This weekend, I travelled to Roosevelt Island for the first time with my roommate to attend the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of Japanese culture and a showcase of the newly-bloomed cherry blossom trees that cover the island.
For those of you who don’t know what Roosevelt Island is, it’s the small strip of land between Manhattan and Queens that is accessible by a single subway line or tram (or car/bike, if you have one of those). To get there, we decided to take the tram. The subway would have been an easier method, but taking the tram is a beautiful experience, so we opted for the slight inconvenience. The tram boards at midtown, with small tram cars that come every few minutes and take you along a line that stretches over the Hudson river and past the Queensboro bridge, and deposits you smack dab in the middle of the island. It costs only one MetroCard swipe, and the skyline sights are breathtaking.
While Gina had taken the tram before, I had not, so I didn’t know what to expect. Typically, she told me, the wait time is rather short, and you can board the tram almost immediately. However, as we walked up to the tramway station, we saw that the line extended all the way down the stairs of the building, and around the entire block. Too late to turn back, we decided to pop into a local beer store and get a couple cans to help the wait pass by faster.
Thirty minutes later, we boarded the tram and rushed to get a window seat near the front. Although the whole ride probably takes only two minutes, it was awesome to see New York city from such a new, unique perspective. I would recommend to anyone travelling into Roosevelt Island (whether it be for a picnic, festival, or just to walk along the river without pushing through crowds of tourists) to go for the tram instead of the subway.
Once we got to the island, we wandered somewhat aimlessly in search of something to do. The island was very crowded (which seemed like it was probably not the norm, given a few passing residents’ resentful remarks about “dreading this day every year”). There were many tourists admiring the trees, river, and skyline, which were definitely sights to see. However, after about 20 minutes of wandering, Gina and I started to wonder what else everyone was here to see. There didn’t appear to be much going on besides the trees, which (I assume) are there every other non-festival day as well.
As we trekked deeper into the island, we spotted clusters of white tents that, from afar, looked promising. However as we neared, we realized that these tents weren’t home to food or crafts, but rather “shade” tents for overheated visitors.
Ultimately, the festival ended up being 20% looking at trees, and 80% waiting in lines (for the tram, security, and the bathroom). Although I was happy to visit Roosevelt Island and see a new part of the city, I probably wouldn’t attend the festival again. Better to go to the Island the day after, when you don’t have to wait in line to take a selfie with a tree.