October 2, 2017

New York City Tour: The Best of the Big Apple

IMG_3297Day 1
Our trip to New York City began predawn for our 51 DayTripper Tours passengers.  And it began in style as we picked everyone up personally at their doorstep courtesy of La Costa Limousine.  Tour Director Pat Brown was waiting to greet us at 4 a.m. at San Diego International Airport, boarding passes in hand. After checking luggage (thank you DayTripper for including that in the price too), we found ourselves at the gate with the non-stop flight to Newark International Airport delayed one hour.  It was a good opportunity to grab a second cup of coffee and look over the one-page grid itinerary Pat handed out.  Folded up and tucked into our around-the-neck lanyards, it proved to be a handy resource to refer to during the next six days.  It also helped us get even more excited for all the iconic New York City sights we were headed across the country to see!  The United Airlines flight was full (as most flights seem to be these days…), but the service was excellent.  On board, 36,000 feet over the middle of America, Pat came down the aisle with a list to choose our meal choices for tomorrow when we’d be dining at Ben’s Deli, a famous kosher NYC deli in the heart of midtown Manhattan.  Pastrami and corned beef were the favorite choices by far.  Now, in anticipation, we could almost taste our upcoming trip as well!  Five hours after takeoff, the pilot came on the intercom asking us to prepare for landing.  Putting our seat backs up and our tray tables in the upright position, we looked out the windows and saw the green landscape of New Jersey come into view. After landing and saying good bye to our attentive crew and talented pilot (who was retiring in a mere 6 weeks…), we made our way to the baggage claim area of this big, bustling Newark Airport where our luggage was waiting!  A quick phone call to our waiting Academy coach driver brought him and our luxury coach to our nearby door, close enough that we all simply rolled our bags right to the side of the bus. Before you knew it, baggage was loaded and we were on our way to the Big Apple!  Our first glimpse of the towering skyline came into view from the Jersey side of the Hudson River.  You could hear the buzz on the bus as we saw Manhattan’s famous sky scrapers, the highest being One World Observatory, a mere 3 blocks from our hotel!  To get to Manhattan, we had to go underwater, however.  Yes, underwater through the Lincoln Tunnel!  It IS an island, you understand.  Soon, those tall buildings were on either side of us as we made our way downtown to the Holiday Inn Manhattan—Financial District in the far southern end of Manhattan.  The bellman were waiting for us curbside, as was the front desk manager with our keys.  Because the coach couldn’t make it up the narrow street in front of the hotel, it had to pull up a block away making a bit of a haul for the bellmen with 50 pieces of luggage, but they did it with smiles. This Holiday Inn is the tallest in the world at 50 floors.  Due to our one hour flight delay, we gathered immediately after arrival for dinner.  The dining room was in the St. George Tavern next door and conveniently connected to the hotel lobby.  A delicious meal was laid before us, with choices ranging from salmon to steak.  Afterwards, even though we were still on “West Coast Time,” most of us called it a day and headed to our rooms for a good night’s sleep before hitting the town tomorrow.  New York City, have arrived!

IMG_3224Rainy weather was threatening New York City skies as we awoke for our first full day in the “Big Apple.”  Dark clouds hung low, but no raindrops fell as we enjoyed our breakfast buffet in the Holiday Inn.  By 8:30 we were on our motor coach with our step-on guide, Lee, ready to see and learn as much as we could in four hours.  Driving around the Financial District first, we passed a fortress-looking building that was Goldman Sachs, across the street from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center used to stand.  Today, of course, a dignified memorial in the shape of 2 pools of cascading water in the footprints of those buildings reminds all that we will never forget what happened on 9/11, 2001. Our driver James steered the coach along the Hudson River, stopping at Battery Park where we disembarked for a photo op.  There, across the water, was a great view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  We would visit both places later in the week. Next stop? The statue of Wall Street’s iconic “Raging Bull” and “Defiant Girl.”  The bull had been defaced with blue paint just a few days earlier, making national news, but had been cleaned up in time for our visit.  Continuing up the East side of Manhattan, along the aptly named “East River” we saw the famous Brooklyn Bridge before heading inland again.  Traffic was at a crawl because Trump was in town to speak to the United Nations.  A freeze zone had been established around that area forcing traffic to be squeezed onto the surrounding streets.  No worries, though as there was plenty to look at out the windows as we crawled through Little Italy, Greenwich Village, the Garment District, and past Lincoln Center and The Juilliard School.  Lee was a fount of knowledge.  A native New Yorker, he could identify just about every building with historic background and funny jokes sprinkled in.  If only we could remember half of what he told us!  We ended our 4 hour tour at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant on W. 38th St, a proper Jewish deli.  Dill pickles and coleslaw were served before our overstuffed corned beef or pastrami sandwiches on rye.  We all left stuffed and happy.  As we drove to Radio City Music Hall the rain finally started sprinkling.  After being divided into 2 groups, we enjoyed a wonderful behind-the-scenes tour of this amazing theatre.  The best part, perhaps, was the chance to meet one of the Radio City Music Hall Rockette dancers in person for a brief Q&A and chance to have our picture taken with her.  I think the men on my tour especially enjoyed this!  The rest of the late afternoon and evening were on our own to explore this place we were just starting to feel a part of.  There was so much left to do and see, but three more days to explore New York City with Daytripper Tours!

