Our guide to Block Island

DARA AND JAMES'S GUIDE TO BLOCK ISLAND

Also, be sure to check out "The Perfect Block Island Wedding," our article from the Block Island Times.

 

VITAL INFORMATION

The Block Island Times
The Block Island Times is available online and for fifty cents at most of the island's embarkation points. Some summer issues are free. This "Gray Lady" is Block Island's paper of record and your first and last source for news and visitor information.

Weather
Anticipate that Block Island is often ten degrees cooler than the mainland, very sunny, with strong ocean breezes. Don't forget to pack sun glasses, sun block, and a hat, as these items are considerably more expensive on-island. The evenings can be cooler than you might expect. Women may want to bring a sweater or light wrap to the evening events.

Storms
Storms in late August are rare, but they can be fierce. Nor'easters and hurricanes can both shut down transportation to and from the island.

Communications
The area code in Rhode Island is 401, and the exchange for Block Island is 466. When making local calls on the island, you don't need to dial the area code. Until not too long ago, you didn't even need to dial the exchange! Most mobile telephone services now work on island (and on the ferries).

ISLAND FUN FACTS

From the EDC Profile of the Town of New Shoreham:
New Shoreham, known as "Manisses" by the Narragansett Indians, was named for Shoreham in Sussex County, England. Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer sailing under the French flag in 1524, compared this 10 square mile island to the Greek island of Rhodes. The island is popularly known as Block Island, named after the Dutch navigator Adrian Block, who visited there in 1614. The first European settlers arrived in 1661. In 1664, Block Island came under the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Colony, and the town of New Shoreham was formally incorporated in 1672. The island is located at the mouth of Long Island Sound, 14 miles east of Montauk Point, and from its shore Fisher's Island, Watch Hill, Point Judith, Narragansett Pier and Newport are visible. Block Island has no natural harbor: two were built in the nineteenth century. The Old Harbor was completed in 1876, and the New Harbor in 1896.

Demographics
Population: The population count for The Town of New Shoreham as of April 1, 2000, was 1,010. This represented a 20.81% increase (174 persons) from the 1990 population of 836. Rank: In 2000 New Shoreham ranks 39th in population among Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns. Median Age: In 2000 the median age of the population in New Shoreham was 43. Age Distribution: In 2000, 81.7% or 825 persons residing in New Shoreham were 18 years of age or older. 807 were 21 and over, 202 were 62 and over, and 175 were 65 and over. Population Density: The 2000 population density of New Shoreham is 104 persons per square mile of land area. New Shoreham contains 9.73 square miles of land area (25,211,055 Sq. meters) (6,229.84 acres). Housing Units: The total number of housing units in the Town of New Shoreham as of April 1, 2000, was 1,606. This represented an increase of 342 units from the 1,264 housing units in 1990. Of the 1,606 housing units 1,134 were vacant. 1,109 of the vacant units were for seasonal of recreational use. Households: In 2000, there are 472 households in New Shoreham with an average size of 2.13 persons. Of these, 250 were family households with an average family size of 2.82 persons.

Geology and ecology
Formed by glaciers nearly 10,000 years ago, Block Island features a diverse array of habitats. Maritime shrubland, beaches, and open morainal grasslands support more than 40 state and federal rare or endangered species, including the globally endangered American burying beetle. Birds stop here while migrating in the spring and fall along the Atlantic Flyway. In addition to the plants and animals, the human community is dedicated to conserving open space to preserve their natural and cultural heritage. (From The Nature Conservancy). For more on the story of Block Island's land preservation, which began more than fifty years ago through the efforts of one Block Island family, view the recently published 7-part Providence Journal series by Peter Lord.

ACCOMODATIONS

OLD HARBOR

The Bellevue House ($) (2-night minimum) 401.466.2912
The Sea Breeze ($) (2) 800.786.2276
The Sheffield House ($) (2) 866.466.2494
The Spring House ($$) (2) 800.234.9263
The Atlantic Inn ($$) (3-night minimum) 800.224.7422
The 1661 Inn & Hotel Manisses ($$-$$$) (3) 800.626.4773

NEW HARBOR
A pristine area on Great Salt Pond.
The Barrington Inn ($) (2) 888.279.9400
The Island Home ($) (2) 888.261.6118
Payne's Harbor View Inn ($$) (2) 401.466.5758

FARTHER AFIELD
We recommend bringing a car if you plan to stay here.
The Old Town Inn ($$) (2) 401.466.5958

TRAVEL

Block Island is not as undiscovered as it used to be, in large part due to advances in transportation to and from the island (now, if only they would do something about I-95).

