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New York (Brooklyn) Overview
Both Cunard and Princess Cruises regularly turn ships around in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on the Buttermilk Channel, which separates Brooklyn from Governor's Island. Red Hook is a neighborhood in South Brooklyn, named for the red clay soil and the point of land projecting into the East River. Though it may not look like much now to the discerning traveler, Red Hook is the definition of "up and coming" -- high-end condos are being built, IKEA has arrived, and the Beard Street Pier walkway has potential to be a major waterfront attraction with postcard-perfect views of the New York Bay and Statue of Liberty.
The allure of sightseeing amid the skyscrapers of Manhattan is strong, particularly for first-timers, and the Red Hook port is close enough for cruisers to take advantage of all the Big Apple has to offer (for more info, read our New York port profile. But, don't pooh-pooh the idea of kicking around Brooklyn before or after your cruise.
While Brooklyn may seem, at first glance, to be a lot like Manhattan -- with heavy traffic, sizzling nightlife and diverse people, cultures and cuisines -- it is a destination in itself. With 2.5 million inhabitants, it is the largest New York City borough in terms of population; if it were its own city, it would be the fourth-largest in the United States. And, it has its own personal identity. You'll find residential areas of brownstones and corner stores, trendy streets packed with bars and clubs, and a bustling downtown area where women in business suits and pumps walk alongside hipster artists in jeans and sneakers.
Indeed, Brooklyn is defined by its diversity: African-American history is prevalent in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Sunset Park boasts its own Chinatown, and in Flatbush, you'll feel like you are in the islands, mon. (Brooklyn boasts the largest Caribbean population outside of the actual Caribbean.) Even if you don't have time to visit a variety of Brooklyn's neighborhoods, you can take in this cultural dissonance simply by strolling along Smith Street. Known as Brooklyn's "restaurant row," Smith Street is lined with funky shops and ethnic eateries, with options for all budgets and tastes -- French, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Asian....
In the words of one Brooklyn resident, "Sure, you can take a subway into Manhattan for the night, but why would you want to?"
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Take home a Brooklyn Bridge print or postcard. Foodies will want to check out the shelves at Jacques Torres' chocolate shop at 66 Water Street.
It's English. If you're hoping to hear the stereotypical Brooklyn accent, you may be out of luck, since so many people living in Brooklyn these days are transplants from elsewhere.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the U.S. dollar. International visitors will find it easy to access cash at numerous ATM machines. Exchange bureaus so common in Europe are not in the U.S., but major banks do provide exchange services. Banks are generally open from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., but many are open later and have Saturday-morning hours. For current exchange rates, visit XE.com.
Where You're Docked
The passenger ship terminal is located in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, opposite Governor's Island on the Buttermilk Channel. From your ship, you'll be able to see Manhattan, Staten Island, Lady Liberty and even Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey.
Parking is available at a rate of $23 for the first day and $20 for each additional day. You do not need to make a reservation for parking. The facility features pay-on-foot machines: When you return from your cruise, pay with cash or credit card at one of the machines. Porters are available to help you with your luggage. You can get additional information at nycruise.com.
The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal is near a commercial strip, which is located along Van Brunt Street, three blocks from the terminal via a pedestrian gate. The B61 bus operates along the street to downtown Brooklyn. The terminal has vending machines, telephones and bathrooms.
Cobblestones peek through on Columbia and Van Brunt Streets, the two main thoroughfares. The neighborhood features an eclectic mix of shops, galleries, bars and restaurants, though at this point in time, few major points of interests are within walking distance of the pier. One of the more interesting foodie events in the region is also right in the neighborhood: In the summertime, usually from June through September, the Red Hook Ball Fields (at Clinton Street and Bay Street) are a magnet for foodies from around the New York City area. Join the crowds to sample Latin and South American cuisine, which you purchase from food trucks and eat at picnic tables. On a sunny day, it's the place to be in Brooklyn.
Red Hook may not be the most central location in Brooklyn, but you still have plenty of options for getting around. The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal is accessible by taxi or private limousine service, as well as by car and bus.
If you're driving, follow signs from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel or the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the cruise ship terminal. There is ample parking at the terminal (see above).
For local travelers who don't wish to drive to reach the port, Cruise Shuttle Express provides transportation to Brooklyn's cruise terminal for passengers from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Cost varies depending on pick-up location.
While in port, taking a taxi or car service is your best bet; Red Hook lacks a subway line and is separated from neighboring Cobble Hill by a major highway. A ride from the pier to the downtown area of Brooklyn should be just less than $10. Consider calling Arecibo, a popular Brooklyn Car Service, at 718-783-6465.
