THE CELL PHONE AUDIO TOUR Talking Street: The Rise of New York
www.talkingstreet.com; $5.95 for a 16-stop, two-hour tour with 40 minutes of narration.
OVERVIEW Insightful, easy-to-use cell phone tours of American cities, with
celebrity narrators who complement the locations (actress Sigourney Weaver narrates for Lower
HOW IT WORKS Walkers dial into a main number at each stop and enter a site code to hear the corresponding segment and get directions to the next stop. Dramatic readings, commentary from award-winning experts, and interviews flesh out the basic script.
THE EXPERIENCE The tour began and ended at the World Trade Center site, which is discussed in several powerful segments that incorporated audio clips from September 11, 2001. The content was smart and engaging with lots of historical details, but I missed the camaraderie of a group. Although having to constantly redial the number can be tiresome, I liked the price and the flexibility (I stopped for a snack and then picked right up again when I was ready). Caveat: the clang and roar of city traffic can make it difficult to hear the narrative.
BEST FOR Low-tech, history-loving visitors who like to go solo.
ALSO AVAILABLE The Lower East Side (Jerry Stiller), Boston (Steven Tyler), and the Washington, D.C. Mall (Larry King); mobile guides for Web-enabled phones will launch this spring.
THE CD/MP3 AUDIO TOUR Soundwalk: Wall Street
www.soundwalk.com; from $12 for a one-hour tour.
OVERVIEW An audio production that's more sonic journey than conventional
tour. A local narrator guides walkers through his or her neighborhood's byways and back doors
accompanied by sound effects, interviews, music clips, and ambient noise.
HOW IT WORKS Available on CD or as an MP3, each tour comes with a map and is designed for continuous play. Stopping and restarting is possible, but such disruptions are not encouraged. Local joints and tucked-away gems are heavily featured—a bonus, but such places are also more likely to close unexpectedly.
THE EXPERIENCE Felt like being cocooned in another world, with narrator Johnny T. Solitto—a revved-up former equities trader—showing me his haunts. We traced a path from Delmonico's (where he paused for a Johnnie Walker Black) to 14 Wall Street (martini), passing a cigar store and more watering holes. As Solitto mused about waterfalls and hula girls to a sound track of ukuleles, a bland office-tower atrium seemed to dissolve into tropics. The post office he led me to had closed, but I still enjoyed his story about it.
BEST FOR Intrepid iPod lovers looking for local flavor.
ALSO AVAILABLE Tours of other New York areas, Paris, and Varanasi, India; more walks will be released this year.
THE PDA TOUR Racontours: Lower Manhattan
www.racontours.com; $14.95 for a downloadable file fit for PDA's, smart phones, or MP3 players; tours are 11/2 to 2 hours long, with 55 minutes of narration.
OVERVIEW A downloadable historically minded tour for handheld devices (PDA's,
iPods), with audio narrative, interactive maps, and archival images. Note: MP3 tours can't
HOW IT WORKS The sophisticated technology makes downloading a little tricky. I had to call tech support. Once you get moving, the audio tour is synced with great supplementary images, and the electronic map is well-plotted.
THE EXPERIENCE An earnest (and somewhat somber) trek from Bowling Green through the Financial District to Trinity Church. Kudos to the tour for being the only one to swing down into the history-rich Battery; however, I found myself paying more attention to the lively scene around me than to the plodding, didactic voice-over. The narration often had me wondering what was going to show up on the midterm exam (the segment on Fraunces Tavern, an important Revolutionary site, veered into a discussion about Huguenots and the Edict of Nantes). Ultimately, I found the tour more conducive to curling up in an armchair than embarking on an inspired wander.
BEST FOR Tweedy history buffs who like to get their geek on.
ALSO AVAILABLE Tours for five other Manhattan areas.