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LaurenKahn1 Mar 9th, 2009 03:38 PM

Not Your Average NYC Trip
This was not your average NYC trip. It was what the industry calls a "FAM"--or "familiarization" trip combined with mega studying for the NYC Tour Guide Exam. The exam is extremely difficult and I have been preparing to take it for some time, but a few weeks ago I learned about this trip and figured that now was the time.

I drove up on Thursday March 4th and stayed overnight at my sister's in Maplewood, NJ.

On March 5th I drove over to the hotel on March 5th where the great schlep around NYC began with our trainer. We learned out to navigate from the Sheraton Suites in Weehawken (our hotel) via the ferry system, ferry bus to midtown and then subway system. Hotel was nice and reasonable. The ferry was a very nice way to commute into Manhattan. We did meet some ferry workers involved in the rescue of the people on the plane that downed in the Hudson recently. I am sure they will remember what they did for the rest of their lives!

The trip is all sort of mushed together now that I am home. I did not take notes for a trip report because all free time was spent studying for the tour guide test. The restuarants were unmemorable. Sbarro's at 34th Street served us a dinner and breakfast twice and there was an so so Chinese place in Chinatown. These are the sort of places that welcome tour groups and, as tour directors/guides we need to familiarize ourselves with these places because kids will go ther on our tours. They are not the sort of places I would be excited to dine at if I were traveling individually.

We had walking tours of Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy (what's left of it) and the South Seaport/Wall Street area. We did go into the Sout Seaport Museum (not much) and the clipper ship (more interesting). We had a look at the Brooklyn Bridge from the end of South Seaport.

We went up in the Top of the Rock (which I loved because I had never been there). We did not go up in the Empire State Building because, well, most of us have been there before.

We were given lessons on the NYC subway system. Despite growing up in CT just outside of NYC, the subway system is not something I ever mastered because a trip to "The City" was always a train in and then a taxi. I know the ins and outs of the subway map now and which buses go crosstown, etc. Invaluable. We also learned tour bus routing.

We went in to have a look at Mars because tour companies use it. We did not eat there. We also learned the logistics of the NBC Studio tour as well as where to go for CBS and ABC for their shows.

We marched around for a couple of hours in Central Park, seeing Alice and Wonderland, Cleopatra's needle and the "imagine" memorial for John Lennon.

We took several pieces of the hop on/hop off tour at different times (both uptown and downtown loops). We had 3 good guides and one that put me into irreversible coma in addition to being weak in the information she gave out. Some of our group went on a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty while others (me) did more walking around the Wall Street area. We also visited the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

We did not do any museums except for the introductory film at The City of New York Museum (where I could have spent a lot more time than the hour we had).

We learned where free restrooms can be found in different areas. We did do the WTC construction site and learned out to get groups to the area that overlooks the site. We had breakfast at the Essex diner next to the fire station adjacent to the WTC. There were workers there wearing memorial shirts. I am sure they were all involved in the events of 9/11. I had challah French toast there which I liked because my mother used to make it.

At night there was more studying.

On May 9th most of us sat the Tour Guide Test. I believe everyone passed it. There are some people taking it tomorrow and I hope that they will pass it too. I live in DC and wanted to get a license in NYC for some time. Now I have one. :-). By the way, there are 150 questions on the test and you need 97 to pass. If you get more than 120, they put a star by your name in the list of licensed guides. I got a star! Very nice, but I doubt any tour companies will look. The test consists of a lot of questions that even native NYC folks do not not know and lived up to its reputation for being very difficult.

I recommend the schedule I did to no one. Go to a Broadway show and a museum instead. The tour guide license for me is just a base of knowledge. I do want to return to NYC on my own to do a buch of walking tours of different neighborhoods with really experienced folks (and some Broadway shows and the MET).

It was a hectic 3 1/2 days.

clanwilson Mar 10th, 2009 06:14 AM

What a whirlwind! I'm coming up on my eighth trip to NYC, and I admit that I still face the subway with trepidation. I'm going to have to try one of the crosstown buses, too, someday...
Thanks for an interesting report.

Dayenu Mar 10th, 2009 07:08 AM

Congratulations on your new license! And I am a bit confused - how did May got in the report?

"On May 9th most of us sat the Tour Guide Test."

tchoiniere Mar 10th, 2009 08:37 AM

I believe the "May 9th" is a typo but not sure

LaurenKahn1 Mar 10th, 2009 03:00 PM

Not May 9th. March 9th. Yes, a typo.

Now that is the sort of typo, I wish Fodors would let us fix. This post will have to suffice.

For the subway: My sister gave me the subway map that is produced by NYC Transit. It is the best and you can easily understand the system from it. The important thing to remember is that the last stop of the train is not what you go by. It is the letter of the train. It makes more sense if you think that way. I am much more comfortable with it after the tour.

Yes, it was a whirlwind, but remember that the trip was designed for tour directors and not as a vacation. I am the sort of person who picks out one or two things to do per day when I am on vacation. Tour groups (especially kids) are promised a lot of things. That does lead to a lot of running around all over to drive by this and that rather than "visit" them. Sometimes they get tickets to the Statue of Liberty and you do not let them off the boat if it is a very busy day at the Statue and Ellis. If you get off the boat to "visit" the SOL--or at least the first level because you cannot go up in Lady Liberty any longer--it can take a very long time standing in line to get the boat to Ellis Island. So, if tour directors run behind, the group often sees the Statue from the boat and goes dirctly to Ellis.

This problem with tour companies over promising sites is a question of competition. All the companies want to make it look like they give you more than any other tour companies. Itineraries in NYC and DC are NEVER what is printed on the paper on the very busy children's tours. When you meet the group, the teacher always makes compromises and changes. It can be very hectic.

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