Block Island is accessible by high speed passenger ferry from New London (CT) and Point Judith (RI). Daily ferries also depart from Newport (RI) and Montauk (NY). Weather permitting, New England Airlines operates hourly commuter flights from Westerly (RI). Passenger tickets for the New London ferry can be reserved online, and should be purchased within a few weeks of your travel date. Passenger tickets for the Point Judith ferry may be purchased at the time of departure.

Travel tips and other good advice for New London:
New London is the closest embarkation point from New York, with parking at $10-$15 dollars a day available across from the ferry docks. Please anticipate that driving time from New York City can vary from 2.5 hours to nearly twice that depending on summer traffic, with the heaviest traffic occurring Friday afternoons starting as early as 1 p.m. The New London Amtrak terminal, as well as the public bus depot, is located across the street from the ferry docks and provides another way to reach the ferry-unfortunately, ferry times and train times are not always well coordinated. If planning your trip by Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL), anticipate that trains often run a half hour late or more. If for any reason you anticipate not making your reservation for the high speed ferry, call the ferry number listed on your e-ticket before arriving in New London to reschedule your departure to another time (this is a new service this year). A third travel alternative to New London is the chartered bus operated by Adventure Northeast. Unless you are bringing your car onto the island or you are flying, a successful drive to Block Island ends with a good parking spot next to the ferry, with plenty of time for your connection. Relax. Drop a Dramamine. You are ready to start your island adventure. Now here is how to arrive New London in style. First, be sure to visit goblockisland.comfor driving directions from New York City and other locations. This is the place you should also make your online reservation at least a week ahead of departure. That site offers a great overhead map of the ferry area. We encourage you to print this out, as the streets of New London are notoriously confusing (just ask Grandma Adelaide about it). There are two points to cross the tracks from the city side to the boat side. If you arrive early, it is even possible to drive right up to the ticketing window by crossing the tracks at Gov Winthrop Blvd and turning right. Alert the ferry hands at the gate that you wish to make a drop off for the Block Island ferry and they will let you through. Also inquire if there is any ferry-side parking available for the weekend--you might just get lucky and save yourself a trip back around the tracks. If you arrive with a half hour to departure or less, skip this investigation and go right to the parking facilities. Most of the time, the ferry-side lots are full anyway. The walk from the lots will take five minutes or so.

The elevated Water Street parking lot is indicated on the ferry map, or try the outdoor lot right next to it (not indicated). For all ferry parking it is a good idea to have the necessary cash at hand. The outdoor lots all expect payment up front. As for ferry ticketing, be sure to have your reservation number (or e-ticket) and photo id at the ready. Once you've got the tickets printed out, you can queue up for the ferry on the floating dock just past the ticket booth.

One last ferry tip: once aboard, go right up the outdoor rear staircase of the ship and either take a seat outdoors or try the upper inside compartment. It's quieter (no TV tuned to CNN) and roomier than the downstairs cabin. Likewise, as the boat pulls in to Block Island, try waiting next to this stairwell for a quick disembarkation.

What to do in Point Judith
The most regular ferry service for Block Island departs from Point Judith, one of the region's largest fishing harbors, which is approximately one hour past New London from New York, and much closer to Providence and Boston (the Westerly airport is approximately half way between New London and Point Judith). Interstate Navigation operates both high speed and slow speed ferries, and the only car ferry to the island. Because of the frequency of these ferries, it is usually unnecessary to book advance tickets for the passenger ferries. Parking is available across from the Point Judith ferry docks for approximately $10 a day. The closest train station to Point Judith is in Kingston, Rhode Island, which is about 20 minutes away. It is possible to reserve taxies to Point Judith from both Kingston and the Providence airport by calling Wakefield Cab at 401-783-0007.

