1. Celestial, New York City
The first time my stepdaughter saw the New York night skyline, she whispered in awe to her mother, "Mama, it doesn't look real!" Brushed with gold by the setting sun or outlined in majestic silhouette against a fading pink sky, the skyscraper forest of Manhattan can overwhelm even seen-it-all adults. The glass walls and ceiling of the cruise ship Celestial ensure that all guests get a good look. A jazz trio provides the soundtrack; 866/399-8439 or bateauxnewyork.com.
2. Wind and Wine Sail, Key West, Florida
Among Key West's tremendous variety of sunset sails―aboard tall ships, modern catamarans, powerboats, even glass-bottom boats―this one stands out for its selection of fine wines, beers, cheeses, crackers, fruit, vegetables, and chocolates. The intimate trips, limited to 23 passengers, take place on the 65-foot Danger's Prize, a re-creation of a traditional working sailboat; 305/304-7999 or dangercharters.com.
3. Alcatraz Night Tour, San Francisco, California
As day fades, the ferry departs Pier 33 headed for Alcatraz, in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Sunset supplies a suitably dramatic flourish for a fascinating tour of the brooding prison island. Visitors explore stacked rows of primitive-looking cells, then choose from several special programs on such topics as Al Capone's time here. The return leg aboard the ferry showcases stunning nighttime views of the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge; 415/981-7625 or alcatrazcruises.com.
4. Star of Honolulu, Honolulu, Hawaii
Newspaper surveys perennially name this sleek, four-deck, 1,500-passenger ship "Hawaii's best sunset dinner cruise." It combines myriad experiences (at various prices) on a single vessel. The four dining options top out at a seven-course, French-style meal. Entertainment varies with the dinner selection and includes hula dancing, live jazz, and a Hawaiian-theme revue. The ship meets Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards; 800/334-6191 or paradisecruises.com.
5. Sunset Concert Cruises, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
On warm summer nights, the triple-deck Spirit of LaSalle heads out into the waters of Green Bay or, weather permitting, Lake Michigan, from the picturesque Door County Peninsula. As passengers eat their buffet dinners, they glide past lighthouses and islands. Then, on the second deck, a band begins to play―jazz, perhaps, or folk music―as the disappearing sun splashes brilliant oranges and reds across the sky; 920/854-2986 or concertcruises.com.
6. The Lobster Dinner Cruise, Cancun, Mexico
Romance figures prominently on this couples-oriented excursion, enthusiastically described on its Web site as "the secret route of passion." As sunset approaches, the Columbus, a 60-foot contemporary version of a Spanish galleon, eases through the calm waters of the Nichupté Lagoon, serving wine and cocktails, then lobster and steak. After nightfall comes dancing to saxophone music on the open-air deck. Passion does seem all but inevitable; 800/417-1736 (in Mexico, 01-800/727-5391) or thelobsterdinner.com.
7. Royal Argosy, Seattle, Washington
On its evening dinner cruises, the 180-foot Royal Argosy becomes a floating, white-tablecloth restaurant. While some cruise vessels prepare the food ashore, Royal Argosy chefs cook to order onboard, emphasizing Pacific Northwest ingredients. They know what they're doing; Argosy Cruises contracts the food service to Consolidated Restaurants, which runs such acclaimed Seattle establishments as Metropolitan Grill and Elliott's Oyster House; 800/642-7816 or argosycruises.com.
8. Dolphins, sunset, and fireworks, South Padre Island, Texas
Breakaway Cruises times its evening Dolphin Watch cruises for peak sunset viewing. On Friday evenings during the summer, passengers can also watch the weekly fireworks over Laguna Madre, the bay between the island and the mainland; 956/761-2212 or breakawaycruises.com.
9. Soul Diversion, San Diego, California
Wonderful weather makes San Diego a sailor's paradise year-round. Pacific Ocean sunsets add a gorgeous bonus. No more than six passengers at a time share this cozy Champagne cruise aboard a 38-foot oceangoing yacht. Skipper Ted Wirch III lets passengers either help with the sailing or just sit back, sip the bubbly, and enjoy the views; 800/659-0141 or classicsailingadventures.com.
10. Spirit of Harbour Town, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Everyone gets a window table and air-conditioning―no small amenity on humid Southern summer nights. (The heating kicks in when the weather turns chilly.) The well-regarded Hilton Head restaurant Two Eleven Park Wine Bar & Bistro supplies the buffet dinner. On Tuesdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the cruise detours to watch the weekly fireworks display at Shelter Cove; 843/373-9026 or vagabondcruise.com.
published June 2007