Sunday, July 24, 2016

NYC Adventures - July 2016

Last week, we took our family of five to Manhattan for a week. It was hot and humid and crowded (as NYC is), but we managed to give the kids a really good flavor of what NYC is like and some of idea of the iconic landmarks and cultural references alive in NYC.

[Photos to be added later. Hopefully.]

Several people have asked for our tips/tricks/things we learned. Here they are, in no particular order.

Added 7/25/16: This is the original list of sights and recommended restaurants we started from. Of the restaurants, we were only able to try Chelsea Market, Schmackary's Cookies, and The Melt Shop on this trip. I've previously eaten at Dos Caminos. All were fantastic.

  1. Don't drive into the city. Just don't do it. We park in the large transportation center in Stamford CT and take the Metro North commuter train (which runs 2-4 times/hour even on weekends) to Grand Central. Easy peasy.
  2. I prefer staying in midtown Manhattan - it's easy to get pretty much anywhere in a reasonable time. But the trade off is cost. It can get pricey. And midtown hotel rooms are small and very restricted about fitting a fifth person into a room designed for four. We would've had to pay for two hotel rooms, so found that renting a weekly apartment through was a better solution for us.
  3. Don't try the restaurants around Times Square. Nearly impossible without at least an hour wait which is unpleasant with hungry tired kids. Walk a block or two straight across to 8th or 9th Ave and you'll find ten bazillion fantastic unique restaurants to suit just about any taste and fanciness-level without the throngs of tourists.
  4. Speaking of restaurants, any of the well-known tourist places (even away from Times Sq) will have long lines. But if you're willing to try the hole-in-the-wall across the street you'll probably find a true gem. NYC is definitely a place for foodies. Chelsea Market is always a good choice - dozens and dozens of little counter places that are really one-of-a-kind and so good. And the Food Network studios are right upstairs in the building!
  5. We found the routine that worked well for us was to have a full breakfast at the apartment we rented; grab a light snack-y lunch wherever we were midday; then get a full dinner (either sit-down restaurant or take out) at the end of the day.
  6. The NYC subway is really easy to use once you figure out how to read the map. We downloaded the free official app for the MTA which was very useful. It has a route planner that helps you figure out how to get to any station or point of interest. The breakeven point between paying per ride and getting the 7-day unlimited MetroCard is 11 individual rides. If you don't get the unlimited rides, up to four people can share a single MetroCard. If you are doing the unlimited pass, each person needs their own MetroCard.
    • I do wish there was an app that combined the subway and bus routes. We never took the bus (even though our MetroCards covered both) because it was difficult to figure out the bus routes/schedules in conjunction with the subway routes. 
  7. Be willing to walk. If you go in the summer, you're going to get grimy and sweaty. Just plan on it and shower when you're done for the day.
  8. If you want to walk the Brooklyn Bridge (which is lovely), take the subway to the Brooklyn side and walk back (the station is just a couple blocks from the pedestrian entrance). You end up right by the plaza at City Hall where there are food trucks galore for a tasty treat at the end.
  9. The same day tickets to Broadway shows from the Times Sq booth are not always a bargain. The face value of many of the tickets sold is $150-$250, so half price is still pricey. But if you specifically ask for the least expensive seats instead of "best available" you might get lucky. Especially if you're willing to break up a larger party to sit in groups of 2 or 3.
  10. There are several companies selling passes to the top NYC attractions (the Met, MoMA, Empire Statue, Statue of Liberty ferry, Natural History Museum, etc.) as a group at a discount. If there are several you are determined to do on your trip, the passes can save significants amounts of money and are readily accepted. We chose an Explorer Pass, which allows you to pick and choose which attractions to add to it, and ended up saving 25% over face value of the admission fees. But depending on your needs and itinerary, one of the other passes may be a better value. In addition to the discount, the passes allow you to bypass all/most of the lines at most places, which can be significant.
  11. There are some hustlers looking to sell tickets/bike rentals/carriage rides to tourists at a few particular places (entrances to Central Park, Times Sq, exit of the subway station to the Statue of Liberty ferry), but we found that if we just politely ignored them they were not aggressive and would leave us alone. Aside from those few locations, we felt completely safe and not-accosted everywhere we went.
  12. Tickets to climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty are gone many many months in advance. Tickets to climb to the pedestal and the museum are usually still available 4-8 weeks ahead depending on the time of year. These are free add-ons to the ferry ride to the island (which is always available), but only limited numbers are available for each day.
  13. What we did: explore Central Park (southern half only - the place is enormous!); 9/11 Memorial (such a beautiful, heartbreaking tribute); the High Line; Chelsea Market; the Intrepid Museum; Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium; Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island; two Broadway shows (Finding Neverland and Phantom of the Opera); walk across the Brooklyn Bridge; walk down 5th Avenue/Rockefeller Center; Empire Statue Building observatory (we did it at night); Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Guggenheim (lobby only, just to admire the architecture); Museum of Modern Art; Times Square (though not for very long - the place is ridiculously crowded and overwhelming). 
    • The Met, Natural History Museum, and Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island are all pretty much full day activities unless you really want to curtail things to just the minimal highlights.
  14. Everyone we talked to was nice and more than willing to help and direct us around. NYC, and New Yorkers, are really great about making visitors feel welcome.

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