5 Day NYC Girls Trip
I want to preface this by saying that while I love finding "off the beaten path" things to do, this trip was all about being as "tourist-y" as we pleased! And I must say, we ROCKED it!
A few months back, I had gotten a really great Travel Agent rate for a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean. I jumped on it, thinking it would be a great "girls trip" to take with my mom and my 13 year old daughter over the Christmas/ New Year's break. We were supposed to be going to Nassau and Princess Cays in an extended balcony cabin! While I've been to Nassau with my husband (I'll make another blog about that awesomeness another time), I hadn't been to Princess Cays and we were all pretty excited! Well, lo and behold, the cruise got canceled because of, well, 'Rona.
Insert your favorite angry words here: &#%*&%&#%(!!
We could have tried to get a different ship and itinerary but there were none we were interested in during the kids' winter break so we opted to take the full refund instead.
You may be wondering how we switched gears and ended up in freezing cold New York City instead of warm sunny isles. Short answer: Our family was supposed to be on a Bermuda cruise in 2020 that left out of NYC so I had a bunch of stuff planned for the 6 of us to do in the city before embarkation day. But.. 2020...NYC... You already know. So when we were brainstorming alternatives, that was the first thing that came to my mind. My daughter, Autumn, was completely onboard (pun intended) because she loves musicals and really wanted to see a Broadway show.
We spent 5 days in the city and we had an absolute blast! We did all of the tourist-y things! Now, I want to share our experience with the world... the good, the bad, the incredibly embarrassing (just you wait)... I want to share it all! I'm not putting these things in any kind of "ranked" order, I'm just going by our personal daily itinerary so you can kind of see what can be done on a typical day in the off-season.
COVID-19 Protocols in NYC
Please be sure to check out this link for updates: nycgo.com
At the time of our trip (January 2022) we were required to show ID and proof of vaccination prior to entering restaurants, museums, and more. You will be required to wear a mask indoors everywhere you go. Outdoors you do not need to wear one. It's easy to keep all of your information together if you download the NYC Safe App, which was a lifesaver for us so we didn't have to carry our cards around!
Day 1- Arrival Day
-Driving and Parking
We drove. More specifically, I drove. Luckily, we had stopped in Clarion, PA to visit our family for New Year's so we only had a few hours to drive instead of the 10-11 it would take from our house. You hear tales and folklore about New York Drivers (yes, I capitalized because let's face facts... this is a TITLE BESTOWED UPON THESE PEOPLE) and the stories are true. Let me tell you... being a passive lady-driver from the midwest and surviving driving in the concrete jungle has made me feel like I might actually be pretty legendary. I will never stop talking about my accomplishment here.
The really nice thing is that if you find a hotel that is central enough to what you want to do, you can park your car in a parking garage and not have to drive again until the day you leave. The bad thing is that these parking garages can be very pricey if you are not expecting it. For 5 days it can cost upwards of $300 in some cases. There are cheaper garages, you just have to look for them.
Now let me tell you about my "Welcome to The Big Apple" Facepalm moment.
I dropped mom and Autumn off at our hotel with most of our luggage so that I could go take the car to a nearby parking garage that I had found online. I could not find it for the life of me. I was desperate to park and get to the hotel so I went to the next block and saw a sign for parking. I pull in and there are a few people standing inside and one of the guys motioned me to pull forward and so I did. I pulled into the garage, drove down to the next level and didn't see any open spots. Drove farther down... no open spots. Finally I am 6 levels down and I find a spot. I get the rest of my things out of the car and go up to the main level to find an attendant to get a ticket or whatever.
The guy looked at me like I was insane. You guys, he might have actually called me insane in a language that was not English. I don't know. I asked him "where do I go to get a ticket to put on my dashboard?" he replied: "uhhhmmm... What do you mean, lady?" and stared at me with confusion in his little brown eyes.
"I just need to get my ticket or paperwork for my car."
