My Brooklyn Is Better Than Yours
While residents of Brooklyn have been raving about their borough for years, visitors are finally hearing the call. Grace Bonney, the blogger behind Design*Sponge, shows us a few of her favorite spots.
My first real impression of Brooklyn was of a burning car seen through a broken window at an artist's loft. I was in town to visit a college boyfriend, and, while leaning out of the window, we watched a car nearly explode in an abandoned lot across the street. I'll never know why the car was engulfed in flames, but I'll always remember the thought that crossed my mind: Never, ever move to Brooklyn.
That was six years ago, and thankfully both my initial impression of the borough and the college boyfriend are ancient history. After graduating from William and Mary College in Virginia, I moved to Brooklyn to take an internship with a small record label based in Park Slope. While lugging boxes of CDs around the city and doing the bidding of some fairly nefarious recording artists, I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had always been interested in art and design, but I didn't really have a clue about where exactly I fit within those industries.
So, like any new kid on the block, I set out to explore my neighborhood. Along the way I was lucky enough to meet a special someone who accompanied me on these outings. He noticed that my running commentary almost exclusively covered interior design, so over brunch at Union Picnic one day he suggested that I start a blog on the topic. One long story and several years later, the blog, Design*Sponge (designsponge.blogspot.com), is now my livelihood and a forum for people around the globe who enjoy design in its many forms.
Aside from being a fun way to spend the day, Design*Sponge has provided me with a platform to discuss Brooklyn artists and shops. And so I've become something of an amateur tour guide for design fans visiting the borough. While I love holding forth on chairs and tables, it's a thrill to be able to write about other aspects of Brooklyn besides the furniture. What follows is my guide to the best that Brooklyn has to offer. I hope it'll serve double duty: as both a practical guide to eating, shopping, and playing, and a heartfelt testament to the city I call home.
If there's one thing I enjoy as much as design, it's food. And what I love most about dining in Brooklyn is the sense of welcome each restaurant cultivates. As sophisticated as the food is, there's rarely the stodginess you tend to find in "fine dining" establishments across the river.
The single restaurant I'd recommend above all others is DuMont, in Williamsburg. A little hipstery? Sure. Crowded at times? Definitely. But if you're looking for a place that has delicious food and a warm yet uniquely Brooklyn vibe, this is it. The unfussy modern versions of classics like croque monsieur and roasted chicken are executed perfectly and with feeling. (Don't miss the Dumac & Cheese--it's a $12 dish of heaven, with pasta, cheddar, Gruyère, Parmesan, and bacon.)
Like DuMont, but over in Red Hook, Schnäck offers up comfort food with a spin, serving beer milkshakes next to onion rings and little burgers called Schnackies. It's certainly not for the faint of heart--or for those with cholesterol concerns--but if you've never tasted a beer milkshake you're in for a real treat.
Since we're on a comfort food kick here, head on down to Red Hook's restaurant row (Van Brunt Street) to Baked, for a malted-milk-ball cake or cupcakes topped with red hots. Baked's creations are as satisfying as your mom's old recipes but are sold in an über-hip café designed by Brooklyn locals Hivemindesign.
Unlike Baked and Schnäck, the next few restaurants won't require a postprandial trip to the gym. With an interior that's heavy on woodwork and light on frills, Red Hook's The Good Fork echoes the working-class shipyard neighborhood just outside its doors. But looks can be deceiving; this is the most polished food I have had in ages. The menu varies but always includes light pastas and dishes with an Asian flair, a nod to chef Sohui Kim's Korean heritage. The Good Fork also has an impressive drink selection.
Chestnut in Carroll Gardens makes some of the freshest seasonal fare in the borough, with homemade pastas, risottos, and fulfilling soups. Call for reservations and you'll be guaranteed an enjoyable, relaxed evening.
Brunch is probably my favorite meal, and Brooklyn has some of the best options in the city. Tumble out of bed on Sunday morning and head to Williamsburg's Fada for steaming bowls of hot chocolate. Whether you have pain au chocolat on the side is entirely up to you (but I strongly recommend it).
Then go to Cobble Hill and listen to the ragtime-jazz band while you dine on an omelet or steak and eggs at Bar Tabac. At Union Picnic in Williamsburg, the Elvis (French toast with peanut butter and bananas) and the fried chicken with waffles are irresistible. You might consider taking a walk around McCarren Park when you're done--these dishes are a reminder of why the King had heavier years.
Besides being home to beautiful brownstones, Fort Greene is one of my favorite places to indulge in my burgeoning rice obsession. A tiny restaurant tucked on Dekalb Avenue, Rice works a single main-ingredient theme. The carrot rice ball is a fantastic way to start a meal.
Further north, the sister restaurants Diner and Marlow & Sons sit on a fairly quiet corner in south Williamsburg. Diner, which is inside an old 1920s Kullman Diner car, focuses on executing standards like burgers and mussels exceptionally well, while Marlow is popular for its raw bar. Neither is particularly easy on vegetarians, so be sure to call ahead to ask about the vegetarian dish of the night. Let's just say that the vegetable galette isn't always a success.
At Press 195, further south in Park Slope, the name says it all. Specializing in pressed panini sandwiches, Press offers dozens of options and one heck of a dessert sandwich (Nutella, bananas, and vanilla ice cream).
Just up the avenue in Prospect Heights is Franny's, which some consider the best pizza--being Southern I can't bring myself to say "pie"--in the city. Expect an ambitious list of appetizers using seasonal ingredients, and a main-course menu of pizzas. Bring an open mind: The $8 pizza topped with just olive oil and sea salt isn't pizza as you know it.
