We’ve just returned from one of our most ambitious adventures yet: getting the essential New York City experience in just one day! With so much to do and see in NYC, we could debate all day on what exactly constitutes the “essential New York City experience” but for the sake of this article… it’s what we considered our bucket list type landmarks. We will take you through our entire process, from planning, to seeing the sights, what we learned and our afterthoughts. If you would like greater detail on any of the attractions covered, we will be releasing more in-depth reviews in the coming weeks… but for now, here’s our trip as a whole.
You may be asking yourself “why only 24 hours?” …and that answer is simple… it is all the time we had. The first thing we do for any trip is map out the basics of what we wanted to accomplish. For New York, because of the time constraints, we wanted to make sure we got the major landmarks covered: Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, 9/11 Memorial and at least one museum.
Once we had our must-visit list complete, we scoured the internet to see what types of travel deals are available for NYC. We examined CityPASS, Smart Destinations & The New York Pass. All three have their strengths and weaknesses but we ultimately went with the New York Pass because it offered the most attractions in a single day for the best price. With that decision made, we began to put together an itinerary based on what our must-visit list and the extras that the pass had to offer. (Itineraries are Chris’s specialty.)
Chris plots all of the attractions on Google Maps and comes up with a basic itinerary of the important stops in addition to noting other sights we could include nearby. Normally we don’t get quite this extensive but this trip was an exception. There were many drafts but we finally settled on: Top of the Rock, Walk Through Central Park, the American Natural History Museum, Grand Central Station, Battery Park, 9/11 Memorial, Statue of Liberty, a Sunset Cruise, the Empire State Building, and finally a walk through Times Square. Phew… that sounds exhausting just typing it out but we were going to do it!
Booking the Hotel
Trust us when we say there are no cheap hotels in the middle of any major city (and if there are you probably don’t want to stay there). Betsy is a master at getting the absolute best price at a room so she handles this aspect exclusively. Prices change daily so the best deal you find today isn’t necessarily the best deal period. Our best advice is to find a good price and book your room BUT don’t stop looking for a better rate. As long as you know the cancellation policy with your current reservation you can always switch hotels if you find a batter rate. We managed to score a decent price at the Residence Inn Manhattan/Central Park. It wasn’t the lowest rate out there but it was close and offered free breakfast and great views!
There was NO WAY we were driving around New York City! We decided it was best to book a shuttle to and from the airport. There are a ton to choose from but we went with the SuperShuttle mainly because we used their services before in other cities. One word of advice: do NOT accept a ride from ANYONE claiming to be a taxi who doesn’t drive the stereotypical yellow cab vehicle. I guess this is a HUGE problem in NYC as they literally warn you everywhere you go. We planned to walk a majority of our time in NYC but we did utilize the subway as well.
Arrival- We flew into LaGuardia on Spirit airlines which was a pretty typical flight. We found LaGuardia somewhat confusing as there are multiple shuttle areas so we had a little anxiety on whether or not we were in the right place… luckily we were and got under way. On a side note… the drivers in NYC operate on a level of insanity we had never seen before… it was somewhat fun but definitely nerve-racking the way we weaved through traffic. We made it to our hotel alive and as soon as we exited the shuttle we were pegged as tourists and got swarmed by people trying to sell us stuff. We quickly went inside, checked in, threw our bags in our room, and headed out into the city.
Top of the Rock- Our first stop was Rockefeller Center and the Top of the Rock views of the city. This was included in our New York Pass but the stand alone price is $34 if purchased separately. It was early in the morning and the crowds were light so we got right up to the top without having to wait. The views were amazing and it was the perfect way to start the day. There were multiple levels but we found that the majority of the people stopped at the first floor so as we went upstairs the crowds thinned a bit. From the top we really got a good perspective of the day ahead of us that you really can’t get from a map. On our way down however, we may have taken a wrong turn because we wound up in a shopping area and couldn’t find our way out until we reached the other side of the building. This turned out to be a lucky break because we came out right in front of the iconic Prometheus statue. The Seated Ballerina, a giant inflatable piece of art was also there as well. It was fun to see a piece that was displayed for a limited engagement.
Central Park- Whats a trip to New York without a walk through Central Park right? The trick here was that we had a destination to get to, the American Natural History Museum, so navigating the park was a bit tricky. There are no direct routes through Central Park, it’s a maze of paths that criss-cross and wind around in every direction. We chose to stick by main roads whenever possible and picked obvious landmarks to help guide us when there weren’t. Even with this strategy we wound up taking a wrong turn and walked about 10 minutes in the wrong direction but with the help of Google Maps we got back on track. The views from the park are stunning, especially with the city in the background. We could have probably spent the entire day there exploring all that Central Park had to offer but we just didn’t have the time.
The American Natural History Museum Located right next to Central Park was one of several world-class museums in the area. We chose the Natural History museum over the others because we’ve really enjoyed similar museums in our past travels. This museum was included in our New York Pass, however, the suggested admission price is $22 if purchased by itself. (Suggested admission means you can technically pay what you want to enter.) The museum was HUGE! Probably the largest we have ever visited. The layout was pretty confusing though and we found ourselves lost quite a few times. We had initially set aside 3 hours for this visit but then cut it down to 2 hours due to time constraints. In the end we left after only an hour because it really wasn’t as amazing as we had hoped.
Lunch at Patsy’s Pizzeria- Just a few short blocks from the museum we found Patsy’s Pizzeria. The pizza was delicious and we loved the look and feel of the place. To us, it represented an authentic Italian restaurant in New York… we have no basis for comparison for this claim but it was very charming inside and out.
