October of 2015, we saw the Big Apple for the first time. It has been my 68 yr. old fathers dream to see New York City his whole life. He fell sick in 2007 and for a moment there, we didnt know if that dream would become a reality. Thankfully, with what was a miracle, he beat his disease - my siblings and I then vowed to do everything in our power to make it happen for him. It might have taken a while for his then teenage children to do some growing and saving, but late last year we got our booties on a couple of jumbo jets and head for the city that never sleeps!
All being first timers, my brother, sister, Dad and I knew that hitting the "touristy stuff" was going to be the point of this trip. Bearing that in mind, I did some research on how to getaway with being smart and cost effective while still seeing it ALL in NYC. I knew there must have been a way to monetarily bundle the expenses v. paying for each attraction individually. I purchased 4 NYC CityPass booklets and it was on! With a one time payment of $116 you have access to:
- The Empire State Building Experience
- The American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR The Guggenheim
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR CircleLine Siteseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Purchasing this as a bundle saved us a total of $320+ as a group! The items in BOLD are the attractions we handled while there! (Will share more opinions later, read on!) The vouchers themselves allow to skip many of the long ticket lines saving both time and money!
We arrived on a Saturday evening and flew out Wednesday afternoon. We had a short time to make the most of everything so we hit the ground running. Hop in a flat-rate cab from JFK and be ready to cross a couple bridges and wait in traffic. It is just the way the city goes! Once on the grid, we dropped our bags at the Park Central Hotel in Midtown and with our eyes set on the Empire State Building Observation Deck in Chelsea. If you turned your head to the right upon exiting the lobby onto the street you were met with brilliant blue light. It was the glow of Times Square which was about a 9min walk down 7th Ave. Like a moth to a flame, we were pulled through icon plaza and stopped to take a few pictures!
Growing up a 90's kid, I felt like all those years of watching TRL would have prepared me for walking through the area. And truthfully, it was everything I expected. Lots of people, lots of panhandling, lots of noise both visually and audio. Nonetheless it was a major experience I felt very in awe of at the moment with my family. More so, it was the moment I realized that we, as a team, just did something so huge for my father. It felt really good.
Saturday: Getting Settled, Times Square, Empire State Building
After working our way through the crowds, it was onto the Empire State Building. To my surprise the deck stays open LATE (2am, with the last elevator heading up at 1:15am), so all the lovebirds in Manhattan can have a post dessert cuddle above the city. When I think of New York City a few obvious things come to mind, but up at the top-spot in undoubtedly, the Skyline. There is no city in America like NYC, not even close. Architecturally and beyond - I couldn't believe I was about to be seeing the skyline from up there! I would absolutely recommend using your ticket in your CityPass booklet for a late night viewing. There was zero line, it was quick/efficient and the twinkle of the city is like no other!
In all my life, my father has been afraid of heights. He knew that this trip would entail some tall towers and some lingering elevator rides. He, in my opinion, was a total champ throughout. He knew that these sites were once in a lifetime and that he had to see them, if only momentarily. We found a quick slice of NYC pizza in the East Village before heading back towards the hotel for the night. My absolute FAVORITE aspect of the trip was that every single night before turning in, we would all go to this deli and pastry shop on the corner by our hotel. We would each order something different and share around the table; our bites, our favorite parts of the day, our stories. It was the one constant in this bustling city that I looked forward to each and every day.
Sunday: Rockafeller Center and NY Giants Football
Midtown Manhattan is what you would expect. Lots of lights, glitz, glam, men in suits and big business all around. It is the hustle and bustle hub of the city, but if you were to ask a local, they would never tell you to stay in this area. Because of its entertainment and allure, this area does tend to be where the tourists are and for this vacation, that was okay. We were the dorking, wide eyed, Californianers who were drooling over every street corner. We embraced it!
