Date of Trip: January 2001
We had a fantastic time in NYC. Here are my notes:
Thursday, February 10th
We had no problem with immigration at JFK as I am American and my English husband was able to walk through with me and our son is a dual citizen so he used his American passport to enter the country. We then got a taxi to the Sofitel, which cost $55 including tax and tip.
We loved our room at the Sofitel. We had an Executive suite on the 25th floor and our room faced the GE building — A really nice view at night. There was plenty of space for our 22 month old to run around. What surprised me was how quiet it was. The bathrooms are gorgeous and the staff was very helpful, but not in your face. Twice we had a problem with the toilet, but each time we reported the problem it was addressed quickly.
There are lots of nice amenities such as the robe, slippers and even a lint brush which was handy as I forgot mine.
The location is fantastic and we walked to most places of interest. We also received complimentary drinks of our choice at the bar and late check-out as we signed up for the Sofitel Privilege card.
We never dined in-house, but we loved the Red Flame diner a few doors away. It was one of the few places that had high chairs and a good food selection for our son. The breakfast was delicious and the staff was friendly.
Friday, February 11th — Babysitter night
We were up quite early as we had a bit of jet lag, so after breakfast at the Red Flame we walked over to Rockefeller Plaza and watched people ice skate at like 9:00 in the morning. Show offs!
American Museum of Natural History
We spent all day Friday at The American Museum of Natural History. We bought the NYC City Pass for $53 each which is an exceptional value.
The museum is huge and I think it would take many visits to really see it all in depth. Our toddler enjoyed the Hall of Ocean Life as did we. There is a huge space under the blue whale just to sit and enjoy the ocean sounds. We did not go to the Hayden Planetarium because we had our little one. The dinosaur collections is worth taking your time going through and definitely watch the movie introduction narrated by Meryl Streep before working your way through the dinosaur exhibit.
Dinner at Joe Allen
We had a pre-theatre dinner at Joe Allen and the food was exceptional, but unfortunately the service was not. My husband had the steak and French fries and I had the meatloaf with mash potatoes and spinach. After our entrees were brought our server disappeared and my husband needed sauce for his steak. We gave up after 10 minutes and ate our main course. Our dessert order was taken by the maitre d and we had the toll-house cookie and ice cream. It was only average compared to our meal. We had already told our server that we wanted a coffee, but that never came and then another 20 minutes later we received our check which included a line to tip the maitre d which I found strange.
Wicked at Gershwin Theatre
We really enjoyed Wicked. The sets were amazing and the performances were outstanding.
Saturday, February 12th
2-Hour Semi-Circle Sightseeing Cruise
Fantastic sightseeing cruise without the summer crowds. My husband braved the weather and stayed on the outdoor deck for the whole two hours. My son and I stayed inside where it was warm and enjoyed the surprisingly good hot cocoa with unlimited refills in our $6 souvenir mug. The admission for this was included in our city pass. The views and the live narration were great and we walked away knowing a lot more about the island than when we got on the boat.
Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum
Another great attraction included in our NYC City Pass. We went straight from our 2-Hour Semi-Circle Sightseeing Cruise to the Intrepid which is just steps away. It was a very interesting visit. We enjoyed “boarding” the Concorde. It was also really cool to walk across an aircraft carrier. My husband also enjoyed the G force ride for an extra $10.
We also did the Ferris wheel at Toys R Us. Our son loved it. My son also loved the Billboards in Times Square. My husband was looking for and actual square like Leicester Square in the West End of London (a park).
Sunday, February 13th
Brunch is good. This place is very busy, if not zoo like for Sunday Brunch. We were seated 5 minutes early of our 10:00 am reservation. I had the French toast (average) and smoked bacon and my husband had the eggs Benedict (excellent). Our toddler ate much of the fresh bread basket except the cinnamon roll which I quickly snapped up. We could not fault the service and found it to be one of our best meals. Can’t wait to go back and try dinner. One thing I did not know – I ordered a mimosa and a bloody Mary and our waiter told us that you can’t order alcoholic drinks before noon in NYC. Is this true?