IMG_3294Day 3 was what I call our “Broadway Day.”  After breakfast at the Holiday Inn, James drove us to midtown Manhattan for our Broadway workshop.  What’s that, you say?  Well, just the most special experience of the whole tour.  We were met on the 11th floor of a nondescript building by 3 people who are in the cast of “Phantom of the Opera” which we were going to see tonight on Broadway.  We were ushered into a large empty room with a hardwood floor and mirrors on the walls.  Chairs were set up for us and soon Scott, the pianist was leading us through vocal warm-ups and clapping exercises to recognize the rhythm of the song we were learning, “Masquerade.”  Next, Jim, one of the singer/actors handed out sheet music and soon we were singing the lyrics.  Finally, Jessica, one of the ballet dancers from the show taught us a few steps of the choreography.  It was great fun.  Before leaving, we peppered them with questions in a Q&A session, getting a glimpse into the life of a New York Broadway performer.  Then, it was back to the hotel for a brief break before dressing for dinner and a night on Broadway.  I hardly recognized some of my passengers as they boarded the motor coach later that afternoon.  Some of the ladies were actually sparkling in their beautiful evening wear, and the gentlemen in their shirts and ties looked mighty fine.  Dinner was in Carmine’s Italian Restaurant in Time’s Square.  Three long tables were waiting for us upstairs and soon they were filled, family style, with generous platters of traditional Italian dishes—spaghetti bolognese, rigatoni & broccoli, and chicken saltimbocca.  Oh my, the food kept coming and coming!  And then…the dessert!  The most amazing tiramisu you’ve ever seen or tasted.  I heard raves all around.  Our Broadway show, “Phantom of the Opera” was right across the street at the Majestic Theatre, originally built in 1927.  As we took our center seats, we couldn’t help but be astonished at the huge billowing curtain drawn up in gigantic soft folds above the stage.  We knew we were in for a spectacle!  As the longest running musical on Broadway EVER, “Phantom” didn’t disappoint and when the second act began with the “Masquerade” number we had learned earlier that morning, it was like we were on stage going through the choreography all over again.  Very cool.  We recognized Jim and Jessica on stage too. It was easy to surrender to the music of the night for 2 1/2 hours, but all too soon the show ended to thunderous applause. How can we top this?  Day 4 may just do that…

Fire 1 LRToday was the day that would bring back memories forever seared in our consciousnesses.  9/11.  Everyone remembers what they were doing on that day.  Where they were when they heard the news.  How their lives would never be the same again. I led my 51 Daytripper passengers on a short 3 block walk north of our hotel to the famous 9/11 Memorial pools, built in the footprint of the former World Trade Center towers that came crashing down on that fateful day.  We quietly walked around all four sides of each pool, reading the names of the victims carved into the bronze plates, gazing over the edge into the cascading water falling down, down, down…remembering, remembering, remembering…The 9/11 Memorial Museum built below the surface of the ground underneath the former “twin towers” documents the events leading up to 9/11, what happened that day, and most of all, the faces of those who didn’t know that that would be their last day alive.  From twisted beams of steel from the wreckage, to a portion of “the survivors’ staircase,” to the shirt worn by one of the members of Navy SEAL Team #6 during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s house, this museum brought forth emotions of anger, grief, and commitment that this should never happen again.  After a couple hours exploring this amazing museum, we took an escalator up, back to the daylight, walked next door, entered a high speed elevator and soared to the top of the highest building in the Western Hemisphere, One World Observatory.  It was like a journey of hope up from the ashes in 60 seconds. The ride itself was very remarkable.  As the elevator doors closed, a movie began on all 4 sides.  It began in the year 1500 and we were looking at what Manhattan looked like in that year, nothing but wilderness.  As we sped upward, the years quickly advanced.  The scene outside the elevator in the movie changed with the years, buildings popping up, streets being paved, vehicles and crowds of people swarming the land until we reached the year 2017 and the doors opened at the top.  We felt like we were in an airplane.  Views were visible 80 miles in every direction.  Some passengers decided to have lunch from this vantage point.  Others walked around, took pictures and descended to street level once again.  The rest of the afternoon and evening were free for everyone to venture out on their own, to see whatever was on their personal “bucket list” before returning to the hotel.  A good night’s rest would be needed for the busiest day of the trip tomorrow in New York City!