The Point Judith ferry at also offers good driving directions on its website, but no map of the parking area. Fortunately, parking for the PJ ferry is a little less confusing than at New London. Once you have made the final turn right off of RT 108 (tip: the turnoff is located next to a water tower), you will follow the ominously named Galilee Escape Road for a mile or so to its end. At this point, do not park at the first lots you see in front of you, but make a left and drive down several hundred yards until you see the ticketing booths for the ferry on your right. Make your drop off here, then cut over to the left side of the one-way road and turn into the lot just past the Department of Environmental Management building. This is the closest lot to the ferry and should cost about $10 a day. Again, have cash at the ready. If this lot is full, ask for directions to the additional lots in the area. Another useful tip: if you are really early, once you park, walk up the stairs to the deck above the fish store, next to the ticketing window, and park yourself at this outdoor restaurant and bar.

Bringing a car to Block Island
First note that bicycles are a great way to get around Block Island, and all ferry and airplane services to Block Island provide accommodations for bicycles. Bicycles may also be rented on-island and several facilities in town. There are also plenty of taxis operating at all times on island in the summer. It is even possible to rent a car on-island at the Oar/Block Island Boat Basin (see map). Mopeds are also available for rental, but their use is discouraged by island residents.

If you are planning to bring your car onto the island, be sure you have made a reservation ahead of time with Interstate Navigation. The reservation line is 866.783.7340. Also be sure to arrive an hour early and check in, or risk forfeiting your reservation. Please note that space on the car ferry often fills up months ahead of departure. If you've secured a reservation and you're bringing a car on the island, it's best to tank up on the mainland first-unless you want to have the joy of waiting for the island's only gas station to be open and fueling up at $4.00 a gallon. The gas station owner is, however, an island fixture and can be worth the visit.

Flying to Block Island:
New England Airlines offers a quick and scenic way to reach Block Island, with hourly flights from Westerly, RI taking just 13 minutes from mainland to the island. The Westerly airport is best reached from I-95 northbound by taking exit 92 in Connecticut. Bear right onto North Stonington Rd., Rte 2. A couple miles up ahead, look for a right hand turn for Rte. 78 (Westerly Bypass Road). Follow this road to the four-way stoplight intersection. Go straight at the intersection. The airport entrance will be just up on your left (alternatively for the Point Judith ferry, you would take a left at the end of RT-78 onto RT-1 northbound). Flight reservations may be made with New England Airlines at 1-800-243-2460. Roundtrip rates are approximately twice that of the New London High Speed Ferry-however, parking at the airport is free. In many ways, flying is the most pleasant and fun way to reach the island. Bill Bendokas and the folks at New England Airlines will always work with you if you miss your flight.

Please note that the small New England Airline planes (10 seats) cannot operate in foggy or inclement weather. If you take a flight over and must return by boat, taxi service is available between Point Judith, the Westerly airport, and New London by calling Wright taxi at 401-596-8294. New England Airlines also runs chartered flights to all regional airports. Call 1-800-243-2460 for more information.

 

TAXIS

At the ferries:
Ferries from New London and Point Judith arrive at Old Harbor in the center of town. Once off the ferry, make your way straight up from the ferry docks towards the town frontage. Here at Water Street, you will come upon the island taxi stand. Any one of these cabs will be able to take you to your hotel. The taxi drivers are all quintessential island characters and enjoy conversation. Some may ask you to double up with other ferry passengers. Don't worry if they do. The island is small enough that additional stops won't take long.

At the airport
There is also a taxi stand at the Block Island airport, but not always taxis at the ready. If you anticipate needing a pickup, let the desk at New England Airlines know before your departure and they can arrange it for you.

EATING ON ISLAND

Fine dining has yet to arrive at many of the restaurants on Block Island. Fortunately, there are notable exceptions. Here are some of them:

Breakfast
Airport Diner, at the state airport, up airport hill Bethany makes decadent waffles, pancakes, and French toast with sausages. Very filling and a great local hangout. You might even spot Carl Panero on one of the stools. Opens before sunrise. Call Bethany at 466-3100 for more details.

