This is more than a couple of years old now, but following the kind reception to my most recent trippie, I thought you might like it. It was our first 'Carry On' experience!
PART 1 – PRE-TRIP NOTES AND DAY 1
Cast: Mike, 42 – Florida veteran, NY virgin!
Amanda, 33 – US first timer.
Brief pre-trip notes only this time… as some of you know, my personal circumstances have changed significantly in the last year or so. Suffice to say I am now in a new relationship with the lovely Amanda and, apart from a 4 day jaunt to Florence in February, this is our first “proper” holiday together. Amanda missed out on a trip to New York a while back, and has always wanted to visit America’s true capital, and, naturally, Mike spotted an opportunity to slip southwards after the event!
So… as usual for me, vague thoughts about ‘should we look at the possibility of a few days in Florida” soon turned into a huge Visa bill! Val, bless her cotton socks, came up trumps again and sorted flights with Continental, from Manchester to Orlando via Newark NJ, effectively a ‘free’ stop-over of three nights. Accommodation was provided by Travel Counsellors too, with us deciding on the centrally-situated, Hudson Hotel on West 58th Street, and Val booked us a last night in Orlando at Universal Royal Pacific Resort Hotel. The first six days in Orlando were booked at Boardwalk Villas through a good friend and DVC member renting points to us, effectively saving us close to a grand!
Oh, and we booked a convertible for the Orlando leg!
Now all we had to do was tick off the days….. 140, 139, 138…..
By the way… my trippies do tend to be quite detailed. I make no apologies for this, and for those that prefer comics, there’ll be plenty of pictures, so feel free to skim the text as you prefer. I enjoy writing (although not typing!) the reports, and use them personally to relive holidays after the event. Accordingly, many small details that are irrelevant to most readers may be included, as these trigger fuller recollection for me.
DAY 0 - FRIDAY 28TH APRIL 2006
We’d had custody of the kids this week and normally return them and their gear to their mums on Friday evenings. However, as we have to take our dog Ruby to the dog sitters 24 miles away this evening, I drop Adam and their luggage at Heathers at about 8am before taking Beth to school and going to work. Amanda is off today, getting her hair done and doing final packing. I should point out here that we are not taking large suitcases, having managed to pack all our essentials into carry on bags (18kgs each with Continental). My day drags interminably, with the only highlight being when I print off our boarding passes from Continental’s online check-in.
I manage to escape just after 4pm and return home. We have a light tea and then make our way to the dog sitters near Wigan. Back home around 8pm we have a final check through the travel documents and then spend the rest of the evening in our local! Bed around 11.30pm.
DAY 1 – SATURDAY 29th APRIL 2006. THE JOURNEY, CENTRAL PARK, 5TH AVENUE, TOP OF THE ROCK
I always struggle to sleep the night before a big holiday, and tonight is no exception. Up at 2.30 for a coffee and a final wander around the boards before being joined by Amanda at 4am. We check our flight online and are pleased to see that it is on schedule. Showers etc, fed the cats (our neighbour is feeding them during our absence) and then stand twiddling our thumbs until mate Scott arrives at 6am. Traffic is light and we arrive at Manchester Airport just after 6.30am. We make enquiries of the Continental rep and are advised to join the line (see how the lingo has slipped back into place!) in order to have our passports and boarding passes security checked, even though we aren’t checking any luggage. This takes around 15 minutes and our DIY boarding passes are replaced by “real” ones (apparently these are easier for the machines to read).
We are selected (randomly?) for a security check of our baggage, undertaken by a polite, and very young, security officer. He does not find our hidden contraband or passengers and we proceed to customs. Amazingly neither of us set off the alarms or are selected for any body/cavity searches, and we present ourselves at Starbucks by 7.10am.
We both have our usual, filter coffee and breakfast paninis. For some reason these taste better than normal. There are loads of new, Starbucks mugs for sale, but sadly we have no room for them at present. (I collect Starbucks mugs). Never mind, they’ll hopefully filter through (pardon the pun!) to the Manchester outlets in due course.
