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Cheapo’s traveling to (or living in) New York City, take note: On Wednesday, June 18, the city’s first IKEA opened in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. It’s notable (and controversial) for many reasons, but right now we’d like to focus on the budget travel implications of the new store.
The store offers a free water taxi service every 20 minutes (from 8 AM to 10 PM) from Pier 11 in lower Manhattan, just south of South Street Seaport. Even if you’re not in the mood for shopping, the ferry could provide an entertaining diversion. It’s free — no proof of purchase required. Once at IKEA, you can enjoy a moderately priced Swedish-themed meal, pick up some house wares, or simply re-board and head back to Manhattan.
Last night, on the store’s second day, I wanted to check it out. So, I rode my bike down to the pier after work and met my friend Greg Young, with whom I produce the weekly “Bowery Boys” podcast (a weekly podcast on the history of New York City, sponsored by EuroCheapo). As the opening of the Swedish furniture behemoth is a notable event in the city’s history, we felt a certain responsibility to show up and register its impact.
Free ferry ride to Red Hook
There, at Pier 11, was a bright yellow ferry, its side emblazoned with a navy blue IKEA logo. We were greeted by the New York Waterways’ crew, which operates the IKEA ferry (as well as several other water taxis around the city). Contrary to my expectations, there were hardly any other passengers around. One crew member handed us each a free ticket, while another collected it as we stepped aboard the vessel. I locked my bike up on the deck. We sat inside, although we should have headed upstairs to the open-air upper deck (clearly more fun).
The ferry ride is great. You pull out into the harbor, then pass along the north side of Governor’s Island, floating along the Brooklyn shore. As you arrive at Red Hook, you pass the shipping yards, round the bend, pass the Fairway supermarket, and pull into the IKEA port. Behind the pier, the big blue box beckons.
Swedish-inspired dinner for $6.99
Once inside, we headed straight for the restaurant (pushing our way passed the clown-greeters as quickly as possible!). There was almost no wait. Apple-glazed salmon with veggies, with lingonberry juice for $6.99? Check! (The famed Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes are an even cheaper option.)
Touring the store (optional)
Finishing dinner, we took the tour of the IKEA. You know the scene. Notably: Many interior settings (bedroom with funky wallpaper, office with fake computer, kitchen with faux photos) are complimented with giant floor to ceiling windows looking out over the neighborhood, waterfront, and skyline. We witnessed many shoppers taking a break and simply stopping to gaze out the windows.
Downstairs in the “Marketplace,” pick up a 100-pack of “Glimma” tea candles for $3.99. The check-out was a breeze.
Free ride home
Greg and I emerged from IKEA at 8:45, two hours after we walked in. We carried our purchases in two bright blue sacks ($.59). “If it can fit in the sack, you can take it on the water taxi” reads the sign at the dock. However, if you buy a new sofa or a children’s bedroom set, you’ll have to pay for delivery.
A water taxi was waiting at the pier. There were probably 15 other passengers on board. We climbed up to the top deck as the boat reversed and began its trek back to Manhattan. How strange to see the Statue of Liberty sliding by behind Governor’s Island. How odd to see the other side of the passing Staten Island Ferry. How great to be taking a boat ride for free.
Editor’s Note: Although the ferry was nearly empty, and the store and restaurant were not jammed with other customers, we can only assume that this was because it was a Thursday night and the store had only been open for two days. We’re also assuming that, like other free and fabulous things in this city, soon enough this attraction will also be crawling with people. In the meantime, however, we recommend stepping aboard.