Sunday 17 September 2023

Travelling solo to New York City

Talking about solo travel to New York is not the usual kind of content I have on my blog but after years of writing I've realised that whilst this is a place I hopefully help others learn more about Pathological Demand Avoidance, I can also use it to keep our memories and talk about different aspects of life. So apologies if this is not the kind of info you usually come for but please do come back for some more PDA and school/education related posts soon!

I recently flew out to America to help our 18 year old daughter move into college - that's a whole other story in itself. I was travelling solo because our PDAer (now 16 years old) developed a fear of flying a few years ago, so she isn't able to travel. On top of that flying fear, she happily informs us that she doesn't want to go on holiday anywhere any more anyway, not even to her much beloved Center Parcs (that we've visited many times over the last ten years, thanks to the fantastic Subtropical Swimming Paradise and the easy to recognise, familiar surroundings in every one of their UK locations). Hence my solo trip - our PDAer's Dad stayed home with her this time and he will visit America himself soon.

As an extra to the main reason for my trip, the college transition adventure, I managed to plan in three full days of exploring New York City on my own (plus the evening I arrived, the morning I left and an hour on my final day as I transited back through to the airport). 

I thought I would share some details of where I stayed and what I managed to do in NYC in that time. If you've got any questions about anything I did, feel free to get in touch via any of my social media channels. I've already been posting loads of the photos in my Instagram Stories and some of this trip detail went on my Facebook page along with more photos.... there were a lot of those!

The afternoon I arrived in New York, I walked straight to my hotel to check in - I was staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton Times Square South, which is centrally located on 8th Avenue near Penn station (handy for both trains in/out of NYC to the airport or to New Jersey, and for the subway). Staff were very welcoming and I was given two warm cookies on arrival. The room on the 21st floor and was a decent size with a very comfortable bed and pillows, and I had a great view of the Empire State Building. There was some noise from the traffic below but I think that's to be expected in the city that never sleeps - personally I always travel with earplugs now and I slept well here.

The bathroom was clean, modern and large. The room had a TV with plenty of channels, a wardrobe with hanging space, a decent hairdryer, iron and ironing board and a desk by the window. There was also a fridge and a coffee machine that produced hot water separately (important for a tea drinker like me!). I asked at the front desk for more tea supplies when I had used the first two teabags and they sent loads more up to my room, enough to cover my whole stay. There was always a member of staff on the front desk and the main door is accessed with a keycard at night; the seating outside the front of the hotel was kept clean and although there were some homeless people in the streets nearby, the area generally felt quiet and safe. There is a coffee shops right next door, a 7-eleven for water and snacks a few doors up and a CVS for toiletries items a block down towards the station. The hotel has a rooftop bar and there are 3 lifts - I never had to wait long for one and they were never full.

I chose this hotel mostly because of location, but also because of price and I think it was good value for the money. I actually found it via; it was the best hotel/price in the range I was looking for, at the time I needed to be there (August is not cheap but I doubt any time of year is, and all the hotel prices fluctuate anyhow). It was a cheaper deal via than it was going direct via the hotel website - I booked only about a month before going and I paid in advance. There were no room surcharges or unexpected extras and I would stay here when visiting NYC again for sure.

On the day of my arrival I had logged onto the TodayTix app at 9 am that morning to try for Rush tickets for a Broadway show that same evening. I had a particular show in mind, so I tried for just that  - it definitely helped to be organised in advance and know what the system was, because different theatres advertise and sell tickets in different ways. There's a few different websites that help with info - this TimeOut article lists a few of the different options and there's also the Broadway Lottery that offers tickets to several of the top musicals. There was nothing available at 9am but I kept refreshing for five minutes as I had seen a comment about that being the length of time people have to buy the tickets but if they don't, they are released from baskets. That's what happened for me and I got lucky - $47 for a Row B seat to see the &Juliet musical. It was amazing; well-known songs that fitted the story perfectly, and lots of laughs. Definitely in my top 5 of shows I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot!).