Old Post Office Bagel Shop, corner of Ocean Avenue and Corn Neck Road
Not New York, of course, but good! 466-5959

Lunch:
In addition to the above locations...
Three Sisters sandwich shop, Old Town Road, across from Historical Society 466-9661. Delicious sandwiches, but be warned of the hippie hygene standards (Gloves? I don't think so).

(The notorious) BIG (Block Island Grocery), Ocean Avenue, next to the bank
Deli counter in the back makes excellent wraps and sandwiches! 466-2949

Block Island Depot, 101 Ocean Avenue (between Old and New Harbors)
No pre-made sandwiches, but good produce, fresh pies, and bread, 466-2403

Lunch/Dinner:

The Manisses, Spring Street
Reservations recommended (dinner only)
One of the best restaurants on the island. Try the delicious Block Island Martini, which is accompanied by fat olives stuffed with gorgonzola cheese! The Gatsby Room is the pub room and is more casual. 466-2836

The Atlantic Inn, High Street
Reservations required (dinner only)
One of the more elegant Victorian hotels on the island serves one of the more expensive pre-fixe four-course dinners. 466-5883. Don't be surprised if the atmosphere feels a little stuffy here and the menu about 20 years out of date. Also, be aware the chef has a sweet tooth. But the hotel features great sunsets--arrive early for a cocktail on the porch.

The Spring House, Spring Street
Reservations recommended
You could do worse than have a lunch-time meal at this great Victorian hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. 800.234.9263

Finn's, Water Street
Doesn't take reservations
Get it right when you get off the boat! The restaurant is across from the ferry. Authentic and delicious fish and chips, chowder, and stuffies. It helps that Finn's is also the fish monger for the island. 466-2473

The Beach Head, Corn Neck Road
Doesn't take reservations
Better than it looks! Casual and reliable for grilled fish, salads, and pub food. Great porch. Another local hangout and Carl Panero favorite. 466-2249

The Oar, Off West Side Road at the Block Island Boat Basin
Doesn't take reservations
Ahoy polloi! This restaurant is perfect for spotting over-the-hill sailors. Very Jimmy Buffett, with real oars hanging overhead, and with a Jimmy Buffett level of service (Oh, did you order a sandwich an hour ago?). Try Ann Shipley's favorite mahi mahi blackbean burrito. $1 PBRs last time we checked. 466-8820

Eli's, Chapel Street
Doesn't take reservations
Casual bistro, nice wines, HUGE portions. 466-5230

Mohegan Cafe, Water Street
Doesn't take reservations
Clean, well-lit. A Carl Panero mainstay. 466-5911

Dessert:

The Ice Cream Place. Weldons Way, off of Water Street (through the Moon Gate and left at the back yard) Great sundaes (we always split one!). 466-2145

Dinner and a movie:
Check what's playing at the Empire Theater right in downtown. This classic wooden building used to serve as the island's roller-rink and still doubles as a performance hall and island fire trap.

Bars:

Club Soda,Connecticut Avenue
An archeological dig of olde Block Island, complete with island mural, ring toss, and other amusements. Also karaoke night. Best bar on the island for the under-40 set. 466-5397

Mahogany Shoals, on Payne's New Harbor Dock
Nestled in a shack at the end of the dock, Walter sings Irish ballads with a dirty twist. Not to be missed. Park your dinghy outside and come in for a mudslide. 466-5572

ACTIVITIES

Aside from golf, Block Island has something for everyone, whether it's reading a book on the porch of your hotel, or hiking, biking, running, sunning, shopping, and fishing. We hope the map above will spark your imagination as to what you would like to do with your time on the Block. Here are some additional thoughts:

Fishing
For Surf-casting: Talk to the folks at Twin Maples for all the advice and equipment you'd need. 22 Beach Avenue 466-5547

For Charters, we recommend:
Matt King of Hula Charters, 401-263-FISH
G. Willie Makit Charters, Captain Bill Gould,466-5151
Chip Walker of Chip's Charters, 401-218-5891
(Check blockislandchamber.com for other charter companies.)

Kayaking/Canoeing
Pond & Beyond Guided Kayak Tours Box 224, 742-5460 or 466-5467 (www.blockisland.com/kayakbi) View wildlife and scenic shoreline of the Great Salt Pond at a paddler's pace. Suitable for beginners as well as experienced kayakers. Call for reservations in advance.

