Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that we were battling the medusa of New York winter. But Governors Island—the most irrefutable officiant of warm weather—reopens for the summer this Saturday at 10am! You might already be gearing up for your first island visit, jorts in crotch and frisbee in hand. But one does not simply walk into Governor’s Island. (One takes a $2 ferry ride.) Before you go traipsing out to Pier 6 on a weekday and screaming “Where’s the ferry?!” into the ether, let us clue you in. Here’s everything you need to know about Governors Island in 2015!
TO PACK OR NOT TO PACK
It may be an island, but it’s not a free-for-all. Governors Island has some basic ground rules, and you’ll want to know what those are so you don’t end up getting anything confiscated. There are also no lockers on the island. Be prepared to shlep whatever you bring along.
DON’T bring: dog, booze, drugs, motorcycle, Citi Bike (no docking stations on the island), cigarettes
DO bring: fishing pole, bike, snacks, maybe your drugs after all?, frisbee
Alternatively titled, “Getting Back,” since you’ve gotta come back home sometime. The ferry to the island costs $2 roundtrip, and departs every day from Battery Park Maritime Building (10 South Street) in Manhattan. On weekends, Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can also catch a ferry from Brooklyn’s Pier 6. Ooh, and what’s this? The ferry is FREE at 11am and 11:30am from both Manhattan and Brooklyn ports! There’ll be line-ups, but whatEvUr. Get there early and claim your free standing room! The ferry is also bike-friendly, so feel free to bring your two-wheeler along and ride the park. The last boat back to Manhattan departs at 6pm on weekdays, and 7pm (back to both Manhattan and Brooklyn) on weekends. More information on boat schedules can be found here.
How to get to the ferry: For the Manhattan port, take the 1 to South Ferry, the 4/5 to Bowling Green or the R to Whitehall. For Brooklyn, take the R to Court or the 2/3 4/5 to Borough Hall and walk over to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The park’s biggest renovations were unveiled in 2014, but this year they hired a dog! Pets aren’t usually allowed on the island, but Max is an employee. He’s a rescued border collie, and he’ll be around overseeing the grounds and barking at Canada geese so they don’t land (and poop) on the island. Max is going to “focus his attention” on the grassier spots so you can picnic to your heart’s content! Gosh, is he dog, or is he deputy?
The Trust’s next big development is a series of landscape enhancements known as “The Hills,” which is almost exactly what it sounds like. The trust has partnered with internationally-acclaimed Dutch urban design company West 8, to create park hills of up to 80 feet in height! Outlook Hill is already over 70 feet. There’s a cool video about that where you can watch condos explode as trees take their place! The hills are still under construction through 2016, but you won’t have to contend with too many CAT machines while you’re there. It’s all happening on the periphery of the island.
SURVIVING ON THE ISLAND
In order to get your bearings when you dock, you’re going to want a map of the island. There’ll be plenty of pamphlet material and informed staff to show you around once you get there, too. There’s no motorized transit available for visitors (including the golf carts, aww) so wear your best walking shoes. More of a two-wheeled traveler? You can bring your bike on the ferry or rent one once you get onto the island. There’s a free one-hour bike rental weekday mornings from 10am-noon at Blazing Saddles in Colonel’s Row.
And in case you didn’t make it out to Governors island last year, you might’ve missed the new green spaces they carved out for relaxing, frisbee-ing and picnicking! Read all about those hammock spots and ham-hock spots in our 2014 post.
As always, the food truck game on the island is on-point. This ain’t just your typical Mr. Softee (although he’ll definitely be there, too). Look forward to frozen treats by Melt, Blue Marble and Alchemy Creamery (vegan!), as well as Thai, Mexican, West Indian and other ethnic fare. Also, Philly cheesesteaks. But rather than have us go through the painstaking task of describing everything you can eat while visiting the island, just drool over the Governors vendor list yourself!
SO MUCH STUFF TO DO, EGADS
There’s no way we could possibly stuff every single piece of stellar Governors Island programming into a single post, but we’ll sure as heck give you the season highlights. The whole calendar is online, too—but it’s not as fun to read as this is.
