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Ferry Yourself to Governor’s Island: Your Guide for the Island

July 22, 2012

Getting tickets for the East River Ferry. Photo courtesy of ©East River Ferry

I’ve been excited ever since the East River Ferry asked us to come up with 4 great day trips for families highlighting stops along their ferry route. It’s given us a chance to visit and revisit some of our favorite haunts. Our last post was a eating, shopping and play guide near the ferry stop in North Willamsburg. Today, we are highlighting all the fabulous things to do on Governor’s Island. The Island is a weekend-only stop on the East River Ferry since the island is open to the public on weekends only. After a day of journeying on the water, return to your Brooklyn destination for a nap!

Want to ride a bike or play miniature golf for free? If that’s not your speed, how about a slow swing in a hammock or a picnic in the shade? It’s all possible any weekend at Governor’s Island.  Governor’s Island is one of my favorite summertime activities and we make a point to go there at least a couple of times a summer. We usually rent a surrey and make it around the island to play some mini golf and have a slooow picnic.

The dock at Governor's Island

What can you do on the island?

Bike Your Buns Off:
There are more than five miles of car-free paths and roadways. You can bring your own bikes or rent one. We have done both: it’s convenient to rent but it can also be just as convenient to bring your own, especially if you need a bike seat or tag-along. The line for the bike rentals can be long.  However, if you rush to the rental line as soon as you dock, you won’t have any problems. Do you have children who can’t ride their own bikes? Rent a trailer bike or a surrey. The advantage of either of those systems is that it allows you to loop the whole island and conserve your kids’ energy to do all the activities along the way. All rentals include a helmet free of charge.  For more information on biking on the island, go here.

Riding a surrey on the Governor's Island

We brought a full lunch and picnicked on a shaded bench and played in the grass by Colonel’s Row. It’s a quiet, shady green courtyard surrounded by historic houses. It feels like a visit to Pleasantville- with no one actually living there, of course. We met another lovely family at the picnic table next to us and ended up in one big playdate. Picnic Point is also a lovely place to have a picnic where you can try out a hammock, Adirondack chair or swing while checking out the views of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor. The Island’s playground is there too so you can get some energy out there if needed.  The Island’s farm is located here as well and it’s fun to walk the rows of vegetables and talk to the farmers there if you are lucky enough to spot one.  You can visit the Farm Stand where you’ll find locally grown produce, cut flowers and more. For more information, visit www.added-value.org.

Picnic Point: great view, swings, picnic tables and lovely grass.

MiniGolf Course:
This 14 artist-designed minigolf holes is a like a fun Claes Oldenburg creation.   It is free for both adults and children.  This year’s Minigolf Course is based on the theme “Arcade.” Visitors can whack-a-clown, rescue a princess, and save the world from inevitable asteroid destruction one putt at a time. For more information, visit http://newyork.figmentproject.org/summer.

Governor's Island mini-golf course

Visitors can take a tour of a 3 acre Added Value sustainable farm at Picnic Point. You can visit their Farm Stand where you’ll find locally grown produce, cut flowers and more. For more information, visit www.added-value.org.

Value added farm

Make Art:
Young artists, ages 1-12 years old can join The Children’s Museum of the Arts (CMA) every Saturday and Sunday this summer from 11 AM to 3 PM in Governors Islands’ Nolan Park and participate in a variety of hands-on art projects and art-viewing experiences, including artist-led workshops, self-guided art stations, sound design, animation, podcasting and more.

CMA adventurers having a great time

Thankfully, there are now options for buying food on the island if you run out of your own supplies.  You can buy food at either Colonels Row or Picnic Point.  Both locations have picnic tables and offer a variety of cuisine including Carribean and West Indian. You can also find sandwiches and salads . All the different options are here.

Veronica's Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Bionic Bites

Learn history:
Our writer wrote about doing the Ranger Program with kids this summer here. You can see National Park Service Rangers do a  Living History program where children of all ages can learn about the historic role of the people of Governors Island. Children will have the opportunity to meet with National Park Rangers and an array of “guests” from the past such as soldiers from the Mexican and Civil Wars, a Confederate Prisoner, a middle class lady from 1863, or a member of the Women’s Army Corps. Every weekend, National Park Rangers offer programs throughout the day.  Please visit www.nps.gov/gois or call 212-825-3045 for more information.