It’s sunny and pleasant outside – damn! I was hoping for rain! We complete our visa waiver forms and then take the mandatory wander around WHSmiths, Boots, Dixons and the Duty Free shops! Although there is no posted gate number yet, we stumble across the correct one at 214. We get three text messages, one from Bob and Dawn wishing us a safe journey (we are meeting up next week), one from my parents in Croatia where, sadly, the weather is lousy…….and one from Amandas mum, Sandra, advising us that she is having a wee! No I don’t know why she felt it necessary to share this, although they have always been very close!
Boarding begins at 8.45am, and, as we are in the front section (row 17) naturally they board from the back! However, we take our seats at 9am on this 767 – 400. We have a row of 3 seats in the centre to ourselves. The cabin crew are youngish, and one of the male stewards fancies himself as Tom Cruise!
The plane is equipped with personal, seatback entertainment systems and we are treated to a cheesy welcome message from Larry Kellner, the Continental Chairman (Hi Larry!) before the safety video. Push back at 9.25am, with a half full plane. We take off at 9.35am and entertain ourselves initially by browsing the Sky Mall magazine – a bizarre mix of pet strollers, inflatable massage chairs and high capacity teeth cleaners (not sure if these are intended for people with excessive numbers of teeth or those hosting teeth cleaning parties for all their friends!)
The films start at 10.05am (05.05 US) and we both enjoy The Producers (“may I take your hats, your coats………your swastikas?”) The 1st meal is served at 05.30, usual beef or chicken option. Certainly not gourmet but digestible. Half an hour later I make my first dollar purchase – two whiskeys for $10.
We pass through turbulent skies for an hour or so. We are both nodding off periodically (doesn’t it make a difference when you don’t have kids with you?!) and I grab half an hour or so. 08:00 or thereabouts now, and we are offered a glass of orange juice. I’m quite relaxed, somewhere below Greenland, according to the inflight display map, and pretty much in the ‘zone’ – the period roughly halfway through a long flight when you are far enough from your destination to start believing that you will be in this comfortable, tin tube for ever, with polite stewards serving refreshments every now and again and watching the odd film between naps.
I get up to stretch my legs and take a wander around the plane. Roughly 1/3rd of the seats are empty, and many passengers have nabbed a row to themselves, stretching out for a decent kip! I return to my seat and read the Skymall (.com – have a look, it’s hysterical!) magazine from cover to cover. I resist the temptation to order an indoor fountain table piece or a dog ramp for the car boot, and attempt to play some of the interactive games in the seatback system. Amanda amuses herself with card games on screen.
Time passes. Drinks are served and consumed. I’m fed up with monster-PacMan and read my book (A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby). At 10:00 they serve another meal, comprising a warm chicken and cheese roll (not as bad as it sounds) with a bag of crisps (chips) and a chocolate, followed by coffee and more water. There’s about an hour and ten minutes to go and we move from the centre section to a pair of window seats in front of a bulkhead (vacated by a mum with a baby and toddler who relocated to the rear section earlier for more space – I passed her on my ‘walk’, desperately trying to nap whilst amusing her two, fractious charges!) in order to have a better view on the approach.
There are good views through clear skies down to flat, road-crossed plains with some large lakes. The cabin crew hand out customs forms which we complete. About 45 minutes to go, and we are descending gradually. We watch the scenery change as we follow the line of the Hudson River towards Newark. The weather is fine and sunny with no clouds. Although a fair distance inland of the river, we recognise Manhattan on our left and get excited at our first sight of the Empire State Building!
The pilot makes a perfect landing spot on 11:45. Taxiing takes 10 minutes or so. We are quickly disembarked, via the rear doors, and are well ahead of the pack as we enter immigration, but stopping to visit the restrooms (hey, self-flushing loos again!) loses us the edge and we are virtually the last in line at the desks. However the Americans are efficient and have almost all the stations manned, and we are through without issue in 40 minutes.