We had afternoon plans that took us out of the city; to New Jersey in fact! That afternoon we had tickets to see the NY Giants play the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium across the bay. A high school friend on mine plays for the NY Giants and was gracious enough to save 4 seats for us! This made sense for my family to do while in NYC because my father is a football coach, I have a friend on the team and my brothers favorite team is the Dallas Cowboys. For us, this worked. I feel like Amy and I also really wanted to rise to the challenge of mastering transportation while in the area. It felt good being on top of schedules and knowing which train/subway to take where. That is the type-A in us. So, before we head out for the game, it was a quick whirl around MidTown landing us at Rockefeller Center, just passed Radio City music hall. October is a special time to be in NYC. The colors are changing and the air has just the right amount of chill - Though being near the ice-rink at Roc Center where that famous Christmas Tree is lit, and the high-kicks of the Radio City Rockettes in Santa suits, I strangely wished we were there 2 months later. NYC at Christmas time is absolutely on my list in the future!
We threw on some NY Giants gear and head to Penn Station. It was an $11 train under the bay to Seacacus with a free transfer to the above ground train to the stadium. Now, a few words to the wise for my ladies out there: If you are planning to visit MetLife Stadium, either do not bring a purse or be prepared to check it. You are not permitted to being anything larger than a SMALL clutch if they even allow that. If I had know then, what I know now, all that would have been on me was my debit and ID. Although the team at Bag Exchange was quite well oiled, I was still annoyed that my travel purse was tucked away in some closet without my supervision. Anyway, It was a Blue Bird Day on the other side of the Hudson! A perfect afternoon for Giants Football. We had a great time! We laughed, cheered, danced, hollered and totally made the most of the NY victory over the Cowboys. Moments like these force me to remember how fortunate I am to have my siblings. They are the biggest goofs, the people that make me laugh from my belly and extremely fun to be around.
It was time to head back into the city. The train ride was a snoozy one, even with me falling asleep on dad's shoulder. Thankfully when we got back to the city, we had just enough energy to grab our sweet treat for the night and then head in.
Monday: Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty and The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
Today's agenda had us heading downtown. It was my suggestion that we get our heart-rates up with a walk along the Brooklyn Bridge first thing. You never know how something truly is until you see it with your own eyes. I was surprised in more ways than one with this iconic landmark. First, the sidewalks leading you to the threshold over the water are very long which surprised me, as did the amount of cable and wiring all over the place. For some reason in my head, I envisioned it a bit less cluttered, though it was not at all unappealing. The bridge was beautiful and unlike anything I had ever seen. The walk all the way across was quite long, so with the few pictures and moment to enjoy the surroundings, we turned back for the subway towards Battery Park.
Battery Park is where "Statue Cruises LLC" ports. It was next on the docket to venture to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This venture was BY FAR the most trying. Acquiring the tickets, waiting in a LONG line for security, getting through security, waiting to load the boat, waiting for the boat to deport, the lap to the Statue etc. It was far more time consuming than anyone had imagined. The views from the bay are spectacular and the Statue itself is neat to see, but in my opinion, this was the wrench of the trip. We of course had a blast and made the most of our time out there, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have skipped this aspect of the trip and adventured more downtown, or maybe head to the Highline for more time spent outside on that beautiful day. Don't get me wrong, the immigration information was fascinating and views marvelous - it was just very time consuming. Definitely an activity to save for an "open agenda" day in the Big Apple. By the time the boat docked at the Statue of Liberty, we had seen all we really needed to and felt like we were running out of time being most concerned with our date that evening: The Phantom. (A family favorite.)
We let the ferry finish off to Ellis Island, where again, we stayed on the boat before docking back at Battery Park. In looking at the clock and feeling my stomach rumble, I realized we hadn't consumed much more than our morning coffee's. Brainstorming underneath the (chilling) shadows of the World Trade Center, I suggested John's Pizzeria in Greenwich Village. It was a DIRECT recommendation from my best friends dad who grew up in NYC and even spent time in the 1970's driving a taxi on the famous city streets. John's is a hole in the wall, family-style pizza joint, where you come in and sit down for the best pie of your life. Consensus: It was indeed the best pizza of her life according to my sister. Thats a huge statement, but well deserved. Full to the brim, we took a final subway to our hotel to rest and get ready for our fancy night at the theatre.
Sidebar: some of the most fun moments in between was stopping to acknowledge and admire my father in this way. We hadn't been on vacation together since I was 11 years old, maybe even younger. I don't know that we had spent this much consecutive time together since I was 11 years old. Truth is, I loved every minute of it and really made sure to relish that will my photographs.
