Note from the Fatboy-in-Chief: This article was written by my amazing wife about her recent trip with my mother-in-law and daughter to NYC for my daughters 16th birthday. You will notice some stylistic differences but the writing is probably much better than mine. Enjoy.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014:
The journey started with flying from Portland, Oregon to Newark, New Jersey by way of United Airlines. Fortunately, the flight was without drama and the connection through Denver went great. When arriving in Newark we decided to take a taxi to our hotel in Times Square. It can take time getting from Newark to Manhattan, in our case about 45 minutes and a $90 taxi fare before tip. There are more economical options using the NJ Transit and New York Subway systems. However, after a long travel day and not being as familiar with where we needed to go, the taxi ride was worth the extra expense.
Our hotel was the DoubleTree Hilton right in the heart of Times Square at 1568 Broadway. We wanted to stay close to Broadway to be in the center of Manhattan making it convenient to get all around the city in any direction. The DoubleTree was clean and we stayed on an upper floor giving us a great view of Times Square, all the lights, and business of the city. The DoubleTree did not have a closet which ended up being okay, but a little annoying. We also heard the continual sounds of the city at all times of the day and night. So, if you are a light sleeper it can be a challenge. There are so many hotel options in the city. It’s important to figure out what is most important. Do you want to be close to everything? Or, are you willing to stay in quieter parts of the city where there is some space from the main attractions. You may be able to save a little on hotel costs, but may increase travel expenses with using the subway or taxis.
We were walking around Times Square after a long day of travel and were hungry for a quick bite to eat. Unsure where to go, we knew we were not interested in chain food, like Olive Garden and things we could easily get in Portland. Yet, we weren’t sure where to go and wanted something of a more local feel. Times Square does not provide a local feel, as it is focused on the tourists and getting attention with bright lights. We started at O’Brien’s Irish Pub, http://www.obriensnyc.com/, but after sitting for almost 10 minutes with not so much as a glass of water to drink and not one staff member checking in on us, we got up and walked out of the restaurant. It was a blessing in disguise because just a few feet down the street we looked in the window of Le Marais Bar & Grill, http://lemarais.net/, Midtown Manhattan – 150 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036, and could tell this restaurant had been around for a while and must be good.
We walked in and were quickly seated in the upstairs dining room and knew we had stumbled upon a gem. As a kosher, Jewish establishment, the menu had some tasty options to pick from. We tried the Demi-Poulet Roti, Frites (Half free range roasted chicken and fries) and the Coq au Vin Blanc (Chicken braised in white wine, potatoes, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and bacon) and a bottle of Borgo Reale Pinot Grigio. Everything tasted delicious, with sizeable portions we were unable to finish. The free range chicken had a light and crispy skin that sealed in the moisture of the chicken. The frites were crispy, not overly salted, and went well with the chicken. The Coq au Vin Blanc was delicious with portion sizes more than one person can eat. The mixture of caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and pieces of bacon were cooked perfectly and seasoned well. The dish was served with a light wine sauce that did not disappoint. The best part of the dish was the presence of potatoes, but in a portion size that was reasonable alongside the other items on the plate that does not leave a person feeling they had a little protein with their starch. If back in New York, Le Marais is a place to re-visit.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014:
We wanted to see Wicked and were hoping to get discounted ticket prices by visiting the TKTS booth in the middle of Times Square. Using TKTS for Broadway show tickets can really help save money. TKTS does not guarantee what shows will have tickets available for either discount prices or full prices. So, if you go to New York and have your heart set on seeing a specific show, you may decide to pay for the tickets in advance of the visit, even if it means paying full price and the add on servicing and handling charges applied by most ticket companies. The other aspect of using TKTS is that you can only arrive to get tickets a few hours before that day’s show times, both for matinees and evening performances. We were glad that TKTS has staff walking around asking if people have questions. We immediately asked if we would be able to get tickets for Wicked. When finding out that Wicked never discounts there ticket prices, we knew we would need to walk to the Gershwin Theatre box office to purchase our tickets for that evening’s performance. Within 15 minutes we had our tickets purchased and were able to do some sightseeing before the performance. Wicked is the untold story of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good. It was fun to see the inside of the Gershwin Theatre and reflect on the history of the building through its architecture, décor, and history of famous actors that have performed in this venue for many, many years. Wicked was incredible, colorful, and kept the audience engaged every moment of the performance.
