Explore. Experience. Engage.

Powered by our sister site, Family Vacation Critic

A "Revolutionary" Journey Part III (New York City)

Author: Host Ciao (More Trip Reviews by Host Ciao)
Date of Trip: December 2008

Previous: A "Revolutionary" Journey Part II (Washington D.C. & Philadelphia)

On Saturday November 27, I took a taxi to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia to catch my train to New York City. Because of the down escalator, I found a red cap who took my luggage down and stored it above an end seat in one of the cars. The service is free, but they appreciate tips, of course. The ride was very comfortable and my train which left at 10:37 arrived in New York City at 11:50.

I found my way through Penn Station to the taxi rank and headed to the Best Western President Hotel on 48th Street. I had stayed here seven years ago and knew how very convenient it is to many of the sites I wanted to visit and also to mass transport. I don't spend much time in my hotel room in NY, which is good because it was very small with a single bed and a view of nothing but roof. Thank goodness the air conditioning worked because the room was so warm, I never turned the air off.

I expect I would stay here again unless I found a better deal in that area. Of course, I was there in December which is definitely high season in NYC. The rate for my cracker box ran up and down and up from (without 13% tax) $233.96 for Saturday night to $152.96 for Sunday to $314.96 for Monday through Thursday to $350.96 for Friday. This really sounds high until you start checking other hotels in Midtown for that time of year. When I was checking out, the clerk informed me that during "low season" my room cost only $90, and when I asked him when was low season, the answer was January and February -- unfortunately no Christmas tree then! Reservations can be made on the Best Western site. I really have to emphasize that the location is great.

After I unpacked I headed to the Gray Line office less than a block away on 8th Avenue to check on my tour for the next day and then set out to wander my favorite area of Manhattan. I walked up 5th Avenue to Trump Tower and checked out its indoor waterfall and Christmas decorations. Then I headed over to Park Avenue but trees up and down street weren't lit yet, nor did the lions at the Library have their decorations yet.

I headed to Rockefeller Center. The tree I came to see was up, but no lights yet. However the angels that decorate the green area in the Channel Gardens in the Center were all brightly lit and many people were skating on the ice rink. I went across the street to St. Patrick's at about 4:30 in order to wander and take pictures inside before 5:30 Mass. The Mass was very crowded, and I was surprised that the speaker system was not very loud. Halfway back in the huge church, I had trouble hearing the readings.

disney store window display christmas treeAfter Mass I continued up 5th Avenue as far as the Plaza Hotel and FAO Schwarz. I snapped lots of pictures of decorations. There were some beautiful windows as well as decorations on the buildings themselves. The Louis Vuitton store or building had the name and the symbol flashing in different colored lights all over the whole front of the building. There was certainly no problem knowing who that belonged to. Another fun building to watch was one that had different sized and shaped snow flakes flashing on and off in no visible pattern over the whole front of the building. This is a wonderfully festive street to wander on at Christmas time.

I went to the lower level of one of the main buildings of the Center. Here people could watch the ice skaters on their level and there also was a Starbucks so I had a coffee. I had decided to go to the Top of the Rock so I bought my ticket near the ice rink. It cost $20 to be whisked to the top of one of the buildings where we could go out and walk around. The view and the lights were fantastic. Of course, I took many pictures. Since I knew I would do this I had replaced the close-to-full memory stick in the camera I use for night and indoor pictures.

And here in lies my sad story. I took many pictures during the week I was in New York including with this camera. When I arrived in Boston I had this stick put onto a CD and wiped it to use there. However, I did not come home with the CD. It was in a case, and I don't believe I could have thrown it away in the small waste basket in my room. However, I contacted the hotel and asked them to check the room and I also asked the shuttle to the airport to check the vehicle -- no luck. I still think it ended up under the frame of the bed, which reached the floor, but I'm sure I will never know.

I might add that, of course, there is a souvenir shop at the Top as well as a photographer who takes your picture with the city lights as a backdrop. The cost? Only $35 for four pictures. One? $30. I didn't buy one, but at times wish I had because it would at least be one picture from up there. Oh well.

After the descent from the Top, I walked back down 5th Avenue to 48th Street to head "home," and here is where and when I found my favorite building -- three floors of M & M "stuff" to buy. Who knew there could be so much? However, it wasn't the stuff; it was the huge lighted sign that along with rivers of M & M's moved from a Red M & M King Kong climbing the Empire State Building and beating his chest until he almost fell off to a green M & M Statue of Liberty showing off a green knee through a slit in her robe. These were the best of many fun light pictures, and I wish I had a picture to show you. When I saw these I knew I was almost home from my wanderings for the night.

Oh and by the way I found another Starbucks and bought supper -- banana bread -- and breakfast.

On Sunday morning I ate my rather dry pumpkin scone with coffee I made in the room. I never did try the $11 continental breakfast the hotel offered in the bar off the lobby. I presented myself at the tour office that the Gray Line staffer had indicated at 8:15 and found out that the English Speaking Harlem Gospel tour didn't leave until 9:30, not 8:30 as I had been told. There was a McDonald's at street level so I spent my extra time there.

The tour was excellent. You can read a description of it on the Gray Line website, www.grayline.com It lasted about four hours. The guide on the bus didn't say too much about the first part of the ride because, as she said, it is covered in another tour that Gray Line wants to sell. But as we moved north she described the sights we were seeing and pointed out different well known places in Harlem.

We were not the only tour group in the church (sorry I can't remember the name and, of course, my pictures are gone). I think there were probably four tour groups. The music was marvelous! We heard a short prayer and more music before it was time for us to leave so the regular service could begin. Church members kept arriving as we listened to the music. While I made my reservations through Gray Line, Harlem Spirituals offers several other tours including Soul Food and Jazz.

I had a ticket to see Disney's "Little Mermaid" Sunday afternoon. It was absolutely delightful, and it was fascinating to see the way water and shore were depicted together as characters swam to shore. It took me a while to figure out that the well-padded people hopping around now and then were sea gulls. A Broadway Cares collection was done that afternoon. This is done every year in all the theaters at Christmas time. I bought a CD of different musical casts singing Christmas Carols. The money goes to fight HIV/Aids in the theater. I had bought one when I was in New York 7 years ago when part of the money also went to 9/11 families.

For Sunday evening I had made reservations for the Holiday Lights Tour with a smaller company because it sounded like there were more stops than on the Gray Line tour. I almost had a problem. I waited and waited where I thought the bus would come. Finally I asked a policeman and found out I was on Broadway instead of 7th Avenue. I was a block away and forgot about Broadway cutting through the numbered streets.

The tour was fine. We had three stops, not as many as I thought the description sounded, but the smaller bus was very nice and easier to get on and off than one of Gray Line's big buses. We first stopped at Grand Central Station and had time to look around -- barely enough time to make a dent in what there is to see. Then we went to a nearby hotel for a bathroom break. From there we crossed over into Brooklyn and stopped in a plaza area by the river and near the Brooklyn Bridge so we could take pictures. This is the same stop that Gray Line has. I remember this from 2001 when we saw from here the two lights beaming upward in memory of the Twin Towers. That was mid-November, and there were still flowers and candles being left there as a memorial.

Related Trip Reviews
New York City Trip Reviews
Mid-Atlantic Trip Reviews
Send Us Your Trip Review!

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add news@independenttraveler.com to your address book.

We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our privacy policy and Terms of Use.