"What? Where is your car at, Lady?" (He is looking from left to right trying to find my car)
"Down in level 6."
"Show me please, ok Lady?"
"Uh, ok..." And now I'm confused.
I took him back down to my car and he began shaking his head and saying something which was probably Spanish but I was so confused that I understood none of it.
"Lady, how did you get down here?"
"Well... I drove? The guy waved me forward so I went forward."
His eyes are SAUCERS now: "No, Lady this garage is valet parking."
I kinda just stared blankly at him. How I managed to go past all of the employees and all of the signs is beyond me. He then walked me up to where I was supposed to have stopped when the other dude waved me forward and we did some paperwork and I didn't even care that it was $60 for 1 night because I was so embarrassed that I wanted to run out of there and never return. He and his comrades enjoyed a good laugh at my expense and I enjoyed nothing. NOTHING!
I picked the RIU Plaza Times Square for a plethora of reasons: 1) Location- it's a 2 minute walk to Times Square and not terribly far from most of the other things we were doing. 2) Price- it was an affordable option within our budget constraints and comfort requirements... Like Goldilocks, it was not too fancy, not too dated... it was juuuussssst right. 3) It offered a free breakfast buffet and then in the evenings you could eat at the Fashion Bar Restaurant for a fee.
The hotel itself was nice. Our room had a spectacular view of the city, the room was clean and the beds were comfortable. No complaints there. What we did not realize was that the wall between the shower and the bedroom was weirdly see-through. I mean, you could only see the outline of the person in the shower but still... We all agreed that this was very strange especially in a room labeled specifically as a "family room". It might be alright for a pair of lovebirds but the modest little old lady in me thought that the people must have been out of their minds when designing this and the people must have been out of their minds who approved it for every room. Oh well, you live and you learn.
-Quick Trip to Times Square
After we unpacked (and I slightly recovered from the parking garage encounter) we decided to do some exploring. It was already dark out but we wanted to go see Times Square all lit up! I imagine it is much more busy for NYE and in summer months, but in early January it was not as crowded as I had prepared for it to be! The billboards and lights all around us were so beautiful! We walked around for a bit, watched some street performers do some cool stunts, and located the Disney Store which we would ultimately return to at a later date.
Day 2- September 11 Museum, Liberty Island, Ellis Island, and More!
-September 11th Museum
This was our first stop of the day. We had purchased a package that included admission to this museum as well as a partially guided trip to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. I highly recommend this tour to all of my clients who are interested in visiting these sites! This part of the package was not guided so we walked to the museum ourselves and explored. I never realized just how much is actually there to see! We got there a little later than we should have so we ended up not having enough time to see it all. This museum is such an important stop for anybody visiting NYC. My daughter was not alive when 9/11 happened and this tour allowed her to gain a real, up-close understanding of what happened in our country that day. I really wish that we had more time there, so maybe when my younger kids are older (they're 5, 8, and 8 right now), we will go back so that they can check it out for themselves and mommy can finish her tour.
Continuing to the second portion of our package deal, we met our tour guide outside of the Starbucks across from Battery Park and began making our way toward the ferryboat that would take us to both Liberty and Ellis Islands. As we walked, our guide told us a bit about Battery Park and some of the statues that we passed. She was extremely knowledgeable as well as bilingual! She was able to give the tour in both English and Spanish, which was good because part of our group was actually Spanish speaking. To get to the ferry, you must go through a security checkpoint. It was similar to what you would experience at an airport. You put your things in bins on a conveyor belt and walked through a metal detector and once you were done you could go get onboard the ferry. The ferry has a little snack bar on the 1st level along with seating, then on the second level it is indoor seating. I dragged mom and Autumn to the third level because that's the tippy-top and I wanted to have a clear view of Lady Liberty coming into view. They were less than thrilled because it was so cold but they survived and I got some mask-clad selfies of me and the big green lady.
