I went to the big apple on 1-14-2006 for a 2 day weekend excursion. This review is comprised of my experiences, and my opinion, and is intended to educate others.
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I actually got to New York via Philadelphia. I flew into Philly using US Airways (a whole other epinion), and got my ticket for about 100 dollars round trip. I stayed at my friends house overnight so there wasn't really any worry about lodging there and such. We both set out for New York early Saturday morning.
It was pre-decided that we would take a train to New York. We woke up at 6 am to be on the 9 am train. Friend's dad made us breakfast, we were out of the house by 7:30, and had plenty of time to spare. It was also raining. I'm talking torrential downpours.
We went to Philadelphia's 30th street station and took a SEPTA regional rail (R7) into Trenton, NJ. In Trenton, we transfered to a NJ Transit train to New York / Penn Station. It was a 2 hour long and uncomfortable train ride. Also the trains usually only run about every hour. This cost about 37 dollars round trip. Not bad, considering a direct flight from Pittsburgh to either LGA or JFK was 400 dollars plus, and Amtrak wanted 120 each way between Philadelphia and New York.
NYC Transportation Tip: Take a Cab anywhere you need or want to go. The Cabbies know EVERYTHING about their city, and they will be willing to talk to you and tell you about it and interesting places to go. Also their rates are very cheap. Cabs are easier to come by than a subway (no waiting) and are very convenient when the weather is as COLD as it was this past weekend! I never paid any more than 13 bucks for a cab ride.
Once in New York, we settled in to our hotel. We stayed at the Herald Square, which I recommend to ANYBODY looking to stay in the center of Manhattan,(It literally is 2 blocks off broadway) WITHOUT having to take out a 2nd mortgage on your house. Review HERE.
For 90 dollars a night, I got a rather roomy room with 2 double beds and a private bathroom, that was QUIET and sheltered from the street noise. They also came with room darkener blinds, to make the room restful enough to sleep for a solid 8 hours.
I read nothing but good reviews about this hotel, and they were all true. The staff was incredibly helpful. They always had good recommendations as to where I should eat any particular meal on a budget.
After a short 10 minute rest period, we grabbed lunch at one of the street vendor carts. I'd never had a falafel before, and I highly suggest that anybody who is adventurous when it comes to eating to GET ONE. They're absolutely fan freakin tastic! We walked around the city a bit, up and down Fashion Ave, past Madison Square Garden... all in the pouring down rain.
We ate dinner at a restaurant called Bella Napoli on Madison Avenue. They are a real authentic Italian eatery, and their prices are VERY reasonable. I paid 38 dollars between my friend and myself, which included an appetizer, 2 entrees, a bottle of wine, and dessert. Their food is fabulous, and the place doesn't really get busy until about 11 pm (after the shows let out). We ate here around 5 pm, and had excellent service, and the food was out of this world delicious.
We had reservations for The Phantom Of The Opera at the Majestic Theater, showing at 8 pm. The Phantom is now the longest running Broadway show in history, even surpassing Cats, as of 1-9-2006. This was my first time seeing the show, so my friend spared no expense and got us the orchestra pit seats. Those were 200 dollars a pop. Yeowch.
I am a budget traveler, so there is NO way I could have paid for my own ticket let alone 2 tickets. Hence the title of this review. I was reading the ticket prices in the lobby though, and you CAN get tickets for around 30 dollars a piece, without going to the TKTS booth.
TIP: Try to be at the theater an hour before the show starts to avoid having to stand in any kind of line.
The Phantom runs for about 2 1/2 hours with a 15 minute intermission. It was absolutely fabulous and I would definitely recommend going, whether it be your first time or your fiftieth. Also, if you're long legged, the seats in the Majestic will be nothing short of agony for you. I am 5'8, with a 34 inch inseam. My knees were in my nose for most of the performance.
After the performance, we found it rather difficult to get a cab, as it was during peak useage time. We could have stood around waiting; but it was so cold outside! We wandered into Virgil's BBQ in Times Square. They had some of the best Guinness I ever drank... but at 7 bucks a can they can keep it. I didn't know that until I got the bill. 14 bucks for 2 beers. By this time I was completely exhausted (not to mention freezing cold) so we went back to our hotel to sleep.
This was our last day in New York and I wanted to spend it sightseeing. It was Sunday, and not too many people were around, crowding the city and being generally pushy and ignorant. So it was perfect as far as I was concerned. Until I stepped outside, and got whipped around with 40 mph wind gusts and temperatures below freezing. But onward (and upward!) I went.
Ate breakfast at Chez Gourmet on 31st and 5th. Paid 5 dollars for a huge egg sandwich type thing on a bagel with some delicious tasting creamy cheesey spread that wasn't cream cheese but better, and a big bottle of cranberry juice. It was very good, and filling, and ran by some very nice people who greeted all their customers with a smile. They had a HUGE menuboard with just about every type of deli meat you could ever want, homemade salads, soups, you name it. And their prices were very reasonable.
