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New York City and Niagara Falls

Author: cruisenut2001
Date of Trip: April 2007

This was our first trip to New York and our first land vacation in several years. We had a similar vacation planned and were to arrive in Toronto on 9/13/2001. We drove to the Grand Canyon for our alternate vacation. I am really glad that our health has improved enough that we were able to schedule and complete this wonderful vacation. I don’t usually start with tips first, but these two I feel are very important.

1. In Manhattan, choose your accommodation near a subway stop. The subway is truly the fastest and easiest way to get around the city.

2. Phone attractions for up-to-date schedules. Don’t rely on their websites. Many of the Niagara Falls attractions were still closed for the season.

Hotels

Buffalo – Best Western at the Buffalo Airport. NYC – Crowne Plaza Times Square.

Airlines

United – PDX to BUF. Jet Blue – BUF to JFK and JFK to PDX.

Car Rental

BUF – Enterprise.

Day 1, April 14, Saturday

Finally, the start of another vacation. Niagara Falls – USA. Flew United from PDX to ORD leaving at 06:30 and arriving at 12:30. Walked from terminal 1 to terminal 2 to catch the next flight at 13:15 and arrived in BUF at 15:30. We paid $53 each for the Economy Plus for the extra legroom and felt it was worth the price (Jet Blue gives the extra leg room for free).

We used Enterprise for our car rental and will never use them again. We had to wait 30 minutes for them to deliver a car. They offered us a free upgrade from a mid-size to a full size SUV, but with gas being $3/gal., we declined. It was like they never heard of what a reservation system is used for. Budget had cars ready, but would have cost more.

We stayed at the Best Western near the airport and were happy with the room and the price. There was some remodeling happening on the upper floors.

Outings: We drove to Niagara Falls after a quick refresher, parked at the State Park ($10), and walked to the falls on the USA side. Due to the lateness in the day, everything was closed. The Cave and the Maid were not open yet; there was still too much ice in the river. The snow and ice was very thick and looked like it was trying to climb up the American Falls. We had dinner at the Hard Rock Café ($43), walked around the area, and bought a few souvenirs. We have always liked the food at the Hard Rock and the food here was very good. There is a 75 cent toll each way at Grand Island.

Day 2, April 15, Sunday

Nor’easter coming through. Niagara Falls – Canada. Woke up to snow. It wasn’t sticking to the roadways, but most cars had a few inches on them. I think it stopped snowing around 8:00 and by noon all the snow was melted.

Outings: Drove to the Canadian side of the Falls and parked in the Premium Lot ($16). The weather was nasty and we wanted to be close. The view of the Falls is beautiful from this side. The gift store at the Table Rock area is large and we did more souvenir shopping. We ate at the Table Rock Restaurant ($82 CND) and enjoyed having a window table with a great view of the Falls. We arrived early enough to use the Early Bird menu and had prime rib diners for $26 each; normally $30. My DW had ice cream and hot chocolate for dessert while I had coffee and ice cream. The hot chocolate was the best, but the coffee … well let’s just say it was Canadian. The dinner and view were both very good and I would recommend this restaurant.

There is a $3 toll for going across the Rainbow Bridge. We drove north to the Flower Clock, which was lit-up, but was in the middle of being re-planted. We crossed over to the US near the clock on the Whirlpool Bridge.

Day 3, April 16, Monday

Toronto and real shopping. Weather was kicking up again with strong winds and heavy rains. What else is there to do on a day like this, but shop?

Outings: Drove up to Toronto for a wonderful time on Yonge Street. Once we got on the QEW the weather improved greatly and we arrived in about 2 hours. Canada has more than it’s share of bad drivers, watch out for drivers going very slow in all lanes. My DW, bless her soul, loves shopping at The Bay and wouldn’t you know it, their fine china was 50% off. She saved me a lot of money this day.

Wish we had more time here to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and other sites, but that will be another vacation. Rush hour was going on when we left so it took about 3 hours getting back.

We had dinner at Max’s Classic Grill, the restaurant near the Holiday Inn at the airport. The food and the price were good. There is a Denny’s in front of the Best Western, but tonight it was closed for kitchen repairs.

Day 4, April 17, Tuesday

Big Apple Here We Come. Dropped off the rental car and went to the Jet Blue counter to check in for our 11:15 flight to JFK. We were expecting a large crowd, because of all the delays and cancelled flights the day before, but there was just a normal amount of people. No one was in line at the counter so everything went very smoothly.

The seats on the commuter jet were very narrow and the extra legroom didn’t make it more comfortable. We landed at JFK on time at 12:30 without any delays. No problem at baggage claim or in getting a cab, in fact from plane to cab was probably less than 20 minutes.

Getting to the hotel was a different story. We arrived at the Crowne Plaza – Times Square about 14:30 and there were no rooms ready. We checked our bags with the Bell Captain and had lunch at the Samplings restaurant in the hotel. My wife’s Curry Chicken and my Penne were excellent ($40).