Once again, all credit goes to Corona for closing down access to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. You can still go to the pedestal, though, which looked pretty neat. We did not go inside the statue. We walked around the path that goes in front of the statue and back around. It was very, very cold. Autumn was not thrilled about it and our outdoor time at Liberty Island was cut short. But! There is a museum! And the museum is actually really interesting. It houses the original torch, has lots of memorabilia, and even shows some of the different designs that had been made prior to settling on what we see today. We liked seeing the step by step process for how certain parts were made and learning about how they shipped everything over.
When you think of Ellis Island, what do you think of? For me, I always just thought of it as a place where you could go and see if any of your ancestors had come through Ellis Island when they immigrated to America. As far as I know, we don't have any family that processed through there, but then again I'm not terribly familiar with my ancestry. In my mind it was just a building with some old books and maybe some displays. Honestly, I only went to Ellis Island because it was part of the package.
Holy smokes though! I'm so glad we went!
Ellis Island ended up being the highlight of that tour. We could have spent all day there! When you walk in, you can instantly see that there is just something very special about it. Not only does it tell the story of all of the people who came through there on their way to their new life in America, but it also had a lot of displays and information about immigration in general. It also had a lot of really fascinating displays showing what life was like for the immigrants once they did begin their life here. I truly wish I was a strong enough writer to describe just how we felt meandering through the halls here and walking where those people would have walked so long ago... Trying to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what they might have been feeling in the very spot we were standing was intense and humbling. I will always recommend a visit to Ellis Island after this experience. Even my daughter said that Ellis Island was her favorite stop on the day's adventure!
Some other things we came across on day 2 that I feel were worth mentioning were the Korean War Memorial at Battery Park and the statue of the bull just outside of Bowling Green on Broadway Blvd. If you have time to stop at either of these, you should check them out! One is very moving, the other is a good place to people-watch. See my videos below to see for yourselves!
Day 3- Central Park Zoo, Carriage Ride, and More!
On the third day, we were getting more acclimated to being outside in the cold for longer periods of time than we're used to. Although it was just as cold at home in Indiana at the time, we don't spend all day outside when we're home so it was an adjustment!
-Central Park Zoo
If you're looking for Alex, Gloria, Melman, or Marty you will be disappointed with the Central Park Zoo! So just go there knowing that they are not there! Luckily, we knew what to expect at least somewhat! The zoo itself is pretty small but it's really nice. The sea lion exhibit in the center of the zoo was by far our favorite. When they do the feedings (you'll see times on their daily schedule so you won't miss them) the sea lions do all sorts of really adorable and funny tricks in exchange for the food and it is really entertaining to see! You can also go into the penguin exhibit and watch them do the penguin feedings. There a lot of penguins in their enclosure and they are neat to watch. There were even some puffins in a separate area of the exhibit! Ever since my trip to Iceland I have been obsessed with puffins. They're the most adorable bird ever and you can't tell me otherwise. So I was happy to see a puffin.
We also enjoyed the aviary, the red panda, and the kids petting zoo! We did not see the snow leopard, which was disappointing but we got a kick out of watching some of the monkeys groom each other so that made up for it a bit!
After we left the zoo we had some time to kill before our carriage ride so we decided to walk around the park a bit.
We got lost in Central Park...
So that was fun.
-Central Park Carriage Ride
I can not rave about this part of our trip enough! I booked this in advance which is obviously the preferred manner because then you are guaranteed a ride but you can also just show up and get in a carriage if they have availability. The tour we did was one of the longer ones, so we got to see many of the popular attractions around the park such as:
-The Balto Statue (this was HIGH on Autumn's list of "must-see things". I asked our driver if we could stop for a moment so that we could get out and take pictures and he very kindly obliged! She was so happy!)
-The bridge from Home Alone 2
-The bridge from the snowball fight scene in Elf
-Tavern on the Green
-Strawberry Fields & Yoko Ono's apartment
- One of the iconic buildings from Ghostbusters
-The "Friends" fountain
Our horse's name was King and the driver was so kind and gave a lot of really good information about the park and it's history! Plus, the carriage has big, warm blankets for you to use which kept us nice and cozy for the most part!