No hold luggage to collect (ha!) we exit the terminal dragging our £17 Asda cases and secure a cab at the adjacent stand. The price is fixed, being $50 to Midtown, plus tolls and tip. Our driver is full of a cold (thanks buddy!) and says little, but we don’t mind, enjoying the mildly exotic 45 minute drive to Manhattan, via the Lincoln Tunnel (long!). Traffic is heavy but steady and we are soon at our hotel, the Hudson, on West 58th Street, a couple of blocks from the south west corner of Central Park.
The hotel is a relatively recently refurbished, ‘hip’ place, with a strikingly bland, concrete façade in a traditional, brick tower block.
It looks a lot smaller than its 1000 rooms would suggest. The lobby is on the first floor and is a delight! It has a vine covered, glass roof…
…. and backs onto the hotel’s ‘private park’, a large, partly covered courtyard set in the centre of the building, with twenty odd floors towering above it and open on the rear, south side.
We are swiftly and professionally checked in by the polite staff and ascend to the 8th floor. The rooms here are noted to be small, and this one certainly is – approx 200 sq ft at a guess, with contemporary fittings, a shower room and loads of mirrors to give the appearance of more room.
We like it – it’s compact but comfortable and has everything we’ll need for the 3 nights. We don’t plan to spend any more time in than essential anyway.
We unpack and root through the cupboards and drawers. There’s a mini-bar of sorts, with criminally expensive drinks and snacks, plus a few extras, including an ‘intimacy’ kit… I’ll leave the contents to your imagination, but suffice to say if the door hinges creak later we’ll have something to lubricate them with!
We are eager to venture out into the big city and leave the hotel at 2:15. We walk a couple of hundred yards east along W58th (hey, there’s a Starbucks!) and then left, north, one block to Columbus Circle, the recently renovated SW corner of Central Park. The roads are busy, and the ‘Walk/Don’t Walk’ signals on every junction are the only sane way to cross the corners. The Circle itself is an attractive sitting area with lovely wooden benches and surrounding water feature, having a Nelson’s Column-type statue of Christopher Columbus at its centre. The buildings around the perimeter all appear either new, including the vast Time Warner centre, or are under (re?)construction.
It’s warm and sunny, if a little breezy here, and we head across into the park itself. There’s a definite, holiday mood, with many people sitting and chatting, eating and drinking or walking into the green areas. We are peckish, and buy a sandwich platter (no, we don’t want extra cheese, ta) and two coffees which we take into the park. It takes us a few moments to get our bearings – this place is vast – but in 10 minutes or so we are in the middle of Sheep Meadow, a lovely lawned area of a few acres, surrounded by trees and towering skyscrapers beyond. There are perhaps a few hundred people lazing on the grass around us.
Spring is obviously much more advanced here than back home in Manchester, where most of the trees are still bare. Everywhere is green and fresh and a delight to the senses. We finish our lunch, take some photographs, and wander on, northwards, deeper into the Park. At 2:45 we find ourselves at a Victorian building (Belvedere Castle) overlooking an ornamental lake and the Great Lawn to the north. A helpful volunteer guide gives us a great park map, which we use to navigate our way for the rest of our visit. We join others climbing the narrow stairs to the top of the building, enjoying great views on all sides.
We take the stone steps to the left of the castle and make our way past the lake to the Great Lawn, a splendid field of many acres, which includes several Baseball (Softball?) pitches currently being well used….
..A variety of other ball and field games are in progress as we walked through towards the largest of the Parks lakes, The Reservoir. Some imposing apartment blocks overlook the water from the west side of Central Park.
5th Avenue runs down the eastern boundary and we walk around the lake to the nearest exit, approximately halfway up, joining 5th just north of The Guggenheim Museum. This is on our hit list for tomorrow, as it is now 4pm and the gallery will close shortly. Sadly, the distinctive, beehive exterior is shrouded in scaffolding and sheeting, presumably for refurbishment,
(….although this is what it should look like)
…so we content ourselves with a brief reccy of the interior lobby. This is a stunning space having a spiral walkway around the outer walls, giving access to the individual galleries.