When that show finished I walked back to my hotel via Times Square and it was SO busy - difficult to move at times. Might be a bit overwhelming for some younger children (or adults who don't like crowded places).

For my first full day I had an early start (5.30am), heading to watch sunrise at the Empire State Building. I totally recommend this as an experience - it costs extra but was so worth it. They only sell a limited amount of tickets which means no queues on the way in and lots of space on the Observation Deck and in the museum afterwards. There were only around 25 other people there when I went, so I had plenty of opportunity to take photos. This building is so iconic and even though there are now several other towers you can go up to see NYC from above, this will always hold a little piece of my heart.

After that I walked around Times Square, which is much more manageable in the day time! Then I walked over to Pier 83, West 42nd St to see if I could buy a Circle Line Harbor Lights cruise ticket. I was going to buy a ticket online the night before but forgot and in the morning the website showed that there were no tickets left for that evening's cruise (it was a Saturday evening in August so likely to have been busy). I thought I'd take a chance calling by in person and I was able to get one - maybe that was because I only wanted one ticket, but maybe they always hold some back.

I carried on walking, down to Hudsons Yards and the Vessel building, and from there I walked the whole length of the Highline, which is an oasis of peace away from the busy city traffic. Although at midday it was pretty busy with people! I was headed to the 9/11 Museum Workshop which can be found in the Meatpackers district at the end of the Highline. This is not the big main museum (I'd visited that one on a previous trip) but a smaller display created by an official photographer, Gary Suson, who was the only one allowed to continue working on site after the first three weeks. It wasn’t morbid, just very interesting and poignant. There are some artefacts such as glass from the window of the towers, but mostly photographs that tell the story of the recovery, with the intention of educating. This museum is suitable for children and has lots of great reviews, which I agree with. I spent about an hour and a half there and was glad I did. Gary himself turned up and was open to questions - it's hard to imagine what a big impact this event has had on him, shaping his life since it happened when he was aged just 20.

Next I went to see the place where the Titanic was due to dock and Little Island, a new park on the water that only opened in 2021, then had a wander through Chelsea Market before walking all the way from 14th street back up to 36th. I had a short rest then headed back out for my evening sunset cruise, which was amazing. 

The boat takes you all the way down the river one side of Manhattan and up the other, opposite Brooklyn and Long Island, then back again but with a slight detour that takes you pretty close to the Statue of Liberty for some amazing sunset photos. Visiting her wasn't specifically on my list this trip as I've been before and walked all the way up to the crown that time (over 20 years ago, that makes me feel old!), so it was great to get close to it from a different angle.

My step count was over 26,000 steps this day (all with a dodgy ankle that I sprained badly 2 months ago!). Day 2 was no less exciting than the first with only marginally fewer steps (24,138!). First I walked to the Chicago theatre box office to try for another Rush ticket (and got a row D ticket for $49, another bargain) then I decided to have breakfast at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the wait staff sing as you eat. This was originally on my list of must-dos but I had wavered, especially after reading some comments online about how people don't think the food is very good, moans about the wait in the queue or the way they come round with the tip bucket. I'm so glad I went, it was amazing entertainment and well worth an extra tip in my opinion! I stayed for an hour and a half, and the pancakes were delicious. It helped that I was on my own so I didn't have to wait long because I could sit at the bar, but there was barely any queue anyway at 10am when I arrived there. Breakfast was a good time and I will definitely go back on my next trip to NYC.

After that I took a short walk up to Central Park and down the street where our hotel was when we had visited over ten years ago. That time, the fire alarm had gone off one day and there was a strong smell of smoke. Some firefighters were hanging out in the stairwells as we had to evacuate. This had also happened to us on a separate occasion in the UK a few years ago, fire alarms waking us from our sleep at 6 am. One of my top tips to everyone travelling and staying in a hotel is to look at the escape routes map on the back of the bedroom door and work out how you get to the stairwells. Because when it's dark and you're not expecting it, it's easy to panic.