-More From Day 3
Autumn had mentioned that she had wanted to see Trump Towers. This was a stop along the walk from our hotel to the park so we did decide to stop. It was really pretty inside, but we went early in the morning and nothing was really open (I would have liked to have gone into Tiffany's) so I was a little bored there. I am willing to bet that I would have liked it more if the coffee shop had been open, haha!
We also stopped at Rockefeller center to take some pictures of the Christmas decor since it was still up! The tree was so beautiful, as were the other Christmas-y touches.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly (depending on who you ask) we went back to the Disney Store in Times Square. I collect Disney pins and I also wanted to get the Statue of Liberty Minnie for my son who loves Mickey and Minnie! As I was scouring the store for a pin, I quickly realized that you can not buy the pin by itself... It's actually a special add-on to their photo experience package. Here is the really cool part: The photo experience GETS YOU ON THE DISNEY STORE BILLBOARD IN TIMES SQUARE! Plus you get the printed photo and a special photo holder. It was either $20 or $30... That's for the basic package, and for $10 more you can get the special collectors pin as well! You already know I made mom and Autumn do it with me! It was really exciting to have my masked, unrecognizable face on a Times Square billboard! Yes, you MUST keep your mask on. Those are the rules at this time. It may change later on so be sure to check beforehand if it matters to you.
Day 4- American Museum of Natural History & Empire State Building
On this day we learned the importance of having an umbrella on days where the NYC weather forecast says there is a chance for rain. So please, make sure you pack an umbrella! Otherwise, your mom will have to buy you one from a street cart when they only accept cash and you only have your credit card and you're waiting outside in a ridiculously long line and it has begun to pour. This is just a guess... definitely not personal experience...
-American Museum of Natural History
As an anthropologist I was very excited about this! Again, as usual, I had purchased our tickets in advance and I had made sure to include having access to the special exhibits the museum has to offer such as the shark exhibit which was really informative.
I need to just hit pause here for a second to issue a warning. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions and protocols in place, visitors to the museum have to show their I.D. and proof of vaccine to be able to enter the building. When we got to the museum, the line to get in was incredibly long and it moved very slowly. And it was raining. When we finally got inside the building, we were expecting to show out tickets and go in. This was not the case, as once we left the ridiculous outdoor line, we went in and joined the ridiculous indoor one. I believe we waited for around 70 minutes total but then again I may have blacked out from being asked 15,000 times by a teenager what was taking so long... so it could have been longer. I accept the fact that I'll probably never know.
I was really excited to check out the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples as well as the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. I have learned a lot about Margaret Mead in my Anthropology courses and so it was exciting to be there and learn more about her and her work. We all liked the "Sea Lions: Life by a Whisker" exhibit (it's a film, actually) so if you have a chance to see that, I recommend it! Autumn loved the Hall of Gems and Minerals. Mom and I did, too. But Autumn took pictures of almost every gem in the exhibit so I'm assuming it's safe to say that it was her favorite.
In all honesty, I think that the long line at the beginning, mixed with being soaking wet from the rain (we were still a bit soggy by the time we left) put a damper on our experience. As I said, we did enjoy some parts but some of it just felt underwhelming at times. Also the building is a maze so we got lost in it on more than one occasion. None of us can read maps. They should make GPS available inside the museum. I'm only mostly joking here. I seriously can not read a map.
-Empire State Building
We took a break in-between the museum and the Empire State Building. Our feet hurt. It's possible that we had started to develop trench-foot at that point so yeah, we needed to take our shoes off and rest! We had purchased Skip-the-Line Tickets for 7pm but when we got there there was no line at all. In fact, there were not (or at least it didn't seem like there were) many people there touring the building at all. We honestly didn't know much about what to expect. Obviously we know you can go to the observation deck, but we weren't sure what to expect indoors.