Biking and Moped-riding
If you have a bike, bring it. It's the best way to get around Block Island. For rentals: Aldo's Mopeds, Weldons Way, 466-5018 blockislandbedandbreakfast.com
Beach Rose Bicycles, Inc. High Street, 466-2034
Block Island Bike and Car Rental, Inc. Ocean Ave., 466-2297
Island Moped & Bikes, Chapel St., 466-2700
The Moped Man, Water Street, 466-5444
Seacrest Inn Bicycle Rentals, 207 High Street, 466-2882--also the place that can repair a flat.

The island presents a loop of paved roads that can be circumnavigated in under a few hours--or, in the case of Ron Mandle, a few minutes. There's no better way to see Block Island than from a bike. The roads all contain small but manageable hills. Bring a couple of dollars for the lemonade stands en route.

Horseback riding
Rustic Rides, West Side Road (Near Panero house on Cooneymus) 466-5060

Beach-going
See "our beach spot" on our map.

Jogging
You can't go wrong with any of the roads on the island--they all have something to offer.

Walking
In addition to the Maze and Rodman's Hollow (both indicated on the map), the island boasts a network of Greenway trails throughout its protected lands. Look for the gray Greenway signposts at the trailheads.

Lounging around with a Dark & Stormy
No explanation required!


'A perfect block island wedding'

"A Perfect Block Island Wedding"
by Dara Mandle and James Panero
from the Block Island Times, Fall 2006 Wedding Supplement

Block Island is where we got engaged—over a bottle of Dom by North Light on Labor Day weekend 2005. Block Island is also our family’s summer homestead now sixty years running. James’s grandfather, James Shipley, drove his family out here from Illinois every summer. Over decades he converted a naval observation tower on the south-east side of the island into a house. More recently James’s father, Carl, retired on island to become a regular fixture at Bethany’s, the Mohegan Café, and the Beachhead. New York City is our home, but Block Island is where our heart is.

What does it mean to say “I do” to a Block Island wedding? For us, it meant celebrating the most important day of our lives in this sacred place. It also meant, for 180 friends and family, a destination wedding, and a chance to share in all Block Island has to offer.

Our planning started right away with a call to our parents, our rabbi, and Danielle Dziok at The Spring House. Would our dreamed-of wedding spot (the Spring House lawn) and the only island hotel that could accommodate our numbers be available next year? The answer was, you just made it. The coveted shoulder-season weekends, with reduced hotel rates, were already booking up through 2007. But there was still one weekend available in August 2006! It was Saturday the 26th. We took it.

The next step was an inspection of the island inns and hotels, which we did over a weekend in Fall 2005. For island home-owners, this can be a secret thrill. For a bride’s mother new to BI, it was a chance to alleviate some apprehension. In all price ranges, we were impressed by what we found (but what’s up with the Narragansett Inn?). The innkeepers could not have been more gracious or accommodating. We blocked rooms at The Spring House, The 1661 and Hotel Manisses, The Atlantic Inn, Payne’s Harbor View, The Island Home, The Barrington, the Sheffield House, The Bellevue House, The Sea Breeze, and The Old Town Inn—most with two night minimums, a couple with three.

Since the hotel blocks were expiring in mid-November, we did not waste any time in sending out our save the date. In addition to hotel information, we clued in our guests about the car ferry (book with Interstate Navigation in January). Over that same fall weekend we met with Elizabeth Connor at the 1661. With a guaranteed block of rooms, including the awesome wedding suite (Edwards room), we secured the 1661 for a rehearsal dinner, and the Manisses for a Sunday brunch. We also got to meet Claire McQueeny, Block Island’s top-notch resident florist, who knows what island winds can do to a chuppah.