If you wish to take a bus, you can catch the B61 at Van Brunt Street and Seabring Street, heading toward downtown. The cost is $2.25, and you can use the bus to get to subways that will carry you into Manhattan and throughout Brooklyn. Go to hopstop.com for directions, maps and times.
The NY Water Taxi also connects Red Hook to Brooklyn Heights, Wall Street and Midtown Manhattan, but the service is limited to certain times of the year, and the pier is a hike from the cruise terminal, particularly for passengers with luggage.
Watch Out For
Red Hook is not as centrally located as the Manhattan cruise ship terminal, so you'll want to spend the money on a car service, rather than taking public transportation, in order to see the key sites of NYC in a compressed amount of time. While there are increasingly nice hotels in Brooklyn, first time visitors to New York City will want to overnight in Manhattan before or after their cruises in order to be close to museums and historic sites. Passengers who are just docking there for the day should consider cruise-sponsored shore excursions that drive to the key attractions.
The Brooklyn Museum, one of the largest and oldest in the country, is housed in a 560,000-square-ft., Beaux-Arts building. Among the attractions are permanent and world-renowned collections of Egyptian art. 200 Eastern Parkway, open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
After exploring the museum, be sure to check out the many parks and gardens in the complex, including Prospect Park (where you can rent pedal boats in the summer and ice skates in the winter), the Prospect Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden -- check their Web site to see which plants will be in bloom during your visit.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan takes an hour or less, and is a great way to get a bird's-eye view of both skylines. The walkway entrance is next to the Federal Court Building (there are stairs on Cadman Plaza East and Prospect Street, and a ramp on Johnson and Adams). Along the route are plaques explaining a little bit about the bridge's history, including descriptions of what pedestrians would have seen on a walk when it first opened in 1883.
Take the only guided bus tour of Brooklyn's best pizzerias -- the "A Slice of Brooklyn" pizza tour. This 4.5-hour tour includes pizza and soft drinks at Grimaldi's (see more below under "Lunching") and L&B Spumoni Gardens. The 22-seat bus weaves through Brooklyn to sites including the Brooklyn Army Terminal, from which Elvis shipped off to Germany in 1958, and a Bay Ride garage, where scenes from "Goodfellas" were filmed. An audio-visual presentation delves into the history of the borough, its landmarks and -- what else? -- pizza. One caveat: The tour departs from Manhattan.
Even with recent efforts to beef it up a bit, Coney Island is still a bit tawdry, but its nostalgic pull puts it in the must-do category, if only to say you've been there. All the Coney Islands sites are centered on the boardwalk, just off Surf Avenue, about a half-hour drive from Red Hook in traffic. For a thrill, ride the Cyclone rollercoaster and the historic Winder Wheel, or check out the rides at the new Luna Park amusement park. Nathan's famous hot dog stand is also right near the boardwalk and is the perfect lunch stop before -- or, perhaps, after -- getting on the rides. Other attractions include the New York Aquarium and MCU Park, where you can catch a Brooklyn Cyclones baseball game.
Been There, Done That
The Brooklyn Children's Museum was founded in 1899 -- the first museum created just for kids. There are nine interactive galleries, ranging from "Totally Tots," a space for under-5's that includes a kid-sized quarry and a reading nook, to "Neighborhood Nature," where children of all ages can observe live animals eating, sleeping, swimming and playing -- including resident Fantasia, a 20-foot-long albino Burmese Python. It's located at 145 Brooklyn Avenue; please check the Web site for seasonal hours.
Beer enthusiasts should swing by the Brooklyn Brewery, famous for its pilsner and India pale ale. Free tours are offered on Saturdays from noon until 5 p.m., and happy hours happen every Friday night from 6 until 11 p.m. You'll find it at 79 North 11th St.
Cool tidbit: Brooklyn Brewery's label was designed by Milton Glaser, the same man who designed the "I Love New York" motto.
The popular Brooklyn Flea is a sometimes-outdoor market, offering vintage and handmade fashion and housewares -- the types of items you would expect at a flea market -- but also has a spread of interesting food vendors. On some weekends, you may find popsicles, mini-cupcakes and lobster rolls; others may bring empanadas, fish tacos and pizza fired in mobile ovens. The location changes seasonally, so get directions at brooklynflea.com before leaving home.
