August 16, 2010

Day Trip: Governors Island

On Governors Island in 1812 you may have heard, "Ready the cannons, the ships are approaching!" but today you'll hear "Check out the cool art near Water Taxi Beach!" A lot has changed on the former military island, once vital in defending New York's inner harbor from intruders. Now, a five minute (free!) ferry ride from Lower Manhattan, the island is anything but hostile. In fact, tranquil, idyllic, and picturesque come to mind.

Prepare to stroll, picnic, bike, marvel at art, and take in gorgeous 360-degree views of the New York harbor on your visit. Governors Island also has a great lineup of bands at Water Taxi Beach, an array of sporting events and fun programs for kids. And where else can you enjoy the Statue of Liberty as a picnic backdrop or meander through beautiful 19th century homes, originally built for commanding officers that now house art and handmade goods for sale? So hop on the ferry and spend the day enjoying this tiny island, steeped in history, now filled with happy, relaxed New Yorkers. Want to join them? Here's how, plus tips and info:

• The island is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from June 5 - October 10 (2010)
• Ferry: from Manhattan: the terminal is next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal in Lower Manhattan (near the R train). The first ferry departs at 10am. From Brooklyn: the ferry runs Saturday/Sunday only. The terminal is at Pier 6, in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, at the end of Atlantic Avenue (take 2/3, 4/5, R trains or B63 bus). The first ferry departs at 11am.
• Bicycles are permitted on the ferry or you can rent one on the island
• Alcohol can not be brought onto the island, but is served at Water Taxi Beach
• There are many opportunities to purchase food and drinks around the island

• The island perimeter is 2.2 miles, great for biking or walking
• The island is 20 city blocks (1 mile) long and 5 city blocks wide
• If you need cash there's an ATM upon exiting the ferry
• Restrooms are located around the island, the first one off the ferry is in Building 110
• Bike rentals: A two-minute walk from the Manhattan ferry, up the hill to the right, at Colonels Row. A minute walk from the Brooklyn ferry, straight up the hill.

I recommend picking up a self-guided tour map from Building 140, to the left of the Manhattan ferry
• Water Taxi Beach (food, beer, concerts)
• Castle Williams (point of defense for the harbor, housed prisoners)
• Fort Jay (point of defense, housed officers, oldest structure on island, gates date to 1796)
• Colonels Row (bike rentals, art in houses, sporting events, Jazz Age dance parties)
• FIGMENT Mini-Golf (art + golf, through the tall arch at Liggett Hall)
• Parade Grounds (circus demonstrations, Civil War reenactments, bake sales)
• Nolan Park (Etsy house, Children's Museum of the Arts, church, officer housing)
• Picnic Point (food, rest areas, hammocks)

For up-to-date information, along with ferry schedules, event and concert schedules, visit the official Governors Island site. Happy exploring!

August 1, 2010

Cheap(er) Hotels in New York

While New York ranks high on the list of fun and exciting things to do, it ranks (very) low on the plethora of affordable places to stay. But don't despair, there are options. Especially if you embrace the attitude New Yorkers do: think of your accommodations as merely a place to sleep and get go do more fun and exciting things!
So don't be shocked if your hotel room is the size of your bathroom back home, space is at a premium here. Thankfully the city specializes in "shiny things/hey, look over here" distractions to keep you fully entertained - and out of your hotel room.
Below is a list of more affordable hotel options (in no particular order), without going the hostel route. Enjoy your stay, but more importantly, enjoy New York!

Hotel East Houston
151 East Houston St. (at Eldridge St.)
$152-$291 per night
--Stylish, yet small rooms; great city views from the roof terrace. Located on the border of the Lower East Side and the East Village.

East Village Bed & Coffee
110 Avenue C (between 7th/8th St.)
$80-$130 per night
--Rooms are funky and quirky, just like the neighborhood. Located in the East Village.

The Pod Hotel

230 E. 51st. (between 2nd/3rd Ave.)
$133-$303 per night
--Tiny rooms (hence "pod"), simplistic decor, very popular with budget travelers. Located in Midtown.

Cosmopolitan Hotel--Tribeca
125 Chambers St. (at West Broadway)
$175-$215 per night
--Possibly New York City's oldest hotel structure (1845), it's gone through many name changes and many guests (including Abraham Lincoln). Small rooms, very basic amenities. Located in Tribeca.

Chelsea Pines Inn
317 W. 14th St. (between 8th/9th Ave.)
$159 to $310 per night
--Built as a private home in 1850, each room is "dedicated to a 'Celluloid Hero' from the Golden Age of Hollywood." Located on border of Chelsea and Greenwich Village.

The Hotel Wolcott
4 W. 31st St. (between 5th Ave./Broadway)
$150-$260 per night
--Furniture looks a bit dated, but rooms are clean and comfortable. Close to the Empire State Building, Macy's and Times Square. Located near Midtown.

Hotel Deauville
103 E. 29th St. (between Park Ave. S. and Lexington Ave.)
$135-$175 per night
--The rooms are clean, but nothing fancy. Great for a low maintenance traveler. Guests enjoy the original hand-operated elevator and the friendly and attentive staff. Located near Midtown.
61-63 Chrystie St. (between Hester St. and Canal St.)
$149-$278 per night
--Built in 2009, in a grittier area where you get a taste of "real" New Yorkers (Chinatown and Little Italy are close by). Rooms are decent-size with nice amenities. Located on the Lower East Side.

(Note: All information was correct at time of posting. Please check hotel websites for the most up-to-date information.)