We needed a mid-day snack and decided to stop at Blue Fin in Times Square, www.bluefinnyc.com. We had a little sushi, along with a chicken curry salad. We were really hungry so it was good to fill the empty spot, but found the prices to be very expensive for the amount of food and the quality of what we received. This will be an easy restaurant to avoid in the future.
After Wicked we were hungry for a late bite before heading back to our hotel. We ended up stopping at the TSQ Brasserie Bar, http://www.tsqbrasserie.com/. Overall, the price we paid for what we received was expensive. We decided on a breaded chicken appetizer, sharing the pasta Bolognese, and then having a piece of cheesecake. The chicken appetizer was pitiful. Very little flavor and it felt like the restaurant grabbed a handful of pre-breaded chicken out of a box from the freezer, warmed it up, and put it on a plate. The pasta Bolognese was not very flavorful, and the pasta was undercooked and chewy. However, the cheesecake was a large portion of deliciousness – creamy and excellent flavor. While we would never eat a meal at the TSQ, we would go back for the cheesecake.
Thursday, September 25, 2014:
We woke up to rain and decided to focus our attention on inside activities, as the weather report was showing great weather the rest of the trip. Before we arrived in New York we purchased The New York Pass, www.newyorkpass.com. This pass card provides each tourist a debit like card that helps save money on entrance to approximately 80 different attractions. There are options to buy a one day or multiple day pass for a flat rate. If you go to an attraction that is covered by The New York Pass, you get free entrance to the attraction. To determine if you will get a good deal by purchasing a pass it is a good idea to decide what things you want to see while in New York, how long it may take to see all the sites, and then calculate what the per attraction rate will be. Regular price for a 3 day pass is $180.00. However, we ended up adding the ability to have a hop on, hop off bus service for our 3 day pass so travel between attractions. Our final pricing, per pass was $189.00 for the pass and hop on, hop off transportation.
We quickly found out that the hop on, hop off bus service has some real room for improvement. First, you have to go to specific locations to catch a bus, which is serviced by CitySights NY, www.citysightsny.com. This was not a problem, but before you use the bus service there is a voucher that has to be turned in for a receipt. This was not clear when we went to catch the bus for the first time and the CitySights staff, even after we asked questions about catching the bus, did not ask us if we had our receipt to board the bus. Where we realized we had a problem was after standing for almost an hour waiting for a bus in the rain, and then being denied access because we didn’t turn in our voucher for a receipt.
The CitySights staff was not sympathetic to our frustrations to get on the bus and simply pointed us in the direction we needed to go to get to the office to switch our voucher for a receipt. The unfortunate part is the CitySights staff member gave us wrong directions and we ended up wasting additional time locating their office. When we arrived at the CitySights office we told the person helping us of our frustrations and he was nice enough to give us an extra day of bus service for no additional cost. Once we had our receipt in had we headed back to the bus stop, waited for way too long, and then caught a bus to our first attraction.
Our learning experience with The New York Pass and CitySightNY is that we would purchase the pass card again, but we would not pay the money for the bus service. CitySightsNY does not have enough buses operating for the capacity of people using their services. At each stop we found we had to wait too long and in some cases were denied access to the bus and had to wait because the buses were too full. On more than one occasion we ended up just catching a taxi to take us to our next location to save time and be able to see more. If you do happen to use the CitySights NY bus service, just keep an eye on the final bus times and be prepared that you may need to take a taxi to get back to your hotel or next destination for lack of space. You will also find that during the bus ride, CitySightsNY has tour guides that give commentary to the passengers. We never had a tour guide that focused on history and interesting tidbits about the city. Each person ended up giving too much of their own personal opinions about the city and often their views about wealth and poverty, which detracted from the experience.
After the wait in the rain and the frustration with our bus service we were really excited to get to our first attraction, Cathedral of St. John Divine, www.stjohndivine.org. If you like beautiful churches with stunning architecture and a long history, this is a must see attraction. Beautiful and ornate stained glass is throughout the church and quite breathtaking.
