Fireworks are best shared communally—with a crowd in a park, on a beach or even aboard a boat.
That’s what makes the Pride of the Susquehanna’s annual fireworks cruise so special. Sure, you get fine dining, music and great service. But you also get the best possible view of Harrisburg’s fireworks, surrounded by people having the same experience.
“Being underneath the fireworks show is exquisite,” said Harrisburg Area Riverboat Society’s administrative assistant Kim Yoder. “It’s just really spectacular.”
The cruise is 2½ hours long, with an open bar and a three-course dinner with perfect mid-summer fare—items like barbequed chicken, Maryland crab cakes and stuffed ricotta shells. The riverboat even has its own musician, giving the evening a soundtrack.
As with all Pride cruises, the fun actually begins well before the entertainment, the fireworks or even the food.
Upon boarding, passengers get to watch as the captain and crew perform all the rituals necessary to ensure a safe voyage. You can’t miss their scripted banter as they perform each procedural step and safety check required for launching into the river.
“The passengers stand on the side because they like watching the boat leave and come back—no propellers, no rudders and no other power source,” said Capt. Deb Bradshaw.
Measuring 68 feet long and weighing 97 tons, the Pride is powered by wheels on the back of the boat.
“We listen for the captain to give the commands from the upper deck,” said lead deckhand Rod Mease.
Next begins a series of tying or untying different nylon ropes in a certain sequence, depending on whether the boat is coming or going. The crew repeats each command so the captain can affirm that each step is completed.
“We do things the same way each time,” Bradshaw said.
Following Coast Guard regulations, the Pride’s two full-time captains track and trend weather conditions all year long. They oversee the crew of two deckhands, with several crew changes throughout the day. Captains have the ultimate responsibility for all safety measures and equipment—requirements like fire extinguishers and life jackets.
As part of his rounds, Mease ensures that the long pipe at the stern (back of the boat) has water running through it.
“You need water running through it to tell the engine is being cooled,” he said. “It’s like its exhaust system.”
The Pride doesn’t have navigational charts, so the course for the evening is based on experience, Bradshaw said. That experience is passed down from captain to captain, though they also use a GPS and a depth sounder.
“We prefer to go north toward Independence [Island],” she said. “We can get up to the Governor’s Mansion, but we usually reach Kelker [Street].”
At the end of dinner, to sit in the middle of the river, the crew “uses the paddles to stay in position, less than one-quarter mile away from where they shoot the fireworks,” said Mease. “We’re facing north, looking toward the mountains.”
If putting your hands on the deck’s railing isn’t for you, you can opt to stay inside and watch the sparks reflect off the Pride’s mirrored walls. The retro furnishings and Pennsylvania-specific names carved into its features give the interior a funhouse kind of feel. The fireworks’ colorful flashes conjure the sensation of being inside a kaleidoscope.
“It’s a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere,” Mease said. “Then when [the fireworks are] all over, we wait for all the pontoon boats to move so we can get by.”
A seat on the fireworks cruise is in high demand, with only 60 billets and a long waiting list.
“It’s a waiting list two to three years long,” said Yoder. “I have the waiting list started for 2021 already.”
A typical cruise sells up to 120 tickets, but a dinner cruise only sells as many tickets as there are seats in the dining room.
If you have tickets in hand for Independence Day’s fireworks cruise, clutch them tightly, like a golden ticket. If you miss the cruise on July 4, there is another fireworks cruise to celebrate the Kipona Festival over the Labor Day weekend.
“It’s really pretty with the reflection off the water,” Mease said. “It’s the best seat in the river for the fireworks show.”
The Pride of the Susquehanna departs from City Island, Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.harrisburgriverboat.com.