The room was ready after we ate and, boy, were we ready just to take our shoes off and kick back. We had asked for a king bed, but the room had two doubles. Since we liked the view of Times Square, we left well enough alone. Our room, 2605, had a great view of Broadway, 7th, 49th, and 50th.

Outings: We walked around Times Square looking for where the play would be the next day and for subway entrances. We bought two 7-day MetroCards ($24 each) and called it a day.

The Crowne Plaza is in a great location as it’s not far from the center of Times Square and only a ½ block to the Yellow Line subway (NRQW, color referring to the MTA route map).

Day 5, April 18, Wednesday

Broadway Play and Little Italy Day!

Outings: We bought tickets through Ticketmaster for the A Moon for the Misbegotten matinee and the theater was two blocks from the hotel. We bought the premium seats (very expensive) and were center, third row. I’ve been to plays several times in the past, but to be within arms reach of Kevin Spacey, Eve Best, and Colm Meaney was an experience I won’t soon forget. Eve Best was absolutely the best and played well against Colm Meaney (played the father wonderfully). Kevin Spacey played the part perfectly, but I didn’t like the way the director was staging the scenes. Spacey’s character was just too unbelievable; nobody has mood swings that drastic. That said, it is still a great play. The line for the discounter, TCKTS, runs about 1-1/2 blocks, if you’re looking for a good deal.

We went back to the hotel after the play to dress down a little for our journey to Little Italy for pizza. We chose Lombardi’s (32 Spring St. at Mott) and were not disappointed. We ordered a large Margarita pizza and did not waste a crumb ($25 w/drinks). We didn’t try John’s Pizza, but can say that Lombardi’s was the closest to what we had in Italy. We saw two guys go through a small pizza in about 5 minutes, so if you’re hungry don’t be afraid to order the bigger pizza. Getting to Lombardi’s was very easy by subway. We took a yellow train to Union Square, walked over to a green train, and got off on Spring St. We read about the Express (center track) trains, so took only the local (outside track) trains. Since we were traveling only in Manhattan we just looked for subway signs saying downtown or Brooklyn when going south and uptown or Queens when going north, very simple.

Day 6, April 19, Thursday

“Honey, what’s that yellow orb in the sky?” Ground Zero tour and an expensive dinner.

Outings: Our TA arranged through NYC Vacation Packages some tour vouchers and today was the Lower Manhattan Walking Tour. We met our guide, Marty, at Cosi’s (2 blks from the Crowne) and left for the subway at 9:00. We walked a few blocks west to catch a red train to Ground Zero. Foundation work on the new Freedom Tower was in full-swing, we were told by Marty that the original World Trade Center subway flooring and signs will soon be gone as construction progresses. Tour books are nice, but I don’t think anything beats having a local guide for getting the latest information. We walked to Firehouse-10 to view the memorial, then to St Paul’s, but the church was closed for repairs. We took a short break at a coffee shop across from the church before walking to Wall Street. Trinity Church was next and this is also where the tour guide leaves as the tour is now over. Marty gave us directions for getting back and we looked around the cemetery for awhile.

We took the subway to 34th so we could shop at Macy’s for a baby shower gift. We returned to the hotel and just relaxed until dinner. We were both hungry for lamb, so we checked the restaurant guide that’s in the room and picked a Greek restaurant called Kellari Taverna (19 W 44th). I wish I had made a copy of that Manhattan address guide that I saw on the web site; Kellari was further east of Broadway than I had thought. We knew after looking at the menu that this was going to be our big, expensive, NYC meal. They didn’t serve a white Zinfandel, but the waiter’s suggestion of a lighter Greek red wine was very good. The lamb chops ($32) were the biggest, juiciest, and most flavorful that I have ever had (and I roast an excellent rack). The total cost was around $110 for drinks, salad, entrée, and dessert. The restaurant also has a good selection of fish displayed on ice that they serve whole and charge by the pound.

Day 7, April 20, Friday

Statue of Liberty, Grandfather, and Sushi.

Outings: The Statue of Liberty was another NYCVP tour. We left Cosi at 8:00, took the subway downtown, had a brief visit with The Bull for pictures, and were in line for the ferry at 8:45. They were announcing a 60 minute wait time (for people just getting their tickets) before the line stated to move and while we were in the first security tent they announced the wait was 90 minutes. The guide told us that spring is the busiest time for schools. We were given subway cards, ferry tickets, and S of L tickets by our guide before we left Cosi. The security checkpoints are well documented so I’ll skip those details. The guide left us once we reached Liberty Island and we were on our own. We took the ranger’s guided tour; it was short and sweet. We waited for the elevator to take us to the platform rather than take the 150 steps. Very good view of the Hudson and NYC, but with kids everywhere it was sometimes hard to get a clear opening for a picture. Went to Ellis Island and walked through a few of the exhibits, I think I failed the Mental Test. Spent some time on the AFIHC computer ($5 for 25 minutes) looking for relatives and my wife found her grandfather and his brother on the same ship. She was a very, very happy camper. We bought the manifest for $25.