Brooklyn is fast becoming a hotspot for those who are believers in market-fresh cooking. One of the restaurants leading the way is Park Slope's Applewood. The wait is often laughable, but the food is seriously delicious. And the lavender martini is a must.
The last three spots on my list are favorites for different reasons. Aurora in Williamsburg dishes up authentic Italian food (and my favorite dessert--affogato, espresso poured over gelato). Little D Eatery combines local ingredients to make interesting meze-style plates. And I love Patois for its modern French cuisine. Each represents the way that Brooklyn's top chefs are taking traditional food and putting a contemporary spin on it.
In the world of design, Brooklyn is a major capital. Over the last few years, the industry has looked to the borough for the latest trends and styles.
And when the design world talks about Brooklyn, more often than not it's referring to Williamsburg. Once an industrial area known primarily for factories and warehouses, Williamsburg has transformed into a haven for artists, particularly those interested in furniture and product design.
If a single shop could be pinpointed as the center of the change, it would be The Future Perfect. Dave Alhadeff has created a shop that's known the world over as one of the best places to discover up-and-coming designers. The merchandise is very clever and includes edgy accessories like oil lamps made from recycled (but nonworking) grenades. Once, while traveling in Chicago, I heard shop owners and design students saying "Oh, that's so Future Perfect." You know you've made it when you're an adjective.
Across the street is a little jewel box of a shop called Sleep. It carries top-notch versions of what the name implies--bedding, pillows, blankets, and lingerie--and it always seems like a great place to take a nap. Resist the urge to slumber and pick up a pair of silk PJ's or even a new quilt if you've got the dough. The bedding can be a bit pricey, but the quality is excellent.
Independent boutique Sodafine recently relocated from Fort Greene to Williamsburg. Artist Erin Weckerle stocks her cheerful olive-green shop with cutting-edge fashion, such as one-of-a-kind handmade shoes and crocheted earrings. This is the place to snag a piece that you won't see on your friends at home.
Before you leave the 'hood, stop by Ugly Luggage on trendy Bedford Avenue and PS9 on North Ninth Street. The former specializes in retro furniture and accessories (such as old church pews, desks, and typewriters), while the latter stocks the coolest of the cool in pet gear. I love the modern cat scratchers in hot pink and electric blue.
Traveling south (on the subway's G line) you'll bump right into Atlantic Avenue, home to a long stretch of vintage and antiques stores. Darr, where there's everything from mid-20th-century chairs and tables to outright oddities (think antique surgery tools, masonry, and glass apothecary jars), is probably my favorite on the avenue.
If you're craving more antique furniture and feeling brave, walk down Atlantic to Horseman Antiques; the staff can be surly, but the selection is worth a trip. I've been snapped at for touching things (in a furniture store!) but the store has the stuff to back up the attitude. The things I'll endure for good vintage furniture . . . .
A short ride from the Bergen Street stop on the F line is Tivoli Home, a tiny Scandinavian store tucked into a corner of the General Store (a coffee shop) in Dumbo. Tivoli carries a nice collection of Danish dish towels and ceramics and larger pieces like pendant lamps and glass candelabras.
One of the reasons I moved to Park Slope was the fantastic selection of shops, like Cog & Pearl, a Fifth Avenue institution carrying goods such as blown-glass jewelry, ceramic bowls, and trays refashioned from street signs; Bird, a chic clothing shop with a branch for babies next door; modern-design store Matter, which is often compared to The Future Perfect but deserves distinction of its own; and Rare Device, a small shop specializing in indie clothing, accessories, and home decor.
Park Slope is also where the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. makes its home. The store is affiliated with the 826NYC literacy program, founded by writer Dave Eggers (author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What). The front half of the store sells gallons of "invisibility powder," secret identity kits, capes, and other superhero necessities. Proceeds go toward a free tutoring service, reachable through a hidden door in the back.
Grab a cab or the B77 bus and make your way to Red Hook, one of the borough's hotter spots. At Erie Basin, Russell Whitmore has pulled together an exceptional collection of antique furniture, accessories, and jewelry. Check out the vintage cameos--they're stunning.
The bright lights of Manhattan may lure visitors to sleek clubs and trendy gallery openings, but Brooklyn has something edgier and hipper for those seeking real fun in the city (without dress codes and notorious socialites).
Whether you're looking to catch a daytime concert in an abandoned pool (at McCarren Park in Williamsburg), play bocce while you drink your beer (at Floyd, NY in Carroll Gardens), or see a live Balkan brass band (at Barbès in Park Slope), Brooklyn has you covered.
One of my favorite spots is right around the corner from my apartment--the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It show-cases some of the most beautiful flora the city has to offer and hosts the breathtaking cherry blossom festival each April. After you tiptoe through the tulips (and lilacs and orchids), take a short walk down Washington Avenue and visit the renowned Brooklyn Museum. The recently redesigned façade--a sheer glass pavilion created by Polshek Partnership Architects--is representative of the museum's dedication to contemporary art. The museum also has a fantastic series of kids' programs.
Even small towns boast yoga classes these days, but nothing quite compares to the outdoor Sunset Yoga classes offered by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. Bring a mat and prepare to be awed by the view of the Manhattan skyline.
Unlike Manhattan, Brooklyn has a significant amount of open space. From rambling parks and playgrounds to vast rooftops, Brooklyn places an emphasis on getting outside and enjoying the natural beauty of the borough. One of Brooklyn's most beloved alfresco activities starts at a mere $8. Every Friday and Saturday night, and some Thursdays, in summer the Rooftop Films association hosts a festival of shorts and features at various locations, such as on warehouse roofs or at parks. Filmmakers can even submit their own efforts for consideration. I'm sure nothing beats seeing your hard work projected on a screen while gazing out at the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges.