A Costumed civil war soldier on Governor's Island

See Art:
You can see a couple of sculpture exhibits (Mark di Suvero for one), costume exhibit, installation art, painting and more…for all the various exhibits on island, go here.

Mark di Suvero sculpture on the island. Jacopo Quaranta for the Wall Street Journal

Compost and See Animals:
Governors Island is no stranger to animals , they have had hawks, owls and a deer that swam all the way from New Jersey. This year they have two new female goats that join the chickens, worms and bees at the Earth Matter Compost Learning Center.

Visit the Sculpture Garden:

I always love seeing FIGMENT’s sculpture garden: the fun and funky installations on the Parade Grounds are highly interactive. The centerpiece of FIGMENT’s summer-long installations for 2012 is the Treehouse, expanded and returning to Governors Island for a second year.

FIGMENT Tree-House, Photo Credit: Ronay Menschel

Days and Hours:
Governors Island is open every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday Monday (Memorial Day and Labor Day) from May 26-September 30.   The Island is open from 10 AM – 7 PM and hosts a diverse array of arts, cultural and recreational programs. Governors Island will be closed on Fridays to facilitate construction of critical infrastructure improvements and the building of 30 new acres of park and public spaces that are a part of The Trust’s ambitious capital program.  Governors Island offers Free Bike Holiday Monday on Labor Day, when visitors can borrow a free bike for up to one hour for free.

Ferry Service:
Visitors can take the East River Ferry Service to Governors Island from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Take it from Brooklyn Bridge/DUMBO. NY Waterway’s East River Ferry offers frequent service to Governors Island on Saturdays and Sundays over the summer. For departure times heading to Governors Island from all points South, click here. For departure times heading from Governors Island to all points North, click here. In addition, free ferries run from Brooklyn Saturday-Sunday and all Holiday Mondays from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, located at the foot of Atlantic Avenue (corner of Columbia Street). For both ferry services and their information, go here.

Special Events on the island for the rest of July:

JULY (for August and September events, go here.)

Saturday, July 21: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s Indie Publishing: Books, Magazines, and Monsters, 2 – 4 PM, Building 110
Meet editors, designers, and authors of independent books and magazines. Learn about the ups and downs of print and media in the new millennium.  For more information and to register for the event, visithttp://www.cooperhewitt.org/calendar

Saturday & Sunday, July 21 & 22: Second Annual New York Poetry Festival, 11 AM – 5:30 PM, Colonels Row
Come out for this $5 poetry festival for readings and performances by The Poetry Brothel, Cave Canem, Poets House, EARSHOT!, The Inspired Word and much more. For more information visit www.tpsny.org.

Saturday and Sunday, July 21-22: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s Drop-in Family Program: Stamps and Monoprints, 2 – 4 PM, Building 110
Design totes and tees as you stamp and print your own designs. Using basic monoprinting techniques create inspired graphics on your Governors Island souvenirs. For more information and to register for the event, visithttp://www.cooperhewitt.org/calendar

GlassLab presented by The Corning Museum of Glass: Saturday June 30 – Sunday July 29, 11:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Watch dynamic hot glassmaking performances with top contemporary designers as they bring new ideas to life in collaboration with master glassmakers from The Corning Museum of Glass. Look for leading names from the Cooper-Hewitt’s exhibition Graphic Design—Now in Production. For information, visit www.cmog.org/glasslab.

Watch dynamic hot glassmaking performances with top contemporary designers as they bring new ideas to life in collaboration with master glassmakers from The Corning Museum of Glass. Every weekend between June 30 – July 29.

Saturday, July 28: Governors Island Swim, 11:30 AM, Around the Island
Cheer on swimmers—or sign up ahead of time at www.nycswim.org to join them—as they jump off a ferry boat and swim a challenging two-mile race around Governors Island. The course allows great views of Lower Manhattan, Jersey City, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and, of course, Governors Island itself, from the unique, water-level perspective.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post paid for by the East River Ferry Service. All selections of locations to review and mention are our own.