Date night in Raquette Lake, New York
Recently I had the opportunity to experience one of the Adirondack's most relaxing attractions and intimate dining experiences: Raquette Lake Navigation's Traditional Dinner Cruise aboard the W.W. Durant.
For a number of years now, my family has made it an annual tradition to take the W.W. Durant Cruise and Dine. They always return raving about the food and the wonderful time they had. Every year I say that I am going to take the cruise, but life gets busy, summer coasts by, and in short ... the same old excuses come up and I still haven't boarded the boat. But this year, I promised myself that would not be the case!
On a recent Friday afternoon, I realized that my husband and I had an evening to ourselves. So to make good on my promise, I quickly decided we would take advantage of this rare occasion and see if there were spots available on the Saturday evening Cruise and Dine. To our luck, when I called Raquette Lake Navigation, I learned that there was a cancellation, leaving us the opportunity to book a reservation. In the summer, the cruise books up quickly, so if you have a particular date in mind, I recommend that you book in advance. At the time you make your reservations, you need to pick your entrée. The menu is available on their website if you want to be prepared before you call. Since, this was a last minute decision, I was not prepared, but everything sounded amazing so I was sure my husband would be happy with whatever I chose for him.
Arriving at Raquette Lake
On Saturday evening, we arrived in Raquette Lake, New York to board the nostalgic W.W. Durant. Before boarding, we were greeted by Donna Pohl. Donna and her husband Dean own and operate the W.W. Durant with the help of their children and staff. Dean built the ship during the winters of 1990 and 1991 on Raquette Lake. Their son, Jim Pohl, is the executive chef and their other children play an important role in the ships operation. Raquette Lake Navigation is the true example of a family business. The respect that they show for each other, their company, and their passengers is contagious and reflects in the high quality of their product.
After our friendly greeting from Donna, we boarded the steam boat replica and were kindly escorted through the elegant dining room to our seats. Once we found where we would be eating, and received a map of the cruise, we grabbed a couple of drinks from the bar and found our way up to the upper deck.
On the deck, we took a seat and soaked up some afternoon sun as we watched boaters at the public dock and boat launch in Raquette Lake head out for an evening on the lake. It was then, as we were waiting to pull away from shore that I saw the most relaxed look on my husband's face and recognized that I felt just as relaxed myself.
At 5:30 p.m. the ship left the shore just as scheduled, and shortly thereafter the cruise's narration began and appetizers were served on the upper deck.
History of Raquette Lake
Captain Dean provides a wonderful narration as you round through the different bays, islands, and historic landmarks on Raquette Lake. Raquette Lake is an absolutely beautiful lake, featuring 99 miles of shoreline, nineteen islands, and a lot of history. If you are a history buff, a great way to experience the area is by taking a "Gilded Age Tour," a package which includes admission to the Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake in Blue Mountain Lake, a tour of Great Camp Sagamore, and the Raquette Lake Navigation Dinner Cruise. The following images are just a few of the highlighted landmarks we passed along the shores of Raquette Lake.
The knoll to the left of the bridge, Dean informed us, was the sight of the famous pile of "Racquettes" (French for snowshoes) that were left by Sir John Johnson when he fled to Canada to escape the Revolutionary War in 1776. When he left Johnson Castle, with an estimated 250 Native American followers, there was still snow on the ground. As the snow melted away they had to abandon their snowshoes. The pile of Racquettes remained at Raquette Lake providing a landmark and eventual name for the lake.
Historic St. Williams Church on Long Point on Raquette Lake. It sits on the original site of Durant, NY. The church was built in 1890.Great Camp Pine Knot was the birthplace of the "Adirondack Great Camp" architecture. It was built by William Durant beginning in 1877. It was later sold to Collis P. Huntington of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Today it is operated by SUNY Cortland as the Huntington Memorial Camp - Outdoor Recreation Center. Limited tours of the national historic landmark are offered a couple of times a year. You can tour the camp with water taxi service via W.W. Durant during special events throughout the year.