If you're in Williamsburg, check out the newly reopened McCarren Park Pool. A popular public pool in the '30s and '40s, it was closed in the mid-'80s and became known primarily for its rather seedy nighttime inhabitants. But a few years ago the city cleaned it up, and now the space is used for dance and music performances. It's one of the hottest places to see bands like Sonic Youth and the Walkmen perform in the summer.
Music fans will also want to hit Southpaw on Park Slope's Fifth Avenue. Once a small venue specializing in great local bands, Southpaw has become a rock and roll institution, attracting nationally known acts like Cat Power and Sufjan Stevens. Looking for something a bit more eclectic? Moto, in south Williamsburg, is under the tracks of the J, M, and Z subway lines (look for the bike hanging above the door). The owners, both motorcycle renovators, have created an old-world European feel where you can hear live bluegrass and klezmer music while drinking a pint of the Belgian ale Corsendonk or one of the amazing wine selections.
The Riviera gallery on Metropolitan Avenue is part of Williamsburg's growing gallery scene. Some of the most interesting artists and illustrators around, such as Hyemi Cho and Dan Funderburg, have shown there lately.
Any Brooklyn story would be lacking if it didn't mention two classic spots. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (who created Central Park in Manhattan), Prospect Park occupies more than 585 acres in the heart of the borough. With soccer and baseball fields and wide-open areas for picnics, the park is one of the few places where city residents can escape into nature. If sunbathing isn't for you, check out the pedal boats in the lake.
And these days, Coney Island is far more than the beach, Nathan's Famous hot dogs, and the Cyclone roller coaster. You can root for a minor-league baseball team, the Cyclones; gasp at the Mermaid Parade (Brooklyn's answer to Mardi Gras, this year's is June 23); and listen to great music at The Village Voice's Siren Music Festival in July. There's a buzz in the area: A group called Creative Time gathered artists to do pro bono work, painting signs and sprucing up storefronts and concession stands.
My favorite entertainment spot in Brooklyn, Pete's Candy Store, holds a special place in my heart as the site of my first date with my boyfriend. Pete's serves tasty drinks and bar food, but is best known for its weekly events, like a reading series, stand-up comedy, and even a spelling bee. Grab a pint and make a night of it. You'll be glad you came.
1. Roger that! Traveling by cruise ship with family members or friends? Bring along battery-operated two-way radios such as Motorola's Talkabouts to keep everyone connected. Typically used for skiing, they worked great on our family cruise. Sherry Brooks, Westlake Village, Calif. 2. Wrap music. To protect your digital camera or MP3 player from getting soaked in the rain, encase it in a single layer of Glad Press 'n Seal wrap (the new stuff that's a little thicker). Then use a razor to cut a hole for the camera's lens area; for the MP3 player, just jam the earphone plug through the plastic and into the jack. You can still see the screen and operate the functions through the wrap. I've used both devices during downpours and had success each and every time. Simon Langler, Oakville, Ont. 3. Location, location, location. When renting an apartment abroad, take a map and detailed directions. This is especially helpful if you're not fluent in the language. I encountered taxi drivers in Brussels, Madrid, Seville, and Palermo who had no idea how to find the address of the apartment I had rented. Gary Maier, New Westminster, B.C. 4. Peachy Keen. I thought Keen all-terrain shoes were a little funny-looking, what with the rubber strip extending over the toe (keenfootwear.com), but I wanted a shoe with lots of ventilation for a recent trip to Europe. There was nothing funny about them when we were tromping through Rome in a thunderstorm and I was the only one with dry feet. I couldn't have been happier, and everyone on the trip was envious. Kathy Reilly, Sacramento, Calif. 5. The ship's shape. My husband and I just came back from the Bahamas on a Carnival cruise. The ship was huge, so we went to the purser's desk and got a small map of the ship--it fit perfectly in an evening bag. Before we ventured to an activity or event, we mapped an efficient route there. Unlike other passengers, we were a happy, calm couple getting to where we needed to be! Sheila Rodis Bradshaw, Glen Allen, Va. You can find more tips in the April 2007 issue of Budget Travel magazine.
Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand
In his new book Sound Bites, lead singer Alex Kapranos—who dreamed about forming a rock band while working in a restaurant kitchen—recounts vivid, thoughtful tales about everything from doughnuts in Brooklyn to blowfish in Osaka. Read an excerpt about his favorite place to eat back home in Glasgow. FORLORN FRIDGE - glasgow The food has been in the fridge for two and a half years. I'm back in my Glasgow flat. I'm not home often. Everything is as it was when I left for Sweden, in the summer of 2003, to record our first album. A packet of vine leaves, a jar of chilli paste, something that looks like dripping and a carton of orange. All still there. Tonight I'm eating out. Again. I rattle West of Dennistoun in a cab, along the fizzing spray of motorway, a mile of dirty concrete cast across the city like a slice of gristle through the Glaswegian heart. Clattering off at Charing Cross, we pull up in the dead-end of Argyll Street, Finnieston. Brutalist blocks of flats loom from the gentle rain. The scaffolding-clad Kingston Bridge dominates the skyline. Sodium half-light ripples off puddles, black as blood at midnight. A draggled whippet shambles past in a fluorescent orange coat. I'm eating at the oldest, noblest restaurant in town.The Buttery was built in the mid-nineteenth century. Originally a wine merchant's cellar, it expanded over the next hundred years and gained a reputation for its food. In the late 1960s, Glasgow's town planners tore up the city. The tenements of Finnieston were razed. The only building left standing was the Buttery. Apparently, it survived because the architects and contractors ripping up the city didn't want to lose their favourite haunt. A Masonic plaque on the wall outside, bright under a lonely spotlight, may be another clue to its survival. I'm eating with a friend who updates me with six months of gossip, asks the waiter for another one of those crispy things and whispers that she feels awkward as a socialist for eating somewhere like this. She's distracted by a bottle of heavy red, and we lean back into the padding of our chairs. The peaceful warmth envelops us like a good library with the reassurance of ancient oak, leather and stained glass. Like the best of Scottish menus, the Buttery's is an entente cordiale of French and Caledonian cuisine: Loin of Ayrshire Lamb and Provencal Vegetables. Smoked Confit of French Hen with Spiced Haggis-- the chieftain of the pudding race, maligned in undeserved disgrace. I love this bag of sheep bits and oatmeal. In an age of gourmet sausages and head-to-tail eating, it is worthy of a higher place in the culinary canon. The aromatic richness is balanced by one of the greatest textures to greet the teeth, a gentle bite between your porcelain. While haggis now regularly appears on the menus of good Scottish restaurants, it is still treated with suspicion outside the country. I can't recommend it enough. It is a true regional delicacy: nothing else in the world has the same texture or flavour. It's not even a particularly acquired taste--there is nothing too extreme about it. It is best when bought from a good local butcher in Scotland, but the biggest supplier of good haggis is MacSween's of Edinburgh. They export all over the planet and, if the idea of a sheep's pluck boiled with oatmeal in a stomach lining is too much for you, they also make a vegetarian version. Poached pears and whisky ice cream conclude one of the best meals I've had in around 60,000 miles of traveling. As we step back out into the street, there is a sense of Brigadoon in the drizzle. It seems improbable that this place could still be there in the daylight of tomorrow. I'm just glad that Masonic architects spared it and saved me from my forlorn fridge.
