Even from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, it's hard to miss the floating “Bud Light Hotel” that's serving as one of the biggest, flashiest lodging and party destinations for some 4,000 revelers for Super Bowl XLVIII.
But just a short distance south will be a more intimate gathering aboard a vessel that's more understated and elegant — and comes with more than 60 years of history.
That would be the Nantucket Lightship, a refurbished former U.S. Coast Guard vessel owned by Princeton residents Bill and Kristen Golden. The couple operates it year-round as a venue for charters, private events and overnight vacations, and this weekend they expect to host about 50 guests for one of the region's many Super Bowl parties.
"People are looking for something different, and they're looking for something authentic," said Golden, an environmental attorney, originally from Boston. "And this ship is a marine icon from the era when the sailors put their lives on the line to save lives."
The 128-foot vessel, built in 1950, was used for more than three decades to light the waterways for ships approaching San Francisco and New England, Bill Golden said. It was decommissioned in 1985 as the last lightship in the country, he said, and then kept for several years as a museum by the Massachusetts state government.
The Goldens bought the ship in 2000, paying $126,000 in an eBay auction when it appeared headed to scrappers, he said. The couple then spent millions to gut and refurbish an interior that "didn't have a toothpick of wood," turning it into a fully functional, heated and ventilated luxury charter yacht.
Today, the Nantucket Lightship has five bedrooms and event space for up to 150 people on good-weather days, Golden said. Inside are high-end, hardwood finishes and original equipment from the ship, contrasting with the bright red exterior, the towering beacons and the "NANTUCKET" sign that remains from its heyday.
"(It) is kind of a stealth historic ship," he said. "On the outside you'd have no idea of what's on the inside. And that's our biggest problem — trying to get people on board so they understand how amazing the ship really is."
Golden, whose day job focuses on developing renewable energy, estimates the ship hosts between 1,000 and 1,500 guests a year for private parties and corporate events. The ship has hosted functions for New York and New Jersey businesses, he said, including Merrill Lynch and a Jersey City real estate company that has rented the space a half-dozen times.
The vessel is docked just off Manhattan's Tribeca section from September to May, visible from New Jersey Gold Coast. And while Golden said he's never docked east of the Hudson, "we are looking forward to it at some point."