Day 1: March 31
I am in NYC!!!! It’s super busy at the airport and apparently no one has any knowledge of our transfer-brilliant! Eventually we are led to a minibus and let in, which is great, only the driver then starts with his barrage of “I need paying with cash or by voucher”. Honestly, he repeats this at least thirty times and every time our lovely fam trip leader Anna from Funway Holidays gives the same, truthful response of “I don’t have a physical voucher, this was all confirmed by e-mail”
The upshot? We argue all the way to the hotel, burst in, ask concierge to help us and in only a few minutes, the Supershuttle driver leaves with no voucher or cash as....surprise, surprise, it was all paid for and confirmed by e-mail!
So my first impressions are Americans are rude, unorganised and don’t listen. However, on thanking the concierge staff, they tell us to expect something in our rooms as a “Sorry, you shouldn’t arrive in NYC and receive verbal abuse for forty minutes” and we all receive bottles of wine – all is forgiven!
There are ten of us in total and eight of us decide to take a walk up to Times Square. It is awesome, bright, busy, buzzing and goes on for so much longer than I expected. I can see the 2014 sign with the ball drop for New Years Eve ready behind it - very cool! After realising we have now been up for twenty two hours we head to bed!
Day 2: April 1
Breakfast is fabulous and I have made my very own waffles. Kerry Kelly from the Starwood Hotel Group has met us and is lovely. We tour the hotel (Sheraton Times Square) and it’s beautiful – in three words - spacious, corporate and central. Next is a half-day tour of the city. This is so informative that I feel like an expert at the end.
I have learnt:
1. The Bank of America tower is the 30th tallest building in the world
2. The Chrysler building was the tallest in the world at the time of being built, until the Empire State Building was built just 11 months later
3. The Empire state building is the only building in New York to have its own zip code
4. The Flat Iron building was the first high rise, built in 1902
5. 5th Avenue is THE most expensive avenue in the world
6. Over 800 languages are spoken in the USA
7. New Freedom Tower is the tallest in the USA
8. The Freedom Tower measures 1,776ft because that’s the year America got its independence
The tour was amazing and we waved to Guns and Roses- they were recording at the VH1 studios! When the tour finished we had four hotel visits starting with the Warwick. We are met by Yana and Sabrina and led to lunch. It’s beautiful - we have a full three-course meal with wine and water and the staff are nothing short of charming. The rooms are perfect and the story behind the hotel is enchanting.
On to the Wellington...oh dear! In three words: basic, budget and compact! New Yorker next, which was undergoing a refurbishment, so with that in mind I would say it’s value, improving and (free) Wi-Fi. Finally, at the Holiday Inn we receive a very refreshing cocktail. It is family-orientated, has a rooftop pool and is fresh.
The last activity for today is a river cruise, complete with dinner and a free bar. The views are incredible as we sail away from Chelsea Piers and the atmosphere is party like. It lasts for three hours and we get close to the Statue of Liberty - it's such a great photo opportunity that we scurry to the top deck to obtain some very memorable photographs. After grabbing a limo home (as you do), we are so tired that even getting showered is an effort, and we sink into the amazing Sheraton bed.
Day 3: April 2
We have checked out of the Sheraton and its only 07:30! After making more waffles at breakfast we go on to our next hotel for two nights -The Westin, but we only have time to drop our bags as we are going on a shopping trip! We take a walk down to the bus terminal (bumping into plenty of people with hot coffees as we go - very New York!) gain some vouchers and hop on a coach. It takes an hour to get there , but it’s a very interesting drive, although many of my new buddies are asleep, due to the hectic day before. For those of us awake we see white houses like on the TV and so many retail parks - they are just one after the other, with a token hotel every two or three miles. As we arrive at Woodbury Common it’s very quiet and calm. There is an outlet of every kind from Ralph Lauren, Fendi and Versace, to the Disney Store, ToysRUs and a huge food court. It is a shopper's paradise - the discounts are huge and it is very unfortunate that we only have a couple of hours. I grab a few bargains and make my way to the food court to grab my lunch voucher; I then proceed to get very told off by the voucher lady for being last and apparently I only have ten minutes to eat. I am aware of this already: in my world shopping takes precedence and I’m only grabbing a sandwich to eat on the bus, but I smile through said telling off and make my way back to the coach.
