NYC Trip - Manhattan in a Half

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

It was quite a tall task, to roam Manhattan in a half-day but we did it anyway.

The tour had arranged for a local guide to help us navigate around Manhattan and give us a brief overview of what's what, who's who and where's where. And although I heard the names of the places, such as Hell's Kitchen, Columbus Circle, Soho et al, I can't remember much in the flurry of the tour that we got.

It wasn't the guide's fault, nor anybody's fault really. This tour was not a proper detailed one. It was just enough so that you could familiarize yourself with your new NY surroundings.

We were on the bus when we went by Hell's Kitchen. I remember seeing some funky graffiti on the wall, plus the tour guide's mention of Trevor Noah perked my attention a bit. Although he did not say much else about Mr Noah, it left me wondering if I should ever accidentally bump into Trevor himself, I think it will be in the Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood. After all, the Daily Show studio is based in the area. If I remembered it correctly.

Up next was getting to see a Trump building. This one had a massive globe outside. I think the building may have been at Columbus Circle but that was what all I remembered there.

Trump Tower

Next we were treated for a brisk walk at Central Park. We saw some cyclists gathering up as we walked up to Central Park. We did not tour the whole park. It was humongous. The local guide gave us a bit of history about Central Park, how it was built so that New Yorkers would have a quiet place in the middle of the city and how they loved it.

Central Park

On our way out of Central Park, we stopped by Strawberry Fields, which was an area at Central Park. Strawberry Fields, named after the song "Strawberry Fields Forever", was a tribute to the memory of John Lennon. It was a circle with a giant, mosaic paving in the middle with the words, Imagine (from the song of the same name). And as can be expected being an homage to a legend, music filled the air as some live musicians gathered around the area.

Don't know how fast time went by but it was time for lunch. We were dropped at the Grand Central Station and had our lunch there.

Grand Central Station

After which we were taken to see the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. We only had three quarters of an hour to spend and so did not really get the chance to visit the Museum. There were many visitors that day and it would not really have been possible to be in and out of that place that quick.

World Trade Centre 

We walked back to meet our tour bus on the street. Our day tour ended at around 3pm. The bus driver was kind enough to drop us off to the places where we wanted to visit and so we asked to be dropped off around Macy's in preparation for the Top of the Rock visit.

Hyatt Regency, New Brunswick, New Jersey

Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Hyatt Regency New Brunswick - website photo borrowed

Before we start on how the rest of the tour went, it would be a good idea to review the hotel accommodations we were placed with by the tour company.

Our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was situated in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The hotel was a good hour away from Manhattan.

We arrived at the hotel by nightfall. The hotel was quite big and impressive. Modern looking and the reception area was welcoming. The hotel had a long staircase leading up to the second floor. And in all honesty, the staircase really brought out the place. It made me think of being part of a big spectacular show where the superstar was about to descend upon the stairs.

We got allocated our hotel room, which was at the corner end of the second floor. It was a spacious room, very clean and modern. It accommodated all our needs.

As New Brunswick was known as an university town, hubby and I decided to walk around the hotel surroundings to better acquaint ourselves with what it offered. A few blocks and we found ourselves confronted with a Starbucks, Chipotle and Burger King. Seemed like heaven to us. My eldest was a big fan of Chipotle and my youngest loved Burger King. So all our culinary needs were set to be satisfied. On top of it, we found a 7-11 convenience store as well.

The next day, we got a wake-up call at the exact time we expected. Plus one for the reception desk.

We went down for breakfast before setting off with the tour. The accommodation included free buffet breakfast and we made use of it. The breakfast was scrumptious. Being buffet-style, there were a lot of variety offered. We were showered with choices. You could have a prepared and cooked eggs, or pre-cooked scrambled eggs. English breakfast was served with bacon, eggs, sausages and toast. There were also croissants, fruits and cereals. For beverages, juices, tea, coffee were on offer.

I'd say the hotel was quite a good hotel. Our stay was nice and comfortable. I wouldn't mind recommending it to people. The only downside I felt was that it was too far from Manhattan or the centre of things. A quick Google of the place showed that if we were to make our own way back to the hotel from Manhattan, we would've needed to take a 1-hour-and-20-minute train back.

But in the first hand, before we left Canada for the tour, we already knew that the hotel was going to be far from Manhattan. Hence, this is not really much of a complaint from us.

NYC Trip - First Day

Wednesday, August 12, 2015
At the Cracker Barrel stop

Our first day on the tour was a day of waiting, following rules, and getting to the destination.

Our day started at 7:45am when we left home to get to the pick-up place where we would catch the tour bus. We were a little early and so decided to take in some breakfast at the local Panera Bread. I'm actually glad that we joined another tour company for the trip. This particular trip was full. And all of us "tourists" filled three bus-load of tour buses.

Since this trip required crossing the border, we had to make sure that our passports and US visas were valid.

Our first stop of the day, was the Peace Bridge Duty-Free, before we crossed the US/Canada border. We did a bit of shopping at the place and found some good buys.

Fooling around with the merchandise :-)

After about 45 minutes of shopping, we were on our way. We got to the border at around noon and there was a bit of wait because of traffic going through. Seems like there are a lot of tours happening that week. After we stopped to check in at the border, the whole process was actually a breeze getting through. I suppose everyone had their documentations in order, us included.

Cracker Barrel from the outside

We were off and drove for a bit. Our tour guide decided that we should have at least one good sit-down meal and so we were taken to the Cracker Barrel Restaurant. The Cracker Barrel is a homey chain restaurant serving American comfort food and is situated in Williamsville, NY. It was a nice break from all the "sitting on the bus" since we've been at it since the morning.

And then we were back on the road. We drove a bit and by nightfall, we finally arrived at our destination. Our hotel in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

More about the hotel on the next post.

4-Day NYC Tour

Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Empire State Building from The Top of the Rock

So we decided to go with a tour on our first family trip to NYC. We were a little apprehensive that we did not know the ins and outs of New York and so thought that a tour would help us to get familiarised. We were under no illusion that this trip would be our one and only to New York. There will be many more, if I had anything to do with it. And a good overview of what New York had to offer was good way to start off.

I booked our trip about 4 months in advance, with our scheduled visit happening at the end of June. The tour offered was a 4-day New York escapade with some sightseeing of certain attractions included as well.

Unfortunately, I might have pre-empted the trip too much. On the first week of June, I got a call from the tour company that our trip had to be cancelled due to poor ticket sales. I was crestfallen as everything had been so well planned up to that point. Luckily, another tour company was willing to take us on with just a minor tweak with the tour date. Instead of the end of June, we were set to go on the first of July. And so it was. Our NYC trip happened on the Canada Day/July the 4th week.

I suppose it was as good a time as any. What does it matter if it's the end or the start of the month? New York was New York after all.

Our tour provided accommodations and we had a half-day sightseeing tour with the tour guide on our first morning in Manhattan. Our second morning was a trip to the Statue of Liberty. I deliberately did not plan to do too many things as I knew time was limited. On top of it, it was going to be a tiring trip with a lot of walking and seeing that I don't think the family would be able to keep up if I still planned for other things to do.

My NYC list consisted of the Statue of Liberty, the Rockefeller Centre, Times Square and Jollibee, a popular Philippine fast food chain. I also made plans to meet up with a school friend. And that was basically how our first trip to New York was going to pan out.

So onto New York!