Kick the season off with the island’s Opening Day Party. It’ll be a family-friendly festival of fun with arts and crafts, merry-go-round rides, musical theater performances by Story Pirates, educational puppetry with Central Park Zoo Wildlife Theater and more. (May 24, in Nolan Park, 12-4pm)
No need sweat the small stuff, but you should still sweat a little this summer. OutdoorFest makes it easy with a jam-packed day of free outdoor activities. Get inspired with a Fearless Writing Workshop at 11am, followed by a PopUp Yoga vinyasa class by at 12:30pm. Rally for a second wind with a group jog at 2pm and then spend the remainder afternoon doing a bunch of fun fitness with the folks of OutdoorFest. High-fives mandatory. (May 30, Nolan Park, 11am-5pm)
Get your right-brain fix with FIGMENT NYC, back again with a weekend of participatory performances and arts events. In addition to their weekend of programming, FIGMENT’s signature sculptural installations will be available for visitors’ use all summer long. And that includes the artist-designed minigolf course! This year’s theme is “From Here To There,” which covers everything from transcendental meditation to public transportation. Ooh, does that mean an L train hole that’s closed to the public on weekends? Bah, maybe not, but we’re still excited. (June 6 & 7, island-wide, 10am-6pm)
Live out your Gatsby-est fantasies with the 10th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party, a prohibition era-inspired hootenanny that’s actually happening twice this year! Don your glad rags and learn the foxtrot while listening ’78s spin on the antique gramophone. Sip on St. Germain while getting your vintage-style portrait done, compete in the Pie Contest, and swing dance to big-band hits by the Dreamland Orchestra. OK, so all this ain’t cheap—but consider it the Governors Island event worth splurging for. (June 13 & 14, August 15 & 16, Colonel’s Row, 11am-5pm)
Once again, the Hedgepig Theater Ensemble will be performing their “World’s Fastest Hamlet,” condensing a 3-hour play into just 15 minutes of caffeinated Shakespeare. For free! Plays every hour, on the hour. (June 20-27, lawn by Our Lady Star of the Sea, 11am-5pm)
Get cultured: the New York City Poetry Festival is back again for two days of readings by poets from around the city. There’s also a Vendor Village with indie booksellers, a series of art installations, a Children’s Poetry festival and a beer garden provided by the Brooklyn Brewery. The event is free as always, though you should throw them a couple dollars to support the arts and damn the man. (July 26 & 27, Colonel Row, 11am-5:30pm)
Dance ’til you drop with MoveWorks, a participatory dance group that’s hosting a site-specific performance for audiences of all ages. There’ll be dancing, live music, and kooky costumes. This is your chance to party with some real characters, as MoveWorks transforms one of the island’s houses into an interactive, whimsical land of curiosities. (August 8-23, Building 10A in Nolan Park, 2pm & 4pm)
You’re never too old for RECESS, an organization that pairs free-for-all competitive sports with deep cuts from live deejays. RECESS is back with another bocce ball tourney. Watch as 32 creative teams go head-to-head in a bocce bracket for the ages! Who will emerge victorious? You, maybe, if you take advantage of the makeshift bocce courts open to the public throughout the afternoon, as well as food vendors and a beer/wine tent. (August 22, Colonel Row, 1-5pm)
Sure, you feel good on two wheels, but how about one? The NYC Unicycle Festival will roll through the island for two days in September. Activities include races, competitions, exhibitions and unicycle-tailored sports games. Open to all! Can you balance and land a free throw? No? Not to worry. The gun-shy can still enjoy the festival, as world-famous riders display their uni-skills. (September 5 and 6, island-wide, 12PM)
Did you get so busy enjoying all the special programming, that you forgot Governors Island was also a National Monument? Well, here’s your reminder: before it expanded to host all these great guest artists and special events, the island Trust was first and foremost a historical preservation project! Governors Island is a landmark maintained by the National Park Service. And the island’s rich history alone could keep you busy and wandering for an entire weekend, additional programs be damned.
So check out Castle Williams or Fort Jay, two fortifications of the bygone military era. No administrative assistance required, although you’re welcome to take a guided tour if you’d like. More information about those tour schedules can be found on the Park Service’s website.
If nostalgia’s more your style, head over to Empire Historic Arts‘ exhibition, “Lost Amusement Parks of New York City.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: a quirky installation of artifacts from defunct NYC amusement parks and the carnival days of yore. Eeps, just hope you don’t run into any wandering clown souls along the way. (May 23-September 27, Saturdays and Sundays, Building 20B in Nolan Park.)
Catch a sports game! The island’s ballfields are open for public use by application. You had to apply by March 1st to play, but spectating is always free. You could easily find yourself in the bleachers for a little league game, cheering on the Coney Island Sand Gnats or the Bed-Stuy Toaster Strudels (I’m just spitballing here, somebody stop me). There’s no telling exactly when there will be games, but use the PDF map above to guide yourself over to the ball park and try your luck.
Looking for something a little more hands-on? Try out the pop-up makerspace by The Makery. For a second summer, The Makery will take over an island house and transform it into an interactive celebration of modern technology for folks of all ages. Budding inventors rejoice! This is your haven. You can dance with light, 3-D print, dissect small mechanics and more. (July 21-September 20, Saturdays and Sundays, Building 8A in Nolan Park.)
And if you just wanna grab a quick souvenir before boarding a ferry back home, browse the wares at Brooklyn ARTery and Better Than Jam, two traveling gift shops that will open on the island for the summer and feature products, artworks and small wonders by our borough’s finest. Each will also host DIY workshops on Saturdays from 2-4pm. (Building 410A and 10B in Nolan Park, open May 23-September 27)