My show ticket was for the matinee of Chicago which I think was an inspired choice given that it was 30 degree heat outside on that day. Once the show had finished I took the subway over to Brooklyn, wandered around the Dumbo area and got the famous Washington Street photo of Manhattan Bridge with the Empire State Building in. 

I ambled through the Time Out Market and along the seafront paths before stopping for some wine and pizza at Grimaldi’s - not cheap but the best I’ve ever tasted. There was already quite a queue outside there and the sister restaurant Juliana's at 7pm, but again I was lucky not having to wait long because I was solo. After eating I went to sit on Pebble Beach and watched the sun set over the Manhattan skyline as the river gently lapped the shore.

I walked back over Brooklyn Bridge (had a slightly scary moment walking through a dark park in Brooklyn because where you get up onto the bridge is not all that well signposted) and a Peach Bellini (not cheap and not much alcohol in it) at the 230 Fifth Rooftop bar rounded my day off perfectly. It's worth noting that you need passports as ID to get in there, and that guests under 21 must be with their parents and are not allowed in after 7pm on Fridays or Saturdays. The view is stunning though!

Day 3 was just as amazing as the first two. I started by taking the subway from Penn station (a little confusing to figure out which entrance to use) down to Wall Street then heading to Pier 11 to catch a ferry to Rockaway beach. I had a great view of Brooklyn as we set off, and of helicopters taking off and landing on the nearby helipad. The ferry trip was brilliant, took just under an hour and only cost $4. Great views as we left Manhattan behind, and lots of photos taken, including of Coney Island - that’s on the list to visit next time!

Rockaway Beach stretches for miles and I could have stayed all day but there was still more to see in Manhattan so after a couple of hours relaxing with a book I jumped on the ferry back to Pier 11. After seeing the sights at Wall Street (Tiffany & co, The Trump Building, 14 Wall Street which was once the World’s tallest bank building, and the NY Stock exchange) I walked a few blocks to the One World Trade Center and memorial and got a quick look inside a FDNY station that was open nearby. I didn’t go up the One World Observatory this time as I had done that last year (and I highly recommend it as an experience), but I did stop to appreciate the memorial again, and to remember. 

Always poignant for me as I remember going up one of the old Twin Towers in 2000, the South Tower Observation Deck, and at home I recently found an old postcard that I had sent to my parents at that time. 

Postcard photo showing the whole of lower manhattan with the twin towers standing higher than all the other tall buildings

From there I wandered a few blocks to take photos of the Oculus Center, a building known locally as the Jenga Tower and the old Woolworth building, before catching the subway back to my hotel. I ran to the Nintendo store (which was much smaller than I thought it would be!) and back to my hotel before heading out to see the band 5 Seconds of Summer play at Madison Square Garden. A great venue and another amazing experience.

Day 4 - that morning it was time for me to leave the city but I was up early to walk a few more blocks to check out Grand Central station and the Magnolia Bakery (I had heard their banana pudding is world-famous, and I can confirm it was delicious), then back past Bryant Park before catching my train from Penn station. 18,746 steps on day 3 and another 18,000 the day I left! 

And then on the day I came back through for JFK airport, I had an hour to spare after arriving at Penn station. So I put my big bag in the left luggage - $20 per case, I was only there an hour so that was a hefty charge but I couldn't manage to roll both that and my cabin case on the streets of NY! I walked a few blocks over and down from the station to tick something else off my list - the Flatiron building. 

I hadn't realised until I came up from below ground that it was raining.... and it made me think, especially when I saw the Edge in the distance, that you wouldn't want to book one of the viewing platforms too far in advance and then not have a great view. Definitely worth checking the weather and trying to be flexible with timings if you can!

Phew. If you've got to the end of this, well done for sticking with it! I'm sure I've probably forgotten something.... let me know if you've got any questions about how/when I did anything. I took approx eleventy billion photos so here's a little slideshow of the rest!

New York, New York. I want to be a part of it! I'll be back, for sure. 

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