IMG_3252This morning it was back to the Theater District for a very special tour of the New Amsterdam Theater. Originally built in 1902, it was the home of the famous Ziegfeld Follies. Now, the Disney Corporation owns it and has beautifully restored it to be their flagship theater for all Disney productions.  No surprise that the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.  The beaux-arts architecture on the outside and the art nouveau design inside were simply stunning to see.  Perhaps the most fun was had at tour’s end when we got to try on costumes, headpieces and props from various Disney plays like “Mary Poppins,” “The Lion King,” and “Little Mermaid.” Everyone felt like a kid again.  Our next attraction was one we were all looking forward to—taking the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  As the boat drew closer it was plain to see that Lady Liberty is as tall as a football field if you count the pedestal. She was presented to the U.S. as a gift from France and dedicated in 1886 in commemoration of the two countries’ alliance during the American Revolution.  Even though it was the first day of fall, the temperature had climbed into the 80’s under a bright, sunny sky. Perfect for taking photos!  Passengers could decide for themselves how they wanted to spend their afternoon, splitting their time between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Lunch vouchers were provided for a meal at either place.  Those who explored Ellis Island learned that this was the Nation’s main point of entry for millions of immigrants from 1892 to 1954.  Hearing our own echoing footsteps in the same place as those who came before felt like going back in time.  We all wished we had more time to wander through the 30 galleries and exhibits chronicling the history of immigration into the United States, but dinner awaited us at Junior’s Cheesecake back in midtown Manhattan.  This place began as a diner in Brooklyn in 1929 and soon became known as a restaurant that served the best cheesecake anywhere.  Needless to say, after a delicious meal, we had cheesecake for dessert which topped off our final dinner in New York. But we weren’t done yet.  As night fell, the city came alive with millions of sparkling lights and we saw it from the 86th floor of the one and only Empire State Building!  This was the world’s tallest building until 1970 and is still a “must see” on any visitor’s list in New York City. Tired, but happy we returned to our hotel for one final night’s sleep in New York City.

NYC7 LRThe week flew by and this was our day to say farewell to the Big Apple and fly over 2000 miles across America back to San Diego.  Actually, there were still a few hours in the morning to explore on one’s own before James would drive us to the airport.  Some Daytrippers stayed close to the hotel, enjoying a leisurely morning, while a few told me that they put on their hiking shoes and walked part way across the Brooklyn Bridge!  Many wanted to share their favorite part of the trip and there was a lot of oohing and ahhing while looking at each other’s photos!  James loaded our luggage onto the coach and by 2pm we were headed for Newark International Airport.  The route took us back through the historic 1.5 mile long Lincoln Tunnel, diving 97 feet under the surface of the Hudson River. Named for President Abraham Lincoln, the tunnel was designed by a Norwegian-born civil engineer, Ole Singstad.  It is a true engineering masterpiece, but on this afternoon, was backed up in bad traffic. We finally made it through the narrow tunnel and arrived at EWR where we went through the group check in procedure for United Airlines.  This time our flight was on-time and once again full to capacity.  But, there’s nothing like a non-stop flight!  In fact, we must have had a strong tail wind because we arrived back in San Diego 35 minutes ahead of schedule.  There were many hugs goodbye as we claimed our luggage and found our van drivers for the ride back to our homes (another nice benefit of traveling with Daytrippers!) Spending six days together bonded us as a group and together with the same experiences and memories, we will always be linked.  New York City will now be a part of who we are, as people, as fellow travelers, and now, as friends.

IMG_3312– Pat Brown
Tour: New York City: The Best of the Big Apple
Date: September 18-23, 2017


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