The Joy of Going in Circles

Ice, yet not ice; the plastic rink at the American Museum of Natural History.Photo: D. Finnin/Courtesy of AMNH

The Polar Rink at the American Museum of Natural History
79th St. at Columbus Ave.; 212-769-5100
ADULT ADMISSION: $8 members, $10 non-members
KID’S ADMISSION: $6 members, $8 non-members

Open: Mon. through Thurs. noon to 8 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Scene: With the Rose Center for Earth and Space looming above like an ice castle, the new-this-season Polar Rink couldn’t be more beautiful. Its artificial-ice surface bears no resemblance to real ice, though, being neither cold nor particularly slippery. The Polar Rink Café is open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.
Note: Don’t bring valuables or a change of clothes. There are no lockers.
Verdict: A good training ground for little kids, but who wants to skate on plastic?

Seaport Ice
Pier 17, South St. and Fulton St.; 212-661-6640

Open: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Scene: Not yet open—the date has been pushed back several times since November, but when it happens, this should be the city’s most beautiful rink. Set smack in the middle of South Street Seaport’s Pier 17, it is designed as a breezy outdoor pavilion in the style of the Pond at Bryant Park, surrounded by views of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, and tall ships of the South Street Seaport Museum.
Note: Unfortunately, floating pier plus heavy ice has equaled unforeseen technical difficulties that have yet to be resolved. At press time, Seaport officials couldn’t commit to an opening date.
Verdict: Not yet rated.

The Pond at Bryant Park
42nd St. at Sixth Ave.; 212-661-6640

Open: Sun. through Thurs. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 8 a.m. to midnight; fifteen-minute Zamboni breaks every 95 minutes.
The Scene: At 17,000 square feet, the Pond is a little more than half the size of Central Park’s Trump Wollman Rink, but it’s much classier, and totally free, as long as you bring your own skates (which you should; the rentals are cheap molded plastic). On weekdays, it’s very roomy. There’s lots of seating around the rink.
Note: Lines are long on weekends.
Verdict: Elegant, beautiful, romantic at night.

Trump Wollman Rink
Central Park S., enter at 59th St. at Sixth Ave. (follow the footpath); 212-439-6900
ADULT ADMISSION: $10 M.–Th.; $14 F.–Sun.
KID’S ADMISSION: $5.25 M.–Th.; $5.50 F.–Sun.

Open: Daily (hours vary).
The Scene: How lovely from the outside, surrounded by weeping willows! Inside, however, it smells distinctly of wet feet. Crowds are chaotic even on weekdays, which makes the skate-rental system harrowing. Shoe storage is a Byzantine arrangement involving special locks and a cash deposit. The rink is redeemed only by its enormity (30,800 square feet!) and snacks: luscious hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream, and delicious chili-cheese fries.
Note: You’re not allowed to leave and come back in, and the staff will be unsympathetic if you try. The rink is cash only.
Verdict: Oh, who cares about the crowds and the smell. It’s the most spectacular setting in the city, especially at night.

Rockefeller Center
Fifth Ave. at 50th St.; 212-332-7654

Open: Daily 8:30 a.m. to midnight.
The Scene: Wait time can be an hour or more, but the skate-rental desk operates like clockwork even with heavy crowds. Tons of tourists, of course—and prepare to swerve around on-ice marriage proposals. Though the rink is small, the ice is kept in near-perfect condition. It’s an excellent place to learn to skate: The number of skaters is capped at 150, you can stay as long as you want, and if you take a spill, one of the omnipresent rink monitors will appear at your side like Superman, ready to pick you up.
Note: High prices, long lines, lots of tourists.
Verdict: Even with the drawbacks, it’s an impeccable skating experience, if only once every few years.

The Skating Rink at Riverbank State Park
679 Riverside Dr., at 145th St.; 212-694-3642

Open: Mon. and Thurs. 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Fri. 6 to 9 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.
The Scene: Far removed from the tourist circuses of Central Park and Rock Center, the State-run covered rink is a well-kept secret among Harlemites. The rink is similar in size to the Pond at Bryant Park but comparatively empty, even at peak hours, and the ice is kept in good shape. There are bleachers for resting and gorgeous views from the park’s River Room restaurant.
Verdict: Spacious and well maintained yet underutilized.

Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers
Pier 61, 23rd St. at the Hudson River; 212-336-6100

Open: Daily (hours vary).
The Scene: Wintry charm, no. But it’s warm inside, and there’s ample seating if you’re shepherding a kids’ party. Music is inoffensive Top 40.
Note: The ice can get very rowdy with young learners. Locker rooms are open only to Chelsea Piers members, but you can use one of the coin lockers (75 cents).
Verdict: Not nearly as idyllic as some of the city’s outdoor rinks but good for birthday parties.

City Ice Pavilion
47-32 32nd Pl., nr. 47th Ave., Long Island City; 718-706-6667
ADULT ADMISSION: $5 M.–F.; $8 Sat.–Sun.
KID’S ADMISSION: $5 M.–F.; $8 Sat.–Sun.

Open: Mon. and Thurs. 2 to 3:50 p.m.; Tues., Wed., and Fri. 2 to 5:20 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. noon to 2:50 p.m.
The Scene: A brand-new (tentative opening January 17) bubble dome keeps the weather out and the heat in for both hockey leagues and public skating—and gives the impression of skating inside a giant marshmallow. For hockey moms and dads, there are bleachers with plenty of seating, locker rooms on the floor below, and a concession stand serving sandwiches and drinks.
Note: Convenient for drivers—the rooftop rink sits on a parking structure. It’s also three blocks from the 33rd Street stop on the 7 train.
Verdict: A boon to rink-starved Queens, but indoor skating can’t compare with fresh air.

Trump Lasker Rink
Central Park N. nr. Lenox Ave. entrance 917-492-3857

Open: Daily (hours vary).
The Scene: A pair of smallish oval outdoor rinks in the northern end of Central Park is split between hockey players and skaters. The blaring music (either jazz or pop hits) can wear on you, but the view over the Harlem Meer is soothing. The ice can get rough and rutted, especially near the boards.
Note: Like the other Trump rink, this is a cash-only operation. Lockers are free, but locks to secure them are $7.25 ($4 of which is a deposit).
Verdict: Less hectic than Central Park’s other rink, but circuits around the small oval can get monotonous.

Wollman Rink in Prospect Park
Lincoln Rd. at Ocean Ave., Flatbush 718-287-6431

Open: Daily (hours vary).
The Scene: A huge, 26,600-square-foot rectangle of smooth ice in which you can show off your triple Salchows or cling desperately to the boards. The surrounding thicket of trees and view over Prospect Park Lake can lull you into believing you’re on a pond in the Berkshires. Weekends and evenings can get crowded, but never like Central Park crowded, and on weekdays the ice is nearly empty. Stop for warm-ups, and keep an eye on the ice in the window-lined locker area. Kate’s Corner concession stand has hot chocolate and churros as well as emergency socks and gloves near the rental area.
Note: Cash only. Lockers are available, but you’ll have to bring your own lock.
Verdict: All the benefits of skating on a pond in the woods without the dangerously thin ice.

The Joy of Going in Circles