By Teresa Farrell
Alexandria Bay is often considered the entertainment capital of the Thousand Islands. The village has long been known to provide a great time, first as a summer getaway for Gilded Age royalty and then as one of the most popular vacation destinations in Upstate New York—and with good reason. With beautiful scenery and plenty to do, the Thousand Islands is a summer paradise. First- time visitors will find plenty to see and do, and the regulars find themselves coming back to enjoy longtime traditions as well as experience what’s new.
Alexandria Bay is a great place to get on the St. Lawrence River. In addition to local marinas who rent pleasure craft by the day, Uncle Sam Boat Tours offers multiple touring options and leaves from the Bay each day. Uncle Sam offers lunch cruises with a narrated tour and light fare, and dinner cruises, where you can enjoy a first-class buffet while watching the sun set on the river and enjoying live music on the upper deck. Uncle Sam also offers a wine and craft beer tour, including sightseeing and a variety of finger foods. Narrated sightseeing tours are also available and offer a glimpse into the history of the region. Travel the watery border between the United States and Canada on the Two Nation Tour, see the region in a whole different light on a Twilight tour, or listen to tales of the Thousand Islands’ history as a gilded-age playground for the rich and famous. Enjoy the view of Millionaire’s Row as you cruise past privately-owned islands complete with mansions.
Uncle Sam also offers access to the region’s two famous castles. Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island in view of Alexandria Bay, and Singer Castle, located a few miles east along the river on Dark Island. Both have become staples of a summertime visit to the islands. These two icons of the St. Lawrence River actually have very different stories to tell. Boldt Castle was built as a labor of love, a tribute from New York City millionaire George Boldt to his wife Louise. George was having the castle built as a summer home for the family but also as a testament of his love for his wife. Louise Boldt never got to enjoy her palace, though; she fell ill and died before construction was completed. George, heartbroken, ordered all work on the island to stop. For years the castle sat dormant and unfinished before being purchased by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in the 1970s. After reviewing Boldt’s initial plans for the castle and securing funding, renovations began on the castle in the 1990s. Today, the castle has been completely refurbished, and the public is welcome to come and tour the opulence and luxury that could have been.
Singer Castle was not only a dream, but a home to its residents during the Gilded Age. Owned by a number of different families over time, Singer Castle saw much use as a hunting camp for the Bourne family, who enjoyed the island for generations as a place to relax. The castle is not only open to visitors today, but provides an opportunity to live like royalty with the option to rent out the master suite overnight. The master bedroom faces the river on both sides, offering a spectacular opportunity to experience both an American sunrise and a Canadian sunset on the river.
Back on land, there’s plenty to see and do. “The Bay” is well known for its shopping and dining, offering the chance to pick out the perfect souvenir before enjoying lunch or dinner overlooking the river. Take a stroll down the James Street Pier or pack a picnic to enjoy at Scenic View Park, where a small-scale replica of the Thousand Islands Bridge stretches to Casino Island. Boutiques and galleries specialize in gifts of every variety, including many items that reflect the river’s special heritage. When it’s time to eat, you don’t have to look far for a delicious meal. From burgers and fries to pizza and wings and barbecue to fine dining, many eateries have patios or dining rooms overlooking the river. A treat from an ice cream shop can easily put the cherry on top of a beautiful day in the Bay. If you’re looking for fun once the sun goes down, Alexandria Bay is the place to be with pubs, clubs, and live music venues. The summer’s roster of musical acts includes something for everyone. Country music, rock and roll to acoustic and oldies take the stage at various venues at night.
Thousand Islands Winery is just down the road from Alexandria Bay, in sight of the American Span of the Thousand Islands Bridge. Thousand Island Winery was first winery in the area and was started over 12 years ago. They offer tours and tastings daily, with many varieties of wine to suit any taste. The winery is also home to a host of events throughout the summer with live music, food, and festivities tailored to each event’s theme. New in 2016 Otter Creek Winery, located just down the road in Philadelphia, NY, is opening a second tasting room on Rt. 12 in Alexandria Bay. They will be serving wine, craft beer and hard cider.
Alexandria Bay is also home to events and special weekends throughout the summer season. The most famous is Bill Johnston’s Pirate Days, a ten-day festival honoring the region’s ties to prohibition and featuring pirates performing swordfights in the streets and invading the town on a pirate ship. Music festivals such as late August’s “Rockin’ in the Bay” and early September’s “Blues in the Bay” offer even more opportunities to enjoy when it comes to live music and a night out on the town. Local resorts and motels offer a range of lodging options from basic to luxurious and can accommodate any budget, ensuring a comfortable stay.
For more information, an event schedule and to plan your trip, go to www.visitalexbay.org.