We arrived back at Battery Park at 15:00. We had a voucher for Gray Lines’ All Loops Tour and after exchanging the voucher for tickets we took the Downtown Loop. The loop took about 3 hours to complete; very congested on a Friday rush-hour. We decided to try a Japanese restaurant we had passed during one of our walks and it was only a block from the hotel. The Aoki (294 W 48th) has a very small store front, but has ample room once inside. We didn’t try any of their raw fish; we like the Americanized style of Japanese food. We had mixed tempura, cooked shrimp sushi, California rolls, salad (love the ginger dressing), miso soup, and ice cream. We spent close to $60, but I made a mistake and ordered the full dinner tempura rather than the small order so the bill was about $10 higher. We also had a second Cal roll. The sushi was about double the price that we normally pay per piece. My DW had green tea ice cream for dessert and I had the red bean ice cream. The food here was really good. We did notice on our shrimp there wasn’t much wasabi and had to add more.

Day 8, April 21, Saturday

Carriage ride, Empire State Building, and Dallas BBQ. I had time this morning to try the breakfast buffet at Samplings ($23) and it was very good. Going ala carte doesn’t make much sense here, because the cheapest item was over $13. The omelet, cheese, cold meat, and fruit I had were delicious.

Outings: We took the subway to Central Park for a carriage ride we had a voucher for. The ride is advertised for 20 minutes, but it lasted only about 12 minutes. It wasn’t like our driver was racing; all the carriages were following each other around the same loop. It was a nice sunny day, lots a people in the park, and the band was playing. It was something we wanted to do, but doubt if we’ll ever do it again. The bicycle drivers actually do a longer distance on a different loop for a better price, but not too romantic. We took the subway to the Empire State Building and got there about 14:30. Bad timing; Saturday afternoons must be the worse time to go. Ticket line 30 minutes, 1st elevator line was 100 minutes, 2nd elevator line on the 80th floor was another 30 minutes. There is a photo stop on the 80th where everyone gets to pose by a backdrop. Even though it took almost 2 hours, the view was worth the wait. It was fun to try and find everywhere we had been. The Statue of Liberty looked so small.

We went back to the hotel and decided to try and find the BBQ restaurant that we’ve smelled all week. We asked a security person on Broadway and were directed to the Dallas BBQ (241 W 42nd). This restaurant was too far away to be the one we smelt, but what a find. This has to be the best value in Times Square. The price is average, but the food is great! The tables are set close together in a very large open room. Drinks are served in ½ gallon size glass goblets. The atmosphere is wild and noisy. I had the BBQ combo which is pulled pork and brisket on ½ buns with a baked potato and coleslaw. My wife had the honey mustard chicken. The cost was $35 and was worth every penny. When we left the line was very long. There is a movie theater just west of the restaurant.

Day 9, April 22, Sunday

Hard to believe this is our last day. We still had vouchers for a museum and haven’t been on the Brooklyn Bridge. Well, I guess we’ll just need to come back. We left for JFK very early based on what we were told: “Plan for the taxi ride to be 2 hours”, “Sundays at JFK are terrible”, and “The security lines will take over an hour to go through”. None of these were true and we got to the airport too early to check in. The taxi ride took 30 minutes, maybe three people were in the Jet Blue ticket line, and the security check took about 10 minutes. I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The seats were the normal width on the larger jet and with the extra legroom the non-stop trip back home was very comfortable. Yes, we were in the take-off traffic jam (19:30) at JFK and we were told that we were number 29 in line; about an hour until take-off. We must have had a good tail wind, because we arrived only a few minutes late. Grabbed our bags, took the shuttle to economy parking lot, and had a relaxing drive home. So ends another wonderful vacation.

Overall Impressions

We could have done more if we packed every moment with activities, but I think with all the cruises we’ve been on lately we have learned to balance our day between excursion time and relaxation time.

We found the tourist areas to be very safe and clean. Many of the popular areas had merchant associations that hired their own security and street sweepers. Police actually walk the beat in New York. I’m sure there are pick-pockets and we were not on the subway after 21:00, but never did we feel threatened or wish we had a Kevlar vest on. People on the street and on the subway were friendly when asked for directions.

We were never treated rudely by any waiters or other staff members; I would have felt bad not leaving a tip. We felt the higher than normal prices paid were justified, because the quality of the food and the ingredients used for cooking were of the highest quality.

We may not return solely for a NYC vacation, but we are looking into cruises that leave from New York. We know what to do with our 2-3 day pre-cruise stay.

1. Get to a NY deli.

2. Visit a museum.

3. Enjoy Central Park.

4. Visit more of the small neighborhoods.

5. See another play.

What a great city.

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