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NYC Thanksgiving trip report, good tips and what I wish I'd known

NYC Thanksgiving trip report, good tips and what I wish I'd known

Jan 8th, 2009, 08:33 PM
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NYC Thanksgiving trip report, good tips and what I wish I'd known

This was my 4th time in NYC, my first for Thanksgiving. We were four ladies in our 50's. Here are things I'm glad I knew and things I'd done differently if I'd only known. Here are my tips:

Tip 1. Arrival day: This is a perfect thing to do on your arrival day, as if your plane doesn't make it, you don't lose money on prepaid tickets. Our plane arrived around noon on Tuesday. After checking into our hotel, we had time to make it to the last tour of the day, 4:30, at the Lincoln Center, $20. We'd called and reserved it, (212-875-5350) but there was no fee charged if we didn't make it. It was a very interesting tour. Afterwards we went to part of the Lincoln Center for dinner and jazz music at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (212-258-9595 for reservations). It's a fairly small room with a wall of windows behind the band to look out on the city. It's a perfect end-of-the day thing, with the tour and club being in the same vicinity.
What you need to know: For the Lincoln tour, if there is an event practicing at the time in one of the buildings, you will most likely not get to tour that building. They may not know until that day what will be available. We didn't get to see the opera house; however, the tour was still worth it. They made up for it with extra time behind the scenes of the theater where South Pacific was playing. We went in and got to watch the prep work done right before a show, and that was quite interesting. We were also told we could come back the next day and they'd take us into the building we missed for free.

Tip 2: Also arrival day: I've always used a taxi to get from airport to hotel. I checked with the hotel for a recommendation for one of the less expensive car services, the basic sedan service. For not much more, you can have them be at the baggage claim holding a sign with your name on it, and they will whisk you and your luggage straight to their car. I found this so much more convenient and will do this on future trips there. We also used a car service to pick us up at the hotel, as we were in Greenwich Village, and our hotel didn't have a taxi line there.

Tip 3: You will know that they blow the balloons up in Central Park the day before Thanksgiving. What I wish I'd known: The balloons were all under nets, crammed together and bent over, none standing up. So if you go expecting it to be like the Albuquerque balloon festival, where the balloons are blown up in separate parts of the park, standing fully upright, you will be HUGELY disappointed. This was not worth seeing, in my opinion. Perhaps some years they are not "netted" down. You can call the Macy's parade number to ask. If you do want to go, what you need to know: The crowds look huge, but it does move along quickly. Also, we didn't know, but fortunately found out, that the balloons are in two separate places. You go along for a couple of blocks and think it's over. But ask around, and you'll be directed to another area a couple of blocks away where there are more balloons. Also you should know that there are no restrooms along the route, and restaurants do not let nondining customers use their restrooms.

Tip 4: Parade day: We never could figure out what time to get there and where exactly to go. We lucked out on the spot we ended up in. We left our hotel at 6:00 and came to the subway stop at Columbus Circle, getting there around 6:20. The least crowded side of the street to watch the parade by Central Park is on the park side of the street. Leaving Columbus Circle, walk up the street alongside the park for however many blocks until you get to a spot that is fairly empty. We didn't have to go too far. We were able to find a spot that there was only one row of people in front of us. They were New Yorkers who said they get there at 3:30 a.m. to get the front row. We were happy standing behind them. Also, two of our group went to the park benches a few feet back and sat on those until the parade started, then stood on them for a good view. The other thing about being on the Central Park side is that inside the park are a couple of bathrooms that are open. The other good thing about walking up the Central Park side is the police weren't letting people cross the street that I could tell. And on the other side of the street, they were packed, packed, packed. We weren't on our side of the street. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: I was shocked by this. There are no port-a-potties for the parade. Zero!! And with all those children standing there hours and hours, can you imagine? However, by being on the Central Park side, you can enter the park and go to one of the bathrooms inside the park. Or rush there as soon as the parade is over.

