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Book a Different BoroughFebruary 8, 2008 By: Travel Agent Central Contributor Home-Based Travel Agent
The variety of accommodations and tours in Brooklyn may surprise you
Getting around: Drivers can encounter traffic and parking difficulties in Brooklyn just like Manhattan, not to mention the same high NYC car rental prices. Whether they're traveling within Brooklyn or between Brooklyn and Manhattan, clients should be able to get anywhere they need to on the subway. Brooklyn also has a lot of public buses—these trips take longer, but it's a way to see neighborhoods in between the ones you're visiting. Get bus and subway information at www.mta.info.
Tour operators: For a comprehensive survey of Brooklyn, New York Visions/Harlem Spirituals (www.harlemspirituals.com) runs a five-hour motorcoach tour every Tuesday, departing from Manhattan's Times Square at 9 a.m. The route takes in brownstone neighborhoods, the Prospect Park/Brooklyn Museum area, Sheepshead Bay and the ethnic nabes of Brighton Beach, Borough Park and Crown Heights. There are stops at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Park Slope, Williamsburg and Coney Island. Cost is $59, and the company pays 10-15 percent commission.
A highly authentic, and tasty, experience is the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour (www.asliceofbrooklyn.com), created and led by the personable Tony Muia, a lifelong resident of the heart of Italian-American Brooklyn (his motto: "Manhattan? Fuhgettaboudit!"). The 4½-hour trip includes stops at two legendary pizzerias, Grimaldi's and L&B Spumoni Gardens, where passengers get two slices each plus soft drinks. The tour visits Dumbo, Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. Several other neighborhoods and landmarks are seen during the bus ride, and there are short walks at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Ferry Landing and the Coney Island boardwalk. Muia shares history and lore about pizza as well as Brooklyn, and he shows clips from movies right as the tour passes the spots where they were filmed. The tour operates three days a week and costs $75; Muia (917-678-9733, [email protected]) generally discounts agent bookings by 10 percent.
Gray Line (www.newyorksightseeing.com) operates a hop-on/hop-off ride through Brooklyn Heights, Downtown, Fort Greene and the Brooklyn Museum/Botanic Garden area. Start and end point in Manhattan is South Street Seaport. There are continual departures from 10 to 4 daily, and passengers can get out at seven stops in Brooklyn. If they stay on the bus, the trip takes about two hours. The price is $39.
Like Gray Line, CitySights NY (www.citysightsny.com) tours Brooklyn by double-decker bus every day, though its trip is not hop-on/hop-off. The 90-minute ride through the Heights, Downtown, Park Slope, around Prospect Park and along Flatbush Avenue departs hourly between 10 and 3 from South Street Seaport. Fare is $37. Agents can either set up an account that gives them access to discounted rates or establish an "affiliate link" so clients can make the booking themselves via the agent's web site. Click on Affiliates on City Sights' homepage for more information.
The four aforementioned operators charge about $10 less for children 12 and under.
Levys' Unique New York (www.levysuniqueny.com), a company run by Brooklynites Mark Levy and his three sons, promises the "four E's" on their tours: entertaining, educational, engaging and enlightening. LUNY offers walking and coach tours in such varied Brooklyn neighborhoods as Williamsburg, Brighton Beach, Crown Heights, Greenpoint, Borough Park, Park Slope, Red Hook and Ditmas Park, as well as iconic spots like the Brooklyn Bridge, Prospect Park and Coney Island. They have standard and customized itineraries, and all their guides are native New Yorkers. Sample rates for groups are on the web site, but the company has net rates and will do individual tours.
For a customized walking tour, you may want to contact urban historian Justin Ferate (212-223-2777, [email protected]), who has been lauded as one of New York City's premier tour guides by the governor, the state tourism council, AAA and several publications. Check out his tour ideas—which are grouped by such themes as architecture, literary, landscapes and general overview—at www.justinsnewyork.com. Ferate will work with agents to create an itinerary suiting their clients' interests and preferences, and he offers net rates for agent bookings.
Hotels: When the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (www.brooklynmarriott.com) opened in 1998, it was Brooklyn's first new hotel in six decades. In the one decade since then, about 500 hotel rooms have been added and another 2,000 planned, with major industry names like InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Starwood jumping on the Brooklyn bandwagon.
The recently expanded Marriott still has the best location. Just a couple of blocks from the bridge in Downtown, it's only minutes from Manhattan's financial district and not too far from midtown. Guests can walk to such neighborhoods as Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights and reach others by a short subway or cab ride. The hotel has 637 rooms and suites, as well as a restaurant, bar and gym with swimming pool. Six of its 35 stories are concierge levels.
