Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay - New York's Alexandria Bay and The Thousand Islands
Updated: Jul 7, 2019
Living in Central NY affords me a mecca of weekend getaways to choose from when I am in need a quick out of town experience. Being a lover of the outdoors, I can travel an hour or two in any direction to experience any excursion I am in the mood for. Heading west towards the Fingers Lakes, I can have a weekend sampling wine at a plethora of wineries along the lakes, where one enjoys not only a wonderful vintage, but a spectacular scenic view.
Heading south I can enjoy some majestic waterfalls and hiking in and around the gorges nature has carved out as playgrounds for our enjoyment.
Heading northeast brings me to one of my favorite happy places, the Adirondacks where kayaking, swimming, hiking, etc. fills your agenda from dawn to dusk in dozens of quaint little towns and villages.
Or if I'm in the mood for a faster pace. I can enjoy a weekend of big city life in the Big Apple by jumping on the train and heading into the concrete jungle where your senses are placed on overload.
But if you were to head north towards the Canadian Border you would hit the jackpot, where you can satisfy your mood for some salty air and water activities in and around the Thousand Islands. A favorite village and central hub for all your summer fun is Alexandria Bay, or as we commonly refer to it as Alex Bay or The Bay.
Nestled in the Thousand Islands along the St. Lawrence River, Alexandria Bay is a tiny community of less than 1,500 residents during most of the year. However, once the summer hits, it expands to almost 15,000 visitors who enjoy the boating, swimming, fishing (named one of the top 10 fishing destination in the country), scuba-diving (amongst several shipwrecks), golfing, shopping, and camping in the area. It was here that I escaped back in June of 2017 for a quick overnight trip with my friend.
Being a popular destination I knew I needed to book way in advance if I wanted to secure a room with the view I wanted overlooking the St. Lawrence River and Boldt Castle. I booked in February for a June stay and that way I was able to secure the room with the view I longed for. I highly recommend you do this as it does book up quickly for the best rooms at the best hotels.
There is nothing more soothing to me than sitting on the balcony in an evening/morning with a glass of wine, beer, or cup of java and listening to the water, the sea gulls, and the huge ships and barges, as they pass by signaling to each other. Ahhh....I feel the tension just melt away thinking about it again.
There are several ways to stay in Alex Bay, and their website is a great tool to find what suits your needs best. For me, all I needed was a room with a view so I chose The River Edge Resort, located right in the heart of the village.
A little on the pricey side, it's well worth the investment to be able to see the water and Boldt Castle at night right from your room balcony! Plus if you were to travel with a friend, as I did, you can split the cost of the room, making it so much more affordable.
Arriving in town early enough to enjoy a day of exploring, we checked in and grabbed lunch right at the hotel. Was very good and not too overpriced.
Shortly after settling in, we headed down to the docks, to catch the shuttle over to Heart Island, home of the breath taking Boldt Castle. To make the jaunt across the river, Uncle Sam's Boat Tours will shuttle you across, and is located right by the hotel, so purchasing our tickets was easy and convenient. If memory serves me, we actually were able to purchase both the shuttle over and the tour of the castle right at the dock and all together, for a very affordable price of less than $20. Not certain if they still offer that convenience (purchasing together), but if not it will be around $9.50 for the shuttle over and $10 for entrance to the island (adult rates). Prices of course are less for children, senior citizens, and military personnel. To me this was the best money spent on this trip. They also offer a few other scenic and dining cruises that may be on my next agenda! (Note: no passports are needed for any of the Uncle Sam Tours.)
Making our way across the Bay it was smooth sailing as we waved to freighters as they passed by and I snapped a few pics of Sunken Rock Island Lighthouse!!!
As you approach the island the first thing you see is the Yacht House. The year we went (2017), the high water levels kept us from being able to tour the Yacht House, and a few other areas on the island for safety reasons. In fact, they actually had to build up areas on the docks for us to even enter and exit. (You'll notice throughout some of the photos the high water levels.) This year we once again experienced a rainy spring and sadly the Yacht House is currently closed again. I recommend checking the website as they will update once it's reopened. Having said that, even without being able to tour the actual area, you can see just how majestic it is as you arrive to the island. The Tudor style of architecture of the Yacht House is one of my favorite styles so I find I'm automatically drawn to it. One day I will go back to tour it. It is here you can see not only some amazing antique boats, but some of the original Boldt fleet.
You also can't help notice as you approach (and exit depending on how you arrive) the island the magnificent Entry Arch Adorned with three massive deer on the top, they mimic and symbolize the deer from the family crest. Built to allow larger boats to approach and drop off visitors, it's grand entrance area sets the stage for what's to come upon arrival.
Once on the island, you are given a map and you can browse the island all day if you so choose, looking at everything. Taking as much time as we wanted, it was a gorgeous day so the ride over on the shuttle was smooth, and our time there on the island was truly lovely!!