Tip 5: If you watch the park in Central Park, the Boathouse is a lovely place to have a Thanksgiving meal and is less expensive than Tavern on the Green. If do you eat at Tavern on the Green, make sure you eat in the Crystal Room, the prettiest room. I enjoyed the Boathouse, and looking out on the lake while we ate. Plus, it was close to where our spot at the parade was. You can do reservations there for 1:00 and make it. We'd made ours for 2:00, as we weren't sure how long it would take us to get there with the crowds. So we used the extra time to wander through Central Park and see the darling Alice in Wonderland statues to the side of the Boathouse not too far over.
That evening, on Thankgiving Day, we went to a Broadway play. Yes, there are some plays open on Thanksgiving Day for the evening performances. Two of us saw Phantom of the Opera and two of us saw Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

Tip 6: My favorite map of NYC is the one I ordered for Central Park. Everyone who saw it asked how they could get one. Send $5 for postage and handling to Central Park Conservancy, Map & Guide, 14 E. 60th St., New York, NY 10022. It's the most detailed map of Central Park I've seen, and it made it easy for us to cover a great deal of the park and see the highlights. Great map!
What I wish I'd known my first trip: I'm from Texas and had the idea Central Park is a dangerous place to be, and you shouldn't spend too much time there. But if you go in the normal daytime hours, there are plenty of people there, and I always felt safe. They even have a police station in one part of it. Walking through the different areas of Central Park (and it's huge!) has become one of my favorite things to do on my trips to NYC. If you have the map I described above, it's easy to find the areas you'd like to see.

Tip 7: If you're there, as we were, to also see the Christmas windows and holiday lights, we really enjoyed the "Holiday Lights Tour." It only stopped at about two or three of the stores, but it was the store windows that we hadn't seen. It also went to other holiday decorations around the city. 1-877-NYC-TRIP or NYCtrip.com.

Tip 8: Here's our plan for a lovely day to see the Christmas-decorated windows and other things grouped near there on the day before Thanksgiving: First we went to the Rockefeller Center ice rink. The tree isn't lit up yet, but there's some other nice Christmas decorations to see there. One of our group also ice skated, while two of us shuffled along on skates while holding onto the rail and the fourth took pictures. (No falls). It was fun to do once. Then we walked over and saw St. Patrick's Cathedral and Saks Fifth Ave. windows, all in that area.
At 11:00 in the morning, we saw the Rockettes Christmas show. I'd seen this in Dallas, but it was much more spectacular on the stage that was built with special features for the permanent Rockettes show. What you need to know: They show a short 3-D movie as part of the show, and the glasses are attached to your program. We didn't discover that until the end of the show!
After the Rockettes, we walked down Fifth Avenue and saw the Christmas windows and decorations in these stores: Trump Tower (725 Fifth Ave), Tiffany (727 Fifth), Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth), FOA Schwarz (767 Fifth). We also saw Barneys at 660 Madison Ave. and Bloomingdales at 59th St. and Lexington Ave. Note: Tiffany's has four floors--do a quick breeze through at least the first two floors. First floor is diamond jewelry, and second floor is engagement rings. Third floor is silver jewelry, and fourth floor is china and silverware. I do believe their diamonds shine brighter than anywhere I've ever been. Caution: No pictures allowed inside Tiffany's! So one is all you'll ever get there. In each store, we popped in for a quick look at the Christmas decorations on the ground floor.
Next, we walked over and had high tea from 2:30 to 4:00. You're served the flavor of tea you choose, five kinds of finger sandwiches, five little desserts, scones and cream. I really enjoy this. The two places in the area you can do this are The Plaza Hotel in the Palm Court (Fifth Ave. and 59th St.) or St. Regis in the Astor Court, (Fifth Ave. and 55th St.) Note: At the Plaza, no tennis shoes, jeans, t-shirts.
From there, we walked to the areas where the balloons were blown up for the parade the next day. I didn't think this was worth it -- see Tip 3 above.

Tip 9: While the Metropolitan Museum of Art is always interesting, due to the endless variety of exhibits, before you go to the Gugenheim, see what the featured art display is first. What we wish we'd known: In the Gugenheim, the museum was taken up primarily by the special exhibit. There was not much art left to view of the normal paintings you'd expect to see. The featured art display was one we were not at all interested in, and didn't enjoy, so it was a big disappointment for us. My advice is to go online and see what artist they're featuring, see if it sounds interesting to you, and see the Gugenheim at that time. Don't just pop in at any time, as it's not worth seeing if the currently featured art/artist doesn't appeal to you.

Tip 10: If you ride the subways, ask an attendant in the subway booth as you enter the subway for a map. Before you go to NYC, get on hopstop.com. This is a great website. You can put in your starting address and the address of the building you want to go to, and it will give you step-by-step walking and subway and/or bus line directions to get there. I get lost easily and found this a great resource.
What I wish I'd known: Go ahead and get all the alternative lines on the website, as you may be waiting for one subway line, while two more lines going to the same place come and go.
What I learned on the 3rd day of my trip: If you look on your subway map (the good one you get from the attendant in the subway booth), right under the name of the place you want to go, such as Times Square or Rockefeller Plaza, under that title in small print, it lists all the subway lines that stop there.

