Friday, May 22, 2009

Taking A Bite Out of
the Big Apple

To say that I had an amazing trip to New York with my mom and sister would be a huge understatement. There is something so incredibly special about sharing a vacation with your two best friends. Thanks Mom and Cami for an unforgettable experience!

How the trip came to be: Back in January, I happened upon some incredible ($80 each way)"Ding" fares on Southwest heading to New York. Josh was feeling particularly generous at the time, and on a whim told me to buy myself a ticket for Mother's Day. Not wanting to argue the particulars (like who I was going to go with and what we were going to do), I booked the flight! I figured I could scrounge up some friends or family to go with me later. My dad happened to call me that same day & I told him about my discovery. He decided he'd surprise my mom with a trip for Mother's Day as well & thought the trip would make a fun graduation present for my sister Cami. I booked 2 more flights and secret mission: Big Apple was underway. Of course, the secret was only secret for a short while. We had to clear schedules and make trip arrangements which couldn't be done without some discussion with Mom and Cami. After all, Mom's house is currently a war zone with construction workers there around the clock after "the great Christmas flood of 2008", and we knew Cami would only have a short window of availability between graduation from dental hygiene school and her first days of gainful employment as a dental hygienist. But, most of the trip planning and figuring was left to me, as neither Cami nor Mom had the time or energy to tackle it.

Planning: As with most trips, there were a few obstacles in planning this trip.

First, Southwest doesn't fly to JFK Airport, which would have been the convenient airport, closest to NYC, our intended destination. But, they did have the smokin' deal flying into ISLIP Airport in Long Island, a 90 minute car ride from NYC. Simple fix, right? Just rent a car and drive the distance to NYC. (Not so you'll see below.)

Second, driving a car in NYC is ridiculous. A.) There's no place to park. B.) The hotel we were staying at charged a daily parking fee of $55 and an in-and-out charge of $10. By the time we rented a car for 6 days, paid the daily parking fee, the in-and-out fees, etc...we might as well have flown to Europe for an exotic vacation. So, the decision was easily made NOT to rent a car.

The next obvious solution would be to catch a taxi. However, a taxi from that distance was estimated to run $150. There goes the $$ you saved on the Ding fare flying into ISLIP. That solution was out.

So, now how did we get from Long Island to Manhattan? Easy-- The Long Island Railroad (LIRR), which offered a 90 minute train ride from Rokonkoma Station in Long Island to Penn Station in NYC. The only problem was, our flight got in at 10:20 p.m. and the last train left Rokonkoma Station for Penn Station @ 11:13 p.m. at night, which we thought was cutting it a little close with de-planeing, waiting for luggage, catching a shuttle to the train station, not to mention that it wouldn't allow for the possibility of the plane arriving late. So, we opted to stay in Long Island the first night and catch a train first thing in the morning bound for NYC. (This was a great option, as it also saved us a considerable amount on the hotel expense. Long Island is much, much cheaper than NYC.)

Hotels of choice: La Quinta Inn & Suites Islip/MacArthur Airport, New York. It was the ideal pick. Great price. Fantastic location (about a mile from the airport and a mile from the train station.) Free shuttle service to/from both the airport and the train station. Complimentary continental breakfast & free business center (great for printing off the train schedule, boarding passes, etc...)

While in NYC, we stayed at the incredible Marriott Marquis in Times Square. It was THE most ideal location, right on Broadway in Times Square. We literally walked out our hotel doors & entered the heart of the city.
The Plan of Attack: We did a little pre-planning to maximize our time in New York. And knowing we wouldn't have a car, we figured taking care of a few things online before we headed to the Big Apple would not only spare on our feet, but also on our pocket books, as well as guarantee that we would be able to do some of the "musts" on our list. Many online specials are offered to area attractions, saving you both money and time (no lines on the internet!!). Here are a few tips:

1. Buy Broadway show tickets to your "must see" shows BEFORE you go. Don't leave this to chance, or you will most likely be disappointed to find your show sold out. I suggest purchasing tickets a few months in advance if possible. I checked on several internet sites to see which shows were the most popular, knowing that those shows would be the hardest to get tickets for once we arrived in New York. Also, I was pretty sure that the most popular shows at the box office most likely wouldn't have same-day discount tickets being sold in Times Square. (I was right. Although, there were some other classic standbys like Phantom of the Opera, that did have half price tickets available.)

We chose Wicked as our top choice and purchased online tickets from for a Thursday evening performance. (Weekday performances are much cheaper than Weekend performances. For us, we saved about $40 per ticket.) We bought our tickets about a month in advance and had pretty good orchestra-level seats. I would also recommend for great prices on theater tickets.

