A May 2005 trip
to New York by ssullivan
Quote: I'd been wanting to return to New York. Getting together with a group of IgoUgo members over Memorial Day weekend was the perfect opportunity.
Since my first visit to New York, I'd been dying to get back. After all, 48 hours is way too short of time to really experience everything there is to see in this great city. So when I learned that several IgoUgo members were going to be getting together there over the Memorial Day weekend, I decided this was just the opportunity I had been waiting for.
This trip, I was able to do many of the things I hadn't been able to accomplish on my previous trip. Always a fan of the theater, getting to see two Broadway shows was a highlight of the weekend. On my previous visit, I had visited St. Patrick's Cathedral; this time I ventured up to the Morningside Park area, near Columbia University, to visit the incredible Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. And, being the fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture that I am, I checked off another one of his buildings on my list with a visit to the Guggenheim. And the trip would not have been complete without meeting several IgoUgo members for a Sunday afternoon chat in Central Park.
Yet, even with all that I saw in the 3 days I was in New York, it was not enough. The City That Never Sleeps draws you in, almost like an addiction, and leaves you always wanting more. While I had to leave New York on Monday evening, I knew that I would be back before long. I am convinced that this is a city I could never get tired of visiting, and that no matter how many times I return, there will always be something new and exciting to see on the next trip.
New York is one of the most expensive cities in the country. However, there are a number of ways you can cut back on the cost of visiting the city. While known for its great restaurants, you don't have to spend a bundle to eat well here. I usually try to obtain a hotel room that includes breakfast. A good breakfast is essential for making it through a busy day of sightseeing, and makes it easier to get by with a lighter lunch. For lunch, many museums offer affordable, and often good, options in their cafés. Another good choice is Grand Central Terminal, which should be on every New York visitor's must-see list anyway. The food hall at Grand Central is filled with many choices for good, fresh food at affordable prices. Grand Central's Midtown location and status as a major rail hub makes it easy to get to as well. And no visit to New York is complete without a visit to one of the many hot dog and sausage street vendors. For less than , you can get a very satisfying lunch, and enjoy one of the quintessential New York experiences. When it's dinnertime, look for places off the beaten tourist path. Many ethnic restaurants in the more residential neighborhoods offer great food at an excellent value. I've also found that a number of restaurants near the theaters offer pre-show dining options. These often include an appetizer or salad, entrée, and dessert for a fixed price, with several entrée choices available. Not only will you save money on a full dinner at a nice restaurant, but you'll also be virtually guaranteed of making it to the show on time.
I also tend to shy away from organized tours, such as bus tours around the city. New York's transit system is cheaper, and while you'll miss the commentary of a tour, a ride on a MTA bus with the locals will drive you past many of the same sights, but give you a much better opportunity to interact with the people who call the city home.
I'm a big fan of using public transportation when visiting other cities. New York's subway and bus system is hard to beat, with easy connections to all of the major tourist areas in Manhattan. It's also by far the cheapest way to explore the city. A 1-day pass currently costs and offers unlimited rides on subways and buses from the time of purchase until 3am the following morning. If your visit is for more than 3 days, a 7-day pass can be purchased for . Be sure to pick up a subway map (available free at most subway stations) or purchase a guidebook that includes a current system map for Manhattan. You'll find it indispensable in planning trips around the city. And while the subway will get you to many places, don't forget about the buses. Bus service on busy Manhattan streets can be slower than the underground trains, but it's much more scenic, and a cheap way to get a tour around town. There are also some areas that are better served by buses than the subway. The MTA website offers maps, schedules, and an interactive trip planner to help you find your way around the system.
In addition to public transportation, you'll find plenty of taxis that can take you right to your destination's front door. Cab service is easy to obtain in most parts of Manhattan 24 hours a day, making it easy to get back to your hotel after a late night out on the town.
When it comes to getting to and from the city, I'm a fan of flying into Newark, NJ's Liberty International Airport. While farther from some destinations than LaGuardia, EWR offers an extremely easy connection to New York's Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan via Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. EWR's terminals are connected directly to both of these rail lines via the free AirTrain. If your destination is in Lower Manhattan, you can also easily connect from New Jersey Transit or Amtrak to the PATH train at Newark's Penn Station. These direct rail connections into the city make EWR, in my opinion, an easier option for getting to/from New York than LaGuardia and JFK.
