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Trip Report 23 Swiss hiking NY City - A trip report

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Background:

I'm an English teacher for adult students in Switzerland. I teach evenings at a local community college. Every year, I organise field trips for my students. This year, we decided to fly across the pond.

Date: April 30 - May 5
Flight: Zrh - Newark with Continental
Hotel: Holiday Inn Midtown on 57th.

Obstacles:

- Clearly passports. The US requires either visas, biometric passports or valid passports issued up to 2005 or 2006, depending if they are digitalized or not. It's not a simple matter, even to travel agents, and two of our participants were given wrong information. They were told their passports were valid for America but at the Zürich airport, they were told their passports were not valid and they could not fly to the US so they decided to fly last minute to Berlin. The participants will get a refund but I'm haggling for compensation.

- ESTAS: The US requires all non-US travellers to fill out an ESTAS on-line form, which costs $14 charged through your credit card. A lot of people still aren't computer savvy and this process caused a lot of confusion. Luckily, all went well. Still, despite their authorization form, everyone had to fill in a form on the plane as well.

Group size: On that day, our group size was 17. Immigration took 45 minutes because of the amount of people standing in line and our group size. Walking the streets of NY or getting on the subway was also a bit nerve wracking because of the continuous crowds, stop lights and the curiousity of our participants. However, all went well, we didn't lose anyone and there was down time available for individual interests. A few other students had arrived before us and some arrived after us so my group size was continuously changing.

Tour guides: They were rubbish. They basically escorted us around without telling us anything. I asked one tour guide to explain more and he replied, "what should I say? It's a big city like any big city." I think their knowledge was limited as well as their interest in doing a good job. However, they did speak German as promised. I booked them through NY City Vacation Packages and will file a complaint.

Transportation from Newark to Holiday Inn: Shuttle, taxi or NJ transit? Tough call. We were even given conflicting info at the airport. After inquiring into a shuttle and being told it would take 40 minutes before they arrived, we decided to take the NJ Transit. As we were getting our train tickets, the hospitality man (why are they all from India?) tried to talk us to go back into getting a shuttle. I ignored his suggestion and we took the train. It went well, smoothly and the train car felt like an old fair ride with its old leather seats. We got into cabs at the Penn station but it would have been just as easy to take the subway had we known our way around more.

Holiday Inn Midtown: Highly recommended for the price. Huge rooms and clean. Close to Columbus Circle. Everyone was pleased. Our rooms were on the 17th floor and some of us had a fantastic view. We thought breakfast was included but what they do is offer a $20 voucher per room. The buffet costs $16 (with taxes) each. One could order from the menu toast and coffee which would be covered by the voucher but the buffet was too tempting so we all paid extra. This was not a problem just another slight obstacle.

P.S.: Hello my two fodorites! It was so nice meeting you. I'll include our visit together later in the trip report. Just wanted to take this moment to thank you again for meetiing up with us. You made our trip even more special!

More to come...

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