So earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be commissioned by Cruise International to take the trip of a lifetime on their behalf: I was to head to New York, where I was to explore every aspect of the place so that I could write a guide for everyone considering a cruise-and-stay holiday there, and then I was to hop on board the Norwegian Breakaway and cruise to the Bahamas, for a second piece in the magazine.
Well, apart from giving my editor Liz a big snog, which she probably wouldn’t have appreciated, the second thing I needed to do was find a travelling companion, and with Mr English away and Sam working, the choice was easy… Charlie (then 15, now 16) who just happened to be home for the Easter holidays. I think he nearly died of excitement. But what to do, in the city that never sleeps? A boy who wants to see everything, and a woman with absolutely no sense of direction? Well first, we made a plan. What did we really really want to do? I still have the scribbled list, I think I’ll probably keep it forever:
1. Eat junk food
2. Empire State
3. 30 Rock
4. Yellow cab!
5. Grand Central Station (it’s actually Grand Central Terminal, sorry, New Yorkers)
8. Statue of Liberty (bless her, down there at number 7. This is probably some sort of crime in America)
9. Cocktails (me, not him, obviously)
10. Times Square
So did we manage it all? Of course we did! With three whole days we were really lucky to have plenty of time to explore. And it’s really, really easy to explore New York, what with it being a massive grid system, with streets (east and west) one way and avenues (north and south) the other. It’s also really safe. So all you need to do is grab your trainers and get out there. Back to that list, then.
Yep, of course we went to McDonald’s. To a boy on his first visit to the USA, a visit to that holy grail of teenage eateries just had to be done. We chose breakfast and weren’t disappointed. We ate these weird things called McGriddles which were like a sausage and egg McMuffin but in a slightly sweet pancake, and hotcakes with sausage:
So junk food aside, what else did we eat? Well, we wanted to eat a proper New York burger in a proper New York diner and they say you haven’t been to New York until you’ve been to Smith’s Bar, so that’s where we headed – right in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. We went a bit wild (not straight after the breakfast, I promise), and ordered burgers, fries and shakes:
Well and truly full up, it was time to tick off the second item on the list, a trip to the Empire State Building. At certain times, the queues are quieter – early mornings and lunchtimes – but the absolute best time to go is late at night, where the queuing is minimal and the views, well, they’re spectacular:
And this was the view further round, towards the Chrysler Building…
It was freezing up there, back in April, where a burst of mental weather meant that we’d seen torrential rain, freezing temperatures and even snow, but we just couldn’t tear ourselves away. It was mesmerising, glowing and beautiful. A real highlight for both of us. And that brings me neatly on to no. 3. If you’re going to do the Empire State at night, the place to view New York during the day is from the Top of the Rock – the viewing platform at the very top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza where you get the best views right across Central Park. Sadly, although we wanted to tick this off our list, the day we went up there all we could see was low-lying freezing fog:
Ah well. At least we went to the top eh? We weren’t going to waste our visit (and our yellow cab ride, that’s another one off the list) to 30 Rock, as we also had reservations at the beautiful Sea Grill, overlooking the ice rink (which was just being transformed into a lovely outdoor café area when we were there).
We feasted upon the most AMAZING lobster:
…and I got my cocktail too! Happy days:
We decided to make the next day our downtown day. A lovely friend of mine had recommended brunch at Hundred Acres in SoHo, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to test our mettle on the subway, AND get a look at Grand Central Terminal. Wow. We weren’t disappointed. It’d not just a train station either. There are loads of shops, restaurants and bars. You really could stay all day there:
Now I’d love to tell you that we were brisk and efficient in our navigation of the subway, but of course we weren’t. We dithered, we went the wrong way, we asked a lot of policemen and got tutted at by the ticket machine. In the end, we got NEARLY all the way to SoHo and walked the rest. Which is still okay, right? Because the walk was beautiful, and we loved every minute of it:
And soon we were being warmly welcomed by the lovely people at Hundred Acres:
…and stuffing our faces with their amazing gooey cinnamon buns:
And if that wasn’t enough, we then went on to order EVEN MORE FOOD (and a Bloody Mary too):
… until we were so full, we could hardly find the energy to waddle back out into the sunshine. To work off a few calories, we decided to do a bit of shopping and hit the road. There are some gorgeous food trucks around this area (obviously we gave these a miss), also some beautiful shops and houses, so take time to have a wander around. It’s well worth it. The next day, we decided to do something a bit more energetic, so we tied on our trainers and headed out to the west side, passing Times Square (and making a mental note to visit on the way back) all the way to Pier 83 (west 42nd Street and 12th Avenue) to catch our Circle Line tour.
We took the ‘best of NYC cruise’, a two and a half hour trip taking in Midtown, the Empire State Building, Lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty (tick!), all the bridges: Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Manhattan, the United Nations, the Yankees Stadium, One World Trade Center… basically everything you could possibly hope to see. It was bitterly cold, but we still sat outside:
and despite the cold, this view made it all worth it:
After all that fresh air, we were ravenous again, and stopped off to stuff a quick cupcake…
…before it started to get dark, and Times Square really came to life:
We wandered, and laughed, and ate doughnuts and drank coffee, and marvelled at this incredible place, feeling like the luckiest people in the world:
… before heading back to our hotel (the fantastic, modern and perfectly situated Westin in Times Square) to pack for our next big adventure…
And that’s it. Ten things, ticked. And all we want to do is go back again and do more, see more: head over the bridge to Brooklyn, walk the High Line, cycle in Central Park, go back to SoHo, actually SEE the view from the Top of the Rock… Just all in the sunshine this time please!
For more information on everything to do with travelling to New York, check out nycgo.com.
How to get there: VIRGIN HOLIDAYS: Three nights in New York – from £855p. Three nights in New York with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow to New York (JFK) and room only accommodation at the 4V+ Westin New York at Times Square starts from £855. Price is per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a traditional room (with 2 beds), including all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Price is based on a departure on 17 November 2014.
Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected. To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859 or visit one of our 120 stores located in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Tesco and Sainsbury’s stores nationwide.