped behind rolling hills. And before I could begin my hard sell, Roger pulled me into his arms, touched his forehead to mine and whispered, “I am so excited for the opportunity ahead of you. You’ve talked about this dream for as long as I’ve known you, and I can’t wait to see how my dreams evolve here, too.”
Back on the train, the subtle sway of the smooth seat against my back felt like a complimentary massage. Could it possibly have been this easy to convince my guy to give up city life? It occurred to me to ask, “What were you scribbling in your notebook?”
I’ll never forget his grin. “The turning point of my novel,” he said. “It all came to me when I envisioned that funnel cloud of birds.” Just then, a flicker outside the window caught our eyes. “I haven’t seen fireflies since I was nine! I can’t wait for the kids to see them,” Roger said. Boyish sense of adventure, accomplished.
“Welcome home,” I whispered, as we pulled slowly into the station.
Find more great adventures at CTvisit.com