In July 2007 my wife and I went on a New York City vacation. I had once traveled to the Bronx to take in a Yankee game while attending a conference in New Jersey, but other than that one night, neither of us had ever been to New York City.
Going into the trip we had no idea what to expect. It was even hard to make plans because there are so many choices of what to do, and we did not even know where to begin as we flipped through travel guides. Finally, since it was our first time to visit, we decided to hit the tourist traps and see all the sights that we had only seen in books or on television.
Before I go on I should note that we arrived on July 1 and left on July 5. Oh, and my wife was 7 months pregnant.
We flew into Newark and took a cab ride over to our hotel, the Hilton Times Square, on 42nd street between 7th and 8th Ave. The cab ride was what you'd expect. Fast, furious, and it took an hour due to the traffic. But the driver was nice and friendly and got us to the hotel safely.
Once at the hotel, we dropped our stuff off and quickly decided to walk to Central Park. We didn't quite anticipate how far a walk it was to Central Park, but since we had to go through Times Square, the walk was still enjoyable as we were able to take in all the sights of that part of Manhattan.
The day that we went to Central Park was gorgeous. It was about 85 degrees with bright blue skies. We entered through the southern edge of the park and walked around for about 2 or 3 hours. It felt as though we had covered a lot of ground, but when we later looked at a map we realized that we had barely scratched the surface of Central Park.
We didn't understand why people wouldn't be at Central Park every day. The day we went was the perfect day to spend outside. If you have never taken a New York City vacation I would definitely make sure to carve out plenty of time for Central Park. On a beautiful day it can't be beat.
After we left Central Park we decided to take a 3 hour boat tour around Manhattan. The tour we went on was through Circle Line Sightseeing. We decided to do this simply because we thought it would be a good way to have my wife get off of her feet, but the tour ended up being a great thing to do. The tour guides are excellent at pointing everything out in both Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. Because of this, we had a better understanding of the city and what it was that we wanted to go see. We ended up not going up to the Empire State Building during our trip because we got great views of it through our tour.
If you feel overwhelmed by your first New York City vacation, I would highly recommend taking a Manhattan cruise. For one, it will help you get settled as you first get to the city. For another, it will help you make a checklist on what sites you want to see and visit.
My wife and I love to visit zoos when we go to a new city, so you better believe that we made our way to the Bronx Zoo. This gave us our first chance to ride the subway. We did our best to read the maps, but we were still unsure. Fortunately, some police officers were nearby and they politely gave us directions. Once there, you have to walk a couple of block from the subway station to the zoo, but all in all it was not difficult to get there.
The zoo itself was good. I don't remember it being The Greatest Zoo I Had Ever Been To, but there were a lot of animals and was worth the trip up there if you're into those sorts of things.
Lower Manhattan (Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, Wall Street)
Perhaps our best and most active day of our New York City vacation was the day that we visited Lower Manhattan. The purpose of going down there was to visit the Statue of Liberty. Now, I am from Texas. Growing up, the Battle of the Alamo is something that is taught almost from kindergarten. It was unbelievable how underwhelmed I was when I first saw the Alamo in person. It was tiny. So I was prepared to be underwhelmed when I saw the Statue of Liberty. I was anything but underwhelmed. She was remarkable. Just the size alone, and reading about her history was inspiring. I understand why some people just see her from a distance and are satisfied with that, but if you have the time, get out to the island.
The ferry ride back to Manhattan stops at Ellis Island, but we did not get off to look around.
Once back to Manhattan, we had some pizza and walked to Ground Zero. Even amidst the noise and people it is still a solemn place. The fences were covered so we were not allowed to look inside the site, but there were a couple of places where the coverings were torn so we could take a peak. There wasn't much to see other than some trucks and workers. It was such a surreal feeling to be standing on that ground. I'm glad we did it, but it's one of those things that I don't know if I would do again. Very hard. It was also interesting to walk around the area and see the different buildings that played a part in 9/11, especially the churches.
We had not necessarily planned to visit Wall Street, but since it was very close to Ground Zero we decided to walk down to the New York Stock Exchange. It was a very busy place, and especially swarming with police officers, seeing as it was July 3. We did not go inside and just walked around the area. I wouldn't say that Wall Street is a place that you definitely need to go, but if you're down there, and you're interested go visit.
Broadway/The Phantom of the Opera
We spent the Fourth of July going to see a matinée of The Phantom of the Opera. It was our first Broadway show to see, so we decided to see one of the most popular. It was very good, although since it was our first show to see we didn't have anything to compare it to. Seeing the matinée was good, though, because we left the theater and still had a lot of time left to spend in the city.
We planned on walking to the East River that night to see the fireworks. There were several problems that arose. First, the night of the 4th was the only time it rained on us while we were there. We were able to buy a $5 umbrella on the street which helped, but it didn't do a great job of keeping us dry. Second, we underestimated the need to get there very early. We got there around 8 pm for a 9 pm show and there were so many people that we could not get a spot to see anything other than the side of a building. And because of the rain everyone had an umbrella which kept knocking us in the face.
Because my wife was pregnant, the heat, humidity, and people started causing her to become claustrophobic. After waiting an hour for the show to start she had finally had enough and needed to leave. I was fine with that, so we started walking back. As luck would have it, the second that we began to walk away the fireworks began. That caused problem number three: people began rushing against us to get to a spot to see the fireworks. It was like running against a strong ocean tide.
We finally made it out and got back to our hotel. We hoped to see the Grand Finale from our room, but it was over by the time we got back.
I'm sure the fireworks show was tremendous, but if you go be prepared for thousands upon thousands of people to be there. Get there very early. If that doesn't sound like something you want to do then find a place high up in your hotel to watch.
Our New York City vacation was a success. We have been back once, this time in the winter. It was great to be able to compare the city in the dead of winter to the city that we first knew in the middle of the summer. We also saw Wicked and Memphis, which I will write about another time.
I would encourage anyone who thinks they want to take a New York City vacation to go. Be ready for crowds and to spend money. Take a city map and a subway map and you will have a blast. There is so much to do that you will never have a dull moment, and you will leave not being able to wait until you return.