New York’s Millenium Hilton (I think Hilton deliberately misspells "Millenium" name to distinguish this property from the four other hotels in the city that are part of the Millennium Hotels chain) is a four-star property located in Lower Manhattan, directly across Church Street from the site of the World Trade Center. Damaged in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the hotel was closed for about 2 years for repair and renovation. In 2003, the 35-story Millenium Hilton reopened sporting a new modern decor and 565 very comfortable guestrooms and suites.
While the Millenium Hilton is not located in the heart of Manhattan’s tourist attractions, it’s not far from them. The hotel is very conveniently located within 1 or 2 blocks of 12 New York Subway lines (A and C at Chambers Street, E at World Trade Center, 2 and 3 at Park Place, R and W at Courtlandt Street, and 4, 5, J, M, and Z at the Fulton Street stations) and the PATH trains to Newark Penn Station in New Jersey. All of these transit options put the Millenium Hilton within minutes of Times Square and the Theatre District, Central Park, TriBeCa, SoHo, and Greenwich Village. The closest subway stations are Courtlandt Street (R and W), with an entrance located directly in front of the hotel, and World Trade Center (E), located on Church Street across Fulton Street, in the block just north of the hotel.
The Millenium Hilton prides itself on being a full-service hotel, and as such, travelers should not expect to find bargain rates here. Typical weekend rates approach $200/night. Fortunately, the property does offer an excellent array of amenities. All rooms are equipped with 42-inch plasma-screen televisions, wired high-speed Internet access, cordless telephones, plush towels and oversize bath sheets, and Hilton’s extremely comfortable "Serenity Bed." The hotel also features Hilton’s new alarm clocks, which the company touts as being easier to set. These clocks include a jack for connecting your portable music player so you can wake up to your favorite tunes streaming from your iPod. Other nice room features include an in-room combination safe for storing valuables, a relatively large bathroom, and upgraded toiletries. Most rooms overlook the World Trade Center site; this may be bothersome to some travelers, but I found my view of Ground Zero from 22 floors up quite fascinating. Services available at the hotel include a concierge, an excellent restaurant (Church and Dey), 24-hour room service, fitness center, pool, two bars (Church and Dey and Liquid Assets), and a business center.
While the Millenium Hilton may not be a good choice for travelers looking for more affordable accommodations, I was quite pleased with my choice of hotels. I was staying on a Hilton HHonors award stay, but even if I was paying for my stay, I would consider this hotel because of its easy accessibility to so many transit lines and high level of service and comfort.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 18, 2006
55 Church Street
New York, New York 10007
After a morning visit to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, a visit to the Guggenheim, and lunch in the Guggenheim Café, I was ready to return to Central Park. My first visit to the best-known urban park in the country had occurred in February of the previous year. Today I returned, ready to experience the park on a glorious Sunday afternoon in May, and to meet some fellow IgoUgo members. With nearly 2 hours to kill in the park between leaving the Guggenheim and meeting the rest of the group at the Conservatory Water, I decided to embark on a meandering path through the park, starting north of the Reservoir and visiting the Great Lawn, Belvedere Castle, and Ramble as I slowly made my way to the Conservatory Water.
The Great Lawn, located near the park’s center, is the backyard for many of Manhattan’s residents. This large oblong open field is closed to visitors in the winter. But with the new spring grass, the lawn is reopened, and on a sunny spring weekend afternoon, the space is filled with thousands of New Yorkers relaxing on blankets and lawn chairs, playing Frisbee, and enjoying being outdoors. The number of people on the lawn was staggering; yet, the space is so immense that there was still plenty of room for those just arriving to stake out a space.
Just south of the Great Lawn, and across a small lake, stands the Belvedere Castle. This structure houses exhibits describing the wildlife found in the park and offers a rooftop lookout featuring great views of the entire park and surrounding neighborhoods. From this point at the top of the castle, most of the park is visible, and it’s a great vantage point for seeing just how big the park is.
Continuing south from Belvedere Castle, I entered one of my favorite areas of Central Park, the Ramble. The Ramble is a large wooded area with several large hills and rocky areas. Several creeks also cross this section of the park. This is a great place to relax in a shady area, or to enjoy the many birds and other wildlife that populate this section of the park. In some of the more dense areas of the woods, it’s almost possible to forget that you are in the middle of one of the largest cities on the planet here.
The time was quickly approaching for rendezvous at the Conservatory Water, so I headed that direction. Once part of the city’s water system, today the Conservatory Water provides a tranquil setting for children to play on the nearby statues of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen, and for park visitors to rent and sail model boats in the pond. Here I met several IgoUgo members, including Mr. Wonka, Jose Kevo, zabelle, and Idler, and enjoyed a relaxing chat in a nearby grassy area. It was the perfect opportunity to get to know people in person whom I’d only previously known online.