We decide as a group that after dropping the shopping off and checking in properly to the Westin (not as smoothly as at the Sheraton) we should head to Macy’s! It is enormous, very busy and the guy at Starbucks inside has already got my coffee order wrong and is having to re-make it. We only had an hour as it was, I now have thirty minutes! After going up and down the same escalator four times (I seriously cannot find my way out of accessories!) I go up a level and hit fashion – whoop! After that we grab a slice of pizza, hail a cab and go back to the hotel where we have one hour to scrub up for the Opera “La Boheme” at the Lincoln Centre. The building is architecturally stunning, the actors/singers beyond talented and the atmosphere is very refined. It’s another late night though and everyone is wanting their fabulous bed back at the Westin.
Day 4: April 3
Another four hotel inspections today starting with The Westin, of which the rooms have beautiful views, the beds are up another level in terms of comfort and it’s super clean. Secondly, the Hyatt at Grand Central. This hotel is very stylish, contemporary and has the best floating bar! NH Jolly Madison Towers should be renamed the Marco Towers - he is the nicest man and gets us coffees and pastries - a winner! This hotel is on East 38th street, very central for all areas and nicely done. It's a smaller hotel with an exceptionally cosy bar and nightly happy hour, along with beautiful bathrooms and excellent value. Finally, we see the Millenium Broadway. A timeless theatre exists here, which was recently used to film a scene for Downton Abbey. The rooms are fairly spacious and the front facing ones have great views of Times Square.
Next is a lesson in the arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We have a very knowledgeable guide who shows us four very different paintings and explains the stories behind the artwork. It's super interesting and not nearly long enough, but we have to dash as we have a New York TV and movie sites tour picking us up any minute. The tour gets off to a tricky start as the microphone does not work and when the tour guide places/throws it down the bus driver pulls over, gets out and refuses to drive! After several nicotine fixes, shouting matches, interventions etc the tour continues. It is informative and the highlight is a joint winner from both the Sesame Street playground and the apartment block from Friends, albeit we do pass Beyone/Jay Z’s apartment in Tribeca and Robert Di Nero’s pad in Manhatten - all exciting stuff. After a twenty minute change we head out to dinner, just us ten and go to a traditional Steakhouse followed by a visit up the Empire State Building to the Observatory deck. It is breath-taking and actually pretty emotional. The views are just unbelievable and the distance they go on for is unreal. Again a huge photo taking opportunity. Last day tomorrow!
Day 5: April 4
Checking out by 07:30 again! Just been told “you can’t be in a rush” in New York -really?! Only wanted somewhere to leave our cases! Anyway, last activity -“Neighbourhood eats tours of Brownstone Brooklyn”. It sounds a bit lame but actually is super cool and David, our guide, is fab. It is nice to go to another area (via the tube, but actually I much preferred cabs and there is not a lot in it price wise) and try a few different foods and drinks that are all made very locally and taste amazing -particularly the French inspired bakery and the “Stinky” cheese shop!
OK, so now we have two hours of free time, and whilst eight out of the ten are happy to grab a hotdog and relax at the hotel, Amy (my roomy) and I have other ideas. We literally do all of the following:
1. Run into the Ritz Carlton, take a photo, use the facilities
2. Pose at the edge of Central Park, take photos of each other and of the bridge used to film Home Alone 2
3. Call in at the Plaza, ask concierge to take a photo of us.
4. FAO Shwarz –home to the floor piano in the movie “BIG” - no queues so we jump on, pull some moves and of course take a photo
5. Grab a cab up to Times Square
6. Purchase an immense amount of sweets from the M&M’s megastore
7. Grab Starbucks
8. Walk back to the hotel in time for our transfer pick-up - phew!
After checking in (and taking Amy up on her awesome idea of paying £30 for extra legroom seats on our return Virgin flight), we are on our way home and sleeping in our comfy seats. The flight has to call in at Manchester to refuel as otherwise we'd have to circle Heathrow for ninety minutes, something they do not have enough fuel for. We finally land and say goodbye. It was an awesome, informative but very tiring trip - as good as those beds were, I just want mine!