While tourists descend upon Manhattan in droves, I’ve discovered that I’ve missed my calling. Instead of pursuing a career in PR and writing, I should have been a tour guide. You see, I know a heck of a lot about New York. More importantly, I know how to navigate the city like the back of my hand and over the years, I’ve found some online tools to help guide me when I don’t know exactly where I’m going. So this past week, while getting ready for an event at the Times Square Visitors Center, I put my knowledge of the Big Apple to the test when a few tourists mistook me for the information booth and proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions:
Q. “Excuse me Miss, do you know where TKTS booth is located?”
A. Of course! Right in the middle of Times square where the bleachers are now located – it’s red and white and says TKTS – you can’t miss it. And by the way – if you don’t get to see the Broadway show you’re looking for, go to Ellen’s Stardust Diner instead – it’s located on 51st and 7th Avenue and the place is jam packed with singing waiters and waitresses hoping to make it big on Broadway. Love that place!
Q. I need to get to SoHo from Times Square and I was told I could take one train. Is that possible?
A. Anything is possible. Do you have a phone with a browser? No, you don’t? No worries, you can use my Droid. Just visit HopStop.com, enter the address where you’d like to go and it will give you the exact trains you need to take plus walking directions to your destination. They even have an App for Hop Stop! Easy, peasy.
Q. How can I tell what cross streets a building is located between if it’s on an avenue?
A. Simple, just visit the Cross Street Locator and enter the address and it’ll find the streets you need.
Q. I’m driving into Manhattan. How can I find a parking garage that won’t rip me off?
A. Visit www.bestparking.com, enter the address where you’re going, the time you’d like to arrive and you can print out a coupon for the least expensive parking option that’s closest to your destination. Expect to pay as little as $12-$15 for parking.
Q. What if we need to use a bathroom when we’re in the city? Are there any public bathrooms that are semi-decent?
A. Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, NYC bathrooms have truly come a long way. I’ve found that the bathrooms in Grand Central Terminal are pretty clean. My absolute favorite bathroom however is located in Bryant Park – that one sports mosaic tiles and fresh flowers! Gotta love that – a no porto-san zone! And if you are in the Times Square area, Charmin has brought back they’re ultra-popular bathroom location right in the heart of NYC. The place is mobbed, but if you really need to go, then give it a shot.
Q. What are typical must see places that most tourists visit during the holidays?
* The Rockefeller Center Tree – this year the tree will be lit on November 30.
The Holiday window display at Saks, located at 611 Fifth Avenue near 49th Street.
The Windows at Lord and Taylor, located at 424 Fifth Avenue near 38th Street
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Toys R Us, Located in Times Square
FAO Schwartz, located at 767 5th Avenue near 59th street.
American Girl Place, located at 609 5th Avenue near 49th street
Q. What are some of the places that you like to visit this time of year?
* The shops at Bryant Park (great crafts, jewelry, clothes, collectables and more) plus free ice skating compliments of Citi Group.
* The holiday shopping at Grand Central Terminal (do you see a pattern here)
* Ice skating in Wollman rink in Central Park
*Watching the balloons blown up near 81st and Central Park West the night before the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
* Movies in 3D Imax at Sony Lincoln Square.
* Brunch on the upper west side (Popovers, Sarabeth’s, Barney Greengrass and Good Enough to Eat.
* Buying great scarves, hats and gloves from street vendors all along 5th Avenue.
Q. What are your kids’ favorite places to visit this time of year?
* Nintendo World in Rockefeller Center
* Lego World (right across the street from Nintendo World)
* M&M World, Times Square
* Mars 2112 – where they have a motion simulator ride and you’re waiting on by aliens from another planet.
* Nuts – Any roasted peanut or cashew vendor along 5th Avenue.
* Bubba Gump Shrimp – where you get to be quizzed by your waiter and waitress on all things “Forrest Gump” while dining on cajun shrimp and jello shots (minus the alcohol of course).
Q. Are there any new places or stores to visit this year?
A. Absolutely! In fact, the new Disney NYC flagship store just opened in the heart of Times Square. The place is two stories high, offers tons of Mickey inspired New York City memorabilia on the lower level and then on the 2nd floor, you can find everything from custom cars from the movie (create your own car while you wait). A princess section with magical mirrors that come alive when you wave your hand (or a wand) in front of them, and an arts and crafts area that shows movies while you shop for gifts. (Obviously make sure you’re kids are supervised!). Plus, there’s also great Disney gifts to be had – from Toy Story to Spiderman to Phineas and Ferb to all those adorable princess costumes. Oh how I remember the days of Belle, Cinderella and Jasmine. Time flies, so enjoy it all while you can!
Q. What are the best museums to take my kids during the holidays?
* Museum of Natural History & Hayden Planetarium, located at 81st and Columbus* Children’s Museum of Manhattan (for younger children – ages 6 and under)
* Museum of Modern Art (for older kids).
* Intrepid Sea-Air and Space Museum
* The Metropolitan Museum of Art – You can get lost in this incredible museum for hours. We especially loved the Egyptian Mummy exhibit and the Knights in Armor.
For more great ideas, visit the NYC Gov. website.
Q. Are there shows I can take my kids to that won’t break the bank?
A. Absolutely – try The New Victory Theater , which offers great performances for families. Plus, there’s always the Big Apple Circus and Cirque de Soleil Wintuk.
Q. Should I take one of those tour buses throughout the city or just walk along the streets like everyone else?
A. That one is totally up to you. If you don’t like walking, opt for the bus and then you can get a birds eye view of several Manhattan landmarks. If you’re interested in a cool walking tour, try the Ghosts of New York located in Greenwich Village. This one is great for families with older kids – you don’t want to scare the little ones!
If you’re visiting New York anytime soon and have a question to ask, please feel free to comment below. I’m starting to like being a tour guide – maybe I’ll even host one of those double decker bus tours.