2. Purchase the New York City Pass @ . For $95, we each got a 2-day city pass (they offer more days if you think you'll use it), which included a New York guide book, entrance to 50 popular NYC area attractions & many discounts and credits towards food and merchandise. The best part was that all you had to do was whip out your card and you bypassed lines and madness, entering with a pseudo VIP status. It was fantastic!

3. Print out a subway map from
MTA , or, just go to Canal Street and buy this subway line sweatshirt, lol! The subway is very convenient, fairly inexpensive and really does get you close to all major NYC attractions. One warning: Each ride costs $2 per person, so if you are only going a couple of blocks before getting off, choose to walk instead, or be prepared to be nickel and dimed to death!

4. Have a list of addresses of sight-seeing destinations for taxi purposes. Our experience was that the majority of the taxi drivers weren't born and raised American, which meant there was often a slight language barrier. And, they didn't always know where a destination was by name only. Luckily, we had printed off information about each of our destination spots, which always included the address.

5. Mapquest directions/distances between destinations for the purpose of determining the best, most cost-effective mode of transportation (ie: hoofing it, subway, taxi, bus or train). This isn't essential, but proved helpful in our case.

6. Have an information sheet for all sight-seeing destinations in which you are interested in visiting. (Hours of operation, location, phone #, restrictions, approx. wait time, visit duration, etc...) This will be a life-saver as you try to maximize your time in the city and book reservations for tours and shows.

Highlights from our trip:

  • 2 Broadway shows: We saw Wicked and Jersey Boys. Both shows were in the top 3 at the box office at the time of purchase. Another top 3 show, which we didn't see was Billy Elliott, featuring the music of Elton John.

  • NBC Studios Tour: This was a fun behind-the-scenes tour of live, working NBC sets. We were lucky enough to get to see some of the female cast members of Saturday Night Live rehearsing for the season finale with Will Ferrell. Jerry Seinfeld was also rehearsing while we were there, but we didn't see him.

  • Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour: We were led on a tour of this recently restored art-deco style premier entertainment venue. Many amazing musicians and entertainers have performed at this world's largest stage. At the end, we had audience with a world-famous Rockette.

  • Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock: We road a glass ceiling sky shuttle to the Top of Rockefeller Center where we got off on an observation deck and had stunning 360 degree views of NYC.

  • Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum: O.K, so this isn't something that's a NYC "must do", but we went late one night, after everything else was closed (they admit their last visitors at 10:00 p.m.), & it was free on our city pass. Here we visit themed environments filled with an exceptional showcase of incredibly life-like wax figures – a veritable who’s who of entertainment, music, sports, politics and world history. It was a fun way to end the night, followed by our discount Cold Stone Creamery experience (NY pass again), which was just across the street.

  • The Bodies Exhibit: Incredible exhibit showcasing beautifully dissected and preserved human bodies.

  • Brooklyn Bridge

  • Trump Tower/5th Avenue Shopping: We killed some time in between tours to pay homage to "the Donald" (not that we love him...but I do love Celebrity Apprentice). While on 5th Avenue we had to check out Juicy Couture and Prada.

  • Canal Street: All I can say is, what an experience in and of itself. If you want cheap jewelry, purses & souvenirs, this is the place to come. Just don't follow any strangers up dark alleys.

  • My mom, Cami and I each bought this particular Coach purse (as well as many other cheap finds).

  • Times Square:

  • Favorite Bites: Mesa Grill (Bobby Flay), Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Max Brenner

  • Grand Central Station: We stopped in on the way home from attending church & ate lunch at a Mexican place downstairs.

  • Empire State Building

  • Central Park (drive-by only...darn rainy/windy weather)

  • Ground Zero/World Trade Center/Financial District : It was amazing to see the empty hole where the WTC once stood. The feeling there seemed more optimistic than when I was here in 2006. It was encouraging to see construction had begun on a new WTC.

I am so grateful for such an amazing experience. I was impressed by the friendliness/helpfulness of New Yorkers. So often, we were offered help by strangers before we even had a chance to ask how to get somewhere or which subway to hop on. We LOVE you New York!

A big thanks to Josh, Dad, Laurie & Jodi who all helped to make a wonderful trip possible for me! I love you all.


Chris and Mari Spiker said...

What an awesome trip!! I love the descriptions of each thing you did! New York is on my top 3 places ever! I love it! I am glad you had a great time & were able to play with your mom & Cami. Next spontaneous trip you know who to call!! ;)

Monica said...

I love it! I can't wait to go. Thanks for all the great info. You are so great! Totally organized and such a great friend. Miss you!

manhattan crew said...

Sorry we didn't get to see you while you were here!
Sounds like you ladies had an amazing NYC experience!