Little-Known Bargain Hotels
Here's a look at accommodations in Japan and Spain that are state-run. We also offer the scoop on inns in Portugal and Puerto Rico that are merely state-supervised. Japan National Park Resort Villages is the English name for a network of 36 inns located in Japan's spectacular national parks. Unlike many accommodations in the Land of the Rising Sun, these government-run inns are affordable. But be aware that, unlike youth-oriented hostels, these inns are rarely staffed with English speakers. Guests must make themselves understood as best they can. One example of an inn is Shikotsuko, near the city of Chitose on the island of Hokkaido. This 39-unit inn boasts a view of Lake Shikotsu and the volcanoes and hot-springs that ring it. The inn offers rooms with private showers, use of a sauna, and two meals a day for $58 a person, based on double occupancy. Learn more at the official National Park Resort Villages website by clicking here and by visiting this official tourism site. Spain In 1928, Spain created a program to preserve its architectural treasures by turning them into government-run hotels, called paradores, or stopping places. Today there are 95 paradores. Many of the paradores are in palaces, convents, and other architectural treasures. The rest are generally hybrids of modern hotels and existing, centuries'-old structures. Rates are reasonable. From March through October of this year, paradores will cost between $151 and $204 a room a night. The government of Spain is renovating all of the paradores by 2010 to ensure that their quality remains high. An example of one of these Spanish inns is Parador de Guadalupe 40-room hotel in the town of Guadalupe in the heart of Spain. This parador flaunts the exterior of a 15th-century St. John the Baptist hospital. A garden orchard and secluded swimming pool distinguish the property. The nightly rate is $164 per room from March through October 2007, including breakfast. (Rate based on double occupancy. Tax of 7 percent not included.) Learn more at the official Spanish site for paradores (click here) by visiting Spain's tourist office website (clicking here). Portugal Pousadas de Portugal (which translates as "inns of Portugal") are 43 country inns that were managed by the Portuguese government for decades until 2003, when they were privatized and taken over by the Pestana Group. While no longer state-run, these properties remain moderately priced and well maintained. Most pousadas are former castles, monasteries, fortresses, and palaces. They're intimate, ranging in size from 9 to 51 rooms. Some inns are located in restored monuments and decorated with traditional motifs. Others are hybrids of modern hotels and historic properties in popular resort areas. Still others are former family farmhouses and 19th-century manor houses located in remote towns. For example, Ria Pousada in the town of Aveiro in northwestern Portugal, lies at the edge of a lagoon that can be viewed from the balconies of many rooms. The inn's public spaces feature atmospheric Portuguese sailing music. The property is near the surfer-friendly beaches and colorful houses of the Costa Nova region. Rates in March start at $158 for a room, based on double occupancy. A single room can be booked for $141. Learn more at the official website of Pousadas de Portugal by clicking here. Puerto Rico In Puerto Rico, there is a network of 23 paradores, or country inns, that are state-certified but run by families. These country inns offer plain but well-maintained accommodations, generally either in former government buildings or in picturesque locations. The inns offer a less artificial feeling Caribbean holiday than the casino-lined beaches around San Juan. But you need to book your parador weeks--or sometimes month--in advance. Weekends are peak time, and nightly room rates hover around $100. Many inns offer meal plans, too, offering three meals a day for an additional $30-$40. If your area is remote and lacks a restaurant row, this meal plan can be a good deal. One example of a parador is the Caribbean Paradise inn, in Patillas, a town on the southwestern coast of the island. The inn is in an area surrounded by sugarcane fields and retains the feel of island life a century ago. The rate for a second-floor, ocean-view room with air-conditioning is $105 a night, based on double occupancy. First-floor rooms without an ocean view can be had for $79 a night. Learn more about paradores and how to book them by visiting Puerto Rico's official website on the topic (click here). Related Stories: High Style, Low Rates: Spanish Paradores A View with a Room: Lighthouses in Croatia Guesthouses of Vieques
Trip Coach: February 13, 2007
Luisa Frey Gaynor: Hi, I'm Luisa Frey Gaynor, a travel writer specializing in family cruising. Thanks for joining me. I'm ready to answer your questions. _______________________ New York, NY: I have a five year old daughter and she really lives for dance and art. Are there cruises available that offer these activities? We're thinking of taking our first cruise this summer (in June, 2 adults & one 5yr. old). Thank you. Luisa Frey Gaynor: RCI has a great youth program which usually features a daily "Adventure Art by Crayola" activity in which your daughter will be engaged in artistic activities. As for dance, none of the youth programs offer dance related activities for the kids, however, all the big family-friendly cruise lines (Carnival, RCI, Princess, NCL, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Costa Cruises) have big production shows many times throughout the cruise. Bring your daughter to the early shows and I bet she'll enjoy seeing the professional dancers up on stage! _______________________ Brooklyn, NY: Are there any kid friendly cruises to Bermuda or somewhere close to the East coast for a family of four with two very active boys ages 5 & 8? Luisa Frey Gaynor: Yes, there are a number of family friendly cruise lines cruising from the East Coast to Bermuda. The Bermuda season is usually from May through October. Royal Caribbean International's Explorer of the Seas cruises from Bayonne, NJ all season; Empress of the Seas sails from August through October from Philadelphia; and Grandeur of the Seas cruises during the fall from Baltimore. Also, Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Journey sails all season from Bayonne, NJ. Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Line offers departures from Boston aboard the Norwegian Majesty all season, along with sailings on the Norwegian Crown from Philadelphia in May as well as New York City from June through October. I suggest the Royal Caribbean ships as being most family friendly, especially since they all have rock walls and other active facilities. NCL's Norwegian Crown is also a good choice; however, the Norwegian Majesty is a smaller, older ship with not as many amenities for kids and teens. _______________________ Philadelphia, PA: I have two sons with very different interests. My 10 year old is into sports & my 7 year old is into crafts. Is their a specific cruise that will keep them both happy? Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest a Royal Caribbean Int'l cruise for your active family, especially their mega-ships such as the Voyager class of ships (home to indoor ice skating rinks) or Freedom of the Seas. This ship entered the market last year with a huge splash--not only because it was the largest cruise ship ever, but because it has an area for surfing as well as a water park which kids love! All RCI ships have plenty of pools, a rock climbing wall, and most of them also have mini-golf courses which your athletic son will love. As for your more artistic son, RCI has a top notch youth program too. Each cruise usually features a daily "Adventure Art by Crayola" activity in which your son will be able to express himself creatively. They often incorporate the destination into the crafts activity--for example, making fake Greek vases out of Crayola clay when sailing to the Greek Islands. _______________________ Hastings, NE: What time of year can I get the best fares/savings for my family to cruise? Luisa Frey Gaynor: Fall (Sept. through mid-November) is the best time to get savings for your family. Since it's back to school time, ships are slightly less full and this, coupled with potential hurricane season in the Caribbean, is the impetus for cruise lines to offer their lowest rates to the Caribbean. Cruising during this time might be best for a family with young children who aren't in grade school since this is traditionally "back to school" time for most older kids. Also, check out Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises' annual Kids Cruise Free fares to the Caribbean during their November through April Caribbean season. This summer, MSC is also offering their Kids Cruise Free promotion on their European / Mediterranean cruises. _______________________ NYC, NY: We would like to go to Nova Scotia with our 5 yr. old. Are there any special cruises that have lots of things (educational, exercise, etc.) for her to do? Luisa Frey Gaynor: I recommend a five-day cruise out of NYC to Nova Scotia aboard Carnival Cruise Lines. They have a great youth program which features daily activities in various categories such as "Edu-Cruise" or "Exer-Seas" for each age group. These summer time cruises always have plenty of families aboard. _______________________ New Richmond, WI: My kids are very active, to say the least! Can you recommend some ships that have a lot of active, outdoors activities? Luisa Frey Gaynor: You have two options: either cruise on big ships, such as Royal Caribbean Int'l, which have tons of active "bells and whistles" on them--ranging from rock walls, to ice skating rinks, surf areas, and basketball courts--or cruise on a small, expedition type ships that offer lots of active things for kids to do ashore. For example, kids can play soccer with local kids who live along the Amazon River aboard International Expeditions' cruises; go on kids-only nature hikes in the exotic Galapagos Islands aboard an Abercrombie and Kent voyage; earn their zodiac (small, inflatable boat) driving license on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise; learn to scuba dive during a Windjammer Barefoot Cruise; or learn to paddle an outrigger canoe with local Tahitian children on a Regent Seven Seas Cruise. This latter program is offered in conjunction with the Jacques Cousteau Society. These cruise lines, which headline these unique, hands-on activities for children ashore, offer family friendly departures during the summer season. _______________________ Roselle Park, NJ: Do any of the cruises out of NY/NJ that go north have any beach time on their stops? Luisa Frey Gaynor: There aren't many beach destinations on New England and Canada cruises. If your ship calls at Martha's Vineyard, then you're in luck for pristine beaches which are great for swimming. Also, if your ship stops in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, there is an excursion you can purchase which takes you to a coastal village and beach complete with sea caves. Here, however, the water is colder and the beach is better for combing for shells and rocks. Lastly, those ships calling in Bar Harbor, ME, are in close proximity to Acadia National Park, which has a scenic beach. If you just want beach time and it doesn't matter if you sail north to Canada or south to warmer, beach climates, then I suggest you hop on a cruise from New York to the Bahamas and northern tip of the Caribbean. NCL and a few other lines offer these cruises either year round or seasonally during the summer months. _______________________ White Plains, NY: We are a family with two teenage girls and can leave from NYC or Fort Lauderdale/Miami for a cruise in June. What cruise line and port would give us the best bang for our buck? and when is the best time to book to get the best discount? Also would we need two rooms or could we use one since omost of our time would be spent outside the cabin. (the kids are 13,15) Thanks. Luisa Frey Gaynor: Generally, the most family friendly line that gives you the "most bang for your buck" is Carnival Cruise Lines. They also have a very good teen program for your two young adults. You can either cruise north from New York to coastal Canada (summer season) or cruise all the way to the Caribbean from New York. These are the most cost effective options since you can drive to the port of New York and save yourself lots of money on four airfares compared to flying to Florida to catch a Carnival cruise. Generally, these days, the best discounts are offered the earlier you book your cruise. _______________________ Maplewood, MN: Every year we do a family reunion with about 22 people. We've been considering a cruise but are not sure how this would work for a large group. Ages are 5 to 85. We're used to the difficulties of vacationing with a large group but are there things about cruising that would make it more difficult or less? Luisa Frey Gaynor: Family reunion cruises are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, Holland America Line offers a family reunion package with reduced rates for families booking five or more staterooms for the same sailing. In addition to the group pricing, every family member gets a soda fountain card for unlimited soft drinks, a free family photo per