Cayman Airways has resumed its winter schedule, which means non-stop flights four times a week to New York’s JFK airport. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull took a recent trip to the city that never sleeps and reports.
In hindsight, a vacation of three nights and four days on New York City’s island of Manhattan, the smallest of New York City’s five boroughs, was totally insufficient time to do proper justice to this pulsating section of society, none-the-less it did give an exciting taster of all the incredibly diverse places there are to visit in this stretch of just under 23 square miles.
Our hotel, the Double Tree, sat right in the heart of Times Square on Broadway (the wide avenue that travels the full length of Manhattan and is home to New York’s famed theatre district) and was therefore a perfect starting point from which to explore this most busy of cities.
First stop after our afternoon flight (which had been delayed several hours, requiring us to take a fuel pit-stop in Philadelphia because a certain Mr. Obama had landed at JFK minutes before we were due to land and had thus succeeded in closing the entire airport) was the Imperial Theatre on Broadway for a showing of the smash hit musical Billy Elliott.
No-one can properly say they have “done” New York without seeing a Broadway or off-Broadway show and we would highly recommend Billy Elliott, and, even if you are not a Geordie and did not live in the UK in the 80s, you will still be able to appreciate the terrific score (written by Elton John) the breath taking dancing and the tear jerking acting. The language is explicit but because it was delivered with a tight Geordie accent no-one seemed to understand it anyway.
A tour on one of the many open top double decker buses might seem a little cheesy and quite expensive (US$200 for a family of four for two days’ worth of sightseeing), but for newbies to the city with not much time on their hands it’s the perfect way to get about town.
Tour guides are patchy in their delivery – all appear highly knowledgeable on a city about which they are obviously all passionate – but some are friendlier than others. Beware of an old guy who likes to swear loudly at bad drivers and tourists he doesn’t like the look of while overhanging the top of the tour bus and a short guy who thinks he’s a stand up comedian but isn’t (it’s rather cringe-worthy and it makes you huddle down in your seat).
We took the downtown bus tour on our first full day and got to tick off many major sights. You can alight and disembark the bus at about 20 different stops along the way and then simply hop on another bus when you have finished your sightseeing. We passed the original Macy’s department store, Madison Square Garden, the much-visited Empire State Building, the intriguing flat iron building, Washington Square Park and the trendy boutique locations of Greenwich Village and Soho, before alighting at the most southerly tip of Manhattan, Battery Park. Here we could make out the Statue of Liberty in the distance with ferries departing at a constant rate for visits to that most famous of landmarks.
Battery Park itself has an interesting history. The southern shoreline of Manhattan Island had long been known as the Battery, and was a popular promenade since the 17th Century. The Battery was the centre of Evacuation Day celebrations commemorating the departure of the last British troops in the United States after the American Revolutionary War. The relatively modern park was created by landfill during the 19th Century, resulting in a landscaped open space at the foot of the heavily developed mainland of downtown. Within the park lies Castle Clinton, an American fort built on a small artificial offshore island immediately prior to the War of 1812 and named after Mayor DeWitt Clinton. The structure was eventually made into the world’s first immigration depot, processing millions of immigrants beginning in 1855 – almost 40 years before its successor, Ellis Island, opened its doors.
Back on the bus we travelled just one stop to South Street Seaport for a wonderful opportunity to enjoy New York’s autumnal sunshine, seafood delicacies and views of the historical district as well as across the water at Brooklyn and its famous bridge.
The area features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan and includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-Century commercial buildings in the city. This includes renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Fish Market and tourist malls featuring food, shopping and nightlife.
Hopping back on the bus we took in Chinatown and Little Italy, sadly now just shadows of their former rich history and the East Village. Our tour ended at the Rockefeller Centre where the kids took to ice skating like a diver to water. Built by the Rockefeller family, it is located in the centre of midtown Manhattan, spanning the area between Fifth and Seventh avenues and is a National Historical Landmark.
The next day saw us travelling again on the bus but this time uptown, taking in Manhattan’s West Side, travelling past Columbus Circle (great shopping and food), up past Central Park, past the Museum of National History and through Harlem, noting the Apollo Theatre where Bob Marley had once played.
This time we alighted at the Metropolitan Museum and while I marvelled at the Van Goghs, Botticellis, Constables and Holbeins, the kids were not so impressed. More fun to them was sitting on the steps of the Museum enjoying that American staple lunch – a hot dog and can of Coke.
Because it was such a beautiful day we decided to walk the rest of our journey, through Central Park with its lines of tiny uniformed prep school children heading hand-in-hand to a fun filled playground or perhaps the New York Zoo, nannies (Fifth Avenue mummies don’t do pushchairs) cajoling squirming toddlers and suited business people unpeeling their layers to enjoy the warm sunshine. Leaves were just on the turn, tinged red, orange and brown in places, as if some mad artist had been let loose from the Met and taken a paintbrush haphazardly to the Park.
After a foot numbing (but highly enjoyable) 30 blocks or so and several ice creams along the way we ended up (again) at the ice rink at the Rockefeller Centre so the kids could get their now daily fix of ice skating before we left this dynamic city the following morning. We also managed a quick whizz up to the top of The Rock (or should I clarify, the husband and one kid did) for a dizzyingly spectacular 360 degrees view of Manhattan and beyond.
We missed so much – exploring Central Park more fully, the Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim Museum, a ferry trip to Staten Island, visiting the Statue of Liberty, a million and one shows and restaurants – but that is of course a great reason to visit again very soon!