Before we toured Cathedral of St. John Divine we were starving and needed to get something to eat. We opted for pizza, figuring we were bound to find some authentic New York pizza and we liked the idea of eating in a neighborhood environment of Central Park West. We received a recommendation close to the Cathedral at V&T Pizzeria, www.vtpizzeriarestaurant.com. This was a pizza experience that did not disappoint. The prices were reasonable and we opted for the “White” pizza, a combination of mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. We also added prosciutto. This pizza did not have a traditional red sauce, which was okay because the buttery and salty flavor from the melted cheese was rich and delicious all by itself. We decided that the pizza at V&T was so good that we did not want to run the risk of ruining our experience with other pizza on our trip that may not be as good. So, this was our only pizza on our trip.
After seeing the Cathedral we headed back to Times Square by way of a taxi because we didn’t have the time to wait for CitySightsNY to show up. We went directly to the TKTS booth across from our hotel and waited in line for tickets to see Phantom of the Opera later in the evening. We received a 50% discount on our tickets and our seats were on an upper level to the right of the stage, but we still had a good view of the performance. Phantom is performed at the Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th Street, New York. What a beautiful theatre. You walk in and can feel the history of the building just by observing the décor. After the performance was over we were still reflecting on the great pizza we had and really didn’t want a big meal. We decided to head back to our hotel and have a quick appetizer and wine at the hotel bar. We shared a cheese plate and Caesar salad, enough to hit the spot.
Friday, September 26, 2014:
We woke up to beautiful weather and were excited to spend the day outside. The New York Pass gave us free entrance to use the Water Taxi, www.nywatertaxi.com, which is not something we had considered until we were in New York. The Water Taxi gives the ability for the riders to hop on and hop off at different stops, but we decided we just wanted to ride for the view. We entered the Water Taxi at Pier 79, West 39th Street and traveled down around Battery Park and Wall Street, up to the Brooklyn Bridge, and then over for a great view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island before ending back at Pier 79. The entire trip took about 90 minutes and we were able to get views of the city you simply cannot capture from land. An unexpected attraction ended up as one of the highlights of our trip and one we will do again.
After the Water Taxi we headed to the Empire State Building. This is an attraction that requires time. There are lines and several check points to get to the observation deck. As we were checking in we were given the option of also going on a virtual ride called the NY Skyride. This ride is inside the Empire State Building and is a free entry attraction with The New York Pass. At a cost of $42 per person we were expecting something spectacular. Instead, it was just okay. The ride itself was uncomfortable and you get jolted around during the ride. If you get motion sick, avoid this attraction. At the end of the experience we were glad we did not pay hard cash for this experience.
The observation deck of the Empire State Building was packed. The views were stunning and it was such a beautiful day outside and visibility was excellent. What an awesome way to see Manhattan from one end to the other. We found people were not very friendly to make sure all the visitors had a chance to see the sights. I think some tourists are afraid if they are nice to others and make sure everyone is working together for a good experience they may miss something. On the contrary, when people are kind to each other I think the experience is enhanced and you end up with a better experience and seeing more great stuff.
After the Empire State Building we were looking for a traditional deli nearby. After walking and walking we found that many of the traditional Jewish delis were closed for a holiday. We opted to taxi back to Times Square and at at Junior’s, www.juniorscheesecake.com, a well-known restaurant that got its start in Brooklyn. Besides having great deli sandwiches, they have fantastic desserts. For dinner we ordered and shared the combo reuben that was made with a combination of corned beef and pastrami, along with sides of cole slaw and pickled beets. For dessert, we decided to try another version of New York cheesecake and ordered a piece of traditional and their devil cheesecake option. We took both pieces back to hotel to enjoy with our feet up. Both desserts were delicious, but so rich we were able to stretch the enjoyment out over a few days of our trip. We would order both of these desserts again, and I would imagine they can be ordered online. We realized that future trips to New York will require making sure our hotel room has a mini-fridge in the room. We were lucky we had one at the DoubleTree, but it is more economical when considering the portion sizes and being able to take food back to the hotel room for snacks instead of leaving it behind. This saved on our overall food budget.
Saturday, September 27, 2014:
Saturday was a day of great anticipation. Before arriving in New York we purchased online tickets for admission to the World Trade Center Museum, www.911memorial.org, which had recently opened to the public. We were not sure about spending the money to view the museum, but it is worth every dollar we spent. A lot of time was spent thinking about the victims of 9/11, both those that perished and those that survived.