stateroom, and dinner for the entire family in the alternative restaurant on HAL ships. Those booking at least 10 staterooms get a complimentary upgrade from an outside stateroom to a verandah. What's great about cruises is that there is literally something for everyone. From top rate (free) youth and teen programs, to educational lectures or piano bars at night for adults, everyone in your group will find plenty to do. The beauty of cruising as a group is that you can request for your extended family to eat dinner at tables right next to each other so that even if people want to do their own thing by day, you'll all be together in the evening. (Plus, no one has to cook or clean up, compared to if you rent a big house or condos for your reunion.) Also, cruising allows each individual family some privacy since they'd probably each book their own stateroom. This gives in-laws an option if they want a little down time from the group. Since cruise lines have tons of shore excursions you can opt for, chances are you'll find activities ashore that many in your group will want to do together too. _______________________ Hamden, CT: We are looking to take a cruise in August to Alaska. We are a family of 6, so we will be getting two cabins. We heard the only way to really go is getting balconies. So we are determined to see Alaska the right way. We are looking at taking either the north or southbound trip. We have 4 children, their ages are 15, 14, 12, and 7. We have traveled with Carnival before(to Canada and Bahamas) and the kids have enjoyed themselves. Is it worth paying the extra for Alaska and going on Princess or Royal Caribbean than on Carnival? Any suggestions you can give us would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time! Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest you look into booking one inside cabin and one outside cabin right across the hall from each other. That way, you'll save some money on booking just one outside cabin instead of two, but still have the great Alaska scenery outside one of your doors. Since you have teens, they could stay in the inside cabin across the hall. If you do this, you might want to bring a baby monitor to keep in their room so you can monitor their comings and goings easily! It's really your call if you want to sail with Carnival again or switch to Princess or RCI. If you enjoyed Carnival, you may as well stay with them since they have a very good youth and teen program. Princess, though, has a huge fleet of ships sailing Alaska so you will have more departure date and itinerary options than Carnival. (Princess also offers youth and teen programming.) _______________________ Mooresville, IN: Are there situations we could encounter when cruising with our special needs 21 year old son? He's never been on a cruise and would love Disney cruise lines. He uses a wheelchair for long-distance walking and he needs a helping hand when on un-level surfaces. We're both 50 yr's old and he is our only child. Would he access to any of the teenage programs? Or did we wait to long? Luisa Frey Gaynor: Before you even said he's fond of Disney, I was going to suggest Disney Cruise Line. They are very helpful as far as special needs. Unfortunately, your son is too old for the teen programming (must be 13 to 17 years old) but there is so much fun, family friendly programming on Disney Cruise ships that you and your son will have more than enough to do. From family interactive game shows to lavish Disney stage productions and even a Pirates In The Caribbean deck party and fireworks, you'll all be pleased--actually, more liked "wowed"! _______________________ Toronto Ontario: What are the advantages and disadvantages of booking airfare through the cruise line? Since I'm travelling with kids, I want to avoid multiple changes of planes, really early/late depatures, etc. As well, how do I know whether they will be flying us in the day before? (need to know for school). Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest booking the air yourself. Sometimes the cruise lines will route you on non-direct flights (which are usually cheaper) even though there are direct flights. Or you might end up with a return flight that is hours after you get off the ship, forcing you and your kids to wait way too long at the airport. (Generally, any flight after 12 noon is usually safe for you to book and will give you enough time to get off the ship and to the airport, unless the distance between the port and airport is extensive.) Thus, you have more control over your schedule if you book yourself, which with kids can be a crucial factor in avoiding whining! If you do book through the cruise line, one of few advantages is that if your plane is delayed upon arrival, then the cruise line would be aware that you are running late and might try to hold the ship's departure if at all possible. With independent air, if you're late...your ship may sail without you. _______________________ Bernalillo, NM: We are planning an Alaska cruise for Summer 2008. We are 60 and 62 but our children and grandchildren, ages 1,3,5,5 and 10 a the time for a total of 13 passengers. The main thing that we are interested in seeing are the Humpback Whales and then other wildlife. Should we go on an inside passage cruise, on a big ship or a small boat? We all live in the Albuquerque NM area. Luisa Frey Gaynor: Quite a quandary--there are plusses and minuses to seeing Alaska with kids by big vs. small ships. If you're very interested in seeing wildlife, then I'd suggest cruising aboard a small ship cruise line to Alaska such as Cruise West, Lindblad Expeditions or Majestic America Line. However, with children as young as one and three years old, I think you'll be much more comfortable on one of the larger ships, such as those plying Alaskan waters from the Carnival, Holland America, Princess, NCL or Royal Caribbean fleets. Staterooms on the smaller ships tend to be tighter than the big ships and it might be difficult fitting a crib in them compared to the big ships. Plus, toddlers are very active and they have more room to roam on the bigger ships. Holland America and Royal Caribbean offer private babysitting while Carnival has group babysitting. While you may see wildlife from your large ship, though, there is a greater chance of seeing Alaskan wildlife from the deck of a small ship. So I think you have to weigh your odds to see which is more important--seeing wildlife or the comfort of the littlest ones in your group. _______________________ Palatine, IL: Are there any options for families over 4 besides buying two cabins? (out of the question). I am a single mom with 4 children ranging from 10-16...and we would love to take a