This would be my second trip to Boldt Castle, having visited about ten years prior. I was amazed at the renovations they had accomplished in that time frame. The castle was originally built by George C. Boldt, owner of the Waldorf Astoria in NYC, for the love of his life, his wife Louise. Constructed on an island in the shape of a heart seemed fitting for such a testament to their love. Unfortunately, the plan was never fully completed. Louise's sudden death broke George's heart and he could not complete the home so all work came to a complete halt. There it sat for the next 73 years falling victim to deteriorating and vandalism until such time the Thousand Island Bridge Authority took over and began to renovate the structures. Still in various stages of renovations, the painstaking work is top notch and period pieces are a fine example how life would have been for the Boldts had they been able to enjoy. It now is one of the most sought after venues in the area for weddings and one of the areas largest visitor attractions.
The Main House is breath taking. As you enter the home along the shady veranda you are instantly greeted by a massive staircase with light pouring in from above through the stain glass dome.
As you wander through each of the rooms on several floors, you can't help feel a range of emotions from happiness at the testament of love he put into the each and every detail planning the estate, to the sadness realizing that the family never really got to enjoy this tribute. But you can imagine. You can image as you meander in and around each of the rooms how the family and their guests would have lived in each of the spaces had the vision played out.
The one thing I love about Boldt Castle is that it's offered to you 'as is'. Some rooms are completed, some aren't. Unless safety is a concern, they are free for you to roam. From the bottom floors to the very tip top, you can visit, learn, and admire its splendor and magnificent views from all around the home.
The castle tells a story throughout. From original drawings and plans, to photos captured of the family and construction, to the final renovation and decorations you see today; you truly get a feeling of the grandeur. The details and materials used were not spared, and no matter where you turn, you can see that prominent "B" on items throughout the home.
As you exit the home and make your way along the northern side of the island, you come across The Dove Cote, which was once a raised water storage area serving the island, while their collection of doves resided up top of the tower. Now a shell, you walk in and around grabbing a bit of shade before proceeding onward towards the Italian Gardens.
The Gardens are magnificent. Overlooking the north eastern side of the island atop a hillside, the Italian Garden hosts a variety of both flowers and shrubbery with many designed to display the prominent Boldt B or crest.
As you make your way down to the lower level of gardens you are beckoned by The Power House. The Power House was built to house the generators that would have supplied power to the island. With a medieval bridge to the castle like structure, it makes for a fairy tell like atmosphere. One of the most photographed areas on the island, you are able to tour the structure however; due to high waters, it was closed to us the day we visited.
As you leave The Power House and make your way back up towards the house, you can't help but notice an underground entrance that some would think off limits, but for me...it's an invitation to explore where I probably shouldn't!!!
Leading you through the secret tunnel below the house you make your way to a grounds keepers area and a huge surprise....a pool!!
Rather primitive, and so very unexpected, it's one of my favorite things on the island.
As you leave the pool area and make your way toward the Alster Tower, you stroll along paved areas in and around the main house. Beautifully landscaped with planters, a fountain, and Gazebo throughout, it's a place you would love to just sit and read a book as the breezes blow off the river to the shady areas.
The Alster Tower was considered the play house. With an area for bowling, a kitchen, areas to sleep, and billiard room, this would have been the ultimate man cave. Now closed for renovations, I was fortunate to be able to see it prior to it's renovations and could just imagine what it could be.
As you leave the Alster Tower and make your way back up to the main castle, you can't help but be in awe of everything you've taken in. The craftsmanship of yesterday and today along with the amazing landscaping and maintenance of the island would make both George and Louise Boldt so extremely happy knowing that their love is continuing on through the work and dedication of others.
Exiting the island, you leave along the north and travel south westward back to the docks at Alex Bay. Looking back it's here you see the grand Entry Arch the best. Looking back towards the island as everything gets smaller, I couldn't help but feel like it's still larger than life.
Disembarking onto the town, we found ourselves famished so after a quick trip back to get ready for dinner, we settled on Cavallario's Steak & Seafood, which was a quick walk from the hotel. A family owned restaurant, this local eatery was fabulous and more of a high end dining establishment in town. From everything from steaks to seafood to italian cuisine, our meal was delicious and the service excellent.
Meeting our friend who has a camp up in Alex Bay after dinner, we took a quick stroll after all around the small village. The shops and pubs and locals were amazing offering a variety of things to do and see for an evening.
After witnessing a gorgeous sunset from downtown we closed out the day on our little porch with the door open and a breath taking view of the castle all lit up across the bay.
Our second day began back on the porch looking out onto the water and castle as seagulls dove for fish, tour boats began their cruises, and fishermen headed out with hopes of getting the big one.
Meeting our friend at her camp, we decided to spend day two exploring the nearby village of Clayton, New York. A small town just up the road.
Making our way to Clayton we passed by the Thousand Island Bridge which is absolutely spectacular in all it's green splendor!! And of course, I had to stop to capture!!!
Only twenty minutes up the road, Clayton is the cutest little village with shops and restaurants. Starting out at the River Rat Cheese Company where we stocked up for a lunch picnic, we made our way in and out of souvenir shops until we made our way to The Cruet, a speciality shop featuring gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I could have spent the entire day in this shop tasting all the different vinegars. I highly recommend stopping at both of these shops to stock up.
Next we found Coyote Moon Winery where we had a sampling of their award winning wines and had a picnic out on their porch overlooking the river.
Clayton was a great day visit, with some amazing street art and waterfront views. A perfect way to spend our last day in the Thousand Islands.