Brooklyn's first boutique hotel opened in November. The 48-room Hotel Le Bleu (www.hotellebleu.com), at the Gowanus/Park Slope border, is not as conveniently located as its promotional material would lead you to believe—clients going to see a Broadway show, for example, would have to allow a good hour's traveling time by either subway or taxi. But it's a short walk to 5th and 7th Avenues—great shopping and dining streets—and easily accessible to most other places in Brooklyn. Le Bleu's rooms feature all the deluxe and high-tech amenities associated with the boutique label; most have balconies, with either Brooklyn panoramas or Manhattan and Statue of Liberty views. A rooftop restaurant and lounge are scheduled to open in the spring, and continental breakfast buffet is currently included for all guests. Rack rates begin around $325.
Le Bleu is five blocks from the subway at Union Street and 4th Avenue; just around the corner from that station is the 1½-year-old Holiday Inn Express (www.expressbrooklyn.com). Five of its 115 rooms have a Jacuzzi tub, and complimentary breakfast buffet is served for all guests. Rack rates start around $189.
Opened last year, the 104-room Comfort Inn Brooklyn Bridge (www.comfortinnbrooklyn.com) is actually a couple of miles from the bridge, in the brownstone area of Boerum Hill/Carroll Gardens, with plenty of dining, shopping and entertainment options (including BAM) nearby. Among the in-room amenities are plasma TVs, and some rooms have whirlpool tubs. Rack rates start around $180, including breakfast.
For more intimate accommodations, consider the Akwaaba bed-and-breakfast (www.akwaaba.com/brooklyn/index.html). Each of the four guest rooms in this restored 1860s Italianate mansion has its own bathroom and is decorated with collectibles or African art and memorabilia. Most have a Jacuzzi and some feature four-poster beds. Southern-style breakfast and afternoon tea with refreshments are included in rates, which start around $160 per night. Contact owner Monique Greenwood ([email protected], 866-466-3855 or 718-455-5958) about net rates. Akwaaba is located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood that has not always had the greatest reputation. But it's on a beautiful street in Bed-Stuy's historic (and quieter) district, Stuyvesant Heights, about five blocks from the subway and around the corner from the shops and restaurants of Lewis Avenue. Greenwood and her staff will tend to clients' requests for tours, restaurant reservations, spa appointments and anything else they wish.
For more Brooklyn B&Bs, many of which are in historic homes, check out www.visitbrooklyn.org/lodging.html.
Dining: Traditionally, Brooklyn dining has meant down-to-earth authentic ethnic eats. Go to Atlantic Avenue in Downtown for Middle Eastern; Manhattan and Nassau Avenues in Greenpoint for Polish; Brighton Beach Avenue (a block from the Coney Island boardwalk) in Brighton Beach for Russian; 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst or 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge for Italian; Coney Island Avenue in Midwood for Pakistani; 5th Avenue in Sunset Park for Latino; and any of the main streets of Flatbush, East Flatbush or Crown Heights for West Indian.
Brooklyn also has a number of restaurants that are city institutions—they've been around for generations and usually serve something that's been declared the best in New York, such as Junior's (www.juniorscheesecake.com) for cheesecake or Peter Luger (www.peterluger.com) for steak.
These days, the Brooklyn dining scene is dominated by hip newer eateries offering up all sorts of cuisines and ambiances. You could just direct clients to a recently emergent restaurant row, like Smith Street in Boerum Hill/Carroll Gardens, Park Slope's 5th Avenue or Bedford Avenue and nearby streets on the north side of Williamsburg.
Foodie favorites include The Grocery (718-596-3335) and Michelin-starred Saul (www.saulrestaurant.com), both on Smith; Stone Park Cafe (www.stoneparkcafe.com), Al Di La (www.aldilatrattoria.com) and Flatbush Farm (www.flatbushfarm.com) in Park Slope; Ici (www.icirestaurant.com) in Fort Greene; vegetarian Bliss (718-599-2547) on Bedford; nouveau American at Williamsburg's Dressler (www.dresslernyc.com); upscale burger haven Dumont (www.dumontrestaurant.com), also in "Billyburg"; Alma (www.almarestaurant.com) in the waterfront district near Red Hook; The Good Fork (www.goodfork.com) in Red Hook; and The Farm on Adderley (www.thefarmonadderley.com) in Ditmas Park.
Resources: Brooklyn Tourism's visitors center in Borough Hall is open to the public weekdays from 10 to 6 (www.visitbrooklyn.com, 718-802-3846).
Heart of Brooklyn (www.heartofbrooklyn.org) promotes such cultural attractions as the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park, which are all within walking distance of one another. For some historic sites and smaller museums visitors might otherwise miss, check out www.brooklynculturalcircuit.org.
For do-it-yourself sightseeing virtually anywhere in the borough, recommend the book Walking Brooklyn (Wilderness Press, 2007) to your clients. Written by Adrienne Onofri, the author of these Brooklyn articles, it contains 30 self-guided tour routes and is chockfull of historical and architectural tidbits, attractions info, neighborhood tales and food and drink suggestions.