Tip 11: Another day you can fit a lot in by doing these things grouped together in a line: Go to Times Square to look around. Toys-R-Us has some interesting things inside created with Leggos, and a moving dinosaur, and Superman holding a truck up against the ceiling, as well as a three-story ferris wheel. We had lunch at B.B. King's and had the buffet and a show there (it was Beatles music when we went). From there, we went next door to a Broadway show. From there we walked over to Bryant Park and the Christmas market. Right next to Bryant Park is one of New York's Library. This is the one recommended for tourist's to see, and we thought it was beautiful. It's not a traditional library with books everywhere, but it was interesting to wander around and look at the architecture, and especially to see the Reading Room in the 3rd floor gallery corner. We then walked over to Lord & Taylor to see their Christmas windows. From there we went to Grand Central Terminal to look around and have a bite to eat. Unfortunately, the laser show on the ceiling wasn't showing that night, but the small Christmas market at the terminal was still open, so we stolled around it.

So there you have my tips and what I wish I'd known ahead of time! I hope it helps you out in your Thanksgiving trip to NYC. We were there Tuesday through Sunday and fit some other things in, but those are the highlights that I would have wanted to know in planning.
terri2 is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 01:31 AM
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Great trip report. Thanks! Four of us are visiting in Sept but some of your tips ie the subway will be very useful to us.
dfrostnh is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 02:53 AM
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Please tell us a little bit about the hotel you stayed in, including the cost if you don't mind. This always helps others in deciding where to stay.

Thanks for sharing your tips. Sounds like you all had a terrific time.


SandyBrit is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 04:37 AM
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Porta potties along the parade route?

No way no how.

Great report!
GoTravel is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 06:31 AM
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FYI, the balloons always stay under the nets the night before the parade. Many people find it interesting to see them squished under the nets this way in so close proximity. And like the terri2, many don't. To each his or her own . . .
ellenem is online now  
Jan 9th, 2009, 07:19 AM
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Forgot to add . . .

The balloons are kept under control with the nets until the morning. If they were not netted, there's a chance they could be blown away and/or damaged during the night. (After all, it would be difficult to un-net them for display and then put the nets back on after all the evening visitors left.)

Fun fact: The balloons are wrangled by Macy's employees who sign up to participate months in advance. After the balloons complete the parade route at Herald Square, they turn the corner onto 34th St, where the wranglers complete their work by deflating, folding, and loading the balloon onto a truck.

In any case, sounds like you had a great trip and good of you to offer such helpful hints to others.
ellenem is online now  
Jan 9th, 2009, 04:34 PM
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Regarding Tip 2:

While having a car service pick you up at the airport can be very convenient when it works properly, it can also be a hassle if: (a) your driver doesn't show up where you expect him/her to be; and/or (b) your flight is late (which often happens). I use a car service in NYC when I'm travelling for work and while the flight to the airport almost always goes smoothly, the trip back often is a hassle.

If your flight is late, car services often will charge you waiting time, which can really add up. Also, if you pay by credit card, some services will add a significant charge to your bill. (I think this is a violation of their agreeent with the credit card companies, but they seem to get away with it.) If you want to book a car service, make sure you ask about waiting fees and other extra fees on the top of the base price they quote.

Booking a car to go back to the airport can be a convenience worth paying a little more for, though. There is often a shortage of cabs in NYC when you really need them (e.g. from 2-5 pm and any time the weather's bad), so having a car service booked in advance is reassuring. Also, you won't have to worry about late fees (provided that you show up on time). Services booked by the hotel for you can be expensive, though. Shop around for prices a bit before you leave home.
frogoutofwater is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 07:48 PM
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That's very helpful to know the downside of the car service. It's the first time I tried it, and I really enjoyed it, so it's good to know the flipside. My hotel got me a cheaper price going back to the airport than the one I'd picked out from the travel book recommendations for the day of arrival. Of course, them meeting us inside would have added a bit, too.