Among a few other smaller requests, one of my father's life long dreams was to see this iconic musical on Broadway. Since I can remember the Phantom has been a part of my life. The Sarah Brightman and Micahel Crawford original recording was in the cassette tape player over and over as a child. I knew who the Phantom was before I knew who Big Bird was. Over the years, we have all felt such a connection to the story and memories shared listening, that is was a given to attend the evening performance at the Majestic Theatre just off Broadway. You have no idea how satisfying it was to know that this was happening. That we were making this happen as a family. I quietly insisted that I sit next to Dad. I wanted to watch him, watch them.
After the emotional performance, we gathered around the table at Junior's and savored a couple slices of NY Cheesecake. I perfectly paired mine with a Prosecco and cheers'd to one of my most memorable nights yet!
Tuesday: 9/11 Memorial Museum, The Museum of Natural History & Central Park Strolling
I find it coincidental that this is the brightest photo I took the whole trip. As you can tell, the Autumn leaves were changing and against the blue sky and crystal bones of One World Trade Center, they really pop! I was Eleven when the Twin Towers fell. I have vague memories from my childhood: many at the park, swimming pool, playing competitive sports. They are all there in the whirlwind of my mind but when I talk about September 11th, 2001; I can recount every single detail of the morning from my perspective. Eleven is an age where your parents start treating you a little differently. You are given more trust, responsibility, and more faith from your elders that you can handle the world around you. When I watched Katie Courac and Matt Lawyers broadcast of the Today Show that morning with my Mom, I felt that whole new Eleven year old burden and then some. I feel like it was the first time I ever really looked at my life on a global scale. It was a life-changing event, for us all.
I knew heading to Ground Zero was going to be emotionally taxing but I was prepared for it, or so I thought. My family, on the whole, is a sentimental family. Dates, places, and events, be it historical or personal, seem to stay in the forefront of our minds often. I actually find it quite an endearing trait to take awake from our parents. We arrived early as to avoid the mid-day crowds. The Entire World Trade Center Block is gorgeous. During our time there, it seemed like they were putting the finishing touches on the brand new World Trade Center PATH Terminal. A piece of architecture like none has never seen! Regal, skeletal, strong.
Inside the Memorial, past security, you are immediately met with the iconic Tritan-esque pillars that were so famously photographed amongst the rubble of the buildings. You truly understand the size and scale of what occurred while passing under the shadow of those two.
Now, this museum did not do much to sugar coat the horrific events of that day. It was a very honest, raw, and real space. Much like the Modern New Yorker: Proud and strong even staring loss and adversity in the face. Though I think this visit is absolutely necessary for tourists in Manhattan, I could understand how it is overwhelming for some.
From the beginning on your walk through you are met with glimpses of that day. Plane routes shown in wall installations, slideshows on pillars with audio of phone calls and answering machines dated 9/11/01 over head. Your walk sinks you down underneath where the towers stood. The walls are lined with hundreds of Missing Person's Ads and scribbled messages. Upon moving lower into the subterranean museum, you come across a monochromatic blue wall:
Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning
" Finch's work, Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning, is inspired by the memorably clear, intensely blue sky of that fateful morning, reports the New York Times. The work covers most of the central wall in the museum's subterranean exhibition space.
Though it may appear from a distance to be a stone mosaic, the piece comprises individual sheets of Fabriano Italian paper that the artist has hand-painted in different shades of blue with water colors, hung like the missing person notices that filled the city's streets in the days and weeks following the tragedy. Each of the 2,983 squares represents one of the victims of the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing." - Artnet News
The wall was bold and moving. I too, in my mind, can recall my shade of blue that day. Now on the lowest level of the museum, you are met with a few more memorable relics, like a collapsed NYFD FireTruck and the demolished, spray painted, pillars showcasing First Responders station, department, and squad numbers. That level also holds two more walk-throughs: In Memoriam; A collage of faces no longer with us & A Historical Exhibition: a minute to minute breakdown of the day through relics, media, phone calls, air traffic monitors, and so on. This was a very detailed remembrance of the day that was extremely emotional. From what I recall, I believe young children are not allowed in & they ask that you to not bring in cameras or recording equipment. Just be present with the intel. It was an immensely emotional hall. All so haunting and powerful.