I call DD Beth to say goodnight (DS Adam is away at a PGL all weekend) and we stroll back in warm sunshine, south along 5th until we reach one of Amanda’s must do’s, Tiffany’s, at around 4.30pm.
We browse 3 floors of the available 5, with my hands very firmly wedged in my pockets! Some of the silver jewellery on the 3rd floor is vaguely affordable, but we manage to escape without succumbing, probably to the relief of my bank manager.
We take a few photographs both of the interior of the store,
…although I receive a polite ticking off from the Armani clad security staff, and some of the breathtaking views through the upper floor windows.
We carry on down 5th Avenue, in somewhat heavier pedestrian traffic, past Trump Towers next door,
…The Disney Store,
… and many other impressive buildings until we reach The Rockefeller Centre. This is not just one building, as I erroneously believed before our research, but several, surrounding an attractive, sunken plaza.
The GE Building (“ Top Of The Rock”) is the focal point and leaves us with open mouths and cricked necks as we lean back, trying to see the highest floors.
Several board members have recommended the top of the GE Building as a viewpoint superior to that from the Empire State Building, both for its proximity to Central Park and also as it allows you to see the ESB, the city’s highest building since 2001. We enter the lobby, looking for the box office, but are side tracked by the appearance of a Starbucks in the lower shopping concourse. This has a delightful, almost Art Deco feel, dating as it does from the early 1930’s.
We enjoy out 1st NY Starbucks coffee, accompanied by Banana Nut Bread (Mike) and Marble cake (Amanda). Cheers!
There is a special entrance on W 50th Street used solely for the TOTR, which opens into a mezzanine level with an interactive multimedia exhibit that celebrates the history of the Rockefeller Centre and the people who built it. We purchase two tickets ($35 + tax) for immediate access (6-6.15pm). You can also buy timed tickets for hours or days ahead, probably essential at peak times, sunset etc.
We pass through the interactive section to the customised elevators known as Summit Shuttles. These feature glass ceilings that display historic images from the past century and simultaneously showcase the illuminated 67-storey elevator shaft on the way up. The effect is stunning, and we rocket up to the upper floors in little more than seconds.
The observation deck is on 2 levels. The lower level is protected by tall glass panels to prevent accidental or deliberate freefall episodes! The view isn’t diminished in any way, and they have a 3-4” gap between the panels to allow cameras to take perfect images.
The views are truly breathtaking – north to Central Park and Harlem, south to the ESB and Liberty Island. We take plenty of photographs before ascending to the upper deck.
Professional photographers are available if desired – we take more of our own and have a couple done by them. We could probably have spent hours more here, but we are hungry and we leave reluctantly at 6.45pm. Sadly our professional pictures did not appear to have been transmitted to the TOTR shop in the basement concourse, so we make a quick restroom stop and leave.
Checking the Rough Guide we make our way across to 9th Avenue and than walk north in search of a suitable restaurant. We fancy Italian and select “Ralphs”, a fairly traditional venue which appears busier and therefore presumably more popular than some of its competitors. We are seated immediately in an excellent spot next to the window overlooking 9th Avenue. Our meal comprises a bottle of Pinot Grigio, stuffed mushrooms for Amanda, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil for Mike, followed by seafood linguine special for both of us. The food is excellent and we leave $90 including an 18% tip. We completely forget to take any photos this evening so nicked this one off the web!
It’s been a long day and, having rested for an hour we realise just how tired we both feel. It’s 8.15pm now and just about dark. We had intended to visit Times Square this evening, but feel we’ve done enough. We make our way back to the hotel, stopping off at a corner drugstore (Duane Reade – there seem to be as many of these as there are Starbucks outlets!) where we buy some water for the room. It’s 8:45pm now and after admiring the view from our bedroom window, we shower and are fast asleep by 9.30pm! We reckon we’ve covered around 15 miles today.
A cracking 1st day!
Mike and Amanda
Tomorrow: Guggenheim Museum, Times Square, Public Library, ESB, Grand Central Station and more.