59th To 110th Streets Between Fifth Avenue And Central Park West
New York 10023
Attraction | "Macy's"
Claiming to be the "World’s Largest Store," Macy’s is one of the city’s most well-known shopping destinations. Personally I’m not sure it is the world’s largest; I’ve been in others that seemed equally big if not larger, but with eleven floors and a building that occupies a full city block, Macy’s is quite huge. The store goes way beyond the suburban mall Macy’s that dot the nation, offering clothing, housewares, accessories, furniture, gourmet foods, decorative items, jewelry, perfumes, cosmetics shoes, and more. There’s even a nail salon and vision and optical center, as well as a full USPS station. And should all this shopping make you hungry, don’t fret; Macy’s offers eleven restaurants, offering everything from fast food to full-service fine dining.
I visited Macy’s more for the novelty of seeing what it was like and saying I’ve been there than to seriously shop. I’m fortunate to have a great variety of shopping options back home, and it’s rare that even in a city like New York that I find things that are not readily available back home. I also had more than enough to haul back with me on the plane to Houston, and trying to fit several more items into my luggage was going to be a real challenge. Despite my plan not to shop at Macy’s, I still had a great time exploring the store. I was somewhat disappointed by the store’s interior appearance. It’s very nice, but did not quite live up to my expectations – probably because I spent a full afternoon exploring Marshall Field’s store on State St. in Chicago a few years ago, which is one of the most beautiful stores you’ll ever find. The ground floor of Macy’s main building does exhibit some of the same grandeur, with marble columns, brass balcony and stairway railings, and antique light fixtures. Opened in 1902, this building seems much more unique than the adjacent, more modern 7th Avenue Building. It’s worth a trip up several levels in this building to find the original wooden escalators, which still connect many of the upper floors (escalators on the lower levels are more heavily used and most have been replaced by modern equipment). Also look for the original wooden revolving doors along the building’s 34th St. façade.
Macy’s offers a full array of services for shoppers, including a complimentary personal shopping service, visitors center with concierge, coat and package check, and consolidation service, which allows you to shop all over the store throughout the day and have your items consolidated together so that you can pay for all of them at once. Also available, and very helpful, are printed directories that you can pick up from employees working at the store’s main entrances, and at the visitors center on the 34th St. balcony level.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 18, 2006
Macy's Herald Square
151 West 34th Street
New York, New York 10001
(212) 695 4400
Attraction | "The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine"
While Fifth Avenue’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Park Avenue’s St. Bart’s are arguably more famous, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine ranks near the top of the list of New York’s great landmark churches. This magnificent cathedral is certainly one of the world’s most unique, featuring a unique conglomeration of Romanesque, Byzantine, and Gothic styles, as a result of a change of architects nearly twenty years into the building’s construction period. And, despite the cathedral’s cornerstone being laid in 1892, the structure remains only two-thirds completed today. The differing architectural styles, combined with the stark nature of an unfinished building, create a very unique atmosphere that stands in stark contrast to the more refined appearance of St. Patrick’s. Should it ever be completed, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine it will be the world’s largest cathedral, with an interior over 600 feet long and 146 wide.
I visited the cathedral on a Sunday morning, while the 11:00 AM Holy Eucharist was in session. I was happy to find that much of the nave was still accessible to visitors not attending the service. While the cathedral’s front façade is imposing, it is only a hint at the incredible dimensions that await visitors as they enter the building. Leading away from the entrance, the nave stretches 600 feet in length, with a ceiling that towers more than 100 feet overhead. But not all of the glory lies ahead; turning around and facing back toward the entrance reveals the stunning Great Rose Window, a masterpiece created with more than 10,000 pieces of glass, and the State Trumpet of the cathedral’s Great Organ.
Lining the north and south sides of the nave are a series of bays commemorating everything from America’s poets to the AIDS pandemic to modern sports. Many of these bays feature priceless treasures, including the cathedral’s famous 17th century Barberini Tapestries, a work of 12 pieces entitled Scenes from the Life of Christ. Reaching the crossing, visitors will note the transition from the nearly finished nave to an area of the structure that has never been completed. The crossing is topped by a temporary dome, that may one day be replaced by a large tower should the cathedral ever be completed. This area of the building also exhibits the most evidence of the tragic December 2001 fire, which destroyed the north transept, caused extensive smoke damage to the Chapels of the Seven Tongues, and silenced all five of the cathedral’s organs. Due to the fire, and ongoing restoration, the chapels are currently closed to visitors.