Hungry & emotionally drained, we finished our time at the Museum to grab bite, but not before acknowledging the insanely innovative fountains created in the footprints of the Twin Towers. "Reflecting Absence" is a stunning work created by Architect Michael Arad and Landscape Architect Peter Walker. The rushing of the largest man-made waterfalls are intended to silence to bustling noise of the city, making the site a "contemplative sanctuary."
The day was less than half done, but truthfully we were exhausted in more ways than one. We still had vouchers in our City Pass Booklet for a few things and dinner reservations at The Strip House- Midtown at 8pm. We juggled around the ideas of visit the Met or Museum of Natural History. We took the subway up to Central Park and strolled around to catch a true sense of Autumn in New York. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Though I am clearly a city girl, growing up in Los Angeles and now living in San Francisco, nature is my best pal. Disappearing into an East Coast Autumn horizon was bliss for me. Once out onto the The Lake the whir of Columbus Circle and Central Park West fades and it is peaceful.
In California, our seasons are mild. I have essentially lived in "75 degrees and sunny" my entire life. THINK ABOUT THAT. To see trees the same color as fire was extraordinary to me. We went October 24-28 and the colors were just barely changing. I can only imagine what Thanksgiving must look like; A dream land.
With just a bit of time to kill, we head across the street, just across Central Park West, to the Museum of Natural History. To be honest, for us, this was just a quick, easy-cess time taker before needing to head back to the hotel. We didnt have enough time to give the MET the attention it deserved unfortunately. The Natural History Museum is much like you would expect - lots about the evolution of man, ancient civilizations and ecosystems around the planet. Definitely a place to spend a damp NYC afternoon.
We made special reservations at THE STRIP HOUSE - Midtown, for a fancy steak dinner and time around the table as a family. Order a cut of meat, and sides for the table to share - pretty standard for any steakhouse experience. Red booths, crystal chandeliers and well dressed waiters all around. It was a delicious dinner celebrating our last night in the Big Apple. We decided to have one last loop around Times Square and to catch a few innings of World Series Baseball. It was an exciting time being that the Mets were in the World Series. There were many loud and rocking bars all around. Dad promised each of us, individually, that he would spend time making a specific memory with us while there. On the last night, just the 2 of us snuck away to enjoy, a rather cliche, but totally awesome horse-drawn carriage ride around Broadway. We had 20 minutes to ourselves, to talk about life, love, joy, memories and more. It was a moment with my father I will never forget!
Wednesday: Top of the Rock, Head to JFK
It was our last morning of vacation. The streets wet with rain, we packed up the last of our bags, and made one last stop to get a wet and foggy view of the city. Often, you see the city from the observation deck of the Empire State, leaving that poster itself out of view, but if you want to get a Southbound view of everything, including the old ESB, head to the Top of the Rock Observation deck.
First of all, it is quite exciting to be in 30 Rockafellar Plazza. The building is quite amazing - with a subway station that pours directly into its basement, a mall and food court at the bottom, along with stacks and stacks of offices, show sets and famous studios, the building is unreal.
Dad wasnt feeling too well this morning, so waiting inside, out of the rain. James and I grabbed a few rainy shots of the skyline one last time. It was a great way to send us off. A little fatter, a littler happier and definitely street-smarter. This trip to New York was that of a lifetime and more than just seeing the industrial gateway that immigrants paved so many years ago, but also to connect of such a deeper level with my family than we had all these years prior. I am very proud of this trip - that we did right by my father and made it happen for him. It truly enriched us all.
Preserve Your Penny:
- Book in advance. Use resources like Hopper, SkyScanner, GoogleFlights, and Jet Radar to compare rates and dates!
- The Subway is your friend! Taxi's and town cars add up. Plus, if you have anywhere to be in a jiffy, the subway is the only way.
- You an attraction bundle like CityPass and save big not only on tim but money. Shorter lines and saving dimes!
- Often the best time spent is simply outdoors people watching. Picnic in Central Park for lunch instead of dining at some tourist trap in midtown.
- Authenticity is king. Don't be fooled by the bright colors and busy signs of midtown - go deeper into the city for good food, collectables and cocktails.
- Cab fare can change based on time of day- best to just arrange a flat rate ride to and from your hotel/rental as to not hike up your transit!