First stop, Battery Park. There wasn't really much to see here except the hustlers trying to make a buck on the freshly fallen snow, and the dude dressed up as Lady Liberty, complete with squeaky toy torch. He wasn't even wearing a jacket. I kinda felt sorry for him. Then something else kicked in and I thought he was rather stupid for standing outside not properly dressed. I did get a GREAT shot of the real Lady Liberty here though.
Next Stop: Financial District. I saw the buildings on Wall Street (NYSE, ASE, NASDAQ), and headed up to Greenwich Ave to see....
Ground ZERO. This place is literally a huge 13 foot deep hole in the middle of Lower Manhattan. The wind was blowing hard but I didn't care. The tears fell from my face freely and I sat on the cold hard concrete and prayed. I didn't know what to say at first but the words came to me. People stared at me but I didn't care. You can see where they're starting construction on the memorial, and as such have put a large fence around the area. The place is teeming with NYPD, and you can see some of the nearby buildings that were damaged.
It's depressing, but it's also something you should see at least once. I hung a ribbon on the fence for the NYPD and the FDNY.
Off the depressing path, there is a discount store across the street from ground zero called century 21. I bought a kate spade purse in there for 45 dollars, if that gives you any idea of the kids of deals that can be found in the city. There's also this neato Geek store called J and R computer world on Dey St and Broadway (Lower Manhattan) that has 4 levels of electronics... A haven for would be Geek Squad agents.
My friend just so happens to work for the Geek Squad, so I got dragged into the store for 2 hours. Their prices were OUTRAGEOUS though, and you could probably find better deals on the internet.
Back to Times Square to get more pictures, and see the largest toy store in the Toys R Us chain. The store has a FERRIS WHEEL in it that you can ride for 2 dollars!! It was SO neat so I had to do it. I also got my picture taken with Geoffrey (cuz he's my hero), and saw the world's largest candy store, that had every color of M and M's made known to man. But for 8 bucks a pound they can keep them!!
Of course there was Barbie's dreamhouse, complete with hot pink furniture, and a pink Ferrari (yes it was real) in the driveway. They also had huge lego structures, an animatronic dinosaur, and some dude playing with a magical flying disc. It was so much fun we blew about 3 hours in this particular store just to see everything. It was a blast, and FREE except the ferris wheel ride.
We ate dinner at Mars 2112 in Paramount Plaza Times Square, and here's where the budget kinda got blown, because you will not get away with spending ANYTHING LESS than 20 bucks on ONE ENTREE... PERIOD. I don't care what you order, you're going to get gauged. And they also charge a 2 dollar entrance fee.
You basically get into this semicircular shaped hydraulic ride sandwiched in the building's wall structure that has two "Gates": an Entrance Gate and an Exit Gate (which leads you to the restaurant main floor). You go on this "space ship ride" to "mars" (on the other side of the wall) and eat dinner with martains on the red planet. Very cool concept. I wound up paying 22 dollars JUST FOR MYSELF. Oops. Oh well, it was a blast and they play good music. Their food was delicious too, so it was WELL worth what we spent.
Went to the Empire State Building, it is open pretty late. Paid the 13 dollars (to get into a public building? that's a ripoff but whatever) and went to the observation deck. It was so clear, I could see for what seemed to be miles, and got some wonderful shots of the city. Be aware, if you go ALL the way up to the top, it is now all enclosed, it's not outdoors any more and you will also wind up paying 30 dollars, and that in my opinion IS a ripoff. I'll go into someone's office, ask them if I can look out their window and risk getting arrested by the NYPD before I'll pay that much money to go to the top of a public building!
I didn't get to go on the Staten Island Ferry because it was SO COLD... but if you get the chance to do it, DO IT. It's FREE. I'm still kicking myself over not braving the cold.
All in all, with my friend paying for our Theater tickets and one night in the hotel room, I still wound up spending somewhere just shy of 300 dollars, and that's just because I ate dinner at a themed restaurant in Times Square. I'm sure anyone could do it for cheaper. I also did some of the touristy things (like paying 13 bucks to get into a public building). I also did not eat anything that wasn't utterly, sinfully delicious over the entire stay.
To keep your budget in check, split transportation costs with any travel mates you may have. It will make taking cabs a lot cheaper than they already are. Eat at restaurants that are not chains (I'm sure you have an Applebee's in your town), instead eat at local eateries. Ask the locals, they know where the good stuff is, and where the good prices are. Get cheap seats for any Broadway show, because the theaters are designed so that you can see well from ANY seat as long as it's dead center.
I loved the city, the people are so friendly, they'll help you find anything and everything. The lights of Times Square are magnificent, captivating, and the essence of the city itself: Bright, ever changing, and fast-paced.
I discovered the true meaning of "Faster than a New York Minute"...and I loved every second of it.
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