Dinner on the lake
About an hour into the cruise, the dinner bell rang and the announcement was made that the first course was about to be served. We found our way to our seats and met the other members at our dinner party. We were placed next to a very pleasant gentleman from Utica, New York who was traveling with some family members from Holland. They were enjoying themselves as much as we were, and we shared a nice conversation as we waited for our first course to arrive.
Note: The Pohls are really good about the table assignments, tables can seat up to 8 people so if you are booking a larger party, they will make sure to try to seat you together. If you are looking for a more intimate dining experience, there are nights that offer that as well.
The soup of the evening was a wonderful Southwestern sweet corn chowder and it was followed up by a very fresh salad (ours were topped with Chef Jim's outstanding homemade Japanese vinaigrette).
Before our dinner came out, we had a few moments to go outside and stretch our legs. Our server said he would come and find us as soon as our meal was about to be served. Out on the bow of the boat we met a local woman who was as passionate about the lake as the Pohl family was. We learned a little more about where we were on the lake in relation to the landmarks that we were familiar with. After that, we returned to the dining room for our entrées.
For our entrées, I enjoyed the sesame seared ahi tuna, served with a marinated cucumber salad, garlic smashed potatoes, and spicy dipping sauce. My husband had the prime rib with a homemade chutney and the garlic smashed potatoes. We are that couple that has to order different plates so that we can sample each other's meal. Both were superb.
Both entrées were cooked to perfection, elegantly placed and absolutely sensational. I now understood why my family raves about the food. It is amazing, and the perfect complement to the atmosphere of the boat and the scenery surrounding it.
Dessert on deck!
Following the entrée, we were given the choice to have coffee and dessert either in the dining room or on the upper deck. We took advantage of getting outside for a better view and to enjoy the setting sun.
I also took advantage of the opportunity to climb in the "cockpit" with Captain Dean Pohl. Behind the captain's chair sits a bench which proved to be the hottest seat in the house (or boat in this case). Throughout the 3-hour cruise it seemed to be constantly occupied. From there you could watch him proudly guide the boat with ease.
As he drove the boat, Dean informed me that over the course of the cruise we travel 25 miles at a speed of approximately 8 mph. I won't lie, before we boarded the boat, I was a little nervous about the length of the cruise. I wondered if by the time we hit the halfway mark on the 3-hour cruise, I would have had enough for one evening and be ready to jump ship and swim to shore. That was entirely not the case, in fact when we pulled in to port, promptly at 8:30 p.m. as scheduled, I felt a tinge of disappointment that it was over. If it wasn't for the ride home, or that I had to work in the morning, we probably would have stayed around for their moonlight cruise.
Since I have returned from our memorable dinner cruise, I have not been able to stop talking about our experience and how wonderful it was. Not only have we decided that we will make a commitment to ourselves to return for the W.W. Durant Dinner Cruise annually, we have also decided that we would like to return with our children for their afternoon Pizza Cruise this fall. As much as I don't want to hurry the summer away, I am counting down the days until we return.
W.W. Durant Travel Tips
- Book in advance. If you are taking the dinner cruise, book as far in advance as possible - the cruise is popular and can fill up quickly.
- Bring a sweater or light jacket. Even on a warm summer day, once the sun begins to set and you can feel the breeze off the water, it can be cool and you will be glad that you have an extra layer. I know I was.
- Look into their other cruises. In addition to the dinner cruise, check out the other cruises available including the Afternoon Pizza Cruise, The Sunday Brunch Cruise, and The Moonlight Cruise.
- Events! In addition to the traditional cruise schedule they also offer a variety of special events including tours of Great Camp Pine Knot during Durant Days in early August, beer and wine pairing nights, and more.
- Visit the "Ice Boat." Summer isn't the only season for Raquette Lake Navigation. In the winter, the W.W. Durant transforms into an "ice boat," frozen into Raquette Lake. It is a popular spot for winter outdoor enthusiasts including: snowmobiles, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers.
- Arrive early. If you are traveling to Raquette Lake for the cruise, I would recommend planning to arrive a little early so that you have time to visit the Caboose Gift Shop adjacent to the boarding dock and The Tap Room which is the local tavern located within walking distance. It is a nice spot to grab a pre-cruise cocktail before boarding the boat.