Navigating the Subway- We have to be honest with you, we are terrible at public transportation. In our defense, Detroit has a severe lack of public transportation. With that being said, taking the subway was the best possible way to get to our next destination, so we decided to suck it up and take the plunge. Our heads were filled with all sorts of NY subway stereotypes from TV and movies so so we planned the subway excursion thoroughly before the trip. It turns out this wasn’t the best idea because the route we had planned to take wasn’t running that day so we were waiting at a station for a train that would never come. We hopped on the only other train that ran on the same line which took us somewhat close to where we needed to go but we still had a great deal of walking to do on top of it.
Grand Central Station- We both really wanted to see Grand Central… we have a photo of it hanging in our living room after all lol. The plan was to get in, grab some photos and get out. It was awe-inspiring to say the least, however, some of the magic and wonder is lost from our living room picture after having been there. Once again, our intended subway route was not in operation, so we had to walk a bit to another line that got us to our next destination.
Battery Park & Wall Street- We thought there would be more to see and do in Battery Park. After all, it was the gateway to the Statue of Liberty. We walked the park and took a few photos then made our way to Wall Street. We wanted to see the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl statues… but when we got there… it was a madhouse of tourists in a frenzy trying to get photos. At no point could we even see the Charging Bull statue as it was completely mobbed with people… the Fearless Girl had people literally fighting to be the next in line to stand and get their photo taken with it. Needless to say we grabbed the best photo we could, given the circumstances and continued on our way.
National September 11 Memorial & Museum- We definitely wanted to visit the 9/11 Memorial on our visit. We debated whether or not we would have time to visit the museum but once we saw the huge line outside to get in we ruled it out. The important part for us was to visit the reflecting pools, read the names and stand in the place where it all happened. Even though the area was crowded, it was very somber and calm. We did find it odd that there were people taking selfies but …well we aren’t here to judge. Right next to the memorial was Oculus, which is an underground mall. We peeked inside to see what it was all about but didn’t stay long.
New York Water Taxi- Instead of taking the subway to our next destination, we decided to take the New York Water Taxi because it was one of the perks included in our New York Pass. The “All Day Access Pass” costs $31 if purchased separately and travels between 4 docks along the waterfront. We found the ride to be enjoyable and the tour guide was very informative! It even makes a pass by the Statue of Liberty for some great close up photos!
Dinner at the Gotham West Market- The Gotham West Market was a completely random pick on the fly because we found ourselves ahead of schedule and miles from where we had planned to have dinner. It’s a collection of trendy restaurants that all share the same building. We chose Genuine Roadside because we were in the mood for a good burger and fries. They did not disappoint! The food was good and the service was friendly… what more could you ask for?
Circle Line Harbor Lights Night Cruise- While technically this was almost the same thing as the New York Water Taxi, the Circle Line Harbor Lights Night Cruise was a 2 hour excursion where you experience the sunset on the water and watch the city light up. It was included in our New York Pass and would have cost $39 if purchased separately. The view was amazing and it really was a spectacle to watch the city come to life as the sun set. Our tour guide was AWESOME! He was a real tell-it-like-it-is New Yorker with a fantastic NYC accent! One word of advice, it was COLD and WINDY out on the water so take that into consideration when dressing to go on one of these cruises.
Madame Tussauds- This was a completely unscheduled stop but since we were walking right by it on our way to the next destination we decided to stop… and yes it was, in fact, included in our New York Pass. Admission is $34 if purchased at the door. The celebs were amazingly life-like and we had fun posing and taking photos with the various characters. We breezed through this attraction pretty fast though because we were tired and it was getting late.
The Empire State Building- We finished out the day at the Empire State Building. Admissions was included with our pass but the cost is $34 if purchased separately. Even at 11pm the Empire State Building was extremely busy. There was a line to get tickets, then a line to get in the elevator, then a line to get in a second elevator. They announced we could walk up the 6 flights of stairs if we didn’t want to wait so we sucked it up and made the climb. There are 2 observation decks but we didn’t pay the extra to go up any higher than the 86th floor. While the view was amazing from the top… the crowds were ridiculous! Everyone was fighting over space to squeeze in and get a pic then essentially you had to move on without ever really enjoying the view. After a few pics we were done and so ready to leave.
Times Square- Our walk back to the hotel took us through Times Square (we had been through several times over the course of the day) but now it was lit up in all of its glory. It was surprising to see how crazy and crowded it was at midnight. We got through as quickly as possible as we were exhausted from our incredible day in New York City!
Residence Inn Manhattan/ Central Park- Our room was cozy with an amazing view! We lucked out and got a corner unit which included a partial view of Central Park. We didn’t spend much time in the room but we got up in time to see the sunrise over Central Park. Well we technically couldn’t see the sun from our view but it was beautiful none the less.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts:
Looking back, we probably did way too much lol. Betsy didn’t believe 24 hours was enough time to see New York City and Chris took that as a challenge. Even though this was a rigorous and highly scripted visit, every single stop was optional so if we were running behind, or wanted to experience something longer we could simply remove a stop from our list. We hope to return to New York City in the future and have a more relaxed visit that covers more area than just Manhattan but at least we can now saw that we have been to NYC!
While it was a great trip, I do believe we did too much. We did walk over 40,000 steps after all and my feet paid for it for several days after the trip. Sore feet and tiredness aside, I had a great time and it was amazing to see some of the different NYC landmarks up close, like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. As much as I enjoyed seeing all of the sights, what I really loved most about NYC was all of the people and the diversity. NYC is the epitome of what the United States is to me and I think everyone would benefit from experiencing New York City.
I never traveled much before I met Betsy so every time we go someplace new, I feel a need to see EVERYTHING there is to see because in my mind, I may never be back. That being said, I agree that this plan was WAAAY too ambitious even for my standards. I regret nothing though!! Sure it was exhausting… sure my feet hurt for days afterwards… but this trip was an absolute success that has provided us with an amazing story to tell for years to come!