It may seem like a lot of work up front, but with so much out of the way early, we had extra time to think about the details. Dara found her wedding dress at Manhattan’s Bonaparte (www.bonaparteny.com). We found our music in a New York club DJ named Blue (www.djblue.net). Blue contracted Capron Lighting and Sound of Needham, MA (www.capron.net). Capron did a really professional job wiring up Victoria’s Parlor—all we had to do with book a van reservation for the gear! For photography, we wanted someone who could capture the island in an artistic but not overly sentimental way: no Vaseline on the lens. This we found in Chris Leschinsky of winkweddings.com, whom we flew out from California. We also contracted Robert Knowles of knowlesvideo.us to film the wedding. Vanda High of Great Beginnings (vhigh@gbevents.com) became our expert wedding planner and a field marshal on the day of the wedding. We later lined up a cake with Sean Kivlehan at Sullivan House and a string trio through Music Performance Services at musicperformanceservice.com.

One of the biggest compliments we received about our Block Island wedding was how our guests felt provided for. Block Island is not the easiest place to get to, and it’s not always obvious what to do when you’re here. First we set up a website about the island. After the invitations printed by Soho Letterpress (212-334-4356) went out in June, we mailed a ten-page packet about island attractions. The included an annotated map and even information about the peculiarities of parking in New London. (We invite you to see what we wrote here.) Upon arrival our guests also received a welcome bag in their rooms with taxi information and goodies from Island Mist, Blocks of Fudge, Littlefield Honey--and of course the August issue of The Block Island Times.

These months of preparation paid off. Armed with all the right tips, our guests became the perfect island visitors. They rented bikes. They walked to Mohegan Bluffs. The groomsmen even painted over Painted Rock. We got to enjoy the weekend with all of them—and what a pleasure it is to see Block Island filled with your family and friends. A dream-come-true!

While the weather blessed us with a sunny Saturday amidst a week of rain and clouds, the Block Island forecast was never far from our minds. When you plan a BI wedding, you’ve got to be tough about the weather. A hurricane or nor’easter could shut down the ferries. It can be cold and dreary. Short of checking in with the Weatherman above, we did all we could to minimize the risks. We asked Cantor Elliot Taubman (401-466-2861) to be on call for the service if our family rabbi couldn’t make it. We booked a couple extra ferry reservations. We put a link to weather.com on our website. Then we prayed.

But as we knew, the rewards of a Block Island wedding far outweighed the risks. We’ll never forget our sense of anticipation driving off the ferry before the wedding, our car packed with everything from the kiddush cup to our cat Bosco. Then there was the delicious lobster-bake rehearsal dinner at the 1661 Inn, exercising with groomsmen and bridesmaids the morning of the wedding, the wind whipping over the Spring House lawn, our reception on the veranda, the Spring House’s “chocolate fountain,” and dancing the night away in Victoria’s Parlor.

The next morning we rose early for some location shots with our photographer at Sachem Pond and Mansion Beach. This was especially fun. A puppy ran over Dara’s wedding dress as she posed in the sand. Laughter and spontaneity against the backdrop of the sea: it was a perfect Block Island moment in a perfect Block Island wedding.

Dara Mandle and James Panero were married at The Spring House hotel on August 26, 2006.


Queen for a Day

So I promised myself I would _not_  buy into the wedding industrial complex. In fact I said, I'm a hip New Yorker, I'm just going to wear a gorge couture dress that happens to be white and happens to have absolutely no taffeta or tulle. I will not be a Queen for a Day.

Then everything changed. You see, I walked into a fancy Madison Avenue shop and stripped and put on a corset and was fitted into a fabulous lace concoction with a train and a sash and when my mother and cousin saw me they started crying and when I looked in the mirror I said to myself, "I'm a queen!"

Later I was telling a biologist friend that when the lady in the shop bustled the dress in the back I felt like I was in a living tableau of a Manet painting. She laughed and said you know, when certain African monkeys are mating their butts look all white and rosy like a bustle. And I thought, fuck--I mean, thank you for puncturing my absurd nineteenth-century fantasy.

Tonight I'll be at the mother of all bridal shops, Kleinfeld's. But they're not sending a limousine for me and my crew of like 8 women since they relocated the shop to Manhattan. So I certainly expect some bubbly. That place is like a military installation. I had to book about a month ago, and give my credit card, and if I needed to cancel and didn't within 48 hours they'd charge it, and I had to call back myself five days ahead to confirm. Sheesh. Does one have to jump through so many hoops in getting married to prepare one for the effort it takes to maintain a healthy marriage? Then again, Kleinfeld's is a choice, one I felt I had to experience, if not least to report back to you!