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine has become one of my favorite places to visit in New York, and is worth the trip to the north end of Central Park for a visit. The cathedral is easily reached by subway (1, B, and C trains to Cathedral Parkway/110th) or bus (M4, M104, M60, and M11 are all nearby). More information can also be found on the cathedral website.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amersterdam Ave.
New York, New York 10025
Attraction | "Hairspray"
Of the many choices playing on Broadway, the "nicest kids in town" of Hairspray occupy a well-deserved spot near the top of the list. Based on John Waters’s 1988 cult film by the same title, Hairspray is the story of Tracy Turnblad, an overweight Baltimore teenager who defies all odds to win a spot on the Corny Collins Show (think an all-white, local version of American Bandstand), leads a fight to end racial segregation, and at the same time wins the hand of the most handsome boy in town. The movie is well known for being the first starring role for Ricki Lake (of trashy TV talk show fame), and the final role for the Divine, the transvestite actor featured in many of Waters’s films. In 2002 the stage musical adaptation opened on Broadway, and the show has been the recipient of nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Hairspray is set in 1962 Baltimore, a time when racial segregation was still alive and those who supported discriminatory policies found themselves struggling against a growing tide of activists working to ensure that skin color would no longer be used to limit the rights and opportunities available to certain groups of people. Hairspray takes a unique approach with this serious, and often tense, subject matter, weaving comedy, teenage naïveté, first loves, and an emerging youth culture focused on popular dance music with issues of racial and socioeconomic discrimination. Amazingly, the script works very well at creating a highly entertaining show with a serious message.
Headlining this production is comedy writer and former Hollywood Squares regular Bruce Vilanch, who shaved his trademark scruffy beard and donned a wardrobe of plus-sized housedresses and tacky evening gowns for the role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mother (played by Divine in the movie). The original Broadway role of Edna was created by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein, who starred in the role for over 700 performances. Bruce is an outstanding replacement for Harvey, and does an admirable job portraying a housewife who has not left her house in years and supports the family by taking in other people’s laundry. Opposite Bruce is Carly Jibson, who stars as Tracy Turnblad. Carly bears a noticeable resemblance to Ricki Lake’s Tracy in the film, but still manages to play the part in a way that seems fresh and unique. Other outstanding cast members include Todd Susman as Wilbur Turnblad, Mary Bond Davis as Motormouth Maybelle, Richard Blake as Link Larkin (the hunky guy who eventually falls for Tracy), and Chester Gregory II as Seaweed (Motormouth Maybelle’s son). The show also excels musically, with a catchy score that fits right into the musical’s 1962 setting. Do expect to pay attention to the fairly complex lyrics, as they tell much of the story and give greater depth to the characters.
Overall, Hairspray is a well-produced, highly entertaining musical sure to entertain all ages. Go with an open mind, and a sense of humor, and you’re guaranteed to have a rockin’ good time.
Hairspray (The Show)
Neil Simon Theatre / 250 West 52nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Hotel | "Chicago (The Play)"
I had originally only planned to see Hairspray on this trip to New York, but at the last minute on Sunday night I decided to see if I could get tickets for that evening. After checking around, I found a seat available for the 6:00pm showing of Chicago. Despite the musical being around for a number of years now, I had never seen it in New York, nor at its many runs back home in Houston (I’ve since seen it again there). After calling to reserve my ticket, I rushed back to the theater district and arrived just in time to pick up my ticket, and find that my last minute call to the box office had resulted in a front-row seat at a discounted price.
Unlike many musicals, Chicago uses very minimal sets, and puts the orchestra right up on the stage in the middle of everything, instead of out of site in the pit. For those who’ve only seen the 2002 film version of this show, the lack of a set may come as a surprise. But it works very well, as the stage version is presented as a vaudeville show. This performance starred Brenda Braxton as Velma Kelly (I later saw her again in the same role in a Houston performance), Charlotte d’Ambroise as Roxie Hart, Mary Testa as Matron "Mama" Morton, and Brent Barrett as the attorney Billy Flynn. All were incredible, and having the orchestra up on the stage adds to the visual excitement of the songs. Seeing Chicago live also holds some surprises for the audience that are not in the film; the best of these comes during the trial scene where a single actor plays the entire jury, and things are revealed to not always be as they seem with one of the main characters.
Overall, I was thrilled with my last minute decision to see Chicago live. Despite the age of this show, and the successful movie adaptation, this musical story of murder, jazz, and liquor is still fresh and relevant, and provides for a highly entertaining evening.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 19, 2006
219 West 49th Street
District of Columbia County, District of Columbia