After brunch we waited a few moments for the MoMA shop to open and bought a few cool items there before walking back to Sofitel. A long walk, but very doable.
We went to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. This was a pure let down. I am not sure if it is run by the same group that runs the Children’s Museum of Chicago — it can’t be. I was expecting a lot more. The rooms are crowded and the “exhibits” are poor. I would describe the museum as a parent supervised crèche. You have to check your strollers and our rain cover was lost. The staff was very blasé and the rain cover served as wind protection for our little one. We were told that the manager would reimburse for the cost, but that was of little consequence when it poured down raining the following day. Our son enjoyed it as he was able to run around, but if the weather permits take your kids to Central Park which is very nearby for free.
Speaking of Central Park, we went there after the children’s museum and we encountered the masses viewing The Gates. I am no art critic, but we found the whole thing laughable. I am glad only money was earned and not spent by NYC. By the way, orange, excuse me saffron is my least favourite color. We had gone to Central Park the day before the unveiling and it was very peaceful.
Empire State Building
My husband was very excited about visiting the ESB and he was not disappointed. We went at 7:00 pm on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day and had a short wait. Be aware that there are renovations going on and where you wait is not an attractive place. Once you get to the observation deck you will not be disappointed. Our entrance and an audio tour were included in our NYC City Pass. It was clear night when we went and the view was spectacular. I was raised in Chicago and often love going to the top of the John Hancock Building and the Sears Tower, but I always prefer the views from atop the ESB.
Paid $300 for a view Well, considering I have been to NYC plenty of times I should have heeded the advice of the NYC gurus about River Café. I was too caught up trying to impress my husband for his first visit that I forgot it was the food that actually counted. We had a great table at the River Café and the service was good, but certainly not exceptional. With the exception of the Chocolate Marquise Brooklyn Bridge for dessert the food was only average and little of it there. I had the steak with a sliver of potato and my husband had the&well to be honest I can’t remember what he had.
Another thing that surprised me was the gratuity was included in our check. We felt really insulted by this. We would have tipped more than the 15% they gave themselves as the service was not sub par. I have never been to an upscale restaurant where this is common practice unless my group was over 6 or more. I think my husband’s English accent always put fear in servers that they won’t be tipped.
What really ruined our visit was the con of the River Café car/taxi service. We were told we would have no problem getting a taxi to return to Manhattan (it was much too cold to walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge the night of our visit). After our coffee service we were told to talk to the guys who run their car service. We were given a set price of $35 to return to Manhattan which was triple what we paid to get there. We declined and asked for a yellow taxi. We were then told it might be a wait and our wait turned to 45 minutes. We could have called for a taxi and it could have been there sooner. There was no effort to get us a taxi since we declined the car service they offered.
The view is good and like others have said just have a drink at the bar and have a better meal somewhere else. I am still kicking myself as we could have gone to Gotham Bar and Grill, Gramercy Tavern or Eleven Madison Park for our anniversary dinner.
Monday, February 14th — Babysitter night
We must have chosen the worse day to go. We went on Monday, February 14th and it was an absolute madhouse. I inquired why it was so busy and was told there was no explanation. Since our admittance was included in our NYC City Pass we went in. The NYC City Pass allowed us to bypass the extraordinary line to even buy a ticket. There was no way to appreciate art in the environment we were in. We saw my favorite painting and a few of the highlighted pieces noted in the DK book. I was very disappointed and shall return another time.
We had lunch here and it which was just plain bad. We only went here as it was raining out and required a high chair. Our waiter was the worse and had loads of attitude. My husband ordered a breakfast entrée that was stone cold when he received it and we were so frightened by the possible response from our waiter we gave it to another server to take back. A new plate of food did arrive shortly, but with no apology. We never got a coffee refill or condiments and had to beg for more drinks. I did not expect 5 star dining experience, but at least to be treated like the paying customers we were.
Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park
Many of you advised it would be a bad choice to move hotels, but we did it anyway to spend our last night. The outside of the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park is not impressive once you find out rooms only go to the 14th floor and the rest are of the building is condos. However, once inside the hotel is another story. The reception area is small but lovely. We were whisked to our harbour view room on the 4th floor (again this does don’t sound impressive) by our personal butler. The room was huge and gorgeous. We had a direct view of the Statue of Liberty and though my husband thought the telescope was on the cheap side it didn’t stop him from using it. The bed was so comfortable and the amenities were nice.
We ordered room service for our son (pizza, French fries and milk) that was very expensive ($38) and again we needed a bottle of milk which they charged us $10 for (ouch!). We have stayed at several Four Seasons with him and we have never been charged for a bottle of milk. The hotel bills itself as very child friendly, but there was little sign of this. Twice we asked for the highly touted children’s menu and no one seemed to be aware of this. Besides this we found the service to be a bit contrived and overdone. This was shown when two different staff members called my husband by the wrong surname. First he was Mr. Patel and the Mr. Albertson. Apparently, their guest list cheat sheets were wrong. I have never felt the service at the Four Seasons was over the top.
The location of the hotel was perfect for the activities we had planned for our last day. We easily walked to Castle Clinton to get our tickets for the Statue of Liberty. After our visit to the Statue and Ellis Island we walked over to Ground Zero to pay our respects and it all became too much for me. I was in NYC for the US Open in 2001 and flew home on 9/10. I applaud those who worked in the area prior to 9/11 continue to do so. It must be hard to walk past the site everyday.
Four Seasons Restaurant
This was our best meal. We did the prix-fixe theatre menu for $49 per person booked via Telecharge’s website (if you book with the restaurant direct it is $55 per person).
I had the crispy duck, which features a tableside final preparation (superb!) and my husband had the filet mignon. The appetizers of Caesar salad and French onion soup were delicious as well. I was indifferent to the Lemon Souffle and the chocolate velvet desserts (mainly because I was full). The meal was capped off with petit fours and coffee/tea. My only gripe was we ordered a bottle of Pellegrino and when that ran out they opened another one. I assumed they would have asked us first considering it was $12 a bottle. It was still a cheap meal in the end. We sat in the pool room facing the pool and it was very romantic. The service was nothing to write home about. The total bill did not include our server’s tip, but a very subtle (ha) note that service was not included and we were to tip on the total cost (not just the cost of the extras we had since our meal was pre-paid for). Again very insulting.
Spamalot at Shubert Theatre
I was able to get tickets for the first night of previews (what is the difference between previews and an actual run?). It was so truly funny. I loved Sara Ramirez and Hank Azaria. Steve Martin sat a few rows in front of us so that really made my husband’s night.
Tuesday, February 15th
Statue of Liberty
We took advantage that most people would not be on the first sailing and we were right. We were the first ones in line and we had reserved tickets so we had no wait at all. I was quite saddened we were unable to walk up to the crown as I had done before it was still an interesting visit. We enjoyed the museum, which I would have bypassed if the crown were still open. My husband thought she was beautiful and said he was happy to visit such a recognizable landmark.
As for security, if you do take a backpack or a larger bag (some purses included) you will have to put them in a locker that costs $3 for two hours located in the shop. Also, strollers are stored free of charge near the cash registers.
My son loved it since torches/flashlights are his thing right now. We of bought him a torch flashlight which he will not let out of his sight.
Our ticket included an audio tour which I think is a must. The whole experience comes to life when you hear the voices of those who were processed at Ellis Island. Some of the accounts are really moving. Viewing the exhibits showed the lengths people would go through in search of a better life. As a non-American, my husband was amazed at the whole process. If you are an American I say you must go to Ellis Island. It instils a lot of pride for the foundations of which our country is built.
We then walked down to South Street Seaport as we had plenty of time to kill. If you find yourself with time on your hands find anything else to do. We had an ice-cream, but left as the shops were nothing special and the smell really got to us. My husband thought he recognized the area from the famous chase scene in the French Connection.
We used a service called the Baby Sitter’s Guild. The service was expensive but fantastic. We paid $20 per hour with a minimum of four hours. The sitter was always 15 minutes early and brought toys and books. She gave our son his baths, fed him and any other instruction we left. They have sitters who speak multiple languages as well. We can highly recommend this group.