Family Touring of the Big Apple with Bike and Roll New York City

I’ll admit it, I’m a New York City neophyte.  Our kids have begged to go since we moved to the state, and when I had a meeting come up in the city, I could resist no longer.  I took the girls to the Big Apple over Columbus Day for a Daddy/Daughter weekend, but how would I take a bite out of this massive city?  That’s when I found Bike and Roll New York City.  A guided bicycle tour on car free bike paths seemed like just the way to get an intimate, up close look at the city.  Want to know what our family thought?  Then, continue reading to follow along with us as we Bike and Roll New York City.  This post was written as part of Family Travel Friday with SixSuitcaseTravel.

We booked Bike and Roll New York City’s Bike and Boat Tour that promised to take us from the Battery to bridges to Brooklyn to boats and back.  We needed to arrive at the Bike and Roll New York City Battery Park location at Pier A promptly at 9:15am because our tour was tied to the NY Water Taxi schedule.  We lucked into a spectacular New York City fall day, easily the best day weather-wise on our entire visit.

We arrived at Battery Park at 9:00am, and were instantly greeted by our tour guide Damien.  We chatted a bit, and learned he was a fellow Upstate New Yorker (from Utica just down the road from us in Rochester).  As Damien finished setting up our bicycles, we briefly walked around Battery Park, noted the line of people waiting to board the ferry to Liberty Island, explored Castle Clinton (1800’s fort that gives Battery Park its name), and made stops at the restrooms.

At 9:30am, our tour departed.  Damien led us down the new bike path to the South Street Seaport.  The girls and I were instantly struck by the neighborhood on the water complete with its boat marina.  This was not the New York City we expected.  It looked more like a neighborhood we experienced in San Diego, CA, not something we expected in NYC.

We biked to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Damien pointed out sites along the way, and gave a history of the bridge as we waited for the stoplight to allow us to cross over to the bridge.  The light turned green, and we climbed up, up, up the surprisingly steep Brooklyn Bridge.  The girls struggled a little with their gears while biking up the bridge, but once we reached the top – oh, what a view.

At the top of the bridge, Damien pointed out the area landmarks such as the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, DUMBO (neighborhood Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Brooklyn Bridge Park, the 1922 Jane’s Carousel, and the art community where he lived.  It was fantastic to get a tour from a New Yorker full of knowledge and pride of his community.

We spent nearly 20 minutes on top of the bridge viewing the sites, taking photographs, and then were rewarded with a ride down the other side.  Any struggles the girls had biking up the bridge were forgotten as they coasted with their hair blowing in the wind.

The tour continued in Brooklyn through the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, and we biked on streets that seemed very familiar to us.  The row houses and Brownstones of Brooklyn Heights were reminiscent of the Pittsburgh, PA neighborhood where Grandma lives – making us all feel comfortable and at home.

Next, we arrived at Fulton Ferry underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.  Damien told us about the lighthouse on the property (now the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, YUM!), we learned more about the history of the bridge, and paused again for photos.  At 10:45am, we hopped aboard a NY Water Taxi and were whisked away down the East River towards the Statue of Liberty.

The boat ride came at the perfect time in the ride, and gave us a great break from sitting on the bike.  It allowed us to put our feet up, relax, and listen to the tour guide.  Our narrator told us the history of the Statue of Liberty, how it was a gift of the French, and how New Yorkers raised money to pay for the pedestal.  The water taxi puttered slowly by the statue, turned the boat 180 degrees in order for everyone to have an opportunity to see the Statue, take it in, and take photos.  The boat guide even offered to take photos of us with the Statue as well.

The NY Water Taxi was a wonderful way to see the Statue of Liberty.  We parked our bikes right on board, and the boat took us very close to the Statue without having to deal with crowds or lines.

Following our visit with Lady Liberty, the Water Taxi continued up the Hudson River where the guide pointed out Ellis Island, the New Jersey skyline, and landmarks of the Manhattan skyline such as the Empire State, Woolworth, and Met Life Buildings.  We cruised until 11:30am, the girls pondered their experiences, and we ultimately docked at Pier 84 next to the USS Intrepid Air and Space Museum – the new home of the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

We disembarked from the NY Water Taxi, and it was back on our bikes where we headed down the Hudson River Park Greenway.

We passed the John J. Harvey fireboat at Pier 66, part of the Frying Pan restaurant complex.  Damien told the story of how the historic restored fireboat (originally built in 1931) was pressed into service after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and performed a critical role containing fires at the World Trade Center site when the hydrants stopped working.

We cruised by the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex where New Yorkers can bowl, boat, golf, skate… you name it.  All of the sudden, deafening keyboard, synthesizer music engulfed us, as the spectacle of endurance magician David Blaine’s latest stunt “Electrified” emerged at Pier 54.  After negotiating the crowds, Damien stopped our tour to tell us Pier 54 was the former home of the Cunard Cruise Line, and was the location where the survivors from the Titanic were brought 100 years ago.  If you look at the archway in the picture below, you can still make out the words “Cunard” and “Star” from the former White Star Line.

We finally reached Battery Park City and the Irish Hunger Memorial.  A grassy knoll dedicated to the many Irish immigrants who came to New York City during “The Great Hunger,” and helped build the city into what we know today.

It was now 12:30pm, and we had arrived back where we began.  Our tour started in one of the oldest portions of the city, Battery Park, settled by the Dutch in the 1600’s, and ended in one of Manhattan’s newest neighborhoods, Battery Place, rising around the site of the World Trade Center and Freedom Tower.  In just 3 hours we were able to see and learn about much of lower Manhattan, crossed the East River, received a glimpse of Brooklyn, and cruised up the Hudson River (see map below).  It was a perfect orientation to the city, and felt even more personal viewing it up close on bikes and from the water.

Guided tours from Bike and Roll New York City are seasonal, running from mid-April to the end of October.  In fact, you only have two weekends left if you want to experience this guided tour in 2012.  However, bicycles are available for rental during the colder months if you are interested.

The 3 hour guided Bike and Boat Tour costs $79/adult and $49/child (ages 12 and under) – note, tips for the tour guide are not included.  That may seem pricey, and granted it does add up for a family of 4, but consider the following: admission to the NY Water Taxi alone costs $26/adult and $16/child (ages 3-12).  Subtracting the cost of the water taxi makes the 3 hour tour $53/adult (~$18/hour).  If you are an adult and wanted to go to the observation deck of the Top of the Rock or Empire State Building to see some of the sites we saw on the tour, you would pay $25 for the privilege (and would probably not stay for an hour).  Personally, I thought the cost of the tour was a good value, especially for those unfamiliar with the city (like our family).  And once your tour is over, head for lunch across the street from Battery Park at the Cucina Liberta Market, they have absolutely everything from an Italian buffet, to pizza, to sandwiches, plus there’s a patio outside where you can eat away from the crowds.

Disclosure: Adventures by Daddy was provided with 3 complimentary guided bike and boat tours from Bike and Roll New York City for the purposes of writing this article.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.

So what do you think of the Bike and Roll New York City bike and boat tour?  Is this something that would appeal to your family?  Have you done the tour before, or a similar tour?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.  We’re participating in SixSuitcaseTravel’s Family Travel Friday Blog Hop.  Follow the hop to discover more great family travel writers.

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About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.