Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Most Recent Travel Value - NYC at Christmas

My mom has always wanted to go to New York City, especially at Christmastime to see the Rockettes. So, my sister and I took our parents to NYC this past December. Along with the Rockettes, we booked a private car tour to see the city at night, viewed Macy's decorated windows, enjoyed the Rockefeller tree, and visited the Impressionism wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

New York is not exactly the cheapest of cities to visit. So how did we manage a weekend getaway full of VALUE? Here are some tips to help you achieve a Christmas memory as valuable (and irreplaceable) our ours!

1) Go early in the month.
We visited the first weekend of December. All the decorations were up, but the crowds weren't unmanageable. Plus, we were able to save about 20% on our Rockettes tickets because it wasn't "prime season," yet.

2) Book your hotel early to ensure availability and lower rates.
I booked our hotel in May! And I found a hotel in a somewhat unusual location: New Jersey. We stayed at the Courtyard Jersey City, just across the water from Manhattan. The rates were at $200 p/night. Our room was large (not just by NY standards, but by any standards) with 2 beds, plus a sleeper sofa. The hotel was quiet, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the hotel was next door to the Pavonia PATH station. We easily grabbed a train into Manhattan, which took about 20 minutes to get to 33rd street (Macy's Department Store). Other Courtyard properties in Manhattan were as high as $500 p/night! We got the same service and amenities for minimal travel time. (Tip: If you don't want to pay for the hotel breakfast, grab a tastey toasted bagel sandwich across the street at Cosi's.)

3) Bundle up and walk (or take the subway).
We spent a lot of time walking--and we were able to stumble upon unexpected treasures: decorated store windows, open-air holiday markets, and food stands. We loved being part of the "pedestrian energy" that is so New York. We also saved a lot of money on cab fare by using the Subway. The subway is safe, affordable, and quicker than a cab. Buy a reloadable Metrocard to ensure the lowest fare.

4) Find cheaper ways to see the Must Sees.
You can get amazing views of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry. And it's free. On the way to Staten Island, stay on the right side to get great photos of Liberty Island and Ellis Island. When you arrive at Staten Island, disembark, then re-embark for your journey back to Manhattan. Stay on the left of the ferry to get great views of Brooklyn Bridge.

Admission to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is usually $20. But visit on Friday night (4:00-8:00 p.m.), and admission is free. My favorite picks: Van Gogh's Starry Night, Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Avignon, and Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans.

If you are visiting on Sunday, attend mass at St. Patrick's cathedral. (There are several services.) Enjoy the acoustics, the architectural, and a spiritual experience . . . for free.

5) Take advantage of lunch specials and prix-fixe menus.
We ate at a top-notch restaurant near Rockefeller Center at lunch time. We may have had smaller portions, but we enjoyed the ambiance and paid a lot less. We also dined at Becco's, a bustling Italian restaurant on 46th street. We enjoyed salad and 3-pastas (all we could eat) for one price (under $25). When we ate a hearty lunch, we were satisfied with a simple (i.e., less expensive) dinner.

6) Don't be afraid to Splurge--it's about value, not the actual dollar amount.
We surprised our parents with a private car tour with "My Kind of Town New York" tours. The cost of our 4-hour customized tour was about the price of us attending a Broadway show. The tour was unique, educational, and inspiring. It was not just a tour, it was an authentic New York experience led by a knowledgeable Brooklyn native. (See my upcoming review on "My Kind of Town NY" for more details.)

7) Do something unique . . . make it your own!
I researched ahead of time (yes, research and preparation are key to finding value) to find a unique Christmas experience. I learned online about Dyker Heights (an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn). We asked our driver, Jamie, to take us there. The Christmas lights and oversized inflatables were a bit garish, but the effect was also grand and glorious! Our mother will gloat about this amazing light display for years to come. Now, that's value at its best.

(Now for a bit of self promotion: There are foodies. There are TV junkies. There are Manhattan-files. I am a bit of the latter two, especially when the Travel Channel runs a special on NYC. As a travel specialist, I can offer a unique perspective of NYC since I have traveled there numerous times. If you are interested in visiting, link to my Palace Court Travel website and send me an email.)

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