It was so much fun inside! I think I had more fun doing the inside stuff than I did on the observation deck! To start, you walk through an exhibit showing the development of the building. You can look through these little scopes and see videos replicating what you might have seen during that time in history. There is a lot to see and do on your way through the building. My personal favorite was the King Kong stuff. Check out my video to see why! It was a really fun surprise when we saw that!
Of course the observation deck gave us phenomenal views of the city! I planned to go at night so that we could see the city lights and we were not disappointed! It was neat to see some of the other famous buildings such as the Chrysler Building from the 86th floor! I also wanted to mention that the observation deck has giant heaters out there so we were actually pretty warm in some places! It was windy so one side was still pretty cold but I thought the heaters were a nice touch that we appreciated very much!
Day 5- Broadway, Ice Skating, and Crazy Milkshakes!
Autumn had been looking forward to this moment for weeks! She came fully prepared with her new sweatshirt that she got from Nana for Christmas that said "Phantom of the Opera" on it and everything! I can't lie, we were all looking forward to it. The Majestic Theater is about a 2-3 minute walk from the RIU Plaza Times Square so that was really nice for us since our feet had been hurting the day before. You just show your I.D. and proof of vaccination along with your tickets and you go right in! We went to the matinee and it was not very crowded. We sat in the 2nd row in the middle of the front mezzanine and in my opinion that was the perfect spot! Well, I would say that the 1st row was probably slightly better but luckily the people in front of us didn't block our view. You can see everything really well and it's a great spot for when the chandelier is lifting and coming down! If you can sit there I say do it! It did cost a bit more than some seating but it was worth it! The show was magical! If you do go to it, just a little potty break tip that one of the theater ushers told me: during intermission, go to the bathroom on the lower level... There are more stalls than the one upstairs and you hopefully won't wait as long to tinkle. Next time we go to New York City, I would like to see Wicked, Hamilton, and The Lion King. My daughter got me HOOKED! She hates it because now I roam around the house bellowing "Say You Love Me" like I own the place. Oh wait... I do...
-Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center
Ok, this was my guilty pleasure. You always see people in holiday movies ice skating at Rockefeller Center in front of the stunning Christmas tree and I needed that for myself! I prepurchased the tickets and skate rental online beforehand because you have to make a reservation for the time slot that you want to arrive and I wanted to make sure we got the time that worked best for us. Mom decided not to skate, but the photographer in her couldn't help but take lots of great photos while Autumn and I skated (which I greatly appreciate!). Neither of us are good skaters. Autumn was very nervous so we stayed along the wall for a while but she liked holding my hand and skating with me after she got more confident. It was such a wonderful experience to share with her! I literally almost cried, I was that happy.
The Christmas tree is usually taken down within the first few days of January so we were lucky that it was still up on the 6th. I am not sure what day they actually took it down this year. It was also a treat to see a proposal happen on the ice! The person on the loud speaker announced that everyone needed to get off the ice so that they could run the zamboni and so everyone cleared out except for one couple. They played a really romantic song and at the end the man got down on one knee and proposed. It was such a beautiful, quiet moment when she said "yes"! Then they skated a fw more laps around before getting off the ice. The Rink staff was in on it so they waited until afterward to run the zamboni.
-Crazyshakes at Black Tap
Aside from Autumn seeking out (and finding) black and white cookies, there was only one more fun food that we sought out (by we, I mean me) and that was a crazy milkshake. I had seen a bunch of different things on Pinterest and in my Facebook newsfeed about really unique milkshakes in NYC and so I needed one for myself. We made reservations at Black Tap and it was just a short walk to the midtown location from The Rink at Rockefeller Center. Mom had a classic peanut butter shake, Autumn had The Cakeshake Crazyshake and I had a Sweet N' Salty CrazyShake. Holy yum. Holy, holy yum. That is all. See below.
Day 6- Leaving
That is all we did on this day.
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