Fort Greene Park, originally named Washington Park, was established on the site of Fort Greene in 1847. Fort Greene, formerly known as Fort Putnam, was the scene of a fierce battle against the British in 1776. During the war, maritime prisoners were held in dismantled warships and then buried in shallow graves; today, washed-ashore bones of prison ship martyrs are kept in a crypt at the Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial. The park also offers more lighthearted fare, such as tennis and basketball courts, playgrounds, chess tables and expansive lawns. Check it out at 85 South Oxford St.
The New York Transit Museum, in Brooklyn Heights, is the largest museum in the world dedicated to urban public transportation history. The museum, housed in an authentic 1930's subway station, exhibits more than 100 years of transit memorabilia, including restored subway cars, antique turnstiles and a working signal tower -- with a nifty gift shop to boot. It's at 130 Livingston St.
Best for Families: Junior's world-famous cheesecake, cut into huge slices, is worth the calories. The recipe has remained a family secret for three generations. You'll find it at 386 Flatbush Ave. It's open Sunday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. and Friday and Saturday, 6:30 a.m. until 2 a.m.
Best Brooklyn Pizza: Ask any Brooklynite where to get the best old-school pizza, and the answer will nearly always be Grimaldi's. Brick oven slices? Fuhgeddabout it. Patsy Grimaldi began making pies at the age of 10 the old fashioned way -- in a coal oven -- and continues to do so today at his pizzeria in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) district. Located at 19 Old Fulton St., it's open 11:30 a.m. until 10:45 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. through 11:45 p.m. on Friday and noon until 11:45 p.m. on Saturday.
Pizza newcomers include Lucali, a short taxi from the port in Carroll Gardens. They don't take reservations at this tiny, trendy spot, but you can call ahead to put your name on the list (718-858-4086). Find it at 575 Henry Street. It's open Wednesday through Monday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Best for a Luxe Lunch: The River Cafe is an elegant waterfront restaurant with gorgeous views of the New York skyline. Lunch offerings include crispy duck, lobster salad and osso buco. (For a really over-the-top experience, try their $65 caviar service.) It's open for a la carte lunch from noon until 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday; a Sunday brunch is offered from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at 1 Water St.
Most Convenient Brunch: Right on Red Hook's main drag, Van Brunt Street, Kevin's serves up light and fluffy blueberry pancakes and coffee from locally renowned Stumptown. Afterward, follow the crowds down the street for sweets at Baked and browsing through galleries and boutiques. Check it out at 277 Van Brunt Street. Brunch is offered Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Grab dinner Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 11p.m.
In a tie with Kevin's for "best brunch near the dock," nearby Fort Defiance serves up old-time egg creams and fabulous muffaletta sandwiches, served on bread commissioned from one of Brooklyn's best Italian bakeries. 365 Van Brunt Street. Mon, Wed-Thurs from 8 a.m, to midnight; Fri-Sun 8 a.m.- 2 a.m.; Tues 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Best Downtown Location: The New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge is right in downtown Brooklyn, within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Promenade Park and nine major subway lines. It's also a great option for families: rooms are spacious (by New York standards), and there's an indoor swimming pool -- an amenity Big Apple visitors would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Rates start in the $200 to $300 range. It's at 333 Adams St.
Close to the Port, Easy on the Wallet: The Brooklyn Motor Inn is located in Red Hook near the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Satellite television and vending machines are among the only frills, but rooms start from just a bit more than $100 per night, and the hotel offers free parking to its guests. It's located at 140 Hamilton Ave.
Hot Newcomers: The Nu Hotel, located in the middle of residential Boerum Hill, puts you at the center of brownstone Brooklyn. You can walk to great restaurants and wander through the shops on Smith Street and Court Street. Rates start in the $200 to 300 range. It's at 85 Smith Street.
Hotel Le Blu may be located on industrial Fourth Avenue (picture muffler shops and fast-food chains), but it's within walking distance of lovely Park Slope. Follow the stroller-pushing moms to nearby Prospect Park, as well as wonderful restaurants and great shopping on Fifth Avenue and Seventh Avenue. Rates start in the $200 to $300 range. Find it at 370 Fourth Avenue.
Editor's Note: We've listed just a few close-to-the-port establishments here. For more places to stay, check out our New York port profile.
Staying in Touch
Ohiyo I-Cafe, 4817 8th Ave. or 8523 Bay Parkway, 2nd Floor
Baked, a bakery near the terminal, has wireless Internet access. It's at 359 Van Brunt Street, 718-222-0345.
For More Information
On the Web: Brooklyn Tourism and Visitors Center
Cruise Critic Message Boards: U.S.A.
The Independent Traveler: New York Bargains and Features
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor, updated by Sherri Eisenberg, Cruise Critic contributor