cruise. Just curious!!! I am never able to do online price checks because they will never alow 5 passengers...which we most definitely are. Luisa Frey Gaynor: Yes, it does get pricier when you need a cabin for families with more than four members. A number of the larger cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean Int'l, offer family cabins which can generally sleep more than four in various configurations. I suggest, though, that you start researching your cruise about a year early if you're looking for family cabins--there are limited quantities of them and they tend to get booked early. Royal Caribbean is also a good choice since they have a very good youth and teen program and their ships have lots of active, outdoors activities which children teens enjoy. I suggest RCI's Voyager class of ships for your teens especially. _______________________ Phoenix, AZ: Every two years, my mother-in-law's relatives get together for a July 4th family reunion. Since we are scattered from coast-to-coast, with the highest concentration in the midwest, we take turns hosting the event in our hometown or somewhere nearby. Rather than going to Iowa again, I would love to propose a family reunion on board a cruise ship. The passengers range from elderly (60s, 70s) to babies, to just about every age in between. There are typically between 50 attendees and most can stay about 4 days, usually over a weekend. What would be the best type of cruise to take and which port would be best to depart from? Obviously, we'd prefer southern California, destination Mexico. Luisa Frey Gaynor: Please see my response to the Maplewood, MN question about family reunions. Specifically, if you're interested in a short 3, 4, or 5-day cruise to Mexico, I suggest Carnival (4 day cruises from Los Angeles and 5 day cruises from San Diego) or Royal Caribbean (3 and 4 day cruises from Los Angeles). Other lines, such as Princess, NCL or Holland America offer cruises to Mexico but they are 7 days or longer. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean have plenty of great programming for little ones in your group. Carnival's youth program starts at age 2 (youth counselors change diapers) and includes group babysitting. RCI's youth program starts at age 3 (must be potty trained) but there is private babysitting and daily 45-minute Fischer Price Aqua Babies and Tots interactive sessions (caregiver must be present) for those under three years old. _______________________ Scottdale, PA: What are the best cruiselines for toddler/preschooler activities? Luisa Frey Gaynor: Most cruise lines' complimentary youth programming starts for youngsters aged three years old and over who are potty trained. However, there are a few lines which offer other options for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Disney Cruise Line has a wonderful nursery for infants and toddlers under three years old. It's staffed with professional nannies and there is an hourly fee. The nursery is not open round the clock but it does have hours daily. I suggest you book your desired nursery times soon after embarking the ship. Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line both offer youth programming for those two years and older. While Carnival's youth counselors change diapers, NCL's don't. Thus, parents will get a beeper on NCL cruises if their little one is in diapers. The NCL youth counselors beep parents to come and change diapers themselves. Carnival also has group babysitting for little ones in the late evening and also early morning of port days. Royal Caribbean has Aqua Babies (6 to 18 months) and Aqua Tots (18 to 36 months) programming daily on all its ships. The activities are hosted by a youth counselor and feature Fisher-Price toys. Care givers must be present with the little one during the daily 45 minute interactive play session. Note that most cruise lines post a sign which does not allow those in diapers in the pools aboard ships. Disney Cruise Line is one of the exceptions since part of its kiddie pool has a separate filtration system, and thus they allow diapered children in designated parts of the Mickey Pool. _______________________ Fort Lauderdale, FL: Hi Luisa, What is the best way to find a criuise deal for a single mom with two teenage boys? Are there any friendly cruise lines who do this? The children rates I have seen are per paying adult. Your help is appreciated. Luisa Frey Gaynor: Unfortunately, cruise lines do not offer a single parent rate. Thus, even if your second passenger sharing a room is a child or teen, they still have to pay the full second person rate. (Usually you pay the same rate per person for the first two people sharing a cabin and then a lowered third and fourth berth fare for any additional people in the cabin regardless of age.) One option is to check out Costa Cruises' Caribbean sailings from November through April, when kids 17 years and younger sail free with two full paying people in their cabin. While one of your teens would have to pay the full adult rate, at least the second child would go free. MSC Cruises offers the same deal on its fall through spring Caribbean cruises as well as its summer Mediterranean sailings. _______________________ Burlington, VT: My husband and I are considering a cruise with our somewhat shy 15-year-old daughter. Are all the teen programs the same, or might there be one or two that would be better for a kid who isn't ready to jump right in? Luisa Frey Gaynor: Actually, "jumping right in" is the best way for a teen to meet other teens. Last year, my also somewhat quiet teenaged daughter was on a cruise and she hesitated until mid cruise to check out the teen program, despite my urgings to go earlier in the cruise. By the time she decided to go to some of the organized teen activities, many of the kids had paired up already with their new found friends and she felt left out. At the end of the cruise, she vowed that on our next cruise she'd go to the teen programming the first day right away in order to make some friends to hang out with during the cruise. Even if it takes some bribing, try to get your daughter to go to the teen orientation session the first night right away to see what it's all about. _______________________ Columbus, OH: We are a family of five who would like to try a cruise vacation to Nova Scotia this summer--late June or early July. My teenager, the oldest, is easily bored and doesn't really want to go. Are there any cruise lines that offer activities that teens would enjoy? She's fourteen. Thanks! Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest checking out Carnival's five-day cruises to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada. Carnival has a very good teen program complete with disco nights, scavenger hunts, going to see shows together, pool parties, etc. Carnival ships also have a spiral slide and a video arcade, which teens enjoy too. _______________________ Carlsbad, CA: I would like to make reservations for a family reunion which numbers 23-25 people during the week of Dec 26 2007 on a cruise ship sailing either to the Caribbean or around the Hawaiian Islands. There would be additional expense of airfare no matter which coast we depart from . Do you have any suggestions for the most economical itinerary and how to obtain the best cruise price? Thank you so much. Luisa Frey Gaynor: If you're considering Hawaii, I recommend going on a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise around the Hawaiian Islands for a week. They specialize in Hawaii and are the only cruise line that can sail solely around the Hawaiian Islands without having to call at a foreign port. NCL has a good youth program for those aged 2 to 17 years. If little ones aren't potty trained, parents will get a beeper to alert them when they need to come change a diaper. Hawaii is a wonderful destination for all ages. Since you're considering a holiday cruise, I suggest you look into it soon ... they book up quickly. For getting comparative rates, go to web sites like www.CruiseCompete where you can plug in your desired dates and destination and cruise only agencies will email you back what their best rates are. I suggest booking through cruise only agencies rather than big, anonymous groups like Expedia, since cruise only agencies are experts in this area. These days, rates don't vary too greatly due to new rules set by the cruise lines in an effort to level the playing field. You should call the cruise only agent before booking since they may be able to offer you a better deal verbally than what you see on line. Also, with human contact, you know who to go to if you encounter a problem after you book. _______________________ Los Angeles area (Granada Hills), CA: We are looking for an Alaskan cruise for our family. We also would like a land extension into the Brooks Range. We are attending a wedding in Eugene OR on July 14 and want to leave following that. My son is 13 years old. We are very adventourous and enjoy outdoor sports like hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, bicycling, and camping. Luisa Frey Gaynor: Since you're "outdoorsy", I suggest going on a small ship adventure to Alaska. Some of the lines you might want to consider include Lindblad Expeditions and Cruise West. On these lines, you'll have guided nature hikes ashore and you'll be able to see wildlife much more "up close and personal" than on the big ships. _______________________ Pocono, PA: We live in PA and we dont like to fly--is there any cruise that leaves from NY or NJ, and what are the recommended cruise lines? Thank you. Luisa Frey Gaynor: There are a few different directions you can cruise to from New York City and New Jersey ports. In the summer, you can head to Bermuda (see answer to Brooklyn, NY) or go north to New England and Canada. Carnival is your best bet for a family friendly cruise to coastal Canada. Alternatively, there are a number of cruise lines, such as NCL, which offer year round cruises from New York all the way down to the Bahamas and the northern tip of the Caribbean. _______________________ Germantowm, MD: My sister and I are trying to plan a cruise for her family (two kids ages 4 & 7) and mine (no kids). Any suggestions for a cruise or cruise line with activities for all of us together and then just for the adults/kids separate? Thanks! Luisa Frey Gaynor: Actually, all of the big cruise lines offering youth programs are very family friendly, but definitely have tons for adults to do on their own. I recommend Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America, Costa, NCL or Disney Cruise Line. Actually, Disney has an adults only section on each ship containing a few bars, night clubs, etc, as well as an adults only pool and adults only area of its private beach in the Bahamas. _______________________ Cincinnati, OH: Luisa, What advice to you have for a family of 6 adults, 3 teens and one infant to book a Caribbean cruise on short notice for the week of March 10th out of any port? We are not fond on Carnivale lines. Luisa Frey Gaynor: At this short notice (for March 10), you won't be able to be too picky. If you prefer not to cruise on Carnival, I suggest Royal Caribbean since they have a huge fleet and hence, probably the best choices left for a Caribbean cruise next month. This is spring break season so it might be tough to get the cabins you want--but you never know! _______________________ Kingston, NY: We have small children and we are looking to cruise. Is there any cruise you would suggest? Luisa Frey Gaynor: Please see the answer to the question from Scottdale, PA regarding options in cruising for little ones. Thanks! _______________________ Judy, Charleston, WV: We are a family of four ages 44, 46 with children aged 9 and 15. This is our first cruise. We will depart Ft. Lauderdale, FL on July 29 on a 6 day cruise visiting Freeport, Bahamas and Costa Maya, Mexico. As we have never cruised before, do you believe a 6 day cruise to be a good choice? As first time cruisers with older children what advise would you give? Any information about excursions would be appreciated as well. Thanks Luisa Frey Gaynor: Yes, I think you'll enjoy a six day cruise. Frankly, on a three or four day cruise, you're just getting relaxed and it's all over! Some advice I can offer regarding older children and teens aboard ship is to set some limits before your cruise. This includes curfews (mainly for your teen -- the teen programming starts later in the evening and goes into the wee hours of the morning) as well as limits for on board spending. The video arcades and internet use can get pretty pricey if your teen is really into them, like most teens are! Also, I suggest leaving a note pad at a central place in your cabin for the teen to leave you notes as to where he/she is since on board ship, the teen will probably have a lot of freedom. We've always taken walkie talkies aboard ship with us so that my 13 year old daughter can get a hold of us when she's off on her own. I guarantee that by the end of the cruise, both children will have made some new friends and will want to cruise again! _______________________ Luisa Frey Gaynor: Thanks for all your interesting questions. I hope you and your family will sail the high seas soon ... once you do, I bet your kids will be hooked on cruising like mine are. (My 13 year old daughter has been on over 25 cruises!) Smooth sailing!