After a few negative experiences with CitySightsNY, we were concerned about relying on the bus transportation to get us to the museum in time to enter the museum. When you purchase tickets you have an entry time, which is probably necessary to control crowds. We took a taxi and it was very easy to get to the entrance of the museum. No longer are there barricades around the reflecting pools and park like there was during construction. There is a far more open feeling of being able to go to the park to see and remember. After spending a few minutes walking around the reflecting pools we got in line for entrance to the museum. Once inside we used all of the two hours we were told to plan on. You can do the museum in less time, but if you are interested in taking in the entire museum experience, two hours is a good minimum to plan for. You enter the museum at the top and the actual museum artifacts are built down into the earth with the original retaining walls of the World Trade Center acting as walls and history of the museum.
The highlights of the museum were the stairs on the outside of the World Trade Center that survivors used to escape the building to Vesey Street on 9/11. The damage to the stairs is a poignant reminder of the danger and miracle of survival at a time when so many perished. The wall of remembrance that is a simulation of the beautiful blue sky the morning of 9/11 is touching, as the sky is recreated using a different shade of blue for each person that perished during the terrorist attack. What an incredible way to remember each person. There is also a memorial wall that shows the picture of each person that perished during 9/11, along with information about each person. The way the museum honors that victims and survivors makes the events of the 9/11 event more personal. The museum tells the story of what happened, but it feels they are trying to remember the good in each person that perished so it can overshadow the sadness of why the event happened. My 16 year old daughter was able to see the museum and she was not as excited to see the museum because she was so young during 9/11 that the terrorist attack did not seem very real to her. Seeing the museum and learning the history made the experience educational and more understandable to her, so this is a great attraction for all ages.
After seeing the Word Trade Center Museum we took the Path Train to across the water to Jersey City where we had lunch at City Diner. The Path Train dropped us conveniently at the first stop on the Jersey City side, Exchange Place. Exchange Place is an excellent location to see New York, both during the day and night. We walked a short distance and had a great lunch before heading back to Manhattan. Once we were on the New York side we decided to try and catch the CitySightsNY bus back to Times Square. We had problems with a long wait and buses too full for passengers, but ultimately made it back to Times Square.
Sunday, September 28, 2014:
Sunday was a day for more sightseeing and our last full day in New York. Our first stop was making our way back to Central Park West to take in tea at Alice’s Tea Cup, www.alicesteacup.com. Our first thought was to use the CitySightsNY bus, but after we saw the line of people waiting for the same bus we knew it would be a two hour wait to catch a ride that would take about 10 minutes by taxi. Once at the tea shop we ordered the “Mad Hatter” option and enjoyed the experience of scones, finger sandwiches, and lots of tea options. The cookies were a bit dry, which we mentioned to our waiter. We were treated to a fresh red velvet cupcake, which did not disappoint.
After tea we tried again, with a shorter wait, to catch the CitySightsNY bus for a tour of Harlem. We were glad to see this part of New York City, but incredibly unimpressed with the tour guide. We rode the bus to the beginning of Central Park East, hopped off, and caught a taxi for the remainder of our ride to the lower part of New York City. The evening plan was eating dinner at Katz’s and tickets to see Stomp. Katz’s deli, www.katzsdelicatessen.com, is not to be missed. This deli first began in 1888 and has a unique culture that is a real treat for those wanting a traditional New York deli experience. We were not interested in a lot of fuss with our meal and opted to focus on the meat with a 3 meat platter of brisket, corned beef, and pastrami. Of course, the portions were so large and we had plenty of leftover food. Since it was our last night in New York we knew the extra food would go to waste. Katz’s offered to make two lunch bags for the homeless that stand near the deli and asked if we were okay with giving our leftovers to them. We loved this idea and thought it was pretty cool that not only did Katz’s box up the meat into two different lunch bags, but they also added a few extras like bread and pickles to each bag. Once outside the deli there were two people readily available to accept the lunch bags and we moved on to see Stomp.
Stomp is performed at the Orpheum Theatre, which ended up being walking distance from Katz’s. However, we were not sure of the neighborhood and distance and decided to take a taxi to the theatre. What a great performance. 1 hour and 45 minutes of pure energy with no intermission, like most Broadway shows. It is amazing to see the creativity of how people make music without musical instruments. A high energy performance that kept the audience engaged the entire performance.
After Stomp, we took a taxi back to the DoubleTree Hilton and packed our bags for a very early flight back to Portland. The cost of a taxi for an early morning flight was consistent with what we paid when arriving in New York. We were glad to have a direct flight back to Portland, but were really glad to get off the plane and stretch our legs.