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Trip Report After 13 Years, We Returned to the Big Apple

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After a 13-year absence from New York City, my husband and I decided to revisit this special place from November 21-25, to celebrate his birthday in the city where he was born. To help other Fodors fans, I’ll share general observations, some details about the shows, museums and parks we saw, our hotel, some restaurants and transportation.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

Some of the things I love about the city are still true. Hearing so many languages, it always feels like the crossroads to the world. And where else can you stop at a window to watch a small class learn how to make pie crust? Where else can a narrow niche shop survive, like Rice to Riches, that only sells rice pudding?! (At 37 Spring St., it’s near Lombardi’s pizza, and the funny signs alone are worth a stop.)

What changed in 13 years:
• Times Square – The displays are much more digital and dazzling. (Many, many years ago there was just a cigarette ad with smoking coming out a hole, a steaming cup of coffee, and a glass of soda being filled.) New red stairs/bleachers at Duffy Square are filled with people resting or taking photos, and there are many people wearing costumes (Elmo, the Statue of Liberty, etc.) that you could take your picture with for a price. In the evening, it was a human traffic jam.
• Taxis – TV screens in the back seat and using a credit card machine. Note that the lowest tip option if you use it is 20%, so you could always tip with cash.
• Subway riders – Everyone used to carry a folded-up newspaper to read while sitting or standing. I especially enjoyed seeing foreign language papers. Now almost everyone plays Candy Crush or checks Facebook on their phones. Also, now you can actually understand some of the announcements, which always used to be unintelligible.
• Subway musicians – I remember people playing guitars and singing, violinists and others performing in the subway halls. We only saw a few people playing steel drums where the trains stop. Either it was too cold or the rules have changed.

SHOWS

After Midnight (Broadway) – It’s a musical revue, like a night at the Cotton Club. Nonstop singing and dancing for 90 minutes. When it ended, my husband said, “That’s it?!” He’d have seen it again right there. He wanted to see this one for his birthday so we got tickets before we left home and sat in the center of the back row, rear mezzanine, which was fine for a big musical.

Once (Broadway) – Great music, Irish dancing and a touching story. I really enjoyed this one. A band performs on stage for a half hour before the show begins and you can stand in line to buy your drinks at the bar on stage and linger. (Soda is $10.) At the Seaport TKTS booth we bought half-price tickets to an evening show, fourth row, center.

Murder for Two (off-Broadway) – This is a very funny musical comedy with two actors. One plays a police officer and the other plays multiple murder suspects. Got half-price tickets at the Times Square TKTS booth an hour before the matinee (no lines!) and sat in the fifth row of the small theater.

Men in White (off-off Broadway) – Although Broadway and off-Broadway shows get most of the attention, there are tens of thousands of excellent actors in the city, and many of them perform in small companies like The Seeing Place Theater, a repertory company with a tiny theater on W. 54th. The play won a Pulitzer for Drama in the 1930s, and the actors did an outstanding job with this revival. There are dozens of such shows in the city, and for very little money (we paid $10 and left a nice donation in the jar) you can have a great, intimate theater experience. Sodas were $2 and after the performance, the director and several actors were available in the lounge. We got tickets online in advance. Before your next trip to the city, visit the NY Innovative Theater Awards web page for a list of current shows by small companies.

HOTEL

We were thrilled with the Best Western Plus Seaport Inn. As soon as you walk in, you feel at home. You can smell warm cookies and you check in sitting opposite a receptionist at a desk. We were greeted by a friendly man who chatted with us while waiting for the computer to process information. We told him we hadn’t been to the city for 13 years and when he asked why we’d returned, we said it was my husband’s birthday.

As he gave us our room key cards, he said he’d given us a complimentary room upgrade for my husband’s birthday, on the top floor with a terrace and an outstanding view of the Brooklyn Bridge!

I’d made reservations months before our trip, but happened to check prices one week before we left. They were lower, and I noticed a special rate for stays of three days or more, so I cancelled our reservation and made a new one, saving $132.

A breakfast buffet is included with the room (make your own waffles, cereal, yogurt, fruits, pastries, etc.)

The neighborhood felt safe and has a lot of character, with brick buildings and cobblestone streets.

From the hotel, it’s a 15 minute walk to two subway lines, and a mile from the 9/11 Memorial. There are many restaurants and markets in the area, along with a TKTS booth.

This is getting a bit long so I’ll cover museums, parks, restaurants and transportation tomorrow.

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