And in answer to the question on the hotel we stayed in, we were in the Washington Square Hotel in Greenwich Village. I'd stayed in Hiltons and the Waldorf in previous visits, but one of our group this time was a teacher who needed to save money. (We need to pay our teachers more!) This hotel was recommended by a friend's brother who lives in NYC. It's where he puts all his guests. I was quite happy with the hotel and would definitely stay there again. It's small, but has some cute art deco touches. My teacher friend said the room was bigger than the other hotels she'd stayed in in NYC (it was smaller than the ones I'd been in, but certainly adequate). And I thought the price was great for Thanksgiving prices. Two double beds was $280 a night, and two single beds was $250 a night, so it only cost $125-$140 per person. You do have to schlep your own bags up some steps--entry four steps, and then you can do an elevator to another floor. If you stay on first floor, you have to schlep them up another 6-8 steps. The free breakfast was a bit better, to me, than the continental I usually get in other hotels. And it's half a block from a great subway stop that has all the lines that go to the tourist places, so it was easy to get where we needed to go pretty quickly. We used the subway the entire week this trip, no taxis.
Our last morning, the day we flew out, we walked around Greenwich Village, stopped at Magnolia Bakery at 401 Bleeker Street to get some carry-on cupcakes for the ride home, and then went to the casual live jazz brunch at our hotel, which was a nice way to end our trip. One thing I'd do next time is pay a guide to walk us around Greenwich Village and point things out. I think that would be much more interesting than wandering it on your own. We'd waited too late to book one, unfortunately, and they were all booked that we contacted for that day and time.

On the balloons, I think I'd have enjoyed them, even though they were netted and smashed together, if I'd only KNOWN ahead of time what it would be like. I just had no idea, as all the balloons I've ever seen were separate and upright. And when your expectations are different than reality, it creates a big disappointment. So now you'll all know what to expect, (since I've never read this info anywhere else on the web or in tour books), and will enjoy it more than I did. Ha.

And a tip from a prior NYC trip: We loved the Bateaux Sunset Dinner Cruise. It's a dresses-and-suits affair with live music, several-course meal, breaks between to walk outside for the view, a sweep by the Statue of Liberty at night with the skyline, and the sides and roof of the boat are windows. It's the boat to go on for a sweep around part of Manhattan. We loved it. What you need to know: When you get off, there are no taxis waiting. One would occasionally come by where we were all lined up waiting, but you can't call taxis in NYC. Make sure you take the numbers of a couple of car services, so you can call to be picked up. Otherwise you'll be standing there for an hour and a half like many of us were.

One further personal opinion concerning Greenwich Village: John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street seems to be highly recommended...I didn't like it AT ALL. They pack people in there like cattle in a pen, they didn't have enough waiters, so you could never get what you needed, and the pizza wasn't all that great to me. And no ambience to the place, just an elbow-to-elbow crush of people. Others online seem to love the pizza there, but it's been my least-favorite place to eat in NYC. Just my two cents, for what it's worth.
I've still got a long to-do list still waiting of things I want to do on my 5th, 6th, and 7th trips. This city, more than any other, has such endless possibilities of things to do, you never seem to run out...
terri2 is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 07:49 PM
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With the proliferation of cellphone use, the waiting fees have been eliminated. Most people call as they get off the plane and the driver shows up with no extra fees.
ellenem is online now  
Jan 10th, 2009, 10:20 AM
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NYC doesn;t provide porta potties for public events - except the marathon - as far as I know.

You are expected to use the facilities before you arrive and then use those at restaurtans, hotels, stores, etc nearby (and yes, you do have to buy something - even at fast food places - even if just a water).

One god place is Barnes & Noble - which do have reasonable facilities and don;t require a purchase. And there's a Starbucks every few blocks.
nytraveler is offline  
Jan 10th, 2009, 12:23 PM
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terri2 - nice report and some practical advice that will surely help others. You really covered a lot of wonderful/seasonal things to do here. BTW, I reserve a car for pickup at the airport (in NY) and they ask my flight # when I make the reservation. All I have to do is call when I've gotten my luggage and a car is waiting. The big car service companies (like Dial7, Carmel, etc) always have cars at the airport that hang around after dropping people off. If you loved the park, visit here in the spring when the tulips, daffodils, etc and trees are in bloom - my favorite time in cp!
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Jan 10th, 2009, 01:26 PM
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I live in suburban NY area and go in fairly often, but even so, I found your tips helpful! I did not know about the Lincoln Center tour. That sounds phenomenal. and the map of Central Park, too.

skatedancer is offline  
Jan 10th, 2009, 01:45 PM
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So if you go expecting it to be like the Albuquerque balloon festival, where the balloons are blown up in separate parts of the park, standing fully upright, you will be HUGELY disappointed.

Just so you know :

The balloons at the ABQ Balloon Fiesta are piloted, hot air balloons. They are filled with propane and must be filled upright. They are nothing like the inflatable balloons used in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The balloons in Macy's parade are filled with helium, hence the need to net them to keep them on the ground.

DebitNM is offline  
Jan 10th, 2009, 08:39 PM
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Terri2, I loved how informative this report was. I would like to go to New York again someday and have been reading a lot of the trip reports.

I agree that you need a guide or at least a good guidebook for the Village. I felt exactly the same way.
5alive is offline  
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